Digital revolution has been a boon for both the employees and organisations. It is so liberating as we have more flexibilities and freedom. We have option to work from home, organisational hierarchies are slowly diminishing, open office culture is becoming a trend and many digital tools make our lives easier.
UX process has also been benefited after the advent of technologies. Sharing work has never been this simple. Organising files and working collaboratively are such a piece of cake.
If everything is fine and dandy, what is the issue then?
Before looking deeper we will take a step back and know little about ourselves, us humans.
Prospective memory and why it is important?
“Prospective memory refers to remembering to perform an action in the future……Beyond remembering the intended action and when it is to be performed (retrospective component), prospective memory requires us to remember to execute the intended action at the appropriate moment (prospective component)”
M.A. McDaniel, G.O. Einstein, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001
Prospective memory is crucial in every day life especially in workplace. Prospective memory in every day life includes remembering to take tablets, pay bills before due date, buy groceries on the way back home. Poor prospective memory can also lead to life threatening situations in industries like medicine, aviation, factories with large machineries, construction etc..
It also plays a vital role in habit formation. Remembering everyday to perform the intentional task slowly becomes a habit in longer run.
There are 2 types of prospective memory
- Event based — Remembering to buy groceries on the way back home
- Time based — Pay bill before due date
Event based memory has better performance since seeing the grocery store triggers the task from the memory. That is an external cue, but sense of time is more internal and it is easy to miss out unless we set reminders and alarms.
How does this affect UX Process in digital workplace?
Prospective memory affects all work types but its effect is more pronounced in the UX process. Since the steps in UX involve gathering user inputs, doing analysis, secondary research, collecting different data points, collating them and synthesising to gain insights and acting on the insights later, we can see the heavy influence of prospective memory.
How many of us have created elegant personas, presentation from research insights, documentation, customer journeys using mapping tools only to be present in google drive or other cloud folders and never to be used again. Most of the upfront work we do before actual design, rest in an idle world.
Once we start designing screens we rarely go and visit those documents and check if everything still holds true.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
In the physical world, when we externalise information there are lot of cues for us to notice and act on it accordingly. Be it spacial positioning, color, form factors and other attributes of the objects ( mainly paper and sticky notes) which gain our attention and help in easy recognition. In digital world the chances of them happening is very low since the amount of information we glean is limited to size of the display. In most cases it is a monitor or a small projector.
Instant messaging, easy distractions due to open office culture add more complexity to the already existing issue.
Short term memory, working memory and digital tools
Most of the tools that we work with for project and task management mainly concentrate on getting the task done, monitoring and tracking the status of work.
We keep on switching between the screens from roadmap to a team member’s task board to task details going back and forth. We have a very limited short term memory as we can hold only few chunks of information at a time and as we switch between views it is very easy for anyone to loose the big picture.
We don’t need high end tools to solve this problem. Paper, index cards and sticky notes would suffice. Whiteboard also helps. Since they are out there always either on wall or whiteboard, it is hard for us to miss them.
Sticky notes and big picture
Sticky notes can be used to create user storymapping .Here by storymap I refer to User Storymapping by Jeff Patton.
User Storymap is often a set of user stories grouped together and arranged to form a map that makes sense. It has a narrative flow from left to right, describing the user activities, and tasks from top to bottom, to support those activities.
Each sticky note carries a user story. Color of the sticky note varies based on the complexity of the story. They can be placed on the wall in a way that everyone in the project has clear view.
Storymap helps us in seeing the big picture and have a holistic discussion about the project in a day to day manner.