24th October 2018 - No Comments!

Meditation as part of my design process

Meditation has become an important part of my design process. What started as something new I was trying two years ago has now become ingrained in my daily routine.

This habit is important in my creative process because it allows me to take a step back and be present. It helps me connect to myself, to listen internally and engage with my instincts. It helps me think more clearly about the people and the problem I am designing for, and by taking a step back I can pick out whatever piece of design theory, pattern or principle that might fit that need.

When an idea comes to me, focusing internally helps me determine whether it feels right based on whatever stimulus is in-front of me. For example, I could be in front of a wall of post-it notes containing user feedback from a usability lab I've just conducted. Because I meditate, it helps me to feel present when I could very well feel overwhelmed by this information. By focusing on my breathe, it helps me think more objectively which helps me to pick out themes and see patterns in data. I would then present these findings as insights about the product I'm testing to the rest of the team.

Meditation also helps me be a better team player. Design involves lots of critique and feedback, and so it's important to be objective about whatever you are designing. Designs are constantly changing and being iterated so it is important to not get too emotionally invested in any one solution. Since I have been meditating I've noticed I've been able to accept this critique much easier and not get caught up in my own emotions. It may have taken me hours to make one idea work, only for it to be discarded. It happens, and breathing helps me accept it and move forward. 

Meditation has helped me stand up for my ideas in a calmer, clearer way. As a user experience designer, I believe I have a responsibility to stand up for the user to ensure our design will meet their need. There have been occasions in the past where I have been overly adversarial if I felt a users' need was not being considered by the decision makers in your team. I've never been very good with conflict, and so meditation has helped me to be much more diplomatic and fair, but still have the same strong and clear impact. Design is all about being a good communicator and facilitator, and mediation has certainly helped me stay calm and say what needs to be said.

14th September 2018 - No Comments!

Designing for VR — Mobile UX London event report

I attended the event Designing for VR hosted by Mobile UX at the Oracle offices in London on Tuesday. This was mostly out of curiosity about how we approach VR from a UX perspective and it seems (from the presentations given) that the design processes aren’t much different, but the main challenges lie in how we test and prototype VR solutions.

The event was attended by a mix of designers, developers, product managers and others interested in where VR could bring value to their organisation. The speakers, Ed Moffat and Hollie Lubbock, both gave interesting presentations around controller behaviour in the VR environment, the challenges of prototyping for VR, and the importance of learning how to apply this technology to business cases.

Ed Moffat, Design Manager at IBM, focused on designing the experience of controller behaviour in the virtual environment. His insight was interesting because he designs VR games in his spare time and understands the challenges of making these games engaging.

There are various tests Ed and his friends are conducting in order to determine what types of controller interactions make the most sense in different virtual contexts. For example, when using a VR head-set you may see hands in front of you as opposed to the controller you are holding in reality. There are times when showing a representation of the actual controller in VR is more helpful than say hands in order to help users learn how they should use their controller to achieve what they want. Learning about this split requires deep understanding of the user’s goals in different virtual contexts.

Hollie Lubbock, Interaction design lead at Fjord, described how they have approach prototyping for VR within her team. Given her team’s lack of insight into the challenges with using this technology, they went about attempting to create a virtual environment themselves to explore how they could apply this technology to potential problems. Although it goes against my design instincts (it’s a solution looking for a problem) I think it’s important to know the limitations of what a potential solution, like VR, are.

What was interesting was that once they knew the limitations of what they could create, they then set about exploring the types of business cases where VR could offer the best solution. What they created was a VR experience to help first-time wheelchair users anticipate the types of difficulties and obstacles (literally) they may encounter. You can view Hollie’s presentation here.

Both speakers approached prototyping for VR experiences slightly differently. Ed talked about ‘white boxing’ as a way of prototyping interactions for a VR game. This technique requires designers to consider and explore the types of interactions needed by simply picking up, moving and stacking white boxes around a VR space. In her presentation, Hollie described how her team built a kitchen environment out of cardboard and used a 3D camera to capture it. She described the limitations this test had on user movement and the challenges with actually capturing the environment using a camera. In terms of determining the types of interactions they would need to design for, her team would physically walk through different scenarios.

It was an interesting evening, with good insights. For me there’s a lot to consider with VR, particularly with how it will actually add value as a solution (outside of gaming) and what effects more intimate activities such as therapy can have on the human brain — for good and for bad. I’d be interested to attempt a prototype for VR myself to get a better understanding of the limitations before I’d consider suggesting it as a solution, and how best I could design an experience that works.

23rd August 2018 - No Comments!

The importance of taking a creative break

Holidays can seem like the perfect opportunity to work on a burning idea that I have, and occasionally I’ve taken an opportunity away from my day job to try and bring something into reality.

When I’m enjoying a new project in this way it’s intoxicating, but I find that it’s really easy to not take a break and just carry on as I’m going. This inevitably leads me to grow tired, which lets self doubt creep in, and I begin to question my ability to finish or make something a success.

Doesn’t sound like much of a holiday does it?

I’ve found that what I really need is to give my brain and my body a decent break every three months in order to maintain myself. This means breaking from both professional and personal projects.

As I’ve got to know myself better as an adult, I’ve realised that these breaks sustain me. They are my chance to hit the reset button, to talk for hours with friends and family with no agenda, to sleep for as long as I want to, to run for as long as I want to, to journal, to pick up a work of fiction instead of a business book, to get out of London and not face a tube ride – essentially, freeing my mind and body from the schedules I have in my life.

I know this sounds really basic, but I genuinely enjoy my work as a designer and if I don’t take opportunities to switch off, I know I’ll burn out – and I don’t want that.

Breaks fill up my creative cup because they help me reconnect with people and ideas I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise. New destinations and different languages give me the sense of adventure I need in my life. Different food and approaches to life help me see things differently and that truly inspires me. Being around different cultures makes me wonder about where else in the world I’d like to live one day, and how I could make that a reality.

These are all feelings that leave me with a sense of excitement about the future, about the possibilities. If I had my head stuck in a new project the whole time I wouldn’t get that.

I’m not saying that taking time out to pursue personal projects is bad, not at all. I have many projects and future ideas. What I’m saying is that to keep momentum, to keep feeling inspired, to maintain the high standards I expect from myself, I need to have a rest.

This year I’ve been lucky enough to visit Copenhagen, Rome, Israel and Jersey – where are you going to hit reset and recharge your creative batteries?

9th August 2018 - No Comments!

User experience design is a whole team sport

“The role of a researcher is to haunt an organisation with with the needs of the user”

It’s difficult to feel the tension between yourself and other team members when you have differing ideas about how products should be built. Standing up for user’s needs is sometimes seen as an inconvenience when battling against crushing development deadlines. It’s even more difficult to feel this way when user experience isn’t valued as highly as it should be.

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3rd March 2018 - No Comments!

The Design of Organised Chaos: How Scotland’s Tactics lead to this wonder try in the 2018 Calcutta Cup Rugby match v England

As a Scotland Rugby fan, I have waited a long time for us to beat England in the way we did in the 2018 Six Nations Championship. Having not scored a try against England at Murrayfield since 2004, we managed to score three before half-time. This was down to a combination of factors including the speed of play, the way the team trains, and the way players think. Although it may seem hard to believe, Scotland's organised chaos is all done by design and comes from the mind of Gregor Townsend.

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18th February 2018 - No Comments!

The Books I Read In 2017

The books I read in 2017 perfectly illustrate where my head was at last year. They're a sign of what my learning priorities were, and what inspired me. In this retrospective article I'm not going to give a review any of these books, but rather I'm going to talk about the effect they have had on my habits, skills, outlook and attitude.

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