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Why I Need to Wish You a Merry Christmas

I tend to keep my religious preferences to myself for the most part. Well, at least within the business world.

Sadly I’ve found that some people, in the tech space in particular, can be a tad “put off” when they find out I’m a Christian.

This holiday, however, I’ve decided that in light of the events going on around the world it’s especially important to take a moment to express my gratitude for the abundance of blessings my family has experienced this past year.

To say thank you.

To acknowledge.

So here it goes:

In business, my team is flourishing, clients are happy, and there are exciting new opportunties on the horizon. (More news to come in 2018 with the official launch of my creative agency Create Ape!)

Without getting too bible thumperish, however, the things I’m most grateful for are those which money can’t buy. You might find that sentiment to be cliche, but in my experience even the richest people get sick with incurable diseases. Deal with loss. Fight internal battles.

But in this moment? My family are all, thank God…healthy. My children are thriving. We are safe. And the world outside, though scary at times, still seems bright with possibility. There will most certainly be challenges ahead. There are always are, and I’m not naively saying it’s always easy to be faithful.

And yet…

During this time of year I’m reminded why we celebrate Christmas. Or at least why we should.

We celebrate because we experienced a miracle when my wife didn’t end up having a serious heart condition like the one which cost us her father. Because my grandmother is kicking cancer’s ass. Because my own father was told he had only six months to live and instead went on to see all three of my children be born.

We celebrate because even though we will inievitably all experience great sadness, pain, or loss at some point in our lives, we are also promised a life that continues beyond it. Beyond the pain. Beyond the sadness.

God gave us his only Son. And through His sacrifice we were saved by grace.

We celebrate at Christmas because we are saved from living with that pain forever, and instead promised a place where there is no pain. Where there is only endless love. There are no words for what the thought of that means to me except to say, “Thank you!”

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.  

That’s why it’s important for me to wish you a Merry Christmas, and not just “Happy Holidays” this holiday season. As we celebrate the birth of one epic dude, I need to yell it out to the world. I’m so grateful! So blessed! So in awe of  my life, and with my Lord who provides all the riches I could ever need.

So to you, whoever you are, whatever you believe in, Merry Christmas!

Ease the Cost of Employee Turnover

Imagine the scenario: You’ve lost your current superstar employee. Or you see the market changing and you want to find a pro to fill a newly created position. Seems simple enough, right? Just hire somebody to fill the role.

The problem is an overly competitive market place.

Reliable experts are hard to find and really expensive to keep happy. Often companies will rush to fill the role because not having somebody doing the work loses the company more money down the road. But hiring too quickly can be a huge mistake. In the UX and design world this is especially important to address.

Why? 

When you hire on a designer you need to make sure that person is not only great at their job (which is harder than you can imagine these days) but is ultimately a good cultural fit as well. A UX designer needs to be able to wear different hats in the creative process. They have to find the happy medium between their bosses expectations and their demographic’s reality. To be that person, you gotta fit in with the team. You have to know when to politely and professionally say “no” and then redirect your team to reach their goals on time.

Good design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. 

When you pick the wrong person for the job your product will fail. Simple as that. So instead of hiring too quickly, why not utilize a freelancer who can bridge the gap until you find your perfect fit?

Employee turnover is expensive. While we can’t capture every single expense, or even some of the big intangible costs like impact on employee morale, we can get a good sense by analyzing four major buckets:

  • Cost of hiring
  • Cost of onboarding and training
  • Cost of learning and development
  • Cost of time with unfilled role

(Learn more here: How Much Does Employee Turnover Really Cost? )

What I offer?

The solution I offer companies either starting up or in search for their perfect candidate is affordable flexibility.

As a 15 year veteran in the UX/UI space working with awesome companies like Facebook and American Express, I can offer guarantees about my work that other people can’t. With a team I’ve handpicked, trained, and personally lead, I know what we can achieve for you without compromise. We work hard to fit seamlessly within your team so you don’t have to worry about the hiccups that come with onboarding a new employee.

We don’t have a learning curve. This is what we do. All day long.

As a freelance, or independent contractor, we act as a vendor you use for your company. We assist your current team, and can be as involved as little or as much as you want. Long term or short term, we can lead your project, or simply assist when needed.

On Transparency

People who offer the world and fail to deliver don’t deserve your business.

We offer our services as a freelance team because that affords us the luxury of transparency. We won’t lie to you about what we can achieve to get your business. In our experience it’s not worth the hassle for either of us.

If you are given realistic expectations then we can wow you, and our business relationship will likely flourish. Repeat customers and glowing referrals keep our business alive. If we make you promises we know will be difficult to keep, than you will be left unsatisfied, and won’t use our service again. Nothing gets accomplished.

Not exactly smart business.

Which is why we focus on offering you stellar and reliable service, so you never miss an opportunity.

You immediately get a UX/UI expert team without having to offer an employee an attractive benefits package. And we get to continue offering our services as a boutique agency without compromising our values.

A win-win situation, wouldn’t you say?

Empathy and UX Design

Strictly speaking, user experience design does not require empathy, but it’s a huge practical advantage. I like getting definitions on the table first to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing. Both UX and Empathy can be broad words.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
User Experience: the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.

The overall experience is composed of an analytical task a user performs and also their emotional reaction to it. Don Norman has a good heuristic for breaking down emotional design into:

  • Visceral: A user’s immediate, instinctual reaction to the product.
  • Behavioral: How does the product feel when we play with it? Do we still like the way it looks? How easy is the product to use?
  • Reflective: How you make someone feel when they think back to their long-term usage of your product.

All levels of these are feelings and designing the user experience is precisely about predicting and altering emotions at each of these levels. In theory you can follow design patterns that are known to have certain emotional reactions, but empathizing how a person who is dealing with something sad will immediately inform you to:

  • Use solemn, muted colors.
  • Not introduce too much optionality into decision making.
  • Reinforce a sense of community, etc.

These apply to any product you build for this audience irrespective of audience.

If you can empathize with an audience who is feeling joyful, you would:

  • Use lively colors.
  • Offer lots of optionality/activities.
  • Offer elements of joy, etc.

If you had to really dry it down with a cynical viewpoint, think of empathy as another tool in the belt to pattern match to your audience more effectively.

Collaboration and Innovation in the Design Process

Everyone knows the problem: clients need us to be more innovative.

So how do we get together and mobilise creativity?

In designing digital experiences, creativity is often relegated to a designer and the onus is on the designer to provide the creative solution. In user experience (UX) design, the practice broadly defines itself as design driven by the study of a person’s experience with a system. If UX designers base the holistic consideration of users’ experience at the core of design, who else can they call on to inform them?

You don’t have to look very far.

Your project team: your product owner (usually the client), project manager, business analyst, developers and testers are your new creative alliances. People who have vision, commercial awareness, technological experience and most of all commitment to making the project a success.

Becoming a collaborative UX designer starts with making sure you plan in the time you need with your stakeholders. Regularly.

Whether it’s Waterfall or Agile project methodology, collaborative creative sessions allow your team to generate rough design ideas before you start building a prototype and they can be helpful when you have a stack of user stories that need to be pieced together. Along with your already accumulated user research and your user requirements, these sessions can help shape and define not only the interface but the scope and technical aspects of the system.

One method of conducting collaborative design sessions is with a rapid sketching workshop. When I first started running sketching workshops, I thought the most I could get out of it was some good design ideas and some help solving design problems.

What I discovered was getting a team of experts together to talk through concepts, in a room with space to be able to illustrate, opened up an opportunity for a project team to discuss the intricate details of the design, development and the implications on the business and user. Most importantly I found at the end of these sessions, some major decisions had been made with everybody on the team feeling satisfied and excited about what we needed to do next.

Once initial ideas have been generated and presented by each individual, a variety of solutions will be up for discussion and debate. There may be one or two good ideas, an obvious winner or maybe a few that are worth merging. The key is that each person has put the end user at the forefront of their imagination; ultimately propelling their interpretation of the solution.

Trying to draw a wireframe for a complex system if you are more used to writing code or project plans may seem intimidating at first. As a good facilitator it is the UX designer’s role to introduce simple easy techniques that remove any barriers to participation and instil confidence.

All of a sudden idea generation and visualisation doesn’t seem so daunting when you have in mind a person for whose use the system is intended. I have found having testers, who are often left quite far down the development pipeline, contribute to the design process in the early stages a cost efficient way to debug the design way before it reaches development. Who better to identify potential pitfalls than the experts that have seen all the problems numerous times before?

Other than problem solving and creative ideation, another benefit of running these sessions is exposing your team members’ individual roles and responsibilities. The process of sketching a design concept and communicating your design ideas to a group of people naturally exposes people’s specialisms and expertise in their field which can be a wonderful way to get a product owner or client to build trust in the team.

Scheduling regular time to collaborate with your team during the project lifecycle unifies the design vision, debugs the design, distinguishes team members roles and helps streamline the design and development process. Most importantly, these sessions are fun and are a chance for everyone to be part of the creative process. Even though the design integrity remains entirely within the domain of the UX Designer, in my experience true innovation blossoms when you share experiences and work as a team.