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There is a lot of love out there for the symbiosis between Agile and UX these days. More often than not, companies that are using the likes of Scrum or XP (eXtreme Programming) as their software development methodologies are including user experience professionals as part of their delivery teams. So why am I writing yet another blog post about this very topic? Well, from my experience, this marriage doesn't work quite as smoothly as advertised...
The acceptance of user experience in agile organizations is a relatively new concept. Being able to quickly research, perform IA work (typically task flows, wireframes and sitemaps), create high-fidelity prototypes, perform UT (usability testing) for a story and then be able to serve it up to software developers is enticing to every development manager out there. And while this concept may work from a theoretical perspective, when it comes to execution and deadlines, it quickly becomes very clear that if the team falls behind, there are typically two areas that suffer: user experience and scope (and ultimately quality). Development managers are delivery driven (rather than quality driven), and for them delivery means one thing: code. As a user experience professional working in an agile environment, how many times did you hear a development manager telling you that you no longer have time to spend with the end users for user research, and that those deliverables (be it wireframes or high-fidelity prototypes that are required by developers for a particular story) are now due in less than 24 hrs or even worse, not needed altogether because the functionality is fairly simple and the developers will be able to go straight to code without them?
In my career, navigating the extent of my involvement within agile teams has sometimes been rocky. Yet at this point, looking back at projects ranging from the success stories to those that were quite simply narrowly avoided disasters, two distinct themes have emerged, and are going to be the focus of this article.
My last blog article had some harsh words directed at those responsible for creating the new website of the Clerk of Privy Council. Public Service employees and people in the community rallied around the opinion that the public should leave the Government alone, irrespective of whether they produce quality or not (calling it 'experimentation'). I still absolutely disagree with that opinion. Everyone's work should be open to critical feedback, especially publicly funded projects. If you put something out there (be it a website, a social media profile, a poster, a photo, a sculpture, a painting etc.), you are opening yourself up for, among other things, criticism. You can choose to act on it, ignore it, or respond to it. But to say that it's ok to produce inferior material because those responsible are not interested in properly researching and creating their deliverables is a fallacy. Someone from within GoC told me offline that the Government can accept to be open, but cannot accept being wrong. When did GoC websites become exempt from being scrutinized?
Others have lamented I am in no position to question the quality of a website because design is subjective. I agree that design is subjective, and I would add that it is also personal. But regardless, we have had design contests since the beginning of time because quality and innovation are also obvious to the masses, and especially to those trained in creating or evaluating visual material. And because there is a huge number of GoC websites, those who have worked in visual communications, design or user experience for the government can pick and choose with relative ease the ones that stand out in quality as well as the ones who are not exactly up to par. So for today's post, I chose to agree to disagree with those who think we should tolerate mediocrity and create a Best and Worst list for GoC CLF-based public website designs.
Best and Worst lists are the bread and butter of many research bodies, including Forrester and Gartner. Bloggers all over the world publish Best and Worst lists every day. To choose these websites, I have reviewed the homepage of every site on the Departments and Agencies list available at www.gc.ca, and also looked at select microsites of some of those departmental homepages.
The first mistake made out there is assuming that wireframes are primarily a design deliverable rather than an information architecture (IA) deliverable. The right interpretation should be self-explanatory. I personally use wireframes to demonstrate information, task flow and page flow rather than branding or graphics design. However, the notion of a wireframe has been expanded lately to include everything from physical hand-drawn paper screen mockups to high-fidelity, fully branded screen designs. This being said, my personal preference is somewhere in the middle as I prefer to use specialized applications to create them as a basis of discussion of content and overall structure rather than visual display.
If anyone's ever looked at a typical wireframe (and i say 'typical' very loosely as everyone personalizes the way they create them), you will notice that it consists of a collection of boxes, controls and annotations that make up the skeleton of an application screen. Each box may be an image, a section, a cell or a placeholder for application content.
When presenting screen design in the form of wireframes, application controls are also included. For example, in the case of a wireframe created for a web application, representations corresponding to HTML form controls will be added to the screen design in order to make the wireframe appear as an early drawing of the final product.
The guys at Elliptic Labs have finally managed to do what Zaphod Beeblebrox and Tom Cruise's character in Minority Report have attempted to do for a while: use a touchless, gesture-based, user interface that doesn't require sensors installed on the hand. According to the Elliptic Labs website, "the hardware is based on standard components only, similar to those in a mobile phone. The system can run on the CPU and power in most usual consumer electronic devices. It can be embedded into any electronic device, including hand held ones."
However, we've seen something similar to this before in the form of electrostatic UI's, which also happen to be touchless. However, Elliptic are the only ones that created sensor hardware that is based on standard components, and also used a form factor that is more portable and usable than our favourite Northwestern students.
While innovation in the realm of portable (i.e. netbooks) and mobile user interfaces shifted towards speed, functionality and support for a variety of standards and hardware technologies, Intel's new version of its Linux-based netbook UI has truly taken a step forward in terms of usability and user experience.
What's different about Moblin 2.0 ? Well, it's a bit of a departure from the usual desktop paradigm as the UI is organized into elegant tabbed panels and application "zones" (think virtual desktops with improved UX). The home screen interface is also quite functional, showing the usual tasks list, calendar and application shortcuts, as wells as other integrated widgets (eg. Twitter). Quite a feast for the UX eyes.
accessibility branding business canUX community conference design GoC CLF marketplace ottawa privacy project management public sector research security standards TEDx thoughts usability user experience user interface UX tools UXcamp wireframes
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