About opening doors and asking questions:
An interview with Janne Jul Jensen

With more than 80 designer brains at Booking.com we “think” we know quite a lot. However, being a data-loving company, we have figured out that 986 UXers know even more – 986 is the number of members in the Amsterdam UX Meet-up Group!

At Booking.com, professional growth and development take place outside as well as within the office walls. Of course we have training courses and workshops, but in this constantly changing world of the web – training is often out of date once almost as soon as it’s set up and ready to be conducted. At Booking.com, learning also takes place when we get out and talk to people, attend talks and presentations given by others in the industry and open our minds to new ideas.

And opening our minds and our doors is what we did on 7 January when we hosted the Amsterdam UX Meet-up Group. We have worked a lot with this group in the past and are proud to be a well-integrated part of the Netherlands’ Design and UX community.

After a successful 2014 spent networking, sponsoring, speaking and attending meet-ups and conferences, the Booking.com design team wanted to assure a great start to 2015. So we invited more than 120 Amsterdam UXers to head office...along with Janne Jul Jensen–who came all the way from Denmark to speak about “UI in an Agile Process”.

Janne Jul Jensen specializes in usability and interaction design, and applies her expertise primarily to the mobile app projects within Trifork. These include apps for Danske Bank, Bilka, the Roskilde Festival, KMD and DSB. She is a much sought-after speaker by educational institutions, conferences, the public sector and private companies. She also gives courses on her areas of expertise, and is the founder of the Design & Usability user group (in Danish), where peers can meet and learn from each other.

After Janne shared her knowledge with the UX community our designers still had some questions for her. Here is our interview with Janne.

How did you get into design?

I was originally being educated to be a Software Engineer at university, but was beginning to question whether that was the right choice as I thought it was lacking purpose for me. I asked some of my fellow male students why they liked the education, and often the answer was “I think it is fun to tinker with software”. But to me it wasn’t enough of a reason that I myself was having fun. I wanted a bigger purpose with my education than it just being for my own sake. I wanted an education that would have an impact on peoples' lives. So I started looking into how I could combine the two, and discovered that the software engineering degree had a specialization in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), and the rest, as they say, is history. I chose that specialization and have never looked back since.

Compared to a lot of other designers, you have quite an academic background, what was the most important thing that you learned for the practice of design?

Through my academic background I got to equip my UX toolbox with a lot more tools than most other UX’ers, as I also got to try out some of the more specialized and perhaps less applicable tools within UX. This has its advantages when I’m faced with a project that has an unusual problem or a different profile. I also find that because I have done UX research, which has had to be very rigid to achieve the academic validity required, I have a good understanding of where I can scale the various methods back without the results being affected – and if I scale back in a way that affects the results, I know HOW it affects the results.

What is the most stimulating and challenging project you have accomplished?

I have worked on many different projects, all which have had their own challenges. But one of the most stimulating projects I have worked on, was the Danske Bank Mobile Bank project. It was very rewarding to work with a client who puts quality first! Most clients are very preoccupied with cost, and usually cuts and compromises are made within UX, when the budget is under pressure. This has never been the case with Danske Bank, as they value the quality of the app as the primary objective. This allows designers to dream big and to do things the way they should be done, rather than the way they can be done within a tight budget.

Since this was your first experience creating a mobile app, how did you evaluate your agile process to ensure it was effective in this project context, and is there anything you would change?

We were using SCRUM in the project and part of the SCRUM process is the retrospective. We used this part very actively in that we ended each sprint with a retrospective, during which we looked at what had worked well in the process. Based on this, we decided which parts of the process we should keep and which we should change in the next sprint. For those things that didn’t work well, we discussed why, and came up with a new way of dealing with them that we would then try out in the next sprint.

In addition to starting the UX process a sprint ahead of the rest of the development, are there any other tips for embedding UX into the SCRUM more easily?

Another important aspect of embedding UX into SCRUM is to make it explicitly a part of the backlog. You do this by making UX points on the list for each feature (and prioritizing the feature and the UX together)! It is also important to have a product owner who explicitly values and prioritizes UX. Finally, independent of the development process, it is important to have UX as an integral part of your company culture; to have developers who value and respect UX and who will actively seek UX advice; and to have leadership who prioritize UX and find it important.

Do you think that the Agile methodology is better suited to the development of web-based or native apps?

I think it fits both! The world in general is characterized by never being static and being in a state of constant change. Humans learn constantly and are always accumulating experience. Neither of these givens is taken into account by, for example, the waterfall model, as that is based on an assumption that once a requirement specification is written, the scope of the project will never change (and no one will want it to), and that we will not learn anything new in the development process that will change our idea of what should be developed and how. Rarely in a development project is either of these assumptions true.

At Booking.com we love A/B testing, did you do A/B testing for the Danske Bank app?

I am very much in favor of A/B testing as a way to decide between two possible solutions. However, because we don’t do releases very often in mobile banking, we could potentially have two different versions of the app out for quite a long time. We feel that this would create other challenges, so we opted out of A/B tests in this project. Instead we carry out other activities to address any doubts between potential solutions.

How much do you trust user surveys?

User surveys can never tell you the full picture, and it is always important to be aware of the limitations of a survey. That said, if a survey has been well produced and correctly distributed, it can give you very valuable insight, especially as long as you keep in mind what it cannot tell you.

For the Danske Bank app, you used Facebook and other social media to get feedback and ideas from the users. What other ways do you use to find out which new features users want in their apps?

Facebook is not the only way we listen to users. We use the reviews in App Store and Google Play (yes, someone actually reads those), input from the Danske Bank support, all the customer feedback the bank gets regarding the app, surveys, formulate questionnaires, keep an eye on competitors, and follow general trends in the field. In general, we keep our eyes and ears open in any relevant context that will inform our knowledge of our users’ needs and wants.

Because the Booking.com app is translated into 40 languages, we deal with big translation challenges at Booking.com. Your initial app was developed for Danske in Denmark, and in the meantime you were building apps for other countries. Do they all share the same code base or are they completely different apps? How did you manage translations?

The Danske Bank Mobile Bank app exists in six versions (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Northern Irish, and English) and the code base is largely the same for all six apps, with a few exceptions because of a variation in regulations from country to country. Translation is handled using a large spreadsheet that contains translations for every piece of text in the app. Because of this, it is very important that absolutely none of the graphics contains any text whatsoever. One of the challenges that still remain is if, for example, a label on a button will fit that button in any language. The key here is to find the language that tends to have the longest words. In our case, if it will fit in Finnish, the other languages will almost always fit too. That said, there is no shortcut for checking this, you have to go over every screen to be sure.

And as a last question, you are teaching UX – what book would you recommend as a “Must read” to a junior designer?

There are general books and specialized books, and when it comes to someone fairly new in the trade, I would recommend the more general books. These could include:

  • Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction by Jenny Preece and Helen Sharp (Coming out February 2015)
  • Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests by Jeffrey Rubin
  • The inmates are running the asylum by Alan Cooper
  • Don’t make me think by Steve Krug
  • Rocket surgery made easy by Steve Krug

Booking.com is getting ready for a UX conference in April, a front-end hackathon in May and another design meet-up in June. These will happen both in and outside our office walls, but everyone’s always welcome. We can only truly learn if we open our doors for more knowledge and experience.

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