Day One: UX Internship

Today I began an internship as a UX Analyst.

I have been preparing as well as possible for this experience – I received an offer for the opportunity well in advance of my start date – but I have not known what to expect. Who would I be working with? How will I be perceived? What will I start with and will I be prepared? I am glad to say that the answers to all of my questions have been positive so far.

My hope is to chronicle the journey I follow through this internship including challenges, learning opportunities, and the result (hopefully a full-time offer…)

The day began with a pretty typical orientation with a mixture of interns and full-time new hires. RIght away I was struck by how much there is to learn about a large organization. My work will be closely associated with all of the many facets of the business I am supporting.

Feeling pretty good, I was escorted to my work area – set up the desktop, did some administrative stuff, and received…my first assignment. Wireframes.

So first things first

I will be beginning with a lo-fi mockup using Balsamiq. A senior developer has already started the project so my job will be to assist her as a support so that the coding can drop a little quicker. So although I was somewhat nervous at first, I quickly realized that these guys aren’t kidding around! I am truly diving into the beginning of what looks like a start as a UX professional.

So What’s Next?

The list of projects the team is sitting on is extensive so I suspect that the things to come will increase in scope and by the “end” of this I think I will be well on my way. I noticed some things that I didn’t expect today as well.

It seems like people that I am working alongside are all from different backgrounds, varied skill levels, and have unique software/method preferences. As an intern, I expected to be the only one in the learning stage. As it turns out, UX might just be about learning over and over again. About taking a challenge and sharing it, working it over, screwing it up, and then hopefully getting it right. Maybe I know more than I thought I did?

Either way, my first day has been enough to confirm that this is what I want to do – and keep on doing – for a long time yet.

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Accessibility and Etextbooks: Passing the Blame

Part of my participation in a recent e-textbook pilot study at Texas State University was spent looking at accessibility issues in the course materials platform we were using and testing.  The version we tested was a recent release and the first to include new accessibility updates.  An outside accessibility evaluation showed the new release to be in compliance with all WCAG and Section 508 guidelines so I really wasn’t expecting to find much in my own assessment.

I wasn’t able to do any true user testing so I decided to begin by reading up on the platform’s marketing site to find out where the company was in terms of accessibility updates and where they were headed. Things looked good until I realized something that still blows my mind.  The testing done so far and updates provided only applied to the platform and features – the frame for the content if you will.  The textbook content, the actual pages and words, were not included in this assessment.  Why? I have come to find out that this detail is handled by the publisher of the actual content.

This means that someone using say, a screen reader, must copy each page of text, exit the platform, move to a separate program that can accept the text and cooperate with the screen reader, paste the text, hear it, then return to the platform to use the additional features.

This screams poor user experience.

Future plans for accessibility improvement involve publishers agreeing to provide special versions of a text that can be personalized for different needs.  Beyond this personalized solution, the hope is that content will be created with accessibility in mind before it is offered to e-textbook platform developers.

As I looked further into the history of this issue I came across some comments from an earlier pilot study conducted at a different university.  Basically, the consensus was that because publishers are concerned with digital rights and copyright issues, accessibility is  next to impossible.

Needless to say there is a prime opportunity here for someone to try a new approach to electronic textbook platform development.  What if we created a platform by beginning with the user in mind? Issues like this may seem small in early stages of development, but in the case of electronic textbooks, lack of true accessibility accommodations could be a deal breaker for most potential clients.  An Etextbook product that is truly accessible and usable would lead to consideration for things like different learning styles and new ways of interacting with learning materials for everyone.

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Diving in: My UX Internship Experience

Last month I discovered and joined the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). Already I am reaping the benefits of the active and talented community interaction and UX news that comes from this great organization.

I also just received the first quarter issue of “User Experience” magazine and I am blown away by the issue’s relevancy; the topic this quarter is user experience careers.  As someone who is in the early stages of a UX career I need all the insight I can get.

One article, “Out of the Classroom and into the Wild: Making the Most of a UX Internship”, has really peaked my interest because I am beginning a wonderful internship opportunity soon. I have decided to start a series of posts dedicated to my internship experience to chronicle what I learn, what works, what doesn’t, and eventually what comes afterward.

Arthur Che and Di Liu, the article’s authors and recent UX interns, write:

“You want to show that you can make an impact on the organization and that you’re not afraid to work with conviction. Your coworkers will notice and remember you for it. If you don’t take initiative, you can forget about receiving that full-time job offer upon graduating.”

I will focus on my attempts to do just that, I aim to find out how a young UX professional creates value on the team level and beyond at the client level. I hope I can include some words of wisdom from the experienced people I will be working with along the way.

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The World in Little Boxes: Analog goes Digital

Where have all the textbooks gone?

I am finishing up a semester long usability study for a popular electronic textbook platform.  Like universities around the world, Texas State University is trying to decide how e-texts fit into the classroom.  This isn’t a new challenge, but the debate over which platform to adopt and integrate is pushing university leadership to take a hard look at how learning happens in the midst of a tech driven student culture.

Participating in this study showed me some of the issues in this debate from an actual user’s perspective.  I was able to use the e-text platform for the duration of the semester as well as evaluate feedback from students.  Of course the User Interface was the focus of our study and most of our participants were evaluating some portion of the interactive elements.  We developed a very lengthy report – hundreds of pages – filled with all the angles and little issues discovered throughout the semester.

Aside from the things we found I keep coming back to the same place and asking the same questions.

Has anyone thought about the traditional paper textbook user experience? 

Adapting the Analog to the Digital

The world of e-texts, whether in or out of the classroom, is a direct adaptation of a physical experience to a digital experience.  The internet has always been digital. But reading books has long been an activity, an experience, and for many one with a strong sentimentality attached.  People have developed ways of using books that involve established standards for navigation, interaction, and content layout.  These standards have strong implications on the different kinds of textbook users and textbook study methods.

My questions for the e-textbook platform designers out there are:

Did you ask anyone how they use a paper text and how they see that in a digital experience?

If so, where is the research? 

These questions are important questions to ask because in academics there isn’t room for ignoring the effectiveness of a learning tool.  The findings from our recent study confirm that students have very mixed feelings about reading from a screen.  The move toward electronic textbooks should be made with caution.

Learning is an individual experience.  I hope to play a positive role in developing an electronic textbook experience that works for all users.  My hope is that developers in this up and coming arena will do the interesting and exciting research before we end up with a bunch of fancy interfaces built with no one in mind.

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