Book Club – ‘Undercover User Experience Design’ by Cenydd Bowles and James Box

The second book tackled by the White October book club was Undercover User Experience Design by Cenydd Bowles and James Box. This post gives a review of the book, what we did in the sessions, what we liked and what we didn’t.

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Why this book?

The idea behind ‘Undercover UX’ is to show you ways that you can get your company more focussed on user experience, without them even noticing. It’s based on the premise that there are many companies who don’t have UX at the centre of what they do so might need some convincing to get them there.

We were hoping it would give us some more ways to get user experience techniques into our day to day work and allow more of us, not just our UX designers, to follow UX principles.

The Undercover Manifesto

The book starts with the ‘Undercover Manifesto’, setting the mission of ‘getting people excited about UX without them realising what you’ve done’. This claim got the group particularly excited about the book, with visions of us running around ninja-style springing user testing on unsuspecting colleagues.

Unfortunately, the book reads more as a textbook of UX techniques than a manual for changing your culture towards user experience, but nonetheless we learnt a lot.

“Wow, you learn a lot from user testing”

We used book club as an opportunity to try out some of the techniques we were reading about in the book. This gave everyone a chance to run activities that are more often led by our UX designers.

Stephen, one of our project managers, brought some of our neighbours in to do some guerrilla user testing on a site we have built. With the help of some donuts, he got invaluable feedback and learnt a lot about the benefits of regular user testing in the process.

“If White October was a cereal, what would it be?”

I’d been wanting to run a hands-on vision exercise in a client workshop for a while so took the cereal box vision exercise from the book to try out on my colleagues.

Imagining the company as a cereal sounded like a wacky idea, but was actually a really creative way to get people to explore how they see it. From ‘local, open-sourced cereal’ to key ingredients of ‘expertise, passion(fruit) and openness’, the finished boxes did give a flavour (pardon the pun!) of who we are.

It’s one you should practise first, but we proved it could be done in under an hour and is a good way of pushing people into thinking differently about how to present their vision.

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Top takeaways from the book

User testing doesn’t have to be a lengthy process involving recruitment and a day out the office – we can corridor test with colleagues to get rapid feedback on ideas.

Collaborating on design with our clients is not just about working together, it’s an opportunity to set the tone of the project and demonstrate how closely we’re going to work together throughout the project.

To prevent design critique from going round in circles we can ask “what needs to change to get your approval?” and take the focus away from likes/dislikes.

Overall review

Overall, this book wasn’t quite what we’d expected or hoped for. Nonetheless we learnt some valuable lessons about user experience design and have some interesting techniques to take forward into our projects.

We recommend this book as a reference book to dip into for ideas for UX exercises, just not as one to read in full to learn about the user experience philosophy.

Coming next for Book Club…

Our next book is Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish, a follow-up to his original Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. A few members of the management team have already read it and are raving about it so we’re looking forward to learning from a more business-focussed approach.

As it can be difficult finding time and motivation to read the books between sessions, we’ll be trying out a Slow Reading club – we’ll alternate sessions between sitting and reading silently together, sessions discussing the book, and sessions trying out any ideas we come across.

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