Red Route Analysis

I had been talking to a fellow UX Designer about different tools they use and one of them they brought up was a Red Route Analysis. The backstory is pretty fascinating – in short, the city of London had major traffic issues with a large volume of cars on small roads, so key problem areas “red routes” were identified and mapped, and measures were taken to prevent cars from stopping in these key areas. The result was a decrease in traffic problems. Los Angeles and other cities in the U.S. do similar things by allowing parking in outer lanes of traffic in later hours of the evening after commuter traffic has stopped.

I found the whole concept intriguing and proceeded to try this in my UX work. You start by creating a 4×4 grid with number of users on one side and frequency of use on the other. You then  list out all of the tasks/features in your design and place them in their corresponding areas.

The resulting map should give you a clear picture of the most frequently used tasks/features which can help you prioritize where to focus the efforts on a project.

I found this to be very similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, and equally as effective.

After my first test, one of the Project Managers I worked with liked it because it helped her define a clearer features roadmap and more efficiently allocate programming resources.

I find it to be very useful as a communication tool to other members of my team, in helping to get everyone on the same page. I think I’ll add it to my toolkit!

The Problem (And Solution) with Agile Development and User Experience Design

By: Marc Humpert

As Agile Development methods mature and processes become more firmly in-place at companies everywhere, the role of User Experience Design must adapt and become more nimble. Fortunately these qualities are inherent in the UX Design process and a must with any successful User Experience Designer.

For those working professionals that may be tight on time and perhaps feeling the crunch of the recent explosion of interest in the UX field, this is an excellent article that deconstructs a lot of the buzz around User Experience Design:

As the author Whitney Hess points out, her goal in writing the article was to address the very trend that she contributed to – Hess had given talks before on how “You Are An Experience Designer” and wanted to swing the pendulum back from a possibly self-aggrandizing view of the capabilities of a UX Designer to a more centric balance for the community discussion of UX.

I love Hess’s article for this reason because it demonstrates a heightened awareness of the UX industry and how important it is to remain grounded in approaching it. It has definitely become a hot topic and career field, thanks in huge part to Apple (original Apple alumnus Don Norman is frequently credited as coming up with the term Experience Design). It also, per Norman’s intention, is a term that covers a broad area of knowledge and therefore it opens the field up to a lot of people to operate as User Experience Designers when they are not. That is precisely the nail that Hess hits firmly on the head with this brilliant article.

While cautionary for the field of User Experience Design, it’s a great checklist for bona fide User Experience Designers to run through while doing their work.

One takeaway really stuck out to me and it was from points 1 and 5 where Hess respectively mentions: “If you design entirely based on intuition without ever gathering intel from a single human being who might at some point in their life come into contact with your business, I’m sorry, but you just aren’t a user experience designer” and “No user experience designer works alone… Even a UX team of one relies on stakeholders, visual designers, developers, marketers, the guy in the next cubicle.”

The emphasis on gathering intel from AT LEAST “a single human being” or “the guy in the next cubicle” held dual importance – first in that it emphasized the need for User Experience Designers to TEST their designs with ACTUAL users. But it also brought light to the very real issue that User Experience Designers face with Agile Development.

With Agile methodologies operating on short blocks of time in rapid sprints, the first thing to go in the UX Design process is the analysis/testing and verification. In order to keep up with the constant flow and demand of iterations, features, and design specifications from developers, the User Experience Designer (typically one per company) is having to spend all of their time generating mockups and prototypes with little analysis/testing and verification.

However, this concern is nothing new. There are a myriad of articles, including from the eponymous Nielsen Norman group, that engage the idea  of “Lean UX” or the “UX Team of One”. Leah Buley gave an excellent talk about this at the 2009 User Interface Conference:

And 2009 SXSW Festival/Conference:

What I found so comforting about Hess’s article in particular though was that she engages the idea that hey – a time-crunched UX Designer might HAVE to turn to “a single human being” or “the guy in the next cubicle” for testing. And honestly, that’s ok because, while it’s the bare minimum, it’s better than nothing.

Jakob Nielsen engaged this idea back in the late 80’s with his paper “Usability Engineering at a Discount” (back when User Experience Design was still referred to as Human Computer Interaction). Essentially his paper demonstrated the results of a quantitative study that in teams of 3-100 people running usability tests, the usability problems returned were not significantly higher in the larger test groups of 100 than with the smaller test groups of 3.

While this may not be ideal, it’s still something.

So whether you call it “Discount Usability”, “Lean UX”, or “UX Team of One”, Hess is right that someone – anyone – participating in a usability test in collaboration with the User Experience Designer is better than nothing, and still effective.

But what about Agile Development? Is this enough to survive a process that seems to inherently cut short the time available to develop a solid User Experience Strategy?

Agile works well for programmers – it effectively gives them an opportunity to participate in iteration cycles. But it can be taken a step further with teamwork, similar to project-based learning models:

While a whole other topic into itself – project-based learning models are all about collaborative teams working on the same project. Having programmers in an Agile model work with Experience Designers, Product Managers, etc. in small teams increases the level of buy-in to ideas and naturally facilitates the ownership of everyone in the group to the values of User Experience Design. It is hard for an Experience Designer to work alone, promoting the ideals by themselves. But in teams, when everyone is directly responsible to EACH OTHER for the output, a greater level of care is put into ensuring what is done is done right.

Understanding People: Documentary Filmmaking and User Experience Design

In my previous post I mentioned the importance of understanding WHO the people are that you’re designing for and WHAT the problem(s) are that your designs are trying to address.

This got me thinking about my background in Film Production and Documentary Filmmaking and the similarities between that and User Experience Design.

I’m always a proponent of cross-functionality and making connections across multiple disciplines. At the heart of documentary filmmaking is human empathy and observation – the same foundation for solid User Experience Design work.

The main difference is that in User Experience Design, human understanding is part of what leads a designer to the end goal – an elegant solution to a problem or an elegant experience for people. The research is, more or less, a means to that end. In  documentary filmmaking, the human understanding IS the end result.

Filming a documentary is like the next-level of an Ethnographic Study – you must embed yourself in the life of another person or multiple people and exist in their world. Your goal is to capture this world and tell the story that you see around you or that you DON’T see. Perhaps the more hardcore UX Researchers spend such time with people, but their end goal goes beyond the observation. Observation is the end goal – it is there that the “story” is found.

Both approaches require a highly-disciplined lack of bias. Quality documentary films are not made from the biases of the filmmaker but the openness of the filmmaker to learn new things they might not have known or see things from an unfamiliar or uncomfortable perspective. UX Research is this, but to a lesser degree. The level of intimacy that you achieve with documentary filmmaking is much deeper, but only by necessity.

The interviewing process is virtually the same. Filmmakers approach their subjects with questions that are open. The goal is to get the person to open up about things the filmmaker did not intend. Questions are open-ended and often loosely organized (depending on the type of documentary you’re making). Questions are not always asked at sit-down interviews either – you can be walking or merely observing a process.

Ultimately both documentary films and UX Research rely on the same techniques, but documentary filmmaking goes much deeper. The level of responsibility you have for the other person is far greater. The level of involvement and commitment, much greater. Documentary filmmaking is also the perfect training ground for approaching a project’s design with an open mind. When you set out to document people or an event, you don’t KNOW what will happen. You don’t KNOW what you’re going to find. Any experienced documentary filmmaker will tell you that their film did not turn out exactly like what they expected. As filmmaker Werner Herzog puts it, “It is important to allow real life and real images to fill up the film at a later stage” – You can’t plan for it, you just have to trust in the process and let it happen – allow it the space to be discovered.

Define Your Own Toolkit – Preventing Unicorn-Hunters

UX Designers have a challenging job. Not only are they responsible for creating strategies to well-researched solutions, but they deal with the challenges of proving the value of UX within an organization, on top of demonstrating the value of a design with data. It can all-too-often feel like your job is to vehemently defend the sanctity of the UX Design practice, and be easy to be overtaken by the idea that you need to explain yourself all the time, rather than focusing on your work. If this is happening, you’re probably feeling the pressure of being the subject of Unicorn-Hunting.

The term is a joke of course, but it describes a particular person – someone who expects a UX Designer to be a magical unicorn that is everything all at once: graphic designer + visual designer + programmer + prototyper (word?) + salesperson + cognitive scientist.

If you find yourself in this situation, usually expectations for you have been set impossibly high by someone else. Or perhaps you over-promised on what you can do? Or maybe you’ve just been reading too many articles about UX Design online.

In either case, the key remedy to this problem is to DEFINE YOUR OWN TOOLKIT.

UX Design by nature has SO many different tools available. Depending on where you go to school, what books you study, what jobs you work at, what articles you read – everyone will have a different perspective. You can drive yourself crazy trying to learn everything and master everything. Instead, take tools that really resonate with you in terms of usefulness and define those as YOUR tools.

UX Designers know the pain of inconsistent terminology being applied to their skillsets and it’s no different with the different phases of the UX Design Process. In general though, you’ll follow some structure like this:

  • Research
  • Design / Concepting
  • Testing / Iteration
  • Strategy Implementation

For each of the phases, I’ll break down some of the tools that are typically used. What I want you to do is select a couple of these tools in each phase to focus on, and develop those as your core toolkit. You can (and will) learn more, but master the core tools first.


For your Research, the key is to listen to and observe your users to understand what they need and what their pain-points are. Your core tools should be:

  • Interviews
  • Ethnographic Studies

But you can also add:

  • Surveys
  • Personas
  • Mental Models
  • Task Analysis
  • Journey Mapping
  • Red Route Analysis
  • Affinity Diagramming

Again, start small. Pick a couple tools and fully understand how they work, why they are useful, and when you would want to use them.

Design / Concepting

One of the broadest categories, this is the core of the final output. Your goals here are to clearly define the structure of what you are building and get all major stakeholders on board and producing the final design. Indispensible here are:

  • Wireframes
  • Mockups (lofi and hifi)
  • Prototypes (lofi and hifi)

But you can also add:

  • Storyboards
  • Task Flows
  • Sitemapping
  • Card Sorting
  • Ecosystem Mapping
  • Use Cases / Scenarios

Testing / Iteration

This can really come before, during, or after the Design phase,

  • A/B Testing
  • Heuristic Analysis
  • Usability Testing
  • Prototyping (lofi usually for rapid iteration)

Some additional tools that have crossover with the Research phase are:

  • Interviews
  • Surveys

Strategy Implementation

This is all about how a UX Designer develops and communicates a UX Strategy not just for a product but also for the team. This is probably the most elusive category because it runs through everything a UX Designer does at all times.

  • Competitive Analysis
  • Features Roadmap
  • Quantitative Survey

Also key to success is a UX Designer’s ability to communicate and share ideas with their team. The deliverables these tools provide are invaluable:

  • Ecosystem Mapping
  • Storyboards
  • Personas

Overall, including your team in the process is key to developing a lasting understanding of UX Design.

Make It Your Own

Take the time to generally define your toolkit. The goal is to define a process that you can be confident in for any project, as a baseline. Remember though that this isn’t to the exclusion of other tools or the avoidance of change. Your process should always be fluid.

However I do find it helpful to focus on key, core tools that I can always rely on while remaining aware of and ready to use new tools or tools I am inexperienced with, should their need arise.

Understanding People

Having defined your toolkit, remember now that the foundation for being a UX Designer is understanding people.

This past year it seems a lot of attention is being paid to cognitive psychology and its connections to UX Design. Topics on designing on “intuition” vs. “learned” knowledge came up at the 2010 UX London Conference. Jeff Johnson’s “Designing With the Mind in Mind” was published earlier in 2010 and Dr. Susan Weinschenk’s book “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People” will be coming out later this year. Both provide research-based information on how the brain works and how that translates to design processes.

User Experience Design has always had its roots in cognitive psychology, and this should be the foundation of any UX Designer’s skillset.

Johnson’s book is great and provides many high-level concepts as well as specific facts – including a chart of Time Deadlines for Human-Computer Interaction that pair up the time for specific Perceptual & Cognitive Functions and their relation to Interaction Design principles/outcomes.

With this though, make sure you’re not over-explaining yourself, because this is where you get into trouble. UX Unicorn Hunters misunderstand what User Experience Design is. User Experience Design is not THE solution, it’s the strategy and process to create a solution. Properly conducting thorough research and interviews ie. “Understanding the User” is core to identifying the real problem and developing a solution. But there can be MANY solutions. The real work is in understanding people well enough that you can re-frame the alleged problem into the true problem.

If projects have scope-creep, this would be where tool-creep would occur. Remember your core tools and allow that to protect you from hyper-focusing on the tools themselves. A successful UX project doesn’t exist because of tools, but rather the clarity of understanding WHO the people are that we’re designing for and WHAT the problem is.


GDC 2010: Film, Videogames, and UX Design

Thanks Donald Mustard, for a delightful conversation and for validating my interest in exploring the convergence of Film, Videogames and UX Design” -Me

As a Conference Associate (CA) at the GDC in 2010, I got to attend a lot of cool sessions and make a lot of great friends. I was a bit of an oddball in that most of my experience was in film production while I was doing some User Interface design work for a local game company in Santa Cruz. I was also reading a lot of articles about User Experience Design, Game Design, and film, figuring out how they all fit together – because I suspected they did.

A large topic of conversation was the Hollywood-izing of videogames, mainly in AAA game titles. I had already been tracking this topic in the news (1, 2, 3, 4) for some time though, with great games like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Far Cry series, Uncharted, etc. But I knew this went much deeper.

Akira Yamaoka’s Sound Design Lecture was very inspiring for film and videogames and gave me a lot of ideas for my own soundtracks. I was very impressed by his attention to detail, and his discussions of various sonic “illusions”, that really transcend any medium. One example from his work on Silent Hill was the use of delaying sound effects or playing them before an incident occurred, to create tension, based on human perceptions of timing. This was very similar to J and L cuts in film editing, and cognitive theory for UX Design. In fact, J and L cuts serve almost literally the same function, although they’re mostly used to smooth out transitions in a story (though in Punch Drunk Love, it’s for tension and shock).

One standout moment though was Donald Mustard’s presentation on Shadow Complex, a breakout hit on Xbox Live Arcade in mid-2009. His presentation detailed the process by which they developed the game, which I found really inspiring. Some key points were:

  • Working as a small team
  • Quick planning sessions (“plan smart”)
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Minimal design documentation

(Sounds a lot like UX Design!) This was all very inspiring, but I fell in love when he literally said making the game was “like making a film”, and that there is a heavy emphasis on “pacing, timing, and flow” in both mediums. His rapid prototyping process was what he called “gesture[ing] it all in”, which he likened to the process of “creating animatics and storyboards” “so they know how it flows through”.

He went on to describe the formation of the game’s “core” through rapid prototyping and the iterative process that followed as something similar to film editing, in which you make “smart cuts”. He called it “find[ing] the fun” and the editing process of “cutting early” and “cutting deep”.

I was really impressed, so after his presentation, I went up to him to share my appreciation for Shadow Complex. I also shared my perspective that no matter what happens in the future with money and resources, he shouldn’t allow any success to get in the way of the quick creative process that made Shadow Complex so unique and exciting. He was really grateful for my comments and asked my name and what I did. So I explained by background in film, doing set design and animatics and how I was expanding into videogames, and he told me that I sounded like a User Experience Designer. We then talked a bit about how all of the industries are parallel to each other and share a lot of processes and ideas and I could probably work across all of them doing Design. I thanked him for his kind words and he said it was really nice to meet me and he hopes he’ll hear from me in the future.

That was a pretty powerful moment and helped legitimize a lot of the dots I was connecting across all of the different industries.

When it really comes down to it, Film was one of the first mediums to combine other mediums together – painting, sculpting, theater, writing, music, photography. As technology progressed it integrated others as well like animation and computer graphics. Videogames do the same, but with an additional experiential component. UX Design is essentially an aggregate of tools to complete projects like a film or videogames. All three utilize storyboards, prototypes in some way, an understanding of people’s motivations, storytelling and experience, visual design, sound design, etc.

Thanks Donald Mustard, for a delightful conversation and for validating my interest in exploring the convergence of Film, Videogames and UX Design.

Blog Migration

Hello everyone, I’m migrating ALL of my blog posts to here from my website:

The site build was really buggy with the RSS feeds and page loading.

This page will be dedicated mostly to Game Design and User Experience Design posts, and I’m keeping the music composition posts on compositions only:

Thank you all for reading, and welcome officially to wordpress!