Design Values: How I learned to start worrying and love the (defused) bomb.

In 2017, I narrowly avoided being part of the worst data catastrophes in human history. The Equifax scandal affected an estimated 145 to 147 million Americans. Hackers got access to sensitive consumer data including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. As relayed in the excellent book Future Ethics:

“A further 209,000 credit card numbers were taken. After nudging a couple of executives towards retirement and offering credit monitoring to affected citizens, Equifax is still, at the time of writing, a $16 billion company, valued just 4% lower than pre-leak levels. The consequences of identity theft fall more on consumers than the companies responsible.”
2020, Cennydd Bowles

Equifax was exactly the kind of name you didn’t want to be associated with your security product in 2017. But, let’s rewind a bit to the halcyon days of 2016.

Me in 2016.

In 2016 I married my deadly wife. Other things happened in the world too, but none of them are really newsworthy. I was at Synchronoss  as part of a small team working on the redesign of an identity proofing product called Universal ID.

The simple version had limited verification and required fewer steps (and with that came less design). The advanced version was a bit more interesting, and presented some good opportunities for design. Designed for government bodies, hospitals, and financial institutions meant robust security and smooth integration with identity verification services. We were a decent team with good intentions. Unfortunately, you can likely guess, our partners that would run these critical identity checks. I’ll give you a hint and say it rhymes a little with equine tax.  

To hell with good intentions.

It’s a hard sell to say trust us with your personal information when you are giving that information to someone else. In mid 2017 the team decimated. My position felt uncertain with very little work for me to actually do. 

I had worked with Synchronoss as a consultant and later as an employee for a few years, but without a team the environment I was in was isolating. The design team in Dublin constituted of me and one other person.

The nearly men.

Nearly everything I worked on in Synchronoss died at some point before release. There were many reasons, and some of the work came back to life over time, but a few years of this can drain you. Incidentally, A PM joked that we only get brought in to officially kill projects that had grown too expensive. It started to feel that way. Like Kind Midas, I had a sparkling shit touch that brought death to projects. 

A shift in thinking about work.

I began to reevaluate the kind of work I was doing. I was in a decent job. The money was good but the work wasn’t demanding or especially rewarding. Universal ID seemed dead and I made the decision to start looking and move on.

I am proud of the work we did at Synchronoss. We campaigned and fought to build something inclusive in Universal ID. We fought to eliminate optional questions during the registration flows by tracking down the business rationale for every request we made of our users. The portal design followed a mobile-first approach with a focus on loading quickly. Speed and efficiency were paramount. The needs of people with different abilities and ways of thinking played into how we thought about the product (we anticipated a diverse audience). 

We had cool ideas informed by research for making authentication not the worst thing in the world. One was to use the microphones to detect ambient noise as a security measure. Another utilised bluetooth to detect when you were near your device. These measures were to satisfy the technology averse doctors that would otherwise hack the system. Apparently, doctors tend to have other things on their minds than setting secure passwords.

 My love for the practice and enthusiasm for the work had waned. The key question I began to ask myself around the time:

Am I causing harm?

I judge myself by the work I do and by the impact it has on the world. Therefore, I don’t identify myself as a designer, but as a person first and foremost. This is modern-day Eoghan speaking. Back in 2016 I probably didn’t think like that, and I certainly never articulated these thoughts to anyone (especially myself). 

I am thankful today that this did not ship. There is an alternative reality where the breach doesn’t happen and the project ships. In that world I am the guy who designed the thing that leaks tonnes of personal data for UK residence. In this universe, John Oliver calls me an arsehole during the whole show he does on Equifax.

I focused on the wrong things. Focus was not my strongest point back then. It is not my strong point now, to be honest. I had fallen in love with building the thing, I had not considered the risks.

This is not a question of being clever, but being thoughtful beyond failure and considering the impact if you are successful. What then? One way of staying on course is to keep in mind why you are doing what you are doing. Why is the driving force behind the goal. Why drives the mission.

Remember the mission.

The “smartest man in the world” fell in love with the problem he was solving. Richard Feynman continued to work on the atomic bomb and devastation was delivered even after the threat had gone. Project Manhattan was set up as a nuclear arms race with Germany. Incidentally, Feynman was even meant to go on the plane that dropped the bomb, but the bomb was so successful they decided they didn’t need a scientist.

The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. After the End of World War II in Europe. The devastation was incredible with 80,000 people dying in Hiroshima that day alone.

“Having run this tremendous race and then at the end of it concluded that it wasn’t all that worthwhile. ”

Values you set.

I don’t judge Feynman for this, but it is difficult to excuse him. For me, it resonates as a cautionary tale. I happened to avoid my part in the biggest data breach in history, but only through circumstance. I’ve always been a lucky beggar. I too can focus on what I am doing and forget why I am doing it. 

In reality, it comes down to the values you set out during your time on this planet. You cannot have values, if you first don’t value yourself. This is to say people are valuable, and human centered design is about humans first. Additionally, there is a compelling argument that we should be thinking Earth first, but that is a topic for another day. For now let’s talk about you, your value, and values. You need to value yourself.

Value yourself.

I was underpaid for the work I did for many years. I undervalued my opinion, contribution, and probably myself. This low opinion of myself is partly an Irish thing. We’re taught not to take a compliments, and I find hard to accept praise to this day. Meaning, we should accept when someone says something nice. Dismissing recognition is a rejection of others. Knowing this, it should be easier to accept praise. The alternative is just rude.

Earnest. Scared. Stupid. By F*c*book.

I believe Facebook is cancerous and it is time to consider cutting it out of your life. Obviously, a lecture won’t convince you of this. I would love if Facebook transformed into something that became a benefit to society but that is wishful thinking.

Social Smoking.

Facebook behaves with a lack of accountability as a company that recalls the tobacco companies. For years they denied culpability and lobbied to suppress the harmful effects that smoking had on peoples health. Using Facebook is a bit like being a social smoker. It harms you, and others around you as well as putting a strain on society. The second hand effects count. I think people are getting a bad deal, and we should talk about it.

But smoking is cool?

Cigarettes are great. The best people have had the best conversations outside bars and pubs. All thanks to the magic of cigarettes. No-one needs to be told smoking is bad for them. Listing health risks is not an effective strategy. Neither is rising the prices. Removing the branding on the boxes and packaging actually works and makes them taste worse.

Losing my cool.

Coming from a family that doesn’t traditionally have a long shelf life, and has had quite a lot of cancer, I realised that I was at risk of dying younger than I would prefer if I carried on smoking. Therefore, I substituted delicious cigarettes for a phallic little robot vape that delivers nicotine and makes me look like a pal of Nathan Barley. This is still a crutch, so I understand moving away from things is hard, but honestly ask yourself.

Why are you using Facebook?

What do you get from Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram? Is it worth the cost? I’ve listed below a few reasons to consider leaving these platforms. I mean, personally I draw the line at facilitating and supporting genocide.

Links

You could look at their Wikipedia page and draw your own conclusions from the criticisms and controversies section.

But what if…

Facebook won’t be convinced to change, but I believe that you can be. Not by me, but by questioning what you value for yourself and the people you love. I get there are valid reasons to use Facebook. It can be a vital connection to friends and family, and shops need to sell things and all of their customers exist there.

I am a hypocrite in lots of ways. Leaving Facebook wasn’t especially hard for me. As someone who never got into Instagram, and long ago deactivated their Facebook account, it was just WhatsApp left to contend with. I believe that these platforms shouldn’t own you, and you should protect yourself and your family and friends by getting away from these platforms.

If nothing else, I hope this post will help to remove some of the shiny packaging and leave a little more of a bad taste in your mouth.

Remote control. Maintain your headspace at work in the age of Zoom.

This pandemic has forced office workers to adapt to working from home. Some of us for the first time. If you are finding Zoom too much and struggling to maintain your headspace, the tactics shared here may be useful. At least, it could spark an idea for how you can take control of the remote world we are now in. It’s probably going to be a while before we are all together.

Watch Held In Hand Over Road Photo
Man tries to tell time over a bumpy, black roads.

Meeting better. Better meetings.

Meetings are one the biggest bugbears in the workplace. We accept them as a necessary evil but we should expect more.

Done well, meetings are an opportunity for connecting with the team, working towards an objective, and reinforcing processes and expectations. Good meetings are only as long as they need to be, which is to say as short as possible.

I believe the issue lies with the framing of meetings. A bad meeting can be ruinous. It feels like a waste of time. I have held some bad meetings in my time. One’s that didn’t respect the time of attendees, where nothing was decided, and lacked any real outcome. Don’t be like me. My tendency to lose focus, and wander off on whims does not lend itself well to conductive work at times.

Meeting principles for remote workers to maintain control.

I try to employ these principles when I am scheduling a meeting. This structure doesn’t apply to chats, and I invariably fall short of these from time to time.

  1. Identify who the audience is, and assess why they are meeting you
  2. Establish why you’re meeting – State your intention 
  3. Determine what you want your audience to think, feel, and do

Identify who the audience is, and assess why they are meeting you.

Straightforward enough, you need to know who you are meeting and understand why you are calling a meeting. Not everyone needs to be on a meeting, and where there are optional attendees it can be useful to mark them as such and state why optional attendees have been added in the body of the invite.

People often feel obliged to attend every meeting that comes in, especially more junior members in an organisation. Giving them the out explicitly, by tagging them and including why they are optional in the body of the meeting, can remove the pressure to attend. In my experience, setting attendance as optional isn’t enough of a gesture as it gets lost in the mire of notifications and requests.

Establish why you’re meeting – State your intention.

So obvious but often missing. The agenda. Why are you calling a meeting with these people? What do you aim to achieve? By stating your intentions up front you can determine if you have the right people in the room/zoom. Clear intentions also help determine the length of a meeting, keep attendees focused, and serve to mitigate the risk of things getting derailed. It is important to limit these intentions for the sake of the group. Maintaining the rooms attention gets a bit tricky when you state more than three intentions in a single meeting.

Determine what you want your audience to think, feel, and do.

Consider people. They are giving you their time and you should respect that. Do you want to be responsible for holding the boring meeting that people skip, or the one where people leave feeling energised? Feelings do not get talked about much, but are vital to how we conduct ourselves in all aspects of our lives. This includes work. Consider the outcomes and next steps, not just for you, but for the attendees.

How about no meetings?

Some things are better said face to face. Everything else can be served asynchronously and outside real time. Sending relevant documentation ahead of a meeting is a way better use of time than everyone reading it during in the meeting. 8 people meeting for a one-hour meeting is the equivalent of one person having an 8-hour meeting. Additionally, there is nothing so soul distressingly and ego crushing as me trying and failing to read out loud words I have written. Please don’t make me do that.

Understanding your audience is key to communicating effectively. Meet people on their terms, and use an appropriate method that respects their schedule. Consider the following before calling a meeting:

I ❤️ email.

I know it ain’t perfect, but email is an excellent tool for communication. Especially when working with people in different timezones. An email is more effort to write than sending a message on Slack. This is good friction. As a medium, the burden of responsibility is placed on the sender. They need to think about what they are trying to say, and the message needs to be clear, and unambiguous, to avoid misinterpretation.

Grab the remote control, and change the channel from Slack & other chat apps.

There is far more psychological pressure to get back to direct messages sent on Slack. An email that you get can sit happily for hours, or days, without feeling the expectation to reply. The immediacy of sending a slack message can feel quick for the sender, but it applies a pressure. The receiver feels obligated to respond quickly, and senders can feel ignored if they are left waiting too long. As this article indicates, a touch dramatically; The time we have between reading and answering a text message is 8 minutes. 

Instant messaging is real time, and the answers are far more reactionary. Less thought goes into chats. This means threads full of clarifications and rude notifications for everyone. Basecamp put it nicely when they said: 

“Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting, with random participants, and no agenda.”

Living at work is still living.

This pandemic has been devastating, and there are lots of awful things happening in the world. Tactics for working better remotely is not something that is high on the list of priorities for many. Also, I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to work in a place that has put their support behind their staff, and acknowledge this is a stressful time where many have lost their livelihoods, their lives, and loved ones.

If you are in a position to help others, please donate money or time to the many causes that are calling out for support. The Lebanon Red Cross are in desperate need for donations at the moment.

Advice for UX graduates: Be nice. Be curious. Consider what you want.

Students and UX graduates sometimes ask me for advice around getting into the industry. This is all very flattering, but it is a tricky thing for me to answer.

Hello imposter. May I look at your qualifications please?

No, I do not have a qualification in UX. I began my career working as a frontend dev building WordPress and Joomla sites, and I became interested in UX as I wanted to more involved in the decisions on what was being designed.

Frankly, It has been a while…

Time has done its thing. It has passed. With this passage of time, my perspective on the realities of being a graduate are fuzzy at best. So, be aware that I definitely don’t remember what it is like accurately, and it should be stated that I am an unreliable narrator at the beast of times.

Nice if you can get it.

Fundamentally, I consider timing, and luck crucial to any success I have had in my career. Chance and circumstance can be the difference. This is the forgotten reason why some people are successful and some other people are not. Even when both deserve to be.

A healthy work ethic and not being a total dick also helps to ensure you take opportunities that come your way. Additionally, it probably helps that I am sadly what is considered the default in society. A straight, white, male.

Be curious.

People exist that have a natural interest in the world. They like to know how everything works, and don’t need to hear this. For the rest of us, it is worth realising that you can choose to show interest.

Attention is the gift the listener gives when someone is speaking. Active listening is more than being quiet when someone is talking. You can decide to give your attention. Sometimes you don’t want to. That’s where the cost comes in.

Faking it.

Here’s a little trick I play on myself. Feigning interest in something forces me to find something I can relate to. This deliberate effort serves as a hook. For me personal investment is essential. Design is for other people, and finding ways to relate to the work makes it so much easier.

Some good, some bad.

The expectations now are probably much different than they were when I graduated. That said, some things probably haven’t changed. Companies are still looking for graduates who are able to do production work and “hit the ground running.” Good companies understand that experience and skills are not the same thing. Bad companies don’t care.

Your first job can inform the next one so it is a good idea to research and plan your career path. I didn’t do this, and relied on luck and the ability to drunkenly hustle an internship at a defuse event in 2011.

Big companies.

Big companies realises that people starting their first role in UX need to be supported. Not to say that there are no expectations on graduates when they start their first role. There are. However, graduates often tend to generate a level of expectation upon themselves that is unhealthy.

Agencies.

Agencies can take advantage of this expectation. They love a hungry grad coming in and working overtime. Agency work often expects this, but this way of working can lead to burnout, stress, and late nights. That said, It can also be a lot of fun, and a great way to learn how to do lots of different things. So it depends on what you want.

Practical tips:

Trying to be a good ancestor, here are some bits I’ve related to students.

Demonstrate an interest in design.

This may be obvious. However, it is important to show you care about design, and take an interest in what’s happening beyond graduation.

Work on your communication skills.

You need to be able to communicate your ideas clearly to get your point across. As it happens, other people can’t see inside your head.

Know the value of soft skills.

Soft skills are hard to acquire. Core skills like reading and writing can always be improved. Make friends with your local library. Additionally, I recommend you read, watch, or listen to stuff by people like these fine folk:

  • Erika Hall @mulegirl
  • Dan Saffer @odannyboy
  • Sam Ladner @sladner
  • Don Norman @jnd1er 
  • Kim Goodwin @kimgoodwin
  • Abbey Covert @Abby_the_IA
  • Dan Brown @brownorama
  • Christina Wodtke @cwodtke
  • Alan Cooper @MrAlanCooper

This is not extensive by any means, but you could do worse 🙂

Meet your design community.

And, this advice predates COVID but online events can be alright too. Typically includes free food and drinks Usually coffee and pastries for early ones, or beer, wine & pizza for later ones.

Finally, I wrote up some practical tips before on this site. I cannot bear to read what I thought three years ago, but maybe there are some useful nuggets here:

Time again friend.

This website has sat unloved, and untended for a couple of years, and I think that it is time again to start it up again. Coronavirus has made every office realise that remote work is possible. In addition to devastating lives, this virus has turned our homes into workplaces, and made it impossible not to bring that work home (as if it ever really was).

The handling of the virus has been so different that countries are effectively judged on a leaderboard, and pitted against each other. 1,752 people have died in Ireland at the time of posting this. The effect of this is miserable, and likely to depress and frustrate us for a significant time to come, with  my favourite things like gigs, and pints with friends existing as a future dream.

Tim Harford’s excellent podcast Cautionary Tales, has an episode that sounds an ominous warning. Namely, what if the virus is the precursor to a larger event. And, you can listen to that joyful episode here.

Intentions.

Ok, lets consider that pandemic Elephant addressed. This isn’t about Covid-19. Rather, it’s about my intent to restart this website, and use this space to practice my writing. So, there will probably be a mix of shop talk around design, and likely, I will post about books, art, film, and music.

Just before I resume normal service, I’d like to briefly talk about why I stopped updating this website. So, I don’t know how much I will reveal to be honest, as it makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. This low traffic website doesn’t generate a tonne of traffic, and I don’t see many people reading this.

Why now?

The most recent post on this site is from the 26th of October 2017. On November 1st, a friend passed away from cancer. This was the first time we’d lost someone within our friend group. She was my age, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with this at the time. I decided not to.

The week after my friends funeral, I interviewed for a role in Workday, and somehow got the job, that I began working in January 2018. Within two days, I started to bleed internally, and it was off to the Mater hospital, where I spent time in ICU. There I received several blood transfusions. The odds of me surviving were not great. My wife learned this at the time, but she internalised it. This is upsetting to think about the stress she had to deal with. Post trauma, I decided that the best thing to do would be to go straight back to work, and not deal with it at all in any way. As, I am smart.

Hooray for depression and anxiety.

Fast forward a few months, and things caught up with me. It was then that I started to feel like I was losing my mind. So after many years of never dealing with my feelings, cracks emerged in me. I didn’t know that I had feelings, and that feelings eventually bubble over. In summary, you can try to repress your feelings forever, but only if you are good with imploding.

Ironic symptoms.

My memory, and my ability to think clearly are things I lean on heavily. It got to the point where I was barely functional. I couldn’t remember anyones name. As a result, I struggled to be around people that I love. Instead I spent the time worried, anxious, and exhausted. A fun symptom of depression is that you lose the ability solve problems and make decisions.

Anyway, less of that grim business. Expect to read more about fun and nerdy things, and fewer posts about depression. I am not planning to monetise my mental health like Bressie just yet. I need to update this website technically. So do expect some live design changes, and I may even add images to posts. I know. Wild. Pictures on the internet are just the kind of disruptive thing you can expect in the future.

90% of Notifications are really just interruptions

This week I published a little Chrome plugin called No More Notifications. You can install it here, if you like. It’s pretty silly, and not really expected to set the world on fire. Essentially, all it does is substitute the word notification with the word interruption. Like I said, it’s silly…

However, it is intended to raise a point around framing. The language, and terminology we use to describe things, influences how we think about the world. I think this is a conversation worth having.

Screenshot showing modified search results from google with the word notification substituted for interruption
After installing the plugin, your internet is free of the word notification! Feel free to make your own plugin to eliminate annoying terminology.

For example, you could prepend the title “Operating Thetan level 8” every time Tom Cruise is mentioned online. Or, simply replace the word toast with double baked bread. The possibilities are endless.

Lingo bingo

I propose we start being a little more truthful when it comes to naming things. Not to recommend a bowl of word soup, but here are a couple of examples.

“Honest”

When someone asks if you want their honest opinion, it is only natural to tense up a little. Honest opinions are bad. You are right to be slightly guarded. This has been your experience.

An alternative is suggested by Ed Catmull in his excellent book Creativity Inc (library link). Instead of honest, we can use the word candour. Honesty and candour are synonymous. However, candour does the job, without the added negative connotations, or politics, that come loaded with the word honest. I think this is a good call.

So, Let’s be candid.

“Special Offers” are really ads

The Kindle Paperwhite is great. I bought the version with Special Offers. Special Offers are really just ads. The special offers I see on the Kindle, don’t really feel like adverts. They have been personalised to my taste in books, and are very discreet, only appearing when the screen is off. It would be very different if they popped up as I was reading.

…and finally, our friend the bloody notification

I don’t like bleeping things, and catch myself checking my phone all the time. This is something that I do in front of people, which is just bad manners. My friends do it too. One flash or a bing and you lose someone for 5 minutes.

I turn notifications off on my phone for pretty much every app that I have on it. For the most part, I turn notifications off at a system level during the day, which means I miss some calls. This is not really a major problem. The world has yet to end at least.

Notifications = Interruptions

You may Download a ZIP of the awesome No More Notifications plugin here, or make your own following these guidelines.

P.S. I did have to disable this plugin in order to write this post. It kept swapping out the word notification, and meant that what I had written made even less sense.

P.P.S. Also, in the unlikely event that any Scientologists happen to read this, I like (some) Tom Cruise movies. The Edge of Tomorrow was great. So sorry if I offended you. Please don’t hurt me, or follow me with a camera. Not that you would. But please don’t. Ok. Thanks. Bye!

Learn UX for free! 4 complex steps towards interaction design

Ok. I’ll admit it. That is a pretty clickbaity title. I kinda wanted to lower your expectations in advance. Curb your enthusiasm if you will. I promise that I will not tell you how to apply design thinking, or UX to your life. My hope is that this will serve as a decent starting point for you to learn UX.

Why should you care?

Well. For one, there has been a UX boom in recent years, with organisations investing heavily in design. Currently there are not enough people to fill the roles that exist. Supply is not meeting demand, so more people need to get trained.

For another, better reason, it is an incredibly interesting job to have, and you never stop learning how to do it.

Short term solutions

Many organisations and companies offer short term UX courses. A friend of mine, who wants to learn UX, asked me recently if these courses were worth paying for. Personally, I think that they are, but full disclosure; I’ve previously taught one of these evening courses, so your BIAS alarm should be sounding.

Two days isn’t enough time to learn UX. These courses can set you on the path, and give you an overview of the tools and methods, but you shouldn’t expect them to turn you into a rockstar designer (whatever that is). Also, the prices are quite high, especially if you are just starting out. Enough to be prohibitively expensive if you are a student. Which got me to thinking…

Wouldn’t it be nice to remove the financial barrier?

To answer my friends question, I suggested a couple of more cost effective ways to start off. This way, if he decided that user experience design isn’t a good fit for him, he would at least have found out before spending a big sum of money.

I decided to set the criteria out so the only cost my friend would need to invest was time. I mean, what else is free time for? I’m sharing this here, in the hope that the advice could be useful for others who want to learn UX.

Some context

If you were to ask my wife what I do, she would say something to do with computers, and apps. This is probably my failing as a communicator, but user experience design is quite broad, and can be hard to define. Here’s the wikipedia definition.

I prefer the Cooper approved term interaction designer. I find it to be the most descriptive and useful when describing what I do to someone outside of the tech world. User experience designer is currently the most common title, although product designer is now in vogue. The lack of consensus is frustrating. Here is some insight to the terms used from the always excellent UX Switch. Handily, they have already covered what it means to be a UX designer, so I can defer to them and move on.

Where UX people come from

The path to becoming an interaction designer is, surprise surprise, not rigidly defined. Lots of people who work in UX studied different things at college. I came to UX after starting out my career as frontend designer. What you studied in college actually doesn’t actually matter as much as you may think. For example, Bill Buxton, the author of Sketching User Experiences, and a pioneer in the field of Human Computer Interaction originally studied music at college.

What matters if you want to become an interaction designer?

You need to be interested in understanding people, and exploring what motivates them to do the (crazy) things they do. You also need a healthy interest in technology. Which is not to say you need to know how to code, because you do not. Arguably, it could actually set you back. You ought to be interested in shaping how things should be, and making products or services work better for the people who use em.

Step 1: Start with the soft skills. Read the books

This is counter to how we are typically taught, but soft skills are the hardest to acquire. They take the most time, and lend the most value if you want a career in UX. I personally believe that reading books gives you a huge advantage. So much of this job is how you interact with people. Reading helps you to better formulate your thoughts, and communicate your ideas. There are a tonne of UX books lists on the internet. I won’t overwhelm you with recommendations. Instead I’ll pick a handful I consider to be good jumping off points.

Right now you might be thinking; I’m pretty sure books cost money

Well, yes. They do. But in keeping with my promise of free learning, here’s a tip:
Join your local library.

For those of you in Ireland, here’s something you might not be aware of; all of the libraries here are connected. This means you can request any book from the catalogue, and get it shipped to your local library for free. As an added bonus, the deadline is built in when you take a loan of a book.

Getting your books from the library means that you have a deadline of about a month to read and return the book. To make things even easier, for Irish readers, I’ve included library links for the books listed here.

The Design of Every Day Things, by Don Norman

A brilliant book, and a great place to start. It’s written in an easy conversational tone, and will change the way that you look at the world. You will learn to spot poor design in everyday things. This book makes a case for design better, and in more elegant terms, than I ever could. Read this first!
Get it from the Library, or buy it from Amazon quite cheaply.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book will help you understand how little you understand people, and give you insight into human behaviour that might seem at odds. Breaks the thinking process into two systems. A fast system which is automatic, and a slow one which is deliberate and considered. No prizes for guessing which one we rely on most. It is well worth reading to get up on the concepts of cognitive biases alone.
Library link here.

The Essential Principles of Graphic Design by Debbie Millman

I’m including this on principle. It’s a graphic design handbook. Graphic Design is a very important part of UX. As a field I feel it has been marginalised as making shit look pretty. Graphic Design is the art of communicating visually, and it deserves much more respect. Typography is an incredibly hard craft, and like interaction design, it stands out most when it is done poorly. Library link to the wonderful Debbie Millman book, with an added link to this classic by
Adrian Shaughnessy.

About Face by Alan Cooper & Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin

Both classics, and go to books for anyone who makes lists about learning UX. They are only available as reference books in Irish libraries. You can usually get the 3rd edition of About Face very cheaply off Amazon, and it is still very relevant. It doesn’t cover the whole mobile thing but hey.

Just enough research by Erika Hall

UX research does not follow the scientific method. UX research is primarily qualitative. This book is the perfect primer, and includes a step by step guide to doing just enough research. It goes from conducting interviews, through to the correct way to do a usability test. It is compact, but mighty. Get it here. The book apart series is worth reading too. Here’s a video of one of the authors from the series talking – Consider it a treat for reading this far.

I get it! Enough with the books

I would happily go on, but in the interest of brevity I’ll conclude with one small suggestion. Don’t just read design specific books. To do so is to limit yourself, and leaves you with a narrow view of things. In the words of John Maeda;

“I was once advised by my teacher to become a light bulb instead of a laser beam, at an age and a time in my career when I was all focus. His point was that you can either brighten a single point with laser precision, or else use the same light to illuminate everything around you.”

Extract taken from his book, The laws of simplicity– also available from the library when I return it tomorrow.

Step 2: Practice what you learn

There are courses you can take online for free. A lot of courses and opportunities to learn UX.

EdX offers a series courses, called a micro masters, where you learn UX. You can enroll and complete the course without paying anything. Once you complete it you can pay for accreditation, but this is optional (although you might want that bit of proof).

Coursera also offer free courses in UX. Udacity do a free 2 month product design course by Google.

Want to learn Human-Centered Design. Here’s another free course from the people at IDEO that you ca do with a group. The point is, you have options for self directed study.

Step 3: Get familiar with the tools

This is actually the easiest part to learn. It is what people usually do first. It also (kinda) messes the learn UX free ideal that I set out with. Arguably, you don’t actually need to learn these tools. Assuming you are go into a pure UX role, and say, for example you are focused on solely conducting research. Then, you could get away with a couple of pens and paper, a whiteboard, and your big juicy brain.

This hasn’t really been my experience. Maybe yours has been different. Please let me know in the comments below.

(Most) places in Ireland would expect you to know how to use tools like the ones below, and to have experience creating wireframes, and put together visual comps to a certain fidelity. That said, this has been changing over the last few years, with more specialist UX roles getting listed every day in Ireland.

Designing screens

At the time of writing the industry standard tool for screen designers is Sketch. Previously, Photoshop or Illustrator served this purpose. Those tools are inappropriate, and inefficient these days. (In my humble opinion) you need to be a a bit of a masochist to use them for interaction design – Photoshop is a definite case of designing for the elastic user – as you will learn about this when you get to know what a persona is :). You can learn the fundamentals of Sketch at Treehouse.

Sketch is however, a Mac only tool and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Alternatives are available for our friends who use Windows such as Adobe XD, Figma, and so on.

Building interactivity

There are a tonne of prototyping tools. I use InVision. InVision is easy to use, with a low learning curve. It offers some free remote unmoderated usability testing. You kind get what you pay for, but it can be somewhat insightful, and it is exciting to see strangers using something you designed for the first time. InVision plays very nicely with Sketch – with their Craft plugin giving you the ability to prototype directly within Sketch itself. You can see a comparison of prototyping tools over at Cooper.

Step 4: Get to know people working in the field

In conclusion, I’d suggest that this is one of the most helpful things you do when you start. There are a lot of free meetups for design groups, with events on each month. These tend to be well attended, and full of kind, interesting friendly people (not to mention some free food and beer). I got my start on the back of talking to someone at a defuse event, which led me my first job in design, and introduced me to UX (thanks again Seamus).

Some Dublin events cherrypicked from memory:

Please suggest more if you have em, and I will happily add them!

Parting thoughts

This article is long enough, but here are a couple of additional tips and pieces of advice that I have been given, or picked up over time, that have been helpful to me.

Work with people better than you

Seek out smart people and don’t be afraid of asking questions or looking stupid. People are usually very nice. They like to impart their knowledge. It makes em feel warm and fuzzy. You do not want to work in a place where you are the sole designer, or the authority.

Think critically

Don’t accept everything at face value. Google and Apple do stupid things too. People sometimes become attached to the guidelines Apple, or Google put out, and guess what… Apple and Google go and change them.

I remember a particular time working on a product, that the product team made a case for bottom tabs on an Android app. We were told that Android users wouldn’t understand, or like them because they didn’t exist in the Material design guidelines. The thinking was that it would reduce the strain placed on people trying to reach for the top of the screen. In spite of evidence to the contrary, we lost that battle. A couple of months later, bottom tabs were added to Material design under the (slightly dirty sounding) name bottom navigation.

The point is, that these companies do not own innovation. A guideline has it’s place for sure, but it should not be an ideology.

If something is dumb, don’t do it.

Learn to take criticism

You will get critiques that you don’t like. This will hurt. Sometimes it may not seem fair. Occasionally it might not be fair. As a general rule, feedback should always be directed at the work and not the individual. That said, getting no feedback is more damaging than getting good feedback delivered poorly.

Don’t measure yourself against the internet

You are only competing with yourself, and shouldn’t compare yourself against the world when starting out. However, do try to reflect on the work you have done. Look back over time and track your progress. You’ll be surprised, and maybe a little embarrassed by early work, but you learn as you progress.

Ship it

Learn to work to a deadline, and try to stay out of the weeds. Shipping the thing is essential. I launched this site using the bog standard WordPress theme, in the interest of writing and posting my unedited thoughts.

This was done to light a fire under myself. I knew that if it was out in public, I’d be motivated to actually tend to it. I mean, the site has no real traffic, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with the vanilla WordPress 2017 theme.

Within a week, I put together this very basic theme you are looking at. It’s not done, but it never will be. This is the point!