New technology enables paraplegics to stand

A radical new design of the traditional wheelchair by Tek RMD, now enables paraplegics to stand and move. This is a big step in decreasing the barriers that paraplegics face. Just being able to stand once again and to move in a standing posture must feel incredibly liberating. I also believe this kind of technology is a big step in helping able-bodied people overcome prejudice and see the person on their level. Watch the video, it’s amazing. 


Man mistakes red dog poo box for letter box (for 2 yrs!)

man mistakes dog poo box for letter box

This is a classic case of poor user centred design and highlights the importance of why we always think of the user’s needs, wants and expectations when designing for them. This is why analysing users’ current mental models is important too – his expectation based on his past life experience was that red boxes in the street are always letter boxes. So the designer of this box definitely should not have made it red!

This photo just goes to show:

- People don’t always pay attention to what you want them to.

- They don’t always read everything.

- People make assumptions based on visual appearance, like the colour of something. Post boxes are red so he presumed the obvious!

- Older people often suffer from poor user experiences. Failing eyesight makes them more reliant on good clear design.

And finally, this is why user experience designers and usability specialists will always be needed in the world :D

Here’s a post box so you can compare:

red post box letter box


An incredibly TAX ing User Experience

“Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”

completing tax return hmrcI 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.

frustrated kit

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!


Focus group doodles

This morning I finished the last of the workshops/focus groups I’ve been running with kids/teens for one of our clients. I’m just collating the data and thought you might like to see some of the lovely little pictures the kids have drawn on their sheets.

Certainly makes me laugh! :)

kids doodles

smileys

doodle


The secret’s out!

The secret project that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years is finally out! As I can now talk openly about it, here I share my story about creating and launching the new product and fashion focussed social network sqoshi.com

sqoshi homepage

Redundancy

When the company I worked for closed down back in April 2009 and made everyone redundant, I and two other colleagues decided it was the perfect opportunity to pursue a project of our own. I’ve hinted at this project in the past and now i’m finally going to let the cat out of the bag! Hold on tight!

Concept

Our first concept idea involved creating a place on the internet where you could do everything socially. It would have enabled you to have one presence online but to show different parts to different groups. It was a massive undertaking and to be honest it was difficult even for us to explain. So, not surprisingly, when we ran the idea past users they struggled to grasp the concept and even when they understood it, they weren’t enthralled by it.

Canning the concept and creating a new one

So we did the right thing. We canned it immediately at the concept stage and went back to the drawing board. At the meeting there were numerous ideas but the one that everyone thought had the most potential was the one I brought to the table. Now this may well have been because I researched this like crazy so they couldn’t really not agree it had potential ;) The idea was a site focussed around ‘what’s in your bag?’ There wasn’t anywhere online where you could do this but people were doing it everywhere! Bloggers, Flickr, newspapers, magazines… They always attracted lots of comments and interest. I could also understand the psychology behind why this would really interest people and how it could in the future link into brands.

sqoshi is born

We worked on this initial concept idea together as a team and broadened it to be a site all about the products that real people own and use. what’s in your bag would have been too limiting (people don’t change what’s in their bag very often) so instead, it’s just one of the things you now do on the site. that site being www.sqoshi.com

Thorough research

We conducted lots of market research, user research and usability testing right from the concept stage. Starting off with discussing ideas with users, then testing using paper prototypes, moving onto interactive simulations then eventually testing the built software. We even went so far as to test the brand name and logo design.  We commissioned a graphic designer to design 5 logos and we had already created one so at the last minute decided to include it in the user research. This turned out to be quite awkward as every single user preferred the one we had created! Here it is:

sqoshi logo

We believe the amount of research we carried out with real people is why sqoshi is now receiving such a positive response. You can read more about the design process we followed. And you can read more about what sqoshi is here.

Video of user testing sqoshi

We’ve received lots of brilliant feedback from our target audience (young people aged 16-29). This is the latest one I received about 5 minutes ago:

I think its a really cool idea that hasn’t been done before. I care a lot about my style and what it says to others about me and I know a lot of people who are the same. People bond over shared interests and I think Sqoshi is great way to do that.

I love how our target audience describe sqoshi. Words like ‘sick’ ‘dope’ and ‘rad’ are just some of the words they use. Makes you feel old doesn’t it? :p

The future

There is so much we want to do it’s often overwhelming to think of everything. Sqoshi as it stands is the most limited version we could create to launch it within the shortest timeframe. There are still bugs to fix, features to add, things to tweak and of course a mobile app to build. These will all help to grow our user base and encourage participation and engagement, which are our primary goals.

Questions

There is so much I could talk about but the length of this post would be unbelievable…you could fill a whole book! So instead, feel free to comment on this post or use the contact page to contact me directly.

As well as Sqoshi, we work with clients directly through keepitusable so if you like what we do, get in touch with us at hello@keepitusable.com


11 Free User Experience Books

Thanks to The UX Bookmark for this great list of free online user experience books!
1.   Search User Interfaces- by Marti A. Hearst
2.   Web Style Guide- by Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton
3.   Designing Interfaces- by Jenifer Tidwell (Most of the book is available online, not all of it, as pointed out by Amanda)
4.   Designing Mobile Interfaces- by Steven Hoober and Eric Berkman
5.   The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface- by Kent L. Norman 
6.   Mental Models in Human-Computer Interaction: Research Issues About What the User of Software Knows- by John M. Carroll and Judith Reitman Olson (editors)
7.   Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design- by Shawn Henry
8.   Building accessible websites- by Joe Clark
9.   Introduction to Metadata - by Tony Gill, Anne J. Gilliland, Maureen Whalen, and Mary S. Woodley
10. Introduction to Controlled Vocabularies: Terminology for Art, Architecture, and Other Cultural Works- by Patricia Harpring
11. Categories for the Description of Works of Art- by Murtha Baca and Patricia Harpring

Presenting at Manchester Met Uni (MMU)

presenting sqoshi to MMU students

I seem to be doing a lot of presenting to students recently. I’ve been conducting some really interesting focus groups with school kids and teenagers for one of our clients, and today I had the opportunity to give a talk to Postgrad marketing students at Manchester Met University (MMU). I spoke to them about sqoshi.com which is my own project that i’ve been working on for the last couple of years along with two partners. I conducted A LOT of research (both primary and secondary) for sqoshi from pre-concept to the present day and of course it’s something we’ll continue to do as listening to our users is of the utmost importance. It is this research process that I presented to the students and hope they found it useful to see how much research you need to do to create a new business.

Before sqoshi, we had intended to pursue a different project idea that would have taken a very long time to develop and would have failed. Because we spoke to real people at the concept stage (and importantly listened to the feedback) we realised quickly that the idea didn’t have legs and we canned it asap. Best decision ever!

Some businesses do research but make the mistake of letting their pride get in the way so they fail to listen to the user feedback if it disagrees with what they want to hear. This is worse than doing no research! It’s so important to take onboard all feedback with an open mind and decide how to utilise the findings in a productive manner because at the end of the day even if there is a lot of negative feedback you can at least work with that to improve your product. It’s better to accept this sooner when changes are cheaper and easier to make and more of your users will then experience your redesigned, fantastic version rather than the old version that left a worse impression.


Pointless door handle (unless you’re very small)

This is a picture of me trying to use a door in a hotel in Buxton. I didn’t even realise it had a door handle for most of my stay as it was so low. It wasn’t even an old door, just purely a case of aesthetics over usability.

And I promise i’m not a giant, the handle really is quite low!

unusable poor design door handle


FREE amazing UX poster: the user experience machine

Keepitusable have produced a fab, fun and importantly, free ux poster as a very early little christmas present to you all. don’t worry, you don’t need to enter any personal details at all to download it, just click the image below then hit the big pink button to download your copy. alternatively, if you’d like a hard copy poster version to display by your desk, head over to their deviantART page.

free user experience ux poster


Google – keeping it simple

Have you noticed that for some time now Google have been gradually adding more and more links to their homepage? This is typical ‘Feature creep‘ and unfortunately happens a lot.

Feature creep is when “extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and so can result in over-complication, or “featuritis”, rather than simple, design” (wikipaedia).

Google became the best search engine because of it’s simplicity. Think about it…what do you users really need on a search engine site? Strip it right back and all they actually need is a search box to type in and a button to press to get the results. They aren’t distracted by unnecessary clutter. They have one aim and they can perform it efficiently and effectively, achieving greater satisfaction.

However, even Google hasn’t managed to escape the dreaded ‘feature creep’. Recently it had begun to look like this:

Disappointing hey? The once simple site has become crowded with links.

BUT fear not! Google have recognised their featuritis and have tackled it head on with a rather ingenious solution. Now when you go to Google, it’s like going back in time to the old days when there was just a big search box and button. This is what you see:

Doesn’t it feel good? Very very simple. The cursor is positioned inside the search box so all the user needs to do is type and hit the return key or the search button. However, what about all the other features? Surely some of them were useful? Yes they were. Now for the clever part…. if the mouse is moved even slightly all the extra features fade in (via a nice transition). They are there if the user needs them.

Why does this work?

If the user wants to quickly search it is most likely they are poised ready to type as soon as the google page loads up. By positioning the cursor inside the search box, there is no need to touch the mouse. Users going to Google primarily to search have an excellent experience. Simple, fast and effective.

Users going to Google to do anything other than search will be used to having to use their mouse. Their existing mental model involves using the mouse. They may be slightly surprised upon seeing the new screen, but one tiny movement and the hidden features appear.

Search use case – keyboard focussed

Other use cases – mouse focussed

The new design provides a good fit between the interaction style of the user and the site behaviour.


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