The User Experience Team of One

A Research and Design Survival Guide

By Leah Buley

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  • The User Experience Team of One Cover
  • The User Experience Team of One prescribes a range of approaches that have big impact and take less time and fewer resources than the standard lineup of UX deliverables. Whether you want to cross over into user experience or you’re a seasoned practitioner trying to drag your organization forward, this book gives you tools and insight for doing more with less.

    This book will be a godsend to the lone UX wolves working in startups everywhere.

    Janice Fraser, cofounder of Luxr.co and former CEO of Adaptive Path

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    Table of Contents

    • Chapter 1: UX 101
    • Chapter 2: Getting Started
    • Chapter 3: Building Support for Your Work
    • Chapter 4: Growing Yourself and Your Career
    • Chapter 5: Planning and Discovery Methods
    • Chapter 6: Research Methods
    • Chapter 7: Design Methods
    • Chapter 8: Testing and Validation Methods
    • Chapter 9: Evangelism Methods
    • Chapter 10: What’s Next?

    FAQ

    These common questions and their short answers are taken from Leah Buley’s book The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

    1. What is a user experience team of one?
      A UX team of one is someone who works in a situation where they are the key person driving a user-centered design philosophy. Certainly, if you are the only person in your company practicing (or aspiring to practice) user-centered design, you are a user experience team of one. However, even in organizations with multiple UX professionals, if you regularly work on a team where you are the only UX person, you are a UX team of one.Chapter 3 explains the kinds of challenges that UX teams of one commonly face, and explains what to do about them.
    2.  I’m a freelancer. Is this book for me?The User Experience Team of One focuses primarily on people working in or with organizations. It is not explicitly geared toward freelancers, consultants, or contractors. Still, much of this book may be relevant for independents, insofar as they, too, must often work with the crossfunctional teams of their clients.And for readers who are considering going out on their own, be sure to check out the section “Considering Going Independent?” in Chapter 4.
    3. What’s different about life as a UX team of one?
      If you are a UX team of one, you have these unique challenges:

      • You feel like a jack of all trades, master of none. You do a variety of work: probably some design, some research, some writing, some testing, and some evangelism. You care about your work, and you want to do it well. But being a generalist, you may feel as if you are spread a bit thin. You may also wonder at times if you’re “doing it right.” Would a specialist’s level of knowledge make a tough design problem or difficult conversation easier to get through?
      • You need to evangelize. You probably work with or for an organization that doesn’t yet “get it.” That is, they haven’t fully bought into the value and purpose of UX. Or, even if they do value user experience, they may not be in a position to fully fund and build a robust UX practice. Either way, that means that you’re constantly seeking to educate and influence.
      • You’re learning on the job. You need to figure out how to do your work on your own. You may have discussion lists and professional communities that you can turn to for peer-to-peer advice, but in your day-to-day work, you often have to make an educated guess and then trust and defend your hunches as to the best next steps.
      • You’re working with constrained resources. The biggest challenge for teams of one is time. There’s only one of you, and there’s a lot of work to be done.
      • You’re charting your own course. No one in your organization has done this before. You’re figuring out your own career path, without a guide or a manual to follow.

      What makes this role interesting is the dramatic tension between needing to inspire through expertise and trying to build your own expertise at the same time. This leads to a unique set of challenges that go well beyond simply trying to do good design. It makes skills like facilitation, flexibility, assertiveness, and persuasiveness central to the team of one’s toolkit. This interesting tension has practical considerations, as well as philosophical ones—and that simple fact is the inspiration for this book.

      Chapters 2 and 3 explain the working conditions that a team of one often experiences, while Chapters 5 through 9 provide specific methods that are optimized for those working conditions.

    4. Is this just an intro to UX book?
      Yes and no. This book is intended to be accessible to people who are just starting out in user experience, as well as seasoned practitioners. Chapter 1 provides an overview of user experience and can serve as a basic introduction to the field. However, the methods in Chapters 5 through 9 aren’t just typical UX methods. They have been chosen because they educate and involve others who may not be familiar with or supportive of user-centered design, while requiring less time and fewer resources.

    Excerpts

    Foreword

    There are some things you should never do at the same time: Move. Have a baby. Adopt a puppy. Change jobs. Leah did all of this while also writing this book.

    And while anyone who knows Leah shouldn’t be surprised by her ability to pull all of this off, this speaks to a tenacity shared by those who find themselves in a “UX Team of One.” There’s a certain amount of grit, or perhaps it’s foolhardiness, that allows us to plunge into the unknown, the untried, the undiscovered.

    My own entry into the user experience world was a solitary one: dot-com boom. Lone visual designer. Surrounded by a team of engineers. Like many others, I had to look around and figure out on my own how to do things. Fifteen years later, I’m delighted to report that’s still the case.

    Even as a consultant, hired for my expertise, I’m still learning and making stuff up as I go along. We all are! What’s more, this learning is not all solitary—we have the shared experiences of a maturing community to draw upon. What Leah has shared in this book will no doubt add new tips and processes to your own bank of knowledge, as it has mine.

    But, beneath all the artifacts and processes, there’s something more that keeps us going, something timeless, something fundamental: grit and curiosity. These traits are what keep us in the game. I suspect most of us aren’t happy to leave well enough alone. And it is this dissatisfaction, this searching for something better, combined with a deep empathy, which defines the UX community. Everything else flows from this core.

    I was fortunate to see Leah debut her “UX Team of One” talk at the 2008 Information Architecture Summit. (I still have my button!) Aside from a stellar presentation to a standing-room-only crowd, I recall Leah’s no-nonsense approach to design. From the hand-sketched slides to the quick exploration of different ways to refresh an aging online service, it all just made sense. Cut the crap, do what needs to be done. No more, no less. Her presentation was at once obvious and inspiring. That was one of the few slide decks I looked for after the conference. Which is why I was thrilled to find out later that Leah would be sharing these ideas in a book. We need to exchange rigid processes for more flexible ways of responding. Yes, there’s merit to a hardened, repeatable process, or having a team of specialists to work with, but working alone means jumping in there and getting things done, whatever it takes! No nonsense. No formal process. This is better than defined roles and responsibilities. Working alone brings with it a certain amount of freedom and autonomy. We can shape the path before us. For this reason, working alone is something to savor, rather than endure. Certainly, individuals need a team to pull off great things. But I’ve found that nearly every successful product story can be traced back to one or more devoted mavericks, individuals who pushed forward, against all odds.

    And here’s the bigger truth: Whether you find yourself all alone or in a team of like-minded folks, we are all individuals with a unique voice, opinions, and diverse experiences that define us. We are all a UX Team of One. My challenge to you: Draw upon this diversity—magical things happen at the intersection of seemingly unrelated ideas. Don’t let a job title define you. Do what makes sense, not what process dictates. And most of all, never stop playing and learning. If we can all hang on for the ride, there is no limit to the places we‘ll go!

    Stephen P. Anderson,
    author of Seductive Interaction Design

    Acknowledgments

    First, thank you to Lou Rosenfeld for seeing a book in this topic, and for his guidance and support on the long road to its completion. Further kudos to Lou for having the good sense to pair me with the wonderful editor Marta Justak. Without Marta’s patience, expertise, and tough love, this book simply would not exist. Thank you, Marta, for helping me to accomplish what I never thought possible. Thanks also to Stephen P. Anderson for writing a lovely foreword that perfectly captures the spirit of the book.

    The smart people at Adaptive Path taught me everything I know about user experience. Several people from Adaptive Path deserve my special thanks. Brandon Schauer was a role model and mentor for me, probably without even realizing it. Dan Harrelson said the magic words that made me decide I could actually write this book. Peter Merholz challenged me to find my topic and my voice. Brian Cronin, Joanie McCollom, and Pam Daghlian provided the most critical component of all, friendship. Thanks to you all. Before Adaptive Path, there was Jeffrey Coleman, the perfect manager for a team of one. He provided the support and the freedom to help me find my way. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and a book is like a child. Lucky for me, a sizable village of smart UX practitioners stepped forward to help raise this book. Thanks to Andrew Maier for being the first person to offer to share his story and give me hope that others would do the same. Thanks also to Jim Ungar, Jeff White, Joe Sokohl, Jon Strande, Michael Carvin, and Louise Gruenberg who generously shared their stories and insights with me. Thank you to the 300 plus people who completed my survey and helped me learn more about common challenges for UX teams of one. Lelia Ferro, Graham Odds, Jack Holmes, James Goldsworthy, Jay Spanton, Jenny Grinblo, Mary Lojkine, Natalie Moser, Roger Attrill, Silvia Di Gianfrancesco, and Tom Randle all reviewed early drafts of the book and provided invaluable feedback that made it clearer, more informative, and just plain better. Extra special thanks to Mary Lojkine, whose thorough and thoughtful recommendations on structure rooted out unnecessary complexity and simplified the book for the better.

    Thank you to my family for always making me feel like a sparkle. Thank you to my beautiful boy Theo for providing the ultimate deadline, a due date. And finally, thank you to my husband Chris, whose integrity, conscientiousness, humor, friendship, and love make all good things in life possible—not the least of which is this book.

    Testimonials

    The exigencies of modern product and Web development mean that projects are often understaffed. When the understaffed designer is you, your success depends on knowing where to cut corners and where to apply a full-court press. This clearly written book shows you what works and what wastes time. It will help you become that well-tempered UX team of one who can be great while doing the impossible.

    Alan Cooper, founder of design firm Cooper and author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum

    Leah Buley was instrumental in opening my eyes to a more effective approach to UX design. Her lightweight, practical, and collaborative approach not only molds a better user experience but also helps to engage and educate non-UX colleagues.

    Paul Boag, host of the Boagworld Web Design Podcast

    This book will be a godsend to the lone UX wolves working in startups everywhere.

    Janice Fraser, cofounder of Luxr.co and former CEO of Adaptive Path

    An inspirational and supportive book for those who feel a bit alone and isolated and have to work at a fast pace to take care of everything, especially in big companies.

    Silvia Di Gianfrancesco, UX designer at eBay Europe

    I can’t think of any other book that talks about these issues. Whereas there are a few covering UX methods—albeit often for bigger teams—this book will be a great guide for lone UXers wandering in the wilderness.

    Mary Lojkine, product director, CBS Interactive