UX Soft Skills: Explaining Systems
More often than not, here at Universal Mind, we’re asked to come up with solutions for complex systems or for interactions that involve multiple physical devices which are interacting with apps, sensors, servers and users. Getting all of this information accurately conveyed can be pretty difficult, especially early in the project when there are few physical or digital assets that can be pointed to to illustrate the concept.
So, how can we get better at this? It’s not like every day we can practice explaining complicated systems to non-paying clients. Most people, when you approach them to try and start up a conversation around the user authentication processes, will quickly flee… so how do you practice this soft skill?
User Authentication : Play a Board Game to Practice
Step 1: Host a game night
Modern board games have come a long way from the days of monopoly and chutes and ladders. Modern games have multiple turn phases, various counters that need to be watched, and rule books that can have a wide number of variants in them. A great example of a board game to teach others about User Authentication is, Agricola, a game about 10th-Century farming. While explaining all the interactions of a CMS will sedate nearly anyone, you can use the simple principals of Agricola to help articulate a system that is more complex, while still entertaining a rapt audience. Most people will not know much about farming in the dark ages, but the concepts are basic and familiar; fields needing to be plowed before they can be planted, fenced fields are good for keeping animals in, etc. Sounds like fun, and it is, but it’s also a great way to practice explaining complex systems.
Step 2: Explain the rules
Study up first - not only is this a practice in conveying information, this is also a way to practice your presentation skills. Do your best not to refer to the rulebook, but instead create your own hand written notes. Try not to read directly from your notes, but instead relate the rules in everyday language.
- Tell everyone first how to win: This is the same as restating the user/business of a system; what do we want to do?, “We want to have a wide variety of food stored up for the winter and we’ll need to prepare for that (no one wants a diet made up exclusively of carrots).”
- Describe how each sub-system works: “For raising animals, you need fences. For fences, you need to collect wood, then task someone with building the fences. Next, you need to purchase animals and put them in the pasture.” This is the same as breaking down a complex system, “This API will handle content requests based on the following parameters…”
- Talk about how these systems work together: “Animals are great because they can provide a lot of food, but they’re not a replenishing resource the way that grain an vegetables are, so having a mix of both is really helpful.” This is also key when explaining how a system works - “Users are going to want to consume this information in a multitude of ways, we’ve seen that 43% have a regular RSS feed and that 28% visit the site more than 4 times a week, we need to make it easy for all of the users to consume the content however they want, that’s why we’ve made these different sub-systems.”
- Be prepared for questions: You’re going to get questions, even ones you didn’t anticipate. Try to keep the atmosphere light and engaging without authoritatively dictating the rules. If someone is drifting, losing focus, or appears lost, see if they can guess the next step or interaction. Talk about why they, as a strategic player, want to do these things and how to judge how other players are doing.
On subsequent game nights, learn from your previous game nights and try to enhance your explanations. With a few game nights under your belt you can quickly elevate not only your ability to detail out complex systems but you’ll also enhance your public speaking skills as well.