Convincing the Unconvinced (of the Benefits of UX)

“If you don’t have people that care about usability on your project, your project is doomed.”

— Jeff Atwood

Occasionally you’ll encounter people that question the value of user experience design. My advice is: don’t try to convince them. And don’t be goaded into an ROI (return of investment) discussion of UX with „non-believers“.

Make the case for user experience design and for its contribution once, maybe twice, as people may be unfamiliar with it. But don’t you don’t want a repearing “why this is actually needed?” discussion.

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UX Design is a Craft

Nowadays it’s easy to learn the lingo and the approach of user experience design. It just takes an (online) course or two, and a few books. This teaches you the basics – so you are told. Unfortunately, it will not turn you into a UX designer.

UX design is a craft. And a craft needs practice and real-life practical experience. Without practice, you are just playing UX design. There is no substitute for hands-on, practical experience.

Made-up projects demonstrate that you know the steps of the UX design process. And that you can apply design methods. They show your method and process knowledge. They show that you know the basics and that you know the moves. But they cannot replace practical experiences. 

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Three Chairs and a Darkness

In 2003/04 I spent a year in the United States, working as a User Interface Designer for Siemens Medical. To document my stay I bought the smallest camera I could find. (Yes, this was before phones had cameras or were smart). I picked the Pentax Optio S4i.

The S4i was my first real camera.
It fits in the palm of my hand and I always carried it with me. It had glorious FOUR megapixels and it was shiny and perfect – but only until the S5i came out. The S5i had even FIVE megapixels and it allowed me to customize two buttons (instead of one). This was just too good. I bought the S5i and took some good pictures with her over the years.

Actually, I took my best picture with it.

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Building an IoT Prototyping Platform – Part III

This is part of a larger series, you might want to consider reading parts one and two first.

 

As promised, I will now discuss the parts of the platform in more detail – starting with the server.

The main job of the server is to connect the prototype’s HTML and the ESP devices via MQTT and WebSockets. In the first iteration, I used Node.js​ and Express to write it, resulting in about 600 lines of code. But since I am a UX designer and not a developer it’s probably best when I don’t write (a lot of) code.
The source code felt a bit crude and overly complex to me. It was hard for someone with little coding experience to get how the server worked. And that made maintaining and changing it hard for regular folks.

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Building an IoT Prototyping Platform – Part II

Here is the link to part one of this series, you might want to start there.

Based on the before stated principles and requirements for the prototyping platform I came up with the following architecture:

On the left, you see the web server where the HTML of the Prototyping tool will be stored. On the right, the different hardware components (sensors and actuators, e.g. buttons, rotary encoders, LEDs) are connected to ESP8266 microcontrollers. In broad terms, ESPs are similar to Arduinos but also offer WiFi connectivity for a low price. In between sits a server to broker and translate the information coming from both sides.

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Building an IoT/Hardware Prototyping Platform

This is the first article of a series (parts: two and three), as this topic needs some more space and time. I have about half of the content written, so I will post updates as I go along.

Even though the Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic, with today’s tools it is really hard to prototype and test IoT products or services beforehand. Very few tools allow us to use hardware components (like buttons or knobs) together with software user interfaces (UIs). Most software prototyping tools are closed systems offering no or only very little outside connectivity. Most of them only allow us to link screens together and that’s about it.

Plus, hardware prototyping is more complex than software prototyping: In addition to software interfaces, you need to know something about hardware, of course. Programming skills are needed if you want to tinker with them. And some knowledge about IoT protocols and platforms is helpful, too. These are skills very few user experience (UX) designers possess since a lot of them focus on the design of digital-only products and services. Just google the evergreen argument whether UX designers should be able to code.

Motivation

I thought that this was unfortunate since prototyping is such a crucial activity for creating successful products or services. We need to make your ideas tangible, test them with users and evaluate their feasibility before starting to build the real thing. And since I have some experience with software prototyping tools and tinkering with hardware I started looking for a way to create IoT prototypes.

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A timeless time machine

In the picture below you see my first love computer: the Schneider CPC 464. It had a built-in tape deck and was sold with either a green or a color monitor. It was never as popular as its rival, the C64, but that didn’t matter to me. I got the brownish monolith in ’85 as a Christmas present and 35 years later it still looks timeless, I think.

Sure, the screen is a bit small (size and resolution wise) for today’s standard, 64k RAM is not too great, and music tapes are not a popular storage medium anymore – but it can still play the game heroes of my childhood: Elite, Gauntlet, and Saboteur.
That’s why I decided a while ago to re-buy my first computer since I sold mine in my late teens to get money for a newer one.

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Notes to my (forgetful) future self

A few of my hobbies require quite a bit of research – hobbies like hardware tinkering, programming, installing stuff on a Raspberry Pi, building a 3d printer, coffee roasting, cooking… And since there are so many topics but only limited space in my head for quirky stuff, I started the habit of taking extensive notes. They became quite a lifesaver since I often have to put things aside for a while – for example when “regular” life happens. Strange, I know.

If you care about note-taking, take note (pun intended) and consider reading on. 

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DIY Raspberry Pi Laptop

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In 2012 Motorola had a brilliant idea on how to change the mobile computing landscape. They introduced the LapDock to the world (yes, I guess the pun was intended) – a laptop? like computer dock for your mobile phone. The German marketing slogan for it was: die Zukunft mobiler Computer Technik! (the future of mobile computer technology).

This also describes the problem of the lapdock, it was too much future for 2012. Remember the Android phones of 2012? Using this thing must have been horrible. It also had a steep price point (around $450). Thus it never really revolutionized the phone market.

But today the lapdock can be put to good use. You can turn it into a raspberry pi laptop with a few cables. You can get one for around 60 Euros on eBay every now and then. If you asked me why (a friend did), the short answer is: because we can!

You can find the write-up of the project over at hackster.io and build one to climb up a step on the Raspberry Pi nerd ladder.