A Warm Welcome to Midwest UX in Hometown, Grand Rapids A Warm Welcome to Midwest UX in Hometown, Grand Rapids

A Warm Welcome to Midwest UX in Hometown, Grand Rapids

Experience Design, User Experience

One by one, the glistening glass of the Van Andel Arena mimicked each passerby in their red and purple lanyards as they made their way down Fulton street on the tail end of a Midwest mid-October week. Hundreds of design-minded creatives, strategists, and managers collected in anticipation of the day’s first event. Within this mix of both new and familiar faces, are members of the CQL design and marketing teams, eager to connect, reconnect, and offer a hometown welcome to Grand Rapids. Abstract, vibrant, and human organism-esque graphics and lively animations surrounded 20 Monroe Live and pinball-friendly Pyramid Scheme — the event’s primary venues. The doors swung open — Midwest UX Conference 2019 had begun.

A Look Back and A Look Ahead for UX

For me, this year was a reflective one. A moment to remember topics of years past and compare them to this year. Our team has attended many MWUX events in places like Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, and even Chicago. We have engaged in many memorable conversations around user testing, user research, designing for inclusivity, the importance of A/B testing, designing with empathy, and beyond. 

Looking back at these conferences and reflecting on the state of UX, it is interesting to ponder the shifts we see in the industry and why they are occurring. In past years, there was a big emphasis on creating scalable designs, solving wicked UX problems, and how to cultivate a culture of user-centered design. In recent years, conversations have shifted to designing for more diverse audiences such as different cultures and capabilities, designing to solve abstract problems, and testing and validating the effectiveness of designs. This year, we are seeing and hearing a lot about responsible design, ethics, consent in design, and even the concept of health-centered design.

The State of UX Design and Its Shifting Nature

What are these trends and topics telling us about the state of UX design? Let me give you my take. The industry has graduated from a conversation about why user experience design matters, to showing the incredible impact and scalability of UX design, to now, dealing with both the rewards and repercussions of design decisions. 

As designers focus on creating solutions to user’s needs, there are a lot of aspects to consider. The relatively easy angle is to focus on motivations and end-goals of the user, then marry them to business objectives. This tends to follow a persuasive model. The difficult and emotional angle comes into play when you take on the responsibility to account for empathy and champion for the humanity of design. Whether a designer chooses to take on these responsibilities (or to avoid them) there will always be either rewards or repercussions to design decisions. What are these rewards and repercussions?

The Rewards and Repercussions of Design Decisions

Rewards tie tightly to the positive effect of getting the user from A to B as delightfully as possible and helping them achieve their goals. Repercussions occur when the user is negatively impacted when they do not reach their goals. But here is where it gets tricky and perhaps even dangerous in some cases; repercussions can even happen when the user does reach their goal. Wait, how can this happen?

“…when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck…”

Paul Virilio
French Philosopher

As dramatic as this sounds, it is devastatingly true. Lauren Liss, a speaker at the conference, explained a scenario somewhat like this: In a video streaming app, it can be a positive experience for the user to auto-play videos back to back for an hour. However, that can turn into a negative experience when the user spends six hours watching videos without a break, possibly leaving the user feeling terrible about themselves. Taking Lauren’s example to a global scale, this one decision to auto-play videos endlessly adds up to a massive number of hours spent collectively across a large audience. How has this one decision affected the course of humanity?

It’s big questions like this that make our team grateful for conferences like Midwest UX. Topics that keep us in check and open our minds to possibilities of not just good user-centered design but truly human-centered design.

Have design questions, or interested in our Experience Design offerings? Contact us today at info@cqlcorp.com, or by clicking the button below. 

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Content-First CMS Helps Connect Consumers with Financial Advisors Content-First CMS Helps Connect Consumers with Financial Advisors

Content-First CMS Helps Connect Consumers with Financial Advisors

CQL @ Work, Case Study, Experience Design, User Experience, UX & UI ,

How do you redesign a digital experience to enable consumers to better connect with financial advisors? That was the problem we set out to solve for NAPFA (National Association of Personal Financial Advisors). But where to start? These are the five key steps we took to bring NAPFA out of digital discord and into consumer connectedness.

NAPFA Website Device Display

Step 1: Identify the Problem

In NAPFA’s case, we identified quite a few roadblocks preventing them from providing an effective digital experience. Major issues were rooted in content management, user experience (UX) and platform maintenance. An outdated and unintuitive content management system (CMS) was preventing the team from reliably publishing and managing new content. Another major concern was the user experience of the site. There were no clear user paths and the navigation was hard to follow. Behind the scenes, the overall maintenance and connectedness of the technologies in place were unsettling.

Step 2: Understand the Audience, Data and Platform

Working with key stakeholders, we held a persona workshop to identify the audience, key user needs and existing pain points. We dug into the analytics to understand user behavior and identify top performing content, so we could design a better functioning experience. Once we understood the experience their target audience was looking for, we explored the technology to understand the landscape. We looked at their CMS, databases, custom integrations and third-party services to make sure the new system could either replace or integrate with existing elements.

Step 3: Create a Strategy and Roadmap for Execution

Our discovery revealed many potential directions for improvement, more than what should be tackled at one time. We decided to implement a phased approach to ease the complexity of the rollout. The first phase would center around creating a better user experience with a redesign of the full site, CMS and Find an Advisor tool. We also set out to reduce, what we call, technical debt by creating a new foundation to house the CMS, Find an Advisor tool and conference manager, all within the same platform. This would remove the isolated CMS, isolated Find an Advisor tool and eventually house a member management portal and online store in a future phase.

NAPFA Find An Advisor User Journey

Step 4: Design a Solution that Reduces Pain Points and Creates New Opportunities

For this project, we decided to take a content-first approach. Wait, what does content-first mean? The theory is that if we pay extra attention to the needs of the content creator, we can empower them to create a better customer experience. To aid content production, we also created guides and templates to assist the content team so they can create content in a consistent manner. The editing experience itself is one of our favorite content interfaces we have ever designed. We created an in-context editor, meaning content creators can actually edit content directly on the page rather than working on a backend interface. We even added global modules that allow certain types of content to be used globally.

NAPFA Custom CMS Editing Experience

Step 5: Launch, Learn and Refine

Now that the site is live, we are continuously working with NAPFA to refine the experience as we continue to learn from users. We are excited to see where this new site can take the NAPFA brand, and even more excited about evolving it in upcoming phases targeted toward improving the advisor membership experience.

Read the full NAPFA case study here.

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Using Speculative Design, Backcasting and Storytelling to Influence the Adjacent Possible Using Speculative Design, Backcasting and Storytelling to Influence the Adjacent Possible

Using Speculative Design, Backcasting and Storytelling to Influence the Adjacent Possible

Culture, Design

I’ve learned over the years, when attending design conferences like MidwestUX, it is incredibly important to have an open and abstract mindset. I always try to load up with conceptual ammo I can interpret and work into our team’s process post-conference.

This year I was introduced to a few terms that really got me thinking—the adjacent possible, speculative design and backcasting. These three concepts all revolve around designing for the future, casting a vision and working towards a desired state. The more time I spent thinking about and researching each of these the more I saw how they could be remixed into an interesting thought framework. But before we get too far, let’s take a moment and define these concepts.

The Adjacent Possible is a term rooted in biology proposed by theoretical biologist Stuart A. Kauffman in the article, The Adjacent Possible but is elegantly abstracted and summarized in context of innovation by Steven Johnson in the article, The Genius of the Tinkerer. I heard this term for the first time at MWUX while listening to Jesse James Garrett—an absolute rock star in the UX world.

The adjacent possible captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation… The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. — Steven Johnson

The Adjacent Possible Diagram

Speculative Design is work that uses design (products, services, scenarios) to address challenges and opportunities of the future. We tend to look 5-10+ years forward and speculate on how things could be and what future we want or don’t want based on these scenarios.’ – Phil Balagtas, MWUX presenter and Experience Design Director. Read more by Phil on speculative design here.

Speculative Design Diagram

Backcasting is a process where participants propose a future event or situation and then work backward to construct a plausible causal chain leading from here to there. This process is best used during problem framing. 

Backcasting Diagram

Creating a Thought Framework to Influence the Adjacent Possible

Now that we’re defined the adjacent possible, speculative design, and backcasting let’s combine these concepts and techniques to create a thought framework we can use to influence the adjacent possible. Wait, what does that really mean? 

Influencing the adjacent possible means envisioning a desired state, finding all the potential ways to get there from the current state, then putting forth actions to elevate the plausibility of reaching the desired state. — Brandon Knap

Here is a possibility map that combines the scope of speculative design with a goal-oriented adjacent possible. To use this map, we set the problem as the current state and we set the best possible solution as the desired state. We then plot all the potential moments required to reach the desired state or solution. A moment could be thought of as a tactic such as improving brand messaging, redesigning the website, hiring a marketing strategist, and so on. Moments positioned closer to the probable line are easy to accomplish while moments placed closer to the possible line require more effort and may be riskier.

Possibility Map

With all the moments plotted between the current and desired state, it is now time to create plausible storylines. A storyline could be technology, brand, customer experience, marketing, etc. Each storyline is a string of related moments that logically backcast from the desired state to the current state. By breaking down the problem into small storylines we’ve created micro-goals that elevate the plausibility of reaching the desired state.

Plausible Storylines

With the storylines in place, the problem now has clear paths towards reaching the desired state located in the adjacent possible. Now, every time a moment is achieved we have successfully and purposefully influenced the adjacent possible!

Adjacent Possible Success

Putting It Into Practice

There are many different applications this thought framework can be applied to. It can help facilitate conversation around business & brand goals, strategy sessions for new products, even personal goals. The sky is the limit. Here are a couple basic scenarios that could be applied to the Adjacent Possible Framework.

Business Use Case

Personal Use Case

Closing Thoughts — Never Stop Tinkering and Exploring

This Adjacent Possible Thought Framework is a modest attempt at thought leadership and a nod towards brilliant thought leaders—Jesse James Garrett, Phil Balagtas, Stuart A. Kauffman, Steven Johnson and many others pushing the bounds of thought and design.

Never stop tinkering and exploring, this expands your adjacent possible and creates more diverse opportunities to innovate.

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Experiences of a Tight-Knit Design Team at MWUX 2017 Experiences of a Tight-Knit Design Team at MWUX 2017

Experiences of a Tight-Knit Design Team at MWUX 2017

Culture, Design

‘The Queen City,’ ‘The Queen of the West,’ ‘The Blue Chip City,’ ‘The City of Seven Hills, and ‘Cincy,’ you guessed it, Cincinnati was the host of this year’s MidwestUX Conference (MWUX). This is the third year the CQL design team has had the opportunity and privilege to attend the Conference—and boy was it a good one. Here is a little bit about the conference, why our team gets pumped every year to attend and some of the shenanigans that tend to happen along the way.

More than a Conference — Camaraderie and Connection

Every year our team looks forward to soaking in the amazing content MWUX has to offer—user research techniques, cultural awareness, A/B testing methods, and much more. Beyond inspiration, what we really get out of the conference is camaraderie and connection within our team. Throughout the year, we strive to keep design conversations going, introduce new ideas, and learn from one another. This is not always as easy as it seems. As designers, we immerse ourselves in our customer’s projects to understand their needs and feel their pain points so we can create meaningful solutions. As we ramp up on projects, we occasionally find ourselves in silos as everyone heavily engages in their projects.

MidwestUX is our opportunity to step outside our daily commitments to our customers, and celebrate what we love in design.

Experiencing MWUX Cincinnati 2017

Dresses, suits, and rainbow fountains. To kick off our weekend of creative rejuvenation, we decided to have a fancy night out. We do not just design good-looking interfaces we clean up well too!

The CQL Design Team at MWUX 2017

Hello Blink Cincinnati. Between conference activities, we noticed there was definitely something happening within the city—lights and attractions filled the streets, parks, and buildings. Cincy’s annual Blink Festival was ramping up. Here is just a glimpse of what Micaela and Abby came across in a nearby park—a luminaria by the Architects of Air.

A Luminaria by the Architects of Air

Crashing the stage. Day Two started with Laura and myself crashing the stage for the opening keynote. This was actually part of an initiative called #upfront. Upfront allows aspiring speakers to sign up to sit on stage while a speaker presents. This allows participants to get the feel of the stage without the pressure of presenting. What an experience this was. The initial walk onto stage and introductions were definitely the most intense. Everyone could see us, we could see them, we were being introduced by name, there was no hiding. Ten minutes in, we were able to relax and actually enjoy the rest of the 50-minute experience. #upfront was a big step forward in the quest for public speaking prowess.

Laura and Brandon on Stage for the Opening Keynote

UX is coming of age — what we are seeing. Over the years, topics at the conference have shifted and evolved alongside the industry. We have seen earlier conferences revolve around user research and prototyping shift to storytelling and solving wicked problems. Now we are seeing more emphasis on culture, empathy, and responsible design.

Themes this year. This year, like others, have a few underlying themes woven throughout the messages. This year we noticed themes around empathy, collaboration, AI, responsible design, and user testing.

Designers more than ever need to own the platform for keeping humans at the center of technology and focus on empathy to create culturally responsible solutions.

Human-Centered Design

This was just a glimpse of what we soaked in this year.

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