Archive | September, 2010

Don't stand still while your users evolve

22 Sep

Using our sat nav on the way to see a client the other day, we wondered why the touchscreen seemed less responsive than normal. After some thought, we realised that it wasn’t the sat nav that had changed, instead we had become accustomed to the fast and highly responsive iPhone touch screen interface and have now come to expect everything to work like that.

user expectations evolve
Evolution of Apple mice from 1984 to 2009

 

User expectations are always changing

As new technology arrives in users hands, their expectations are raised. When technology evolves, they get used to new functionality and use their new found learning to form expectations. When using a new website, or one they haven’t used for a while, they bring with them their learning and expectations from other sites and expect the new site to behave in the same way. In usability testing, we regularly hear users saying that they expected the search function to make suggestions while typing, just like Google does. Or, that they expect to be able to quickly filter the products shown on a page just like they can on Asos.com.

Unfortunately for websites with smaller budgets, users will judge their experience on your website against the big players. They don’t see the level of cost or complexity involved in a new widget on facebook, and why should they? They expect your site to work in a similar way and when it doesn’t, they feel frustrated. Of course, its not always possible to accommodate user expectations but understanding that your users are constantly evolving is important.

 

User research is never done, it’s just a snapshot in time

Sorry if this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but usability or user experience is never done. Last year’s usability test is not likely to be valid this year. The user profiles you created two years ago are most likely out of date now. That survey you did 6 months ago, it might not be relevant anymore. With the rapid and relentless advancement of Web technology, it is just not a viable option to assume that your users are the same as they were before. Any user research or customer insight work should be seen as a snapshot in time and not a complete picture.

Like a winning football team, you can’t rely on last year’s squad to win the title this year. The bar has been raised, the competition is getting better, and the fans’ expectations are now even higher. Your website should never be 100% complete, but rather than making decisions on an ageing snapshot of user understanding, check in with your users via regular interactions on a more frequent basis to remain in touch with evolving user needs to stay ahead of the game.

 

How have your user’s needs and expectations changed?

 

 

Liked this article?

Get more usability insights straight to your inbox

  • We promise no spam, just straight up great insights from our UX experts!

 

 

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

Advancing Website Technology vs. Declining User Ability

14 Sep

Take a look at this picture, it goes some way to explaining why usability has never been more important and will become increasingly so in the future. But what do the lines mean and what can we do in practice to ensure our sites take account of these changes?

why usability is important

The growth of the internet has brought less technical users

In its early years, the Internet was used largely by people who knew the ins and outs of computers, interfaces, controls and so on. They were conversant with how the Web worked and were passionate about technology in general. Now, however, people of all ages and levels of experience are jumping online who have significantly less interest in the Web for what it is, they just want to get stuff done more conveniently and just expect things to work.

So, you can see the average level of user ability has declined to the point where you can now assume a sizeable portion of visitors to your site will be novices or beginners to this whole web thingy. However, as the amount of what you can do with a website has risen, so has the complexity of interfaces and the level of interaction required to use them. With the massive growth in online content, websites can be a maze of pages for users to navigate which can pose a challenge to some.

Finally, there is the stratospheric growth in Internet use. Whereas once, it was something users looked at in the evening – ever mindful of those creeping phone bills, now it is always on, accessed over multiple devices and by all members of the family. It’s near impossible to complete everyday tasks without using the Web in some way. Buying weekly groceries, confirming an appointment at the hospital, paying bills, buying car tax can all be completed online compared to only a few years ago.Many organisations such as the NHS and HMRC are actively encouraging people to go online instead of taking up valuable staff time.

 

Improving usability is here to stay

So, good usability on a site and a rewarding user experience are here to stay and increasingly important to attract and keep visitors. Good user experience can only be created based on observing users and interpreting data, not some magical insight from the site owner, the sheer dynamism of your designers or by copying competitor sites. Examining what users do and why they do it is the key, as we discussed here, Design your website on what users do not what they say while getting a good set of profiles of your typical users is also important.
Ultimately, you need to consider the core design issues; what the user’s goal is, and what they want to achieve on the site, get that right and you have won half the battle.

 

The complexity of Web technology is likely to keep increasing

Looking at those lines, the remaining potential user base can only lower the level of general user ability, while boosting the growth curve. Whilst Web technology and Internet-enabled devices look like they will remain on a steep development curve to increase the gap between user abilities and interface complexity.  The importance of good usability and seamless user experience is only likely to increase and this is evident in the sheer number of web design resources citing user experience as an accepted discipline alongside the more established ones of design, development and search engine marketing. It is important that usability can remain integrated into the design process for future website and gadget innovation to ensure the complexity gap doesn’t grow even further. Which moves us on to the next question, Will your site benefit from exposure to a wider, potentially global audience and how do you think you would go about attracting them?

 

 

Related services: usability testing & information architecture

 

 

Liked this article?

Get more usability insights straight to your inbox

  • We promise no spam, just straight up great insights from our UX experts!

 

 

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

Inspiring Others to Embrace User Experience

9 Sep

Writers write, designers design and developers develop. We all have our comfort zones and our chosen happy niches, but modern website design requires us all to be cross skilled to some extent and to at least have a passing interest in other disciplines. Sometimes this can be difficult and we’ve recently been asked how to engage developers more in user experience. But rather than focus just on developers we thought we’d look at how to encourage anyone you work with to embrace user experience.

Inspiring others to embrace user experience

Great design + good user experience = portfolio work

We all have specialisms that we prefer and will happily read and learn more about. Similarly we all have topics that are a big turn off, where we’d rather do anything but read more about. So how do you make a topic like user experience (UX) more interesting to someone who would prefer not to care? The obvious method to wedge your mollusc-like colleague off their favourite rock is to frame the argument so that it benefits them. Great design + good user experience = portfolio work. We all want to point to well designed, popular websites and say “I worked on that!”. It’s great for the CV and good for attracting new clients with deeper pockets.

 

Observing real users will challenge their beliefs about UX

Often though, the big picture long-term view isn’t enough to stimulate genuine interest. If I told you that you really need to learn more about trend x to be a happy, healthier person, would that really make you want to learn more and start to integrate it into your daily habits? Unlikely. To get people interested in something they are not passionate about is near impossible unless you break down their negative beliefs about it. The most common negative belief we come across concerns the actual usefulness of user experience. If someone feels that user experience is just another buzz word, lacking any real substance the best way to challenge that belief is to get them to observe users interacting with a site that they have previously worked on.

 

We encourage as many of our clients as possible to come along to observe usability tests. Even if someone can only visit for 20 minutes, that is all it can take for the penny to drop. Seeing real people struggle with features that many in the industry take for granted is a humbling experience. This is the best method to help challenge their beliefs and make them realise that they were wrong when they thought real users would use the site in the same way they do. It takes a hard person to sit through that and still think that user experience is a waste of time.

 

Making life easier for users with good design is a no-brainer

When presented in the right way, the value of user experience is hard to argue with. Making life easier for users through good design is a no-brainer. Getting someone to accept this is the first key step on the journey. Once people get past that, it’s up to them how far they take it. Some will become passionate advocates and some will accept its value and be more supportive of UX but will never really engage more than that. This may be good enough in some instances and will depend on the context of why you want them to engage with UX in the first place. Focusing on the benefits to them and breaking down their negative beliefs will take you a lot closer than you’ll ever get by telling them they should…, ought to… and must…

 

How have you inspired team mates, employees or clients to embrace UX?

 

 

Liked this article?

Get more usability insights straight to your inbox

  • We promise no spam, just straight up great insights from our UX experts!

 

 

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

6 iPhone Apps to help you maintain, manage & improve user experience

2 Sep

If you’re often on the move going from one meeting to another, or you’re on the train to and from work regularly you’ll often experience those moments where you have ideas about your site that you wish you could do something with while they’re fresh. Perhaps you’ve just come from a productive meeting with your design team to discuss changes to your site, or you’re on your way home from work and an idea strikes you. Here are 5 iPhone apps that can help you maintain, manage and improve your website user experience.

Read & Note

Read & Note

This app includes a full-screen browser which allows you to annotate a web page, or copy and paste from a website. With this app you could browse the web for inspiration, make amends to your current website copy, plan user tests, or use it to annotate web pages to pass to your design and development teams to look at. This app is so versatile it could even be used to share and upload documents for access to importand documents while on the go.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website

 

 

iBlue Sky

iBlue Sky

iBlue Sky is an easy to use mind mapping tool allowing users to capture ideas, organise and re-order them all in one place. Mind mapping is a fantastic method to capture and make sense of ideas after meetings and can be an excellent way to structure your thoughts on the way home from observing user tests.

In addition to capturing ideas and notes in one place, this app can be used to draw up site structures and reorganise entire sections of a website. When you’re done you can export it as a PDF or PNG to email to yourself or directly to your team for feedback.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website , YouTube Video Demo

 

 

Sketches 2

Sketches 2

Sketches as the name would suggest allows users to create basic sketches. Users can create simple diagrams or wireframes while on the move. We also liked this app because in addition to illustrating basic concepts you can take a screenshot* of a web page and then use the app to draw boxes, arrows and new buttons. It is a fantastic tool to facilitate quick and dirty amends and recommendations to designs.

We also found the tool to be extremely useful in sending directions to friends or colleagues by taking a screen capture of a map and drawing quick lines to show the route to take and the final destination.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website

* To take a screenshot, press and hold the Home button at the bottom of the iPhone and then press the ‘sleep’ button at the top of the iPhone. The screen will flash and make a camera sound, then when you navigate to your photos on the ‘camera roll’ you’ll see your screenshot.

 

 

Analytics

Analytics

This well designed App allows you to review Google Analytics for your site on the iPhone. With access to data wherever you are you can use it to research and refine your website improvements using understanding from current user behaviour. We’ve found it particularly useful in preparation for a meeting to get access to the data to help firm up an idea before discussing it with the team.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website , YouTube Video Demo

 

 

Work Timer

Work Timer

Although this app is designed to help people keep track of the time spent working on different projects, we’ve found it can be useful in timing tasks for on the fly user tests. Say you’ve got an idea that there’s a usability problem with your site. You’re round a friends house and you’d like to get them to complete some tasks on the site for you. Rather than setting up the timers to track hours for different projects, the app can be used to track the time it takes a user to complete a set of different tasks. There’s a very simple play and pause feature and when the test is complete you can email the results to yourself. It’s far from perfect as a usability tool but it can be useful to allow you to focus on what users are doing while gathering some interesting data to understand which tasks take longer than others to complete.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website

 

 

Instaviz

Instaviz

Defining simple user flow charts is an essential process in working out how a site will support users in completing their goals. When coming up with a new idea for the site this App is great in allowing you to capture your thinking in a logical flow chart to map out how the site will react to each user interaction. Essentially this app allows you to draw up flows on the move just like you can on a whiteboard.

Additional information: iTunes Preview , App Website , YouTube Video Demo

 

Which apps do you think should be included in this list?

Related services: App Usability

 

 

Liked this article?

Get more usability insights straight to your inbox

  • We promise no spam, just straight up great insights from our UX experts!

 

 

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