Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design


Undercover Boss is User-centered Design at its best

Posted by Michael Gaigg

I'm amazed, though not surprised, how revealing and informative field trips can be. Three episodes into Undercover Boss, a reality TV series by CBS, it becomes obvious how easy it is for upper management to get disconnected from the base, for a CEO to know little to nothing about its employees and their work conditions, for a corporate policy being counterproductive. High-level assumptions don't live up to their expectations, prove to be ineffective, are misinterpreted or simply not useful at all.

Undercover Boss logo

Undercover Boss logo

For all that haven't seen the show yet, each episode of the show features a senior executive at a major corporation working incognito as a new entry-level hire in his or her company for one week, to find out how the company really works and identify some of the unsung heroes among the employees.

Setting the stage

The show usually starts with the CEO of the corporation entering a board meeting revealing his plan to go undercover. I enjoy seeing the directors' mouths dropping with shear fear in their faces of the possible outcome and its consequences. Could it be that they know something might be wrong? Or not perfect?

Learning the hard way

The undercover boss assumes a new identity and with the excuse of being filmed for a documentary on a person working entry-level jobs in several different industries (or similar) starts digging dirt for Waste Mangement, cleaning dishes at Hooters or serving coffee at 7-Eleven.

We see a woman that has to pee in a can for lack of time to make a toilet stop en route, store lights that cannot be replaced within a 30-day window, a restaurant manager having his employees competing in degrading games so the winner can leave early. All examples of failed management and policies with huge potential for change!

We also live with some incredible and heartbreaking stories of inspiring people that are on dialysis or waiting for a kidney transplant but still work hard and motivated. A guy that works long nights to finance his studies but without perspective within the company, something is not going right here.
All these people are invaluable to any company but unfortunately mostly overlooked, another missed chance of finding hidden potential. Some of them with incredible skills that are simply not needed at their current job position but might be essential in another. Where to go?

Overall, the experience is eye-opening and a dedication to humanity, the revelation that every "position" is held by a person, that every "customer relation" is an interaction between people, that every "policy" directly or indirectly affects the life of an employee.


Finally the CEO, overwhelmed by his experiences, seems cleansed by his experiences and vows to correct the disgrace before it becomes outrage. In the show the boss reveals his true identity to the employees and like a big family they watch clips from the show, laugh, cheer and live happily ever after.

Effect on UX

Field studies, a widely accepted and practiced method of user-centered design, seems to find its way into the conscience of the American (and British - the show is based on the 2009 British Channel 4 series of the same name) viewers. It appears as the obvious thing to do.

My very positive take-away from the show is that without knowing, managers, directors and CEO's will ask for more involvement of the base (real people), will involve field studies or user testing in their methodology which surely won't disappointed them. Their insights will improve the live of their employees (the society) and gain considerable business advantages over their competition in the long run.

Am I dreaming or reaching for the stars? Let me know what you think?


User-Centered Design (UCD) Methods: Comparison and Overview

Posted by Michael Gaigg

This is the first in a series of blogs describing User-centered Design Methods. My goal is to summarize my experience, insights and findings across multiple literature and compile them into easy and quick to digest pieces for you to consume. I want to encourage you to comment your own experiences and give me feedback on why your company applies certain methods differently or not at all or something else altogether.

I personally don't like the term Usability too much, it's an empty buzz word. It means SOMETHING to everybody but isn't scientific enough to be taken serious. It's often interpreted wrongly and purely misunderstood by most. It's kinda like Psychology, we know it is important to understand fundamental human behavior, their problems and remedies, but I wouldn't pay a dime to go to a Psychologist. But who knows, just as Psychology got its scientific relevance and acknowledgment - partly maybe through the 'invention' of the IQ - hopefully Usability rises up to similar levels (Jeff Sauro offers interesting metrics via SUM (Single Usability Metric).

That's why I like the term User-centered Design. It works wonders with Project Managers and the-like, probably because Design is such an important term in their daily work. And when asked about Usability testing I can conveniently point out that this is only one tool of many in my UCD toolbox. But the really important sales trick is to know which UCD method is best used at what time in the project management cycle.

The following chart compares the most common user-centered design methods, outlines their cost and shows when to use them:

Overview of user-centered design methods

Comparison of User-centerd Design (UCD) Methods
Method Cost Output Sample Size When to Use
Competitive Studies Medium Stat. & Non-Stat. 5 Requirements
Focus Groups High Non-Statistical 6-9 Requirements
Field Studies High Non-Statistical 2-3 Requirements
Heuristic Evaluation Low Statistical 2-3 Design
Paper Prototyping Medium Stat. & Non-Stat. 5 Design
Card Sorting High Statistical 15-20 Design
Participatory Design Low Non-Statistical n/a Design
User Testing Medium Stat. & Non-Stat. 5 Design & Evaluation
Surveys Low Statistical 20+ Requirements & Evaluation
Interviews High Non-Statistical 3-5 Requirements & Evaluation
Server Traffic Log Analysis Low Statistical n/a Evaluation
Search Log Analysis Low Statistical n/a Evaluation

Not long ago, after having completed a full project management cycle (requirements, design, implementation and evaluation) the PM proudly announced to perform a Focus Group with his stakeholders. Showing the ready application, he thought, would surely impress them and lead to valuable feedback for the next milestone. This impulse isn't uncommon but has to be fought before it becomes reality. Does he really want to produce MORE and EXPENSIVE requirements? Because that's the output of Focus Groups. Wouldn't he be better off running 2 iterations of User Testing to reveal usability issues or a Survey to receive input from outside the development environment?


  • Requirements:
    • Competitive Studies
    • Interviews
    • Field Studies
  • Design:
    • Heuristic Evaluation
    • Paper Prototyping
    • User Testing
  • Evaluation:
    • Surveys
    • Server Traffic Log Analysis
    • Search Log Analysis
    • User Testing
  • The Usability effort is NOT proportional to the size of the project. Bigger projects spend less percentage on UCD with same effort. Regardless, as a rule of thumb assign 10% of the projects budget for UCD.
  • Faster iterations of prototype design require less testers