Nick Lombardi

Nick Lombardi is an Editor working on acquiring and editing design content at O'Reilly Media. He has been working in technology publishing for 13 years, joining O'Reilly in the summer of 2014. Prior to that, he worked on information security and networking content for a large academic publisher. A New England native, Nick lives south of Boston with his wife, two boys, and two cats. In what passes for his free time, he enjoys craft beer, running, history, and science fiction.

Design for success: Manage business and user goals

Laura Klein on what makes a successful designer and how we should measure the success of product designs.

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Register for the UX Design for Growth — Improving User Conversion training session with Laura Klein. In this online, interactive training workshop, Klein, author of “UX for Lean Startups,” will teach you to design for product growth.

Designers have become more and more integral to the success of their organizations. This increase in visibility and responsibility requires new skills, a greater understanding of the goals of the business, the ability to work with a wider variety of stakeholders within the organization, and new ways to measure the success of design work. I recently spoke with Laura Klein, designer, researcher, engineer, and author of UX for Lean Startups and the popular design blog Users Know, about these topics.

Understanding the goals of the business

In discussing the essential skill set for designers today, Klein explains why designers need to understand what their organization is trying to accomplish and why they should get comfortable working with people outside of the design team:

I think nowadays we really have to understand what the business goals are and also what the user goals are, and how those two things can work together to make a great experience for the customer that also helps the business. … More and more, we’re really working on cross-functional teams, which I think is wonderful. It might mean that we’re working with a marketing person and an engineer or several engineers, and a product manager. We’re no longer just working off in our little silos with all the other designers, when all we have to do is talk design. We’re working with a really diverse group of people … I think it’s better for products, but it does mean we have to know how to communicate with more types of people. Learning how to do that can be incredibly important.

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Making a business case for design decisions

Key messages to help you communicate design decisions to stakeholders.

Buy Articulating Design Decisions, by Tom Greever, currently in early release. Note: this post is an excerpt from the book.

While every project is different and every client has unique needs, I’ve found that there are some ways of explaining design decisions that I seem to use over and over again. I often say the same kinds of things to defend my projects and, I’ve compiled them here for reference. Some of them are similar or related to one another, but they should give you a good basis for the kinds of responses that are effective in design discussions.

These are the key messages that you need to communicate in order to deliver on your strategy and achieve the objective. So, with your strategy and tactics in mind, find the messages that apply most to your situation and modify them to accommodate your particular context. The goal for this chapter is to give you a list of common ways of describing design decisions that you can use and re-use at each meeting: a set of templates to give you a head start on forming the best response.

I’ve organized them into four categories, in no particular order: business, design, research, and limitations. This is a list of re-usable responses, whether you are appealing to the business, pointing out important design logic, addressing research and data you have, or noting the limitations you face. Use these messages to make your case for a better user experience. Read more…

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How to make a UX designer

Heather Wydeven talks about her entry into the field of UX and what helped her succeed as a new UX designer.

Where do new designers come from? In the case of Heather Wydeven, a UX designer at The Nerdery, she came to UX via theater and then graphic design. In a recent interview, Wydeven took the time to speak with me about her route to UX design, what it was like entering the UX field, what new designers should know, and how more experienced designers can help bring new designers into the fold.

After spending several years working in theater, Wydeven decided to channel her creative skills into a career in graphic design. She came to UX design without even realizing what UX was, but the root of her motivation was something that’s familiar to many UX designers: a recognition that things could be better and a desire to solve problems.

“While I was doing graphic design,” Wydeven said, “I started to become more curious about web design and UX design specifically, though at the time I didn’t know it was called ‘UX design.’ I was using websites and being frustrated about my experiences on those websites and thinking, ‘There’s got to be a way to make these better. This has got to be somebody’s job to design these websites better than they are now.’” Read more…

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Designing for the unknown

Simon King on design intuition and designing solutions that work for the user both now and in an unforeseen future.

Design principles are being applied in all aspects of business today — they are no longer limited to graphic design, product design, web design or even experience design. I recently had the chance to speak with Simon King, design director and interaction design community lead at IDEO in Chicago. In our conversation, King talks about balancing design intuition with prototyping and testing, designing beyond the screen, and designing for the unknown.

At IDEO, they take a human-centered approach, observing the user in their environments. That research informs their design process, says King, but they also rely heavily on collaborative design teams with diverse experience, which helps to bring a fresh perspective to every project:

“Our project teams are generally dedicated in working together on one topic. They draw from all this inspiration. They utilize their intuition. They generate a bunch of ideas and build on the ideas of others. That’s really key to having these project teams of diverse designers together so we can build on each other’s ideas. Another big part of it is that in every project, people are working on totally different domains. They’re working in different industries. They’re working for different types of users. We can really cross-pollinate the things that we’ve seen in one area and apply them to another area during that ideation process.”

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Designers can do anything

Jon Kolko on how empathy, theory, and tactical skills can put the next generation of designers on a path to success.

Design principles are being applied in all aspects of business today — they are no longer limited to graphic design, product design, web design, or even experience design. I recently spoke with Jon Kolko, vice president of consumer design at Blackboard, founder and director of Austin Center for Design, and author, about the skills designers need today and the curriculum formula to help them succeed.

In our conversation, Kolko talked about how a balance of process, empathy, theory, and tactical design skills can prepare designers for success in more traditional design roles and beyond. Kolko is a firm believer in an empathy-based, user-first approach to design. User-first is not unique, but Kolko advocates getting to know the user before even conceiving of the product:

“The switch to an empathy focus is actually really easy. You need to watch behavior, so that means actually watching people do things. We talk about watching people work, play, and live because sometimes the things they do are actually not that utility driven… So, depending on what your product is, you need to start to get to where people are actually doing things. It’s like a hair away from doing an interview, but that behavioral hair makes all the difference because when you conduct an interview, you get retrospective behavior anecdotes that tend to gloss over specifics; they make false estimates and generalizations, and they don’t have that rich nuance and outlier that you can start to build insights around. Those specific insights then go to drive your new product ideas.”

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Today’s designers are solving business problems

Tom Greever talks about the evolution of experience design and the challenges — and opportunities — facing designers today.

It’s no secret that design is playing a more prominent role within many organizations. Designers are becoming fundamentally linked to the development and success of products and services versus their more historical role polishing the appearance of those products and services. I recently sat down with Tom Greever, UX Director at Bitovi, to talk about the evolution of UX design, challenges that design professionals face today, and some of the keys to the success of the modern UX designer. Greever describes the evolution:

“Traditionally, the only problem we were trying to solve was to make something look better. It was a problem of just aesthetics, but now our designs have to solve for things like ease of use, or conversion, or user engagement. We’re solving business problems. We’re helping businesses achieve their goals through design, and if we can’t do that, then our designs aren’t any good. We’re not creating the right experience. They’re not providing value.”

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