Twelve days to a positive user experience

From the hesketh site and possibly written by Steve Champion. A bit early for an article with a festive theme but here in Hsinchu the Christmas lights stay up all year round. A few brief points:

  • It’s not the number of clicks to complete a task it’s the amount of thought that goes into these clicks(but reducing clicks is not a bad metric either)
  • Don’t produce a diarrhea of wordage … cut cut cut … think Miles Davis not John Coltrane
  • formal testing is not as important as testing (and iterate) if it means not testing at all

“So how do we create a positive user experience? Remember this mantra: User experience should be useful, usable, and satisfying. As you assess, architect, and measure the real experience of your users, you will craft better user experience…which leads to more value…which leads to increased profitability”.
In the words of my daughter, you can read the article if you like.


Luke Wroblewski on Refining Data Tables

Luke Wroblewski writing for UX Matters:

After forms, data tables are likely the next most ubiquitous interface element designers create when constructing Web applications. Users often need to add, edit, delete, search for, and browse through lists of people, places, or things within Web applications. As a result, the design of tables plays a crucial role in such an application’s overall usefulness and usability. But just like the design of forms,there’s more than one way to design tabular data.

Refining Data Tables on UX Matters


Research as a Political Tool

This is exactly what lead to my interest in user research and the formation of our user experience group at a former employer. The “value of user research is often to cut through the politics and convince stakeholders to make good design decisions”. (Adrian Chong)

Next time you read an article about a user research success story, ask yourself if the conclusions of that research weren’t just common sense (or at least common sense to good UI designers) to begin with. Ask yourself if a good designer couldn’t have concluded the same conclusion that the user research seemed to reach.
Then ask yourself if you could articulate your “common sense” recommendation to a person who doesn’t understand design at all. To someone who may, in fact, be hostile to your so-called “expert” recommendations?
This is one area where research can help: explaining a user interface design strategy to stakeholders, peers, and bosses who have their own agendas and biases.

The comments to the article are quite informative.
User Research Smoke & Mirrors, Part 3: Research as a Political Tool.


Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users

“Words matter. Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them “subjects.” We depersonalize the people we study by calling them “users.” Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about.
If we are designing for people, why not call them that: people, a person, or perhaps humans. But no, we distance ourselves from the people for whom we design by giving them descriptive and somewhat degrading names, such as customer, consumer, or user. Customer – you know, someone who pays the bills. Consumer – one who consumes. User, or even worse, end user – the person who pushes the buttons, clicks the mouse, and keeps getting confused.
Artisan? Customer? Consumer? User? Wrangler? Biot? Each of these words is a way to degrade the people for whom we design, a way of labeling them as objects instead of personifying them as real living, breathing people.”
Read Don Norman’s Article


An Interview with Jesse James Garrett

It’s unfortunate but not unexpected that the interview is viewable only in Windows Media (DevSource is basically a Microsoft mouthpiece), so if you are using a Mac don’t expect too much in terms of quality. It took me a few tries to get it to play and a few more to get through it. It’s still worth it.
“Jesse James Garrett is the “notorious” father of AJAX. You may not also realize that he’s also a writer, interface developer and designer, information architect, and experience strategist. He co-founded Adaptive Path in 2001, where he is now Director of User Experience Strategy. Garrett is the author of the popular book, The Elements of User Experience, and other groundbreaking works, and co-founder of the Information Architecture Institute.”
An Interview with Jesse James Garrett, the “father of ajax”


User experience: A research agenda

“Over the last decade, ‘user experience’ (UX) became a buzzword in the field of human – computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design. As technology matured, interactive products became not only more useful and usable, but also fashionable, fascinating things to desire. Driven by the impression that a narrow focus on interactive products as tools does not capture the variety and emerging aspects of technology use, practitioners and researchers alike, seem to readily embrace the notion of UX as a viable alternative to traditional HCI. And, indeed, the term promises change and a fresh look, without being too specific about its definite meaning. The present introduction to the special issue on ‘Empirical studies of the user experience’ attempts to give a provisional answer to the question of what is meant by ‘the user experience’. It provides a cursory sketch of UX and how we think UX research will look like in the future. It is not so much meant as a forecast of the future, but as a proposal – a stimulus for further UX research. ” Read the complete article. Via infodesign.


Piin Arrows

piin.jpg
I like how Piin uses these simple arrows to point out defects or damage on their goods. Many stores simply mark the price down and put a damaged tag on it but Piin takes that extra step to help improve their customer experience – a rarity in Taiwan.


Conversation Notes on User Experience Design

The context of the following mishmash of ideas was from a planned conversation in last nights design class. The talk was to serve as a sort of recap of some of the things we had been talking about.
“User experience simply refers to the way a product behaves and is used …. A positive user experience is one in which the goals of both the user and the organization that created the product are met. ” – Garrett
Designing user experiences – websites, software UI – replaces human to human interaction and bring whole new kinds of interaction not before possible.
People bring with them a lifetime of experience as to how they want to interact with your product. Your interface should fit their model of how they will interact with your product – you should not deviate from this drastically but gradually, if at all …
This should seem blatantly obvious, people should form the center of any design to be used by people … you need to strike a balance.
If we are paying attention we will notice patterns in our products that produce successful experiences … and we can notice and replicate these and other patterns … are we paying attention to the successful experiences we have in our everyday life.
There are challenges:
… challenges in how people perceive “spaces in their mind” … IA is more about peoples perception than machine readable categories (though they do need to be machine readable)
… visual design is perceived differently by different people … color, form, type, all may mean different things to different people. This is especially true across cultures.
How do we understand our customers?
Some companies obviously employ very deep research programs and there is allot of science involved.
But you and I are thinking small … were not Motorola or Coke …
It’s entirely possible if you employ a small team of very experienced designers to just jump right in. To rely on their experience to create good usable products. User research still needs to happen but we need to be quick .. agile.
Start from the middle and don’t get bogged down with process. Produce something and if you are small and fast enough you can react … react to the knowledge you learn from your future end users. Allot of development today allows for this nimbleness, though you may not see it in many companies today as they are still heavily vested in the large enterprise system mentality.
Otherwise it’s wise to not only start testing early but involve your users from the very beginning. You can do this at first in the most simple way possible … talking to your target. Getting to know them, their needs, their environment. Humanize your strategy by referring to real people every time you talk about your site or product …
Tools and techniques of basic user research.


Technology as an Enabler to Experience

During one of my last design classes (they are more me having a one sided conversation) I tried to reinforce the idea of technology as an enabler to customers/users/peoples goals, objectives, and desired experience. So often technology drives the experience irrespective of what people actually want in a product. A company launches a new internal email system not based on what people want or can use but on what features the particular vendor is selling. This leads to allot of internal dissatisfaction which is often expressed either through frustration or simply lost productivity.
It is a very common approach in Taiwan and one which is very hard to break free from. Companies need to make money and selling a system based on a feature set is much easier than more qualitative measurements. I don’t necessarily have the answers but Taiwan being the copy and remix culture that it is, I bet if someone created a successful product following a customer centered approach (in practice not in theory) than others would copy.
Some large companies who make physical devices are doing this but it has yet to filter down to smaller and medium sized enterprises.
Tonight I will quickly introduce an interview with Jim Wicks, the Vice President and Director of Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design, as he has some great ideas on the subject. I find Taiwan students and business managers always tend to appreciate the advice of an outside expert, so perhaps his voice will add some credence to the idea.
Weaving Design into Motorola’s Fabric
Jim Wicks
“We are a technology leader. However, a big change in mobile devices has been to move from being technology-driven to being technology-enabled. This means things are driven by consumers’ needs, wants, and desires. Consumers don’t say, “Hey, I want a (blank).” They don’t talk about technology in terms of what they want to do. They talk about what their objective is or what their desired experience is.”
“The product is the brand. You build brand in our industry through the product and the experience. Those manifestations are tangible evidence of that change. It shapes what people internally and externally think about the company.”
“However, you could also create a product that succeeds by accident and not realize it. You could make a mistake by not building on a successful product or not being able to repeat a success. There’s a lot of things that can happen that show a product doesn’t really change the culture of a company or change the company. But a product can really bring a lot to the table to enable other things to happen that really do mean the company is changing.”
Find the patterns of your successful experience and iterate.
“The intention isn’t to trump functionality. Our products are highly functional. …
If you look at what most people are doing with their devices and what they say they care about most, you would offer functionality that addresses those primary uses really well. Plus you would create something that ‘meets their style,’ something that they see as an object of personal expression that they feel very good about, proud about, and comfortable with carrying around.
I think of it more as a balancing rather than a trumping of functionality.”
“It’s like when someone says, “Are you going to invest in design or usability?” I’m respond with, “Well, that’s the same thing.” Design is always about synthesis–synthesis of market needs, technology trends, and business needs.”
The full interview is available the Institute of Design | Strategy Conference website.


Points From Teaching Last Nights Design Class

I drove out to Hsuan Chuang University last night to teach but unfortunately took a wrong turn and got lost. I did manage to get to the class just in time only to realize that I forgot my dvi-vga adaptor. Lovely start.
Some things I learned from the experience:

  • No one has heard of Flickr or Myspace. Some people know about Gmail
  • The students are fiercely loyal to local Taiwan web sites (both applications and communities) regardless of how inferior they are to other sites in their language produced elsewhere
  • This class speaks far more English than the last. Cool
  • I said that technology is an enabler. They say that to be modern we must let technology lead. The sense I get is that they don’t really get the idea of balancing customer and business needs. They don’t really think about humanizing technology and building things that allow people to do things, with technology allowing that to happen. Pick a platform first then make people use it instead of find out what people need and pick a platform to make it happen.
  • Each year the students seem more “free” – lots of chit chat and far less discipline – almost like a Canadian classroom which is too bad
  • I dislike podiums and lecturing. My idea of class as a conversation bombed – “lets make it like the web – you have the material already – lets start with with an idea and see where it goes” – I’m naive – structure is still king
  • Everyone loves stories and loves to laugh

Overall an interesting evening if not rather distracting. The doors to the classroom were open – to the left of me were beautiful ladies line dancing to music, to the right was an old black dog constantly licking his genitals. I bet no one else can claim to those kind of distraction when teaching.


Teaching at Hsuan Chuang University

Over the next few weeks I will be teaching at Hsuan Chuang University a undergraduate class in design – this will be my forth year stressing out students as I teach only in English. It’s an elective course usually filled with bright young students from various faculties through out the university.
The topic hasn’t changed much, I spend 3 weeks talking about Designing User Experiences, and it is still as necessary as ever. Putting your customer at the forefront of your application or site design is still as foreign a concept to many here in Taiwan as it is in standard brick and mortar businesses. The language of our profession (or jargon) – user friendly, simplicity, usability, IA – may have made it’s way through many corporate design departments but in practice it’s still very much an afterthought or not a thought at all.
Hopefully talking about the concepts. methods, and tool will in some miniscule way help bring forth these concepts to the business mainstream.
Tonight I give a brief introduction, the following weeks I take a different approach by focusing on weblog usability. Since so many students today are creating “blogs” this will allow them to immediately put into practice some of the ideas we discuss. An important first step.
Creating the User Experience and Visual Design for the Web.


Audio User Experience – Q&A

Kathy Sierra was nice enough to send me an email asking me some thoughts on audio/sound. I sometimes need this impetus to write down even the briefest thoughts on a subject (and these are just brief sketches). The following are her questions and my answers.

Do you agree with me that the power of audio/sound is being greatly overlooked in so many areas of product design, user experience, etc. (as opposed to areas where sound is recognized as crucial, like movies and commercials)?

Yes I agree but there is a good reason – I would also extend your characterization of crucial to include games and toys.
Movies and commercials are passive shared experiences. Task based products are interactive and not generally shared. It’s an obvious but crucial difference. Everyone outside of China may agree that noise is something that we would rather not experience. But sound is not noise.
Sound is distinguished from noise by the simple fact that sound can provide information.
Sound answers questions; sound supports activities for tasks, so sound is inheritly useful. Consider the information provided by the click when the bolt on a door slides open, the sound of your zipper when you close a pair of pants, the whistle of a kettle when your water is finished boiling, the sound of a river moving in the distance, the sound of liquid boiling, of food frying, and the sounds of people talking in the distance. In the workplace there are the sounds of keys being pressed on a computer keyboard.
Natural sound is as essential as visual information because sound tells us about things we can’t see and it does so while our eyes are occupied elsewhere. Natural sounds reflect the complex interaction of natural objects; the way one part moves against another, the material of which the parts are made. Sounds are generated when materials interact and the sound tells us whether they are hitting, sliding, breaking or bouncing. Sounds differ according to the characteristics of the objects and they differ on how fast things are going and how far they are from us.
An extension of the statement that tasks are not shared is that the environment in which the tasks are competed are – one person’s sound is another noise. Visual displays are not as intrusive as auditory ones.
So the question of whether or not auditory interfaces would or should be used is primarily a question of implementation – how to restrict the receiving of the information inherent to sound to the person meant to be receiving it? When we solve this problem cheaply then I think we will see a great deal more use of sound in other products’ development.

Do you see any areas of great leverage — places where audio/sound could be incorporated that could make a big difference in either usability, user experience (even if simply for more *pleasure* in the experience)?

I hesitate to use these buzz words but with the popularization of Ajax/Web 2.0 interfaces it may be a good time for people to start experimenting further with sound in online application interfaces. Since these interfaces load data in real time, we lose a vital visual clue from the pages loading or refreshing. Sometimes the data change happens so fast we can’t follow any clues.
But these ideas are always met with criticism. An example from Jeffery Veen, “Sounds I stopped counting how many times I tore the headphones from my ears when a site started blaring music or “interaction” cues like pops, whistles, or explosions whenever I moused over something. Am I the only one who listens to music while using my computer?”
I love childrens toys and gain much inspiration from them. Cheap cheap sensors which illicite wonderfully fun feedback. We should have these in everything. Imagine buying a jacket that when you closed the snaps it sounded “heavier” than it feels or looks. Like the difference in sound between the door closing on a Lada and a Benz. Lots of possibilities.

Any other comments on your “Adult Chair” experience? What you learned from observing users interacting, etc.?

The adult chairs were just a small part of a broader set of objectives in creating non-elitist interfaces to musical expression. Though all of my work at that time were prototypes, just some manifestations of some ideas I had, I was harshly criticized because of the lack of “new science” or extended interactivity. Basically my work was too simple due to using off the shelf tech. and short lengths of time that people were engaged in the activities. I rejected this criticism, mostly, because I knew the criticizers didn’t understand the goals of the project and they weren’t looking at people actually using the prototypes. Though it was never intended to be so, this project ended up being the greatest champion of user centered design for me personally. We video taped allot of sessions and gathered allot of anecdotal data which drove later iterations of the design.
Some of the conclusions:

  • Its really hard to design interfaces that have no visual responses. In a game we developed around an interface similar to Adult Chairs (hulabaloo) children kept looking for flashing lights or some kind of physical response. Eventually they learned to use their ears only which was good as it was a music appreciation game. Children here are very conditioned to visual response.
  • People love being surprised and they want to have fun. They don’t care if the technology came from radio shack – they care if you can make them smile.
  • Features, options, and controls are not needed to allow people to have fun for a short period of time. To keep them engaged for long periods of time people want that control.
Any other thoughts or tips for the rest of us?

I think too often when people thing of audio interfaces they immediately think of the horrible implementations in Yahoo IM, icq, and flash sites with hip hop sound tracks. It can be intelligently and elegantly designed.
Another thought is the difficulty in designing “gray sound”. Computer user interfaces are gray – not thought provoking – sit in the background and purposely boring. Icons and language localizations aside I think they work everywhere. But how to design auditory signals that work everywhere – cultural differences abound and what data is there to help us?
I live and work in Taiwan, arguably the noisiest group of people anywhere (i’m guessing). They “appear” to have a tolerance for noise and a need for sound that is far different than my own. Because their environment is so full of aural cues how do we design for them? A Japanese garden is a place of tranquility. A Canadian park a place of clean nature. A Taiwanese park is frequently experienced with a soundtrack as they pump in music and nature sounds to keep it from becoming quiet. Quiet seems to make them uncomfortable. This is just one example of what is acceptable or normal for levels of aural cues across 3 different locations and cultures. I think localizing audio interfaces will be quite challenging.


IA 2.0 at UXMatters

“The typical information architect thinks about structure – how one item in a group relates to all the other items in the group and how that group relates to all other groups. In the early days of information architecture (IA), groups and their related items tended to be well defined. For example, in the heyday of e-commerce, an information architect translated a product catalog into a storefront on the Web. Today, these problems seem old hat.”
“Beyond the technology, however, Web 2.0 brings with it a shift in mind-set. Today, people trust online content that individuals publish more than they did in the early days of the Web. Many people now willingly share information—like photographs or favorite Web sites or wish lists—freely on the Web and see sharing this information as beneficial.”

I dislike the whole web 2.0 labeling and hype and his use of IA 2.0 seems unnecessary but this article does bring to light the fact that there is allot to think about in how IA responds to new mindsets and technologies. I wonder how long it will take for the concepts and practices introduced via sites like Flickr to percolate down through to those who control budgets and initiate projects in Taiwan. Somehow I think we haven’t hit IA 0.5 yet.
This article is from UXMatters, a new publication for user experience professionals.
Read: Information Architecture 2.0