Understanding the UX Process with Tim Moad

Understanding the UX Process with Tim Moad

For this show, I sat down with Tim Moad, an expert in user experience, who lives just north of Sydney, Australia. We discussed the entire UX process, various misconceptions about user experience in the market, how to use UX as a founder and various mistakes that founders make, when using or thinking about using UX, to help their business grow.

Nick Duncan: Hey Tim, thank you for joining us. I’ve been following you for a while on Twitter and I’ve noticed you have a ton of experience in the UX field. We’re really excited to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and career?

Tim Moad: Hey Nick. Thanks for having me on. I’d love to tell you a bit about my background. Ultimately, I am a boot strap entrepreneur and human-centered designer. I come from a background of working in primarily design, but also branding and marketing and most of all UX.

Tim Moad: I decided quite early, on that nine to five wasn’t really for me and moved into working for startups and my own business, The Proto Process. So before all that, I was really, quite deeply ingrained in the digital agency I was working at, doing custom builds and digital marketing and things like that.

Tim Moad: From there I decided just to kind of, quit my job and start up fresh and start my own business. To fund that alongside, I started working with adults with disabilities and I worked to provide strategies to allow individuals to live, as independently as possible.

Tim Moad: So that’s where the human-centered design aspect of my day to day comes in. But now, most of my time is spent on my business, the Proto Process, where we help people pursue purpose driven careers and create positive change for user experience design.

What is UX?

Nick Duncan: Can you tell our listeners what exactly is UX and how does understanding it and practicing it, make for a better founder?

Tim Moad: Yeah. So this is the loaded question really, “What is UX?” It’s a big field. It’s really quite extensive. But ultimately, I think user experience is an approach to design and business, that ultimately puts the user at the center of everything a business does. It’s a process or a series of steps that’s taken to better identify a problem and its appropriate solution and pretty much everything that goes into a product.

Tim Moad: Generally speaking, user experience is central to digital products, with service design or human-centered design taking on physical locations or physical experiences or one on one personal experiences. But everything pretty much, falls under the human-centered design umbrella.

Tim Moad: The beauty of user experience design, is that most founders are probably already doing at least a very small part of it. It’s so ingrained in business that, once you learn more about it, you see a lot of similarities coming to life.

Tim Moad: So from our past conversations, Nick, you’ve talked about how you’ve struggled with Bleeper being user oriented enough. But your product is such a powerful tool in and of itself, for communicating with your customer base directly, that that’s really quite a strong user experience practice already.

It’s so free of arrogance, that it’s really quite a fun field.

Tim Moad: Most people already have a few pieces of the puzzle and that’s because user experience is really where business and design and people all come together at a crossroads. It’s all about being able to execute in a way that really, really, really reflects on what your users need, what they want and understanding what’s working for them. It’s not about you. It’s so free of arrogance, that it’s really quite a fun field.

Tim Moad: The other really good positive about user experience design is it’s not just about what should happen, but it’s also about what’s feasible and what’s possible with budget and timeline. It’s not all about what you should be doing, “You need to execute this, this and this.” It’s about being able to be aware that you can’t do everything at once and that’s okay. But this is what we can do and this is going to have the most impact on our users, from the get go.

Tim Moad: UX can make a better founder, simply because of the enormous edge that it gives you and your product and business. It’s effectively, like a key to the kingdom of your users. You get to learn what they want and what they need and their motivations and then you get to insure that your addressing each of these concerns, in a way that works.

Tim Moad: So it doesn’t really take Elon Musk, to figure out how big of an impact that can have on a product. Not only that, but it’s so much more appealing to investors, if you’re able to demonstrate that you can use the information to prove the value of your product, to a demonstrate a market need. To be able to show that you’ve minimized as much risk as possible, in your product, before moving forward.

Tim Moad: I mean, that’s not ultimately what business is about. I hate the term of de-risking. It’s this big theme. But it is a huge result, that good user experience has on your product.

Tim Moad: So yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean looking at better founders, that I’m sure everyone’s aware of a couple of really, really shocking products, that no one really understands how it made it to launch.

Nick Duncan: I can actually attest to that. One of my first WordPress products that I started a few years ago – If I ever look back now, at version one (I still have a screenshot of some of the back end features) – I look at that and I think, “How did that even make it?” How do people even actually use this? Because it’s absolutely horrendous.”

Screenshot of WP Google Maps in its very early days.

Nick Duncan: But if I think back, and I actually think about it quite nicely. When I launched that, and it just almost, sort of gained traction, because it was self-marketed in the WordPress space. I think what really set it apart, was the fact that I really got stuck into the user. As soon as someone would email, I’d get involved, I would ask them questions. I asked things like, “What are you using this for? How are you using it? How can I make it better?

Nick Duncan: I sort of forget that, with every other startup that I create. I think that’s probably one of the most powerful things that you can do, is just really get stuck into understanding your user. I think again, if I look back at just how, just looking at the product, it was absolutely horrible.

Nick Duncan: But at the end of the day, Understanding the customer better really helped it and helped grow that product to where it is today and also shaped the product as well. It looks a lot better today than it did. But yeah that all came back from user feedback. So I fully understand what you’re saying.

Tim Moad: Yeah and it’s amazing how efficient the progress is, once you’re talking to users and once you have a product to build upon.

Tim Moad: It’s like the changes that you can make are so, kind of like, on the go. At least, as in the startup phase of a product, you can really just take the time, to take that user feedback straightaway onboard and fix anything that’s a glaring, obviously, like a glaring problem. Obviously, for the bigger issues, you’d want to wait for a theme of feedback to pickup, before making any major changes. But if it’s even something as simple as a usability issue, you can get on that straightaway, which is really positive.

UX Misconceptions

Nick Duncan: What are some of the misconceptions that entrepreneurs have about UX, that you’ve found?

Tim Moad: Going into the startup space myself, having worked at the digital agency, when I first got employed, the role really wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. So that there was kind of a few misconceptions that came to light then. Then I co-founded a startup after that point and it was very clear that to my other co-founders, my responsibilities were not really what we thought they both were.

Tim Moad: So I think the biggest misconception about UX, is that UX and UI are the same thing. UI is user interface design and obviously UX is user experience.

Tim Moad: Basically, user interface design, is the curation of all the touchpoints for the user. So for a product, it could be basically the front end, what they touch what they click through, how they use it and that can be from a customer perspective or a back end perspective or any interface, anything that people interact with. That’s more deeply ingrained in visual design. So you’ll be working in Y frames and sketch and creating prototypes. So that’s really quite its own discipline.

Tim Moad: User interface is a great discipline and it’s really an important part of the user experience process, because they definitely work with each other. But there’s been tons of people that said, “Make the UX nice, so that we have the latest UX.” This is really not what user experience is. It’s so much more ingrained in research in the user, instead of visuals.

Tim Moad: So that’s a big point. Fortunately, I come from a background in visual design. So that was funnily enough, one of my responsibilities and the UX was the newer field to me.

Tim Moad: But yeah, the other thing that is really big as we’ve kind of already discussed a little bit is how ingrained user experience is in product vision and direction and the business.

Tim Moad: So being able to be a co-founder as a UX, was really positive, because I was already at that level where I had equal say. But a lot of user experience designers, that are being employed by your audience, may not be in a roll with that can kind of have that level of influence straightaway. But their work does have an immense level of influence on the product or business.

Tim Moad: So I guess a shift for founders to look at user experience professionals, not just as the person working up the graphics. But more as, somebody that’s really going to have a big impact on the direction and the offering of a product. So that’s quite a big shift for a lot of people I know.

Tim Moad: Funnily enough, it’s a big shift that’s happening at larger corporate levels as well. For the first time in a long time, user experience professionals or design professionals are being recognized at a senior executive level and having quite a large say on business.

Tim Moad: Because by having researching informed or user informed direction, companies are able to be a lot more effective, even in a large scale. So that’s a very big thing. Another misconception, I suppose is that …

UX is a huge, huge field. You’ve got multiple disciplines within it.

Tim Moad: Another misconception, I suppose, is that UX is a role and not a discipline. As we talked about before, UX is a huge, huge field. You’ve got multiple disciplines within it. You’re back in development, your front-end development, your user research, your experience mapping, your usability testing, your feature design, your UI design, and it can really get quite granular, and you can have experts in a lot of areas. But your UX design there is not going to be able to do everything. We call it “UX Unicorns” in the industry. Basically a UXer that can do everything. They can code, they can design, they can research, they can do the whole gamut of UX skills, but they really just don’t exist, myself included.

Tim Moad: And I know that’s quite a tricky one for founders. It’s quite a tricky one for me, and based off our conversations, as well, quite a tricky one for you. The founder’s dilemma of wanting to do everything, and trying to do everything, and just not being able to. As a UXer, I kind of see these fringe skills that I could have, and it’s very tempting to pursue them, but it’s just not really feasible. And that’s another key part of UX. But, yeah, being aware that you may need one or two UXers on a team, or quite a good front-end developer that has excellent user experience practice.

Tim Moad: It’s also fair to expect that a UXer has decent knowledge of working with your developers. That’s an okay thing. That’s completely fine. That’s about how they communicate, how they do their job, how they handle the files. How they handle the development process where UX and UI end development all kind of interconnect. So that’s a very fair expectation, but, really, that’s quite a hard thing to grasp.

The UX Process

Nick Duncan: The extent of our UX at Bleeper right now is simply creating wire frames, monitoring the onboarding process, making adjustments here and there, as well as short interviews here and there with our customers. So we’re lacking obviously quite a lot. In general, though, what is a UX process supposed to look like?

Tim Moad: The UX process really quite dramatically changes from process to process, but it’s ultimately grounded in a process called design thinking. Design thinking is used by a lot of practitioners in business in traditional design, in UX, in kind of all sorts of fields. Its most stripped back version is broken down into about five steps. Generally, within the UX process, you’d start with your research or your empathizing stage. And during this stage, you go deep into learning everything you can about the problem you’re trying to address. That’s probably the real start point, is having a problem. Your problem is the cornerstone of your UX process. You’ve got to find something that you think is going wrong, that generally your product is trying to address. For you, Nick, for example, I’d say it’s rapid communication with your customer and answering their questions as they pop up, is that correct?

Nick Duncan: Yeah, that’s pretty much correct. And to reach them wherever they are.

Tim Moad: Yeah, excellent. Yeah. That would be your starting point. And then, after that, you would conduct interviews with your customers. You’d conduct surveys, you’d have conversations with them, you would observe them. If you’ve got an active product, observation might be using a screen recording service or heat maps, or anything like that to see what is and isn’t working and what your customers are really looking for in your site. And this can be beneficial outside of interviews and surveys, because what customers say and what they do often isn’t the same thing.

Tim Moad: You may not pick up on those things when they’re not natively doing it or using your site from a candid perspective. Quantitative research really has a big place as well. All your information in Google Analytics, even from your social media accounts to get into who your user base is can be very valuable. If it’s been a long-term product, you’ll have things like customer service records, or questions, or complaints, or positive feedback, and you can go through all of that as well. Generally, during this phase, you’ll start compiling and analyzing all this information, as well, and start building up something called personas, which are representative of your different kind of customer groups.

Tim Moad: And you’ll go into the process of kind of mapping the User Empathy Canvas or empathy mapping are very similar processes, but checking down your customer’s needs, their pains, their motivations, and their desired end goal and outcome. That’s a process that’s quite common in business as well. The User Empathy Canvas plugs very closely in to the Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer, which I know is very common in business circles. That’s a good point where entrepreneurs can link into this process quite early on. Yeah. This step’s also about looking at ways where you can avoid recreating the wheel.

Image credit: Dave Gray

Tim Moad: So you’ll look at your competitors, you’ll do a competitive analysis, and look at others already addressing this problem. Are there ways I can do it better? And part of your interviews and surveys might be interviewing customers of other products to understand what they’re going through, and kind of getting a clearer idea of who your customer is. That’s very big at that phase. From there, you kind of go on to the ideation or defining stage. At this point, it’s largely brainstorming. You get out pretty much all your ideas, every possible solution, or the likely solutions, or the unlikely solutions, and you kind of just go along with anything that comes to mind.

Tim Moad: When you present it like this, it’s hard not to show it as, “You do this, then you do this, then you do this.” But it’s all very much at the same time. While you’re talking to people, often … I don’t know, personally, at least, ideas kind of just come to mind like, “Or, we could do this.” Or, “Or we could solve this.” Or, “Maybe if we tried this, that would help with that.” Or whatever. So you go through each stage often at the same time. You jump between them, it’s all very fluid. It’s not really a set, solid process. And I guess that’s why it changes so much between different products, as well, but that’s definitely a big part of it. So, at the ideation and define stage, that’s where you start doing your wire frames and mapping out potential ideas for how you can solve something.

It can be quite a difficult stage, because you might come to the realization that your original product isn’t needed or that is sucks, and completely change it

Tim Moad: It can be quite a difficult stage, because you might come to the realization that your original product isn’t needed or that is sucks, and completely change it. I mean, personally, I know that I did for my business and past businesses. So it’s really quite an enlightening phase, but also very confronting. Yeah, it’s good. From there, once you’ve got everybody involved … Everybody needs to be involved in the idea stage and the define stage. That’s a really big thing, because like we just talked about, if you’re having such a massive change to the product, and the rest of your team kind of gets blindsided and doesn’t have the knowledge of why this is happening or what they’re meant to do now, it causes a lot of disconnect and a real rift within a business. So it’s very important to have as many people across this process as possible.

Tim Moad: Not only from that perspective, but also because everybody has their own unique perspective to contribute to the ideation phase. They have their own experiences. And this might be more from more of a phaseability perspective, or a timeline perspective of what they can do and what they can’t. That’s a very important step as well. From there, once you are happy with maybe one or two solutions, you will kind of map out a basic user flow of the different steps that people will take. Or, this is another theory of UX, is information architecture. So, basically how your product will look via a map, or the flows that people will go through when using it. And this helps to make sure that you basically have all the screens you need to ensure that basically all the information you needed included is there.

Tim Moad: This would change a lot. And, generally, when you’re going through your first prototype, you want to get it as quick and dirty as possible. So you might just map out the core functionalities and first, and then expand upon that for later prototypes. We call this phase kind of the low fidelity prototype phase. And it can be as simple as … There’s an app called Marvel Pop, and it’s a prototyping app, and you can literally draw on a piece of paper a user interface for a mobile device, take a picture of each frame, and then kind of link the buttons up between the pages. And that’s enough for your user to be able to get an idea of what the app does, what its function is, and can they use it. And that’s quite a valuable step to get a lot of feedback.

Tim Moad: Prototyping is kind of the first phase in that, and then it very, very quickly turns into the testing phase, or the user testing phase. And in that phase you examine what works, what doesn’t, and why doesn’t it work, and then you kind of just keep going through it. During this phase, it’s a lot of intermingling between prototyping and testing, and, I mean, even … Really, during the test phase, all the steps come into play. Because if something’s not working, you’ve gotta research why, so that goes back to your first step. If you find something that’s not working, you need to think of what you can do instead and use your research to find out how can we fix this. And then you will re-prototype or fix that aspect of it and test again.

Tim Moad: So a lot of the process comes into play. It’s really all very mushed together. And it’s not a formal thing, especially at the testing phase, because you … you’re not gonna probably sit down and go through user interviews and surveys and all that for one bug that comes up. You just prototype that. You just fix it if it’s an obvious problem. But if there’s a larger issue where people just don’t get it, they don’t want to use it, they find it unpleasant, then you’d go fairly more heavily into the ideation phase and look at how you can address that problem better. What’s another solution that would work better? Did you foresee this happening? What can you do instead? And then prototype that again.

Tim Moad: And as you go on and on, it gets more and more refined. And you might work into kind of a higher level or more exact prototyping phase called the high fidelity phase. And between those two phases, that’s when your user interface design happens. That’s when you build your interface in Sketch, you try it all out, and then you will prototype it in your preferred program. You can do it in InVision, InVision Studio. Sketch has a prototyping tool now too.

Tim Moad: And that high-fidelity prototype should eventually get to the point where it’s going to have everything in it that your end product will have. It may be a little clunky, or all the text and images might not be there, but ultimately it should pretty much be your finished product.

Tim Moad: That’s the final stage of the prototyping. And then you just test, test again, test again, till you get to that point. And eventually launch.

Tim Moad: The thing about the launch step is, it’s a hard one for me, and this is probably going back to the misconceptions we were talking about earlier. But once you launch a product, a lot of people think that’s when the user experience ends, because of this big process you’ve gone through to get it live. But it doesn’t. The process really just changes. And that’s another thing about how it changes from case to case.

Tim Moad: But once you’ve launched your product, you’ll be gathering all that information again, you’ll be doing the empathizing stage, you’ll be looking at surveys, you’ll be doing questionnaires, you’ll be having conversations with your customers, you’ll be getting feedback.

Tim Moad: Ideally, you will talk to a few users. You’ll pull them aside or have a video chat, and just talk about what’s working, what were they looking for, how’s it going. Basically everything you did for your competitors’ users, but now you’re doing it for your product.

Tim Moad: Because early on, you’re going to have a very different approach to this phase, because you’ll already have your assumptions around what your product is. Once you’ve actually got a product and you know for sure what it is, then the research and empathizing stage has a very different outcome. So that’s quite an important thing as well.

Tim Moad: Basically, you use that then to identify the problems again that you have, and go through the ideation, prototyping a solution, testing it out, and all that, over and over again. And gradually build up your product and make it better and better for your users, based on what they need.

Common UX Mistakes

Nick Duncan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks, Tim. And in this entire process, what are some of the most common mistakes that you see businesses make all the time?

Tim Moad: It is fraught, and I definitely make a lot of mistakes myself. I guess, starting off, the biggest takeaway is that no matter what mistakes you’ve made, it’s definitely not too late. As we’ve just established, UX should always be going on. So you can fix that now, and you can learn more now. But yeah, that’s really the main thing.

I think founders and developers are very prideful … that they like to think that they know their customer.

Tim Moad: I guess the biggest and most common mistakes with UX, I think it’s probably pride, funnily enough. I think founders and developers are very prideful … that they like to think that they know their customer. They know what people need. Often they feel they are the customer, so they know what they’re talking about, they don’t need the research phase.

Tim Moad: They may feel they’re very empathetic, so they can just basically know or understand. Something I’ve heard a couple of developers or founders say is, “We just make it right the first time.”

Tim Moad: And I ask, “Well, right according to who? Your vision of this? Yes, you’ve built it, but how do you know whether it’s working or not if you’re not doing UX?” There’s really no insight around that.

Tim Moad: So, that’s a very, very common thing. A lot of people just want to get something to launch as fast as possible so they will build it, and this is largely because it’s so ingrained in traditional web design practices, is you design something, you launch it, and then that’s it, you design, build, launch.

Tim Moad: But that just isn’t really enough. But that’s a real struggle for UX practitioners going into a business, is that there’s not a lot of understanding around how involved the process is. And that can be quite a shock to people.

Tim Moad: The other thing is developers can see it as that you’re questioning their judgment or their ability, when really the approach is that you’re not questioning that, you’re saying that you don’t know either. They don’t know. The only person that really knows is the user. And it’s your collective responsibility to find out what they need.

Tim Moad: So yeah, that’s a very common issue. Another one is that, I think we, as founders, are very frequently pushed to launch as fast as possible. A lot of people, I would say, are fairly familiar with The Lean Startup ethos, I don’t know if you’ve heard that, Nick?

Nick Duncan: Yes.

Tim Moad: That it’s … yeah. A book popularized by Eric Ries. It’s a really, really good book, and it’s a really great introduction, starting point, for founders. I really highly recommend it as a read, it’s a fantastic book.

Tim Moad: You may remember, but quite early on in the book, a realization he comes to is that he’s simply made a product that his customers don’t actually want. It’s awful, he gets no user base, and it’s a long and arduous journey to get to the point where he has a viable product.

Tim Moad: And through the book he advocates for this concept called the MVP, or minimal viable product, which is a concept I believe in also, and I’m sure a lot of other founders and entrepreneurs believe in. For those unfamiliar, a MVP is basically the most stripped back, minimally functional version of your product that can possibly be launched.

Tim Moad: This works because then you can build and improve on your very average product as you go along. And it’s tempting to simply go by this route and skip the prototyping phase of the UX process. And Eric Ries does skip that process in his book. But it’s really … I think some people think that this is the way to go, and just to get an MVP live, and then you’ll do the UX process, but it’s really not the ideal.

Tim Moad: He spends a lot more time and money in testing and revision and coding, and breaking code and fixing code, and all those different steps along the way puts way, way more time and energy in that he would’ve had to if he just went through the prototyping phase in the first place.

Tim Moad: And I think, in all honesty, I can’t remember if he ever actually acknowledges that. He goes into how valuable user experience is, and how valuable user experience designers are, but I don’t know if he ever really, realizes that if he’d prototyped and tested before his MVP, he would’ve had a lot less issue overall. So that can be a very tempting thing.

Tim Moad: And I’ve fallen for that mistake myself in the past. It’s very easy to say, “Let’s just get something out and go from there.”

Tim Moad: But prototyping really does bring a lot to light in advance, and it means that you can code right, or closer to right, on the first try.

Tim Moad: Other than that, I’d say, what we briefly touched on before, of only believing that UX is a pre-launch process, and not working in the post-launch steps. But that step can help with all sorts of changes. It can help with improvements to your product, introducing additional features, if you’re going to change a price. Basically any case where a decision to make a change is made, that knowledge or that process happening in the background makes it informed and a lot easier.

Tim Moad: And this is really what I’m talking about, how business and design and humanity comes together as one to build a product that is really, really valuable to the users.

Tim Moad: So I guess another thing is not really giving UX the appreciation or respect it needs. And really underestimating how that can have a big, big impact on your business.

The Proto Process

Nick Duncan: You’ve given us a really in-depth look at UX, and I just want to thank you for that, because now, even myself, I have a better understanding of UX. For me it’s always been that I was full-on one of those guys that had that misconception about UX and UI, so you’ve cemented that for me as well.

Nick Duncan: I now understand UX is a multi-faceted discipline, and I have a lot of appreciation for the guys that do UX. And just, you mentioned your business in the beginning, The Proto Process. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Tim Moad: Yeah, sure, I’d love to. I started The Proto Process after my experiences with startups in the agency, because during those phases, I was really trying to get into UX myself, and it was a really, really difficult thing. Other people’s understanding of it was skewed, and my information of it was skewed, and I could kind of see products falling apart because it didn’t have the good process in place of UX.

Tim Moad: So it was really a very, very hard process to get into the field myself. And this motivated me to want to better inform potential user experience practitioners, founders and startups, and even people that just saw the value in having a human-centered approach to design and to business. And be able to help them build those skills in a way that was more structured and easier than what I’d had to go through.

Tim Moad: So that was really the starting point for The Proto Process. I decided that I was going to address this through online courses to get a good introduction or a good foundation of it, and then also provide online mentoring, so that emerged later through my UX process, actually. But that’s what we do now. We’ve just recently launched our mentoring program, and that basically partners a individual up with a design professional or a UX professional, and you can just meet with them, you arrange it between yourselves, and find a time that suits, and discuss any issues that you’re struggling with, and work on from there. So that’s a big part of it.

Tim Moad: The underlying value of The Proto Process is that we care about doing work that will make positive change in the world, and having careers and running businesses that are purpose-driven. There needs to be a reason why we do things.

Tim Moad: And not only that, but also the approach that it needs to be profitable. I’m all for charities, I really am. I think there’s a lot of charities out there doing some great work, but my passion is business and people, and being able to have the coexist in a way where you’re creating big, social and environmental, any positive change in a way that generates a profit and is beneficial to everyone. It’s something I really, really believe in.

Tim Moad: So that’s really the bedrock belief of The Proto Process.

Nick Duncan: Finally, how can people find you online?

Tim Moad: You can find me theprotoprocess.com. I also have a fairly active Twitter, where I share my thoughts and findings, and it’s all angled at people starting to learn about user experience design. So that’s just @theprotoprocess. And that’s pretty much it.

Nick Duncan: Great. Tim, I just want to thank you for your time. You’ve been great, you’ve given us a lot of insight. Thank you again for coming on the show, and we wish you all the best with The Proto Process.

Tim Moad: Thanks very much, Nick. Thank you for having me. Loved it.

Nick Duncan: Thanks, Tim.

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