In my spare time I love baking (I love eating cakes), I run a local baking club and I absolutely love KitchenAid products. I love the industrial user-centred design and the attention to ease of use. So, for the Keep It Usable blog this month, I decided to interview my friend Brandon Satanek who is the UX manager at Whirlpool.
Not only is Brandon a great guy, but his knowledge and passion for UX is something you should learn from. If you’re unsure how UX can benefit your business, Brandon will reassure you with some fantastic examples. I especially like his example of how Whirlpool created innovative product concepts simply by sending their researchers into people’s homes to observe them doing their laundry and interviewing them.
After seeing people adopt rather uncomfortable postures, an idea was developed to create a platform to raise the products to a more convenient height…it shows how contextual user research can lead to user-centered innovations that directly impact the bottom line.
There are several names for this type of research; ethnographic, contextual inquiry, in-context. It’s my personal favourite style of research as you gain true insights into the user and their behaviour. Have you ever stepped into a strangers home and been able to make instant judgements on their personality, hobbies, interests, activity levels, family life that turned out to be accurate? Research has suggested that these judgements we make, which are based on our experience of life and people so far, are often accurate. If you’re interested to know more, I recommend reading Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What your stuff says about you.
Many UXers shy away from contextual research as it is true research that requires a certain level of skill, and a lot of people who conduct usability testing aren’t specialist researchers.
Research conducted in the context of use is imho the best you can get. You will find out rich information and behavioural insights giving you those ‘why didn’t we think of that!’ moments that just can’t be gained through lab testing.
Read my interview with Brandon, it may just change your business…
Have you ever been to a website specifically to look for something and no matter how hard you look you just can’t find it? Most people will give up within a few seconds, hit the back button and go to a competitor. This is why your Information architecture is incredibly important – get it right and you will keep more people within your site, lowering your bounce rate and improving your conversion.
What is information architecture?
In simple terms, it’s about structuring your content to feel intuitive and logical to the end user.
An example of how not to do it
Tesco Direct have placed Halloween items within the heading ‘Christmas’ on the navigation bar. Users will struggle to find this as it makes no logical sense – halloween and christmas are completely separate occasions.
If a visitor to your website has the intention of browsing halloween things, they will already have expectations of where halloween things will be. Your aim is to try to understand their expectations of where they’ll find halloween related products. Only when you understand this, can you position it in the optimal place.
Card Sorting to create intuitive IA
One of the methods I employ to help create intuitive Information Architecture is Card Sorting. It’s an activity carried out with users (i.e. your target audience) using labelled cards to group and organise pages of content. Users categorise the pages in the way that makes sense to them and they can use existing grouping or create their own. What this enables us to do is to see the structure of your site or software from the user’s point of view – we can see and understand their mental model.
Card sorting exercise in action:
If you’d like to understand more about how reviewing your IA can help your business or if you’re curious about card sorting please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
“It’s without doubt the best computer we’ve ever built!”
If you’re an Apple fan then you’re probably feeling pretty excited right now. WWDC was held yesterday (you can watch it here) and Apple have finally launched the next generation of Macbook Pros. Thankfully they’ve met and exceeded most people’s expectations, with the new Macbook Pro showing off an incredibly slim casing, superb retina display, high performance and attention to little details such as the lowering the noise of the fan (yes seriously!). I don’t know of any company that would value the user experience to such detail.
New Macbook Pro Overview:
It’s very impressive and I’m already reaching for my purse. The question is whether to wait until July which is when Mountain Lion is released. There’s a free upgrade for anyone purchasing the Pro if you buy now, or like my other half plans to do, you could wait until next month which also gives Apple some time to solve any issues there may be with the new hardware design.
I’m not as impressed with iOS 6. It may surprise you to know that I’ve never owned an Apple mobile, despite my love of all things Apple (well, except iTunes which needs a complete redesign). For most people, their mobile is an extension of themselves, of their own personality. I find the iPhone form factor to be quite masculine. It feels expensive and high quality but I just can’t connect with it. There is one thing that keeps pulling me to Android and that is Widgets. As far as user experience is concerned they enable a shorter, more efficient and effective interaction. I can simply turn on my backlight and I instantly know the weather, the latest news, read a note to myself (usefulness), and I can see a photo of my other half with the cats (emotional attachment, love). It all adds up to a nice experience. iOS may have better usability and apps than Android, but I personally believe they need to add more fun, emotion, usefulness and wow factors into their mobile desktop to have increased emotional appeal.
Getting back to the new Macbook Pro, here are a few quotes from WWDC relating to User Experience that I wholeheartedly agree with.
“To create something that’s genuinely new, you have to start again and I think with great intent you disconnect from the past.”
“If you never change anything then what you can engineer is kind of incremental. But when you’re willing to change things then you kind of open up a whole new world of design.”
I started my UX career as a Smartphone Researcher. I remember when we took the plunge to remove the hardware keypad and go full touch. Users complained that they wanted and needed a hard keypad to enter text. They saw T9 as vital to quick text entry – it could be done one handed and even blindly by many users. I admit myself to being able to text without even looking at my phone, it was great for multi-tasking, like shopping whilst texting
But users can adapt to change very quickly despite their initial reservations and look at everyone now using full touch devices to enter text. How far we’ve come! But, there is still the problem of longer text entry times, needing to use two hands and being more prone to errors. So I’m rather impressed by Blackberry’s approach to improving the touchscreen text entry user experience to be faster and more intuitive. Check it out and see what you think…
There are 4 kittens in a pet shop…
and 1 black and white kitten
Fact: Tabby kittens are adopted much more quickly than black and white kittens.
So, which kitten do you think will sell first?
Answer: The black and white one
The principle of Scarcity
What is the principle of Scarcity?
When something is scarce or rare, people see it as more highly valued and more desirable. This is why shops often have sales and why antiques have such a high value. Scarcity is closely related to the fear of loss – people fear losing what they have and also what they don’t yet have. They will act in sometimes non-sensical ways to avoid this loss (shopaholics and hoarders are good examples).
How do I know the black and white kitten really will be sold first?
Because these kittens have been advertised on the residents board where I live and everyone wants the black and white one.
How to sell more by using scarcity in your website design
- Limited numbers of a product left? Make this information clear in the interface.
- Show an end date or time for an offer.
- Offer something free with the product but limit it’s availability.
I’ve been featured on Creative Boom talking about the amazing Salford University Carnival held at Islington Mill this week. We had a great time! Below is an extract of the article and if you want to read more just head on over to Creative Boom.
Over a hundred Salford University graphic design students showcased their amazing work at Islington Mill yesterday in a fun carnival themed event organised in conjunction with Designers Northern Alliance.
Representatives from key Manchester and Salford agencies attended the event to inspire and look for the next generation of fresh talent. Keepitusable, Magnetic North, Design by Day, Eskimo Creative, and Code ComputerLove were just some of the industry experts to attend the event.
Lisa Duddington, co-founder of Keepitusable Salford’s first user experience design agency whose clients include the BBC, saw the event as a valuable opportunity to connect with and inspire the next generation of designers.
“It’s so exciting to be part of this event! We know how difficult it can be when you’re first starting your career, so we’re eager to help students and graduates to gain the valuable experience and knowledge they need to succeed in what is an incredibly competitive industry.
We have a fantastic relationship with Salford University and are proud to be able to offer both their students and graduates incredible opportunities to gain industry experience.”
I just love the amazing design of this new style shoebox by Puma. Most of my shoeboxes are really dull, boring and seriously oversized for the contents. Not only does this new design function well and look cool, it’s easier for the customer to carry and might I add hurts less (doesn’t it hurt when that sharp corner of the box in the carrier bag hits your leg whilst you’re walking?). It’s also economical and saves on packaging so is very eco-friendly and no doubt will save Puma a vast amount of money to produce.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all companies put this much thought and love into their designs? I’m almost tempted to buy a pair of Pumas now (you see how this works? when you build great user experiences, people will be attracted to your business, it’s a bit like karma, it pays to care about your users)
“Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”
I can confirm this is the biggest whopper i’ve ever heard. Maybe it’s true if you never touch self assessment yourself and leave everything in the hands of bookkeepers and accountants. But, for the average Joe Bloggs, completing a self assessment for the first time (like I’ve just done) is a very unpleasant, frustrating and stressful user experience.
Completing a self assessment for the first time will:
- Take much longer than you expect (take a guess then multiply it by at least 5)
- Confuse the life out of you. The guidelines are so generalised that finding specific answers for your particular situation is nearly impossible.
- Make you hate the HMRC helpline. They take a lifetime to answer the phone, and you can guarantee that as soon as you hang up the phone you think of one more vital question you should have asked so you have to start the whole process once again.
- Make you hate all websites associated with tax, in particular the HMRC one. There’s a wealth of information out there but trying to find answers to seemingly simple questions like how to calculate how much NI you owe is very difficult as once again it depends on your particular situation.
- Make you incredibly fearful of ‘Submit’ buttons.
- Suddenly make you religious. In your head you’ll find yourself subconsciously saying a little prayer to the Gods of software and internet that your return is submitted successfully.
- Make you hate Error messages even more than usual.
- Start treating your computer like a precious object. No one is allowed within a two metre radius of it until the self assessment has been submitted. Each entry and mouse press is taken with extra care to prevent any mistakes being made.
My expectations of the online user experience for completing your self assessment were that it would be easy. After all I’d seen the adverts on TV and the posters all over in the past claiming ‘Tax doesn’t have to be taxing’. My expectations couldn’t have been more wrong! Firstly I logged into the website using my login details and as I’d already told them I was a partnership I was expecting some kind of wizard to take me through the whole process online. But I couldn’t see any call-to-actions to say ‘Begin here!’ so I found myself aimlessly clicking on every hyperlink I could find. I just couldn’t find the starting point. I felt like Sarah in the movie Labyrinth who can’t work out how to get into the labyrinth.
So I went to my old pal Google. After some time I found an article that mentioned needing software to submit a partnership tax return. This was all a bit odd, I thought you could just use the HMRC site. Anyway it turns out you need to purchase software to submit a partnership return which is why there wasn’t a clear starting point on the website. I wish they’d explained this in big text as soon as I logged in. The site is very much aimed at people who have completed a previous self assessment and know what they’re doing.
I then had the task of trawling through lots of software websites and downloading demos to find something easy to use. This took time… Most were really, really bad. I’m so surprised that something everyone has to do can be made so complex. I’m educated up to MSc level, good with computers and I often have to understand complex problems so I can’t imagine how bad it must be for more novice users.
I finally decided on FTAX as it was basically a pdf version of the actual form. It looked more familiar and it had some intelligence – when you completed fields it automatically calculated other fields. It was still an unpleasant experience. The form started having what looked like a fit at one stage and would not stay on the page I wanted at all. Bear in mind I was feeling quite stressed at this point. The form was obviously evil and deliberately trying to wind me up even more. It wouldn’t behave itself until the following day and I then managed to complete all the fields.
Finally, I plucked up the courage to press the Submit button. It didn’t work. No response whatsoever. More stress. My partner tried it on his machine and hooray it worked! But oh no it failed! Errors written in the worst possible technical language imaginable beamed at me from the screen, giving me their equivalent of the middle finger. After a few attempts at tweaking random things I’m relieved to say that the form did eventually submit itself. Hooray! I can’t wait to go through it all again next year, not. I’ll definitely be employing an accountant next time because as i’ve found out tax IS incredibly taxing and should be left to the professionals until HMRC employ user experience designers to completely redesign the whole software!