Tag Archives: interaction design

How to stimulate passionate design

31 Aug

We have a fairly simple theory here at Experience Solutions; if a design doesn’t work, it’s usually because the designer’s motivation and passion was lacking. We use the term ‘designer’ fairly loosely here. It may be an individual designer working on a website, a small team of architects working on a building, or a whole project team working on a completely new product or service for a company.

One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested

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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

3 useful UX lessons you can learn from getaheadofthegames.com

27 Jul

Olympic lane

If you live in the UK, you’ll be hard pressed to avoid The Olympics at the moment. One of the main talking points, certainly for Londoners is the traffic nightmare expected to jam the roads, underground, buses and trains. In anticipation, the powers that be have set up a website which is advertised to help people avoid traffic chaos: www.getaheadofthegames.com.

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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

Google’s brilliantly simple changed password reminder

21 Jun

Right now there are hundreds of thousands of people cursing themselves for forgetting their password. 20 years ago we never had this problem. It’s a modern day frustration which is one of the down sides of the Internet.

Multiple online passwords

Many of us use several passwords on the web

If you want to do anything meaningful on a website in 2012, chances are you’ll have to create an account. In doing so you’ll have to create a username and password. As creatures of habit we like to use the same ones we’ve used on other sites, but in their wisdom many developers are unhappy with this idea of conformity and instead like to impose different rules to the rest. Some websites will only allow passwords with more than 6 characters, some more than 8, some force you to enter a numeric character, and others like to enforce the use of commas, apostrophe’s, and full stops in the password. My biggest bugbear is with sites that force you to use a password you’ve never used before.

All these password rules for different websites mean we have a whole string of different passwords for different websites. When we need to access a site we haven’t used for a while it can be an extremely painful process. Often by the time I gain access I’ve forgotten why I went there in the first place, but this could just be an age thing.

Of course online security is important, but us humans only have a limited capacity to remember all these passwords. I know quite a few people who’ve taken the unfortunately ironic step to write down all their passwords on a pad next to their computer.

Google has a simple idea to help us remember

Anyway, I digress. Rather than rant about remembering passwords I wanted to highlight a really nice idea I saw on Google today. In one of my more security conscious moments I decided to change passwords to a more secure one for some of the sites I rely on for business services. So earlier today I tried to access Google with my usual password and Google had remembered that it was an old password and reminded me I’d changed it. I thought this was such a nice simple solution that all sites should do the same.

Google's password changed reminder

What do you think? Have you any other nice examples of password recovery on the web?

 

 

 

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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

A UX perspective on Horizontal scrolling

12 Dec

BBC horizontal navigation

I was talking to someone the other day about the new BBC homepage which employs a way to navigate through content from left to right. I thought it was well implemented, and knowing the BBC they would have user tested it thoroughly before making the call.

Anyway, the conversation swiftly moved on to horizontal scrolling and how as a ‘usability dude’ I must hate anything with a horizontal scroll bar. I tried to  explain that most of us ‘usability’ people are not against unconventional design, but we just like to see it implemented for the right reasons (because it fits with the user goal) and not for the wrong reasons (because the designer likes it and wants back slaps from peers).

 

Vertical scrolling, Yes. Horizontal scrolling, No.

In a talk, Jakob Nielsen once demonstrated his thoughts on horizontal scrolling by nodding his head up and down saying, "vertical scrolling, yes", then, shaking his head left and right saying, "horizontal scrolling, no".  A clever way to make a point, but digital design is never as simple as just following a rule or guideline from a so called ‘guru’. There are of course situations where a design works perfectly well going against conventions (which are typically outdated anyway). So we ask: When should you use horizontal scrolling?

Of course there’s no easy answer to that question. But when understanding the context of use and the goals users have when using the site it can become easier to decide whether to use horizontal scrolling or not.

 

When using horizontal scrolling can be beneficial to users

Although it’s not something we would always recommend, these examples may suit horizontal scrolling if you are keen on using it:

  • Displaying a variety of visual images i.e. a photography site or design portfolio
  • Displaying information in a large visual area that is not easy to see at a glance – i.e. think of a map or Google’s street map which employs horizontal scrolling to good effect
  • Displaying discreet sections or slides of information – Tablets and smartphone apps employ the notion of swiping and when this is used to move from one screen from left to right it can work really well and feel completely natural. Similarly applications such as Slideshare work well in the horizontal plane (although it is arguable that this constitutes scrolling)
  • Displaying a large catalogue of products or items where scrolling horizontally could display different product categories

 

Why you should be careful in using it

  • Most mice have a vertical scrolling wheel, few have an easy way to scroll horizontally. This means most users have to manually operate the scroll mechanism. This is slowly changing with smart mice like the Apple Magic Mouse but may still take some time before they’re mainstream. In fact if you consider physical ergonomics, it’s much easier to move a finger up and down, than it is left to right. Thumbs and hands on the other hand are much more adept at a horizontal scrolling motion, so this type of navigation is likely to depend on innovations in gesture interfaces
  • The experience of scrolling horizontally on some sites makes the screen judder and can have that headache inducing feel to the experience
  • Controlling the speed of the scroll can be problematic, with some content whizzing past and others taking forever. Giving users the right amount of control can be difficult to get right
  • We’re so used to reading left to right within the confines of a page where we make our way slowly downwards, introducing a horizontal scroll could break a fairly rigid western convention so should be used with care when reading is a core part of the user journey

 

Examples around the web

Interestingly Abercrombie, Hollister, and Superdry have made the decision to move away from horizontal scrolling to vertical. Shopstyle on the other hand have employed horizontal scrolling well on their site.

Like all new functionality, it should be thought through carefully and of course tested with users before taking the plunge.

Here’s some examples from around the web that we’ve found using horizontal scrolling in some way:

What do you think? Do you have any good examples to share?

 

 

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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

Santa Centred Design

8 Dec

Santa's been working too hard

Santa’s job gets more difficult every year. Less and less kids write to him making the elve’s lives more difficult to keep up with the latest toy trends, the population grows more each year making Santa work harder, and more and more houses are opting for wood burners or no chimneys at all.

This year Mrs Claus contacted us to make Santa’s life a little easier when he’s on deliveries. Of course we were more than happy to help in the hope we would make the Nice list this year.

 

Mrs Claus was worried about Santa

Mrs Claus was our client, but Santa was our user so we first had to establish the aims for the project and the client’s requirements. In our meetings with Mrs Claus it became clear why she wanted our help:

  • Every year she’s up all night worrying about Santa and whether he’s safe – she wanted a way to keep track of his whereabouts without calling him all the time
  • She’s worried about Santa’s growing waistline so she wanted a way to remind Santa not to eat so many mince pies on his rounds
  • She was also worried that Santa should be careful not to take too many sips of sherry on his visits
  • Her primary concern was that the route the elves draw up for Santa was getting more and more complex each year and she was worried Santa would get lost and miss deliveries

 

Santa’s requirements

Before coming up with a solution we wanted to talk with the user of anything we designed, so we had a chat with Santa to understand more about the context of use. It quickly became clear that he had a different list of requirements:

  •  He wanted to keep his sightings to a minimum. With the growth of Facebook and Twitter in recent years, he was worried that he was becoming increasingly vulnerable to people being able to track him
  • Rather than a route planner or sat nav, Santa would prefer a pre-defined chimney stops so he could go from chimney to chimney with the route already planned out
  • Santa has been struggling to remember the sleeping places for the scary dogs, which houses had difficult roofs to land on, which chimneys were too narrow and so on. He wanted a simple way to receive all that information as he left one chimney on the way to the next
  • Santa sometimes gets bored with listening to the Reindeer bickering so wanted a way to set up and manage his playlists
  • Santa need a way to track his time and see how he was progressing with his delivery plan to make sure he remained on track
  • Santa needed some clearly marked stops where he and the Reindeer could have a ‘comfort break’

 

In coming up with our solution we had to take into account the context of use:

  • It would be cold so anything he used would have to be easily operated outdoors with gloves on – i.e. large buttons
  • Santa would need a sleigh mounted device as well as a mobile device to update and consult whilst down a chimney

 

Wireframes for Santa’s interfaces

We took away all these requirements and wireframed a solution using a tablet device mounted to the sleigh console as well as a smart phone device which synched to it when Santa was on the ground. In phase 2 we will look at a separate monitoring interface for Mrs Claus and the elves to track Santa.

 

Santa’s Sleigh Mounted Tablet Interface

  • Sightings alert  which monitors Facebook, Twitter and SMS chatter
  • Next chimney stop with suggested landing places and up-to-date house intelligence
  • Playlist controls
  • Local time and delivery progress monitor
Santa's sleigh mounted wireframe

Sleigh mounted interface - click for fullscreen

 

Santa’s Smartphone Interface

  • Checklist to tick off deliveries as he goes
  • Ability to post updates to house intelligence including chimney dimensions, dog sleeping places…
  • Mince pie and sherry sips update reminder – with an external breathalyser (we felt this was less priority so have planned this for phase 2)
Santa's smartphone interface

Santa's smartphone interface - click for fullscreen view

 

Next steps – Prototype testing with Santa

We’re having to move fast on this project as you can imagine. We’ve only got a couple of weeks left! So now we’ve created the wireframes we need to test them in a prototype with Santa on a few test runs out in the sleigh with his gloves on. We’re looking at stitching finger and thumb pads into the tips of his gloves first. After some user tests we’ll refine our prototype and then start work on the visual design. We’ll keep you posted on how we get on. Wish us luck!

 

 

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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

Why we should appreciate invisible design

17 Jun

Recently I read the excellent Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. One of the key points Krug makes is that a good website should be invisible. A user has a goal to reach and that is their focus. The website is a pathway to their goal alone. This reminded me of an article I read whilst undertaking my Visual Communication degree – The Crystal Goblet also known as Printing Should Be Invisible by Beatrice Warde.

Wine Glass

Warde uses the analogy that a true connoisseur of wine would chose a clear, crystal, wine glass from which to drink their wine because this vessel has been specifically designed to hold the wine in such a way that it displays, and enhances all the wines qualities; the colour, the smell, and the taste. Its own beauty does not hide that of the wine which is the thing that we wish to consume. In the same way a website should be designed specifically to display and show the information that the user requires from it. It should not hide the information with needless flashy graphics and images.

Krug states that a good, clear website design is one that does not make the user think, it guides them clearly and quickly to the information they seek without hindering them in any way. The designer, who keeps their users’ needs at the forefront of their mind, is the designer who will produce a website that will function so perfectly that the user will not notice they have taken a journey at all.

Too cool to be called for

‘Without this essential humility of mind, I have seen ardent designers go more hopelessly wrong, make more ludicrous mistakes out of an excessive enthusiasm, than I could have thought possible… It is not a waste of time to go to the simple fundamentals and reason from them’.

Warde, B

Sometimes, in the quest for innovative design, the true purpose of our project can become obscured and forgotten; this purpose being the need of the end users. We often spend more of our time worrying about the ‘wow’ factor and how to make a website really stand out, than focusing on how we can achieve what the consumer needs in the most efficient, and effective way. Many users will not appreciate the skill of a great designer, as the design works so well it is invisible, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted. The majority of the time we only seem to notice when things are wrong.

Look for the invisible

If we spent our time looking for the things that make a website good, and appreciate them more regularly, we would be able to learn from them and use similar principles in future designs. The next time you use a website for the first time, and get straight to the information you need, try and actively remember; note down what made it easy for you to use and how this was achieved, and consider it the next time you work on a design.

For Beatrice Warde’s full talk on the importance of good typography and invisible print click here;

http://www.designhistory.org/CrystalGoblet.html

 

 

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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

Avoiding human error with good design

3 Jun

Recently we designed some shiny new business cards to go with our new website brand that we will be launching soon. So when the new cards arrived, we all crowded round in anticipation as the box of new cards was opened.

Spelling mistake business card

Spot the spelling mistake

 

With an ‘ooh’ and an ‘aah’ we were all pretty happy with the design, until someone spotted that we’d spelt architecture wrong in ‘information architecture’. We all proof read them before sending them to print, but we all missed it. Gutted, we had to go back to the drawing board to create new cards and get them printed again.

Our mistake could have been easily avoided if Adobe Illustrator had a spell check feature which highlighted errors as you type. Sure this may get annoying and not everyone would want it, but how much more annoying is it when your new poster, website banner, leaflets go live with a whacking great spelling error that other people had missed?

It’s a relatively small inclusion in terms of design effort on Adobe’s part, and how many times would it save a designer from looking like he should have paid more attention in those spelling lessons back at school?

The fact is that as humans we will always make mistakes; ‘to err is to be human’ as the saying goes. The trouble is that most designs are pretty unforgiving when it comes to human error.  We’ve all seen harsh error messages blaming us for our stupidity, undecipherable error messages, and error messages which are hidden in obscure places in new technology. It’s the designer’s role to make the user feel confident and in control at all times, not to make them feel stupid.

Error message

Unhelpful error message

Helping users recover from errors is important in design. Making them aware of the issue and the steps they could take to overcome them is fairly easy with just a bit of thought and anticipation. What is much more difficult, but much more important, is to avoid human error in the first place.

Some time ago it was my job to help avoid human error from occurring in air traffic control. I worked in a team whose sole responsibility it was to spot potential human errors and avoid them through design and procedures. We also looked at errors that had been made and interviewed air traffic controllers to understand how the error occurred and what we could do to fix it. Although designers may not always have that opportunity, the philosophy of that approach is fairly simple: Any human error could be avoided through good design.

Petrol pumps

Petrol pumps all look similar

Let’s take a couple of examples.

A fairly familiar mistake to some is accidentally putting diesel in a petrol run car. Anyone who’s ever done this will know that this is not good for your car! What can be done about that error? Well you could label all the people who do this as merely stupid, and not do anything. Or you could have a bit more compassion for people who are tired, stressed, with lots of things on their mind, who might have accidentally chosen the wrong coloured nozzle at the petrol pump and design errors out of the system.

When you accept that design can help remove the error in the first place, plenty of solutions reveal themselves; different shaped nozzles for petrol and diesel that only fit in the right car, redesigned petrol forecourts to separate diesel from petrol cars and so on. Of course the only thing is many of these are quite costly solutions with some practical issues.

Google attachment alert

Google’s clever error avoidance pop-up

The great thing about software, apps and websites is that small design changes can be implemented relatively quickly. How many times have you sent an email without an attachment, only to receive emails back asking ‘where’s the attachment dumbass?’ Well, thankfully Google took the steps to tackle the problem by alerting users before the email is sent that they had mentioned ‘attach’ in the text but hadn’t actually attached a file. It’s a wonderful example of spotting human error and avoiding it from happening.

We can never stop humans from making mistakes, and some mistakes contain fantastic learning opportunities for us. But there are plenty of small mistakes people make when using your website, app, or software that could be avoided. Let’s empower our users and make them feel great using your service, rather than make them feel stupid. All you need to do is take the time to anticipate potential errors, help users recover from them, and best of all help them to avoid errors completely.

How could better design have avoided errors you’ve made recently?

 

 

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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

It’s easy to blame stupid users for poor design

19 Apr

Wrong Way

Having started as Junior User Experience Researcher at Experience Solutions, I have been introduced to the world of user experience. As I come from a predominantly graphic design and retail background, I thought it was safe to say that I knew a lot about user experience. I don’t.

During my interview, I was asked what really ‘pissed’ me off, a hard question to answer, especially when you are trying to deem what would be appropriate.  Stupidity was my quick response. In particular, those people who do not read signs and seemingly can’t use basic technology.

 

I witnessed the most stupid mistake

I then proceeded to give an example of a particularly memorable incident I witnessed on a self-service checkout when I worked in retail. I manning the self-service machine and monitoring the checkouts when a man came up to me and told me that the machine would not accept his money. I then discovered to my horror that this was in fact because he had tried to put the coins in the wrong place, the card holder.

This seemed at the time to be an almost unforgivable mistake. I now had a queue of people waiting and a kiosk out of use. In my mind, there was no way anyone could possibly think that the card machine was the right place to put coins in. It would never have even occurred to me as an error someone would make. However, clearly I was wrong. And to be fair to that particular man, unlike him, I had been trained on the machines, and was very comfortable with new technologies such as self-service checkout systems. Now I realise, this gentleman who was now feeling stupid and embarrassed was not to blame for doing what he thought was right.

 

This is where UX comes in

In the few days I have worked as part of the team at Experience Solutions, I have learned a great deal about the responsibilities of designers when designing for their users. It is important for companies to test design ideas on real people who can give you a true insight into how people with no previous knowledge of the service, or the idea behind it will interpret what they see. Or don’t see in some cases.

Thinking back on the self-service machines, and the particular instances that used to frustrate me, I now realise that there are in fact quite a few serious design flaws that usability testing would have solved before they were released into the marketplace. The misplacing of the payment area; so that it is above the packing station and not next to the touch screen, which of course, is the main focus for the customer. If this had been redesigned after testing then maybe the card machine would not have been mistaken for the coin slot.

The note dispenser being placed underneath the scanning bay too, led to hundreds of notes just being left there as the customer forgot to pick them up, or didn’t see that part of the change being returned. Yes, there is a sign. But when it is beneath the field of vision, and focus area, will you necessarily look for it when you are in a rush to get out of the way for other customers, the shop is heaving, kids are crying, and the dog needs to be let out at home?

 

A new perspective

In my short time in this UX role, I’ve realised that placing the blame on ‘stupid’ people isn’t fair and can distract away from the real issue. We should be looking to the manufacturers and designers, and asking them why they did not thoroughly test their products with people before launch. I know that in future I personally will not be so quick to judge a person’s intellect based on how they use something that I feel is easy to us.

I’ll be keeping you all updated with my progress as I learn the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of user experience.

 

 

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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