Archive | January, 2010

ShopStyle iPhone App Usability Review

26 Jan

Nicole Cook from ShopStyle recently approached us for a review of their iPhone app. Following previous user feedback they made enhancements to the app, so we thought this was a great opportunity to kick off some more regular reviews of mobile apps on our blog. Let us know if you’d like your app reviewed.

We’ve put this review together following usability testing with a mix of regular iPhone app users and novice iPhone app users, as well as an expert user experience audit.

What is ShopStyle?

ShopStyle is an application which pulls together a number of different retailers into one place, allowing users to search and browse products on one app rather than visiting different apps or websites. Users can refine their searches to see all the products from the retailers signed up to the service, saving time and effort visiting different stores. Once a product is found, users are taken to the retailer’s site to complete their purchase.

The Good

  • Saves users time searching through different retail sites for products
  • Good categorisation of products
  • Users can quickly mark an item as a ‘favourite’ to build a list of items they can look at in more detail later while they browse
  • Users can discover products from brands and websites they may not have heard of or would not have found on the web
  • Very visual way to browse through products which supports users high street shopping behaviour of flicking through clothes racks
  • Refine options show how many items match the search criteria

The Bad

  • Loading times can be slow as the app downloads lots of images in one go
  • Even when users have refined their search criteria, there can still be a lot of items to scroll through.
  • Some of the prices in the app are not accurate when clicking through to the website
  • Prices are excluding delivery so it’s difficult for users to get an accurate view of how much they are likely to spend, instead users have to visit the website and find delivery costs and returns policy information
  • When scrolling through a number of items it is difficult for users to tell how many more items are left as there is no scroll bar
  • Refining options can be a little clunky if users want to refine a number of different items at once
  • Accessing product information is a little unclear
  • Some product images include model shots and other don’t which can give users a slightly disjointed experience

Our Top 3 Usability Improvements

  • Limit the number of images loaded at one time –  Because the app is so image heavy, it can take a while to download all the images when users are on the move.  Flickr deals with this by downloading 40 thumbnails and then users can ‘load 40 more’ which allows the application to load a smaller number of images quickly

  • Give users more control over filtering and sorting by price – Most users are price conscious and therefore rely upon price filters when searching for suitable products. With ShopStyle, users are forced to select a predefined price category when refining by price. Users however, want to search between their own minimum and maximum criteria e.g. John is willing to spend between £45 and £60 on a pair of jeans but has to search through a selection of jeans priced from £25 to £100. In addition, users need the ability to sort the results returned. We feel that allowing users to sort by price would be very useful for users.

  • Improve button placement - When users wanted to refine their searches by more than one criteria users tended to select the filter, then click ‘Done’, which took them back to the products listing. They would then realise they needed to go back to ‘Refine’ to add another criteria. We feel that this problem could be solved by improving  button placement and labels. Bringing the two options closer together and labelling them ‘Refine more’ & ‘Done’.

Other Usability Improvements

  • Add a scroll bar to searches
  • Improve navigation options to make it clearer how to move left and right, and how to see product information
  • Add a feature to allow users to compare details of the items listed in their ‘favourites’
  • Allow users to save their personal preferences such as their shoe size, waist size etc. to provide personalised searches
  • Add user ratings to searches and encourage users to add their own ratings to products
  • Allow users to filter results by stores offering free delivery

Conclusion

Overall, we found the ShopStyle app offered users a good experience and users found the app to be extremely useful to them. The app does have some usability issues but none are showstoppers. Despite this, we feel that the improvements we recommend above will make significant enhancements to the overall experience and will become more important as more and more retailers sign up to ShopStyle. We look forward to seeing the improved version

Do you have an app you’d like us to review?

Related services: Usability testing & iphone app usability

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

The three disciplines of User Experience (UX)

20 Jan

User Experience

We’ve spoken to three different companies in the past couple of weeks who are all recruiting a ‘UX practitioner’.  Yet when we asked what they were looking  for, we found that each of them is looking for a different role. So we started to question the value of the term User Experience (UX) which seems to have become an over-used label to refer to everything from design, to internet marketing.

As a term, user experience is too broad and lacks clear definition. In fact, there is no agreed definition of what user experience is even within the UX community. There are some excellent examples of people trying to explain what user experience is and what it is not , but in terms of a role within an organisation it seems too broad to be useful because everyone contributes and a user experience practitioner can’t control every aspect of a site.

Before the term ‘user experience’ rose to popularity, the web industry relied upon terms such as information architecture, interaction design, and usability testing. They may not be as sexy or marketable as user experience, but they provide a much more structured way to consider roles and responsibilities for an organisation keen to improve users’ experience. Let’s look at each in turn:

Information Architecture

The origins of Information architecture lie in library sciences and is defined as “the art and science of organising and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability” by the IA institute

Typically, an information architect will help you to restructure, categorise and label information into a structure users will find easy to understand. A better way to explain it is provided by Christina Wodke:  “You know when you’re on a website and you see a bunch of navigation choices to click on? I’m the one who decided what the choices are, what they are called and where they take you when you click”

Interaction Design

Interaction design comes from the academic discipline of Human Computer Interaction. The IxDA provide the following definition: “Interaction design defines the structure and behaviors of interactive products and services and user interactions with those products and services”

An interaction designer works out what the user goals is, and then decides what tools users need achieve their goal as quickly and easily as possible. This is explained further by Bill Verplank in a Video on YouTube

Usability Testing

Usability Testing or Usability Engineering  “is a discipline that provides structured methods for achieving usability in user interface design during product development” according to Deborah Mayhew in her excellent book The Usability Engineering Lifecycle

Usability Engineering also has its roots in Human-Computer Interaction and is a critical tool in ensuring a website meets the needs and expectations of its users. According to Jakob Neilsen, usability testing has three core activities “get representative customers, ask them to perform realistic tasks, and shut up and let them do the talking”

 

So, before you recruit a UX practitioner or ask for help with user experience take a moment to consider what type of help you are seeking and which discipline this would fall into. Bear in mind that there are lots of organisations like us who can provide all three services, but when recruiting or searching for a freelancer bear in mind that a good usability engineer isn’t necessarily a good interaction designer, and a good information architect won’t necessarily know how to design, facilitate and interpret usability research.

Related services: Usability testing, and Information Architecture
 

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Usability testing is critical to online customer satisfaction

8 Jan

Tick box

We were interested to see that a study of the UK’s top 40 online retail websites found that customer satisfaction is increasing year on year. Compared with US however, we were disappointed to find that UK sites still lag behind our US counterparts by 10%.

The study measured four key elements that the research company, Foresee, believes affects customer satisfaction: Merchandise, Functionality, Content, and Price. The study claims that functionality enhancements provide less of an ROI that merchandise and price improvements.

What, no usability?

The functionality aspect of this study does include the usefulness of functionality, but fails to include the usability of a website. In our experience, the right price for the right product is very important, but if users fund it difficult or frustrating during their user journey they will often revert back to Google to find an easier to use competitor offering.

The research is interesting and useful but usability is critical in the success of eCommerce sites and has not been considered in this study.

Usability is critical

The report advises online retailers to increase customer satisfaction by being aware of how changing specific elements of their websites will or will not impact customer satisfaction.

Observational research with the target audience is an excellent way of understanding what enhancements will and will not improve the user journey. Usability testing will help online retailers to understand where the issues are in the user journey, and then review the success of any enhancements that fall out of the research.

Does your website produce excellent customer satisfaction?

 

 

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Ali Carmichael

About Ali Carmichael

Ali (or Alasdair) is an experienced project manager who loves his Gantt charts and milestones! He has over 12 years' experience managing successful online experiences for world class brands. Ali is responsible for ensuring our clients love what we do for them. Follow Ali on twitter @AliJCarmichael