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Month: December 2016

Recent UX Reading – Build Better Products

After listening to the “What is Wrong With UX?” podcast (from Kate Rutter and Laura Klein) for a while, I recently picked up the book the hosts have been relentlessly shilling (and writing or contributing to) since the dawn of time start of the podcast.

But to start with, before I get onto the book (Build Better Products by Laura Klein), I’ll mention the podcast a bit more.

They introduce it every time as “The podcast where two old ladies yell at each other about how to make products suck slightly less”, and typically conclude by complaining about how they’ve run out of booze.

If you’re a UXer who likes talking about UX a) in a frank, open manner and b) in a pub, this might be a podcast for you.  They have a cynicism which is oddly refreshing in this particularly shiny and glossy field, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to workshops presented by one or both of them at some point.  One of them probably helped me get into sketchnoting… which you might have noticed included in some of my other posts.

So.  The book.

It’s a no-nonsense, clear and straightforward guide to UX processes, which (for a nice change) acknowledges that some of us are in-house UXers working in the enterprise space, and so have to live with our work for years (decades!) in a way that just doesn’t happen the same way in the consumer world.

There are parts of if which I’d describe as leaning towards “my first UX” or “teaching grandmother to suck eggs”, but they’re wrapped in a mountain of useful advice and sane ways to make some fairly weird and wonderful UX practices actually make sense to business users and developers.

Really, I ought to wait until I’ve finished reading the book before blathering on about it, but this time I decided not to.  Why?  Because it’s that good.  Because not only does it make sense to me in the UX field, but it’s also written in a clear and concise way that managers, directors and developers will understand and find useful as well.

It’s not about putting some UX next to your product, or trying to smear it on at the end.  It’s about baking UX design thinking in throughout the life-cycle of the product.  From identifying user needs, through promoting behaviour that supports and addresses them and on to validating assumptions, measuring outcomes and then iterating based on what you find.

I’ll be making sure a copy gets added to our office library, and quite possibly demanding that our product management team, senior developers and architects get locked in a room until they’ve read it.  If you’re a UXer who works with other human, read it.  It’s a breath of fresh air. Written with the same combination of capability, realism, pride and self-effacing humour that the podcast has, it manages something that most UX books have utterly failed at: It provides an enjoyable and memorable reading experience.

If you work with a UXer and don’t really know what they actually do or why they keep asking weird questions and going off sideways from problems, you could do a lot worse than picking this up.

Recent Viewing – Arrival

Stepping away from writing about my recent reading, I’m going to talk about some recent viewing.

Arrival.  Based on a short story by Ted Chiang (“The Story of Your Life”), this is a film built around the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – which I’ll summarise as the idea that languages you learn shape the way you think and perceive the world.

The film focuses on a first-contact situation in which a number of alien vessels arrive on earth, and the efforts made by both us and the aliens to both understand and be understood.

Those efforts are made more complex by some differences in perception which are not apparent at the start of the film, but gradually become so as things progress.

Amy Adams does a fantastic job of portraying somebody who is struggling to understand and come to terms with grief, whilst also working to understand a literally alien language… a written language which is changing her perception as she learns to understand it and use it to interact with those who use it as their sole meaningful medium of communication.

It’s a slow paced, cerebral science fiction film. Whilst is has aliens (two onscreen), gunfire and explosions (well… explosion), it’s about as far from Independence Day as it’s possible to get. If you go in expecting an action-fest, you’re not going to come out with that expectation fulfilled.

This film has a small but strong core cast (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker) who all do a fantastic job of being who they’re meant to be, but it’s Adams who really shines in a role that needs to display a more complex emotional state than is immediately apparent at the start of the film.

It also has some well thought out production design.  The alien-ness interior of the extraterrestrial vessel is cleverly portrayed, and the way that the story moves between the vessel and the research camp built up around it helps keep things tight and a little claustrophobic whilst also injecting a bit of comprehension and decompression time into the film.

If you like smart, earth-based, first-contact SF then you should absolutely go and see this at your first opportunity. Avoid plot summaries. Hopefully my description above is vague enough to avoid being too spoiler heavy.

If I had to give a rating, I’d give this a full-on 10/10, with a note that I want to see it again to see how my perception changes.  I suspect I may find it rewarding.

Recent Reading – Illuminae & Gemina

After my recent(ish) post about Ninefox Gambit, I mentioned I’d be back to write about some other books. It’s taken a while to actually get back to the “add new post” screen of my blog, but I’m here now.

Slightly awkwardly, before I had a chance to write about Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, they squeezed the sequel out of their brains and into mine via the publishing industry.  So I’m going to write about Illuminae and Gemina at the same time.

Illuminae Cover Art Gemina cover art

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