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Book Review: UX Best Practices

Book | Authors | Review

By Gerd Waloszek, SAP AG, SAP User Experience – August 1, 2012

This review takes a personal look at Helmut Degen and Xiaowei Yuan's (editors) book UX Best Practices – How to Achieve More Impact with User Experience.

 

Book

Cover of UX Best Practices     

Helmut Degen & Xiaowei Yuan (Eds.)

UX Best Practices – How to Achieve More Impact with User Experience

McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2011

ISBN-10: 007175251X, ISBN-13: 978-0071752510

General, User Experience

 

Authors

Helmut Degen Helmut Degen works as a program manager for Siemens Corporate Research (SCR). He was previously a user experience design lead and senior user experience manager for Vodafone Global Marketing in Düsseldorf, Germany, and for the Siemens User Interface Design Center in Munich, Germany.
(From back cover of UX Best Practices )

 

Xiaowei YuanXiaowei Yuan is an export commissioner of the Standardization Administration of the People's Republic of China, and the founder of ISAR User Interface Design. He was previously head of the Siemens User Interface Design Center Beijing, China.
(From back cover of UX Best Practices )

 

Review

According to the book description, Helmut Degen and Xiaowei Yuan's book, UX Best Practices – How to Achieve More Impact with User Experience, "aims to help readers evolve to a user-centered product development philosophy by presenting real-world user experience success strategies from global corporations."

I work in a global corporation, namely SAP, and am thus a potential reader of this book. I became aware of it when former SVP of SAP User Experience, Dan Rosenberg (who wrote one of the forewords to the book) sent an email to the UX organization announcing that Andreas Hauser, an SAP UX colleague, had contributed a success story to the book. Hauser's contribution, Institutionalizing User Experience to Achieve Business Success, tells the story of SAP Business ByDesign, where he heads the UX department. Naturally, we immediately decided to write a review of the book for the SAP Design Guild. Here it is.

Introduction to the Book

Please note that the following introduction to the book – more or less – follows the path of the editors' introduction, because what is already close to perfect can hardly be improved any further – it can only be made a little shorter.

Why this Book?

One of the first questions that potential readers will probably ask is, "Why this book?" Luckily, the editors pose and answer this question themselves in their introduction. Their perception was that more and more product-development professionals were recognizing the value of UX quality and expressing the wish for the kind of UX quality Apple, for example, delivers. However, when they looked at the UX reality, the editors had to concede that they "experienced and observed that it is still difficult to be as involved as User Experience (UX) professionals as we would like to be." They still perceived a number of gaps:

  • UX is often involved only late or downstream with little or no impact on product quality.
  • UX as a contributor is often not well integrated into the product life cycle process.
  • Discussions about UX are generally about UX methods ("how-to" talks), mostly held by UX people themselves.
  • UX people have difficulty in explaining the value of UX contributions to non-UX people or even measuring the achieved UX value.
  • The UX discipline preaches the "use of customer wording" for their work products, but has difficulties applying the very same principle when it comes to explaining its own discipline to its customers.
  • The UX discipline exhibits a "UX island" attitude: Only UX knows best "how to do it" and fails to leverage the knowledge, experience, and ideas of other stakeholders.

The editors were looking for a single question that could address these perceived gaps and arrived at, "How to achieve (more) impact with User Experience?" However, instead of answering this question by presenting their own personal project experiences and success stories, they found it more beneficial from the reader standpoint to collect and publish success stories from different people, companies, business types, and even regions (China versus the West). So they transitioned from being authors to being editors of a book that they consider unique in the following two respects:

  • Its sole focus on "impact through user experience" (potential readers are proficient in user experience and do not need detailed descriptions of how to apply methods)
  • Its cross-regional coverage (Unites States, Europe, and China)

How the Editors Selected the Contributions

For the editors, the key criterion for selecting a contribution to the book was that it "describes a project or organizational experience where UX contributions had a proven and repeated product impact." Article contributors belong to organizations with product ownership (for example, a software company) and to firms that provide UX services to organizations with product ownership (for example, UX consulting companies). The editors asked the latter to partner with their customers to ensure that the resulting success story covered both sides – the service and the company that received it.

Finally, the editors admit that the book is not a representative collection of success stories across the UX industry, but they assure readers that it provides a view into it.

Who Should Read this Book?

The editors target the following audience with their book:

  • People who have an influence on product quality and UX, that is, directors and managers of UX groups or departments
  • (Senior) vice presidents of product management, product development, and technology divisions who want to understand how UX can be leveraged strategically to improve products quality and customer satisfaction
  • UX consulting companies
  • UX workforce
  • UX professors, UX researchers, and UX students

The Editors' Vision of the Book

The editors' vision of the book is that "readers change perspective from a 'how-to' perspective to an 'impact' perspective and then apply the new perspective to their organization or customers' organization systematically to achieve greater impact with UX contributions more often." This shift in perspective is exactly what one of the editors, Helmut Degen, describes as a personal experience after attending a workshop by Peter L. Phillips, who wrote the first chapter, Collaborate, Innovative Design Briefs.

Overview of the Book

The table below provides an overview of the chapters and lists each chapter's authors, their affiliations, and regional orientation. The "Description" column provides brief chapter descriptions, which I have mostly derived from the guided tour in the introduction.

Chapter Number and Title Author(s) and Affiliation(s) Country Description
1 Collaborate, Innovative Design Briefs Peter L. Phillips USA Introduces the concept of UX as a problem-solving discipline, describes the function of a design brief; describes general concepts and techniques; sets the tone for the book.

2

Institutionalizing User Experience to Achieve Business Success Andreas Hauser (SAP) Germany Describes a success story about how to institutionalize UX in a large organization (SAP).
3 Influencing the Establishment and Sustainable Development of UX Li Ming and Shui Shiwei (Ping An) China Focuses on integrating UX processes in the development of a Chinese e-commerce Website for financial products (Ping An).
4 From Feature Centric to People Centric

Sigrid Vandenweghe and Kris Vanstappen (Human Interface Group)
Marc Charlier (BCT)

Belgium, The Netherlands Describes an organizational change process at BCT for redesign of the CORSA enterprise content management software; provided by a UX consulting company in conjunction with its client.
5 The Effective User-Centered End-to-End Product Development Process Ji Hong (China Telecom) China Describes the implementation of an end-to-end UX process at China Telecom.
6 User Experience and Agile Development

Thomas Memmel and Markus Flückiger (Zühlke Engineering)
Médard Fischer (Swiss Federal Railways)

Switzerland Reports on the experiences in developing ALEA (Alarm and Event Assistant) for the Swiss Federal Railways with an agile UX approach; provided by a UX consulting company in conjunction with its client.
7 Focus on Users' Value Yan Chen, Qi Luo, and Lixian Huang (Tencent) China Describes a user experience evaluation system (UXES) at Tencent, China, which – among other things – makes it possible to evaluate the UX level of the company's own and its competitors' products.
8 Redesigning My Yahoo! Junius Gunaratne (Yahoo!) USA Describes how different types of prototyping can be used for product development using the example of My Yahoo!, a personalized start page on the Web.
9 User Interface Patterns Sonja Sander and Anke Richter (Siemens AG) Germany Describes an approach for using user interface (UI) patterns to achieve product and business impact at Siemens Energy Automation.
10 Rapid Testing System Jian Wu (Haier) China Describes a rapid testing system that is used in a three-step design process at the big Chinese household appliance manufacturer Haier.
11 Design Thinking Aline Baeck and Peter Gremett (Intuit) USA Describes the concept of design thinking and how it has evolved within Intuit, a provider of financial management software for home and businesses.

Each chapter closes with a brief summary and some chapters also offer references for further reading. Except for the first chapter, all summaries provide answers to eight questions that the editors prepared for the authors.

What the Editors Have Learned so Far

The editors close their introduction with a resume of their book project, "What we have learned so far". While they once again concede that the success stories in the book are not representative of the UX industry, they feel enabled to derive the following common themes from them:

  • UX contributions have champions outside of the UX organization who understand or believe in the value of the contributions and support them.
  • UX concepts and language have been introduced into the organization, and the language is understood. For their part, UX expert, understand and speak the product and business language.
  • UX addresses business problems, and UX contributions are quantified by KPIs.
  • UX activities and other development activities are deeply connected and integrated.
  • UX results are not only captured in text documents: They are also implemented in process elements (for example, UI pattern libraries), which allows organizations to reuse them at low cost.

Nevertheless, the question of the extent to which observations from selected projects can be generalized to the whole UX industry still remains. The editors hit on an answer to this question when they attempted to find out what had changed since the first half of 2009, when the book project began. In October 2011, Helmut Degen launched a survey to investigate how much the UX industry had evolved in the meantime. The survey themes were derived from insights gained from the UX success stories in the book. When the book was printed, 31 participants from all over the world provided qualified responses. I would like to focus on the question, "What hinders product development organizations today in delivering products with a desirable product quality effectively and efficiently?" In his survey, Degen offered twelve statements to select from; he lists the six that were selected most often (based on 30 replies):

  • Not having sufficient UX resources available (56%)
  • Development process does not provide sufficient time to define a UX solution with an acceptable UX quality (47%)
  • Lack of understanding about the business value of UX (47%)
  • Insufficient integration of UX activities with the development process (34%)
  • Lack of understanding about what UX quality level the customer really needs (34%)
  • Difficult to find skilled and experienced UX people (31%)

According to the editors, "the survey results indicate that UX activities are still not properly integrated into the product lifecycle process and in the business proposition today. They also indicate that the UX success stories in this book are rather exceptional in the UX industry and can be considered as benchmarks. ... The UX practices described in the success stories in this book can be used as a starting point to improve existing UX processes" (italicization by the author). This resume definitely contradicts the somewhat optimistic statements that the editors derived from the success stories. Indeed, the survey results indicate that there is still a great deal to do both inside and outside the UX organization in order to actually achieve the impact that the editors and article authors have in mind.

Some Incidental Remarks

In my brief discussion of the book, I would like to comment on a few observations, even though they may not be at the core of the book's theme: increasing the UX impact in a company.

First of all, I read Andreas Hauser's article, Institutionalizing User Experience to Achieve Business Success, about SAP Business ByDesign with great interest and was delighted ted to see the team's involvement in the project and its contributions presented in such a coherent way. The pattern-based user interface constitutes a major ingredient of SAP Business ByDesign. SAP's approach to UI patterns differs considerably from the UI pattern library that Sonja Sander and Anke Richter from Siemens Energy Automation present in their article, User Interface Patterns. The Siemens UI patterns act more or less as specifications (with potential links to reuse components) that developers use as models for their own designs. SAP's UI patterns, on the other hand, are implemented in code and need only be configured for use according to the needs of specific applications. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Hard-coded patterns, of course, not only have the ability to speed up development considerably; they provide more consistency within and between applications than mere model specifications can. A pattern library, on the other hand, provides more flexibility and is thus better suited to heterogeneous environments. In particular, the Siemens article inspired me to write a UI Design Blink about how UI patterns remove the mystery from design: Intentions or actions can guide the selection of UI solutions, which are offered in the form of more or less ready-made UI patterns. The "magic" behind screen design is gone.

As the overview of the book above indicates, the chapters tell very different – success – stories. Some of them describe change processes within a company as a whole or within a major part of it; others focus on a single product or product area – and may or may not scale to a company as a whole. Two stories describe the successful involvement of consultants. They reminded me of the "Enjoy" initiative than began at SAP in 1998, in which Karen Holtzblatt, Alan Cooper, and frogdesign introduced new ideas to the company. (If you are interested in this already historic project, you may want to read the "philosophy edition", which was part of the very first SAP Design Guild Website.) One justifiable question with respect to external consultants concerns the long-term impact of such efforts or, in modern terms, their sustainability. There is no easy answer to this question, and such projects may entail a tough learning process and require perseverance on both sides.

As Heidi Krömker points out in her foreword to the book, the terms usability and user experience have only entered the Chinese language in the last ten years. It is therefore not surprising that the success stories from China have a somewhat different background to those from Europe and the USA, that they sometimes read a little bit differently, and that their use of UX terminology is different. China, however, is making great progress in incorporating UX into the development process, and I expect such differences to diminish in the near future. There is one more thing that I noted in the Chinese success stories: In their summaries, three out of four chapters with Chinese authors emphasize the importance of high-level management support for giving UX activities an impact. While authors from the USA and Europe also note this, most of them do so with much less emphasis.

Reading Recommendations

Finally, I would like to provide some recommendations for approaching the book. My suggestion is that readers jump straight to the introduction (page xxix). There they will find the "long version" of my introduction, which, of course, provides considerably more background information than a short intro does. The introduction also provides a "guided tour of the book", which describes each chapter in a single paragraph (I derived the short descriptions in the table above from this tour). These descriptions will help readers select the chapters that interest them most. As the editors explain, there is no fixed sequence in which the chapters should be read – readers should be guided by their personal interests. The first and eleventh chapters are different from the others in that they cover more general themes like the design brief and design thinking. The authors state that chapter one sets the tone for the book, so I would recommend that readers continue with this chapter after reading the introduction (I did so, too, although I was tempted to begin with Andreas Hauser's about SAP Business ByDesign). Perhaps readers should continue with chapter eleven about design thinking at Yahoo! before they move on to the other success stories, because this is also a more general chapter (and a success story, too) and – from the editors' perspective – has the potential to show how the UX discipline can move forward. (People who do not favor design thinking may have a different opinion on this.) Thereafter, readers could perhaps pick one chapter per day – based on their preferences – and be done and informed in less than two weeks. It might also be a good idea for readers to scan the summaries at the end of each chapter first to find out which chapters interest them most.

Conclusion

As I have already mentioned, the editors' vision of the book is that "readers change perspective from a 'how-to' perspective to an 'impact' perspective", that they "then apply the new perspective to their organization or customers' organization systematically to achieve greater impact with UX contributions more often." However, in recognition of the survey results from October 2011, they are more modest in their goals for the book when they state,"The UX practices described in the success stories in this book can be used as a starting point to improve existing UX processes," because "the UX success stories in this book are rather exceptional in the UX industry and can be considered as benchmarks." Of course, this is by no means a contradiction and both aspects are useful. But when the editors finally promote the "model" perspective for the book, it has eventually become what they initially intended not to publish: a "how-to" book.

Nonetheless, considering its broad perspective with respect to industries (in-depth case studies from Yahoo!, Siemens, SAP, Haier, Intuit, Tencent, and more), its cross-regional coverage (USA, Europe, China), and its variety of user experience techniques (for example, analyzing user needs and expectations, creating design concepts, prototyping, using agile development, conducting usability testing, developing user interface guidelines, defining user interface patterns, and specifying metrics), the book is definitely a rich and unique resource for readers who want to learn about the state of the UX industry, find the gaps between what would be desirable and what is still the current state of affairs in the industry, and, last but not least, get familiar with approaches that help provide UX teams with more impact on products and organizations.

 

References

 

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