a little discussion about Behavior Modes

Photo provided courtesy of C. Nancy Niu

Once again — I’m fortunate enough to in life to engage with The Boston Area UX, Design and Tech Community by giving talks on topics I am deeply passionate about within the realms of creativity, collaboration, experience and story.

Akshat Pradhan invited me out to UX Boston last week to present Behavior Modes for UX, an important sub-topic to my larger concept of designing with a storyFirst human-centered design approach. And I got to give the presentation as part of an evening of talks called Ideating Mobile, Prototyping w/ Sketch, and Behavior Modes! that included a talk on The Mobile Ecosystem Matrix from The Meme Design’s Carlos Cardenas and a super helpful prototyping walk-through by Aquent Gymnasium’s Jeremy Osborn.

So, here’s a quick, high-level fly by
on what I’m calling Behavior Modes:


Behavior Modes for UX


In a nutshell — as a now near-20-year-spanning, lifelong experience designer in New England, I feel that UX teams embedded in various firms in the area nicely use all the amazing industry-standard tools and tricks, but we sometimes seem to just go through the motions of assembling the toolkit while missing the core point and actual tactical unique benefits of why we’re using some of these tools to begin with, ya know?

My case in point for this particular talk — personas

Companies develop personas. Sometimes they outsource persona development and invest a lot of big money to conduct painstaking research to craft a fantastic batch of 10 or so personas per user type within a company’s anticipated target audience. And this is all wonderful. It shows that firms are really starting to step up and take research and user-centered methodologies seriously because hopefully they understand that serving people is what we need to be all about.

But …

In 2015 most teams seem to almost treat personas as some sort of Fine Art object we put on the wall. We see faces and little blocks of stats and commentary pinned to the wall like strange dossier-like posters to remind us that there’re people on the other side. Its a bit reminiscent of the hunter’s lodge tucked so politely away in a wooded Vermont hillside cabin, nicely decorated with the dead, static remains from that huge invoice —from all that research — like a pristine, captured set of kills strangely stuffed and mounted to the wall like a museum-like reminder of the people that we once knew and talked to and taxidermically preserved. We got ’em. Check! Task done!

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But I’m not sure that this is how Alan Cooper intended teams to leverage personas in our daily work. And I’m certain they’re not supposed to simply be flowers on the wall. We’re, at the very least, always supposed to keep the faces, names and motivations of our personas in mind as we design — and I’ve noticed at least a dozen occasions over the last 17 or so years where someone does the whole ‘Do you really think that’s the way TechSavvy Simone would want to create a new user profile on ProductX?

That’s not enough though, right? Just a dozen times in nearly 20 years? C’mon!

I mean, besides UX professionals digging into putting together a list of potential user types and maybe referencing one of the personas as a way to advocate for a semi-fictional real person in a design review meeting, not once have I seen anyone fully embrace the entire potential and value of tuning into your personas.

This is why I am talking about putting our personas into a situational context to bring them to life.

As creatives, I feel that its quite sad how flat and dead our design processes can feel. It seems that you get the gig, set up at a desk, start attending the meetings and doing the work ‘n all — but we all tend to hang up the power of our imagination somewhere else entirely. And this is a shame. After all, these powers and skills are forces we were actually hired by a company to use in our daily design work. But somewhere along the line we all tune out of The Imagination Channel and tune into whatever readymade, prescribed policies and processes make the most sense to use at work because we’re used to them.

I want us to tune back into The Imagination Channel.

Personas are the best way for us as designers to get out of our own heads and into the minds, hearts and emotions of our human users. Its literally a way for us to channel the users in that fuzzy kind of New Age way and wonder from somebody else’s perspective. But I think there’s a reason why our personas remain on the wall in their frozen taxidermied state as these cutely named posters on the wall. Personas need context to come back to life. We need to not only understand the statistics we’ve researched around real people that use our products, but in order to best design for real people we also need to understand:

  • when they’re using the experience(s) we’re designing;
  • how often they use it;
  • why they’re using it in a certain temporal context;
  • how often they might get interrupted mid-task;
  • when and how they might re-engage and continue an interrupted experience with your product or service;
  • where they’re using it;
  • what version of a holistic experience design our users are engaging with ( mobile, desktop, tablet, wearable, kiosk );
  • who else is around when they’re using it;
  • how people use it within different levels of criticality ( if that even pertains to the experience );
  • etcetera, so on and so forth

This is what Behavior Modes are all about.

Behavior Modes are bits and pieces of modular context to map to your personas to better dream up and understand an actual person’s story within a temporal situation as they might experience what you’ve design for them.

I think of Behavior Modes as different than a formal use case scenario, although I imagine you could leverage the contextual factors that come together to make up your behavior modes to develop interesting, near-real-life use cases to consider for your design processes and reviews.

I’m working on formalizing my thoughts around Behavior Modes and my storyFirst Approach to Human-Centered Design and will post more to my blog here as my concepts come together.

Stay tuned!

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