Kick ass at user experience
March 15, 2012 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Please help me build a solid foundation in understanding User Experience. I am in technology and this skill will super help me.

I would like to be able to become an expert in User Experience and need your help and advice to get a solid starting point. If I have this skill then I will be so much better at my job. Ideally I want to be able to clearly articulate why one experience is superior to another and why. Or when designing something new, I would like to come up with an educated user interface which will work best with the users. I don't need to be designing these myself. But it's very important that I work with designers and articulate exactly what i want them to accomplish with their designs.

Please help me figure out how I can get there quickly and add this skill to my quiver of other skills.
I am willing to take classes, go to meet ups, meet people and read books. I have to find something that works well for me because I lack time. I prefer something formal like classroom but i wonder if this is a skill that is taught in a class.

Thanks for your help.
posted by gadget_gal to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I prefer something formal like classroom but i wonder if this is a skill that is taught in a class.

Yes, it is! Along with the UW department mentioned above, you'll want to look at local colleges/universities for programs with the following keywords/titles:

* User Experience / UX
* User-Centered Design
* Human-Computer Interaction
* Human Factors

Often these courses are part of the computer science or psychology departments (or a combination). While it's a fairly new field it also has a really strong academic basis.

I had a great experience with the UW night courses but I don't know where you are located. I recommend enrolling in the free Stanford online course Human-Computer Interation which will probably give you a great introductory class on the topic.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 11:56 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came in to mention the Stanford HCI course that subject_verb_remainder linked above. I don't know about the content of that particular class, but the other stuff I've done through coursera has been great...
posted by russm at 12:11 AM on March 16, 2012

I'm currently a Human Factors major at California State University, Long Beach and it sounds like you're looking for information from this field and from related design fields (with user-centered design being kind of a meld). The job you're describing is exactly what people do when they graduate with my degree, assuming they want to work in interface design (the field is broad).

I'm only in my second semester and am still learning tons each day, but so far I've been assigned and have read (or am reading) the following texts:

Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems
Attention: Theory and Practice
Human Factors Methods
Measuring the User Experience
About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design

Along with various psychological literature or articles dealing with HF methods. I'd be happy to share any of these with you if you're interested.

You'd probably be more interested in the last two texts as they are the most accessible and aren't too laden with psychological theory (although that stuff, in reality, is very important to interface design).

Jakob Nielsen has a lot to say about usability. Also, I also particuarly enjoy this blog although not everything featured is about interfaces.

You can try searching for information on the Human Factors and Ergonomics website (American based) or the more international IEA. I'm sure there are some associations that more focused on user interface design as well.

Hm, I unfortunately don't think I can offer much more until I learn more myself. Feel free to message me if you have any specific questions!
posted by Defenestrator at 12:22 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh also the UPA might be useful to you. My friend just mentioned IxDA as well.
posted by Defenestrator at 12:31 AM on March 16, 2012

A book recommondation: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is an excellent read, and changed the way I viewed user interaction.
posted by Harald74 at 12:34 AM on March 16, 2012

The way that you find out if one user experience is superior to another is through, you know, testing users. So engaging users will be pretty fundamental to developing that skill set. I don't say this to be a smartass. I'm simply making a semi-obvious point that learning this stuff will take some trial and error.

Another thing is that UX isn't just one monolithic approach to getting user feedback. There are many UX research methods you can employ. The key is defining a problem and employing the right ones. Here's an example of what I'm talking about.

An entire set of expertise could be built around even one of the methods. For example, there are specialists in ethnographic research that pretty much do only that. Other things, like brainstorming, have some basic parameters that anyone can employ.

Also: Observing the User Experience.
posted by quadog at 1:00 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ACM's "CHI" (Computer Human Interaction) conferences are a long standing focus for the industry. This year's is coming up. It is probably a little over the top to suggest that you attend - but have a look at who is presenting, where they are from and what they are talking about. This should map pretty well to who is doing the most interesting work and who might offer you employment.
posted by rongorongo at 1:38 AM on March 16, 2012

I'm with Quadog on this. UX starts with understanding users. Whilst some of this comes from a solid knowledge of applied cognitive psychology, a lot of it comes from observing your users in the real world. i.e. actually going out and watching, interviewing and learning from people in your target group.

These skills are learned through a little reading and a lot of practice. There are techniques for running good interviews (or at least not running bad ones) and there are tips that you'll pick up from others along the way. Making sense of the huge volume of data you'll accumulate is definitely one of the hardest skills to learn.

A great place to start is running your own usability tests. Read Steve Krug's two books, especially "Rocket Surgery Made Easy" and just jump in. You'll be a bad at it at first - you'll ask too many leading questions, you'll tend to focus on what people say not what they do, you'll miss loads of stuff, but it's a good way to get started in watching, interviewing and listening to users.

And also remember that UX is now a huge field. It covers (or at least touches on) cognitive psychology, ergonomics, qualitative research, contextual inquiry, interaction design, content strategy, information architecture, prototyping, data analytics, data visualisation, visual thinking, systems theory, visual design, industrial design, service design and loads of other stuff too. So becoming an expert in UX will require you to specialise a little. But like I said, the main thing is to focus on understanding users, their needs, and the context of use.

Good luck - it's a fascinating field to be involved in, so welcome aboard!
posted by JohnnyForeign at 3:41 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Defenestrator has provided some helpful links to relevant textbooks. I took those and made a list on WorldCat, in case you'd rather borrow them from a library (in print or through remote electronic access, depending on your local public library or academic institution) instead of buy them.

--- Human Factors Readings on WorldCat ---

When viewing those records in WorldCat, you'll see subject headings in the top right of the page. Looks like the Subject "User interfaces (Computer systems)" has loads of materials, as does "Human-computer interaction".
posted by GPF at 4:27 AM on March 16, 2012

Look into Russ Unger.
posted by timsteil at 6:43 AM on March 16, 2012

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