New Series: Tools ‘n’ Techniques – Call for Speakers!

Hello! exploreUX is kicking off a brand new series called Tools ‘n’ Techniques! We’ll be exploring how UX practitioners in our community are using the different tools and techniques in our line of work. We’re often working in different capacities and have iterated through our process for various activities. Everyone’s always curious to know how others are trying different tools or methods to streamline our process, communicate more effectively, and help understand our users better. This series will offer the opportunity for current practitioners to share various tools/techniques, which they find helpful.

The series will kick off with a round of lightning talks in mid-June!

What’s a tool or technique?

A tool can be anything from a software application to a plug-in to a spreadsheet template.  A technique or methodology is a way to accomplish a task and it’s based on specialized procedures (e.g., affinity mapping, card sorting, guerilla usability testing, etc.)

What’s the format?

We’ll have a guest speaker present a tool or technique and explain what it is, when to use it, why it works, and how to use it. We have three different formats for event evenings:

Quick Dip

6-8 speakers will each present a lightning talk. Lightning talks are 5-minute presentations with 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds. Depending on submissions, they may or may not be around a theme. Sounds intense, but it’s really fun!

Themed Night

2-3 speakers will each present 20-minute talk around a theme (e.g., Sketch plug-ins or User Research)

Deep Dive

1-2 speakers will each present a 20-30 minute talk around a tool/technique accompanied by an activity lab for you to try some of it out!

Who should present?

You! Everyone has something to offer whether they’re brand new or seasoned in the UX field, or even if they’re transitioning to UX or dabble in it. Chances are, you have something you can teach within a 5- or 20-minute talk. We’re looking for awesome people to present a tool or technique that they love because it makes their job easier; is fun to use; or it works well when working with coworkers, clients, or stakeholders.

How can I present?

Glad you asked! To submit a talk, please fill out this form. We’ll be hosting a lightning talk session on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017, so, if you’re interested in presenting a 5-minute talk, please submit by Friday, May 5th, 2017, 11pm EDT. Otherwise, we are accepting presentations on a rolling basis, so you can submit any time (and you’re welcome to submit more than one tool or technique!)

Advocating for IA in Product: A Case Study with Citrix ShareFile (IA Summit ’16 Poster)

Poster Night, a social event at IA Summit ’16, showcases 30+ posters about methods, trends, case studies and more in the UX/IA field. Palak (user researcher) and I (UX designer / information architect) presented a case study about advocating for IA within product. IA within product is often overlooked because it’s not something as tangible as a website’s site map. Over the past few months, we teamed up as a duo to lead the project team through the redesign of our product’s Web App. For our card sort, we used the Modified-Delphi approach, which we’ve tried a few times on different projects and it’s been helpful with informing us!

Advocating for IA in Product


Here’s a PDF of our poster. As a bonus, here are our top 10 tips for advocating for IA in product!

  1. Have a duo if possible – a researcher teamed up with an information architect or a UX designer with IA chops can lean on each other’s expertise to make some good progress.
  2. Be adaptable, understand you may have to pivot based on your organization’s size and resources.
  3. Stay focused on the structure and build a foundation to move forward.
  4. Hard work = rewards; it may not seem like it at first, but keep going! Once you see progress, you’ll feel better. At the end, you can look back to see how far things have come along!
  5. Build trust in the people you work with and your stakeholders
  6. Invite people along the way – have them observe so they can understand what’s going on. Lean on people to help define categories and label change recommendations
  7. Combine both qualitative & quantitative data – it can help you make informed navigation decisions
  8. Build a story and reflect back on your process and iterations.
  9. Share your work with others – it helps advocate for the practice.
  10. Have fun! This can be quite the effort, so don’t forget to have fun during the process. Play your favorite jams, order in lunch for everyone, and tell really bad jokes.

Tools and Methods We Used

Questions about the process or the approach? Want to share what you’re up to? Feel free to contact Michelle (@soysaucechin).

Importance of Mentorship (IA Summit ’16 Poster) References

About the IA Summit

The IA Summit is one of the most popular UX conferences, held each year since 2000. The 2016 edition was in Atlanta from May 4-8 and the keynote speakers were Cory Doctorow, Léonie Watson, Lisa Welchman, and Jesse James Garrett.

Poster Night

Poster night at the IA Summit is a social event where a variety of topics are presented including case studies and methods. Each presenter creates a poster or activity in advance, and leads a discussion with attendees at poster night.

At Poster Night 2016, exploreUX founder Michelle Chin (@soysaucechin) and Triangle UXPA Events Director Andrew Wirtanen (@awirtanen) presented a poster on mentorship.

About the Poster

The poster covers the following areas:

  • The myths of mentorship
  • The value of mentorship
  • Starting a mentoring relationship
  • Starting a mentorship program

MChinAWirtanenIAS16MentorshipPoster Mentorship poster

Here’s a PDF of our poster.

The poster references six articles, presentations, and videos that one may find useful:

  1. How to Find Your Design Mentor
    April 30, 2015 by Nathalie Crosbie
  2. A Case for Mentorship
    June 6, 2011 by Scott Baldwin
  3. Mentoring the Next Generation of UX Designers
    April 14, 2014 by Fred Beecher
  4. Old Dog? Time to Learn Some New Tricks
    December 3, 2014 by Donna Spencer
  5. This is the Golden Age of Design
    Mike Monteiro at Webdagene 2015
  6. How do we design designers?
    November 21, 2014 by Jared Spool

Recap: A Day in the Life of a UX Designer

Our first A Day in the Life event explored the role of a UX Designer. Some UX designers do a little bit of everything (concepting, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing) on a project, while others might specialize or lean more toward one area of the field.
Our guest speaker for this session was Emily Holmes, the Director of UX for R&D at Hobsons, Inc. Emily talked about her role as a UX Designer on an innovation team, where she walked us through a case study of a project she worked on over the course of a year and a half. Since her team is small, she wore many hats over the course of the project such as user researcher, UX design, usability testing, and even a bit of coding. If you like variety in work, being a generalist UX designer often gives you the flexibility to perform different activities.
Her team’s approach leveraged the Lean UX method to concept, prototype, test, and iterate. For more on this methodology, Emily recommended these books:
  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  • Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
Below is the slide deck from Emily’s presentation.


Following the presentation and Q&A session, we headed over to the Design Studio for the activity portion of the event. Part of Emily’s process included story mapping, which is a method that illustrates the user’s story through a product or site. It’s beneficial because it allows the team to focus the users and their actions, rather than get distracted by feature issues and scope creep. For the activity, we tried out story mapping a user’s journey with a fictitious company.
The fictitious company was Jumpr, a roadside assistance company, who you could contact from your smartphone if you needed help (e.g., flat tire, dead battery, etc.) We broke out into four groups and tried our hand at story mapping a user’s journey (from requesting assistance, receiving the needed help, and paying for the service).

Here’s the set up slide deck for the activity:

Group of people collaborating on a story map activityDuring the activity, there were a lot of really great discussions going on not only including what the user will experience, but also problem solving such as “What if Jumpr can’t help the person?” or concerns about safety and liabilities. The discussions could have gone on for a lot longer, but it was getting late! At the end of the evening, we talked about the activity and what some big takeaways were. Some thought story mapping was a great way to get all the information out there from all different stakeholders, so everyone could be on the same page. It also helped determine and align priorities of what should be designed for the minimum viable product (MVP).

People enjoyed getting hands on with the activity; if trying out UX sounds like something you’re interested in, come out to the A Day in the Life series. Each month we’ll hear from a practitioner in UX role and try an activity to see what it’s like to be in their shoes.

“A Day in the Life” Series Kick Off with Lightning Talks

On March 9th, we held an evening of lightning talks to kick off our “A Day in the Life of UX Roles” series. The lightning talks served as a really quick overview of roles in the UX field. That evening we covered 11 roles – can you believe there are that many roles in UX!? The night was jam packed with information, but in a fairly digestible format. Lightning talks are a presentation style, where each presenter gets 20 slides and slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. It’s intense, but it keeps the presentation focused on what’s truly important, so you can get a lot of high-level info in a short amount of time!

The talks were aimed at providing a rough idea of what the roles are so attendees could see which ones are of interest to them. Then, if they’re interested in learning about a certain role, they can come out to a feature presentation, where we take a deeper dive into that role and try an activity to get a feel for what it’s like. These feature presentations will be happening once a month starting in April. To learn more about upcoming events, join the exploreUX – Raleigh edition meetup.

In this recap, I’ve provided a high-level summary of role. I’ve also included the slide decks, but they lose some context without their speaker. However, hopefully you can get a good gist to see if you want to attend a deeper-dive session (And there are some great resources in them!).

You’ll notice some overlap of activities and skill sets among the roles and you’ll see the people in the roles have  a diverse background. Part of what’s unique about the UX field is that people kind of stumble into it. In general, the UX field has a wide variety of activities involved so if you like to mix things up, you can, but if you like to focus on one thing purely, you can as well.

Generalist UX Designer – Emily Parker, WillowTree Apps

Generalist UX Designers are like a Swiss Army Knife of the UX world. They usually do a little bit of everything from concept, wireframes, design, and user testing. Emily gave us an overview of her role at WillowTree, a company in Durham that makes apps for other companies.


Interaction Designer – Allie Jacobs, Red Hat

Allie told us about her role as an interaction designer at Red Hat. She came into UX from a human factors engineering and hardware background. Interaction designers focus more on the logical interactions users would have with a website or product. Being an interaction designer allows her to be creative without having to contribute from a visual standpoint. The UX team she works on also created a resource called PatternFly, which is an open-source UI framework for enterprise web applications.


User Researcher – substituted by Michelle Chin, Citrix

Our presenter on the user researcher role had to cancel at the last minute, so I ended up pinch-hitting and giving a quick overview on that role. It’s one of the most vital roles in the field and I didn’t want it to go unrecognized at this kick off event. As part of my role at Citrix, I work closely with our two dedicated user researchers. Sometimes I help with upfront user researcher and then I also facilitate usability testing sessions. At Citrix, we use qualitative methods and quantitative methods. We then combine our findings from both methods to come up with the insights that influence product and design decisions.


Design Manager – Mark Congiusta, Cisco

For those interested in seeing the options for a career path in UX, Mark talked about what it’s like to be a UX manager. He currently manages a globally dispersed team at Cisco and advocates for his team, so they can focus on their work. Mark came into UX via a route of architecture to industrial design to programming to marketing and finally to UX.


Information Architect – Julie Grundy, Duke University

Julie works Duke Web Services, which is Duke’s in-house web team. She helps departments make sense of their content – in a way that website visitors can find their way through that department’s website. Part of her daily work includes researching who her client is and who their users are, designing a structure for the website, organizing content, and iterating on designs through usability testing.


Content Strategist – Tony Poillucci, VisionPoint Marketing

Content strategy entails the planning, development, and management of content typically in digital media (e.g. websites, social media, etc.). At VisionPoint Marketing, Tony helps their clients provide the relevant content on their site at the right time to their visitors. His research includes understanding the client, their goals, and their users in order to craft the right content. His role overlaps a little with information architecture, where providing the right wording for a site’s navigation is just as crucial to the content a visitor reads.


Data Visualization Specialist – Ari Sanoff, Truven Health Analytics

Data visualization is a discipline that focuses on visually representing data in a meaningful way to end users. Data – and a lot of it – is something that can be naturally complicated and overwhelming, so architecting it in a way that’s meaningful is definitely a challenge. Ari is an information architect that specializes in data visualizations. He gave us a quick overview on the different visualizations and the types of ways they could be displayed.


Accessibility Analyst – Dennis Lembree, Deque Systems

Accessibility is the design of products, devices, and services for people with visual, aural, and/or motor-skill impairments, and more. It’s an important aspect of website and app design, where companies want their websites and products to be accessible for everyone. Dennis’s job as an accessibility consultant is to evaluate a client’s product and identify areas that are inaccessible to those with impairments. He makes recommendations on how to fix them so they are accessible. In terms of UX, when a site or app is accessible, it’s also improves the usability for everyone. Dennis provided several resources in his presentation and if you’re interested in learning about accessibility and assistive technology, we’ll be hosting Dennis’s deeper dive presentation on Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 19th.


Visual Designer – Caroline Ford, Citrix

For products like websites and apps, there’s a level of usability involved with the visual design. Not only does a product need to look appealing, but the layout and visual hierarchy in the design is important to its successful usage. Caroline, a graduate of the Graphic Design program at NC State, has a strong visual design background, but showed us how she also includes strategy and research into her daily work.


Product Designer/Manager – Jacob Puckett, /

Product Managers help deliver solutions that meet customers needs, which sounds really similar to what a UX designer does. In some companies, product managers are separate from UX designers, however there’s some overlap in what both roles do (talking to customers, sketching ideas, pitching solutions, and so on). UX designers and product managers can work together and create a really strong duo. In Jacob’s case, he has a hybrid role of the two and he talked about what it’s like to work in that space. He comes from a design background and his career has grown to encompass this hybrid role.


Small Design Business Owner – Erik Johnson, PurposeUX

Erik provided an overview of what it’s like to go out on your own and start your own small business. Much like a generalist UX designer, him and his business partner handle all aspects of UX, and additionally all the aspects of running a business (bookkeeping, business development, and so on). While it’s challenging to balance it all, he mentioned how much he’s learned in the short amount of time of starting his business.

A Day in the Life Series – Raleigh

In March, exploreUX Raleigh edition will be kicking off a monthly event series called “A Day in the Life.” Each month we’ll meet and learn about a different UX role in the field. We’ll have guest speakers from our local community tell us what their day-to-day activities are like and then, if appropriate, we’ll try a small activity to get the feel for what someone in their role does. Roles we’ll be covering include:
  • Content strategist
  • Information architect
  • User researcher
  • Interaction designer
  • and more!
This series is great for entry-level folks, career transitioners, and anyone who’s curious about UX and roles in the profession. We’re hoping this series provides attendees with a better understanding of who’s involved in creating great user experiences, as well as expose people to a career path they might be interested in pursuing.
Keep in Touch
Check our meetup page for upcoming events. Additionally, if you have a role you’d like to learn about, let us know!
Call for Speakers
We’re looking for speakers to present at these events. If you’re interested in speaking, please reach out to Michelle.

exploreUX + 2016

This year, exploreUX is revving up our engines and we’re planning some exciting events for 2016 and we’ll be more active writing blog posts. We’re also in the process of reactivating our exploreUX DC edition. Stay tuned for future events and if there’s something you’d like to see for our events or blog posts, let us know!
The importance of exploreUX
In the process of starting exploreUX, I’ve really learned people are recognizing the importance of great user experiences and know that there are people behind the scenes that design them. How exactly a UX professional does this and how one becomes a UX professional is still a bit vague to many.
Start your own exploreUX
If you’re wishing you had something like exploreUX where you live, think about starting an exploreUX edition for your area. We love UX and we want to advocate for it wherever we can. Feel free to contact us if you’re interested in organizing a local edition in your area, we’re happy to help provide guidance.
exploreUX DC
Wait, did you say you were starting the exploreUX DC edition again? Yes, I’m in the process of handing over hosting responsibilities for the DC edition to some friends of mine, so they can pick things back up. In my move to Raleigh, it was never my intention to end exploreUX in DC. There’s such a rich community of UXers in DC, that the meetup shouldn’t be falling to the wayside. Keep a look out for events happening this year.

Event: UX at Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

exploreUX, the Rock Creek UX Team, Chief, and General Assembly are teaming up to bring you an event: A Day in the Life: User Experience at Rock Creek Strategic Marketing. We’ll be talking about what being a UXer is like at Rock Creek – what we do, what we love, etc. and we’ll have a panel discussion where you can ask pretty much everything you wanted to know about being a UXer.

The event is Wednesday, 7/23 at 6pm, at  Chief (1900 M St. NW, red line Dupont Circle).  For more info and to register:

Trello for Modified-Delphi Card Sorts

Trello is an awesome app for organizing and collaborating.  However, it’s also a great tool in your UX kit for doing Modified-Delphi card sorts.

Modified-Delphi card sorting is a technique where the first participant does a full card sort of organizing and arranging items. The next participant iterates on the first participant’s sort, then the third participant iterates on the second’s, and so on. The idea is that with each iteration the sort gets more refined with fewer participants and consensus is built sooner. Learn more about the Modified-Delphi card sorting method (PDF slide deck).

Using Trello for this type of card sorting is beneficial because it’s an easy tool for participants to use – so they can focus more on the actual sort.  In addition, you can copy, save, and share each iteration digitally.

To set up Trello for a Modified-Delphi card sort, create a new organization. Then create your first board. In this case I’ve created “Participant #1.” (I’ll explain why I’ve labeled it this way later.)

In the “Participant 1” board, set up all the cards in a list called “Unfiled.”

Trello board set up for a Modified-Delphi card sort with a list called Unfiled and all the cards under that list

Have the participants create lists, label them, and move cards to the lists until they see fit.

An in-progress card sort by the first participant in Trello

When they’re done, copy the board by going to the sidebar, selecting Menu, then Copy board….  Name this copied board “Participant #2” – make sure you keep it in the same organization and check the box to keep the cards.  This creates a duplicate version of the first iteration that the second participant can then modify.  Repeat this as needed for your participants.

Creating a new board for card sorting by duplicating this one

Keep in mind, this isn’t a good tool for traditional card sorts because you can’t compile data easily.  This and Modified-Delphi card sorts are great if you have a limited budget, short on time, and only have a few resources.

Pro Tip: You can do this remotely by inviting people to your Trello board and Trello has an easy signup process.

Get started with Trello:

Cost: free

Let us know if you’ve tried it, how it’s worked out, or if you have other tips or know of other ways to do Modified-Delphi card sorts.


Gamestorming Book Cover


Gamestorming is a book that every UXer should have in their UX toolkit. Written by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo, this book walks you through the core skills of brainstorming and provides over 80 games that foster ideation, collaboration, and communication among teams.

What’s really nice is this book is a quick weekend read so you can put things into action when you get to the office on Monday.  This book is great for those new to facilitating group sessions, but also seasoned facilitators who are looking for new ways to mix things up.  For each game they define the object of play, number of participants, length of the activity, rules for playing, and the strategy behind the game.

Aside from being a practical guide, Gamestorming goes into the philosophy of game design itself, which is a great way of understanding the process of arriving at solutions to challenges.  Not only is understanding this approach helpful in developing games, but it’s great for tackling challenges in life, too.

The authors also go into how anyone can draw using just 12 glyphs, which seems almost too simple.  But if you try it, you’ll see they’re right.

There is also a companion website called, where anyone can read about games submitted by other users or submit your own to share.

Published by O’Reilly and available on, list price: $29.99.