UX work in the real world

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, it’s no secret that I’ve been working as a Designlab UX mentor. Each week, I’m fortunate enough to meet with a handful of people to discuss topics in product design, UX research, or in this case… help navigate a specific workplace scenario.

One evening, a student vented:

“Do you believe it?! They didn’t even want me to make personas. I feel like I’m the only one that cares about this stuff.”

She was coming to the realization that designers don’t do every UX exercise for every single project as the curriculum may alluded. And you know what? It’s totally true, and totally ok.

I went on to explain:

“I’d encourage you to think about your UX work and it’s associated deliverables (like personas) as a means to an end. Hypothetically you can do every exercise for every project, but in reality, you might not always have the time or budget. Spend your time wisely. Pick the exercises that will have the most meaningful impact on the team or project.

• • •

Two times personas made an impact (in my career)

Let’s face it, personas can be cheesy. Sooo cheesy, that even saying “personas” causes everyone in the room to roll their eyes.

But, when done properly, they provide undeniable value.

Stopping the spread of misinformation

I’ve alluded to this in a previous article:
A remote UX team’s take on Rolling Issues Boards for usability testing

Often times, as an organization becomes bigger, the people in charge of making decisions can become disconnected with the audience they are building for.

A perfect example of this was from earlier in my career:

“Our company had recently been bitten by the “MVP” syndrome, meaning, we often looked to cut scope with little consideration of users or workflows in the name of building a minimum viable product.

The engineering team had somehow invented a mythical persona – “The Pizza Shop Owner”, who embodied what they considered to be the most simplistic user. Engineers would often use this persona as an excuse not to handle complex, yet valid, scenarios. It resulted in people making up requirements or operating on false scenarios.”

Leveling up the team’s understanding

Five years ago, I took the leap to join a cyber security company. To be honest, when I accepted the role, I didn’t know ANYTHING about cyber security. It’s such a daunting, unapproachable industry. However, I was confident that I knew how to ask the right questions at the right time and I was humble enough to admit when I didn’t know something (and would quickly figure it out after).

After all, my background was in product design and UX, not how to run a Security Operations Center (SOC).

Low and behold… I wasn’t alone.

When we look to hire new talent, if they have a background in a relevant area of cyber security, that is bonus points for sure. But, imagine how many talented folks we would miss out on if working in a SOC was a hard requirement.

Being able to manage security and knowing how to develop an application in React.js are VERY different things. Candidates with that overlap are few and far between.

As the team grows, and our marketing message evolves, a funny thing happens. People start to repeat things as gospel, with little understanding of what they are actually saying. They start to sound the part, but upon digging deeper, you start to understand that it’s a superficial knowledge. This is the perfect chance to leverage personas.

In this scenario personas become key for:

  • Educating / onboarding new team members quickly
  • Helping establish a deeper understanding of the people who use your software, and in our case how the different roles come together in a security environment
  • Which, in turn, leads to more targeted conversations around the problems we are solving and identifying potential solutions
  • It also helps others identify missed opportunities or designs that don’t quite “fit”

The final result

Below is the result of our latest batch of personas.

During an engineering on-site, a team member and I sat with each team and reviewed each persona together. We talked through the nuance of each role, how they complement each other, and how they might interact in a specific narrative.