This post is dedicated to my dad, entrepreneur and business owner for the past 40 years. And now, newly retired. In those 40 years, I heard the harrowing stories during the “lean years” and witnessed first-hand the struggles, sacrifices, and heartache of being self-employed. And yet, I did it anyway—with eyes wide open and the willingness to do whatever it takes. Entrepreneurship is wholly part of who I am, and am forever grateful. Congrats on your retirement, Dad!
How has my UX consultancy changed in the past 5 years?
Here is a peek into some of the things I’ve been doing, lessons I’ve learned, the tools that help me do my work, my favorite resources, and what I think the next 5 years will bring me.
Exactly What Have I Been Up To?
In recent years, wireframing is now a small part of what I do on a day-to-day basis. In its place, my dance card has been filled with mostly UX strategy and research projects.
A few of my favorite projects from the past 5 years:
Customer Communication Experience Maps
To discover the wins, opportunities, and gaps in my client’s customer communications, I conducted several different research studies over many, many months:
- Diary Study: How do customers really feel about the communications they receive? How does each one make them feel? Which ones are confusing or irrelevant?
- Online Survey: How do customers want to be communicated to and how often? What are their biggest pain points? Do different types of customers need or want different things?
- Phone Interviews: What are customers doing and thinking about before, during, and after using their product? Are there any communication gaps?
- Competitor Diary Study: How often do competitors communicate with their customers? What do they do better or differently?
- Customer Workshop: What are some examples of world-class customer communication? What makes them world-class?
- Stakeholder Workshops: What additional support, tools, or resources do internal teams need to more effectively communicate with their customers?
- Documentation: Which systems and data are connected? What gaps exist? Which communications are automated? Which are manually sent?
In addition to identifying all of the opportunities and communicating the findings back to stakeholder teams, I also created multiple visuals to bring the customer communication experience to life:
- Current state of the customer experience at each phase of the customer lifecycle (e.g., onboarding)
- Proposed future state of the customer experience
- Volume of communication at each phase
- Specific communication sent at each phase (including the sender, topic, and channel — phone, email, or direct mail)
- Customer stories: detailed journey maps showing the communication experiences of real customers
Website User Experience Strategy
My client had a lot of data about their customers’ buying process, but they didn’t know much about the role that the website played.
To envision the ideal website experience, I led multiple groups of prospective customers through a journey mapping exercise. Each participant created their own personal journey map by placing Post-Its on a wall. Once their journey maps were created, each participant presented their journey to the group. Other participants chimed in with similar or differing experiences, which led to even deeper insights.
Afterward, I used the individual maps to identify patterns and assemble an overall customer journey map and as input into the website strategy.
I conduct so many usability tests (just recently hit 400 sessions!), that it’s difficult to pick just one or two of my favorites.
Rather than sharing the specific findings, I’ll share some of the more universal usability lessons I’ve helped my clients learn over the years:
- People don’t use what they cannot see. When information is hidden behind hamburger menus, drop-down menus, accordions, carousels, or ambiguous labels, it might as well not be there at all.
- People are unaware that your logo links to the home page. Web designers are always surprised by this one. It was true 10 years ago. It’s still true today.
- People ignore things that look different or are outside of their line of sight. It’s counter-intuitive, but the more designers try to make something standout on a web page, the more likely the user won’t even notice it.
- People click anything that looks like it might be a link. People will click boxes, graphics, photos, and colored text. And if it’s not clickable, they think your site is broken.
My Biggest Lesson Learned
I’ve had a few life-changing “lightbulb moments” over the years…
In 2001, I discovered my strengths thanks to Marcus Buckingham. At the top of my Strengths Finder results: Futurist. I was always, but vaguely, aware that I had the ability to envision and communicate what the future could look like with crystal clear clarity. But until that moment, it had never occurred to me that it was a talent or that I could apply it in my work.
In 2007, I discovered I am a visual thinker. Complex ideas are just unintelligible noise until I can see them, visualize them, or draw them myself. Hearing illustrative examples or anecdotes is my shortcut to understanding big, abstract concepts.
In 2012, I discovered that I am happiest and most professionally fulfilled when I am collaborating with my professional peers. Nice for me, but more importantly, I noticed that the more collaborative the project, the more extraordinary the business outcomes. The foundation of UX — aligning user needs with business needs — is an absolute must in today’s customer-centered landscape, but it’s no longer a secret. The genius is in the group.
How My Work Has Changed
I remember the first time my boss wanted to whiteboard ideas. As in, the verb whiteboard.
I didn’t want to do it. It was too messy. Too imperfect. And really, it was too hard. I needed to work at the detail level, work out the kinks, then arrive at the big idea from the bottom up.
Fast-forward 9 years later… I’m now the exact opposite.
Sketching is far and away the most fun thing I do. Standing in front of a whiteboard — either leading a brainstorm or working out my ideas alone — is home to me.
My Post-It Obsession
It’s funny how we evolve on things. Write one idea per a Post-It? How wasteful. And slow. It’s so much faster to type and easier to edit on screen, I used to think.
Ha. And now I am paralyzed without my Post-Its. And Sharpies.
Colored Sharpies prefered, but black will do.
My Home Office
When I first launched June UX, everything happened at my kitchen table. To more easily pack up my make-shift office everyday, I bought a rolling cart from IKEA to sit next to the kitchen table.
And then the storage-room-takeover happened. My brother tore down the mismatched ceiling tiles. Ripped off the composite wood paneling. And pulled up the stained carpeting. And then presto, I’ve had a gleaming white home office with wood laminate floors ever since. The centerpiece of my office is a custom-built superdesk: 2 side-by-side desks with cubby bookshelves as the base. One desk for my computer, one desk for my 2 sewing machines and workspace.
What’s In Store the Next 5 Years?
The short answer is… I think it will look a lot like my last 2 years. Big, complex projects that include customer experiences beyond websites and emails.
Writing this post has made me think about where I am in the arc of my career. Have I entered my third act? After giving it some careful thought, I’ve decided that, no, I don’t think I’m there yet.
In the third act of my career — still a ways into the future yet, not in 5 years — I see myself helping others on a larger scale.