Archive | June, 2010

Three questions every designer should ask themselves

28 Jun

3 questions every designer should ask themselves

Back when I was in tech support, I used to get calls from friends and family asking me how to fix their computer issues. Now, I get asked to cast an eye over a website, a blog or a design concept. The truth is that there’s no secret usability voodoo involved when doing these ad hoc reviews. It’s a simple case of asking them three straight forward questions. But when I do, I am often answered by silence while they think about their answer, as it is not something they have really considered.


Once they’ve answered the three questions, I’m in a much better position to review the design and advise on the best way to improve them. The three simple questions you should ask yourself when designing anything:

Who is the typical user?

You need to know enough detail to get into their head. To empathise with them and see the world through their eyes. You don’t necessarily need demographics such as age, sex, or income. But you do need to be able to picture a stereotypical user.

What is their goal?

Now you have a typical user in mind think carefully about what their objective in using the site is. What is their number one reason for being there? Are they desperately trying to find a present for their mum? Are they trying to decipher all the technical speak to decide which camera to buy? Understanding their goal allows you to focus specifically on helping them find what their looking for quickly and easily. All the rest of the stuff can be de-emphasised.

What do you want them to do?

It is your businesses, so you lead the way, but make sure you bear in mind what users are trying to achieve. A lot of websites are too busy pushing their own agenda to help users reach their goals. Instead, look for opportunities to link your goal with their goal. For example, help users find the product they want first and then persuade them to sign-up to your newsletter.

If you get stuck during the design process, or want to review something to see how well it works, consider these questions and you’ll see how useful they can be.

The simple fact is that, as a designer, your role is to influence behaviour. To do so, you must understand who you are influencing, what you want them to do, and what it is that they want to do. Successful websites are those that align their business goals with the goals of their users. If you are designing anything without some idea of how to answer the three questions above, you’ll most likely end up with an ineffective design.

 

What questions do you think designers should consider?

Related service: User Journey Design

 

 

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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

Which is best for you? A focus group or consumer panel?

18 Jun

Focus Groups vs. Customer Panels

When talking to our clients about focus groups and customer panels they invariably reply, ‘there’s a difference?’. Indeed there is, and it can have a lot of impact on the type of research you can do and the feedback you will receive.

If you conduct a focus group, you get a one shot deal. They will tell you what they think of your site or product, and then go away. All the data you get from them is received in isolation of any other factor. This might be good when asking about something definitive like a brand name or logo and asking ‘what do you think?’

A panel, on the other hand, offers a way of evolving your ideas and receiving feedback from the same people through the changes. A panel can be reconvened at regular intervals to monitor progress of, say, a new shopping site page, to see how their opinions have changed and if those changes are for the better or worse.

Naturally, the latter is more expensive, as the subjects need paying or rewarding for their time, opinion and loyalty over the course of a project. But, the information that your regular panel members provide can help bring a project from its origins to conclusion in a meaningful and structured manner.

So, you can see that the two distinct groups can serve very different purposes. For example, anything that is being researched as a concept, such as an advert or cosmetic site refresh, can go to the focus group for a snapshot of opinion and some yes/no answers to design questions.

On the other hand, when you need some ongoing feedback, turn to the consumer panel and you will see how their opinions evolve with your product. The downside of the panel is that you need some guarantee of open mindedness and a willingness to share opinion.

Another difference is that while both are traditionally run as face-to-face events, it is now easier to run a quick focus group over the Internet, allowing for the rapid collection of data. A long-running consumer panel is still best run as a face-to-face exercise to allow for a more detailed approach and the ability to observe the reaction of subjects.

Someone who starts out with negative thoughts may well harbour them through a project, no matter how it progresses and you might find that your panel runs out of love for the project long before you do. This is where companies that run these panels and groups try to find the right people, a task that would be tough for most businesses.

So, there can be a fine line between when to call in the consumer panel or when to get a focus group to do some opinion forming for you. Or, if your project or product is easily adjustable, why not try evolving it in front of the focus group and see their reactions and impressions change live on the day to try to shorten the timeline and development process. It’s amazing what some hard focus and nimble evolution can do.

What type of group do you think would benefit your company or product better?

Related services: Focus Groups & Customer Requirements Capture

 

 

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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 guidelines – are they the 'right' answer?

14 Jun

Usability Guidelines

We’re often asked about how to get a website ‘right’, or what is the ‘right’ way to display a product page for example. Our clients want to know what the best practice is, what guidelines and standards to conform to, what other sites are doing and so on. Understandably, everyone is very anxious about getting it right, but looking good for investors or designers is not the same as looking good in the eyes of an end user or customer.

In our opinion, guidelines and best practices can be useful to help make quick decisions during design but ultimately a guideline or statement of best practice is only a generic principle that worked for someone else at some time in the past. It may not be right for your users, on your website, at this moment in time.

Most of us are worried about getting it wrong. Ultimately though, getting it right is about what works for your website users. The only way to really get it right is to test the site with real users to understand what works and what does not. Getting it right for your users is far more important than adhering to a guideline.

Do you test your site with users or rely on guidelines instead?

Related service: Usability Testing

 

 

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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

World Cup App Review

11 Jun

If, like us, you are unfortunate enough to be working for most of the World Cup, you’ll want to download an app to keep you up to date with the latest team news and up to the minute scores. As you might imagine, there are several apps to choose from, so we thought we’d take a look to find the one that delivers – in terms of usefulness and, of course, usability.

We wanted a World Cup app to do 3 main things:

  • Give a clear picture of which games are on when so we can make a plan for the must watch matches.
  • Provide up to date team news on upcoming games.
  • Deliver latest scores and player stats i.e., scorers and assists.

 

ITV 2010 FIFA World Cup App

Price – Free , Link to iTunes

ITV 2010 Fifa World Cup App

For keeping up to date with the latest news and scores, ITV’s iPhone app initially looks promising as it offers to show you all the goals for the World Cup, ideal if you can’t take the time off work, or your boss doesn’t believe you have contracted man flu (again).

However, after a play around we found a few usability issues. The app utilises a news ticker that is limited to showing two or three, often partial, words of a headline rendering it largely incomprehensible. The headlines for the feature boxes are also truncated. We found that the video used in this app isn’t formatted for the iPhone’s screen.

If you’re going to make an iPhone app then ensure you make use of the phone’s features, it also runs the same advert before and after a clip, hopefully it will have more varied advertising during the tournament.

 

Telegraph WorldCup

Price – Free, Link to iTunes

Telegraph World Cup App

Moving on to another World Cup news app we found the Telegraph app benefited from some slick design where the front page of this app looks smart and gets straight to the point listing the upcoming matches. However, our problems started with reading the news, each headline is prefaced with "World Cup 2010:" leaving maybe one word and three or four letters of the next from the actual headline. It makes for an annoying guessing game, helped by the brief description of the story below the headline.

The photo gallery at the bottom of the app shows thumbnails of the latest images, click on one and you can browse them at full size. The whole app is well designed and laid out but fails to deliver when it comes to providing clear news headlines.

 

Sun Football World Cup Edition

Price £2.39, Link to iTunes

Sun Football World Cup Edition

The Sun’s app is home to the paper’s full flood of World Cup news and events stories while also packing in a virtual interactive wall chart and one of those noisy vuvuzela horns that you’ll be hearing plenty of over the tournament. The app delivers news well with more headline space than rival apps, and with features like polls you do feel like you’re getting your money’s worth out of the application, even if the essential news is freely available elsewhere.

 

Mahango World Cup Schedule

Price – 59p, Link to iTunes

Mahango World Cup App

This app takes slightly odd approach to navigating the tournament where you have to choose a date from a calendar to show which matches are on that date. This makes a rather frustrating way to navigate. The alternative is to find teams by their federation. Both strange choices of interface design.

Unfortunately the unintuitive navigation, coupled with the fact that it doesn’t offer anything that the free applications cannot provide, and lacks the updated news, means that there’s nothing here to make you want to choose it over a free product.

 

South Africa 2010 Tracker

Price Free (59p for non-ad version), Link to iTunes

South Africa 2010 Tracker

This app is probably the simplest in terms of design and navigation as it is purely designed to provide a view of which matches are being played, either by group or by date. Because all the matches are displayed in one scrolling list, it is easy to scroll down by date and see what the next matches to be played are, while also seeing the scores for previous games.

The app promises to update the scores and provide match summaries. Although the app lacks any real news capability, its simplicity means it offers something really useful and we see ourselves using it regularly during the tournament to stay updated and plan which matches to watch.

 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, none of the apps do everything we wanted in a clean, easy to use way. Based on our experiences with these apps we would recommend the Mubaloo South Africa 2010 Tracker to easily see which matches are on when and stay up to date with scores. In addition, we would suggest that the Sun’s application is the best to stay up to date with all other world cup content and news.

Most of the apps are still making some basic usability mistakes and it is clear that none of them have invested in usability testing which is disappointing. There were some simple usability issues that should have been spotted and fixed before these apps were released, the most common being trying to cram headlines into tiny spaces. Other quirks appear that also shouldn’t appear in professionally developed applications but as the World Cup is the first mega-event in the iPhone era (we think the 2008 Olympics was just a little early) hopefully they will learn for next time.

Have you found a good World Cup App we haven’t mentioned?

Related service: 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

How to do quick and effective user profiling

8 Jun

quick and dirty user profiles

Your website can attract a wide variety of visitors. Trying to appeal to them all can be troublesome and the results can leave you with more unhappy customers than happy ones.

When user profiling, there are two very distinct ways to go; methodical and thorough with a reasoned and structured analysis, which is our typical user profiling project, or ‘quick and dirty’.

In the agile, nimble world of the modern Web, we appreciate you don’t always have the time to do things perfectly so here are three steps to help you with the quick and dirty approach.

 

Step 1. Decide on who your customers are

Break down your users into five groups, based on what they need from your site. One way to do this is with an ad hoc meeting with your team. In the meeting explain what you want, without explaining why until the end, this way you get original thinking and not prepared, canned answers.

We challenged our client Bob Barbour at the MS Society to do this. He set up a ‘flash’ meeting – putting it out as a desperate appeal for help at very short notice. He got great results as the attendees had no time to ‘over think’ the exercise and so didn’t try to serve their own objective by pushing one user group over another.

Don’t underestimate the challenge of only coming up with five user groups, it will be hard, but it is important to set a limit to help you focus. If you come up with too many groups, look at how you can merge some together.

 

Step 2. Come up with questions for each group

Now come up with questions for each group that they are likely to ask when looking at your website. Make sure the questions are actionable, i.e. “Is this company reputable?” Then, focus on what are the most important questions for that user group.

Choose the top three priority questions for each user group, and focus on these. For example, if we did this for our website, it might look something like this:

Group 1 – Asked to investigate usability suppliers by their boss
1.    Do they appear trustworthy and competent?
2.    What is different about their approach?
3.    How much will it cost?

Group 2 – Understand more about usability testing
1.     What is usability testing?
2.    What else should I consider?
3.    Can I do it myself?

 

Step 3. Focus on the high priority users

From your five groups, select the two most important, as a primary and secondary group. These should be your number one business priority to serve, i.e. the users that will lead to you reaching your business goals for the site.

 

Next Steps

After completing your quick and dirty approach to user profiling, you will have a better idea of who your essential customers are, what they need and where to focus your efforts on your website to help your users.

We will discuss how to use the profiles that you have created in a future article, but for the time being you can use your new user profiles to focus your website planning on addressing user needs instead of internal guesses.

What methods have you used to get a better picture of your users?

Related service:  User Journey Design

 

 

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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