Archive | September, 2011

Ergonomics and designing for physical height

26 Sep

Design shouldn’t be an afterthought especially not in a building.

Earlier in the year Ali wrote a funny and interesting article about his ‘bugbears’ (a word I had never heard of before I read the article), but it got me thinking about the small things we use daily that with a little extra care and attention to the end-user could have been avoided. I also found out I had many of them, however I have decided to focus on the main issue I have to deal with every day at work. The sink.

I am 5” 4 inches tall. About average I am told, although I am inclined not to believe this from the amount of people who are taller than me, and regular clothing ranges that swamp me. Nearly every day at work I have to use the very handy sink directly outside our office, to wash up a glass, lunchbox (yes I still have one of those), my hands, or fill the kettle. This wouldn’t be a problem if the sink were a normal height and depth, however the sinks in this building have an obstacle of their own to face and so are relatively taller than the average height. Without going into too much detail as I am sure you can see from the image, the sink has been installed behind the railings that surround the walkways in our open-plan office building (and a very scenic building it is too).

Sink Height

However, having the sinks placed over the railings leads to a whole lot of issues for the slightly smaller person, for example; I have to stretch to reach the taps, when I am running water I get splashed on my top and sometimes face, when washing plates and things I have to stand on my tip toes so I can rest my arms and not drop anything into the bowl of the sink, let alone trying to wash multiple things and getting thoroughly soaked. I feel especially sorry for anyone on the floor below who suddenly gets splashed by water from my fight with the sink.

So the point of my sorry little tale is that with the proper thought these problems could have been avoided. There is actually a predefined height for sinks which are used by a multitude of people; 36” above the floor. This height was worked out by taking into account the smallest and tallest person and finding a compromise for the size that best suit both and so all sizes in-between. And if the incorporating of the sinks had been included and thought about earlier in the process of designing the building to be not only creative and beautiful, but catering to the user for an easy life, then I’d live a much drier existence! This ergonomic designing approach would have solved my little problem by ensuring it never existed in the first place, although my manager would be sore to lose his ‘perfectly sized’ sink (he is 6”2).

Do you have any niggling annoyances at work that could have been avoided with careful thought for the user?

 

 

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Samantha Harvey

About Samantha Harvey

Sam recently graduated from Visual Communication. She joined our team in April 2011 and has been conducting user research and has been making sure our user interfaces follow good design principles. She's keen to point out our poor selection of fonts... er I mean typography (sorry Sam). Follow Samantha on twitter @samharvey_ux

The difference between marketing profiles and user profiles

16 Sep

Personas Image

At University we always designed for the ‘target audience’, broadly meaning; the people who would use the product/website etc. Sounds simple and straightforward enough, and yet I always struggled with it, but never understood why.

 

So, what does a ‘target audience’ include?

The first thing we were told was to simply think about; who do you think will use the product? What job do they have? Where do they live? What activities will they do? How much money will they earn? Down to what clothes would they wear?

At university the ‘target audience’ was always something I personally struggled with. Trying to cater to an invisible audience that I had to define before the product idea had been fully developed stumped me every time. I just couldn’t get a grip on generalising (as I saw it) to that scale, trying to come up with minute details for these peoples’ lives so that I could design specifically for all of them. Now that left me feeling a bit stupid, but I was never told exactly what I was looking for in a target audience, how to work that out and how it should influence my concept and design. Needless to say I was never taught user profiling.

It wasn’t until I started my role here at ES that it finally clicked, and I understood why I had had so much trouble with the ‘target audience’ aspect at university. What I learned from the guys here is that there are two types of profiling that happen within the sphere of a target audience; a marketing profile, and a user profile. They appear to be the same thing, and it took some patience on their part in order to communicate to me what the specific differences were between the profiles we make, compared to the profiles that are generally thought to represent that of the customer.

 

Marketing Profiles – a look at where they work, what car they drive…

Marketing profiles, generally speaking, are what companies use to determine how they can sell products and services to their prospective customers; what paper do they read, where do they live, what car do they drive, what their household income is, etc. They need to know this sort of personal information so they can target, design for, respond to, and basically pander to the customer’s interests and habits.

This information helps them to speak in the right language, at the right level. It helps them to advertise in specific publications. It knows what TV programs they are most likely to watch, and therefore where to place their ads. This of course is all relevant when trying to publicise the company. For example, your marketing profile might look like this:

“Mary, a 35 year old mother of two, household income of £60k, drives a VW Golf, reads the    Daily Mail, uses the internet mainly for emails and shopping, lives in the South East”

But how does this help to prioritise the content and functionality on a website?

 

User Profiles – focusing on the individuals goal

On the other hand, a user profile focuses on the goals of people who will use the service. When creating a user profile there are a different set of questions which must be thought about, for example; what is the user’s goal? Why do they need to achieve this? How quickly do they need to achieve this? And what steps do they need to go through to reach their goal?

If we take an online balloon retailer who needs their site redesigned, a user profile for that site would look something like this:

“Mary, her daughter’s birthday party is in two weeks, she needs 20 balloons that will ideally have    her daughter’s name (Louise) on and be pink in colour”

Of course these questions will be affected by such things as who the individual is and what kind of job they may do, however it is not dependant on all, or sometimes any of those factors at one time. It doesn’t matter if I am a mum, sister, or friend planning a birthday party for someone, I will still need to buy 20 balloons. That is my end goal which I want to be as simple, easy, and stress free as possible.

 

So what did I learn?

Although I still feel mildly ignorant for not having figured this out by myself, I now see where I went wrong at Uni. A user profile, and decent understanding of the goals your end-user will want to achieve, should be the main force driving the design of a products core structure. A marketing profile can then be used to help decide on the visuals and aesthetic appeal to appeal to the use once the site is built in a user-friendly way.

What do your profiles look like, and how do you use them?

 

 

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Samantha Harvey

About Samantha Harvey

Sam recently graduated from Visual Communication. She joined our team in April 2011 and has been conducting user research and has been making sure our user interfaces follow good design principles. She's keen to point out our poor selection of fonts... er I mean typography (sorry Sam). Follow Samantha on twitter @samharvey_ux

Three Usability Testing Tips from a Rookie

9 Sep

With A Little Help

Having participated in several usability tests – as an observer only – you would think I’d be more prepared for when the guys turned around and told me what my next challenge would be; to carry out a usability test by myself. You would be wrong!

At this point I had only observed three sets of usability testing, from the planning stage through to producing reports. I had not been to any client feedback sessions yet, but overall I would say I had seen the majority of preparation that is required for a usability test. Upon hearing that it was to be my first time in the driving seat I was nervous, even though it was not a paid project.

I made a fair few mistakes, things that I could have done better, things I forgot entirely, and in some cases, things I just didn’t think about at all.

Here’s a breakdown of my top learning experiences from carrying out my first Usability Tests;

 

1. Don’t help the user

One of the main tasks I underestimated was how hard it would be to NOT help the individual.

Obviously as a researcher I am not meant to help a participant in their tasks, or lead them in any way. I am purely meant to relay tasks and then observe as the users’ lead me through what they are doing. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. I was conscious that whenever I was asked a question I faltered on what to reply. I remember reading a handy list of examples of what to say should such an occasion arise, but it’s hard to include every example for what could happen.

So my tip is:

  • Keep it friendly and chatty, but once the test commences, don’t say more than you have to.
  • When asked a question try and answer it with a question, turning it back to the participant.

 

2. Always have back-up tasks in the test script

No matter how many tasks I thought I had, users took me by surprise by going through them differently and inadvertently performing the next task whilst completing another. You can’t control what someone will do, and I was not experienced enough to take total control over every situation that arose. However, with careful planning and preparation you can undoubtedly help prevent most of the things that I struggled with through that first test.

Tip:

  • Don’t be too rigid with your test script, no user will do exactly the same thing so be prepared
  • for them to go ‘off piste’, and let them move onto other tasks if it is part of their natural journey.

  • Always have back up tasks for those participants who fly through the test.

 

3. Have the confidence to stop a user and refocus them on the task

A couple of times through the user tests I became aware that the participant was offering up more opinion than actually interacting with the website. One particular user was comparing different websites’ colour schemes and not really focusing on the task at hand. I found it hard to interrupt what he was saying as obviously I was aware of spoiling the relaxed atmosphere. Although, at the same time I needed him to focus on the task to understand what people would do when I’m not sat next to them. When a user has become too unfocused and it is not relevant to the usability test, it is necessary for the researcher to intervene.

Tip:

  • Help the user to keep focused on the tasks at hand, by politely repeating the task, and try to
  • filter the participant’s opinions.

 

More tips will follow as I become familiar with running usability tests. For now, the guys have left me to learn by trial and error (on internal projects) and it’s been a really interesting experience. I’m not sure I would have learned as much if they had just told me what to do.

Are you learning about usability testing? If you’ve got any tips you want to share then it would be great to hear from you!

 

 

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Samantha Harvey

About Samantha Harvey

Sam recently graduated from Visual Communication. She joined our team in April 2011 and has been conducting user research and has been making sure our user interfaces follow good design principles. She's keen to point out our poor selection of fonts... er I mean typography (sorry Sam). Follow Samantha on twitter @samharvey_ux