150 UX life hacks to help you work smarter
12 minutes read
Get more done in less time. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But what if I told you that by using the power of UX life hacks – invaluable hints, tips and tricks for working smarter, you can!
I recently ran a UX life hacks workshop at UX in the City Manchester 2019. Along with sharing some of my own UX life hacks (see the presentation) I also crowdsourced as many UX related life hacks as possible. The workshop attendees came up with over 150 on the day (a huge thanks to everyone who came along on the day), all of which are listed below.
The UX life hacks cover the following:
- Plan work ahead for the week. Be clear about what your goals for the week are and what needs to get done.
- Maintain a daily and weekly to-do list to help structure your work. Do this on paper rather than digitally.
- Don’t be afraid to overestimate a piece of work to give yourself a buffer to work within.
- Prioritise your work. Consider what is most important, and what can be left for another day.
- Don’t be afraid to say no to something. Be clear why it is that you’re not able to do something.
- Try to focus on one thing at a time. Remove distractions so that you can really focus.
- Delegate work to others when you can. Think about what jobs to be done you can hand over to others.
- Get some of the easy tasks completed first. You’ll get a good sense of achievement.
- Reward yourself for completing tasks. For example, a task well done might = a nice cup of coffee.
- Try the Pomodoro technique – Use a physical timer to timebox activities to 25 mins, with a 5-10 min break between activities.
- Consider reducing your timeboxed work periods (e.g. sprints). For example, can you timebox a piece of work to 1 week, rather than 2.
- Getting in to the office early can be great time to get tasks completed free from distractions (just be sure to leave early as well).
- Carry out meetings without chairs. It stops people getting too comfy!
- Don’t be afraid to say no to a meeting and to leave early if it’s not relevant.
- Have shorter meetings. You’d be surprised at what you can get done in a very short period of time.
- Be clear about the aims and outcomes of meetings. Everyone should know what the meeting is for and what the outputs should be.
- Avoid distractions by reducing the number of times you check email. For example, limit yourself to only 2-3 times a day.
- Re-read your ‘angry’ emails before sending. Ideally give yourself some time to calm down before you do something that you’ll probably regret.
- Include an extra day of holiday in your out of office message and work calendar so that you have a day when you get back to catch-up and organise free of meetings.
- Make it clear in your calendar when you’ll be available and unavailable. Don’t be afraid to reject meetings that are put in when you’ve said that you won’t be available.
- Be clear about your contactable hours. For example, you might say that you’ll only be available in the mornings so that you minimise distractions at other times.
- Put in your calendar when you’re planning to work from home so that you’re not constantly messaged to find out where you are.
Work management tools
- Utilise Habitica to gamify your tasks!
- Trello is a great tool for tracking your tasks.
- Set-up reminders, for example using Slack or Google calendars.
- Make your work, and your team’s workload visible. For example, using a board to track work in progress.
- Go offsite for concentrated collaborative work. Get away from the distractions of the office.
- Go to a quiet place to think. You shouldn’t be chained to your desk.
- Use a scooter to get around. It’s quicker than walking!
- Hot desking can be a good way to get work done free from the usual distractions.
- Try to work from home at least once a week. You’d be amazed at what you can get done away from the office.
Work life balance
- Leave work at work. Try not to take your work home with you.
- Consider if you’d be able to work compressed hours, or perhaps a reduced working week. For example, taking Fridays off to spend more time with friends and family.
- Take your full lunch break. It’s called a break for a reason!
- Keep your personal devices personal. Don’t install work tools on your own devices.
Dealing with stress
- Try not to get too stressed. Think about the other person’s feelings and viewpoint, as well as your own.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Find a hobby outside of work. You should be working to live, not the other way around.
- Carry out walking meetings. You get the added bonus of carrying out work while you exercise.
- Meditation and mindfulness can be great ways to stay calm and relieve stress.
Creating a positive environment
- Introduce a bit of nature into the office by having lots of plants and greenery around.
- Don’t treat others in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself.
- Try to instil a positive feedback culture. For example, asking what it is working well, and what would be even better rather than just focusing on the negatives.
- Make memes for how your sprint / work / team are doing. Don’t be afraid to encourage a team to poke a little fun at themselves.
- Start with asking what the problem is that you’re trying to solve and what it is that you want to find out. For example, you might try to put together a statement of desired achievements.
- Think about what you’re measuring. What is it that you’re interested in?
- Look to see what other similar research has been carried out. What can you learn from the research already out there?
- Look for domain experts in the field. This can be a quick way to find out what is already known within a field.
- Consider how you might avoid bias when carrying out research. For example, in the way that questions or user tasks are presented.
- Support cases can be a rich source of user insights.
- Identify who it is that you should be speaking to so that you can involve the right set of users in the research.
- Try to talk to a cross spectrum of people. Even “bored people” can be a useful source of information.
- Small samples can often be enough for user research (e.g. 5-10). You don’t always need to speak to lots and lots of users.
Interviews & User testing
- Practice active listening. Don’t just listen to what is being said but observe body language and behaviour as well.
- When carrying out research always be mindful that what someone else experiences may be dramatically different from your own experience in that situation (reverse empathy).
- If possible, record research sessions (e.g. interviews, usability testing) to supplement any notes. If you need to go back and check something, you’ll be able to.
- Always be sure to test out interview questions beforehand. Make sure that questions are clear and make sense to the interviewee.
- Try to avoid using the word ‘test’ when carrying out user testing. You don’t want users to feel like they are being tested and evaluated.
- Don’t be afraid of silence during interviews and user testing sessions. Resist the temptation to interject so that users can continue their conversation.
- Be sure to always introduce and set the scene when carrying out user research. For example, when introducing user tasks to attempt.
- Tools such as Marvel, InVision and Axure can be used to quickly create a clickable prototype for user testing.
- Mirroring from your mobile phone can be very useful for user testing.
- Be brief with your research findings. Make it easily digestible for your audience. No one likes having to plough through a long research report to extract the insights.
- Utilise a real time board for communicating research activities and findings.
- Limit the number of people at workshops to no more than 15. Run multiple workshops if you have a very large group.
- Try to get a good mix of personalities within a workshop. Aim for diversity where possible.
- It’s important to have the right people in the workshop. Think about who does and doesn’t necessarily need to be there.
- Prepare for ‘big’ personalities that could de-rail a workshop. Think about how you plan to handle these sort of participants.
- Consider using an external facilitator if there is the need for a more independent viewpoint.
- Ensure there are regular breaks within workshops. Build in breaks at least every hour.
- Expect activities to overrun so plan in extra time whenever possible.
- Think about the room set-up. Do you want one big group, or lots of min-groups? What will be the focal point?
- It can be useful to have an assistant to help run a workshop so that you can focus on leading discussions. For example, an assistant can help capture points raised and assist with preparation.
- Provide snacks. A workshop without biscuits is a poor excuse for a workshop.
- Always introduce yourself when running a workshop. Don’t assume that everyone knows who you are.
- Have a clear agenda for a workshop and make it visible (e.g. on whiteboard). Create a car park for topics not on the agenda that can be followed up afterwards.
- Outline the agenda for the day. Make it clear what will be covered, and what is expected of participants.
- Ask attendees to switch off any distractions. Using laptops and mobiles within a workshop (unless asked to do so) shouldn’t be tolerated.
- Use examples where possible. Don’t be too theoretical. If you can tie things to a real-world context, try to do so.
- Take lots of pictures. Use your phone to capture outputs such as post-it notes and whiteboard sketches.
- Giving visual examples of what need to be done is a great way to set expectations.
- Get people moving within workshops. Rather than carrying out an activity sat down ask people to stand up and move around.
- Keep an eye on the clock. Don’t be afraid to skip or cut short an activity if you’re overrunning.
- Build in activities that require participation from everyone. Try to get everyone actively involved where possible.
- Timebox workshop activities. For example, 10 minutes for ideation.
- Ask people to draw rather than write. It’s a great way to fuel discussion and to get the collective creative juices flowing.
- Actively encourage talking during some activities. For example, exercises to help participants get to know one another.
- Carry out silent voting (e.g. dot voting) and then discuss as a group.
- Use super sticky post-it notes when possible. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to get post-it notes to stick on many walls.
- Post-it Plus (a mobile app for capturing post-it notes) is a great way to quickly digitally capture post-it notes.
- Use sharpies for writing on post-it notes. It makes it easier to read text and is clearer for photographs.
- Tear post-it notes down or across, rather than up to stop them from curling.
- Squeeze a packet of post-it notes to open rather than searching for the tear strip. It’s much quicker.
- After a workshop send out a follow-up email. Thank attendees for coming and remind everyone what the actions are, who is doing these and when they need to get done by.
- Share workshop outputs afterwards. It can be good to send a follow-up about 2 weeks after the workshop to remind participants of outputs and actions.
- Build in some reflection time. Gather feedback from the workshop and consider how to improve things next time around.
Framing the problem
- Keep your goals insight throughout the design process. What are you trying to achieve?
- Define the problem before you tackle a design. Be clear what problem you’re taking on.
- Identify design constraints upfront. For example, technology, branding etc…
- Don’t take the brief word for word. There should be some flexibility in there, but do check your interpretation with the client before going too off-piste.
- Don’t simply do what the client is asking for, think about what they need. Don’t be afraid to challenge their diagnosis if necessary.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are always lots of designs that you can reuse, modify or simply be inspired by.
- Don’t be afraid to do a ‘crap’ design. Sometimes you only know what good looks like when you compare it to something ‘crap’.
- Always start with paper.
- Kick off design work now, not later. Try to avoid procrastination.
- Don’t be afraid to be creative. Encourage yourself and others to think outside the box.
- Have different soundtracks to instil different creative moods.
- Turn off notifications and generally minimise distractions.
- Always carry a notepad, you never know when creativity will strike!
- Regularly take a break. Don’t try to force creativity.
- Set time aside to be inspired. Give creativity a bit of breathing space.
- Consider who the ‘egos’ are within your stakeholder group. You will want to think about how you deal with these more difficult stakeholders.
- Manage expectations upfront for a piece of work. Aim to over, rather than under deliver.
- Keep stakeholders up-to-date with ongoing design and research work. Make sure that there are no nasty surprises.
- Think of the impact of a design, or design decision. Designs don’t exist within a vacuum.
- Maintain communication channels with clients and stakeholders.
- Favour face to face interactions and phone calls over email.
- Keep track of communications with clients and stakeholders. Don’t rely on simply remembering what was said.
- Keep everyone up-to-date with changes to a design. Be proactive about reporting changes.
- Utilise whiteboards for creating and sharing designs.
- Don’t present designs that you don’t want chosen by a client. Client’s will always choose the design that you like the least!
- Don’t present too many design options (e.g. no more than 2-3) and avoid the trap of allowing different aspects of designs being stitched together to create a Frankenstein’s monster.
- Think about who a design is going to be presented to. How can you tailor your presentation to the audience?
Getting design feedback
- Always be open to feedback – you ignore feedback at your peril.
- Regularly review designs. The sooner you can get feedback the better.
- Be clear about what you want feedback on. Don’t just leave it open-ended.
Design team work
- Allocate a few hours within a week for cross team collaboration. This could be a time for different functions to get together to work within a project or programme.
- Put some time aside for getting together to work on one thing. For example, a mob design session.
- Try some pair design work. It can be a great way to collaboratively work on designs and to learn from someone more experienced.
- Wireframes and quick sketches can be a great way to set stakeholder expectations and to make sure that they’re happy with the design direction.
- Utilise a minimal colour palette (e.g. no more than 3 colours) for low fidelity wireframes.
Mobile first design
- Think small first. Create a mobile design before you consider desktop.
- Preview your designs at different breakpoints. What does a design look like for the most common sizes?
- Always utilise design libraries and components when possible. A design library is a real time saver and helps to keep designs consistent and cohesive.
- Back-up and save everything! There’s nothing worse than losing your precious design work.
- Cloud based design tools such as Figma typically work very well with design systems as it’s easier to keep components and designs systems up-to-date.
- Use a tool such as InVision to capture feedback and comments for designs.
- Tools such as Zeplin and InVision can allow developers to inspect designs. For example, to help generate the code necessary to build a design.
- Carry out a proof of concept for potential software. Always try it on a real project to find out how well it works before adopting a new tool.
- Periodically evaluate the tools that you’re using. For example, are there new tools out there such as Adobe XD, Figma and InVision Studio that might be more effective for you and your team?
- Consider what are the right tools for the design. Don’t be afraid to change your tools depending on the situation.
- Agree your tools as a team. You don’t have to necessarily all be using the same tool, but it can become difficult if everyone is using tools that are incompatible.
- Be mindful of your tools creating barriers. For example, a tool that is highly complex and therefore can only be used by a domain expert.
- Paper is often the best tool you have!
- Utilise existing UX toolkits. For example, templates, graphics, UI components.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts for your tools. They can be a massive time saver.
- Have a print out of keyboard shortcuts to hand while you’re still learning.
- Utilise YouTube to find online videos to help you learn a new tool.
- Utilise sketch plugins. There is invariably a plugin available for what you’re looking to do.
- Utilise in-tool features to help align designs. For example, vertical and horizontal alignment within Sketch.
- Use Symbols and Sketch libraries where possible. It’s good practice and a massive time saver.