It has been nearly a year since my blog post about my awful experience in Kent State’s “MS of UX Design” program. I wanted to update you on what’s happened since then, in no particular order. People have come out of the woodwork to thank me. Many read moreRead More
This article is my opinion based on my first-hand experience. Your experience and opinion may vary. These are mine. 🙂 I have no horse in this race. If the degree continues the way it is, that doesn’t affect me. If someone changes it, that doesn’t affect me.
Many people working in UX as well as in other industries are considering a graduate degree in UX. There are many options out there including online degrees. Kent State University aka KSU offers a MS in UX Design, as they call it. I gave the online MS in UX a whirl last year and have the opinion that it will be the wrong program for most people considering it.
It’s easy to get into. Want the easiest to get into and lowest costing degree no matter what the classes are, who teaches them, and what the material is? Then you want KSU and my opinion won’t matter since your decision is based mostly/wholly on “easy to get into” and “least expensive Masters degree in UX.”
I don’t need the degree for my career. I figured some day, I’d teach college, and for that I’d need a Masters in my field of expertise. But this experience has turned me off to that, at least for the foreseeable future.
What Will the KSU Degree Teach You?
According to the website, you will learn things based on a 5-stage model called LUMEN. Learn (L), Understand (U), iMagine (M), Evaluate (E), iNform (N). You find out later that the LUMEN model is what the school is teaching you. That’s how you do UX work… according to LUMEN. Hands up, how many of you are using the LUMEN model? How many of you are looking for a LUMEN practitioner for your next hire? Nobody, right?
This is a model nobody uses except KSU. The person who created it told me it’s a derivative of UCD (user-centered design) but it’s his own thing. This degree will teach you about the LUMEN model but none of the other concepts, principles, or approaches in UX. I know this because I did the first two classes in the degree before dropping it.
The degree has the following classes:
- 2 intro classes
- 2 classes on usability (usability testing)
- 2 classes in IA (one appears to be about “practical skills for information architectures” and the other appears to be on CSS and making websites compliant with federal regulations… federal regulations on websites?)
- 2 classes on content strategy (content “crafting, promotion, and optimization”)
- 2 classes on user research
- your final thesis
This is a MS in User Experience Design. Where is the design? Other than a piece of one 7-week IA class covering “wireframes,” where is all the design one might assume goes with the degree name?
Before we can fry that fish, we have to look at something harder to believe; the basics/intro classes don’t cover the basics.
Wait, What? This UX Degree Doesn’t Teach UX Principles and Concepts?
That’s right. The first class is “Principles and Concepts.” I would expect people to start out learning generally about UX. User-centered design. Gestalt theories of perception. A history in product design and human factors. Ontology, taxonomy, and choreography. UX has many things at its core; let’s teach people some or all or these.
KSU teaches you none of them, at least not in the first two “basics” classes I attended. I was shocked out of my mind to take the classes and find that none of these were covered. Not even mentioned. How do you offer a Principles and Concepts of UX class and not teach ANY principles and concepts?
Week 1 of this class was let’s look at some jobs you could get in UX. Week 2 was let’s write a professional research plan like you might give a client.
Wait, whoa, that seems a bit fast. You haven’t even explained what we’re doing, in what order, or why. How did we go from “job types” to “write a research plan”?
I asked the “concentration coordinator,” who here I’ll call Dr R, to help me set my expectations correctly. Why aren’t we learning about UCD or other core concepts of UX? Why does the instructor not teach anything? Why is she just a discussion forum warden who sends out grumpy, unsupportive emails? With a class full of newbies, why isn’t there more teaching and more explanation of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it? I asked if anybody is supporting the students who are already struggling… because seeing that much struggle makes me want to mentor people.
KSU Wants Newbies Only
We interrupt that story to fill you in on something interesting. KSU has personas for their MS in User Experience Design. All of the personas are people new to UX thinking of changing careers to UX. As an existing UX practitioner (or expert), I’m not the target audience. This seems strange. Why wouldn’t a Masters degree want to attract existing practitioners? Why would it only want newbies for a Masters?
The answer is that newbies don’t know what they don’t know. Newbies may not know that they’re not being taught key principles or concepts. Newbies are likely to think they’re getting things wrong rather than the program or instructors are failing them. Newbies won’t know that the LUMEN model is nothing and not used at all. I don’t think it’s an accident that the program wants newbies.
Back to the story, this was semi proven when Dr R replied to my questions. I got a long, defensive email mostly telling me the program was perfect and amazing (I’m paraphrasing) and that if I don’t like it, I should consider if it’s the right fit for me. He told me he doesn’t have to teach UCD because he teaches his LUMEN model, which is a derivative of UCD (but not an improvement of it).
He told me it would be inappropriate and disrespectful for me to mentor my classmates.
People go to grad school partially for the network they are supposed to end up with. I’m a 20-yr industry veteran, mentor to many up-and-coming UX’ers, in a position to hire people, offering to mentor classmates for free and you’re warning me that I absolutely should not even think of doing it. His email was very clear. This guy sees me as some sort of threat and he wants me to go away.
OK! Expectations are now re-set! I officially now expect the content to insult me. I guess I can live with that. But what about my classmates? Those newbies looking to learn about UX for the first time?
The Others In My Class
Being mostly newbies, my class was pretty confused as week 2 hit and they were expected to write a professional UX research plan. Questions came into the discussion forum asking for examples. The teacher said no, you can’t see examples. Well, how do you expect a bunch of UX newbies to write a serious research plan in week 2 of grad school and without good examples?
We were then told that we’re not getting examples because if we do, we will just copy them. The whole class was accused of plagiarism without even being given the chance to not plagiarize. I wrote into the forum saying that this was an awful message to give students… to think the worst of them without giving them a chance… that we are all adults and surely we can use examples as models without copying them exactly. I wasn’t the only one writing back in with some surprise and maybe a bit of anger.
Privately, I received an email from Dr R warning me that he won’t hesitate to bring academic action against me for my behavior. I asked him to tell me exactly what I have done or what he thinks I might do that would warrant me being reported to the school’s disciplinary arm. He simply wrote back that the matter is closed for discussion and if I want to continue the matter, I can contact the school Ombudsman. Shot fired with no info or detail. Just threats.
The others in my class thought they were doing things wrong. They thought they were bad at learning. They thought they were bad at UX. They thought because they didn’t understand what was going on, what UX was, and they were doing poorly on assignments that they should just give up. I told them we’re not even doing UX! It’s too early to judge if you’re good at this. You’re not being taught the right things, heck you’re barely being taught anything, and you have instructors taking points off every possible place they can because it’s “grad school.” But more on that in the Instructor Handbook section of this blog post.
I asked these confused classmates if anybody had been in touch with them. Did anybody notice they were struggling and ask how they can help? The instructor? Our adviser? Dr R? Nope. Nobody. People leaned on me and I did the best I could to support and encourage them.
Classmates also wanted to know if they really needed a graduate degree in UX to excel. No, you don’t. I’m now a Director of UX at a very cool agency and I have a degree in music. You do NOT have to have an academic degree in UX to do better or manage people. Maybe if you want to work in a really buttoned-down, we like credentials industry like banking the degree would mean something. But not necessarily. And everywhere else, nobody cares. Many of the best UX practitioners I met had degrees in architecture. You do NOT need a UX grad degree to have a great career or end up a manager.
Will You End Up With A Design Portfolio?
Some classmates that wrote me privately mainly wanted to know if I thought this class would leave students with an impressive design portfolio at the end.
I said I’m not an expert on this program but it appears not. We have classes on the basics, which aren’t teaching the basics. We have a lot of classes on research, testing, and content. I looked at the syllabi for the information architecture classes and it looks like we spend about 2 weeks on interaction design. We do not learn about the key tools out there like Axure, Omnigraffle, etc…
The degree in UX design appears to have no design. So no, I think you won’t end up with a portfolio. I think you will end up with a lot of academic writing about research. If you want that, this degree could be right for you.
The degree sells you on the idea that it will prepare you for a career in UX. I am not sure what kind of career you’d be prepared for. Where is your design portfolio? Are you living and breathing UCD? You never heard of it? You learned the LUMEN model (that nobody has heard of or uses)? I imagine you might get a job with someone impressed that you have a Masters who didn’t look at what you learned or what artifacts you can show or what tools you learned. Outside of that, companies with serious UX directors might care that you didn’t learn any of this.
The Instructors Aren’t Instructors
In addition to all of this distracting, stressful nonsense, I found that the “instructors” were unforgivably poor communicators. I expect good communication in a graduate school environment. I expect monsterly fantastic clarity and communication from people with graduate degrees and who claim to be UX experts.
I also do a lot of training and teaching, so I have an expectation that someone claiming to be an instructor is going to be an industry expert who is there to teach, mentor, guide, explain, and tell relevant tales. KSU instructors do none of this. Dr R wrote all the lectures. The lectures are recordings of him talking over slides. The instructors don’t teach. They police the discussion forums, answer emails, and grade you… when they get around to these things. At best, this is their side job.
Each week, the assignment lacked clarity. How a bunch of so-called UX pros could week after week write assignments that newbies and experienced UX practitioners couldn’t make sense of I’ll never know. Each week, students asked instructors publicly and privately to explain what we’re supposed to do. The instructor in my second class mostly gave up, telling us she would grade leniently every week because what the assignment asked for could be interpretted so many ways (and she wasn’t always around during the week to help clear things up).
Unclear assignments easily lead to people getting poor grades. And the poor grades felt like a surprise. OH if you wanted THAT, why didn’t the assignment say so!
Other students emailed me about some of their upsetting adventures in getting grades back. They did so much more poorly than they expected to on assignment after assignment. They second guessed themselves. They lost confidence. The instructor would just send out what I called “bad dog” emails to the whole class telling us in general all the spots where we’re all getting it wrong.
I had endless bizarre experiences with the grading. Week after week, one instructor took points off for surprise reasons that had nothing to do with the grading rubric. She once took points off because she didn’t think that I’d be able to build next week’s assignment around the persona I came up with this week. That’s right. I got points off because she assumed that I would do badly on next week’s assignment. I got a 96 on next week’s assignment, thank you very much, crazy lady. The grading rubric this week does not include whether or not you think I will do well next week.
Knowing this woman would take points off randomly, I asked her how long the last assignment should be. She told me in writing it should be somewhere between a few paragraphs and a novel. She admitted this wasn’t helpful, but I should write enough to show I know what I’m doing. OK. I wrote about an uncommon topic so I took some extra time to explain it since part of the assignment was that the class would read it and comment on it. I wanted to make sure people had enough background information to be able to comment on it. I got points off for making it too long. It was about 4 pages of text and 2 pages of pictures.
The same assignment asked you to write casually and put in your personality. So I ended my fairly serious paper with one line about how I hoped someone would buy the item about which I wrote for my birthday. I got points off because according to the instructor’s comments, that joke wasn’t funny. I didn’t think it was a joke. It was just a personality moment, the type of thing the instructor had asked for in the assignment details.
The woman who wrote her whole paper on how public bathroom hand-drying paper towels are difficult for pirates to use? She got no points off for sense of humor. I didn’t realize that points could be taken off if the instructor doesn’t think you’re funny. I would have worked harder on some good comedy lines.
I hoped the second class would be better than the first but it wasn’t. The “instructor” evidently didn’t know she was supposed to hang out in the online discussion forums. She travelled and would disappear for days. I started emailing her when someone had posted a question in the forums so she’d know to answer it. How did she not know?
The Instructor Handbook
I previously mentioned that instructors didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to do. They didn’t think they had to teach. They didn’t think they had to respond to discussion forum posts and questions even though that’s nearly the only way we all communicate.
This is especially odd when you consider that Dr R, concentration coordinator, has vetted them and given them a handbook on how to be an instructor. How do I know this? Because I found his instructor handbook online when I was Googling for things relating to him. It was marked as a draft but it didn’t seem like a draft. It was very complete.
I have two fave parts of the handbook.
- Dr R suggests that it’s OK to grade people harshly because most of the people taking this program are probably bad at UX so it’s OK to weed them out. Thanks, vote of no confidence for your own students! Dr R can rest assured that it’s working. Most of the people in my class were sure that bad grades meant they were bad at UX and maybe they should drop out.
- Instructors might want to consider being a tiny bit lenient on students who are in Ohio. The handbook mentions that KSU gets serious subsidy from the state when they have Ohio students getting a B or better in each class. KSU relies on this subsidy. While Dr R can’t say all Ohio students should just be given super grades no matter what, the handbook implies that it’s best to keep the Ohio people in the program by them getting a B or better in each course.
All Roads Lead To Dr R
You can’t get away from Dr R. He’s everywhere. When I tried to go to my adviser, I got an email back from Dr R. When I tried to go to my instructor, I got an email back from Dr R. As far as I can tell, nobody has any power or authority to answer students or deal with issues.
Dr R wrote the lectures. Delivers them. Selected the readings. Created the assignments. Instructors don’t get to create anything we learn. They are just trying to interpret what Dr R intended, which was rarely easy for them.
It’s Dr R all the way, which was a tough situation since I found Dr R to be the Achilles Heel. There was no way around him.
When I tried to go to anybody in the department, the replies from Dr R were the email equivalent of, “Good day sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.” The great part about that is having all of this in writing. I love paper trails.
I went to the Ombudsman and the Dean with long stories and copies of the correspondence. I still hope they will open their eyes to their program and the person running it.
I Had Filed A Formal Grade Challenge
I put my heart into that first class. I wanted to do my best. I calculated that I should have had an A-. They gave me a B. For starters, the grading rubric said the lowest 2 quizzes would be dropped and they didn’t do that. When I told them about it, they had no idea “that was still there.”
I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me (see above about all roads leading to Dr R, and he’s a “before we start, this matter is closed” kind of guy), so I filed a formal grade challenge. I was easily going to prove that I should have had an A- due to a variety of errors and problems.
Once they saw the formal challenge, they gave me a B+. I guess they hoped that would be enough to make me shut up and go away. By the time my evidence was going to the dean for review, I had decided to quit school (and drop the grade challenge). May I say that quitting was incredibly freeing. I felt SO happy after disconnecting from that program. So happy to know I don’t have to deal with or hear from Dr R and his pseudo-team anymore. You always know you’ve done the right thing when your heart is soaring and you’re sleeping well again.
It looks like giving you whatever grades they feel like is the way they decide who stays and who goes. You actually have to maintain a certain average to stay in the program. Giving me a B would have been a step towards eventually kicking me out for low grades… if they hadn’t manufactured a way to kick me out for “behavior,” for which they were planting seeds.
I guess they REALLY don’t want non-newbies in the program! We know too much. And some of us aren’t quiet. Some of us will stand up and say something, especially where we think others are being deceived.
And This Is The Short Version
There is so much more I can say but this is the short version. I gave it my best for two classes but my natural “help people” instinct, my UX researcher instinct, and my ability to measure BS were all firing like crazy. I slept poorly at night worrying about my classmates. I’d be fine! I work in this industry. I have no problem getting jobs. I know the material. But what about the newbies paying so much money to NOT learn UX?
I decided that if this is what online university looks like, I will go teach at General Assembly (when I have time). At least there, expectations are set. Instructors teach! You end up with a portfolio. You get a job that matches what you just trained to do.
The UX degree from KSU should be and will be a laughing stock of our industry once people learn what’s going on there. People are much better prepared to work in UX after a 12-week General Assembly course.
People eventually figure out when the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. It starts with me saying something out loud like this blog post. This will validate all the people struggling in the KSU program… the people who are confused, lost, and assuming they’re just bad at UX. It’s not you.
A Good School Is There For You
When you are having trouble and the instructor is no help, your adviser is no help, and the “concentration coordinator” isn’t really listening or helping, it’s not you. Just because this is grad school doesn’t mean you should be abandoned and left without support. I’ve met people who have reputable UX degrees from famous universities (that they did in person, not online), and they raved about the personal attention they got. Just because this is online doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get care and attention.
It starts with some of us finally saying these things out loud to each other or in public. It continues with things like this question I got in a public discussion on Facebook:
You’re reading that correctly. A KSU student is asking me what should he/she be investigating independently. Sounds like he is starting to realize that the courses aren’t teaching him what he wants to learn, what he needs to learn. He will have to do his own research and studying to get to know UX, to understand it, to hopefully excel in it.
That shouldn’t happen. The MS degree from KSU will run people around $25K. That’s a LOT of money to spend only to have to then “investigate independently” to learn what you aren’t being taught. It’s sold as a degree aimed at newbies to teach you everything and prepare you to work in UX. I imagine the people who excelled after taking this course did so in spite of the degree, not because of it. Or perhaps they were already excelling and just added extra letters to their names.
Raise Your Standards
It’s OK to quit grad school. It’s OK to dump this school and pick another. It’s OK to spend a little bit more to get a better education. Or spend less. General Assembly costs a fraction of what this KSU degree will, it takes only 12 weeks, and it will do a decent job preparing you for an entry level UX job.
It’s OK to choose a school based on more than what it costs and how easy it is to get in.
It’s all OK. Whatever you choose for yourself is OK. However, in my opinion, it is not OK for Kent State to pass this degree off the way they are. You want to work in UX? Act like it! Ask questions. Ask more questions. Keep digging. Learn everything you can. Imagine scenarios. Outcomes. Reasons. Look objectively at KSU, the courses, the faculty, the approach. Look at how the lectures and classes work. Think critically. Once you take “this is cheap and easy to get into” out of the equation, there is a lot you should be seeing.
Thanks for reading and good luck in your schooling adventures! I hope you are all successful and happy UX practitioners (or whatever you decide you want to be). 🙂
Edit: October 2016, here is a follow-up blog post on this topic.
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.
As a mentor, a question I get often is some flavor of, “Should I go to that hackathon?” or “Will going to that Meetup be a good networking opportunity for me?” This is normally asked by someone who is looking for a job.
My answer comes from some great advice I got many years ago from a friend. At the time, I was thinking about attending meetups for people interested in the Law Of Attraction. In case you’re not familiar, that’s a spiritual belief that’s a cousin of the “power of positive thinking.” The idea is that you can “attract” what you want to you through practice and focus.
I figured if I went to a meetup, I would meet more people like me who were interested in that concept. My friend told me to NOT go to that meetup. Why not?!
She said that the people who are really good at Law Of Attraction are not going to meetups. They’re wherever they are, getting things done, but they’re not going to meetups. I figured naw, somebody who was good with LOA would be at these and I’ll find that person. I’ll just try ONE meetup.
I got to the meetup and people started introducing themselves and speaking. Remember this concept centers around positive thinking. The people who stood up to talk all had hugely negative stories and negative attitudes. One after another, they got up and complained about their lives. I guess they all thought that if they SAID that they’re into LOA, magically everything would start going right for them.
My friend was right. Left early, never attended another one.
Then I noticed the same thing at business events.
If the LOA meetup appears to be the people not really doing LOA (right or at all), then who is at my Startup Networking meetup? Is a very successful, busy startup coming to this bar to meet other startups? No. They are wherever they are, getting things done.
I went to dozens of startup meetups in 2011 and 2012 when my startup was “up and coming.” Who else was there? People who weren’t really off the ground yet. We had released an MVP in 2011 and were on our way to version 1 and our own API in 2012. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer the people there, and they had nothing to offer me. I stopped going.
I tried a few hackathons thinking HEY they need UX people! I will be a shining star and people will want me as a consultant. Hackathons are mostly about hacking. I found that most people were sure their ideas were great and a UX person would just slow them down. They weren’t sure what to do with me… I don’t code. So what I am doing.
There were no recruiters there. Nobody was looking for awesome UX talent. Nobody stood up and said, “We have open jobs for UX geniuses.” It was all about coding and coders. Never went back.
If you are looking for a job, where are people looking for you?
I get most job and consulting offers off LinkedIn, period. I didn’t have to go to a meetup. I didn’t have to do unpaid work. I didn’t go to a lot of events where nobody noticed me.
OK but wouldn’t designing at a hackathon be good practice?
If you can do some design, sure. The times I tried, the team leader ignored my designs and used his own ideas. So I walked away from those with no portfolio piece. Nothing to show. No new pals.
I Googled “UX Hackathon” and very few seem to exist. One was held in Sydney, one in Berlin, two in Southern California. That’s not much. Maybe we need to organize one here in the Bay Area. But I would say unless you are going to a UX hackathon where your UX skills might be desired and appreciated, I’m not sure what you might find at a standard hackathon.
And if hiring managers, recruiters, and other important people aren’t at that meetup you’re thinking of attending, then what is in it for you?
For design practice, you can stay home and do sample projects.
I recently signed up for Docusign. Here is their pricing (April 2015).
5 docs in a month is probably all I need. Let’s pay and do this!
I then sent out 3 contracts. One guy came back and said his company doesn’t accept Docusign, so please just email him a PDF. I voided and removed the Docusign doc, and emailed him a PDF.
A second guy wanted changes to the agreement. I voided and removed the document, made the changes, and loaded it back up.
The third person seemed OK with Docusign and asked for no changes (yet).
My Docusign account shows me 2 docs waiting to be signed.
If Debbie pays for 5 documents and has only two that she didn’t void/delete, how many does she have left?
Docusign’s answer is ONE.
The one doc I uploaded twice (because the guy asked for changes) counts as TWO documents… even though one was voided, removed, and will never be signed, managed, or dealt with.
The one doc I uploaded that the guy refused to sign via Docusign counts as ONE… even though, blah blah blah.
Is that what the pricing said?
Maybe. There’s what it says and there’s the impression that I had.
I had the impression that people will be able to sign 5 documents each month for what I was paying.
But do you see what it says? I now do. It says I can SEND 5 documents each month. I’ve SENT four, even though two were voided and removed. Docusign counts how many you SEND.
This would make me do completely contract negotiation and revision BEFORE posting it to Docusign. Then signing at Docusign. Well at that point, what’s the point? If I get used to negotiating and revising over email and sending PDFs, I’ll just send another PDF they can sign.
Docusign counts what they call, “Envelopes.” As soon as someone clicks on your link to the document (even if they never sign it), they have opened an “envelope,” and that counts against your monthly count. I told the friendly customer service gal that hey, I don’t think in terms of envelopes. Everything on the website talks about “documents.” “Well,” she said about the pricing page, “It DOES say “send.” ”
Yes, I get that now. I said, “Hey, you don’t have to say anything. But if you were on MY end of the phone, you might not be happy that we’re playing slippery word games.” She was understanding.
Compare to a competitor.
That’s definitely clearer. Unlimited sending means I can feel free to just start posting docs there and worry about revisions and negotiations later. One of these companies is doing a better job setting expectations. Another is using clever wording that may or may not surprise you later. I was surprised. In a bad way.
Docusign cancelled. RightSignature hired.
I apologise that it accidentally looks like “pick on one company in particular” week, but this was too interesting to not mention.
This was in my LinkedIn news feed Sunday (2 days ago) after lunch. I was being fed it because one of my LinkedIn connections commented on it.
The guy I know posted a rather negative comment. I didn’t feel like I saw a lot of negative, unhappy commenting around LinkedIn, so I decided to read all 69 comments on the ad. Here are some with names blurred.
I didn’t cut and paste those together. That’s 6 unhappy comments in a row. And more interestingly, look at the dates of when they were left. 6 months ago. 5 months ago. But there are newer unhappy comments as well.
That’s always a great UX question.
Why DO you need all my contact details to show me a demo video? Well, the answer is that someone in the business or sales department decided it was better to “force” people into a lead funnel than to showcase their product without strings attached.
That is often misguided. People don’t want to give you their information. You might end up with fake information, which doesn’t accomplish your business goal. Or you might lose people who don’t feel like jumping into the lead funnel before they’ve even seen the product or its price.
Other comments under this LinkedIn ad suggested other competitors who had lower pricing. I would think that if I had less expensive competitors but I’m sure that my product is better and “worth it,” a marketing decision might be made to drain the moat and let people see what I’d hope is a super-compelling demo video.
It’s time to take that LinkedIn ad down.
After what looks like more than 6 months of running this ad over and over to the same people, it’s time to take it down. In general, that’s too much repetition of the same ad. More importantly, your ad now goes out with 69 comments, most of which are negative about your product and company. Some suggest competitors. That’s probably NOT the advertising experience you were hoping for.
A friend recently asked me what I thought of background videos on websites. I often think they are distracting. I think of the PayPal website. It used to have a background video of a woman using a smartphone. What did that tell me? How did that enhance my experience? Could it be a distraction from the real messages on the page? But it’s already gone, replaced by a static stock image.
My friend sent me to look at a website of a company I’d never heard of. Their “who are we” page had a background video. The amazing thing was that I still didn’t know what they do. The video could have been real people who work there and really their office… or it could be stock images or actors. I have no idea.
The video is vanilla. It’s just people walking around, looking at devices, being pretty pleased, and agreeing with each other. But what does that tell me about the company? And since my brain wants to look at the movie (and not read words), is it a distraction? Or does it enhance the experience?
Let’s Watch It
I Camtasia’ed a video on a webpage. I have no idea who this company is. They might be the best company in the world at what they do. I don’t know. But before they take this off their site, I wanted to share it so we can ask ourselves some important UX, branding, attention span, and other questions.
You’ll also see when I start paging down, the “dynamic elements” that pop up as you scroll don’t pop up. Why? I was hitting page down instead of smoothly scrolling. Not everybody smoothly scrolls.
Video has no sound, so don’t turn your volume up. And YouTube picked that still as the pre-play image.
What’s The Point?
What’s the point of having that video there? I kept waiting for it to tell me something about the company. This is the Who We Are/What We Do page, and I’m not sure what they do. They make information available to you quickly and you can make dashboards. I didn’t know I wasn’t getting information fast enough and in too few dashboards. With the cloud and SaaS and so many apps, what info am I having a problem accessing? How will using whatever you are change my day or processes? I get the feeling this site is for people who already know they want this company.
Videos are “in style” right now, but we’re already watching sites take them OFF their pages. Square and others have already taken the parallax off their long scroll pages.
Visual design styles change once or twice a year. If you chase trends, make sure you have time and money budgeted to redo the visuals when the style changes again. Last year, you rushed to build a parallax page with background videos. This year, you’ll budget to undo those and replace them.
Bonus: Tell Me Something Meaningful
It might have gone by quickly in the video, but the page has the following description of their product:
… organization-wide platform capable of aligning your company, its conversations, and its actions around business objectives that deliver real business results. And it transforms the way you manage business.
Ptype is a UX agency capable of aligning your company, its conversations, and its actions around business objectives that deliver real business results. And we transform the way you’ll manage your business.
Could every SaaS, enterprise tool, or consultancy say that about themselves? Copy like this doesn’t really sell me on what you do, how you are different, and where you will change my work life. You might also choose words that are more compelling than “capable.” And why start a sentence with and? 🙂
You’re on a website you like. Maybe you’re reading an article. When all of a sudden…
I don’t have to show you too many of these. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about popups and overlays that stop me from reading the article and ask me to do something else. Typically, it’s “join our email mailing list” or “like us on Facebook.”
Is this “good marketing”?
Recently, a friend asked me which WordPress plugin I’m using for these kinds of popups. I said I don’t have them on the Ptype website (or anywhere). I believe that nearly 100% of the time people see those, they are frustrated, NOT happy to see the overlay, and just want to X it out as fast as possible.
I asked my friend how HE feels when he is on a website that interrupts what he’s doing to try to get him to join a mailing list, like them on Facebook, or something else.
He replied, that they were “good marketing.” I would disagree. To me, “good marketing” is something that is successful in making a user do what you want them to do (in the name of your business goals). How many people joined that email mailing list so they can be emailed who knows how often compared to how many closed that popup as fast as they could?
Once upon a time, these overlays didn’t come with close buttons. Remember those days? Remember when you HAD to join a mailing list to see certain content? And then you struggled to get off that mailing list later?
We can’t do that to people anymore. We can only offer them the option to do what we want (join the mailing list, like us on Facebook, etc…) rather than put up a brick wall with one way out.
“Good marketing” can be measured.
If you think the popup is good marketing, I suggest you measure it. This is something we CAN measure and know. This isn’t a guess or anecdote. Decide what percentage of visitors should be doing what your popup says as a measure of popup success. Perhaps you believe 10% of page visitors should sign up for the email list. Perhaps you expect 20% of your visitors to like your Facebook page because an overlay pushed that on them.
Bonus: also measure over X period of time how many of those new mailing list subscribers UNsubscribe. How many of those new FB page likes UNlike you. Because real marketing success would be that new potential customer who opts in to hear from you and STAYS, right?
Come up with what you will measure, how you will measure it, how you define success vs failure, and how much time you will give it. And then determine for REAL if that’s good marketing and working for you… or if it’s mostly an intrusion that people want out of their way ASAP.
If you are not reaching your marketing goals with popups and overlays, improve the UX and remove them.
I’m in Skype for Windows. It shows me ads during calls. How about this ad.
Ummm, not sure what to do. I am already using Skype for Windows… which you might have known before showing me that ad.
Google Helpouts shuts down on April 20th, 2015. I was in the group of the first instructors they approved for the platform. I predicted the failure of the Helpouts platform early and often, but not here. 🙂 I hoped Google would get it together.
First let me say that I appreciated the opportunity to be among the first batch of instructors. It not only lead to me putting video courses on Udemy but then lead to me decide to start my Masters degree this year so I can teach college in my field of expertise (on the side or eventually full time). It was the first domino that made me realize how much I LOVE teaching… and how else can I provide instruction.
While I am grateful for that, I’m also disappointed by the outcome, even though it’s the outcome I thought would happen.
When I look at why any company or startup fails, I am looking at the following criteria:
- The concept (which often sucks but I think this is a good concept).
- The execution and UX (which were bumpy but had some good things going for it). This also includes does the product or service rely heavily on people changing the way they do things now. Because people rarely like to change how they do something now, especially if they are telling themselves it works for them.
- The marketing (which was close to non-existent from what I saw).
- The user response (which seemed to range from abusive to teachers to thrilled people who used it with some frequency).
- The competition (which is vast from the point of view of easily-accessible online education but not vast from the perspective of live video-based possibly-paid help).
In this case, you have working against Helpouts:
* Competition. I am still more likely to read discussion forums and watch YouTube videos than pay someone to help me over video. Yes, Helpouts worked for some of you. I didn’t do a Helpout on singing lessons (though I could have) because posture is too important to singing. I need to be WITH someone and really take in everything they are doing to do it right.
And when you don’t require someone in person, will forums and YouTube videos suffice? What about posting to Facebook asking people how to do or fix something? Forums, videos, and Facebook are great especially if you want to get a lot of different ideas on how to do something.
I knew about Helpouts and *I* didn’t use them. I went to local cooking classes. I watched videos on installing that accessory on my motorcycle. I contacted tech support and waited for answers. I asked the guys at Orchard Supply Hardware the best way to do it.
* Execution, UX, and Natural Human Behavior. Helpouts required a new behavior, and that’s one of the hardest things to overcome in any new product or service. “People need us, but will need to learn a new way of looking for help, asking for help, and (potentially) paying for help to get it.”
I see Craigslist ads for people saying basically, “OMG please help me right now with Axure,” which is the software on which I train people in real life, online, and through Helpouts. So people are hitting Craigslist before they’re hitting Helpouts.
There were also serious UX problems. I created an hour-long Helpout that Helpouts consistently booked as 15 minutes. I once had Helpouts charge someone for three hours at $90/hr. They FREAKED out at the charge to their card, and I ended up with NO Helpout (cancelled out of fear of the charge) and spending a LOT of time being customer service (because they were sure I charged the card, I had their money, etc…).
Years ago, there was a wave of angry eBay sellers who hated eBay so much, they were going to sell on a site called Bonanza. You probably haven’t heard of it. You’re not shopping online at a place you never heard of. So why sell where your audience isn’t shopping? Sounds like wasted time and potentially wasted fees if you’re charged to list item or have a “store.”
Bonanza is unlikely to get people to drop their eBay and Amazon habit and start shopping there. Helpouts wasn’t able to get people to drop their other habits of pursuing help, so it didn’t become someone’s new habit.
Which is also because of…
* Marketing. For the most part, nobody knew about Helpouts. Google didn’t do a Google job in making sure they knew about it. Google definitely has the power to get Helpouts in front of anybody using Chrome, Android, Gmail, Google search, or other Google products. Someone looking for a how to on YouTube could have been shown messages that a live trainer is ready to help with this topic. Without “going there,” how will people even know about this? I know Google did a little, but if they had done “enough,” it might not be shutting down.
I also knew marketing was a major afterthought when I saw two things:
1) Google seemed to expect us teachers to spread the word (as the main method of marketing). We were given codes. We were given contests. We had to let people know about it. Hey, you’re freaking Google. You tell people about it!
Bonanza did this too. You’ve never heard of it. That’s because they told sellers YOU promote it. You tell people to come to your Bonanza store. Unless your product or service is naturally viral in some way, don’t expect what are basically your customers to do your marketing.
2) My lovely green hoodie that I love so much didn’t say Google. But more importantly, it didn’t have a URL. I think one main thing we’ve all learned about marketing since 1996 was get your URL on stuff so curious people know where to go to check it out. The hoodie said Helpouts (whatever that is since it had no slogan), no URL, and what looks like a waving dude grabbing my butt. 🙂
That’s not helping visibility or awareness. To me, it shows me what kind of attention Google is giving the visibility and awareness of Helpouts. If we send instructors cool cards and a nice hoodie, THEY will spread the word for us.
Bonus problem: competition for your instructors plus the marketing “problem.”
If you want ME to market it and send people to Helpouts, but Helpouts takes a cut, well why should I send people to Helpouts? Why not send them to Hangouts or Join.Me or something else, and work out payment before or after the session? The main advantage of Helpouts was: I KNOW I will get paid. Working with people directly, I have to worry that they will stiff me, which is solved by getting them to pay up front. I have new people pay up front and recurring students pay before or after, though many now pay for “Session Packages” up front and we work against their pre-paid package.
Udemy handles this interestingly. If I send someone from my website or URL to my Udemy video course, I get 100% of the income and Udemy takes NO cut. If they come from browsing the Udemy site, Udemy takes a cut. If they come from an affiliate link, the affiliate and Udemy take a cut (and I end up with very little). That would have been more enticing for Helpouts… let me use your platform but let me keep the money when I bring the customer there. That’s MY customer.
If you build it, don’t expect me (your customer) to market it. I have no horse in the race of your product’s success. I was doing OK before you and will do OK if you go extinct. Don’t expect me to be as dedicated as you are and promote it with all my might and budget.
IN CONCLUSION, to me, this is unfortunate. Google had the platform built, the teachers checked out, and people willing to give time and expertise for free or paid. Google had Google in its pocket to potentially make sure everybody knows about this. This SHOULD have gone better.
Perhaps we can try this again someday when it has a fresh plan behind it. It needs a major marketing plan to ensure visibility and awareness that can lead to traction and adoption. Without that plan, what’s the point?