Interview with Whirlpool’s UX Manager

kitchenaid uxIn 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…

Featured in The Guardian

The Guardian UXWhat better way to start the year than a guest appearance in The Guardian!

They seem to have cut the photo in a way that looks like my head’s been chopped off, so erm, just ignore that and read what I say instead 🙂

Read the article and check out my chopped off head on the >>>

Information Architecture (IA)

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.

tesco ux usability

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:

card sorting with userIf 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.

user experience (ux) design and usability testing agency

UX Booth guest post: 5 Useful Lies to Tell User Research Participants

user research liesDo you read UX Booth? If you’re interested in User Experience then bookmark it now! It’s been my favourite site for reading interesting and useful UX articles for a number of years now. As such, when I decided to write a guest post, they were my first choice. I decided to write about 5 little (white) lies that can be told during user research interviews to gain higher validity data.

I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and I’ve picked up a few useful techniques along the way to encourage the best out of the people I interview. This includes making them feel more at ease, increasing rappor, gaining trust and encouraging an open dialogue where it is ok to be 100% honest.

Active and passive deception has been used in research for a long time. In the past it was unfortunately used unethically and there are a lot of examples out there of how not to use deception. The Milgram experiment is one of the most known for the psychological and physical damage it caused.

Of course, all the lies I use and recommend are incredibly nice. They’re white lies and many UX researchers use some or even all of them. You don’t have to use any but they are a useful tool to have in your UX toolbox. Enjoy! 🙂

Read the article: 5 Useful Lies to Tell User Research Participants


New Next Gen Macbook Pro


“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:

new macbook pro spec
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.”

UPA changes to UXPA. What do you think?

Have you heard the latest? The Usability Professionals Association (UPA) is rebranding to User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s a good move or one that’s more motivated by profit than member value?

When I first heard the news my instant thought was that they’re jumping on the bandwagon of the term UX to increase their membership numbers. Cynical me hey! After reading the official Press Release though I’m still not totally clear of the benefits this will bring to me as a member, in fact I’m concerned the content may be more diluted and I’ll have to do more digging to find the stuff I’m interested in. The UPA say ‘many of our members are increasingly involved in User Experience Strategy. Our new organizational model allows us to deliver content on all four of these pillars: Research, Design, Evaluation, and Strategy’ but to be honest they do this anyway so I still believe the change is to appeal to more potential members, which I can understand from their perspective.

As terminology, User Experience is much more attractive to people than Usability. Usability is often seen as more rigid, boring and formal (thanks in part to people’s first impression of – ‘oh is this what good usability does to a site? bleurgh! no thanks!). So, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the UXPA will gain a lot more members and these will come from a wider variety of backgrounds.

I’d like to see the site cater for both the different specialisms and the different levels of experience between members.

Different specialisms

By this I mean I’d like to see areas within the site and forum where I can geek out about UX with people who see it from many different viewpoints. People come into UX from a wide variety of backgrounds, more varied than usability, so the UPA will need to think about the structure of the site and forums to cater for everyone.

Different member levels

I’d like to see different membership levels for those who are UX professionals and those who may just be joining as they have an interest in the subject.

My own view is that I’m not really too concerned. I’ll be happy so long as the IA of the site is really well thought through with lots of different areas to discuss UX from many different viewpoints and of course we’ll still need an area for Usability! I just hope the new UXPA can actually cope with a higher number of members because in my experience it’s an organisation that, well, isn’t actually very well organised. The first time I applied to join the UPA was many years ago… They lost my first application, they received my second application then lost it and I have no idea what happened on my third attempt as I heard nothing from them and that time I gave up. I recently tried to join again, this time my application was processed (hooray!) but I did have to ask them to resend my welcome pack as I didn’t receive the first one. So yeah, let’s hope they get the IA spot on and can cope with the increased demand.

What are your thoughts? Are you a current member of the UPA? Will you be joining the UXPA? What impact do you think the name change will have (if any)?

Finally, below is a sketch by @jasonmesut that I think highlights the potential impact of the name change rather well. I also recommend reading Louis Rosenfeld’s response which is both amusing and highlights the lack of vision for the name change.

UPA name change impact

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 😀

Here’s a post box so you can compare:

red post box letter box