On Human-Centered Technology and Pragmatic Idealism

Yesterday, a friend asked me about UX and why do I care so much about it.

As I’ve described before in a contest entry about valuable design outcomes,  I would like to believe that advocating for UX is an exercise of pragmatic idealism. 

In recent years, I realized that I can’t be one of those people who can “change the world” by being an outspoken activist or by building a non-profit organization to promote a certain cause. We seek solutions to the world’s biggest problems, you see, only to find out that they’re merely band-aids.

After taking stock of what I can and can’t do, it dawned on me that in order for me to help change the world (so idealistic, yes?) using my strengths,  I would have to be more realistic. Employing pragmatic tools and methodologies is a good start.

This is where advocating for user-centered technology comes in.

Technology doesn’t have to make us “less human”. The supposedly cold, soulless AIs and bots are already here, but I’m still hopeful that we can create technologies that will not take  “humanity” out of us.

Man and Machine Working Together

There’s a lot of talk about the impending man vs. machine doom, but what if we aim for man and machine working together?

The more we advocate for user-centered tech through user research, the more it will help us understand each other. Understanding begets empathy. Empathy begets kindness.

When you put technology out there with empathy as one of its cornerstones,  the chances are high that people will treat their fellow humans the same way.

For instance, when you’re effortlessly booking a ride home from a tired day at work via a ride-hailing app, you’re less likely to get grumpy by the time you get home. This might mean that you’re less likely to snap back at your partner who didn’t even bother to cook dinner. In short, you’re going to be more patient and kinder.

Imagine if you were having issues using the ride hailing app. You’re probably going to project your anger and frustration to your clueless partner. And the cycle of hatred and indifference begins.

It sounds tad simplistic but I’m banking for now on the school of thought that before we seek solutions to the world’s biggest problems like terrorism, world hunger, corruption etc, why don’t we start with the idea of  treating each other with compassion, kindness, and openness?

Technology is a pragmatic tool that can help us accomplish this idealistic goal, don’t you think?

How to Find True Love by Running Your Own Design Research

The Problem:

There are a lot of assumptions about True Love. Does True Love exist? Is it even possible?

This design research aims to find out which assumptions are right or wrong, demystify True Love, and eventually build a prototype based on user needs.

User = could be you or someone you know

Let’s get into it!

The Process:

We are going to use Gooogle Ventures’ Design Sprint methodology.

You will need the following:

  • Paper and pen
  • Sticky notes
  • Whiteboard and whiteboard markers
  • An open mind and heart
  • Friends and family members who genuinely care about you as testing participants (at least five of them, you’re going to be the 6th tester)
  • People you don’t know (to avoid bias and encourage objectivity) who will go through the design sprint with you. They can also act as moderators and observers on testing day.

Day 1 – Understand

  • Reflect on what true love means to you.
  • What does success in finding true love looks like? How will it be measured?
  • Identify potential candidates that signify true love to you. Perhaps, we’re thinking about objects, pets, or even actions here. Who says true love= people?

At this point, the single most important question to reflect on is: What Does True Love Look Like to Me?

Day 2 – Diverge

Explore possible answers to What Does True Love Look Like to Me?

  • Sketch solutions.
  • Create mind maps. Make a storyboard. Don’t limit your ideas for now.

Day 3- Decide

  • Identify potential pitfalls/conflicts in your proposed solutions. Too introverted? Too loud? Too smart? Too perfect? Too stoic? Too idealistic?
  • Eliminate solutions that sound good in paper but not really doable in real life.
  • Narrow down your list of candidates/solutions to MVP (minimum viable product). Vote with team members and choose one solution for prototyping.

Day 4 – Prototype

  • Build your low-fi prototype. You can use Keynote instead of code. What’s more important for now is you write real content instead of placeholder text. This will help you communicate better with your research participants using your task scenarios.
  • Next, create your usability test plan. Pay special attention to your test script.
  • Finally, take note that a good usability test plan should outline who takes care of what on testing day.

Day 5 – Validate and Learn

Day 5 is your BIG DAY! You’re finally going out there, test your true love prototype with yourself and your participants, and identify what works/what doesn’t.

  • Assure participants that this testing activity is not about them. You are not gauging their specific skills or qualities. These lines are incredibly important:

“We are testing the prototype, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. Do whatever feels right to you while tinkering with the prototype. Don’t be afraid of saying things that will offend us. We want your honest feedback as much as possible because we want to build a True Love product that will help address your needs and pain points.”

  • Apart from paying attention to your participants’ answers, observe for non-verbal cues. Encourage them to think out loud too. This applies to you as well when it’s your turn to test the prototype.
  • After testing, say thanks to your participants. You can also give them tokens of appreciation or incentives.
  • Debrief with your team at the end of the day. Depending on the results of your test, you can either continue building your True Love product based on the responses you’ve collected or pursue further testing. 

Or you can just forget it altogether. 🙂

Maybe You’re Doing It All Wrong on LinkedIn

So this is the part where I go from being a passive observer on LinkedIn to a semi ballistic panda because “oh shoot, someone is selling some career snake oil on the platform again and I have to do something about it”.

I stumbled upon this post on the networking platform this morning:

 

I’m not against using these “persuasion principles”. In fact, it’s part of what I do as a copywriter where I persuade people via the written word.

Sure, you’ll “achieve your desired results” from your network by liking their posts or endorsing them for skills (which, by the way, you know nothing about because you haven’t really worked with them in the first place).

It’s a simple formula: I give you X so I expect you to give me X in return.

However, citing these so-called principles are giving readers the wrong impression. I’m fairly sure that the relationships you build from these so-called strategies won’t have solid pillars to stand on.

Before you spend countless hours doing all of these persuasion tactics, have you thought about the specific set of solutions that you bring to the table? 

What SPECIFIC VALUE do you offer? 

The problem with most of us (I am no exception!) is we expect results right away.

As a result, we tend to forget the most important thing when it comes to building work relationships: helping a brand or business solve their problem. 

You can’t help these folks fix their business woes without knowing how your skills will fit into the equation.

The first step is knowing whether or not you’re the right person who can help.

So you do digital marketing? Or graphic design?
Perhaps you’re a UX unicorn. Or you’re probably a senior web developer with a decade’s worth of experience.

But all of these are not solutions, they are merely broad skills and experiences. Instead, identify which skills of yours can help solve a business or brand’s problem.

Missing this first step explains why a lot of people are disheartened about LinkedIn, lamenting how the networking platform is not working for them.

You can’t effectively sell your services and skills to recruiters and clients when you don’t even know your Unique Value Proposition.

Take a moment to reflect on the specific skillset that you bring to the table.

If you think you’re lacking one, learn something new. Once you’re sure about the value you offer, use those persuasion tactics by all means!

Where to Find Work as a Freelancer Besides Upwork: Online Edition

 

It has come to my attention that friends and frenemies are curious about the following:

1. When am I getting married?
2. When am I having kids?
3. Where do I find work besides Upwork as a freelancer?

So here’s a response to the third most frequently asked question by friends, colleagues, and family who are also thinking about transitioning to full-time freelancing.

I totally get it when people repeatedly ask this question. While Upwork is the go-to source for most freelancers,  it’s no secret that majority of the work pays unreasonably low, unless you stumble upon that unicorn client who truly appreciates what you do. High platform service fees are also discouraging.

Over the course of two years that I’ve been freelancing, I have never (thankfully!) ran out of work despite my absence on third-party sites like Upwork.  Maybe it’s pure luck. Maybe it’s my slight obsession with getting things done. Maybe I’m just at the right place (virtually) at the right time.

So where do I find clients besides Upwork? Let’s jump right to what has worked for me!

May you find some useful ideas in this list. If it works for you, you owe me a month’s supply of avocados. A kilo a week will do. 

1. Participate in forums associated with your niche.

Don’t just sign up for an account and lurk. Participate in discussion threads. Ask questions. Provide insightful answers. Show up consistently.

Before you know it, a potential client will find out more about your work (stalk your online profiles) and reach out to ask if you’re available to work with them on a project. You just got yourself a lead!

It boils down to finding your target clients’ online watering hole, hanging out there yourself,  and showcasing your skills without being a hard sell.

2. Publish an essay or blog post about your work.

So what are you going to write about?

Talk about your work—  from what you specifically do to work issues that you’ve successfully dealt with in your field of expertise. You can also write about your current fields of interests. Writing about these things is another excellent example of subtly selling yourself to potential recruiters and employers.

This hack is not just for copywriters like me. You can be a developer, designer, or an SEO pro.

Speaking of selling yourself, I noticed that some freelancers are hesitant to market their work. So you hate marketing? As Alexandra Franzen writes, you have to understand that everything is actually marketing.

Sure, people will eventually notice your good work. But how long do you have to wait before someone stumbles upon your portfolio?

Be proactive and get out of the waiting game.  Put something of value out there and market yourself.  

3. Turn to social media.

LinkedIn and Twitter are two platforms that I’ve had success in finding clients as a freelance copywriter.


I posted something of potential value to audiences on both platforms, a few people noticed, and cared enough to ask if I can work with them. Value is the operative word here. Are you noticing a pattern?

Not convinced? Last year, I  tweeted about a book that I’m currently reading, and the author himself reached out via email to ask if I can help him write a short video script. Nifty, right?

It turns out that I caught his attention with my tweet. He checked out my profile and made his way to my website/portfolio. I did not intend to find work when I tweeted about his book though.

4. Fire off cold emails.

Have you been wanting to work for/with a certain brand or organization?

Hop on to their website, learn more about what they do, and fire off a cold email describing how you can help them accomplish their business goals. You can either use their contact form or find the right person to get in touch with on LinkedIn.

There’s a classy way to do cold emails right (and that would probably call for another blog post), but like everything else in marketing, do not talk about features (so you graduated with the highest honors?). Instead, highlight the benefits of working with you. What’s in it for the organization when they hire you?

5. Announce to your network that you’re currently open for business.

This may sound like a no-brainer but some freelancers tend to overlook their personal network when looking for work.

Email or text every single person you know who can potentially refer you to a client. Write a short status on Facebook declaring that you are now freelancing full-time. 

If all of these steps in finding wonderful clients (besides selling your wares in third-party sites) worked for me, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t for you!

Just a List of My Favorite Reads for the Past Year

Nothing in life, they say, is constant. I wholeheartedly agree but I have to make room for one exception. And that would have to be my voracious reading habits.

I’ve changed careers. Made and lost some friends. Lovers came, promised me the moon and a dozen lambs, under-delivered, blamed myself for unrealistically high expectations, and off they went —either better or bitter versions of themselves. Family members have left for good too. I’ve lost count of the number of cats who have chosen me as their human. I’ve experimented with going vegan, paleo, and consuming kimchi every day. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things — from religion to my thoughts on minimalism to deciding between Backstreet Boys and N’Sync as the best boy band of the 90s. (For the record, I haven’t made up my mind yet).

Yet I have never changed my mind about books. Ever.

I used to wax poetic and philosophical about books without fail but for the past two years—around the same time that I began to favor non-fiction for fiction — I have been one lazy book pimp.

While I admit that my book slutting ( also known as reading more than one book at a time) ways are still unabashedly existent, I haven’t been pimping my favorites as of late. But I intend to change that now.

So here are my favorites for the past year and why you should go get yourself a copy too.

No Amazon affiliate links involved so you can tread your way through the list without thinking that I’m making money out of this. 🙂

1.  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport

Confession: I am secretly crushing on Cal Newport’s mind and looks (look him up on YouTube now and you’ll see what I mean!).

Deep Work pushed me to go on a Facebook sabbatical for most of 2016. If you’ve tried everything to get things done but you’re still missing deadlines and not checking everything on your weekly to-do list by Friday, go give this book a read.

2. Everybody Writes, Ann Handley

Author Andrew Davis describes this book as the new Strunk & White and the new creative resource for a new generation.

He is on point.

If you’re still baffled what it’s like to write for the Internet (everybody does these days, right?) and curious about how you can use content marketing to your advantage, you will be eternally grateful to Miss Handley if you add this to your reading list.

3. I’m Not for Everyone. Neither Are You, David Leddick

I had no idea who David Leddick is until I came across this book by accident. I was about to buy Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art on Kindle and this book popped up in the Recommended section (or was it the Frequently Bought Together section, I can’t specifically recall).

The sampler text convinced me to add the title to my book purchases. And I’m glad I did. Every time I go through the pages of this book,  I imagine David Leddick giving out his sassy yet sensible bits of aphorisms when I find myself flooded with self-doubt and negative self-talk. Here are my favorite bits:

  • You can tell what a man is like by watching him walk away from you.
  • The world is like a classroom of children with their heads down on their desks being obedient. When you raise your head you discover there is no teacher.
  • I don’t mind losing battles as long as I win the war.
  • Never make a business call on Monday or Friday.
  • Do not get involved with someone expecting them to change.

4. The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield

Ah, Stephen Pressfield!  Coupled with Cal Newport’s book, I’ve successfully knocked down distractions ( I thought so) and regained focus because of this gem in overcoming the Resistance.

Curious about the Resistance? I’m not going to give it away so you’ll read it. Despite having a Kindle copy of this Stephen Pressfield gem, I even asked a friend to buy me a physical copy of the book when he went abroad (I can’t find a copy in local bookstores) because it’s that good.

5. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

The only love that feels like love is the doomed kind. (Fun fact.)

This is one of those pieces of fiction that will remind you about the power of words, and how a story can make you feel a thousand type of overwhelming emotions at once. If you’re looking for catharsis by reading fiction, head on to your local bookstore and find a copy of this Jenny Offill masterpiece.

6. On the Move, Oliver Sacks

I’ve been an Oliver Sacks fan ever since I discovered him on Radiolab. His commentaries on how the brain works has fascinated me, and I wanted to learn about the life he lived when he died last 2015.

The man truly knows how to translate scientific facts and bits into beautiful prose. Figuring out his exact personality type while going through this memoir was also a delight for an armchair Jungian typologist like me. 

7. A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I’ve read this book thrice and it never fails to send me to tears. Of course, it’s a sad story. But it’s not just the story. It’s the writing itself that will gnaw its way to you and scrape you raw. The book is labeled YA (for ages 12-19) literature but don’t let the label fool you.

8. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug

Usability and creating wonderful user experiences on the web may be a dull topic for many. Steve Krug, however, packed these subjects into an entertaining read.

So what does it means to have great UX? Don’t make your users think. It may sound like its magic but in reality, there’s a lot of tedious work behind the scenes of designing wonderful user experiences. This is a good primer if you want to delve into usability and you’re clueless where to begin.

9. Personality Type: A Practical Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others Through Typology, Lenore Thomson

I’m not done with this book yet but I’m already halfway into it, and I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t read this book sooner!

If you’re into personality types, MBTI, and Jungian psychology, Lenore Thomson wonderfully illustrates the different types minus the usual stereotypical descriptions that you’ll find online. You may have to orient yourself with the basic Jungian functions before you read this book.

10. Predictably Irrational:The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely

Have you always wondered how people make decisions? I do.

This book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely might not give you a straight answer on how people choose between what’s rational or not, but reading about his experiments on the subject is by turns entertaining and insightful.

Who would have thought that subtly reminding college students about the Ten Commandments before an exam would reduce the likelihood that they’ll cheat?

There you go. If you’ve stumbled upon this post, I’m curious about your favorite reads as of late. I would love to hear about them too!