Form design matters more than you might think. A poorly designed form can turn off prospects, whether you’re asking them to sign up for your email list or buy your latest product. Web forms are used on nearly every website on the Internet, but some feature extremely poor design. If you don’t want to fall into that trap, this article will teach you how to design forms that boost conversion rates. Feel free to jump around if you’re interested in a single a particular topic covered in this article: What’s a web form? Why do you need a web form?…
Lessons Learned While Developing WordPress Plugins
Every WordPress plugin developer struggles with tough problems and code that’s difficult to maintain. We spend late nights supporting our users and tear out our hair when an upgrade breaks our plugin. Let me show you how to make it easier.
In this article, I’ll share my five years of experience developing WordPress plugins. The first plugin I wrote was a simple marketing plugin. It displayed a call to action (CTA) button with Google’s search phrase. Since then, I’ve written another 11 free plugins, and I maintain almost all of them. I’ve written around 40 plugins for my clients, from really small ones to one that have been maintained for over a year now.
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Good development and support lead to more downloads. More downloads mean more money and a better reputation. This article will show you the lessons I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made, so that you can improve your plugin development.
1. Solve A Problem
If your plugin doesn’t solve a problem, it won’t get downloaded. It’s as simple as that.
Take the Advanced Cron Manager plugin (8,000+ active installations). It helps WordPress users who are having a hard time debugging their cron. The plugin was written out of a need — I needed something to help myself. I didn’t need to market this one, because people already needed it. It scratched their itch.
On the other hand, there’s the Bug — fly on the screen plugin (70+ active installations). It randomly simulates a fly on the screen. It doesn’t really solve a problem, so it’s not going to have a huge audience. It was a fun plugin to develop, though.
Focus on a problem. When people don’t see their SEO performing well, they install an SEO plugin. When people want to speed up their website, they install a caching plugin. When people can’t find a solution to their problem, then they find a developer who writes a solution for them.
If you have an opportunity to solve someone’s problem, take a chance.
2. Support Your Product
“3 out of 5 Americans would try a new brand or company for a better service experience. 7 out of 10 said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent service.”
— Nykki Yeager
Don’t neglect your support. Don’t treat it like a must, but more like an opportunity.
Good-quality support is critical in order for your plugin to grow. Even a plugin with the best code will get some support tickets. The more people who use your plugin, the more tickets you’ll get. A better user experience will get you fewer tickets, but you will never reach inbox 0.
Every time someone posts a message in a support forum, I get an email notification immediately, and I respond as soon as I can. It pays off. The vast majority of my good reviews were earned because of the support. This is a side effect: Good support often translates to 5-star reviews.
When you provide excellent support, people start to trust you and your product. And a plugin is a product, even if it’s completely free and open-source.
Good support is more complex than about writing a short answer once a day. When your plugin gains traction, you’ll get several tickets per day. It’s a lot easier to manage if you’re proactive and answer customers’ questions before they even ask.
Here’s a list of some actions you can take:
Create an FAQ section in your repository.
Pin the “Before you ask” thread at the top of your support forum, highlighting the troubleshooting tips and FAQ.
Make sure your plugin is simple to use and that users know what they should do after they install it. UX is important.
Analyze the support questions and fix the pain points. Set up a board where people can vote for the features they want.
Create a video showing how the plugin works, and add it to your plugin’s main page in the WordPress.org repository.
It doesn’t really matter what software you use to support your product. The WordPress.org’s official support forum works just as well as email or your own support system. I use WordPress.org’s forum for the free plugins and my own system for the premium plugins.
3. Don’t Use Composer
Composer is package-manager software. A repository of packages is hosted on packagist.org, and you can easily download them to your project. It’s like NPM or Bower for PHP. Managing your third-party packages the way Composer does is a good practice, but don’t use it in your WordPress project.
I know, I dropped a bomb. Let me explain.
Composer is great software. I use it myself, but not in public WordPress projects. The problem lies in conflicts. WordPress doesn’t have any global package manager, so each and every plugin has to load dependencies of their own. When two plugins load the same dependency, it causes a fatal error.
There isn’t really an ideal solution to this problem, but Composer makes it worse. You can bundle the dependency in your source manually and always check whether you are safe to load it.
Composer’s issue with WordPress plugins is still not solved, and there won’t be any viable solution to this problem in the near future. The problem was raised many years ago, and, as you can read in WP Tavern’s article, many developers are trying to solve it, without any luck.
The best you can do is to make sure that the conditions and environment are good to run your code.
4. Reasonably Support Old PHP Versions
Don’t support very old versions of PHP, like 5.2. The security issues and maintenance aren’t worth it, and you’re not going to earn more installations from those older versions.
Tell your users which versions you do support, and make sure their website doesn’t break after your plugin is installed on too low a version.
5. Focus On Quality Code
Writing good code is tough in the beginning. It takes time to learn the “SOLID” principles and design patterns and to change old coding habits.
It once took me three days to display a simple string in WordPress, when I decided to rewrite one of my plugins using better coding practices. It was frustrating knowing that it should have taken 30 minutes. Switching my mindset was painful but worth it.
Why was it so hard? Because you start writing code that seems at first to be overkill and not very intuitive. I kept asking myself, “Is this really needed?” For example, you have to separate the logic into different classes and make sure each is responsible for a single thing. You also have to separate classes for the translation, custom post type registration, assets management, form handlers, etc. Then, you compose the bigger structures out of the simple small objects. That’s called dependency injection. That’s very different from having “front end” and “admin” classes, where you cram all your code.
The other counterintuitive practice was to keep all actions and filters outside of the constructor method. This way, you’re not invoking any actions while creating the objects, which is very helpful for unit testing. You also have better control over which methods are executed and when. I wish I knew this before I wrote a project with an infinite loop caused by the actions in the constructor methods. Those kinds of bugs are hard to trace and hard to fix. The project had to be refactored.
The above are but a few examples, but you should get to know the SOLID principles. These are valid for any system and any coding language.
When you follow all of the best practices, you reach the point where every new feature just fits in. You don’t have to tweak anything or make any exceptions to the existing code. It’s amazing. Instead of getting more complex, your code just gets more advanced, without losing flexibility.
Also, format your code properly, and make sure every member of your team follows a standard. Standards will make your code predictable and easier to read and test. WordPress has its own standards, which you can implement in your projects.
6. Test Your Plugin Ahead Of Time
I learned this lesson the hard way. Lack of testing led me to release a new version of a plugin with a fatal error. Twice. Both times, I got a 1-star rating, which I couldn’t turn into a positive review.
You can test manually or automatically. Travis CI is a continuous testing product that integrates with GitHub. I’ve built a really simple test suite for my Notification plugin that just checks whether the plugin can boot properly on every PHP version. This way, I can be sure the plugin is error-free, and I don’t have to pay much attention to testing it in every environment.
Each automated test takes a fraction of a second. 100 automated tests will take about 10 minutes to complete, whereas manual testing needs about 2 minutes for each case.
The more time you invest in testing your plugin up front, the more it will save you in the long run.
It’s a cliche that developers don’t like to write documentation. It’s the most boring part of the development process, but a little goes a long way.
Write self-documenting code. Pay attention to variable, function and class names. Don’t make any complicated structures, like cascades that can’t be read easily.
Another way to document code is to use the “doc block”, which is a comment for every file, function and class. If you write how the function works and what it does, it will be so much easier to understand when you need to debug it six months from now. WordPress Coding Standards covers this part by forcing you to write the doc blocks.
Using both techniques will save you the time of writing the documentation, but the code documentation is not going to be read by everyone.
For the end user, you have to write high-quality, short and easy-to-read articles explaining how the system works and how to use it. Videos are even better; many people prefer to watch a short tutorial than read an article. They are not going to look at the code, so make their lives easier. Good documentation also reduces support tickets.
These seven rules have helped me develop good-quality products, which are starting to be a core business at BracketSpace. I hope they’ll help you in your journey with WordPress plugins as well.
Let me know in the comments what your golden development rule is or whether you’ve found any of the above particularly helpful.
How To Improve Your Design Process With Data-Based Personas
Most design and product teams have some type of persona document. Theoretically, personas help us better understand our users and meet their needs. The idea is that codifying what we’ve learned about distinct groups of users helps us make better design decisions. Referring to these documents ourselves and sharing them with non-design team members and external stakeholders should ultimately lead to a user experience more closely aligned with what real users actually need.
In reality, personas rarely prove equal to these expectations. On many teams, persona documents sit abandoned on hard drives, collecting digital dust while designers continue to create products based primarily on whim and intuition.
In contrast, well-researched personas serve as a proxy for the user. They help us check our work and ensure that we’re building things users really need.
In fact, the best personas don’t just describe users; they actually help designers predict their behavior. In her article on persona creation, Laura Klein describes it perfectly:
“If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer.”
In other words, useful personas actually help design teams make better decisions because they can predict with some accuracy how users will respond to potential product changes.
Obviously, for personas to facilitate these types of predictions, they need to be based on more than intuition and anecdotes. They need to be data-driven.
So, what do data-driven personas look like, and how do you make one?
Start With What You Think You Know
The first step in creating data-driven personas is similar to the typical persona creation process. Write down your team’s hypotheses about what the key user groups are and what’s important to each group.
If your team is like most, some members will disagree with others about which groups are important, the particular makeup and qualities of each persona, and so on. This type of disagreement is healthy, but unlike the usual persona creation process you may be used to, you’re not going to get bogged down here.
Instead of debating the merits of each persona (and the various facets and permutations thereof), the important thing is to be specific about the different hypotheses you and your team have and write them down. You’re going to validate these hypotheses later, so it’s okay if your team disagrees at this stage. You may choose to focus on a few particular personas, but make sure to keep a backlog of other ideas as well.
I recommend aiming for a short, 1–2 sentence description of each hypothetical persona that details who they are, what root problem they hope to solve by using your product, and any other pertinent details.
You can use the traditional user stories framework for this. If you were creating hypothetical personas for Craigslist, one of these statements might read:
“As a recent college grad, I want to find cheap furniture so I can furnish my new apartment.”
Another might say:
“As a homeowner with an extra bedroom, I want to find a responsible tenant to rent this space to so I can earn some extra income.”
If you have existing data — things like user feedback emails, NPS scores, user interview notes, or analytics data — be sure to go over them and include relevant data points in your notes along with your user stories.
Validate And Refine
The next step is to validate and refine these hypotheses with user interviews. For each of your hypothetical personas, you’ll want to start by interviewing 5 to 10 people who fit that group.
You have three key goals for these interviews. For each group, you need to:
Understand the context in which they need to solve the problem.
Confirm that members of the persona group agree that the problem you recorded is an urgent and painful one that they struggle to solve now.
Identify key predictors of whether a member of this persona is likely to become and remain an active user.
The approach you take to these interviews may vary, but I recommend a hybrid approach between a traditional user interview, which is very non-leading, and a Lean Problem interview, which is deliberately leading.
“Tell me about the last time you purchased furniture. What did you buy? Where did you buy it?”
These types of questions are great for establishing whether the interviewee recently experienced the problem in question, how they solved it, and whether they’re dissatisfied with their current solution.
Once you’ve finished asking these types of questions, move on to the Lean Problem portion of the interview. In this section, you want to tell a story about a time when you experienced the problem — establishing the various issues you struggled with and why it was frustrating — and see how they respond.
You might say something like this:
“When I graduated college, I had to get new furniture because I wasn’t living in the dorm anymore. I spent forever looking at furniture stores, but they were all either ridiculously expensive or big-box stores with super-cheap furniture I knew would break in a few weeks. I really wanted to find good furniture at a reasonable price, but I couldn’t find anything and I eventually just bought the cheap stuff. It inevitably broke, and I had to spend even more money, which I couldn’t really afford. Does any of that resonate with you?”
What you’re looking for here is emphatic agreement. If your interviewee says “yes, that resonates” but doesn’t get much more excited than they were during the rest of the interview, the problem probably wasn’t that painful for them.
On the other hand, if they get excited, empathize with your story, or give their own anecdote about the problem, you know you’ve found a problem they really care about and need to be solved.
Finally, make sure to ask any demographic questions you didn’t cover earlier, especially those around key attributes you think might be significant predictors of whether somebody will become and remain a user. For example, you might think that recent college grads who get high-paying jobs aren’t likely to become users because they can afford to buy furniture at retail; if so, be sure to ask about income.
You’re looking for predictable patterns. If you bring in 5 members of your persona and 4 of them have the problem you’re trying to solve and desperately want a solution, you’ve probably identified a key persona.
On the other hand, if you’re getting inconsistent results, you likely need to refine your hypothetical persona and repeat this process, using what you learn in your interviews to form new hypotheses to test. If you can’t consistently find users who have the problem you want to solve, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get millions of them to use your product. So don’t skimp on this step.
Create Your Personas
The penultimate step in this process is creating the actual personas themselves. This is where things get interesting. Unlike traditional personas, which are typically static, your data-driven personas will be living, breathing documents.
The goal here is to combine the lessons you learned in the previous step — about who the user is and what they need — with data that shows how well the latest iteration of your product is serving their needs.
At my company Swish, each one of our personas includes two sections with the following data:
Predictive User Data
Product Performance Data
Description of the user including predictive demographics.
The percentage of our current user base the persona represents.
It may take some time for your team to produce all this information, but it’s okay to start with what you have and improve the personas over time. Your personas won’t be sitting on a shelf. Every time you release a new feature or change an existing one, you should measure the results and update your personas accordingly.
Integrate Your Personas Into Your Workflow
Now that you’ve created your personas, it’s time to actually use them in your day-to-day design process. Here are 4 opportunities to use your new data-driven personas:
At Standups At Swish, our standups are a bit different. We start these meetings by reviewing the activation, retention, and referral metrics for each persona. This ensures that — as we discuss yesterday’s progress and today’s obstacles — we remain focused on what really matters: how well we’re serving our users.
During Prioritization Your data-driven personas are a great way to keep team members honest as you discuss new features and changes. When you know how much of your user base the persona represents and how well you’re serving them, it quickly becomes obvious whether a potential feature could actually make a difference. Suddenly deciding what to work on won’t require hours of debate or horse-trading.
At Design Reviews Your data-driven personas are a great way to keep team members honest as you discuss new designs. When team members can creditably represent users with actual quotes from user interviews, their feedback quickly becomes less subjective and more useful.
When Onboarding New Team Members New hires inevitably bring a host of implicit biases and assumptions about the user with them when they start. By including your data-driven personas in their onboarding documents, you can get new team members up to speed much more quickly and ensure they understand the hard-earned lessons your team learned along the way.
Keeping Your Personas Up To Date
It’s vitally important to keep your personas up-to-date so your team members can continue to rely on them to guide their design thinking.
As your product improves, it’s simple to update NPS scores and performance data. I recommend doing this monthly at a minimum; if you’re working on an early-stage, rapidly-changing product, you’ll get better mileage by updating these stats weekly instead.
It’s also important to check in with members of your personas periodically to make sure your predictive data stays relevant. As your product evolves and the competitive landscape changes, your users’ views about their problems will change as well. If your growth starts to plateau, another round of interviews may help to unlock insights you didn’t find the first time. Even if everything is going well, try to check in with members of your personas — both current users of your product and some non-users — every 6 to 12 months.
Building data-driven personas is a challenging project that takes time and dedication. You won’t uncover the insights you need or build the conviction necessary to unify your team with a week-long throwaway project.
But if you put in the time and effort necessary, the results will speak for themselves. Having the type of clarity that data-driven personas provide makes it far easier to iterate quickly, improve your user experience, and build a product your users love.
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out the linked articles above, as well as the following resources:
(This is a sponsored article.) In my previous article on Building UX Teams, I explored the rapidly growing need for UX teams as a result of the emergence of design as a wider business driver. As teams grow, so too does a need for leaders to nurture and guide them.
In my final article in this series on user experience design, I’ll explore the different characteristics of an effective UX leader, and provide some practical advice about growing into a leadership role.
I’ve worked in many organizations — both large and small, and in both the private and public sectors — and, from experience, leadership is a rare quality that is far from commonplace. Truly inspiring leaders are few and far between; if you’re fortunate to work with one, make every effort to learn from them.
Managers that have risen up the ranks don’t automatically become great leaders, and perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that truly inspirational leaders — those that inspire passion and commitment — aren’t as commonplace as you’d think.
A UX leader is truly a hybrid, perhaps more so than in many other — more traditional — businesses. A UX leader needs to encompass a wide range of skills:
Establishing, driving and articulating a vision;
Communicating across different teams, including design, research, writing, engineering, and business (no small undertaking!);
Acting as a champion for user-focused design;
Mapping design decisions to key performance indicators (KPIs), and vice-versa, so that success can be measured; and
Managing a team, ensuring all the team’s members are challenged and motivated.
UX leadership is not unlike being bi-lingual — or, more accurately, multi-lingual — and it’s a skill that requires dexterity so that nothing gets lost in translation.
This hybrid skill set can seem daunting, but — like anything — the attributes of leadership can be learned and developed. In my final article in this series of ten, I’ll explore what defines a leader and focus on the qualities and attributes needed to step up to this important role.
Undertaking A Skills Audit
Every leader is different, and every leader will be informed by the different experiences they have accumulated to date. There are, however, certain qualities and attributes that leaders tend to share in common.
Great leaders demonstrate self-awareness. They tend to have the maturity to have looked themselves in the mirror and identified aspects of their character that they may need to develop if they are to grow as leaders.
Having identified their strengths and weaknesses and pinpointing areas for improvement, they will have an idea of what they know and — equally important — what they don’t know. As Donald Rumsfeld famously put it:
“There are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns: the things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Rumsfeld might have been talking about unknown unknowns in a conflict scenario, but his insight applies equally to the world of leadership. To grow as a leader, it’s important to widen your knowledge so that it addresses both:
The Known Unknowns
Skills you know that you don’t know, which you can identify through a self-critical skills audit; and
The Unknown Unknowns
Skills you don’t know you don’t know, which you can identify through inviting your peers to review your strengths and weaknesses.
In short, a skills audit will equip you with a roadmap that you can use as a map to plot a path from where you are now to where you want to be.
To become an effective leader is to embark upon a journey, identifying the gaps in your knowledge and — step by step — addressing these gaps so that you’re prepared for the leadership role ahead.
Identifying The Gaps In Your Knowledge
One way to identify the gaps in your knowledge is to undertake an honest and self-reflective ‘skills audit’ while making an effort to both learn about yourself and learn about the environment you are working within.
To become a UX leader, it’s critical to develop this self-awareness, identifying the knowledge you need to acquire by undertaking both self-assessments and peer assessments. With your gaps in knowledge identified, it’s possible to build a learning pathway to address these gaps.
In the introduction, I touched on a brief list of skills that an effective and well-equipped leader needs to develop. That list is just the tip of a very large iceberg. At the very least, a hybrid UX leader needs to equip themselves by:
Developing an awareness of context, expanding beyond the realms of design to encompass a broader business context;
Understanding and building relationships with a cross-section of team members;
Identifying outcomes and goals, establishing KPIs that will help to deliver these successfully;
Managing budgets, both soft and hard; and
Planning and mapping time, often across a diversified team.
These are just a handful of skills that an effective UX leader needs to develop. If you’re anything like me, hardly any of this was taught at art school, so you’ll need to learn these skills yourself. This article will help to point you in the right direction. I’ve also provided a list of required reading for reference to ensure you’re well covered.
A 360º Assessment
A 360º degree leadership assessment is a form of feedback for leaders. Drawn from the world of business, but equally applicable to the world of user experience, it is an excellent way to measure your effectiveness and influence as a leader.
Unlike a top-down appraisal, where a leader or manager appraises an employee underneath them in the hierarchy, a 360º assessment involves inviting your colleagues — at your peer level — to appraise you, highlighting your strengths and weaknesses.
This isn’t easy — and can lead to some uncomfortable home truths — but it can prove a critical tool in helping you to identify the qualities you need to work on. You might, for example, consider yourself an excellent listener only to discover that your colleagues feel like this is something you need to work on.
This willingness to put yourself under the spotlight, identify your weaknesses, address these, and develop yourself is one of the defining characteristics of leaders. Great leaders are always learning and they aren’t afraid to admit that fact.
A 360º assessment is a great way to uncover your ‘unknown unknowns’, i.e. the gaps in your knowledge that you aren’t aware of. With these discoveries in hand, it’s possible to build ‘a learning road-map’ that will allow you to develop the skills you need.
Build A Roadmap
With the gaps in your knowledge identified, it’s important to adopt some strategies to address these gaps. Great leaders understand that learning is a lifelong process and to transition into a leadership role will require — inevitably — the acquisition of new skills.
To develop as a leader, it’s important to address your knowledge gaps in a considered and systematic manner. By working back from your skills audit, identify what you need to work on and build a learning programme accordingly.
This will inevitably involve developing an understanding of different domains of knowledge, but that’s the leader’s path. The important thing is to take it step by step and, of course, to take that first step.
We are fortunate now to be working in an age in which we have an abundance of learning materials at our fingertips. We no longer need to enroll in a course at a university to learn; we can put together our own bespoke learning programmes.
We now have so many tools we can use, from paid resources like Skillshare which offers “access to a learning platform for personalized, on-demand learning,” to free resources like FutureLearn which offers the ability to “learn new skills, pursue your interests and advance your career.”
In short, you have everything you need to enhance your career just a click away.
It’s Not Just You
Great leaders understand that it’s not about the effort of individuals, working alone. It’s about the effort of individuals — working collectively. Looking back through the history of innovation, we can see that most (if not all) of the greatest breakthroughs were driven by teams that were motivated by inspirational leaders.
Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb alone; he had an ‘invention factory’ housed in a series of research laboratories. Similarly, when we consider the development of contemporary graphical user interfaces (GUIs), these emerged from the teamwork of Xerox PARC. The iPod was similarly conceived.
Great leaders understand that it’s not about them as individuals, but it’s about the teams they put together, which they motivate and orchestrate. They have the humility to build and lead teams that deliver towards the greater good.
This — above all — is one of the defining characteristics of a great leader: they prioritize and celebrate the team’s success over and above their own success.
It’s All About Teamwork
Truly great leaders understand the importance that teams play in delivering outcomes and goals. One of the most important roles a leader needs to undertake is to act as a lynchpin that sits at the heart of a team, identifying new and existing team members, nurturing them, and building them into a team that works effectively together.
A forward-thinking leader won’t just focus on the present, but will proactively develop a vision and long-term goals for future success. To deliver upon this vision of future success will involve both identifying potential new team members, but — just as importantly — developing existing team members. This involves opening your eyes to the different aspects of the business environment you occupy, getting to know your team, and identifying team members’ strengths and weaknesses.
As a UX leader, an important role you’ll play is helping others by mentoring and coaching them, ensuring they are equipped with the skills they need to grow. Again, this is where a truly selfless leader will put others first, in the knowledge that the stronger the team, the stronger the outcomes will be.
As a UX leader, you’ll also act as a champion for design within the wider business context. You’ll act as a bridge — and occasionally, a buffer — between the interface of business requirements and design requirements. Your role will be to champion the power of design and sell its benefits, always singing your team’s praises and — occasionally — fighting on their behalf (often without their awareness).
The Art Of Delegation
It’s possible to build a great UX team from the inside by developing existing team members, and an effective leader will use delegation as an effective development tool to enhance their team members’ capabilities.
Delegation isn’t just passing off the tasks you don’t want to do, it’s about empowering the different individuals in a team. A true leader understands this and spends the time required to learn how to delegate effectively.
Delegation is about education and expanding others’ skill sets, and it’s a powerful tool when used correctly. Effective delegation is a skill, one that you’ll need to acquire to step up into a UX leadership role.
When delegating a task to a team member, it’s important to explain to them why you’re delegating the task. As a leader, your role is to provide clear guidance and this involves explaining why you’ve chosen a team member for a task and how they will be supported, developed and rewarded for taking the task on.
This latter point is critical: All too often managers who lack leadership skills use delegation as a means to offload tasks and responsibility, unaware of the power of delegation. This is poor delegation and it’s ineffective leadership, though I imagine, sadly, we have all experienced it! An effective leader understands and strives to delegate effectively by:
defining the task, establishing the outcomes and goals;
identifying the appropriate individual or team to take the task on;
assessing the team member(s) ability and ascertaining any training needs;
explaining their reasoning, clearly outlining why they chose the individual or team;
stating the required results;
agreeing on realistic deadlines; and
providing feedback on completion of the task.
When outlined like this, it becomes clear that effective delegation is more than simply passing on a task you’re unwilling to undertake. Instead, it’s a powerful tool that an effective UX leader uses to enable their team members to take ownership of opportunities, whilst growing their skills and experience.
Give Success And Accept Failure
A great leader is selfless: they give credit for any successes to the team; and accept the responsibility for any failures alone.
A true leader gives success to the team, ensuring that — when there’s a win — the team is celebrated for its success. A true leader takes pleasure in celebrating the team’s win. When it comes to failure, however, a true leader steps up and takes responsibility. A mark of a truly great leader is this selflessness.
As a leader, you set the direction and nurture the team, so it stands to reason that, if things go wrong — which they often do — you’re willing to shoulder the responsibility. This understanding — that you need to give success and accept failure — is what separates great leaders from mediocre managers.
Poor managers will seek to ‘deflect the blame,’ looking for anyone but themselves to apportion responsibility to. Inspiring leaders are aware that, at the end of the day, they are responsible for the decisions made and outcomes reached; when things go wrong they accept responsibility.
If you’re to truly inspire others and lead them to achieve great things, it’s important to remember this distinction between managers and leaders. By giving success and accepting failure, you’ll breed intense loyalty in your team.
Lead By Example
Great leaders understand the importance of leading by example, acting as a beacon for others. To truly inspire a team, it helps to connect yourself with that team, and not isolate yourself. Rolling up your sleeves and pitching in, especially when deadlines are pressing, is a great way to demonstrate that you haven’t lost touch with the ‘front line.’
A great leader understands that success is — always — a team effort and that a motivated team will deliver far more than the sum of its parts.
As I’ve noted in my previous articles: If you’re ever the smartest person in a room, find another room. An effective leader has the confidence to surround themselves with other, smarter people.
Leadership isn’t about individual status or being seen to be the most talented. It’s about teamwork and getting the most out of a well-oiled machine of individuals working effectively together.
Get Out Of Your Silo
To lead effectively, it’s important to get out of your silo and to see the world as others do. This means getting to know all of the team, throughout the organization and at every level.
Leaders that isolate themselves — in their often luxurious corner offices — are, in my experience, poor leaders (if, indeed, they can be called leaders at all!). By distancing themselves from the individuals that make up an organization they run the very real risk of losing touch.
To lead, get out of your silo and acquaint yourself with the totality of your team and, if you’re considering a move into leadership, make it your primary task to explore all the facets of the business.
The Pieces Of The Jigsaw
To lead effectively, you need to have an understanding of others and their different skills. In my last article, Building a UX Team, I wrote about the idea of ‘T-shaped’ people — those that have a depth of skill in their field, along with the willingness and ability to collaborate across disciplines. Great leaders tend to be T-shaped, flourishing by seeing things from others’ perspectives.
Every organization — no matter how large or small — is like an elaborate jigsaw that is made up of many different interlocking parts. An effective leader is informed by an understanding of this context, they will have made the effort to see all of the pieces of the jigsaw. As a UX leader, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with a wide range of different teams, including design, research, writing, engineering, and business.
To lead effectively, it’s important to push outside of your comfort zone and learn about these different specialisms. Do so and you will ensure that you can communicate to these different stakeholders. At the risk of mixing metaphors, you will be the glue that holds the jigsaw together.
Sweat The Details
As Charles and Ray Eames put it:
“The details aren’t the details, they make the product.”
Great leaders understand this: they set the bar high and they encourage and motivate the teams they lead to deliver on the details. To lead a team, it’s important to appreciate the need to strive for excellence. Great leaders aren’t happy to accept the status quo, especially if the status quo can be improved upon.
Of course, these qualities can be learned, but many of us — thankfully — have them, innately. Few (if any) of us are happy with second best and, in a field driven by a desire to create delightful and memorable user experiences, we appreciate the importance of details and their place in the grand scheme of things. This is a great foundation on which to build leadership skills.
To thrive as a leader, it’s important to share this focus on the details with others, ensuring they understand and appreciate the role that the details play in the whole. Act as a beacon of excellence: lead by example; never settle for second best; give success and accept failure… and your team will follow you.
As user experience design matures as a discipline, and the number of different specializations multiplies, so too does the discipline’s need for leaders, to nurture and grow teams. As a relatively new field of expertise, the opportunities to develop as a UX leader are tremendous.
Leadership is a skill and — like any skill — it can be learned. As I’ve noted throughout this series of articles, one of the best places to learn is to look to other disciplines for guidance, widening the frame of reference. When we consider leadership, this is certainly true.
There’s never been a more exciting time to work in User Experience design. UX has the potential to impact on so many facets of life, and the world is crying out for leaders to step up and lead the charge. I’d encourage anyone eager to learn and to grow to undertake a skills audit, take the first step, and embark on the journey into leadership. Leadership is a privilege, rich with rewards, and is something I’d strongly encourage exploring.
There are many great publications, offline and online, that will help you on your adventure. I’ve included a few below to start you on your journey.
The Harvard Business Review website is an excellent starting point and its guide, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, provides an excellent overview on developing leadership qualities.
Peter Drucker’s writing on leadership is also well worth reading. Drucker has written many books, one I would strongly recommend is Managing Oneself. It’s a short (but very powerful) read, and I read it at least two or three times a year.
Finally, HBR’s website — mentioned above — is definitely worth bookmarking. Its business-focused flavor offers designers a different perspective on leadership, which is well worth becoming acquainted with.
How do you know your content marketing is effective? It’s not a rhetorical question, though it may seem like it. While it’s difficult to measure the success and return on investment of content purely quantitatively, you can absolutely use digital analytics to get some directional insights as well as insights that help you improve your approach. The good thing: there are no shortage of tools and guides to help you do that nowadays. The bad thing: it can be a bit overwhelming when you think about how to get started with digital analytics, especially if you’ve got a content calendar…
(This is a sponsored article.) With a prototype of your design built, it’s important to start testing it to see if the assumptions you have made are correct. In this article, the seventh in my ongoing series exploring the user experience design process, I’ll explore the importance of user testing.
As I explored in my earlier article on research, where I explored the research landscape, there are many different types of research methods you can use, and there are a variety of different user tests you can run, including:
(This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe.) Every city has its hidden spots: the best place to see the sunset, a cozy coffee shop that makes excellent espresso, or that impressive building you won’t find in any guidebook. As a visitor, you might stumble across little gems like these by chance, but, well, no one knows a city’s secrets as well as the locals, right?
Now’s your opportunity to let fellow creatives see your city through your eyes — and to put your design skills to the test at the same time.
When you were small, haven’t you ever dreamt of becoming the commander of a space mission? Of exploring outer space and seing the Earth from above? Well, you might not have made it into an actual space shuttle, but maybe you still carry this fascination for everything extraterrestrial inside of you. Great! Because today we want to take you on your very personal trip to space. Buckle up as you’ll become the captain of the command center — and maybe you’ll even make the acquaintance of an actual alien, too.
If you have ever wanted to send a form without reloading the page, provide a look-ahead search function that prompts the user with suggestions as they type, or auto-save documents, then what you need is AJAX (also known as XHR). A behind-the-scenes request is sent to the server, and returning data to your form. Whenever you see a loader animation after you have made some action on the page, it’s probably an AJAX request being submitted to the server.
Many of you are probably familiar with Quora. But not everyone knows that Quora can be turned into a perfect marketing tool that will drive high quality targeted traffic and conversions to your website. I made the most out of Quora and continue to use it as one of my major marketing tools for increasing conversions. How, you ask? I’m one of the most viewed writers on many popular topics including videos, online videos, video production, and explainer videos. My answers gained 1.2 million+ views during the last 10 months. Want to know how to make a go of Quora…