Last week on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA session with Peter Hornsby, UX Manager at Distribution Technology, writer/columnist at UX Matters and terribly helpful expert on all things user experience.

For this hour-long chat, Peter fielded questions covering absolutely anything on the subject of UX, from moving forward with your UX career, to building user personas, to cost effective UX testing measures.

You’re in safe hands for this chat, as Peter has been actively involved in web design and development since 1993 – working in the defence and telecommunications industries, designing a number of interactive, web-based systems, and advising on usability.

Here are some of the highlights from Peter’s super in-depth AMA.

There are many ways of creating user personas. In your opinion and from what you’ve seen in the industry what are some of the best practices when constructing user personas? [Tiara Anggamulia]

I’m always torn on this issue. The designer in me always wanted to craft personas that were beautiful, elegant and insightful. While I’m still in favour of this as a goal, I would say that having something is always better than having nothing: use the data you have and get something down that you can share with the team.

Be clear what questions still remain to be answered, and invite people to engage in the process and in crafting better personas. I think at one point in my career I was far too hesitant to put something that I felt was obviously incomplete out into the wider world; I now feel that if you’re open about what you know and don’t know, you get better engagement from your team.

I think the Agile movement has helped shift that mindset. I would suggest making the visual styling of the persona reflect how ‘solid’ you feel it to be: less solidity = less confidence in the results. That can be a nice way to convey the reliability of a persona without having to state it explicitly!

Other than that, be clear what your persona needs to convey and how you expect it to influence the design. As far as possible I’d want to make sure that the data in the persona is traceable… but that’s at least partly because I’m a data geek.

Be mindful of what your primary persona is and how the other personas relate to it – in the past I’ve created documents that show how personas relate to each other – while having a large number is usually a bad idea, showing how personas relate can help people better understand what your personas are conveying

I’m stuck as I don’t know how to move ahead in my UX career. How should I proceed? Should I take any formal education? [Umesh Nawathe]

If you’ve been working as a UX designer for a while, I’d say you should be in a good position to progress your career even without the formal background – but you’re in a better position than me to judge if in your local environment formal UX training is seen as essential to move forward.

Take a look at some of the online training and see if your current firm will support you. I mentor on the Springboard UX Design course and this is pretty good for giving a solid grounding in UX.

rows of books in a library
The campus library at WhatUsersDo University. Features a surprisingly high number of Nancy Drew books.

Is a UX portfolio compulsory? What should a portfolio consist of? [Umesh Nawathe]

In terms of a UX portfolio: it helps, especially for designers with a strong graphical background! Don’t limit yourself to things that are visually impactful: cover the range of systems that you’ve worked within, show some of the outputs and talk through the processes that you’ve worked in. Talk about the impact that your work has had – and as with any CV, tailor what you show to the type of career you want

I have not done any user research to date. How should I begin? [Umesh Nawathe]

For user research, speak to the product owner to understand where the product is going. Work out what you need to know and figure out how you can get the answers to the questions. If UX research is new in your company, start small: take a look at ‘follow me home‘, do some Skype interviews, get surveys out to users with Wufoo or similar tools. Start small and work up from there.

If you were to go back in time and be a mentor to yourself what lessons or advice would you give yourself? [Scott Smallman]

Get on with it. I think for a long time I was probably overthinking things. I’d tend much more now to get something done: try it, maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. But at least you’ll have learned something in the process, and hopefully moved things on. That’s not to say reflection on things is a bad thing: it’s not, but it’s a balance between trying to figure stuff out all the time and taking action.

Do you have any suggestions/recommendations on how you can conduct UX testing without it costing too much? [Dobs Totev]

Think about the stage of development that you’re testing as well as the platforms you use. if you’re looking at testing more than research (I’m assuming this is the case from your question) can you do paper prototyping and test with that rather than use higher-fidelity prototypes?

A lot has been written about guerrilla usability testing and there are a lot of useful techniques in this article that can give you enough feedback in the early stages of design to help you progress to the next level.

Can you recommend the best and easiest platform for diary studies? [Carly Reeves]

I’m not aware of many (technology) platforms for diary studies; I’ve tended to use just written feedback in whatever format the participant is most comfortable. If you have to introduce a platform which itself has a learning curve, it can add an additional level of complexity to the process and can colour the client’s experience.

Depending on what you’re doing, some screen recorder software (like that used by WhatUsersDo) can work well though, particularly if you’re dealing with complex processes. Also I’ve found that with any study that lasts longer than a few days, it can really help to just keep in touch with users to let them know their feedback is used and useful.

an open diary featuring a misattributed quote to Gandhi
“Dear diary, I’m sorry I get crumbs on you all the time. But it serves you write for misattributing quotes to Gandhi”

Any ideas for UX workshop activities to build user/customer empathy within a company that makes the product? [Carly Reeves]

In terms of workshop activities to build empathy within the company, I think the more direct user involvement you can have in this situation, the better. Can you invite real users to the session, representing typical users? Can you show video footage of their interaction, or invite users to Skype into the session and talk about their experiences?

It depends partly on how long you have – empathy mapping is great if you have the time and commitment from users. But if you have less time, some first-hand experience of user interactions that can be shared with everyone can really help to move ‘users’ in people’s minds from being anonymous to being real people with real problems and frustrations that they can help to solve.

What are your go-to tactics for getting around opinion-based design decisions/directions? [Carly Reeves]

We call these HIPPOs – HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion! I have to say, it’s not always possible to get past it, and sometimes you just need to accept you’re not going to win the battle. However – to convince people, for me it’s all about the data. There’s a place for visionary thinking, but it works best when paired with a thirst for data and checking your ideas against reality.

If you don’t have the data you need and you’re in that tough conversation with the HIPPO, try and bring them in to your thinking: identify the areas you need to understand and what you need to know. Match their drive to get started by identifying areas where you can usefully make progress while researching the issues you’ll need to understand to make more progress, all the time making it clear that you are as keen to help move the company forward as they are

In a UX collaborative workshop, how do you get the less vocal people to talk and share their ideas? [Sybil Hoang]

Getting less vocal people to talk can be hard, and I’ve found it’s harder with more people there – the natural extroverts can dominate. In some cases I’d advise mixing workshops with interviews: running interviews beforehand to explore (for instance) different models of doing things, and then exploring these models in the workshops.

I’d also consider getting someone experienced in to moderate the workshop. There are certain skillsets I think are worth their weight in gold and a good moderator is one of those – never any shame in accepting that some people have different skillsets to you and letting them do what they’re best at. if you work in a large company, people in training departments often have this type of skill and can get involved

How do you find users that fit your screener questions, but have never heard of you? [Sybil Hoang]

In terms of getting new people to interview: I’d first question how important it is that you are talking to entirely new people – if they’ve heard of you, how much of a problem is that? If you have the budget then you can always engage with an agency but that’s not always possible!

Join us on our UX Slack channel for even more advice and guidance from the UX community.

Main image by Evan Dennis, library by Patrick Göthe, diary by Cathryn Lavery.