I haven’t had time to blog as much as I’d hoped. So here’s one for now. The weirdest email I received in 2016. Please enjoy. Let me sum this one up for you. Elizabeth (full name and email address obviously not mentioned here) emails me to say that I (D read moreRead More
Imagine we are all in elementary school. The teacher says that for recess, we will either play kickball or tag. Let’s all vote! The sport with the most votes wins and everybody will play that sport. You don’t like kickball or tag. You’re having trouble read moreRead More
Empathy has become a bit of a buzzword in UX lately. Many trusted experts are saying that various aspects of UX strategy and design require empathy.
What empathy isn’t.
A few months ago, I ended up in a Facebook battle with a stranger whose profile said he was a Senior UX Researcher at a company I won’t name. The topic was the poor experience I had with Kent State University’s online grad program (and let’s not go into that one again). He seemed determine to invalidate my opinion. He accused me of “sour grapes,” which made no sense since I am not jealous of a school experience I gleefully quit.
Late in the battle, he started a sentence with, “I empathize with you, but…” and proceeded to try to make it sound like my opinion and experience weren’t really what I was claiming they were.
First, you don’t empathize with me. If you truly felt empathy, you would understand why the experience I had produced the beliefs and reactions I had surrounding it.
Second, nobody has empathy but then disagrees or invalidates what the other person is saying, feeling, or experiencing. That’s not empathy.
What is empathy?
I have read a lot of definitions and have come up with my own. Very often, people say that empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes… and perhaps walking a mile. But that’s not really empathy. Weirdo Sr UX Researcher put himself in my shoes and decided my reactions to my own experience made no sense perhaps because it’s not how he would have reacted to the same situation. That’s also not sympathy.
Empathy is you putting yourself as me into my shoes.
If you put yourself into my shoes, you will think like you. React like you. Parse information like you.
If you imagine me in my shoes, you should then be thinking like I think. Reacting like I think. Assessing situations like I do. Which means you always validate that person. Whatever he or she thinks, believes, decides, opines… it makes sense… to him or her. You might do something different! Doesn’t matter. You are seeing the world through someone else’s eyes as him or her.
No outside judgment.
As soon as you are saying that someone’s reaction makes no sense, her feelings don’t match her situation, he’s making a mountain out of a molehill, her conclusions and assessments of her own situation are weird, those are your judgments. And they are not empathy.
Empathy requires that you remove your own judgments, ideas, preferences, and “what you would have done” in order to try to really imagine things through the eyes of the user.
I recently saw an example of what not to do when I saw a user story written by a product manager. Normally, user stories go something like, “As the user, I want to be able to [do something] because [user’s reason].” The product manager had written, “As the product manager, I want the user to be able to [do something] for [product manager’s reason].”
User centered design needs you to BE the user
You may not be your own company’s target audience. But to do your best UX work, you have to step out of your own shoes. You have to get away from the mirror and BE the personas or target audience. Don’t just “put yourself in their shoes;” that’s still you being you, just in some other scenario or bizarro world.
To truly know how a user would potentially react to something, to understand how a user might use something, and to know if you have designed the right solution, you have to be the user. Since we haven’t invented technology to put us in other people’s heads, we have to do this through empathy.
If you are not naturally very empathetic, start by thinking of it as acting. You ARE the persona. Get into character. Improv. What does that person’s life look like? How is he motivated and what influences him? What are her needs and goals? What improvisation can you do around what this persona would be like brought to life?
One of my fave UX researchers (not the above guy) would say the same thing often to people during user testing. “That makes sense,” he would say with comfort in his voice, no matter what the user just did or said. Because to the user, they were doing it right and he was validating that… and them. Good stuff.
And that other “Senior UX Researcher”? He wasn’t empathetic or sympathetic. He was just pathetic.
Clicking around nothing in particular recently, I found a list of something like 11 things Baristas want you to know. Here was number 7:
It says, “If you asked for decaf, I gave you decaf. You don’t need to ask me repeatedly. I am not out to get you.”
And I’m not out to piss you off when I ask you repeatedly.
I have a caffeine allergy. It’s one of those allergies where I can have a little of something, but if I go above a certain threshold, that allergy is 100% ON. I can have about as much caffeine as you’d find in a can of Coke, about 40mg, in a day. Or I can have a little dark chocolate. Or some decaf coffee or espresso.
One thing I definitely can’t have would be regular coffee. Certainly not regular espresso. That will be very bad. That would be like 4x what I can handle and I won’t even see it coming.
If I go over my threshold, I get a basilar migraine for about 12 hours. Nothing cures it or makes it go away other than time. I have to wait it out. So it’s best to stay under that threshold. And since I was diagnosed in 1984, I’ve gotten very good at knowing where that line is.
I love decaf coffee. Love the taste of it. Don’t want to give it up because baristas have made me sick three times in 15 years.
You’re not out to get me, but you’re human. You might make a mistake.
I evidently DO need to ask repeatedly because in the last 15 years, Starbucks baristas have:
- Given me caffeine 3 times no matter how many times I checked if it was decaf and told them I have an allergy. They deserve a special rung of hell.
- Remade my drink (various baristas in various locations) because when I double-checked, they suddenly weren’t sure if they had pulled a decaf shot or not. Grateful to them!
I’m going to ask repeatedly. Please learn to not take that personally.
I once asked a barista in an airport if she were sure she was giving me decaf. She snidely said, “I CAN read.” OK, I bet you can read. But anybody can make a mistake.
Please work WITH me. Please be understanding. If I ask that much, it must be important to me. I know you’re not out to get me. But I also know that it’s human to grab the wrong thing. We’re all capable of it.
One thing I’ve noticed lately is a trend for companies to redesign the home page and then NO other pages. My home page is fresh 2015 or 2016. The rest of my experience looks the way it did 5 years ago, maybe more. Let’s see some examples. PayPal PayPal is po read moreRead More
Our Bay Area Axure Meetup has over 200 members. I’m proud of that! But for some reason, meetups have very low turnouts even though I try to make them relevant, cool, and not too frequent.
I decided to put on a User Research hat and send out a 2-question survey asking people who can’t go to our most recent Meetup why not. I’m curious if it’s mostly schedule conflicts or something else.
Just Two Questions
The first was why you can’t come to the Meetup. You could pick “yes” or “kinda sorta” for a few pre-written options. Or choose “other” and write in your own.
The second question was a freeform response on why you joined the meetup group and what you hope to get from it. Helps me understand expectations.
I got back a survey response so interesting I had to share it.
Survey responses were anonymous so I have NO idea who this person is. He or she is one of the nearly 200 people who did not come to the most recent Meetup.
If I’m reading this correctly…
- This person has joined a meetup group but has had bad experiences with “mass meetings,” and mostly finds them a waste of time. Perhaps Meetup isn’t the right place for someone who doesn’t like mass meetings?
- This person kinda doesn’t care about Axure but has joined the Axure meetup.
- This person wants to learn more about Axure, even though he/she doesn’t care that much about it, and hopes to get more info on it.
How do I make that person happy?
I’d love to help that person get more info on Axure. You want more info on Axure and I have that info! But you kinda sorta don’t care about Axure. Hmmm….
You could come to our meetup! Oh, you don’t want to come to meetups as they might be a waste of time.
Just a reminder that we can’t make all of our customers happy. I probably cannot meet the expectations of a meetup member who doesn’t like or trust “mass meetings.”
Luckily, other survey answers showed that people mostly just couldn’t make that particular night and it was nothing against Axure or Meetups. 🙂
When I do public speaking, a question I get nearly every time goes something like this:
I’m an entry/mid-level UX practitioner at a small/large/famous company. It looks like nobody outside of the UX team is thinking about our users and personas. How do I get the developers/artists/product managers to be more user-centered?
My standard answer isn’t good news, sorry.
First, I’m so sorry that you are working somewhere where you are seeing one or more teams literally not care about the user. Maybe they care only or heavily-primarily about business needs or just shipping it no matter how easy it is or isn’t to use.
Second, if you are entry or mid-level in the company, it’s not your job to get entire teams or departments on board with anything. Step 1, release yourself from the expectation that you can or should be able to get that buy-in.
It’s normally top down.
Someone a few levels above you decided that it’s more important to release software quickly. Or make it pretty on the assumption that well-visually-designed is really all it needs.
This is the job of the Head or Director of UX. If your company doesn’t have one of those, that’s also a sign that the company doesn’t really buy into UX… at least not as its own specialized thing. If lower level UX people answer to an artist, creative director (without a UX background), product manager, or engineer, this is a potential sign that UX isn’t really respected at this organization.
If there is a Head or Director, that person needs to be working with other teams and departments to make sure people understand what UX does, why it’s not something you circumvent, and why focusing on the users should be the top priority.
Again, this isn’t your job. There is no magic thing I can say that will make all the non-UX product managers stop thinking that UX research is a waste of time and money. This has to come from someone with the right level of authority who can command respect as a subject matter expert.
Perhaps a workplace mismatch?
That’s a tough environment in which to be someone whose entire job is to think of the user first. I find many UX practitioners give us and quit that environment. And if you choose that too, all of us in the UX world would understand.
There are companies out there who get UX, prize it, take it seriously, and don’t need convincing that UX is something special, meaningful, and worth the time and money. You might be happier working there.
Sometimes you end up in an argument. Sometimes you know you are headed into an argument. I once got a great piece of advice that has helped me, so I’m sharing it.
During my nasty divorce in 2003, my lawyer and I went to meet with the other side in his lawyer’s office. The meeting was a lot of nonsensical yelling, which is what I was used to from my then-husband.
One instance of their crazy-pantsing was when they were yelling about much money I should be making as a “webmaster,” which was a server admin job I didn’t qualify for then or now. But they were still sure I should be making 6 figures as a webmaster, so they wanted alimony in line with what they thought I should be making. I asked them to define what a webmaster was and then explain how my skills fit that. They sputtered and couldn’t do either, which lead to more familiar nonsensical yelling.
On our way to the car, I said to my lawyer, “I think that went pretty well!”
He said calmly, “In my 35+ years of being a lawyer, that was THE worst meeting I’ve ever been in.” I asked how he could tell. He said the other side wasn’t interested in any facts or information we had. They just wanted to stick to their ideas and beliefs, even if we could prove those wrong. He said you really only want to bother with meetings and discussions when there is a chance of compromise… or the other side is at least open to learn something new.
And that’s true of any debate or argument.
I think about the crazy situations I sometimes end up on Facebook when some friend-of-a-friend decides I’m Hitler because of how I vote or what I eat. Is it really worth arguing with that person? Does he or she want to learn new things about politics or me?
Asking yourself these questions in times of confrontation can really help get you grounded again. Accusations and crazy talk can unhinge any of us and make us want to bark back. But especially in business situations, we have to be more mindful in our approach. It takes practice.
In personal situations, this advice is really helpful. A stranger online who just told me I need to respect and appreciate him for how long he’s been in the industry? Well, let’s step back before we reply and think about what is really going on here. I don’t think he’s looking for facts, info, or for me to re-clarify my opinion.
In fact, he’s not asking me about my opinion at all. I think he’s telling me incorrectly what my opinion was and how I have that opinion.
Is he asking questions?
That’s one way to know when you’re in one of these situations. Is the other person asking questions? If you are hearing questions like, “What do you think?” or “Can you please clarify this?” or “What information do you have about this?” then you might be lucky. You might have someone with a somewhat open mind who could be open to information other than what he or she was already believing.
But zero questions is often a good sign that the other person is sure about his or her beliefs or ideas. Not open to anything you might want to share or explain. Which means don’t go there.
Don’t bother. You will spend meaningless energy not-enlightening anybody. Don’t explain it again. They don’t care. And that’s OK. They are allowed to not care. But know that and move on.
There are UX questions we can ask in business situations.
When the argumentative person in the meeting who really wants it her way starts in again with how all the customers will want the feature she came up with the way she envisions it, it’s easy to want to go to battle. I remain calm and just ask her how she knows that. Does she have UX research that supports those hypotheses.
Either way, that ends the fight. Either she has good user research that supports what she’s saying. Or she doesn’t, at which point you can say something neutral like, “We should do some user research to validate your hypothesis before we design, build, and implement these features.” Who can disagree with that? 🙂
“That’s an interesting idea. We should investigate that more.” You’re being neutral-to-positive but also saying we’re not going to run and do that (without validation).
“I’ll make a note of that and run it by the team.” I won’t be the one to tell you the idea stinks. I will make sure you feel heard and listened to. Maybe when I tell the team your idea, they will have an improvement on it that will still help you feel like it was your idea. 🙂
Watch for people who aren’t asking questions… and don’t answer the questions they’re not asking. You will have to find another way around. Lean on research and data as much as you can (in business) so that it’s not about any one person’s ideas or feelings.
For those of you new to this blog, hello! I’m Debbie and I’m a UX (user experience) designer. I specialize in interaction design and information architecture, which means it’s normally my job to make websites, apps, and other user experiences better, easier, more user friendly, faster to learn and use, etc…
I’m a big Disney fan, mostly of Parks and Resorts. I just attended my third D23 Expo in Anaheim, and some of the poor organization is shocking. The event doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes either. In case anybody is listening, I wanted to offer my help and some ideas for the future.
The Anaheim Convention Ctr has 1.6 million sq ft of space and is adding more. If Dreamforce can operate in Moscone’s 2 million sq ft and have 130,000+ people attend, you should be able to do well with what you have in Anaheim and easily herd roughly 30,000 people.
The space isn’t well utilized. Key things people want to do are across the convention center from each other. Important things like StagePass and StorePass (I’ll get to those) are way on one side of the show floor. If you really want to maximise crowd control, perhaps those go somewhere else… upstairs? Or not at all? I’ll get to that.
There is a lot of lining up outside and you had no canopy or water. It was 92 degrees this weekend. People are lined up for hours in the SoCal sun without love. Workers didn’t seem to know where bathrooms were. They sent us to the Hilton Hotel, which the Hilton might not have liked.
Since you never do anything to gauge attendee interest in presentations, you seem to have no idea what size rooms to use. I was in the 11am Silly Symphonies presentation in a huge room that was half full. Well sure… everybody was downstairs lining up for StagePass.
Balance crowds across the three floors of the building. Put Archives back upstairs (and bring back the archives merch shop from 2011). What else can go upstairs? I wonder if the whole thing could be flipped. Big presentations downstairs in halls that can hold thousands and thousands of people; everything else on the top two floors since those pavilions, shops, and activities can be separated into themed ballrooms.
It looked like most people helping out here were Cast Members (workers) from Disneyland and Disney Stores. They seemed to be in people-pleasing mode rather than crowd-control, rule-enforcing mode, which meant that experiences were inconsistent. I saw one guy talk his way onto the StorePass line at one of the stores even though he had no StorePass. He didn’t think he should have had to wait considering everything else he had to wait for.
Yeah, we ALL feel that way. The lines here are unreasonable and poorly thought out. But these are the rules. The worker let him in. Things like that sucked. There are many stories surfacing from the event that are like this… workers moving people waiting on one line to another and then those people get let in later than they should have.
This is organization and communication. If your workers are going to be in people pleasing mode, then maybe hire the conference staffing people you can get for events. They won’t care what people think of things. They follow the rules. And then you won’t have Disney workers being mentioned by name in anger around social media. That’s bad for everybody.
The Rules and Strategies
The story of the guy who talked his way onto the line makes us ask did he know what to do and just didn’t like it? Or did he genuinely not know what he was supposed to do?
How is D23 messaging what you should do? Online “survival guides” said things like wear comfy shoes and bring water. But who is telling people how to plan the day, what passes you MUST get by when, etc… StorePasses were running out by 10:30am… and they only started giving them out at 10am. People were lining up since 9am.
How does D23 tell people how to play their game? How can messaging be clear but friendly? Nobody wants to read something that feels like terms and conditions. The first-timer friends I brought said if they didn’t have me strategizing, they’d have no idea what to do and be very angry about the things they would have misunderstood, not known, or just missed. PS: they don’t want to come to this event again. 🙁
I disliked this Expo so much that my first thought was, “I won’t buy a ticket to the next one until I read the rules and polices and make sure they changed for the better!” And then I remembered that rules and policies were broken or non-enforced everywhere, so those are meaningless.
The mobile app was very bad. I don’t think anybody worked on the UX team for that one. I think someone came up with ideas, programmers built it based on the ideas, nobody did UX, and a designer put some icons on it.
There are so many places it doesn’t work as expected. For example, you add friends to it by logging into Facebook. But then what can you do with those friends? You can’t see what they favorited, which is what people seemed to expect. When a friend wanted to message me through the app, it looked like it was going to send her to Facebook. Well, she already has Facebook for that.
App notifications weren’t going through to many people, which tell me that this wasn’t tested on all appropriate devices. I saw plenty of iPhone 4 models around. If you think everybody has a 6, they don’t. One woman told me she couldn’t see the third day of the schedule without putting her phone in landscape mode. Again, nobody must have tested an older, narrow iPhone to see this.
Every time I tried to zoom in to the map, my screen went white and the map seemed to completely reload. That’s a crappy user experience. And when I got really zoomed in, someone saved/scanned the map at bleh resolution. I couldn’t tell a 6 from an 8 on booth numbers. Type was very small.
I am offering free, unlimited UX help and QA for your next app. Let some pros work on this thing. It’s too embarrassing to put out what you did. Let me and my team take your feature dreams and give them the layout, flow, interactivity, and ease of use they deserve. Free. Don’t want me? Hire professionals with senior-level experience (or higher). Don’t give this to entry level juniors, please.
If D23 resources are tight, lean on fans. You’d be amazed what we know how to do and would do without charging.
StorePass and StagePass
The expo has a system for letting people get into certain presentations that interest them. You can’t book those ahead. Each morning of the three-day event, you go and wait on a line to get a StagePass. This lets you pick one presentation from the first half of the day. You get a ticket and the assurance that you can get into this presentation. In the morning, the line was short, but that’s because we lined up to get in 2 hours before doors opened. So we’ve already waited 2 hours to get a StagePass.
The Expo expects you to line up AGAIN at 12:30pm to get a StagePass for the one presentation you’d like to see in the second half of the day. Some people started lining up at 11:30am. The line extended across the entire trade show floor across multiple halls, right through the middle of everything. It looked like thousands of people were on the line. I might be on that line 2 hours.
Why can’t I line up once per day and get two StagePasses? There’s no risk associated with letting me do that. If I don’t show up and the presentation is popular, there is a standby line of people who will HAPPILY take my spot. That spot won’t be wasted, so there’s no risk.
Even more bizarre is that if you line up for StorePass, the ticket to a shorter line to go into shopping areas, you can get up to three StorePasses each day. We waited about 40 minutes on the StorePass line but were able to get passes for two stores. Why can I get multiple StorePasses for one day but not multiple StagePasses?
And while we’re on this topic, why can’t I choose StagePasses and StorePasses from the app? Let the app check for location to make someone is at the convention center (or on the CC wifi, which also makes it likely I’m here). Let me pick 2 StagePasses for the day, first come to the app, first served. Let me get on a waitlist, which helps me NOT sit on a standby line if there seems to be no chance of me getting in without a StagePass. Sitting on a standby line with no chance of getting in is a huge waste of time at an event already seriously wasting people’s time.
I saw another good idea on a Facebook page. Someone said that when we register for the event and pay to attend, let us pick three presentations that we want to be guaranteed to get into (while supplies last). That way, even if you don’t feel like waiting on all those lines, you KNOW you are hearing three presentations.
Same could be done for StorePass. Let me get it when I register or from the app. Don’t make me wait on a line to get a ticket that lets me wait on another line later.
D23 might think hey, these are Disney fans. They’re used to waiting on long lines! Yes, but you’re forgetting one thing when comparing this to the UX of FastPass in the parks. It takes me 30 seconds to get a FastPass for Soarin’. It took me HOURS to get StagePasses and StorePasses.
The Problem With Waiting On Lines
When I am waiting, I am not doing. Not experiencing. This was made clear when I had breakfast in Disneyland the day before the Expo. We waited nearly an hour for breakfast after ordering. Evidently the waffle machine went down. The waiter didn’t just apologize; he gave us FastPasses to ANY ride we wanted.
He understood that while waiting for food, we missed a chance to be on rides in the park. We missed a chance to be sharing pictures of us doing cool things. The Expo needs to understand the same thing.
“I can’t wait to stand on a 2+ hour line to then wait on a 40-minute line to get a ticket that lets me later wait on a 40-minute line,” said no-one ever.
Do you want us doing things, buying things, and plugging Disney to our social media worlds? Or do you want us on lines for endless hours and experiencing the negative emotions that brings?
It’s about the payoff. When I was a kid, we went to Disney World during Christmas week when we were off from school. We waited 60-90 minutes for a 5-minute ride, and it felt like a good payoff. I remember disliking lines but feeling it was worth it to go on the ride.
The payoff feelings at the D23 Expo are few and far between for attendees… unless you’re a Sorcerer…
Sorcerers. People hate them. These are attendees who paid $2000 for a ticket for the priviledge to have early access to a few things, their own lounge, and to never wait on a line. They can waltz into anything. I think I paid under $150 per ticket. For $2000, I can have a week in Disney World, so it’s not worth it.
If you’re going to give Sorcerers early/extra access to merchandise, then please make enough merchandise so that other people can buy it too. I know D23 is about getting limited edition stuff. But if you are letting 20K, 30K, or more people into the Expo, make more stuff. We want to buy stuff. NOBODY will refuse to buy stuff because you made 10,000 of them and the edition isn’t limited enough.
“This limited edition isn’t limited enough,” said no-one ever other than the guy buying it to sell it on eBay before the day has ended.
Make stuff. Make it easy for non-Sorcerers to buy stuff.
D23 is a club. This is our once-every-two-years event. You can buy a ticket if you’re not a member. You’re not guaranteed to get in since members are let in first.
Wait… what? You can buy a ticket and then not get in? Is this some sort of shitty oversold flight? Can’t we do better?
If you want to limit it, then be smart. Say it’s for members only, who can bring up to 5 guests who are not members. Members can’t buy tickets. No NON member line. If you want to buy a ticket, go with a friend or become a member. That might drive membership… if you want more members.
As a member, which costs under $100/yr and has other perks, I would be happy if non-members couldn’t buy tickets. That’s thousands of people who won’t bitch me out on long lines where tempers run short.
Rebrand This And Focus On The Consumer Relationship
If this is just Disney’s ComicCon, then stop calling it D23. It’s Disney’s Fan-Whatever. Fan-Tasia. 🙂 Put Disney resources on it full time and blow people’s minds. Fire your event planners. They are not serving you or your customers well. They’ve proven over the 3 expos I attended that they can’t handle this.
Considering it’s a 100% marketing event plugging Disney stuff we can all buy, put more resources on this. Hire full-time Imagineer geniuses to event plan the heck out of this, build a KILLER app, and make this event the one nobody can miss. Build a cross-functional Expo team that combines all the business units, Disney Meetings (these guys and gals are event pros), marketing, ambassadors, UX, app devs, etc… This is a no brainer.
Your outsourced event people just aren’t cutting it and you’ve given them more than enough chances to prove themselves. “More people came this year” may feel like a success metric, but there are other KPIs. Look at the sentiment being expressed. The fighting. What’s on social media. Look at no-shows. I had local friends buy Saturday tickets months ago but then decide to not come once they saw the pandemonium on TV and I warned them to stay away.
If you want to sort people for the purposes of an expo, then look at DVC membership (people you make the most money on), people with annual passes (people you make the next most money on, sorted by level of pass), and then something like D23 fan club membership. Maybe you also look at Disney Movies Anywhere membership at that point… or whether someone ones a Disney Infinity set. Somewhere in there might be shareholders. I heard a few people complaining they “they’re shareholders and can you believe” [complaint complaint complaint].
You know who you make the most money on. I’m guessing it’s DVC members. But use the data you have and focus this event on those target audiences primarily. Recognise people for their relationship(s) to you, Disney. Play into that. Start playing this event to the people who spend the most money with you year after year.
The smartest way to go is to cater to DVC members primarily, other memberships secondarily or tertiarily. Put real Disney people on this full time. These people do nothing but plan the Expo even if it’s every other year. You make people feel at home and feel the Disney magic. You help people feel cared for, listened to, and catered to.
Disney knows how to do that better than anyone. That’s why the Expo is so hugely disappointing for people feeling frustration. It’s not like a bunch of jerks planned a crappy event because they are jerks. This is DISNEY. We expect a LOT. And I just had my third Expo be frustrating, exhausting, and disappointing.
I know you can do better. Someone has to decide it’s worth the time and money to do it. Create the joy we fans know you can.
And For Fun
I will be a 3D-printed, face-scanned Mouseketeer.
Responding To Responses
Editing this to include some responses I got to this blog post.
What else can you expect with 45,000 passionate people?
I can expect a lot though at this point, my expectations are pretty low. I am basing my expectations on business events I have been to like Dreamforce. They have 130,000+ people in one convention center annually. It is pretty smooth! They even pack most of those people into a last-night party. The one I was at a few years ago had Metallica playing and free alcohol.
If Dreamforce can make wrangling 130K people look good, why should this event be so messy with 1/3 the attendance?
The event would have been better if more event planners had headsets/walkie talkies.
I’ve done some event planning. I own a set of six (expensive) walkie talkies with earpieces. Most of my concerns wouldn’t be solved by more walkie talkies. To name a few, the flawed used of event space, the agonizing process to get StagePasses, and an app that was poorly designed, built, and tested aren’t fixed by more headsets.
A question I get somewhat frequently from up-and-coming UXers has to do with interviews. Although these people are showing up with small portfolios, the company interviewing them wants them to engage in a “design challenge.”
That’s not just for up-and-coming people looking for entry level work. I’ve interviewed for senior-level UX work and at times been asked to do a sample project.
I’ve blogged about this before, but let’s revisit it from another angle. Should you agree to do a sample project in the name of possibly getting the job?
Is The Project Fake Or Real?
Design challenges or sample projects generally fall into two categories. Projects are either totally fake or totally real.
If an agency asks you to design what a supermarket app might look like and they’re not working on a supermarket app, then this is a fake project designed to test you.
If the agency is working on a supermarket app and wants your ideas on this real project, that’s no longer a fake project. If a dating site asks you to mock up how you think a feature might look or work on their dating site, that’s a real project. During an interview, a company once asked me to whiteboard ideas that would be real solutions to their current real problems.
I suggest refusing to do real projects for free. If this company wants your ideas for something real, they should pay for them. At that point, you’re not just auditioning for a job. You are doing real consulting work. How many companies have improved their products from ideas “taken” from unpaid interview candidates’ sample projects?
I recently worked with an agency that was considering me for a long term commitment. How did they “test” me for that? By giving me a real project that was fairly small. I was paid my normal hourly rate and signed a contractor agreement. That let me see how they were run, do I like them, do they like me, etc…
There is no rule that says that a company that wants to try you out gets you for free. You are under no obligation to give away your time.
What If The Project Is Fake?
Despite my extensive resume and portfolio, there are times when companies ask me to do a sample project. So far, I’ve found 100% of those experiences to be frustrating. These fake projects tended to highlight how poorly the other company communicated, which quickly made me not want to work there anyway.
The winner so far was a UX agency that gave me a fake UX project but then rejected me saying that I hadn’t put enough design and polish into it. Whaaaaaa? See the other blog post for navigating the frequent vague nature of these challenges.
If the project is fake, it’s really up to you if you want to burn your time on it. That’s why pushing for more details is important. How many hours do you expect me to spend? How polished should this be? What does this job pay again?
Could You Add It To Your Portfolio?
A fake project can be another opportunity for someone new to UX to add to his or her portfolio. If your portfolio is a bit light and a company asks you to mock up what you think a great to do list app would be, maybe give it a few extra hours. Create something you would be proud to show off in your portfolio.
That way, even if these people don’t hire you, you now have another piece where you can explain a project and your approach to it. If you get hired, then great! If not, at least your time went towards something that might help you get the next job.
I don’t need to add fake projects to my portfolio, so I’m unlikely to say yes to something like this. But if you are starting out and this fake project isn’t under some sort of NDA, it might be worthwhile as artifacts you can add to your portfolio.
Hint: If the fake project needs an NDA, it’s probably a real project. 🙂