An Interview with UX Architect Lindsey MacNeil

Handbags and Missiles: An Interview with UX Architect Lindsey MacNeil

04-07-18 Zander Buel 0 comment

User experience has been around for a very long time. For marketers, it’s helped us probe deeper at psychology and better understand how consumers interact with the digital experiences we create for them.

In preparation for June 12th’s presentation, we sat down with Lindsey MacNeil, senior UX architect at software consulting firm InRhythm, to talk about UX’s role in marketing, the way it affects people’s interactions with a brand, and what types of data and tools are available to monitor success.

Let’s assume that whoever is reading this is hearing about user experience for the first time. How would you describe it in 2018?

I wouldn’t describe 2018 as being unique for user experience, other than there might be more public examples nowadays. Actually, one of the focuses of my presentation on the 12th is talking about how user experience encompasses all interactions of end user’s experience with the company’s services and products.

So it’s not really that it’s new in this day and age, because it’s actually one of the oldest professions ever, but it’s one of the newest titles. People in marketing and product and sales, they’ve always known that if you don’t think about your customer, if you don’t factor in your customer, you won’t get anywhere.

But the fact that it’s now its own real industry, its own real degree–that’s what’s new.

What is the UX designer’s role among other people in marketing–SEOs, content marketers, web developers?

The role that UX plays within an organization is especially important with SEO, since SEO is all about using terminology and what people would naturally and unnaturally make associations for.

For example, consider the word trauma. You’re looking for a trauma accident lawyer. You’re freaking out and might not be in the best state of mind after an accident. You might find yourself typing the word “trsma,” not realizing you just misspelled the word.

Without an SEO, you’re not actually rounding out the products to make sure they can find it, but without the human factors, you’re not covering all the nuances of whatever and however they might be intending to search for.

It’s a similar thing with marketing. A few years back, I found myself working on a product for an automotive company. They initially brought me in to just do an uplift. They wanted to redesign it, but everything they were saying sounded a little disconnected. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with it, and learning more about the industry and everything these truck drivers are doing, I realized a lot of them are war vets.

I had an internal feeling of, alright, there’s a disconnect for me here. I interviewed my relatives who served in battle. One of my great uncles outright said to me, “Did you ever think they might not have all their fingers?” I replied, “No, that’s a good point!” I went down to some of the locations they were working at and realized every third or fourth guy I met was missing a finger or two.

So of course they were having trouble navigating around the application. They weren’t using a traditional mouse. And if they were using touch devices, they were using it in a very specific way.

It was not just needing to factor in a human being with 10 fingers, but actually factor in the possibility that they might not even have thumbs. They might be just going about this in a mounted device way. Maybe it’s a thing in their truck they’re pounding with their index finger, assuming they have one.

They want to hit the right action, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get it. If they don’t, of course they won’t want to come back to us. When we uplift the product so that the zones make more sense, there’s more rationale around them.

We factored in eye trackers, which is a weird thing to think of for a truck driver, but in just doing that accessibility uplift, our marketing department was able to circle back and say, we’ve factored you in and thought about the pains you’re going to have. Putting that messaging out there, “Thinking about you first and how you service car lots, or people who bought high-end cars, or people who bought cars on another coast, how you make sure this gets from one state to another state, we make sure your efficiency is as high as possible because we have you in mind at all times.”

They’re able to release that messaging because that’s in truth what we did. Nothing about the product is going to negate what they said.

How have you seen UX affect people’s overall perceptions of a brand, for better or worse?

That’s hard to pinpoint. I remember how most of these stores here in the Arizona area had this particular expensive line of leather handbags  that were replaced by Fossil. My perception from just shopping in that store was that a lot of people were having that same experience. And they might have been visually pretty, but you couldn’t actually open the flap and get anything out of the purse.

I’m more than happy to spend the extra money for a Fossil handbag, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the ladies there were returning these bags for similar reasons.

GAP actually had a very negative connotation for a lot of plus-sized women for a long time because we couldn’t shop there. One of the case studies I found myself bringing to one of my psychology classes was the fact that, “I’m a plus-sized girl and I can’t go to the GAP. I can’t go to all these other places. But if I go to their website or their catalogue, I can buy. So they’re basically saying they’ll cater to me, but they don’t want me in view. They don’t want me shopping in their stores, but they want me buying their clothes.”

After I presented that, a bunch of us plus-sized girls talked shop and agreed that it was wrong. I have noticed a resurgence in companies having a broader spectrum of clothing sizes available, or even at least noting when you’re in store like, hey, we might not have this size here, but you can get this size of this item online. Whether it’s messaging in-store or ideally having the product, we are more included now.

There was a lawsuit against Target with how they didn’t have some of their stores set up in a way so that so people who were disabled, primarily in assisted devices like a wheelchair or a roller, couldn’t get into some of their stores. That had a big impact on that brand, especially here in this region through Nevada, parts of Utah and Arizona, because our community is so supportive of Veterans. The majority of people in our handicapped community here is veterans, and they couldn’t get into their buildings.

That caused an uproar, especially when lawsuits came out, because everyone then found themselves advocating for them. They went overseas and served but can’t shop in your store? That’s really wrong. I definitely felt that difference in Target.

user experience
What types of data do you look at to monitor the success of a UX design?

It’s a good mix of qualitative and quantitative because you need hard numbers, conversions and an understanding of the flows, but you also need the whys. You don’t get the whys without talking to people.

If you launched a new product, and whether you did your research beforehand or not, did your testing beforehand or not, you’ll have parts of that flow that did and didn’t work. The numbers will show you.

You can’t do what some companies do and slow test. Some companies can afford to do it, some can’t. Say you’re releasing three products. Your customers can come to a page, see the product, go into a deeper page to find a more specific product, add it to the cart and go through the cart experience. At any point in that flow, they could leave.

You don’t know why they left unless you ask somebody. You have to ask enough people. But if you want to just assume they left because they were bored, you can start playing with your pages, like turning all your add to cart buttons from orange to purple and see if that makes a difference. You’re looking for incremental uplifts, which could be a good thing for your business, but it could also be such slow growth that it’s not worth it.

When you have both the numbers and the whys behind the numbers, you’re able to improve the flow overall and make something better in the long run. And oftentimes, it’s not something anyone would have really predicted exactly that way–maybe a flavor of that way, but I’ve never worked on a project in which I knew 100%  before my research. There’s always been something that threw me for a loop, whether it be a color scheme, a layout or the entire taxonomy.

I remember once being on a project where we thought the labeling we had was going to make sense to people. We tested the labeling, but as soon as we married it with the UI, no one got it. We had to go in a completely different labeling structure for people to follow.

What are the best, most reliable questions to ask in figuring out how to approach a new UX project for a client?

I wouldn’t say there’s a go-to question, and if there were, it would actually be more from observations. Watching someone use a product is always much truer than asking them about it. We naturally color our perception with how we internalize it, but that doesn’t mean that’s how we did it.

The moment you ask someone what it was like to buy a purse, for example, they’ll tell you it was easy, but if you actually watched them buy that purse, they may have spent an hour and a half in the store trying to figure out which one they wanted, which one might work for them. That essentially quantifies an hour and a half as being easy, even though you went through almost 40 different purses yourself, trying to find the right one. Just that observation of the human patterns of what they go through can reveal far more than asking question sometimes.

But if you have a clear, succinct drop-off, if you have a succinct view of where you lose people, then you can always step it back. Whether with a research facility or internally, you can bring in at least 3 people, if not 8, who are your target market and show them some kind of start or launch point.

You can maybe ask them before, “How would you shop with us?” If it’s on their phone, you give them a phone. “How would you get to us?” You watch them do it. You ask them, “How would you look for a new purse?” You watch them do it and do everything you can to ensure you don’t color their thoughts.

I say that because I’ve been on some tests where the tester would ask the subject, “We’ve got this great new product that does A, B and C. How would you go about finding A, B and C?” Well, you just told them! Do your best not to color their answer. Just give them an open-ended question to have them share with you where they would go and why they would go there. Once you start there, you can just continue to follow it up with why or how.

What types of tools are essential to creating the best possible UX? What do you use in your job?

The end tools can be quite a few things, but the basics are pen and paper. Having some kind of central medium that everyone on a team can collaborate on. It doesn’t matter if two or three people have great ideas. If 18 of you are required to figure out how to implement it, all 18 of you need to be on the same page.

Even just collaborating on a document about the goal, the expected outcome–just putting all the core details together in some central location everyone has access to, that’s always my go-to tool. I always look at whatever the company I’m working with offers.

What are the biggest UX trends happening right now?

With the advances in technology, there’s much more data that can come out.

The core of it doesn’t really change. The essence of UX is really just identifying how that end consumer is going to relate back and use whatever it is you’re offering.

The hows are all over the place right now. A lot of people in the U.S. don’t realize how close we got to accidentally releasing our nuclear missiles back in the mid-70s because just the simple structure and setup of the console to release the launch was so hokey. The keyboards were under this weird cover. People would have to get their fingers under the cover and type somehow. The cancel button was the smallest button on the whole keyboard. The launch button was the biggest. It was under a flimsy flap that would accidentally pop off, so there was the risk that people could accidentally hit it.

There was a scientist who walked through and observed all these weird things around this piece of furniture that was the most important piece in the room. He just came up with some basic things: Take the covers off the keyboard. If typing is that important, then do that. Don’t have two keyboards; have one. This button that’s so important that launches it, put it behind something with a key. He was a scientist working in the military facility. He got to know a lot of these guys. He knew the stress they were under and the fears they had: “What if I go into work one day and do this?”

Companies that make some of the best sports cars in the world, you could give a call about how you’re ready to buy it. They’ll custom deliver them to you. If you’d like them to measure how much of the ride you enjoy so they could optimize your enjoyment from driving the car, they have a neuron map they can drape over you that has little nodes that attach from your hairline, to all over your face, to behind your ears, up to the top of your pecs. They can sense every little twitch and adjustment in your upper body as you’re driving.

There’s no way we could have done that kind of research years ago. The fact that people who are wanting to design a car’s experience for enjoyment are able to micro-measure the tendons in your face, or just every micro-expression, that is a level no one would have been able to foresee back in the day. But we have that now because of the new technology.

luxury car

Are there any misconceptions or misnomers out there about UX?

When I started in my career, UI and UX were interchangeable. One wasn’t without the other. Now that I’ve been in it long enough, I understand that UI is a very small piece of it. It’s an important piece, but nowhere near the level of importance that a lot of people put on it. UX is so much more than just UI. There are posters out there that talk about how UX is not UI.

Some of my favorites suggest that UX is not UI, followed by a big list of all the things that are UX and just 4 things that are UI.

I came at it from a patient experience. All of the doctors who were helping me with what I was going through, they didn’t bother to learn anything about me before they walked in through the door. It was about me and my human experience from doing this thing, not just what I see when doing this thing.

Want to hear more of MacNeil’s UX insight? Register today for User Experience 101: How It Supports Your Marketing.

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