UX collaboration is a terrible user experience - let's fix it


How many have you sat through a User Experience meeting? If you haven't, it goes a little something like this: 

A talented and educated individual with a design or technical background (and glasses), spends weeks splitting their brains open to work out all the ins and outs of an application. Their intellectual investment in research, gap analysis, hierarchy of needs, and the user journey manifests itself into a 15-50 page pdf document, expertly and thoroughly organized and annotated. [America! Fist pump.]

This isn't just how the newsfeed is going to be reinvented or how the interface is going to fold up like a paper airplane. It represents the answers to questions like: What happens when a user loses their internet connection during a post request and then decides to restart the app? It's the things your users won't reward you for giving them, but sure as hell will let you know the minute they don't

It sounds wonderful, doesn't it? A role that helps design and development do their job. A roadmap for the team and the product owners on what is being built! I mean, how could you possibly do ANYTHING in digital without great UX?! 

THERE IS JUST ONE PROBLEM!

It's broken. It won't take you long to realize that almost no one likes looking at 20-50 page PDFs with annotations, regardless of how valuable that information is!! 

Why?

  1. (Good) Designers need the freedom to reinvent UX patterns, and no matter how good the documentation, not starting with a blank slate can kill creativity.
  2. Engineers and developers now have incredible volumes of tools that increase their efficiency and productivity at their disposal. They need to have conversations about UX, not have it dictated to them.
  3. Project Managers and producers can't keep teams engaged in meetings or a document where they are constantly referencing different page numbers and having to remember points of flow.
  4. User Experience designers, (as in the people who are making the documents) even hate them because any time someone on the product team has an idea or major change, it requires a significant investment to get everything in the document to line back up.

    IF THAT, wasn't bad enough... (which it is)
     
  5. Clients and business units don't like them because it's too hard to track a user journey across multiple pages, while paying attention to the technical details. They either don't understand it, don't care, or let it take place until they see the app functioning so that they can later decide everything needs to change. :) It's not your fault.

Crap. So now what?

Well readers, when we started Eight Bit Studios it gave us a chance to think differently about everything it meant to collaborate with clients. One MASSIVE pain point was watching UX professionals cracking their heads open, only to have their work dismantled as it entered design, then again in development, and one last time for good measure by the product owner. 

We knew UX was important. Really important. Most people (and you) agree! But something had to be done to put it back into the heart of the project and give it the life it deserved. It needed to evolve.

Presenting the Wireflow Document

Why we and our clients love it and why it works.

1. It's easy to follow.

Regardless of your technical expertise, there are some documents that most people "just get". You can explain a sitemap and story board to an 8 year old. When explaining architecture, it turns out these can be amazing foundations for other documents. No spheres and shapes representing decision trees. Instead, this is a layout of screens with arrows that take users from screen to screen in a logical order the way a user would when they use your app.

2. It increases engagement.

Imagine a meeting where you roll out a document the same size as the conference room table. Our wire flow documents are a minimum of 36" x 60". Instead of sitting back in your chairs half asleep, you have to stand up just to get a full picture of it! That's huge, because when people stand up they begin to engage! That's how everyone starts paying attention. It's big. It's awesome. You want to hang it on the wall in front of your office. You want to put it next to the executional team. It's a work of UX art, but better, it's THE roadmap for all good ideas and thoughts about the project.

3. It's extremely agile.

Popular programs for wireframes like Balsamiq are rapid, but are still limited by their always tempting-to-use "this is what's popular in ui now" patterns (if I see coverflow used one more time...). We use blank documents that start in Adobe Illustrator and in many cases our Designers can work directly with the files we create. If someone on the team comes up with a new interaction pattern for navigation, we can copy and paste it directly into the document. If a developer needs to enter an error use case, pop open the doc and add it. It's that easy! 

4. It encourages collaboration.

It's better than the back of a napkin, it's a giant napkin! The form factor encourages people to draw, take notes, and ideate on it. Unlike a PDF, having it right in front of you in paper encourages notations and doodling in a collaborative setting. Whether you're a designer, engineer or product owner, you can now feel the comfort to ideate within the flow and wires live with the team! (and we encourage it) 

5. It puts UX back at the heart of the project.

Dammit, if this wasn't the thing we were after. One of the things that always bothered us at bigger Chicago agencies is the need for "Stage Gates". Basically, as a project passes between teams, there are cutoffs and handoff points that define when Strategy, UX, Design, Development, etc begins and ends. Often times, even the best firms perform exceptionally in each stage, but because of these gates the work has to pass ownership. This process hurts the collaborative nature of digital work because it introduces a bias by each team. Having this document puts the producing and directing back in the entire executional and business team's hands. It's the centerpiece of the project and it constantly evolves with the project as you iterate across domains.

I hope you'll reconsider your UX process after reading this. Think about the role of UX. Even with great research and mental models and gap analysis and user journey flows, are you helping facilitate the right communication between your clients, your executional team, and your business units? 

To us, UX isn't about architecture and patterns and great research (although those are super important). GREAT UX is about facilitating communication. We're probably not the first ones to propose combining these docs or using them in this way, but I think we're quickly becoming the most effective collaborative digital teams in Chicago because of it. It's time your team does too!

Written by John W Ostler
Principal and Co-Founder of Eight Bit Studios

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