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Helping Aberdeen University become more user-focused

I’ve just returned from delivering 2 days of UX training for the University of Aberdeen. We covered usability testing and review, workshops and prototyping.

I’ve known Mike McConnell, Aberdeen’s Business Applications Manager, for a number of years through the UK Higher Ed web management network. He caught up with me at this year’s IWMW conference and following my Lean UX plenary and usability review masterclass asked if I’d be willing to run some training for his team.

My Lean UX plenary presentation at IWMW 2016
Review of 2016 IWMW conference by Edinburgh staff

After discussing a number of options for training, we settled on the following programme which was delivered to up to 20 IT, marketing, web management and student recruitment staff. The numbers ebbed and flowed according to professional interest, with a core group of 12 attending everything.

People looking at monitor screens in a computer lab

Attendees practiced their usability testing skills in pairs

The programme I delivered was:

  • Usability testing essentials: Everything you need to know to undertake usability testing yourself, and why you should do it. The session is a mix of seminar, demo and practical activities, and everyone left having conducted two tests on a website or system of their choice.
  • Collaborative usability testing review: In advance of the training, I arranged for three Edinburgh students to take part in a usability test on the Aberdeen undergraduate online prospectus. So in this session, the group both learned how to run collaborative review sessions themselves while reviewing research supporting their area of business.
  • Workshop essentials: Running through the basics of what makes an effective, inclusive workshop, tips I’ve picked up over the years, and a couple of easy-to-repeat activities that can get a diverse range of stakeholders and/or users engaged.
  • Introduction to prototyping: Exploring ways in which service and design ideas can be tried out with the minimum of effort and development time, through use of pencil and paper, and everyday office software; exposing the user to the concept at the earliest stage possible for maximum benefit. Practical activities build on workshop and usability testing skills developed in earlier sessions.

The four 3-hour sessions over two days went down very well with attendees with lots of active participation and questions.

I was inspired by Neil’s Lean UX talk at IWMW; especially the methodologies he was advocating to ensure that requirements gathering focused on business goals and user need. As an organisation we have often struggled to translate business goals into actionable development activity with measurable outcomes. Neil’s training sessions helped us understand that we could do this cheaply, easily and best of all, effectively. Neil is a personable and skilled facilitator and the sessions were engaging and entertaining throughout, with a good balance of taught and practical work. I would recommend Neil’s training to anyone working in HE professional services.

Mike McConnell
Business Applications Manager
University of Aberdeen

Desk covered in user interface sketches and stationery

Attendees explored potential user interfaces using pen, paper and post-it notes


Day 1: Usability testing and review

(Where 1 is excellent, and 5 is poor)

  • Usefulness of session 1.2
  • Quality of the presentation 1.2
  • Usefulness of the activities 1.1
  • Expertise of the trainer 1


“Really useful session and provided good guidance for conducting usability testing locally. The videos highlighted some important issues and were very valuable.”

“The usability issue consolidation flowchart and issue prioritization matrix were awesome!”

“Must do more of this!”

“Was particularly positive to have the right mix of people (marketing, tech etc) in the room to review the usability test videos. Will definitely be putting the collaborative review technique into practice.”

“Will most certainly use this in terms of redesigning our Sharepoint environment.”

“Haven’t seen usability testing for many years so this was very interesting. Was struck by the issues that emerged from the new online prospectus, and really hope we can get this approach going.”

Man holding paper containing sketched user interface

Sharing experiences of testing paper prototype interfaces with the group

Really useful session and provided good guidance for conducting usability testing locally… The usability issue consolidation flowchart and issue prioritization matrix were awesome!

Training attendees

Day 2: Workshopping and collaboration

(Where 1 is excellent, and 5 is poor)

  • Usefulness of session 1.7
  • Quality of the presentation 1.5
  • Usefulness of the activities 1.5
  • Expertise of the trainer 1.2


“The quality of the presentation was excellent… really practical, easy, achievable stuff, and pretty inspirational. Thank you!”

“It was helpful to put the theory into practice; actually creating prototypes and discussing with others.”

“Very helpful and useful course. It was great to get time put to change thinking and routine behaviour.”

“I am looking forward to applying some of the techniques learned today in improving the Sharepoint system in our organisation.”

“Feature prioritisation was really interesting. Whole day was great – thank you!”

“IT background makes it challenging to ‘see’ the user sufficiently”

“More! We will definitely be putting what we learned into practice”

“I will be putting the prototyping techniques into practice in future projects”

“Thanks, this was very useful”

“Learned lots”

The quality of the presentation was excellent… really practical, easy, achievable stuff, and pretty inspirational. Thank you!

Training attendee

Improve the research & collaboration skills in your team

If you’re interested in these hands-on workshops and want to get your team more user focused, get in touch.

I can tailor a training and research package to meet your needs and get your stakeholders actively collaborating towards more useful and user-friendly websites and products.

Neil Allison’s contact details

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