Archive for November, 2010
I’ve been working with a few new IAs recently, all hoping to get their first jobs.
Some common themes have come out of those conversations about things they need to learn or prepare, in order to get that job.
1. A portfolio, showing a range of UX activities
Mostly people know they need to do this. And even more frequently they are concerned that they don’t have enough material or enough worthy material.
Often you’ll be asked to bring a portfolio to interview. It’s worth bringing even if not asked as you may need to illustrate your answers to questions.
Make sure the portfolio covers a full range of UX activities. Even if you haven’t got professional experience doing user interviews, producing wireframes and running usability tests, you need to find a way to get something in your portfolio to demonstrate what you know. That might be academic projects, volunteering/work experience, or stuff you’ve done purely for your own development. These *may* not be rated as highly as professional experience but they are far far better than having nothing to show.
(don’t be afraid to re-do documentation as you learn more)
2. Ability to do test UX exercises
Increasingly employers will set you an IA/UX activity to complete either before the interview or on the day. Typically you’ll get a brief describing the problem and you’ll need to describe the steps/methods you’d use, propose at least a partial solution and maybe some documentation.
So you need to understand the methodology and what tools are used when and why. Don’t over agonise about the solution you propose – just make sure you show your thinking and where you’ve had to make assumptions. Also don’t over-do the detail of the documentation – if you’ve already got high fidelity wireframes in your portfolio then it may be just as effective to do sketches and very rough documentation for this “think-piece”.
3. Experience with the software
Entry level IA/UX jobs often involve taking on a lot of the effort of producing the documentation from your senior colleagues. Often what is needed at the junior level is not about what makes a successful experienced IA. Whilst employers are looking for evidence of creative UX thinking and the potential to become one of their superstars, they also want someone who can contribute in some way whilst learning and developing.
Many junior roles will inherit a set of complex wireframes in the organisation’s preferred software (Visio, Axure, Omnigraffle, Illustrator and so on) and so the preference is for someone who can hit the ground running.
The software isn’t cheap, so can be difficult to skill up in if you don’t already have access to it. Trial versions are available for some and it’s worthwhile getting these and spending some concentrated time learning how to use them and producing some deliverables.
It’s also worth finding out about the strengths and weaknesses of each package for producing UX documentation. You might get asked.
4. Knowledge of the basic design patterns
In the UX field the stated emphasis is on user research and new creative designs. In reality a lot of designs are primarily composed of reasonably standard design patterns.
You need to know these. You need to know the ordinary but basically effective patterns for navigation, search, article pages, video and so on. Norms are probably more established in web publishing and e-commerce than social media and mobile design.
You might have a great and innovative idea for doing things differently. But you need to show you understand where you are innovating from (at least in most conventional recruitment scenarios).
So explore published pattern libraries, create your own for your organisation, or just collect your favourites.
The error reads “Etsy server is meditating. Our server may be experiencing momentary personal introspection”.
I am a bit obsessed by ‘when recommendations go wrong’ scenarios like the JustRabbitHutches incident.
iPlayer hasn’t done anything that silly, but it does seem to struggle with the recommendation concept. They sit particularly uneasily alongside the new Favourites functionality.
When the latest incarnation was in beta, I was quite excited by the prospect of favourite programmes and categories functionality. This had the potential to meet some of the needs that the absence of sophisticated browse function left. If I could tailor the content more then I’d need to browse less.
But the new site makes surprisingly little use of the favourites functionality. After you’ve put the effort into setting your favourites, it pretty much ignores all the work you’ve put in.
The favourite programmes bar is always closed. The favourite categories are similarly always closed. The radio stations box doesn’t remember your selection.
The homepage is dominated by four sections: Featured; For You; Most Popular; and Friends. None of these areas seem to be influenced by your own preferences.
Featured is rarely of interest to me but I get the editorial need to have some promo space.
For You is where the recommendations kick in but at least initially I had no idea what this section was supposed to be doing. A good design pattern is to explain recommendations ala Amazon and to let you know if there is anything you can do to make the suggestions better.
Most Popular is ok for me. Occasionally my interests overlap with the majority and then this spot is useful. Friends might be occasionally interesting, although “a people like you like” might have been more valuable. It seems a bit odd for the area to persist if you don’t login/specify any friends.
All these sections are potentially useful but the best predictor of my interests is my interests. It seems that in this design My Favourites and My Categories are given lower emphasis than *everything* else.
This is compounded by the presence of the For You section. As another commentator put it:
“why on earth would the site suggest I watch Eastenders? It’s been on TV for over 25 years and I’ve never once felt inclined to watch it, so what intuitive masterstroke has been developed to think that I may now wish to start?”.
Once you give recommendations personal labels like “For You” then people start to take your recommendations personally.
I’m annoyed that I told iPlayer what I like and it still insists on telling me that BBC 3 sitcoms are “for you!”. It’s started reminding me of my grandad and that’s not a flattering comparison.
As a general principle it is best not to go overboard on defining SharePoint content types. They add power to information retrieval but also add content creation overheads. Keep the number of types reasonable and also the number of metadata fields. (Obviously the art is defining what ‘reasonable’ means)
A list of reasons to define a specific content type:
- you want to attach a document template for that content type
- there’s a standard workflow for that content type
- there’s a standard info policy for that content type
- you want properties of the content type to be possible to search through advanced search
- you want to restrict a search to that content type
- you want to be able to sort a list or library by a specific metadata field of the content type
- you want to categorise a list or library by a specific metadata field of the content type
See also Microsoft’s Managing enterprise metadata with content types