Web App Masters: When Worlds Collide

Lauren Cramer

April 20th, 2010

What are the ingredients that drive teams to deliver consistently good experiences? Does the company size, business processes, organizational management, or executive management have anything to do with it?

For the past 10 years, Jared Spool and our research team at User Interface Engineering studied the secrets behind successful teams and the factors driving their results. In late March, Jared kicked off the Web App Masters Tour in San Diego sharing this research with attendees.

Once again, Luke Wroblewski did a great job capturing Jared’s presentation. We’re reprinting Luke’s blog post from LukeW Ideation and Design.

Here is Luke’s take on Jared’s presentation.

In his opening presentation at the Web App Masters Tour in San Diego, CA, Jared Spool outlined how design organizations can deliver the holistic experiences Web applications users increasingly expect.

  • It’s no longer about the application—its about the experience. When done well, good design is invisible. To illustrate, you only think about the air conditioning when it is not working.
  • Web applications are at the intersection of user needs, business goals, and what the technology allows us to do. The design process is about compromise. We need to constantly make decisions that balance these objectives.
  • Jared’s team researched 60 different organizations that created good user experiences. They found that size, organizational structure, process, management, etc. did not determine what drove great product design.
  • Vision, Feedback, and Culture were the three elements that were consistently present in teams that delivered good experiences.
  • Vision: can everyone on the team describe the experience of using your product five years from now? What is the design you are working towards?
  • Feedback: in the last six weeks, have you spent at least two hours watching someone use your design or a competitor’s design? You need team members to have first-hand exposure to people using your product. Many teams don’t use the products they design.
  • Two hours gives you enough time to see the subtleties and nuances of how people use products. It has to be recent (last six weeks) or else it is forgotten. Once you start to see the same problems over and over again, you focus and fix them. The best organizations do this weekly.
  • You can gather feedback with usability testing, field studies, and first-hand persona development. But the key part is exposure. Try to increase hours and frequency. Don’t think in terms of number of participants—think in terms of exposure (hours and frequency).
  • Design agents to impact experience: core team (makes the bulk of the decisions) and secondary agents (impact the total experience customers have).
  • Culture: in the last six weeks, have you rewarded someone for a major design failure? Every failure is an opportunity to learn. When you celebrate failure, you get to ask some questions—what did we learn about our users, ourselves, our product?
  • As the number of things people need to consider for Web applications has increased, the size of the teams has actually decreased.
  • The best organizations thought in terms of people’s skills not roles. They worked on building everyone’s skills by giving people opportunities to learn.
  • Curation and editing are key skills for Web application design. Need to be vigilant about removing what is not necessary. Curation is as much about what isn’t included as what is.
  • Designing for embraceable change: when people learn to use something, it’s hard to change existing behaviors.
  • The kitchen cabinet problem: people know what is in their kitchen cabinets. If we change where things are—people’s existing routines are disrupted.
  • User assistance can help people through change.

You can hear more about the research Jared and the UIE team did, along with another presentation from Jared, Turning Back to the Future, at the Web App Masters Tour. The Tour continues in Minneapolis, April 27-28, Philadelphia, June 7-8, and Seattle on July 12-13. Learn more about the program at www.UIETour.com

Web App Masters TourUntil April 29, register for any of the Tour cities for $795 when you use the promotion code TOURBLOG. Learn more about the tour at www.UIETour.com

One Response to “Web App Masters: When Worlds Collide”

  1. think blog » King Crimson or U2? Says:

    [...] with the sentiment. Their reaction might have been influenced by things we had recently heard from Jared Spool at the Web App Masters Tour and consistently read in places like Fast Company about the power of [...]

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