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Ask HN: How did you learn the details of User Experience?
10 points by random42 on Aug 3, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments
I am a server side developer, who needs to learn about UX (for pet project). Unlike everything that I learned in my life by self study, I find learning about details of UI/UX most difficult. I more so believe that "studying" learning resources would not do a great deal of help in learning about user experience.

What are the effective ways to improve one's abilities on UX front?

I spent most of my young designer/developer career primarily interested in all things UI/UX. Have done the early NielsenNorman UI/UX stuff, read countless books/blogs/etc & even gotten a couple "certifications" ( worst personal waste of my time). There are three elements that have contributed the most to my understanding of UX:

1) Gut instinct on what will work the best in a given scenario based on personal creativity (have designed 2-3xx number of concepts) as well as the collective of ideas/concepts/apps/widgets/scripts/designs floating around communities that just "work well" or solve "pain in the_ issues".

2) Iterative trial, testing based on functional page-level KPIs for a given scenario such as time-to-action, conversion, drop-off, hit errors, I've even tested for which pixel hit areas of a graphic button get the best responses. Learned lessons contributing to 1)

3) Any concepts/assessments rooted from hard psychological research in the fields of HCI/Industrial Psych from which I can use to contribute to practices in 1) and 2). These points of knowledge allow me to substantiate claims and advocate for improvement (particularly if I'm working on sensitive or mission-critical applications--finance, defense, health).

There is a discipline that a lot of people that hold themselves out to be UX professionals have never heard of. it is called Human Factors and is a subset of industrial psychology.

If a person has never read a book on Human Factor theory, they are not a UX professional they are a design hack.

Human Factors focuses on what the mind wants to do rather than individual opinions of how one thinks it should work. There are years of scientific method based research in Human Factors studies that is willfully or ignorantly ignored by the web design community.

If you want to be great you need to ground yourself in Human Factors as well as aesthetic design. They are different disciplines and both are important to user experience. As well a subset of human factors specifically focused on computing is HCI, while you can short cut and just read HCI related info, there is a wealth of info that can be drawn upon from other elements of Human Factors such as product design, and ergonomics while not directly related the theories can be adapted to UI usability.

In a previous workshop, we talked about what's necessary to call yourself a UX. Part of the problem is that UX is the evolution of the original "web designer" catch-all role, and many designers with a current title of Senior UX or IA or some such are really "grandfathered" into the role; they wouldn't be able to get hired for it today, because they didn't keep up.

http://vi.to/workshop/20100621/2dlevels.png is an illustration that came out of the workshop, indicating at what experience level you should have various types of knowledge to be able to call yourself a UX: theoretical marketing knowledge, commercial concepting knowledge, etc.

The 1-6 levels are the range of knowledge from beginner-to-expert, which come out of the "levels of knowledge" discussions from a few years ago:


The (sorely incomplete) skills matrix, that provides the 1-6 definitions for each component is here:


The illustration pegs everything at level 2, but it should actually be around where the green items are.

I am totally open to additional input; we won't be revisiting this in the workshops for a while.

Any recommended reading on Human Factors?

Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics

The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook

Human Factors in Information Systems

The same way one learns about anything. Learn it, do it, teach it.

Learn it by reading a book on it, or taking a class.

Do it by putting into place the practices you just learned about, actually doing the user tests and see what people think about it.

Teach it by showing others, explaining things will force you to learn them deeper.

One place you can start is here: http://52weeksofux.com

The last part about teaching is hard for me. I always feel that in order to teach, you must be an expert. Since I'm not an expert yet, I feel I might be teaching the wrong things and/or I can't answer their questions. This fear has stopped me several times from brain-dumping my knowledge. And since I don't teach, I never become an expert. A horrible cycle! Any ideas how to start?

Plus thanks for the link. More reading material!

I started my design workshops because they were the kind of thing I wanted to attend: a sort of Toastmasters for UX where I could do exercises in different parts of UX and eventually become an expert across the board.

Instead, I learned a lot about effective teaching, a lot about effective exercise design, a lot about facilitation and a lot about how much effort went into such things.

The things I learned about UX were more about really digging into things I thought I knew, since invariably I would spend 8-16 hours before the workshop researching, preparing and running through the exercises myself to make sure they'd fit in the time allotted and provide the information I wanted to convey.

I believe there's a big demand for this sort of thing out there. I'm absolutely not an expert in any of the things I taught, but neither will be most of your attendees. Doing it, trying it, learning from it and building the community is just as valuable and will teach you a lot.

http://vi.to/workshop/ is my effort, including a couple of write-ups, and the Facebook group has links to some of the notes and such as well.

I also happen to stumble upon the link, yesterday. Looks awesome.

I feel the same way about design, and I know they're closely related, so I'm anxious to see the responses here too.

Some good case studies.


Lots of articles. And experiencing great products. Also, design patterns.

Dig into your favorite UI's

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