Blue neon sign saying “Wish you were here”
Blue neon sign saying “Wish you were here”
Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash

UXers can leverage the moment to improve how we work together

*Note: The pandemic isn’t over yet, but it pays to begin considering what things will be like when it is.

Remember when collaboration used to just happen? Unscheduled, in the same room, with people’s fingerprints on your monitor.

After a year of universally remote work, there’s an opportunity to reflect on the more intentional types of collaboration — often scheduled, always electronic, sometimes limiting, but in some ways better.

Remote collaboration isn’t new, but knowing that just about everyone else is remote has made 2020–2021 different. …

Great writeup. I find in my world, that working remotely during covid has revealed a lot about UX research, design, and collaboration. Now that collaboration has become more of a conscious choice, and less of a thing that "just happens" when people sit together in a room, it is a unique time to consider the topic. For us, Mural/Miro boards and shared documents have fast become the norm. Solo, contemplative work still matters a great deal as well — but that is done mostly to prep for a collaborative ideation session or conversation that we have together with people from design, product, and engineering. I am happy to say this results in less wasted research!

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

My scrappy start may hold some helpful clues

Some years back, I was working as a web designer at a large company when I realized the power of usability testing.

Until this time, I’d typically design something and show it to coworkers for approval. Fellow designers, stakeholders, directors, would weigh in with often contradictory opinions.

But the UX design field was rapidly maturing, and the benefits of user research were becoming harder to ignore.

It was time to learn how to conduct usability testing, and it would change the entire conversation.

Lean UX by Gothelf and Seiden, and Don’t Make Me Think by Krug, kept me company on…

Photo by Taychin Olarnwichitwong on Unsplash

When you’re a designer, opinionated stakeholders will be a challenge. Here are some ways to avoid, address, and even harness their involvement.

Digital designers will know the feeling. You’ve prepared a visual design to the last pixel, and are proudly showing it to someone important — when they say something to make the whole thing implode.

I’ve learned by trial and error in these situations. Mostly error. So here are some tips to help you avoid some of my mistakes.

Don’t assume anyone will remember a project’s context. You need to remind them, preferably in a scheduled meeting. But don’t assume you can talk much while they are looking at the work — nobody will be listening.

Set the stage just before…

Photo by Dima Pechurin on Unsplash

You can gain a lot when a person in your org plays the role of the user, as I recently re-learned.

A few months ago I was in a meeting.

“We need you to do some UX research with a new group of users. Upstream discovery. Hard-to-reach niche.”

This was a new stakeholder within my org who I had never worked with before.

“Happy to be a part of it.”

I tried a few things, but I had trouble getting participants. Weeks passed, and findings were less robust than I wanted. I worried about disappointing my new client.

What could I have done differently?

In the past, I’ve had luck following a loose formula:

  1. Learn from stakeholders
  2. Learn from in-house people…

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A while back I took a job working on one of those big, legit design systems — not as a side project, but as my full time gig.

My partner in design was a gifted designer/developer. We had a team of React coders. We served a bunch of products and a crowd of adopters.

Skills sharpener, eye opener

From the beginning, I was learning a ton. Hyper-focused on components, colors, accessibility, spacing, and other abstractions, free to obsess over the smallest details. I guess this is how some people become UI encyclopedias.

I also served dozens of product designers across different teams. Developers too…

The dashboard wireframe with “Rough Draft” across it
The dashboard wireframe with “Rough Draft” across it
A glimpse at one version of the prototype

Last fall I was introduced to a local nonprofit, who wanted a mobile app. Requirements were broad, and it wasn’t clear where I could add value as a UX designer.

To me this felt like an opportunity to help the nonprofit define their needs. An opportunity to travel upstream.

The salmon swim

Like many of us, I started my design career at the bottom. People shared design requirements, and I leveraged my training to design the screens.

But before long I started showing my designs to people to make them better, much like any designer.

It was casual at first, guerilla style. But…

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Ah, visual minimalism. Don’t you love it? Reduce the clutter on the screen, and then reduce it some more.

But why are you doing it?

Too many times in my career, I’ve seen designers take the idea of visual minimalism one step too far.

Ease of use

Many people equate minimalism with ease-of-use even though they are two different concepts. Sometimes they align, but not everything is a Google search screen.

If the two concepts were synonymous, how do you explain the Rubik’s Cube? Visually simple, but very difficult to complete.

History is filled with examples where minimalism had to…

The view from a consulting job after much of the turmoil had subsided

An occasionally entertaining journey to get a UX job in New York

If you are looking for a job as a user experience designer, chin up: you will eventually get one. Unless you give up before that. So don’t do that.

This is my particular story.

Some months ago, I was busy watching YouTube videos at work. I had been pushing my UX research agenda at my company for a while. And it was going well. But eventually the work dried up, and even my proactive initiatives were falling flat.

I knew it might be coming: that dreaded layoff meeting…

The physical world is filled with lessons on design that can be applied to the digital design space, and while UX is primarily used in the context of software, it manifests itself everywhere in the designed world.

That’s why I found the redundant signs in the photo above so interesting.

A stylized set of beautiful icon/illustrations show a man and woman; a standard restroom sign if it had been done more beautifully, and more consistently with the rest of the consumer experience.

Below this, an extra green tile with an International Symbol of Access has been added (the wheelchair person).

Mike Mathis

Designer, researcher, collaborator, and mentor to budding designers. Real world experience. He/him.

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