UI14 Session Sampler: Leah Buley’s A UX Team of One.

Brian Christiansen

November 11th, 2009


An audio selection from Leah Buley’s A UX Team of One
7.5MB – 14min 15sec

If you didn’t attend the User Interface Conference this year, you may have missed the buzz over Leah Buley’s session entitled “How to be a User Experience Team of One”. Attendees loved it. Leah gave them tips and techniques used by top user experience teams that any UXer can use in a small team or an unsupportive environment.

Below are some notes I took during Leah’s session and slides from this portion of the talk. The slides here are shrunk to fit our blog, but the materials on the disc are full-sized PDFs suitable for printing.

Leah began with telling the story of her transition to a new job at Adaptive Path. Up until then, she had been a UX team of one at a financial firm. Her time was mostly spent walled up in a cubicle, headphones on, sketching and otherwise prepping wireframes on the computer, based on up-front meetings determining business requirements. After a few weeks she would emerge from her design cocoon with designs ready to be shown in a dog-and-pony show-style.

Buley Slide one

Her first day at Adaptive Path was radically different. She was handed paper and a Sharpie and, along with a couple of other designers, was asked to tackle a problem by generating several solutions, collaboratively, on the spot. She was initially flush with panic. They didn’t teach this at library school!

Buley Slide Two

After a short while she warmed up to the process. To get to the quality ideas, you first must generate a lot of ideas, and be OK with many of them being subpar and others simply being tossed aside.

Buley Slide three

Now instead of jumping to the finish, as she had at her previous job, she was exploring more ideas more efficiently with techniques you can use with or without collaborating designers.

Buley Slide 4

Leah used the idea of redesigning the eVite.com digital invitation and RSVP service to demonstrate some of the techniques she learned after joining Adaptive Path. (For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll be covering just the first part of the brainstorming process)

Buley Slide 5

She avoided the computer. Computers can lock you into only one idea and you often get sucked down by minutia you shouldn’t be addressing at this stage.

Buley Slide 6

She started with a “6-up” – a single sheet of paper with six, smallish, blank browser viewports and a pen. This allowed for 6 different ideas of how to solve one problem, say the eVite landing page. One or two ideas came easily. How do you push through to the next ideas?

[Download a PDF file of Leah’s 6-up template]

Leah uses a couple of so-called “lightweight conceptual frameworks” to help push more ideas out of her head. A “Spectrum” is one such framework. A spectrum is a range from two opposing points. For example, what would the landing page at eVite.com look like if it was intended solely for a first-timer? What would it look like if it was solely for a long-time user of the service? What would pages on the spectrum in between those to points look like? What characteristic would they exhibit?

Buley Slide 7

None of the sketches you make on the spectrum may be the right solution. But that’s OK, because we’re not drawing solutions. We’re drawing ideas. This framework gets you to try ideas you might have avoided before. Now you have a pile of ideas to pick from. Perhaps the best design features aspects from several of these thumbnail sketches.

You can hear the rest of Leah’s talk plus the other seven speakers and Jared Spool’s keynote presentation on the UI14 proceedings disc. The disc is loaded with over 12 hours of audio recordings, all the handouts from the Featured Talks and the presentation slides from the 8 full-day workshops. Order the proceedings disc by November 20, 2009 to guarantee your set and get the lowest price.

6 Responses to “UI14 Session Sampler: Leah Buley’s A UX Team of One.”

  1. Adam Wood Says:

    This is the most useful thing I’ve read today… maybe all week. Plus, now I’m subscribed to Leah’s blog as well.


  2. UIEtips: Design – Exploring Options and Making Decisions » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    […] the handouts from the Featured Talks, and the presentation slides to the eight full-day workshops. Listen to a sample from Leah Buley’s talk on How to be a User Experience Team of […]

  3. Sean Says:

    I will be attending a “bootcamp” with her at the Web 2.0 Expo next week. Was already looking forward to it, but reading this has really gotten me excited about the session.

  4. Jason Says:

    I am not clear as to why I would establish my “design principles” after the fact. Why not come up with the design principles first and use those to drive a design?

    Also, I would interested in learning more about conceptual frameworks. Did she just make this up or what?

  5. Jared Spool Says:


    There are some design principles that will be true for most things you design, such as “make the state of the design as clear to the user as possible.” These you’d arrive at first.

    However, it’s likely, when designing complex interactions, that you’ll arrive at other design principles as soon as you start exploring design alternatives. Some alternatives will become more appealing and the underlying principles will drive the design in a certain direction.

    For example, once you start playing with alternatives, you might notice that you’re favoring designs that hide the underlying processes more than those that reveal them. Or you might find you’re gravitating towards designs that are more expressive towards your brand elements.

    These would be principles that emerge in the design process.

  6. Interact Seattle » Blog Archive » User eXperience (UX) Digest #4 Says:

    […] Leah Buley’s A UX Team of One. […]

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