For intranet projects, search for ways to include unexpected delight for users

BY Prafull Mane

Jennifer Aldrich is a UX & Content Strategist at InVision, the popular prototyping, collaboration, and workflow platform. Aldrich’s interests are varied and include content strategy, design thinking, user centered design, writing, defining product voice and tone, usability testing and user research. She firmly believes that sharing knowledge is one of the most powerful ways that members of the UX community can make an impact on the world around them.
Aldrich spoke to Spadeworx about her UX prep, user research, convincing stakeholders to invest in the UX process, design thinking and how the path to being a UX professional can often be circuitous.
Q. How do you approach a project? What is your preparation process you follow before starting any project?
I honestly consider prep work part of my process. Including prep in your design time estimates and allotments will save you frustration and headaches down the line. Research is a huge first step. Chat with your target audience and deep dive to find out not just what they want, but what the underlying problems are that they’re trying to solve. If you’re creating a brand new product, don’t get hung up on what competitors offer, focus on what clients actually need. Often times competitors, especially those that have been around for a long time, get bogged down by legacy features that aren’t even useful anymore. You don’t want to do a competitive analysis and wind up working on features that are already useless. Focusing on specific problems that aren’t being addressed well currently can make your product lighter weight, easier to use and position you as a real contender in your space.
Q. It’s often hard to convince stakeholders to invest in the UX process. How do you make them see the value of good UX?
The key to getting a company to invest in the UX process if you’re working in-house or at an agency, is finding a high ranking internal sponsor. Bobby Meeks just did a great webinar with Designer Hangout that focused a lot on the topic. Don’t try to change the entire organization yourself, find a person at the top who will help advocate and evangelize the concept company wide. Once you have that buy in, other stakeholders tend to jump on board. When working with individual clients, sell the financial value. Explain that spending some time doing some user research and usability testing can save them huge amounts of money that would otherwise go to redesign. Saving cash is a big motivator for stakeholders and clients.
Q. Intranet sites often don’t get enough love when it comes to user experience. How can we make intranet sites more interesting and not just something that employees use just because they no option?
Getting a high ranking team member to sponsor it as a way to improve work culture can really help. As far as how to make them more interesting, treat them the way you would your product. Do some user research to figure out where pain points are, improve the UX, search for ways to include unexpected delight, focus on adding some content that would be interesting to internal staff members (perhaps a series of interviews about team members) etc.
Q. In terms of the UX process, how can applying the Pareto principle be useful?
Absolutely. Applying the Pareto Principle to your user research strategy can be especially beneficial. I’ve outlined a method that I used at my last startup here:
Q. What are your ways of finding pain points in any product?
To find pain points there are really 3 main discovery tools. The first is conducting user research. Get out and talk to your clients, walk them through various scenarios, ask them direct what is causing them the most pain. Next is reviewing support cases. Chatting with your support team, and analyzing case data can help you quickly identify areas of the product that need to be improved most. Thirdly, trying to use the product yourself on a daily basis can be extremely helpful in IDing major product issues. Even if the tool isn’t something that would be traditionally related to your role, learning to use it, and attempting to use it at least once a day to finish a primary task can be very eye opening. It’s one thing to hear about other people experiencing an issue, it’s another thing entirely to actually experience it yourself. It’s a very powerful motivator.
Q. Design Thinking is getting a lot of attention in recent times. Could you tell us your views on how it can be applied to various problems?
Design thinking is creating a cultural shift across organizations. In the past, design teams were siloed off within organizations. Companies are now realizing that the skills that designers use to think through and solve problems can be applied cross functionally, and as a result design has made its way to C level roles in businesses all over the world. Designers are being called on to apply their skillets to all kinds of business problems.
Q. Any tips for UX designers on how they can start thinking about sustainability more and bringing that more into their work?
Sustainability is so, so important. I’ll never forget the first time I watched Objectified. The scene that showed mountains of old tech in a landfill was burned into my mind and has stuck with me ever since. There are several areas that we tend to overlook, not intentionally, they just aren’t front of mind, in design. Focusing on sustainability is one, as is accessibility. As far as bringing it into our work, it really just requires a shift in thinking. If someone needs some convincing about designing with sustainability in mind, I’d definitely recommend having them watch the landfill scene from objectified. It’s pretty haunting.
Q. Could you tell us about how you made your way into User Experience? You have a science and psychology degree. How did that guide your work?
I took a circuitous route into the UX industry. I built my first website in the 90s and had a blast doing it. At that point it didn’t occur to me that design was something I could turn into a career, so I wound up heading to college and getting a degree in education and another in psychology. While I was finishing up my second degree, I took on a part-time job as a computer lab tech. I got to witness first hand the impact that well executed software has on the workflows and levels of productivity of members of various industries. I also got to witness the impact of poorly designed software—the loss of time and energy and high levels of frustration that it could inflict. After graduation, I wound up taking a job at a startup as a software trainer, but was eventually loaned out to the design and development department during a product overhaul project (rebuilding our entire platform on .NET). That was when I truly fell in love with product design. I was offered a job on the UX team soon after the project was completed, and had amazing mentors that helped me grow and launch my career. Pulling from a background in psychology has definitely impacted the way I perform user research and usability testing. I find the entire process and the results fascinating.
Q. We are huge InVision fans and very curious about how things work there. Could you tell us about the design process at InVision and the culture in general?
The culture here at InVision is phenomenal. We have clearer lines of communication than I’ve ever experienced in a traditional office setting and a very positive overall culture. There is much respect across teams, the leadership team is phenomenal and teams work together beautifully cross departmentally. We even have a peer recognition program that gets used very heavily each month. The employees at InVision are just fantastic.
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