FAQs

Sometimes this format helps people get to the most important information without having to hunt through your content to find it. Hopefully this will give you some focus on the things you care about. If not, feel free to contact me anytime!

Why UX?

Fate mostly. I started a web business in 1994 in Southern California. Back then we did everything. We did the design, wrote the code, setup the servers and all through a 56k modem if we were lucky. When I moved to San Francisco, it was clear I had to pick creative or tech as a field to pursue so I chose tech. This lead to an almost 3 year focus on technologies like HTML, JavaScript, and my favorite Cold Fusion. I started noticing that each of my development projects could benefit from some up front thinking, so I would make diagrams to share with team members. Little did I know, what I was doing was Information Architecture.

When Sapient first approached me about the “Senior IA” job, I applied but was concerned about my qualifications. When I showed them all the sitemaps and wireframes at the time, they told me that’s what the job was mostly about and I was hooked. The next 4 1/2 years of my life was spent contributing to and learning about User Experience. I learned how to conduct primary research, contextual research, personas, scenarios, and more. Of course I couldn’t help myself but always have the technical challenges in the back of my mind to insure that anything I was proposing was not only doable, but with an appropriate amount of effort that our project scope would allow.

You were a developer?

Because I started off as a generalist, I spent the majority of my time in the beginning learning HTML and JavaScript. Eventually that evolved into a strong interest in Cold Fusion and database architecture. Even though I stopped developing in 1999, I still keep coding in order to be a better designer. These days I typically play around with PHP on LAMP stacks.

What about research?

I believe that when you are trying to solve a problem, that you are unfamiliar or out of your depth with, research is critical. For example if you want to know how the majority of people decide what faucet to buy for their house, then you put on an orange apron and work the faucet aisle… in several different stores. If you want to know if ATM customers would like to receive certain messages at an ATM, then you stalk various ATMs around the city asking people questions until security runs you off.

The same is true of competitive and analogue research. The best way to understand how high the bar is and where the opportunities to differentiate are is by seeing what competitors are doing. Analogue research is the study of something that is not competitive, but similar and has a framework you can leverage for strategy. For example, when designing the digital strategy for a hospital network, the hospitality business is a great analogue to learn from and derive inspiration.

All that said, if you have put significant time in working within, say the retail financial services industry, there’s a high probability you will have some insights and instincts in understanding the behavior of retail banking consumers. If resources are thin, use your educated guess to get started and validate along the way.

How do you sell UX?

To be honest, this has always been a struggle for me. Only because I think User Experience is a complicated process that involves education, observation, understanding, context, and a way to bring it all together into a strategy that can be executed by designers and technologists.

The key to remember is UX is measurable. It’s measurable through areas like conversion, but also in places you may not expect. For example, most tech companies, on average, attribute over 75% of support calls as user error. If you created something that was more intuitive and easier to use, you can have a significant impact on that number. I recently did a project where that metric was extended to a “common ux” across all products. Take the same 75% of user error calls, remove the number for the first time callers, and you are left with people who continued to have problems even after the first one was addressed. There are many articles and even books that talk about the ROI of User Experience and how to calculate it. All of these can contribute to selling the value of User Experience which either helps sell a project for an agency, or to fund an internal initiative.

No more wireframes?

OK, here it is. Wireframes suck. Nobody gets them. If you’re honest with yourself, you know I’m right. OK… maybe some developers and a few designers get them, but no one else cares about your monochromatic Lorem Ipsum reference numbers and annotations over a 50 page document that addresses templates and not even actual pages. Other issues is they can’t accurately communicate interaction. They can describe what it’s like, but it’s like someone describing to you what it’s like to visit Paris. It’s just not the same as being there.

Also, if you have to change something that is used across multiple pages, you have to recreate the same change over and over again! In addition wireframes, by their nature are designed to be a printed document. It’s pretty ironic that we try to shape something into a format that we are typically replacing the need for. Also documents have version issues, compatibility with other software issues… My Omnigraffle files can’t be opened by your Visio and my Visio files can’t be (effectively) opened in My Illustrator. Last, but not least… they have a limited audience… it’s not like you’re going to user test them right? Wait… right? OK… whew!

So what’s the answer? Prototypes… Ahhh… say it with me, “Prototypes”! Do you know why prototypes are awesome? Of course you do, but let me make a few points anyway. First, you have a re-usable asset that you can use for internal reviews, stakeholder reviews, user testing, and more. In the case of the cloud based versions, everyone has access to the latest version without having to pass around a document that’s outdated 48 hours after you get it. It’s also an intuitive way to present your design to clients… because they can navigate to the parts they care about… just like a user! It also gives you the opportunity to “demonstrate” interactions like clicks, hovers, transitions, etc.

Of course sometimes you just have to break out a drawing program and go old school for lots of reasons. Sometimes wireframing is a key part of an organization’s process and they just don’t have the time or energy to absorb a new process and tool. The biggest reason is when you design for responsive. I know there are tools that attempt to be a one-stop “responsive design” app, but from what I’ve seen so far, they just don’t work. But when in doubt, and you have the ability… prototypes are the best, most accurate and efficient way evolve the design of a product, service, or marketing tool./

Is Omnigraffle cool?

Let’s get one thing straight. I love this tool. Switching from Visio to Omnigraffle (beyond the implications of switching to Mac at the same time), I can tell you is the exact moment my deliverables became clean, effective and just looked better. Ironically Visio and Omnigraffle are so similar that it’s scary… but for some reason Omnigraffle seems to have a more elegant approach, and takes it cues from Apple that the power is in the little things. It provides you the opportunity to craft something with Illustrator like finesse and accuracy, but much more focused on the basics. Although I try to do most of my wireframing in prototyping tools like Axure, I still have to do important infographics and sometimes large maps that can over 8 feet long. For that type of communication, I will always rely on Omnigraffle and the arsenal of stencils and shapes I’ve collected over the years.

How about Axure?

When I first discovered Axure, it was only available on Windows and it was right before I switched to Macs. I thought it was interesting, but definitely had a learning curve that I didn’t have the time to indulge with at that time. A couple years later I was hired to work on a project that had already been started in Axure and I was asked, “Are you familiar with Axure”? Like any good consultant I said, “Of course”! That night I spent about 4 hours using a trialware version on my Mac. I’m pretty sure my coding background helped dramatically with the learning curve since it uses a lot of true development paradigms, but I remember being totally hooked. Since then I have re-designed sites for LSI, LegalZoom, IHS, John Muir Health, and many more. Although it currently (at the time I wrote this) doesn’t facilitate responsive, there are ways to get around it to create versions for each break point. I’ve heard version 7 will handle it, but I’ll wait and see.

Any other apps?

There are so many “UX” related tools, I’m pretty sure something new is released every month. I honestly can’t keep up with them all and I really don’t need to. Apps are tools. Some of them do cooler things than others, but no one has developed the one-app-fits-all solution yet. When I worked at Sapient I thought Visio was the magic bullet to every solution. Like I could open the application, let my eyes roll into the back of my head and suddenly there would be a small bell chime, and I would open my eyes to find a perfect sitemap. The truth is, you should focus on the intellectual problem solving and pick a tool or have several in your quiver to execute on that idea.

Agile and UX?

In the beginning, nothing incited a more long drawn out groan than someone wanting to talk about Agile. Not because I don’t agree with it, I just don’t agree with one-size-fits-all when it comes to solving problems. I have heard so many discussions on the topic and have had them myself with everyone from visual designers to CTOs of large organizations and just about everyone in between. The bottom line is I don’t believe in Dogma. I believe Agile is a tool that has many things you can leverage from it. I think it addresses some risky and counter-productive aspects of the waterfall approach.

I also believe that just because you follow an Agile process exclusively does not insure the success of your project. I also think there’s a time and a place for waterfall as well. I think if you’re trying to solve something big and complicated, jumping into sprints seems half baked and risky. Sometimes you need to take some time up front to think about the bigger solution. This is especially true of anything involving complex navigation. Long story short… My dad was a contractor and he believed in “The right tool for the right job”. I think that’s always stuck with me, even to this day.

5 important inputs

(1) Understanding of the business (2) Understanding of the users or customers (3)Knowledge of what the competition is doing (4) Know the constraints and capabilities of the technology at your disposal (5) Be clear on the definition of success.

Where are you from?

I was born in Glendale, California and lived in Thousand Oaks, California until I was 16. Then my family moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated high school. Since then I have lived in Texas and Arizona, before finally coming back to California. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996 and have been here ever since.

Why motorcycles?

There’s two great quotes that I think answer this question. One is, “You never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist office”. The other is, “To see the scenery, drive a car… to be a part of it, ride a motorcycle”. Since 2002 I have rode approximately 75,000 miles. Much of it up and down the coast of California (at least a dozen times). Some riding up and around Northern California where some of the most beautiful roads in the state are located. I have also participated in two long distance trips. The first was a 5 day, 2,300 mile trip around the southwest which started with a 1,086 mile ride from my doorstep near San Francisco to my mom’s doorstep in Durango… did I mention I did it within a single day. It’s a right of passage with my riding friends known as a Saddlesore Ride and you can read all about that trip here.

My second big trip involved about 10 good friends and was 3,500 miles over 9 days. We rode from Northern California up into Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. We then rode down through Wyoming, Utah and back through Nevada on our way back to California.

I have to admit, some of my biggest life decisions were made on those trips. There’s nothing like hundreds of miles of road and just you and your thoughts to find clarity. Although I don’t ride as much as I use to these days, riding has been and continues to be a big part of my life and always will.

Why an R1200GS?

It’s simple. Watch this.

If that doesn’t do it… the weakest link (pun intended) on a motorcycle is the chain. They get rusty, they wear out, they break, they’re messy… you see where I’m going with this. The GS has a self contained and self lubricating shaft drive. I’ve also taken my GS to places most people don’t take cars and it’s never let me down. For that reason, I’m a fan for life.

Projects you like?

I honestly have found every single one of my client’s business interesting in some way. I’m perpetually and habitually curious. I always enjoy projects that have an impact. Either on the business or for people… if I’m lucky, it affects both. I love working with smart people and I have been fortunate to work with some of the smartest people I have ever met.