Leah Buley – The User Experience Team of One

A review for the Sydney UX Bookclub (@UXBookclub_SYD), February 2014


I wrote an earlier version of this synopsis, in which I got all academic and knitpickety, looking for ways to be critical and sound really smart and stuff like that. Fortunately, I sat on that version for a few weeks. I say fortunately, because I would’ve regretted being anything but positive about this book.

The other reason I would’ve regretted posting that version is that it wouldn’t have been in a format that was easy to read, or easy to use as a template for future bookclub synopses. Instead, I’ve organised this review like so:

  • What the book is about
  • What I like about it
  • What could’ve been better
  • If you only read one thing …

Naturally, YMMV, and don’t feel constrained by this. In any case, and without further ado…


What the book is about

Buley’s book is subtitled “A Research and Design Survival Guide”, and that is precisely what it is. Buley has written a book that is targeted specifically at those UX folk who find themselves as the sole representative of their discipline. This might be because they are the only UX person in the company, or because they are embedded with an engineering or marketing team.

Either way, what these UX folk share is what they don’t have – instituted processes or protocols of engagement with other disciplines, a clear remit, or a general understanding of UX, or often even a secure budget.

Buley has therefore built a book around empowering UX practitioners in just these kinds of circumstances.

And that’s why the book is structured the way it is.

First comes the “Philosophy” section (well, yes, she had me at ‘Philosophy’), which arms our UX onceler with “guiding principles, attitude and perspective”.

This section offers a bit of UX history (Ch 1: UX 101), and a view on the fundamentals (Ch 2: Getting Started), before diving into cultural and organisational challenges (Ch 3: Building Support for Your Work) and career development (Ch 4: Growing Yourself and Your Career).

The second half is titled “Practice”. And here, Buley makes a very important decision. She avoids proposing a methodology altogether, and instead offers a pattern library of simple, effective UX practices. Each practice has the same pattern

  • a description
  • an estimate of how long it should take to complete
  • when to use it
  • a sample walkthrough of planning and executing it
  • tips and tricks

This library of practices covers Planning & Discovery, Research, Design and Testing, and all the usual suspects are represented, from Project Briefs to Proto Personas to Design Principles to Task Flows.

There’s nothing particularly complex or sophisticated in here, there’s no statistics, and in fact, very little in the way of a grand UX project narrative. That’s intentional, though, as the audience Buley is addressing often doesn’t have the luxury of dictating process, and must get by with whatever UX they can get away with.

The Practice section ends with a set of Evangelism practices, which bring us full circle, in that they are techniques (including guerilla techniques like Bathroom UX) for creating opportunities to do UX in the first place.


What I like about it

I like that it’s focused on empowering UX people, and that Buley doesn’t encourage her readers to “win the argument”, preferring instead to “bring them on the journey with you”.

I like the pattern library approach, and the richness of practice she’s able to develop in a short book. I also think she chosen most of the techniques wisely, as they are all easy to implement, but likely to have significant value where little organised UX effort has been going on.

I also like that she recognizes the need for a UX onceler to have access to a community, like ours, where they can discuss their challenges, and learn from others. Strangely, she fails to mention ux.stackexchange.com, which I think is a great resource, not just for the community, but for refining your ability to ask UX questions with bite. But she lists all the other major resources.


What could’ve been better

Some readers might wish there was a better story in here about the relationship between UX and other variants, like Interaction Design or Service Design.

Others might wish there was a little more consideration given to avoiding rookie errors by new UXers, especially around basing personas on statistically-implausible generalisations.

For my part, I wish I’d had this book when I was starting out in UX, and in fact, I’m still glad I have it now. Not least because a lot of my job is still justifying the patience and energy required to do good UX. But also because I feel that if we talked the way Buley talks about the practices of UX, we’d find ourselves having to explain what we do far less often.


If you only read one thing …

I’ve stolen this line from Buley, who has an “If you only do one thing…” section at the end of each chapter. So, if you read nothing else, read those sections.

However, for those new to UX, I’d suggest reading Ch 1 & 2 and jumping into the practices.

While for those already with some experience under their belts, try Chapter 3 & 4, and skim the practices for something you haven’t tried, or been able to sell in.


Reminder / plug:

Our next UX bookclub meeting is on at 6pm, Tues 4 February, 2014, at the offices of Ninefold at level 20, 2 Market St (The entrance is on Kent St) Sydney.

It’s also our 5 yr anniversary, and we’re asking everyone to bring the book that had an impact on their view of UX. You can RSVP here: http://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/ux-book-club-sydney-898394043

Leah Buley – The User Experience Team of One

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