Archive by Author

What’s on your bookshelf?

7 Nov

Here at Experience Solutions we love our books. We like to keep a couple of shelves well stocked with books, new and old, that we can turn to for inspiration in any aspect of our world. Our shelves are full of advice whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out. Usability and user experience are the common topics, and come in many forms. Business development, self-improvement, finances. We’ve got it covered somewhere. Conversion rate optimisation is influenced by knowledge from all these books (and more). There is nothing better than on the job training, but a good book helps you to understand from the beginning, and refine when you get to the top.

 

What's on your bookshelf?

Recently we came across this great article by Shane Snow called “You are what you read: 14 thought leaders share their bookshelves”, who invited friends and people he admired to send him photographs of their bookshelves. Shane then extended the invite to Thought Leaders. Here at Experience Solutions we found this fascinating to see what people choose to read to inspire them. As a result we snapped a couple of shots of our book shelves and asked a couple of our fellow digital friends to share their bookshelves too. Enjoy!
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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

Think little and often when assigning your UX budget

24 Apr

Allocating UX budgets

 

Many clients get in touch with us when they have a big project for us to work on. They might want us to usability test an entire website, redesign a website, or design a new app. Whatever the project, they seem to have a one off large chunk of budget assigned to UX which they are intent on ‘blowing’ in one go. Whilst there are occasions when this is needed, we find that the little and often approach is much more beneficial to the long term usability of a product. But it does take a mind-set shift within the organisation.
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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

5 ways charities can quickly improve online donations

14 Nov

Donation appeals from charity websites

A report recently published provides an overview of charitable giving in the UK. It says that charity donations are down by 20% since the previous year. The report suggests that the overall number of people donating fell as well as the amount they are giving.

So what can charities do to boost their donations in difficult times? From hours of research with users we found the following 5 actions any charity can take to ensure they keep online donations pouring in.

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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

How to make your emails easier to read, understand, and action

30 Oct

How to make your emails easier to read, understand and action
I remember in GCSE Business Studies being taught about how to write a memo. Though I never got the chance to write a real memo as by the time I had finished college and university the business world was using email.  I wonder if pupils are taught how to write emails in school today. I hope so. If I were teaching them how to write a good email I’d ask them to think more about the recipient of the message, or the user if you will. Here are my five tips to make it easier for the recipient of your email to read, understand and action your message.

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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

Augmented reality – good experience or gimmick?

24 Nov

Tesco recently released details of a new feature to their online offering. This feature allows users to view a product in 3D, using augmented reality, as if they are holding it in their hands. Sounds great huh?

The objective here is to help online shoppers make a buying decision. The example Tesco gives is of a busy mum who is looking to buy a new TV, and needs to ensure it will fit well in the living room, and will have enough ports for her kids’ gaming machines.

However, there are a number of flaws with the process that result in a poor user experience:

  • Firstly, there is a process:
    • Accept Active X
    • Download and install a plug-in
    • Accept the licence
    • Have a ‘marker’ to hand – or print one out
    • Ensure I have a webcam, and it is on
    • Hold up the marker to the webcam
  • Finally, I can look at something. However, the 3d image is poor quality
  • Holding it in the palm of your hand does not really allow you to envisage how it will look in your living room

So let’s look at some of these:

You have to download a plug in to your machine

Users are now familiar with shopping online, using websites without the need to download external software to run. By including a requirement to download something Tesco has added a step in the process that users are not expecting, and many are likely to be uncomfortable with.

You need to have a specific physical item in your hand

Now the user has downloaded the plug-in they now have to have a physical item in their hand. This can be something you already own, but if not you can print this out. This is another stage in the process that users are unfamiliar with. The perceived hassle for an unknown gain plays a big part in usability. Forms are normally the biggest culprit, but we imagine that this step will prove too much for most users.

The 3d image is poor quality

So now the user has gotten through the process they are now ready to view the product in the palm of their hand. Disappointingly, the quality of the product graphics is poor and doesn’t really do the product justice. The user can’t really imagine a TV sitting in the corner of the living room when it is sat in the palm of their hand. Ok, the user can look at the ports on the back of the TV, but they may be left wanting a quality image of the TV to validate the pixelated version they’re looking at.

So, what do users need?

When we’ve tested retail websites the product information pages are often key to the user making a buying decision. Imagery is often poor, leaving users guessing or unsure. At this point many users will leave the site and try elsewhere until they are satisfied enough to buy it (from a different website).

This new augmented reality feature from Tesco is clearly looking to solve this problem. But the user research we’ve done has shown that by simply providing images of the product from different angles, with an option to enlarge the image, works perfectly for users. 3D images with rotations and video are sometimes available too and with better image quality than the augmented reality solution.

I’m very interested to see how successful this is, but it looks to me that gimmick and technology has been prioritised ahead of usability and the user experience.  Is this trying to solve a problem that already has a perfectly acceptable solution?

 

 

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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

Asking users the right questions at the right time is critical to good user experience

17 Oct

A few years ago I was walking through Bournemouth town centre when I was stopped by a young lady, clip board at the ready, she asked, “Can I ask you a quick question?”

Me: “Yes, of course.”

Lady: “What is your favourite chocolate bar?”

Me: “Umm…A Mars bar”

Lady: “Thank you” whilst placing a big tick next to Mars on her list

A few minutes later, reflecting on my answer I realised I hadn’t eaten a Mars bar for ages. In fact, I couldn’t remember when I last bought a Mars bar. So how can it be my favourite chocolate bar? Had I lied?

This may have been a very clever question to establish what the strongest brand was in the chocolate bar market, in which case she may have got the question right. But if this was a study to find out the publics’ favourite chocolate bar the young lady who stopped me had at least one false response, and I expect many others.

Now, had this researcher observed me in a confectioners/garage/corner shop as I approached the chocolate bar stand, watched on as I pondered, then reached for a Crunchie only to change my mind and pick up a Yorkie bar, then have another scan of chocolate bars to confirm I’ve made the right decision, and then asked me what is my favourite chocolate bar, the response will be real (I don’t really have a favourite but I probably buy a Crunchie bar more than any other).

Not only is my response more accurate, if the research was not restricted to tick boxes, the conversation can continue to establish why I normally go for a Crunchie, and what made me buy a Yorkie this time.
The critical aspect of this research method is observing users in context while they are engaged in the experience rather than asking them to reflect on it at some point in the future.  This highlights one of the problems with choosing traditional market research techniques over usability testing when you’re looking to understand why users make the choices they do.

We often see this in action when asking users at the end of a usability test to describe the experience they have just had with the website. They often say it was ‘really easy to use’, but what we observed was them getting very frustrated with the site and failing to complete the tasks we gave them.

What examples can you give of asking the right question at the right time? Oh, and what’s your favourite chocolate bar ;o)

 

 

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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

3 of my biggest Bugbears – because users were ignored

25 May

“In medieval England, the Bugbear was depicted as a creepy bear that lurked in the woods to scare children” – Wikipedia, May 2011

 

Hand dryer

I’m generally a pretty happy go lucky chap, but even I have moments when certain things irritate me. I call these my Bugbears. They are reoffending irritants, and I should really know better than to lower myself into a rage every time I encounter them.

In an attempt to better understand my Bugbears, I have realised that they are irritating and frustrating because someone in the chain of development has not thought about the user. Or more accurately, has thought about the user but has chosen to ignore them.

Let me share three of my bugbears:

 

1. Hand dryers that don’t dry hands

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this. After going to the loo in a service station, restaurant, cinema, etc, you (I hope) thoroughly wash your hands, amble to the hand dryer and place your dripping wet hands under the machine, only to be greeted with a meek outflow of air. It’s like the machine has a little fairy inside blowing on your hands. After a few seconds you realise that this isn’t going to work, and walk out wiping your hands on your trousers, or covertly drying them in your pockets.

I don’t believe that the manufacturer has tested these and thought, “you know what, these dry my hands really well”. And I don’t believe the buyer has tried the hand dryer and thought, “my customers are going to love these hand dryers”. I imagine what they have thought is, “hmm, these hand dryers are pretty crap, but they are cheap, and I’m sure the users won’t mind”.

Well, they do mind! At least I do. Isn’t it bliss to see a Dyson Airblade or a World Dryer Airforce hanging on the wall?

 

2. Coffee full to the brim

I love my coffee. Judging by the number of Costas, Neros, Starbucks, etc, there are these days I’m sure a lot of people do to. I generally order an Americano with hot milk. When I’m taking my coffee away, the Barista has the job of topping up the coffee with the hot milk. Now, the fact I’ve ordered a take away suggests I’m walking off somewhere with my coffee in hand, so how come the Barista tops up the coffee to the brim of the cup, then squeezes on a lid?

The result is me arriving at my destination with wet, burnt fingers, coffee smudges on my shoes, and a coffee cup and lid that do not look healthy.

All the Barista has to do when they’ve topped up the coffee is pour a little away. Surely they look at the full cup and realise that it is not possible to walk this anywhere without spilling it? But they still carry on and pop a lid on. To all you Baristas, just think about the user experience when you top up a cup. I won’t ask for a discount because you pour a little away to save my fingers and my shoes!

I shouldn’t have to ask the Barista to pour a little out for me!

 

3. Ticket machines that don’t give change

I don’t really need to explain this one. Regardless of what they say, there is only one reason why a council would install non-change giving ticket machines in public car parks, and then charge tariffs like £1.30, or £2.80. When the decision makers sat around the meeting room table discussing which ticket machines to install, surely someone in the room raised the point that customers will be pretty pissed off at not getting change. I’m sure this was even discussed. But the user experience was not considered important enough over making free money.

So you see, these Bugbears exist because common sense user experience practice has been ignored somewhere along the development or delivery process. All it takes is for someone in the decision making process to champion the user and maybe we can rid the world of Bugbears!

What are your Bugbears, and are they because the user experience has been ignored?

 

 

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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

Online security questions. Is there an easy answer?

24 Aug

To survive the day to day dangers of using the Internet I use a range of passwords, user names, and email addresses, all created to make my online world more secure. And, like most people we observe in user testing, am pretty used to having to answer or create a security question when registering on websites.

But this one caused me quite a while of hesitation…

Can you see why?

 

Why do security questions cause such a usability problem?

I was applying for tickets to the 2012 London Olympics (above), and I was offered three security questions. I provide these below with an explanation of why I was unsure what to do:

What is your best friend’s name?

This caused me a few concerns. Firstly, I consider myself to be pretty even to my close friends and don’t regard any of them as a ‘best friend’. Secondly, I would actually feel guilty if I had to choose one over others. Thirdly, I wouldn’t remember which friend I chose when I come back to the site in January to get my tickets. Maybe I should have chosen my wife!

Who is your favourite sportsperson?

I’m 34. I like football. When there is no football, I follow a bit of tennis, some athletics when it is on, and the odd game of rugby. I don’t have a favourite sportsperson. If I had to choose one now, how would I remember this in five months time when I return to the site?

What is your favourite food?

I’m a bit of a foody. I dabble in cooking but am lost without Jamie Oliver. So I like lots of food. Asking for my favourite food is like asking for my favourite song, or movie. It completely depends on how I’m feeling. So when I’m asked this question in August, I’m feeling summer food; barbeques, Mediterranean, crazy salads, summer fruits. When I’m asked in January it will be comfort food, hearty food, soups and pies.

So the common issue I had with all these questions was that I simply could not answer any of them with confidence. I had a discussion with my wife. I pondered. I questioned. In the end I just had to jump in a choose one with the expectation that I’ll struggle with this next time I come to use the site. What kind of user experience is that?

 

What makes a good security question?

The reason for these security questions is to back up who you are should you forget your other security details (username, passwords, etc.) and testing often proves inconclusive in finding the ultimate security question, especially if your audience is international.

When asking a security question, the question and answer should be:-

  • Easy for an individual to answer confidently
  • Not obvious enough for hackers to guess or research
  • Not subjective, open to interpretation, or reliant on mood and feeling
  • There can clearly be only one answer

Yahoo! attempt and tackle this with a range of options for users to choose. As long as you’re not a young and single only child to a single mum who has no siblings! Which just shows how difficult a problem this is!

The commonality with good security questions that we come across are those asking for firsts; your first pet’s name, your first school, your first musical instrument. But like any security question we can come up with, there will be a percentage of users who can’t answer it.

In some cases, users are able to write their own question and answer. However, this poses an issue for websites that need good security because users may choose an easy question (for someone else to guess), i.e. Who won the World Cup in 2010?

 

How do we instil good usability and incorporate a security question?

I’m no expert in online security, but we use PIN numbers for our bank and credit cards, so could this system be added to secure websites?

If we must use security questions, allow users to have some control but ensure the answers are not easy. Ask users to complete a question, and provide an answer. For example:

Alternative secret question

This would require usability testing in contex before it was used. But it may help to make the process easier for users to create a more secure secret question.

We would be very keen to hear how other people have resolved this issue. What good and bad examples of security questions have you come across?

 

 

Related services: Usability Testing & Information Architecture

 

 

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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