Mediabarn

The purpose of our blog is to provide our readers with a variety of posts that they are interested in. From our studio, research, and staffing agency, all branches of Mediabarn contribute to creating insightful and fun reads. We hope to educate, inform, and entertain with topics ranging from what's going on in our office to current industry trends worldwide.

Over the past few years there has been a significant increase in the federal government’s demand for human-centered design (HCD) services in conjunction with software development and delivery. Organizations like USDS and 18F, CIO’s from private industry, and HCD-savvy government employees have all advocated for a more human-centered design approach to serve the government’s constituents and employees.

 

The result of this growing advocacy is an increase in demand for human-centered design services. Currently, the primary means of procuring human-centered design is limited to a program/project level. As a general example, when an RFP is released for creating a new web property, it is increasingly common for the RFP to include language that requires some level of human-centered design capability as part of the delivery solution. While this is a significant step forward from a few years ago when relatively few RFP’s included such language, it has created new issues for the government.

 

By procuring HCD services in a program-specific manner, the government isn’t taking full advantage of the benefits an HCD approach offers. When HCD is applied on a per-program basis, it can create silos of varying experiences for the users of those products. It is common for a user’s journey to take them across several programs to accomplish a task (or series of tasks) to receive services from the government. When those programs are designed in different ways, that user’s journey can be disrupted, or worse, derailed altogether.

 

One way to ensure a user-centered approach for multiple programs is to create a Human-centered Design Center of Excellence (HCD CoE) that organizationally resides among several programs, possibly in the office of the CIO, CTO, or other non-program specific, service-providing office. By positioning HCD activities at this level, several positive things can occur:

 

  1. The HCD CoE can help shape procurements by conducting user research, and in some cases, execute a design sprint (or sprint zero), for a given product pre-RFP. The research can take the form of persona creation, journey mapping, qualitative and quantitative research, and synthesis of existing research and metrics. All of these items can be included as artifacts in an RFP, during a challenge, or at an industry day. This allows the bidding teams to propose more informed solutions since they will have the benefit of knowing the results of initial user research activities. It also allows the government to include user requirements into the RFP/challenge at the same time as technical and business requirements. When an RFP includes both user research and a technical solution in the same bid, it is not uncommon for the technical solution to drive the outcome based on its capabilities and limitations. A better approach is to have the user needs, as defined by research, dictate the appropriate technology.

 

  1. The HCD CoE can provide multi-program design governance. As a centralized team, the CoE can create and govern a common style guide for the programs over which it has purview. This can mitigate the risk of poor multi-program experiences for users who interact with those programs. This is especially important for agencies who have not adopted the USDS Web Design Standards, or who have chosen to only partially adopt them. It is important for agencies and programs to maintain their own identity, so modification of the web standards is perfectly acceptable as long as it is done in a deliberate, consistent manner that honors the intent of the standards.

 

  1. As a cost savings measure, the CoE can manage shared design assets and research findings. Instead of each program conducting its own research and creating design assets in a silo, the CoE can apply the “do once, use many times” model that is a known benefit of shared services. Chances are good that there are common personas, design elements, and research findings that can be applied to many related programs, and the CoE would be responsible for gaining the efficiencies of centralization and reducing redundant work. Additional cost savings can be realized through early research that validates user stories/features, ensuring that only the functionality deemed necessary or desirable by users themselves is implemented from the outset.

 

As a point of clarification, it is important to stress that this HCD CoE approach should not take the place of design and research being part of delivery teams and the ongoing agile process. Research and design absolutely need to be part of the agile process all the way through. In addition, the agile process needs to be free to build upon any initial work done by the CoE and alter the trajectory of its project based on iterative design and feedback. The CoE is intended to provide smart starting points for the agile teams to build upon, save money, and provide a governance structure that enables smooth multi-program experiences.

 

For questions or to discuss further, Keith can be reached at keith@mediabarninc.com

UX Design – Generalist vs. Specialist

As a User Experience Consultancy, the UX Design role is the single most frequent position we hire for. Various online definitions state that UX Designers

UX Unicornshould be strategic thought leaders and play a very important role in creating a seamless user experience as it relates to a user’s journey throughout a site or product. This includes research, developing personas and designing various interaction points within an overall system. This of course is an all encompassing generalist type description, but sometimes like in life, there’s ideal and then there’s the reality of the situation, client or project. We find that in many cases, a UX Designer must wear a specialized hat on a per project need.  So where do your needs fall?  Do you need a UX Generalist or do you need a UX Specialist?

 

We receive countless UX job descriptions and they oftentimes include everything from user research to the kitchen sink. Since the UX trade is still a fairly new (albeit growing rapidly) job type, it’s quickly becoming a trendy catch all job title that incorporates numerous specialized job types. They’re looking for someone to help lead research, design architectures, conceive ground breaking interfaces and concept and build award winning screen designs.  Should a UX Designer play an integral role throughout the UX process and make decisions as it relates to the user interactions? Absolutely!  But that’s not to say they can’t rely on other specialists within research or development to attain critical information from things like usability testing, focus groups or the latest interaction capabilities within front-end HTML, CSS and JS.  Often times, the “generalist” or the jack of all trades, is the master of none. In this rapidly changing digital landscape, they’re just not able to be as strong in any one particular area of the UX process. An excerpt from an older article written by Jacob Nielsen summarizes it perfectly, “specialization drives performance.” And I couldn’t agree more.

 

So hiring managers, before you sit down to write that next UX Designer job description requiring someone to have skills and experience in all areas of the user journey, please don’t expect everyone to be able to lead focus groups just as well as they can comp up some stellar screen designs or write clean CSS.  Try and spend a little more time taking a closer look at your department and really focus in on where your  needs truly fall.  You might find you require support in specific areas like usability research rather than UI Design.  In which case, it may benefit you to outsource those research needs to a qualified research and usability lab rather than hiring another UX Designer. If you’re not careful, that unicorn you were looking to hire may turn out to be something very different than what you were anticipating.

 

Have additional questions about hiring a UX Designer or looking for a new UX role? Get in touch! We’re happy to answer any questions that you may have.

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A Special AR Holiday!

We’re putting our Users at the center of our Holiday Card this year! 
Please enjoy our Augmented Reality Experience on your iOS11 or Android phone.

  1. Using your Mobile Phone, visit: https://mediabarninc.com/holiday17 
  2. iPhone users must use iOS 11+ and Safari.
  3. Enjoy our Holiday AR experience!

 

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I Like Blue, My Mom Likes Green.

The title is an actual quote I heard years ago when testing an educational site with 5th graders. This particular user could not get over the fact that the overall color used was green, which she interpreted as a “mom” color, not for kids. What do research and practice have to say about the psychology of colors used on websites?

 

This question strikes close to home for me, as the science, or lack thereof, behind color-related decision making has been popping up a lot lately for the Mediabarn UX team. In client meetings and presentations the question has been “why did you pick blue/green/yellow, etc…” for this site/app?” How we justify our choices is a hot topic. Does color choice matter? What were the thought processes behind the choices we made?

 

We all know that if you are designing a site with an existing brand, you need to honor that brand’s style guidelines, but what if you have an opening to choose the colors or are able to expand or change what is already present?

 

I decided to do a little further exploration on this subject. To help me, I asked some of my UXPA peers (some of the most experienced professionals I know in the area of UX and design) their thoughts.  They all had valuable insights that help to understand the bigger picture that I wanted to share in full color.

 

Color for Accessibility

 
There are different aspects that go into your color choice – one being accessibility. You always want to make sure the color contrast you choose is optimal, and ideally works for all user types.  This is especially true when designing for the government or a site where the user’s ages vary greatly.

 

Chris LaRoche, UX Consultant at MIT and Senior Lecturer at Northeastern recommends a tool from the Paciello group to check for appropriate contract. Chris urges that the colors you choose must be of solid contrast to work most successfully.

 

Color for a Better UX

 

Chris Hass, Sr. VP if Experience Design at Mad*Pow in Boston had an interesting take on color in relation to usability. He notes that while color choices are important, successful solutions often nail the UX components first: easy interactions, clear nomenclature, fantastic taxonomy, clear rationales for inclusion and placement of key elements, straightforward messaging, etc. Once we have those in place, and validated, visual design choices have a foundation, and are empowered to be a harmonious blend of what we know of color theory and design (how humans perceive and react to colors), what the aesthetic of the product is intended to convey, how it fits into both the company goals (branding, styles, etc.) and the end-user’s culture of use, rather than contributing to or compensating for sub-optimal UX design. You’ve probably seen websites that are beautiful but functionally difficult, artful but inaccessible. By focusing visual design choices on supporting clarity, ease of use, and satisfaction, creative color choices support a coherent, artful, and useful product.

 
Chris goes on to explain that “we take end-user comments (“Yuck”, This makes me happy”, “It’s too dark”, etc.) into account of course, but we’re also looking at their use success rates. Did they see what we wanted them to see most? Were the action points easy to find and did they convey their function well? Do colors support use well?  Blending emotion and utility is always a tricky prospect. With clients we want to make clear that there is a rationale for decisions made, and that they can of course suggest something different, but their suggestions should solve our outlined problems as well as this solution does. Our goal is to help them see that just as we design websites to be functionally useful based on foundational research and industry best practices, successful color choices come from a similarly systematic framework of research outcomes, experience, and creativity rather than trends or personal opinion.”

 

Similar to the way Mad*Pow approaches color design, when we design websites and mobile apps at Mediabarn we listen to what our clients say, learn about their user types and discuss how the client wants their product/service/brand to be portrayed.  We ask questions about tone, personality and the emotions they want their users to feel during and after experiencing their online product. We want clients and users to provide input and opinions, but we also let the designers do what they do best – creative design.

 

Color for Personal and Cultural Preference

 

Color preference is highly subjective, as different types of people have their own unique feelings and thoughts that resonate with different colors. This also applies to users in various countries or across subcultures.

 

Jakob Biesterfeldt, Managing Director for UserZoom Germany, elaborates on the cultural aspect stating although color preferences and meanings are subjective, to some extent individual cultures share common preferences and meanings. An interesting example is listed here.

 

What then, does the above-mentioned academic research say regarding how to make effective color choices? My former UXPA 4014 co-chair Danielle Cooley, Principal at DGCooley Consulting, writes that for every study that says pink is calming or orange increases creativity, there’s another study that says blue is the most calming and creative people are drawn to purple. Danielle believes color from nature tend to be the least offensive, as our brains are evolved to notice and appreciate them, but there are always anecdotes like this one: “I once designed a meditation guru’s business card using a fresh lime green background, wanting to conjure up feelings about nature, bamboo leaves, and relaxation in general; only to find that this went down like a lead balloon. Apparently, green brings bad luck!” (One of many comments found here).  Each color has seen great success (and, surely, failure) across different industries and domains, and sometimes disruption is a key. For example, Scottrade’s purple really stands out in the financial services sector, at least in the US.

 

What’s the Answer?

 

Is there a solid one size fits all formula or process for picking the perfect color scheme? Sadly, no. Color is truly situational, dependent upon user types, their emotional color associations, the culture a company is attempting to communicate visually, and the creativity of your visual designers. Brand, accessibility, use case, and cultural preferences all play significant roles. Do your research, plan, and test.  Maybe your mom likes green, but somebody else’s will always prefer pink. And that’s good news: as always, know the “rules,” and be prepared to break them in amazing ways!

 

Stress_WorkplaceEvery job has stressful elements that can seem uncontrollable, but one thing that you can control is how often you experience work-related stress and how you manage it by learning stress management techniques. 

 

The following are some simple tips on how to better manage stress in the workplace:

 

  • Stay organized: eliminating daily stressors, like clutter, can help you to be able to perform more efficiently.
  • Take a walk at lunch: sometimes getting up from your desk and taking a brief walk outdoors can help to clear your mind and help you to refocus on a project or task.
  • Set realistic and attainable daily goals or objectives: this can help to keep you on track and motivated throughout the day.
  • Utilize breathing exercises: one of the most popular forms of stress relief because of how simple and effective they are.

Stress management is one of the keys to having a positive work experience, as well as a healthy mind and body. Work-related stress can have both mental and physical effects on your body that left untreated can lead to serious, long-term health problems like heart disease or insomnia.

 

The best way to deal with and overcome work-related stress is to become aware of what is causing it. When you are able to identify these stressors, you can begin to utilize stress management techniques that will help you minimize the amount of work-related stress you experience. 

 

We hope that this blog will motivate you to take time for yourself to figure out what your stressors are and how they are affecting you. For more stress management techniques and stress relieving tips, check out some of some of these great articles:

 

Usability Testing for College Start-Ups

College today is a vastly different world than the college life experienced ten, or even five years ago. The exciting thing about college nowadays is that students are fostering a sense of entrepreneurship from the get-go, which leads them to preparing business plans to launch a startup or product immediately post-graduation. Currently, some college students are even launching startups while balancing a full-course load. We think that this amazing, but we want these rising entrepreneurs to remember one important step when considering launching a startup or product, and that step is usability testing.

 

Designing and developing a product can be a lengthy and expensive process. Thankfully, usability testing is now being incorporated into this process because the value that it can add to the development of your product is paramount. But, because a formal usability study can be expensive and add time onto the already lengthy process, some startups are turning to DIY or lean usability testing solutions.

 

So even if you’re a razor thin budget, you should still test as it may help save on valuable time and money down the line.  You may want to consider checking out websites that provide usability testing software, like usertesting.com. Usability testing fast and at a low cost – yes please! But, one should use caution before relying on these DIY solutions to determine major decisions for your product.  These should just be used to help with baseline findings.

 

Ask yourself these questions in relation to any DIY usability testing that may have been done for your product:

  1. Did I target the right audience when performing my testing?
  2. Was I able to remove all bias from testing?
  3. Am I able to analyze the testing results?
  4. Can I develop recommendations on how user experience can be improved?     

Although these DIY solutions can offer viable results for intermittent testing, a formal usability study should be used for your product pre-launch and at major milestones to ensure that your product is meeting and succeeding user expectations.

 

There are numerous research facilities that specialize in usability testing and have the resources to perform eye tracking, remote user testing, focus groups and stakeholder interviews. Formal usability studies are conducted in a User Experience Lab by researchers who specialize in UX leads to an in depth report and analysis of your product with professional recommendations on how you can improve your product for users.

 

At the end of the day, usability testing brings great value to the development of any product and it is important that it is being completed either formally or informally. Usability testing helps you to better understand your user, identify hazards and hang-ups, and see your product in a whole new light.

 

Have more questions about usability testing or product research? Feel free to ask Mediabarn! We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.  

Finding Time for Social Media

 

With competing client deadlines, meetings and internal projects, we know some days it can be difficult to find time to post to social media. However, we understand how important social media is, which is why we strive to maintain a schedule so we can ensure that our accounts are up-to-date. We know it can be easy to let work take over, which can lead to neglecting social media, but we also know that social media is one of the easiest – and least expensive – ways to engage your customers and market your company.

 

Social media is an essential channel that can allow your organization to position itself as a leader in its industry by sharing major milestones, successful projects and case studies. It is important for your company to remain active so that current and potential clients can see the latest from your company, as well as be able to get a feel for what your company is all about.

 

It is important to remember that social media can be used to show off a lot more than just your company’s professional chops. By strategically using social media, your company can create a digital persona that mirrors what your real company is like. Sharing photos of your office, team members and events that your organization either hosts or attends can help to show its personality. This helps to humanize your company, which can increase opportunities for engagement.

 

Social media allows your organization to create meaningful relationships with its followers and also reach new audiences. And by using hashtags in posts, you are joining a larger conversation and are opening a new door for engagement. Additionally, being able to maintain two-way communication with your company’s audience, you are able to begin conversations that could lead to new business.

 

Having one person lead the charge to ensure that social media is being managed can help your company maintain a regular social media presence and voice. Additionally, utilizing a social media account management system like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck can make posting to your social media accounts a breeze.

 

Finally, by posting original content and retweeting posts or articles that are related to your industry, your organization can establish itself as an industry expert. It can also expand your company’s professional network by reaching out and connecting with professional associations. It is important to remember that social media is a marketing tool and can help your company grow if managed and maintained properly.
Are you interested in discussing social media strategies further? Reach out to us today to see how we can help!

Several recruiting trends are altering the way that companies are hiring and the way that job-seekers are applying for positions. Here are some trends that we are noticing in 2016 so far.

 

In the Digital space, hiring strategies are changing. Employers seemMB more interested in what value you can immediately bring to the company rather than how much experience you have. This means that
employers are more willing to take a chance on someone with substantially less experience.

 

Since, employers are more interested in what value you can bring, it is important to illustrate your potential as clearly a possible. This means that it is no longer about creating a generic resume that can be sent out in bulk with a cover letter, but being more selective and tailoring your resume for each position that you apply for. Pay close attention to:

 

  1. Tailoring your experience based on their requirements
  2. Highlighting relevant education and/or internships
  3. Calling out any certifications, awards or recognitions
  4. Get involved with industry associations, user groups and online communities
  5. Backing up your experience with recommendations on LinkedIn.
  6. Look the part.  Make sure your LinkedIn picture aligns with the client or industry you’re targeting.  If you’re targeting start-ups, you may want to reconsider the three piece suit.

With sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, Careerbuilder, GlassDoor and others, it’s easier for job-seekers to find open positions, which is drastically increasing the amount of applications employers receive. And due to the amount of time that it takes to sift through hundreds of applications, companies are becoming more reliant on talent networks and staffing agencies to help filter and streamline the process.

 

Talent networks include fans, followers, current and potential employees or those who would refer talent to your company. Companies are hiring more referrals than ever before, with some of the best firms getting nearly 50 percent of their new hires from referrals. So be sure to like, follow and engage with any potential employers on social media to get a leg up on the competition.

 

On the other hand, staffing agencies are third party sources that help both employers and job-seekers. Staffing agencies have the contacts that can help you to make connections and land a job. Here are some things to keep in mind if you do plan on using a staffing agency to connect with a company:

 

  1. Are you working with the right staffing agency? Find experts in your field. Don’t go to an agency that primarily works in admin and finance and expect them to have UX or design openings.  
  2. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.  Get to know the person you’re working with because they will be representing you to your new potential employer.
  3. Recruiters need to move fast.  So try and help the recruiter help you. Make yourself available for a phone or in-person interview asap.
  4. Listen to their feedback and advice.  It’s their job to know their client and what their hot buttons are. More than likely, they’ve had numerous conversations with the client and will understand what makes a “perfect” match.
  5. Do some research first and know which industry and/or clients you want to target. Help them focus on who and where you think your dream job will be.    

The recruiting industry is rapidly changing and it is important for both job-seekers and hiring managers to stay up to date on the latest recruiting partners, tools and trends. If not, positions may have trouble being filled and job-seekers may struggle to find a job.

 

Mediabarn understands that the recruiting process can be stressful. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have!

 

In any environment, many critical decisions must be made when you are first designing and building your product. And with startups, tight budgets and aggressive timelines can force you to cut corners and quickly push out products that are not ready for launch. This can pose numerous issues later in your product’s lifecycle, which you cannot afford. Things like bad reviews, user drop off and dreaded re-engineering costs, schedule delays and scope creep are all things that can be mitigated by a good User Experience (UX) process and usability testing. Often UX design and testing are pushed out of the process due to schedule or budget. Other times, teams assume they are good enough at design that they do not need UX testing. Both of these are critical errors because consumer input is key.

 

User Experience is becoming more prevalent across the design and development space. In order for users to love a product it has to be intuitive, useful and easy to use. The quickest and easiest way to have that happen is by injecting formal UX design and testing into any phase of the process, but preferably as early as possible.

 

From the initial concept, UX design and testing can be used to avoid critical errors that can make or break your digital product. Some include:

 

  1. Creating a product that you think is easy to use, but is confusing for your consumer
  2. Designing for the wrong audience
  3. Engineering features that may not fully benefit your audience
  4. Not fully understanding the proper user flow and/or potential pitfalls in navigation or context

 

If your startup does not have the funds to hire a full-time UX designer, then your startup should look into the option of hiring a UX consultant. UX consultants can come in at any phase providing unbiased and professional expertise, which can prove to be invaluable.

 

Additionally, completing even the most basic usability testing can be a huge bonus for your startup. Usability testing can be done formally (less frequently) or informally (more frequently). Either way, it has your actual users testing the product, which leads to immediate feedback on what changes could be made to improve the product prior to launch. In the long-run, this feedback can save time and money because your startup is able to make these changes before it even makes it to engineering.

 

UX is paramount in product design because it dictates how consumers interact and respond to it. UX must shift from being an option for startups to being an integral step in the design process due to the immense impact it can have on time to market and the overall budget.

 

For more information about UX design and testing, reach out to us at Mediabarn!

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Recently, Twitter has been catching headlines when they announced that the beloved social networking site’s algorithm could be changing. Most Twitter users are accustomed to the traditional news feed that displays posts by time, with the timeline going in reverse, chronological order.

 

In January, Twitter introduced the “while you were away” feature that shows a recap of tweets that have been posted in the time period since the user last logged in to Twitter. The proposed new algorithm will be based off of this feature, combining relevancy and time in a ‘catch-up’ feed. The posts displayed in this ‘catch-up’ feed will be tailored towards the specific interests of each Twitter user.

 

This proposed algorithm prioritizes the best content, which will challenge marketers to create exceptional content that leads to meaningful engagement. This algorithm levels the playing field on Twitter because content that has grown great organic visibility will have the same chance of being seen by users as paid content does.

 

One of the largest arguments against this new algorithm is that it takes away the integrity of the social networking site. Twitter originated as a live site that allowed users to post and interact in real-time, leading some to believe that the new algorithm will disrupt this.

 

Either way, Twitter has not yet made a firm decision on whether or not the algorithm will reformulate all Twitter timelines, or if it will be offered as an option for users.

 

We suggest that your company takes a second look at your tweets before they are posted. No longer is it about the quantity of tweets being posted, but rather the quality. Be sure to choose your words even more wisely than before! 

 

For more information about Twitter’s proposed algorithm, check out this article from AdAge.