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

apple-macbook-pro-wddc-2012

“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 useit.com – ‘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

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