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Academy Xi Blog

Take a step into the world of UX Design

By Academy Xi

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If you took one step today and doubled it everyday for 30 days, how far would you walk?

The answer is: one billion and seventy three million metres: or the equivalent of walking around the world 26 times!

This is an example of Moore’s Law, a law which predicts foreseeable trends in technology. The law suggests that computing power doubles approximately every 18 months, resulting in exponential growth. As technology disrupts our lives faster than ever before, designing experiences that are user friendly and human-centred has become a key priority for many businesses.

User Experience Design (UX) is recognised by employers and businesses as an important, strategic role in the delivery of successful digital products. Whether it’s a mobile app or a website, UX has become one of the rock star roles of Digital Design.

Sofia Thompson, a UX Lead Change Agent, explains that designing user friendly and human-centred experiences is achieved through “conducting ample research via workshops, focus groups, interviews, and surveys to understand the needs and wants of the end user.”

Sofia believes that simplifying content will be a major trend this year, with filtration and search engine optimisation vital in preventing users from information overwhelm. 

Information overwhelm occurs when a user is presented with a multitude of choices, creating a paradox of choice. This could be a number of call-to-action (CTA) buttons on a website, or even a menu containing too many food options. What do you do when you’re confronted with an overload of possibilities?

UX is about making these choices simple for the user, actively curating the journey they take in pressing the right button on the website, or the ability to make a fast decision when ordering a meal.

Previously, Sofia conducted usability testing with Bunnings Warehouse. In looking at the homeware giant’s search engine optimisation, Sofia found that generating automatic key words and check boxes would help users narrow down their product searches. This removed the complexity of searching through thousands of store products and ultimately narrowed down the user’s choice to a manageable array of relevant options.

Another UX trend on the rise that’s also relieving customer pain points is  voice-user interfaces (VUI). With VUI, the process of users filling out online forms can be improved, replacing manual labour with hands-free, voice activation. This enhances the ease and speed of the user’s experience and also the website’s overall accessibility.

Keeping up-to-date with these latest trends has a significant impact on the role of a UX Designer. Sofia believes, “UX Designers must have the ability to forecast the effort and time the project will require well ahead of a build.”

“Validating the latest learnings through the build, measure, and learn process enables evaluation of good and bad design,” Sofia adds. “Being able to rationalise good versus bad design is critical to the role.”

In the world of UX, diverse opportunities exist for designers, including: research, information architecture, prototyping, and usability testing. Movements within technology help evolve a UX Designer’s creative problem solving capabilities.

The ability to tell a great story and having a quality folio of work is key to being a successful UX Designer. Sofia recommends the best way to develop UX competencies is to learn them from people who are experts in the industry. These experts have a wealth of success and failures that they’re ready to share. “Adopting the ability to critically analyse and rationalise good design enables the successful execution of a well-defined solution.”

Launch your future in User Experience Design with expert career tips here.

Academy Xi Blog

Six emerging technologies straight out of science fiction

By Academy Xi

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Many technologies that are commonplace today were first conceived of by Science fiction writers: Ipads, automatic doors, the Internet, submarines, space travel, 3D printers, credit cards and video calls. Here are six examples of newly emerging tech applications that are making sci-fi dreams a reality.

These six technologies have some exciting applications.

1. Holographic displays

The 1977 Star Wars release enthralled audiences – you may remember: ‘Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’. There have been a number of attempts to create holograms, but we are only just now seeing high-quality holograms like those in Star Wars inching closer to reality. Researchers at Swinburne University discovered how to create a wide-angle, full-colour holographic display; playing around with Graphene to create light-bending pixels. Graphene is versatile 2D material with some exciting properties – it is biocompatible, by weight it is stronger than steel, it’s almost transparent, thin and light-weight and an amazing conductor of heat and light. We’re excited to see Graphene’s other applications develop.

2. Earbuds that translate language

Remember the small, yellow Babel fish that Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) places in his ear to understand any incoming language? Waverly Labs has recently released a Pilot set of earbuds that do just that. Even more exciting than these little earbuds though, are recent reports that Google Translate’s AI has taught itself a new ‘language’ that enables it to translate between language pairs it wasn’t taught to. This interlingua is quite remarkable – another example of Google’s AI advancing at a quickening pace. These capabilities, combined with Google Translate approaching human-level accuracy, means a lot for the future of how we communicate.

3. Grow-your-own materials

Something materialising from nothing, like Star Trek’s replicator, is indeed a scary and exciting technology. Though 3D printing has become accessible and has potential (3D printed food!), we wanted to talk about biotech and synbio. The need for sustainable materials is increasing and growing sustainable materials from bacteria seems like a pretty good solution. This year’s Biofabricate Conference brought together a number of speakers in the area of bacteria-grown materials – exploring ethical concerns as well as emerging applications.

4. Fast-learning robots

We can’t really isolate human-like, fast-learning robots into a single sci-fi example – they’ve featured in Her, The Terminator, The Jetsons, WestWorld and Ex Machina to name a few. AI has been developing for a while now, but we’re now seeing it reach consumers faster than expected – the technology moving in leaps and bounds. We have AI Art Curators, AI that brew craft beer, AI lawyers that repeal parking fines, Google Translate’s AI mentioned above and chatbots that give due dates the cold shoulder (read an extensive list of consumer-facing AI here). Deep learning is largely responsible for this rapid development; equipping AI with big data and organic learning processes modelled off human-learning,

5. Flying Cars

We have autonomous cars well under way, and a lot of hype surrounding Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, but flying cars are the typical sci-fi archetype that hasn’t garnered as much attention.  Earlier this year Toyota was granted patents for flying car technology. Featured in Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Futurama and The Jetsons, flying cars are a fun, but perhaps not entirely practical mode of future transport. According to Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Andreesen Horowitz, the one thing holding us back from readily available flying cars are sufficient battery solutions.  Which brings us back to Graphene – a material that scientists are currently working with as a way to create better, more efficient batteries.

6. Biometrics

Fingerprint technology and Iris scanners have been around for a long time now. Biometric recognition seen in most spy movies, Back to the Future and Gattaca. Mainstream use of fingerprint recognition in our Smartphones, and now in payment systems like Apple Pay (think Biff from Back to the Future paying for his cab via fingerprint). Newer forms of biometric security is in demand Iris Biometrics are expected to become massively popular by 2021, with Visa aiming to replace passwords with fingerprint biometrics.

The main takeaway:

It’s exciting to see these sci-fi ideas become reality! It’s a good reminder that technology is progressing at an unrelenting pace. With each area of technological development comes a need for thoughtful discussion surrounding its implicationsensuring that new tech is sustainable, useful, and keeps its users (us) at the fore.

Learn design courses that let you influence the way we use these new technologies. Explore our short courses in design: User Experience Design, and Service Design.

Academy Xi Blog

5 Top User Experience (UX) Design Principles

By Academy Xi

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User Experience (UX) Design is the process of understanding and designing human-centred solutions that create satisfaction. Simply put, a UX Designer exists to solve problems for real people in their real contexts — by delivering exceptional, intuitive, and seamless products and experiences.

In addition to problem-solving, UX Design takes into context the user and the circumstances in which the product or service will be used. Being a user-centric process that goes beyond executing customer feedback, UX Design aims to provide the best solution to the most number of users within a target audience.

The backbone of UX Design encompasses a person’s interaction with any digital product or service. It concerns itself with ensuring a user’s needs are met through meaningful designs and solutions. A UX Designer determines how it is that you shop on your favourite e-commerce website,  book a flight online, or navigate an internet banking transaction. Do these experiences frustrate or delight you?

So what are some of the fundamental UX Design principles that help ensure you’re designing a solution that’s on the right track?

Design Principle 1: Know Your Audience

It can be easy to mistakenly design a solution based on your individual assumptions and experience, but all design solutions should be user-centric by default. User-centric design isn’t a new phenomenon but at some point, the misconception that design equals aesthetics emerged.

Rather than focusing on just the look of a feature or solution, the core of any user-centric design is empathy; taking the time to understand the user, and design for their needs produces designs that are thoughtful, relevant, and accessible. In the context of design, empathy supersedes what you assume the user is thinking and feeling. It is an understanding based on thorough, pointed, user-research.

Typical research activities Academy Xi teaches:

  • One-on-one interviews
  • Observation and contextual inquiries
  • Personas and proto-personas
  • Customer journeys

P.S. Read our Introduction to Usability Testing or download this Ultimate guide to UX Design.

Design Principle 2: Know Yourself

Relaying the vision for a product or service can be a lengthy and often, an abstract process. When approaching the UX Design of your product, there is no room for an existential crisis. The motivation is simple: the aim of any UX Design is to improve moments with your customer’s day through meaningful digital and analogue experiences.

By providing memorable moments of interaction, UX Design plays an integral part in invoking a long-lasting relationship with your brand.

Typical visioning activities and UX Design exercises include:

  • Context and objective exercises
  • Service promises
  • Design challenge activities
  • Service ideation and creation workshops
  • Accelerated Design Thinking workshops

Design Principle 3: Know Your Customer’s World

Step into the shoes of your customer and ask:

  • Who are the people in their lives that influence their decision-making?
  • What does success mean for your customer?
  • Why do they need you? Why don’t they need you? How do they really feel about you…and your competition?
  • Where is the customer when they’re interacting with you? Where are you when your customer needs you?
  • When do we show up and provide service to our customers? When do we add value and meaningful interactions?
  • How might we provide services that make their lives better?

This is often known to the UX world as the 5 Ws and H.

Asking the right questions and knowing where to look is a key component of UX Design. Research enables the finding of hidden gems that appear outside of the assumption space.

Here are commonly used research techniques to learn more about your customer:

  • Observation techniques
  • Interviews
  • Desktop research
  • Comparative studies
  • Competitor reviews
  • Participatory design workshops

 

Design Principle 4: Keep Your Friends Close But Your Enemies Closer

Besides having a thorough understanding of what you offer, be clear on what your competitors are doing well (that’s your baseline), what they are doing poorly (that’s your opportunity), and what they haven’t thought of yet (that’s your point of difference).

Competition makes us all better; however, it becomes immaterial when we know ourselves and why we’re in business. By knowing ourselves and our competitors, we carve out our own turf.

  • Competitor analysis
  • Trend assessments
  • Rapid feature exploration
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Vision setting
  • Personas
  • Customer journeys
  • Opportunity identification

Design Principle 5: Build, Measure, Learn, and Repeat

With inspiration derived from the ‘Lean Startup’ methodology, take out your pencils and sketch your ideas onto paper. Test them. Refine them. Explore more ideas. Expand concepts. Build them. Test again. Sacrifice them. Start again. Then pick something. Ideas are limitless and the barriers to prototyping are so low that you have no excuse not to play.

Things you can use through this iterative process are:

  • Paper
  • Whiteboards
  • Design Thinking
  • Participatory design
  • Rapid mobile prototyping
  • Guerilla testing

When it comes to UX, there are some basic principles that you can employ to ensure that your website or application is intuitive, user-friendly, and a delightful experience. If you’d like to know more about creating an exceptional product or experience, learn more about our UX Design courses here. 

Academy Xi Blog

Top 4 Wireframing Tools

By Academy Xi

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As our interactions with digital interfaces increase, consumers are faced with an abundance of choice. Online interactions are expected to be seamless, efficient, and instantaneous, and businesses that are unable to provide a high standard of customer experience risk being left behind in the current wave of digital disruption.

User Experience (UX) Design is a user-centric process that prioritises the human experience above all elements. It takes into context who the user is and the circumstances in which a product will be used.

The goal of UX Design goes beyond adding features or executing customer suggestions, as UX Designers look to provide the best solution to the most number of users within a product’s target audience. Crafting a product solution requires an identification of the user’s problem. Here are the top four tools used by UX Designers to help define the customer problem.

1. Balsamiq

Defining the customer’s problem and pain points starts with creating a low-fidelity prototype such as a sketch format. Fidelity is defined as the quality or the appearance of what something looks like. In UX Design, identifying the customer problem first starts with exploring ideas in a really rough format through low-fidelity.

Sketching thoughts out on a piece of paper helps UX Designers visualise the user’s problem. Tools like Balsamiq aim to replicate low-fidelity sketching.

In the initial problem sketching phase, Balsamiq helps to transfer and replicate a concept that may have been quickly sketched on a piece of paper. The tool can also create clickable prototypes but its primary purpose is to produce simplified views of a feature or solution.

2. Sketch

Sketch is a User Interface (UI) tool that supports the entire design process from ideation to final product design. Sketch is utilised across different touchpoints but is usually introduced after user research, and during the initial phases of prototyping and wireframing.

Sketch is great for initial prototyping, as its functionality and fidelity allows you to move through the process to the customer problem.

Sketch is a popular tool across different production teams as it easily allows file transfers. The tool is useful to showcase ideas to clients or stakeholders and can be used to handover files to developers. Unlike Photoshop which doesn’t contain a code output, Sketch allows a cross-functional process when developing solutions for customer problems.

As an added benefit, Sketch integrates with different plugins such as:

  • Craft: Allows you to create hotspots as you progress around the screens, crucial for communicating and understanding User Experience across different teams.
  • Zepline: Provides details of objects built into a Sketch, centralising the information for developers such as colour codes and the placement of buttons.

Sketch is not able to create clickable and interactive designs as it can only produce design screens. When interactivity is required, Sketch files are typically transferred into another tool called InVision. InVision allows clickable prototypes with gestures and other interactions. Just input any image file (whether that’s from Sketch, Photoshop or Balsamiq) into an InVision board to get started.

Tip: Read our top tips to using Sketch here.

3. Adobe XD

Adobe XD is similar to Sketch. This paid tool is part of the Adobe Suite, and is a self-contained, design enabling and clickable prototype tool all within one platform.

Adobe XD is effective in building low-fidelity views of a prototype that can easily transition between art boards and interactive prototypes. Prototyping is straightforward on the platform, allowing designers to switch to prototype mode, select an object, or group and drag a line into the screen where can be navigated.

4. Axure

Axure is another prototyping tool but allows UX Designers to replicate the functionality of an app or a desktop with gestures and form fields.

While Axure users will need some time to grow familiar with the platform, it is a very powerful tool in mimicking what the end solution is going to look like from a developer’s point of view. Axure does this by visualising transitions, object animations, and button interactions.

Axure is also the tool of choice for plugging into asset libraries so that any existing templates, files, or assets can instantly be accessed and shared.

Ultimately, the best way to get familiar with a tool is to get hands-on with the platform and practice. As a UX Designer, it is important to familiarise yourself with different tools to identify the right tool for different design needs. Read more about becoming a UX Designer or familiarise yourself with these five UX Design principles.