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IAS18 Fit and Finish: The Importance of Presentation Value to Your Deliverables
Revised for IAS18. Discussion about gauging your audience and your deliverables in terms of fidelity. Working lo-fi to hi-fi and doing it publicly. Breaking free from the standard canon of UX deliverables and the best tools you can use.
Consider this piece At first glance, It’s cute, interesting. To many of you parents out there, this looks like it should be hanging on the fridge.
Consider it now. This looks like a wall in a Gallery and even though it’s the same piece, you start to look at it with more discernment. You examine the color more closely, the composition. You begin to look for meaning in a piece you wouldn't immediately think was done by a 30yo Chimpanzee named Brent.
I did this to point-out something. There’s a period of time when you are presenting any deliverable when you can do something to establish a tone. That tone says: This looks like a thing that can easily be dismissed or This is important and something worth examining.
Your presentation is more than your slides. It’s more than your artifacts. It’s your delivery. It’s your due diligence. It’s the polish and how it augments. It’s you.
When I talk about presentation value, I’m NOT going to talk about a couple of things. First, This isn’t about software. I’m not going to show you a bunch of examples of my work and tell you why they’re so great. We’re going to talk about how you’ll decide what looks good.
What DO I mean when I use the term Presentation Value. There are other definitions out there but they are kind of ambiguous. I tried to tighten it up a bit. The Deliberate Style used to communicate info or data to specific audience. Deliberate Style. Why is that important? Well, that’s why we’re here isn’t it? We’re going to talk about deliberate style and specific audiences
Style owns the first impression; that space of time between when you get your first look at something and when you learn more about what it actually is. Style is the attention grabber. Style's work is temporary, It only needs to hold your attention long enough for you to want to begin a closer investigation. If it does grab your attention and a closer look shows nothing beyond that. You're gonna be pissed-off.
UX is associated with deliverables, These deliverables satisfy stakeholders that things are well informed, that things are being thought-out and moving in the right direction. the usual suspects are things like wireframes, persona & journey maps among others. Our portfolios are full of rich, colorful, dense and and beautifully complex examples of which we’re rightfully proud because hopefully they helped-us solve problems for humans. They created understanding which is arguably our purpose in the simplest terms. More specifically, they keep things moving forward.
I have a question for you. When you set-out to create these artifacts, did you go straight for your favorite digital tool? Something from the Adobe suite, Visio, Omnigraffle, Axure, Sketchapp? Or…
Do you ask yourself this question?
A couple of years ago, I was designing an app for a large fast-food chain. I work for an agency that is famous for our lo-fi approach to the beginnings of projects. Our first deliverable would be a short concept brief with whiteboard sketches. My points of contact were completely on-board. They thought it was cool, edgy and they understood that early concepts need to be flexible in the initial stages, The conversation turned to next steps and I learned that the concepts would have to go on a tour of the execs; execs who weren't in the room. I started asking questions about the bosses and l suggested that whiteboard sketches might not have the impact they want and that I’d experienced as much with other clients to which they said “Oh, but not us!” I didn't believe them. What I submitted at first looked like this; exactly the expectation I set and what they expected – Whiteboard sketches in a deck 5-6 pages long. My contacts loved them but they started to cut their eyes at each other and I asked if there was a problem. They looked a little sheepish as they explained their apprehension to taking these sketches to a particular exec who historically lacked imagination.
I suspected as much so I gave them another version of the deck using photographic assets in grayscale
You could see the relief on their faces that they wouldn’t have to march up the hill with cartoons. They presented the concepts and came back to say that they were nearly decided with the exception of one exec who couldn’t wrap his head around the gray images and could they be in color?
Absolutely. We got a green light for one of the concepts. So this sounds like a pitch for HI Fidelity artifacts. Not so. While we were working in lo-fi, we went through several iterations. by the time we started to ratchet-up the fidelity level it was only the best ideas that were getting traction and the lo-fi work acted as the scaffolding for the later effort making it not too difficult to add a layer of color. It's important to note that we were adamant that these didn't represent finished designs; that the Art Directors would bring entirely different dimension to the work which right now, only represented themes and spoke to emphasis.
We had to learn that the least we could do was more than we originally believed.
Do you ask yourself this question?
This is a simplified Information Transfer diagram. You have whatever it is you’re using to communicate, The vehicle is the presentation and you have some end-point for approval or feedback.
So what’s the goal? What do you need to happen based on what you’re offering? What are you offering? Will you be presenting it yourself or someone else? Will the approver be there or not . IS the presentation real-time or not. Will the presentation be guided or will you have to rely on people’s imagination?
Right away, knowing your forum, tells you something about how much detail you may need. How much signal loss can you expect?
Signal loss occurs the more steps or elements you have between the message and the receiver. Person to person is obviously the best situation but that's not always possible. But, the more directly you get to tell your story, the less detail you may need in your presentation doc. The greater the distance or number of people between you and the receiver, the more detail you may need to incorporate.
Let's talk about this person. This is the gateway to continuing your work. What do you know about this person...or people? Maybe nothing.
You have to know your audience. Well no SHIT! But…we just talked about the possibility that you may not know anything about the person your presenting to so how the hell can you know your audience? You may actually know them better than you think. Let me show you what I mean.
This is a learning model called the VAK model. VAK standing for the different learning types. It’s intended purpose was to help teachers gauge student learning types. It has since proven to be too absolute in it’s characterization. However, for our purposes, it works wonderfully.
Visual: a visually-dominant learner absorbs and retains information better when it is presented in, for example, pictures, diagrams and charts, Shape, Sculpture, Paintings
Auditory: an auditory-dominant learner prefers listening to what is being presented. He or she responds best to voices, for example, in a lecture or group discussion. Hearing his own voice repeating something back to a presenter is also helpful. They respond to Listening, Rhythms, Tone, Chants
Kinesthetic: a kinesthetic-dominant learner prefers a physical experience. She likes a "hands-on" approach and responds well to being able to touch or feel an object or learning prop. They respond to Gestures, Body Movements, Object manipulation, and Positioning
You can determine how a person learns most efficiently. That's not important right now. Here's what I want to show you.
Given a large enough sample set, you'll see a distribution like this. What's interesting is that if you section the chart you can make this general observation. Creatives and Engineers span the Visual-to-Kinesthetic area while Executives; stakeholders, Product Managers tend to cluster around the auditory learning style.
So what does that tell you? It tells you that it's very possible the person you're presenting to understands things differently than you do. How can you know for sure?
This is where you can reduce signal loss. Can you find out their name? Can you find out what department they lead? Take a look at LinkedIn. Can you see what positions they've held in the past or what they studied in University? Are they from Marketing, Finance, Manufacturing, Engineering? By doing a little proto-persona exercise you can make some generalizations that will tell you what they care about.
If you can, push for the kind of meeting that will benefit them. Person to person is still best, but what level of detail do you provide? Do you have handouts? Charts? Spreadsheets? Do you summarize or go deep?
Think about the learning styles we talked about, you can make some broad assumptions about what will resonate with them. Yes, you are absolutely making generalizations which could be totally off the mark. You could find yourself in front of an Engineering manager with the soul of a poet but most of the time, people run true to form. You can prepare with that.
So when I say know your audience, I really saying to Hedge your bets. Like any gamble, you could lose but most of the time people run true to form and the chance that you'll completely miss the mark is slimmer.
So now we know who we're presenting to and we know what we need to achieve and we've made decisions about how to achieve it. Fidelity is the question. Fidelity can be characterized in different ways. We usually think of it in terms of the amount of digital polish we put into a document or how close we come to making something look like the finished product. It can also refer to the amount of accuracy your deliverables have in terms of data or detail. Before you present something, This is where you check your score-card against what you know, You have a wireframe deck. You’ll be presenting in person to a product manager who will in-turn take them to the Chief Marketing Officer who, you discovered, began her career as a copywriter and she studied Literature and Photography at University. You can determine that she is a Visual learner so her first impressions weigh heavily on her first perception of things. You also learned from the PM that she’s easily distracted and will often ask questions before waiting for the answers in due course. That tells you might be pretty smart. Her mind moves faster than the meeting. She might be easily distracted so excruciating detail in the presentation might not be the answer but she’s a writer so detail may be important to her when she has a the time to sit and digest it. Are you starting to think about what you would do in this situation? The decisions you make about fidelity are important in both the short and the long run.
Why? Here's the thing. At the beginning, you want ideas; lots of them - ideas that can be molded into solutions. High-fi up front has a way of making you self-edit away from a lot of ideas. It's important to throw a lot of ideas out there without feeling invested in them so you can throw them away and try others or start again. When you've lovingly crafted a highly detailed, finished-looking artifact that you think is the gold standard of a solution, you're not as willing to discard it in the face of more information.
Another reason is that sometimes stakeholders, especially those who are more focused on time, believe that hi-fi artifacts like this must take a loooong time which, in the hands of someone with practice, it doesn't really. However, to a Product Manager, that looked like time better spent in development. That perception contributes to Business managers, figuring-out ways to keep UX out of the mix and going straight to development because a week of coding will save you a day of planning every time.
I used to be a UX Director with a large travel company. Some of the team became so adept with Axure that they created a rich prototype that was so finished looking the business thought it was done. They were thrilled with the work we'd done. Imagine their surprise and our panic when we had to back-track and explain that what they saw was only smoke and mirrors. Things got ugly.
At my next staff meeting, I handed-out folios with Graph pads, Sharpies, mechanical pencils, post-it notes and protractors and this is what I told them.
From that point-on I didn't want to hear that people were diving straight for their favorite digital tool. I wanted them to begin lo-fi.
SO we're going to talk about Lo-fi to hi-fi.
Working in public. What do I mean by that? It’s simple enough. Work in a place where others can see and comment on what you’re doing.
The company where I work is covered in floor to ceiling whiteboards designed specifically to encourage working publically. I didn't embrace that right away. One afternoon. I was sitting just like this; my back to a pristine whiteboard, crunched-up scowling at my Moleskine sketching ideas for an important presentation and it just wasn't working. one of my co-workers walked in and asked what I was doing. I told her and if she had a rolled-up newspaper in her hand, I swear she'd have hit me with it. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?! GET UP!! She tossed a marker at me and asked me what my idea was and to draw it. We went-on like this for a few hours; back-and-forth until we covered the wall.
We generated enough ideas to feel really good about three that went into the presentation.
You need other perspectives, No one is immune to cognitive bias. Someone may have experience or viewpoints which you lack. Those viewpoints add facets to the experience you're trying to characterize.
This may seem counterintuitive especially given the number of introverts we have in this community but when you're standing at a whiteboard with others it becomes easier to say "This may be a stupid idea but let me throw it up here."
Ideas are not a one-and-done proposition. You need lots of them; big and small to craft solutions worth exploring.
Truth is when I started my current job, I walked around and I was intimidated by what I saw; storyboard quality sketching on all the walls. Now I began my design career as a commercial artist and I still held out that I was a pretty good cartoonist but I knew I was going to have to bring my game up to work with these folks. I went out and bought a whiteboard and markers. I practiced my sketching and my handwriting. When the time came, people were impressed. Fast forward to when I was teaching university classes in UX. I had a student who could only draw stick figures but with very little adornment, he made some of the clearest diagrams I’ve ever seen. His style was deliberate. People understood what he as communicating and it was appropriate for me as the audience.
So many of you are saying: But I can't draw.
Yes you can
In know you can because if you can pick-up a pen, you can draw these shapes. I know you can draw these shapes because you can write. Writing is drawing.
You can write because you have an alphabet and a vocabulary to work with, well here's an alphabet courtesy of Dave Gray it's not the only one but it's great a place to start.
Here's the beginning of a vocabulary. Yes it takes some practice but you would spend the time learning how to use a piece of software. Here's a tool that has free updates, no licensing fees and doesn't need software support. It's a whole lot easier to carry around than a laptop.
Speaking of software, I get asked all the time what tools I use, What are the best tools? You see tons of listicles with the 10 best tools for sketching, prototyping, creating design assets…
When it come to tools, fuck all the listicles! The best tools are your brain and a practiced hand and by that I don't just mean drawing but whatever you know how to use well. Just don't let hi-fidelity design be where you start. Tools are exactly that, they are only as good as your ability to use them effectively. You may have done your sketching on a whiteboard but you know your client needs more than that so use the tools that are the best intersection of your skill and client needs.
Okay, we talked about figuring-out what artifact you are going to create and talked about the usual suspects; wireframes etc. often, they will suit just fine but don't limit your toolbox to them because for UX Design there is no recipe.
Recipes are mostly a fixed set of ingredients and measurements. Follow the instructions and you'll get the same result most of the time. Projects are a big hairy ball of variables and the circumstances are different every time - Every time! Don't be afraid to combine methods or develop your own depending on what those variables demand.
Here’s an example. Last year I was giving an internal presentation about personas. This is the mind-map I used to pilot the discussion. I talked about the kind of personas we typically create and why but I also talked about the pitfalls that come with our method. I wanted us to begin thinking about how we could avoid the pitfalls and get something that was truer to the people we design for.
We'd been doing personas pretty much the same way for a few years, To be more specific we do "Proto-personas" which are less direct data driven and built more from anecdotal information or other sources.
We do these during our discovery sessions which include the client and we identify 3-4 persona and we break-up into teams to flesh them out. We give them real names. Then we narrow them down identifying the most relevant one.
We say a few things about the people we're designing for like age, education, income and since we mostly develop mobile apps, what kind of technologies they use. We then try to cobble together a short list of things that might be specific to this person and people like her. Then we ask what their basic expectations are for the app we're building, what would disappoint them and what would make them really happy. It seems to work well enough. But they were easy to derail if, say, the Marketing Manager is in the room and starts describing the client they want vs. the client they have or start building against their market segmentations which are not the same. Also, bias plays a role resulting in personae that are 2-dimensional; cartoon people.
We recently have been talking about ways to build more empathy into our efforts. Isn't everybody right now? This is the update to Dave Gray's empathy map which has been making the rounds lately.
I got the idea that if we did an empathy map exercise before we fleshed-out the persona we might be able to make them richer, truer and less judgmental because MAN do we judge when we write personas! So...the next time we do a a discovery session, we're going to try this.
Two recognizable methods combined. I’m probably not the first person to come-up with this but that's what I mean when I say mash-up.
Different doesn't matter if it works. Don't be afraid to do what suits the situation.
Now. I know it seems like a good idea to have documents perform double duty; serve as a presentation and be a reference document after you leave. But, like a Swiss Army knife that’s suitable for several things it’s not really great at any of them. IF you’re creating a presentation document, Have a version for presenting and another version as a leave-behind. Why? Because your presentation version needs to be simple and clear and support you in your storytelling. The leave-behind or reference document can have all the detail you need that would be too much noise for a presentation.
If anybody's wondering at this point, One of the reasons I did this deck in whiteboard was to illustrate the lo-fi techniques I use but also to show you that you can, in fact, frame the chimpanzee's finger painting to raise the perception people will have of your work even if it is simple looking.
No matter what you present, make it look deliberate
Do the work, figure-out what's needed and do that.
IAS18 Fit and Finish: The Importance of Presentation Value to Your Deliverables