Mobiles

Mobile UX and ‘thick users’

7 years ago today my time with Sony Ericsson came to an end.

I used to work for them as a software and hardware usability specialist. Our part of the company was dedicated to smartphones. Back then, they weren’t mainstream. They were incredibly expensive, a status symbol, mostly owned by business people. Perhaps you had one? (leave a comment if you did!)

At that time, there were no guidelines in the public domain for smartphone UI design. When it came to things like navigation, fundamentals, hit areas, button sizes, tactile feedback, hardware ergonomics, we had to design and test everything from scratch. And this was much more difficult than it is today.

Design and prototyping

Believe it or not those lovely prototyping tools you’re used to using didn’t exist back in the early smartphone days. Seriously, count yourselves lucky you have these! The UI design team used to use Adobe products for design. For prototyping, Macromedia Director and Flash were firm favourites.

For the early flip style smartphones, we had to design not just for one style of interaction (full touch) but there were actually three interaction paradigms!

1. Full touch. This is like what you have with your current smartphone – the full UI has touch interaction.

2. Full flip keypad. With the flip closed, the UI could be fully navigated and interacted with just using the hardware keys on the flip.

3. Combined: Touch and keypad. With the flip in the closed position, the touchscreen shrunk to the smaller size but it could still be pressed using touch. The UI could also be fully navigated and interacted with using the hardware keys on the flip. This meant for a complex interaction style. Everything that was designed had to be tested with three interaction paradigms – complex stuff!

Old skool mobile user research

User testing meant looking over the user’s shoulder to see what they were doing. This was coupled with note taking at the speed of lightning to miss as little as possible!

Conducting research with mobile users years ago was fun to say the least. We didn’t have the means to record mobile UIs, so it meant looking over the user’s shoulder to see what they were doing. This was coupled with note taking at the speed of lightning to miss as little as possible and get everything down before you forgot it, being mindful that as you were scribbling, you were missing further user interaction. As the researcher, you then had to also follow your discussion guide and focus on maintaining the flow of the interview. I developed the knack of note taking without looking at the paper in the end – it wasn’t pretty but it worked a treat!

HIPPOs and developers

Developers were particularly problematic and I remember seeing red once when one  said to me I must have asked ‘thick users’

At the end of the research there was no video evidence so then began the battle of convincing stakeholders. Developers were particularly problematic and I remember seeing red once when one said to me I must have asked ‘thick users’ because my research findings didn’t agree with their personal opinion. Seriously… I’ve heard it all! Patience is a definite requirement of any UX person and fortunately I have bags of it – queue a big friendly smile and a simple explanation of why users aren’t thick.

HIPPOs were also a huge problem. This is when the highest paid persons opinion overrules everyone else (in our case this was made worse by the fact the top decision makers were based in another country). It’s still incredibly common in companies and the only way to overcome it is to get the HIPPO on your side. Befriend them, educate them, show them evidence, let them think they’re making the decision.

Get the HIPPO on your side. Befriend them, educate them, show them evidence, let them think they’re making the decision

Running around corridors after users…

I remember a time when I wanted to replicate more natural usage of mobile, so I tasked users with walking down the corridor whilst carrying out tasks. Of course, this meant I had to scurry along behind them, trying to see what they were doing whilst making notes, remembering my guide, asking questions, etc, etc. It won’t come as a surprise to you to hear I didn’t do this again in a hurry! There’s only so much multi tasking one person is capable of.

Mobile research is so much easier now, thankfully!

Twinkeys and no keys… dealing with poor hardware usability

Our industrial designers were based over in Sweden, silo’d from the UI team. One day the hardware would just turn up and there’d be crucial functions missing that had been specified in the software. This then meant a long battle to make changes. I’m a qualified ergonomist so I adapted my role to include focus on hardware usability and worked on building relationships with the ID team. This worked really well and in the end they genuinely appreciated having someone to review their early design mockups and be the intermediary between them and the UI team.

Everyone benefits from capturing potential issues as early as possible

What happened to mobile innovation?

I was fortunate to make my way into several future concept groups and to help define some incredible future technology for mobile devices. There were some amazing things in the pipeline that I still haven’t seen on any devices. It feels as though mobile innovation has come to a bit of a standstill since the iPhone. I’m really looking forward to the day when the next big tech change in mobile happens.

7 years on…mobile is bigger than ever!

So, 7 years have passed… how did time go so fast!? Mobile is now bigger than ever and smartphones are mainstream. Most of my work in mobiles now involves helping companies to improve their mobile website conversion or their mobile app user experience.

Despite the fact that mobile is now huge, it remains the most difficult platform to design for

So many well known brands still make obvious mistakes in their mobile experiences.

There’s a real opportunity to stand out if your brand offers the best mobile experience

Need help with mobile?

Then you’re looking in the right place! At this point I should probably point out that at Keep It Usable, we also have the UX designer of the first ever smartphone.

Our mobile expertise is unrivalled

We know mobile design and user behaviour on mobile inside out, we know what works.

PS If you used to own a Sony Ericsson smartphone let me know!:)

health app that calls your doctor

Featured in the papers: Our award-winning health app

If you were reading the MEN newspaper on Saturday, you’ll have spotted me in an article about the mobile health app, Clintouch. The app was designed by Keep It Usable, and recently won an innovation award as well as being the subject of a meeting hosted by David Cameron’s senior health policy advisor at 10 Downing Street, to consider the impact that digital technology could have in improving the nation’s health.

Clintouch is one of the first apps being prescribed by doctors to patients to aid early intervention. Currently prescribed to patients with psychosis, the app could ultimately save the NHS millions by enabling earlier treatment before a patient becomes seriously ill.

The app asks mental health patients to record their mood using a simple, easy-to-use daily diary on their mobile. Patients can then see how their moods change and gives them the ability to be more in control of their illness. Also, if the app records a pattern or consistent low mood, their doctor is automatically alerted.

KIU-ClinTouch

To increase engagement and continued longer term use, the app was designed to be very easy to use. This is really important for anyone with mental health issues – the last thing they need is a frustrating to use or confusing app! Emotional engagement was also deemed important to aid longer term use, so we added personalisation features, such as the ability to choose a background photo or upload one of your own – something that will motivate the user. The app also contains motivational quotes and messages.

Cintouch is the creation of Manchester University and was thoroughly tested with psychosis patients. It is now being trialled in several NHS trusts with great success.

ClinTouch-Screens-Keep-It-Usable2

There is a great deal of scope for health and wellbeing apps to improve our lives, cut NHS costs and improve the relationships we have with our doctors. However, it is crucial that these apps are designed by professionals in collaboration with health experts so they actually work and have a high level of efficacy, otherwise they just join the thousands of health apps already in the app store that are downloaded and never used.

Independent research that we conducted with users of health and wellbeing apps showed that there is a great deal of distrust and disengagement with health apps (caused by the quality of apps in the marketplace at the moment). Users want trustworthy apps that are easy to use and will do what they claim to do. Clintouch is hopefully the first of many apps that bridge the gap between patient and doctor and make a real difference to both the NHS and people’s lives.

Read the newspaper article

Portrait of smiling senior man using laptop on porch

Addicted to user research

I was recently invited to a business meal and as I found my place and settled down, I waited with happy anticipation for the others to arrive on my table. A quick look at the name cards told me that my direct table mates to my right and left were both males and judging from a quick look round the room they were going to be middle aged or older.

The gentleman to my right was the first to arrive, let’s imagine he was called John. John funnily enough did turn out to be middle aged but he was very clued up on technology, having run a social media agency in his past. He was a very interesting character, having previously worked in PR for celebrities and lived a rather extravagant life.

David

To my left was an older gentleman, let’s call him David. The curious researcher inside me lit up when I clocked David. Most of our clients want research with millennials, so although we do research with older people, it’s not that often. Yet I find talking to older people quite fascinating. They’re generally quite good at reflecting on their behaviour, on why they do what they do and it’s so enjoyable to listen to.

David was an intelligent gentleman. He’d had an incredibly successful career and worked in top positions in very high profile high street brands.  As I asked him about the technology he used and how he shops, I found myself entering research mode, engaging in a very interesting conversation about his shopping preferences and how they change depending on the type of product.

David and technology

I was curious as to the devices David owned. I was fairly surprised to hear that he owned a Macbook. Apple is a brand we generally associate with the younger audience, however, David was incredibly enthusiastic about his experience so far. When I questioned his choice, he immediately stated ‘ease of use’ as the key reason and that ‘it just works’. He told me all about the problems he used to have with Windows computers and how in comparison, his Mac was just so simple to use.

Do you think David had a tablet? Well, yes he did have a tablet. Knowing that many of the older generation are given hand me downs from sons/daughters, especially to communicate, when he told me that he used his tablet to communicate with his son and grandchildren in another country, I was quick to enquire how he had become the owner of an iPad – was it his love of Apple having an influence or was it indeed a hand me down? It turned out to be a hand me down from his son so they could keep in touch.

When it came to his mobile device, David was, I’d say, very typical of his generation. At this point he pulled out a mobile from his pocket that most young people would probably not even recognise and think belonged in a museum. It was an old, very worn, Nokia phone, with just a 0-9 keypad and a non-touch screen. Having a long mobile history myself (I used to work at Sony Ericsson on smartphones and turned down a job at Nokia) I just had to take a photo! I was quite overjoyed to see this relic still in use. He clearly still cared for it too, as he’d kept the plastic cover on the screen (see pic below).

20150702_195506 copy

David explained that he had absolutely no need for one of these new types of phones. Everything he felt he needed a phone for he could do using his old Nokia. It was interesting but not surprising that although David had the latest computer and tablet tech, he had no interest in updating his phone. Ease of use was very important to him. For David, his Macbook made his life easier. His tablet made communication with his family easier. They had clear benefits. However, he saw his old Nokia, with it’s limited features as the simplest mobile for him. A smartphone with it’s array of features was perceived as a hindrance.

How does David shop?

When it came to shopping, David was more than happy to shop online using his Macbook. He was very satisfied with the convenience of shopping from the comfort of his home. However, I suspected there would be exceptions to this generalisation and when I explored more deeply, it was clear that David had different rules for different types of products and services that he purchased. There were some physical products that David insisted you needed to shop in person for. There was a clear theme throughout the examples he gave and that was products that have strong sensory qualities, particularly tactile qualities. One example David talked about was shoes because ‘you need to try them on to see what they’ll feel like’.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with David about his use of technology and how he shops. The older generation are often under-represented within businesses yet they’re an important consumer base to consider. It’s important to remember that as time progresses they are changing as consumers. They’re becoming more comfortable with technology, they’re owning the latest devices thanks to influence and hand me downs from their children, they’re seeing the benefits that technology can give them and with their children all grown up, they have plenty of disposable cash. But they’re clever shoppers. They want to know what they’re buying is the best for them and that it’s easy for them to use.

Commodore-64

Which do you remember? Computers of the past

Attending the Manchester Science Festival was incredible. Not only were there computers, mobiles and televisions from decades gone by, but they were all in full working condition, which meant I could re-live some of the highs (space invaders) and lows (error messages and recovery) of my first experiences with computers.

Did you have any of these computers? Did you play any of these games? Which was your favourite? Tweet me

BBC Micro: Chuckie Egg (1983)

I don’t remember this computer or Chuckie at all, but looking at the launch date of chuckie (1983) I was only a toddler so I’m pleased to say I’m too young to remember this one! Following Ricardo’s enthusiasm, I had a go at Chuckie and it was really difficult at first! Having to remember which letter or symbol did what took a bit of time to get the knack of, which is of course why UX is so important. But this game was great fun once I’d remembered the keys. I’d definitely play this. On another note, the tactile feedback from the keyboard felt hugely satisfying. You just don’t get deep key presses from modern day keyboards, and although it makes them slimmer and faster, you don’t get the cushiony, bouncy, weighty feel, which is really satisfying.

BBC Micro

Amiga – Lemmings (1985)

This is what I remember as our family computer. This and the ZX Spectrum. And I remember playing Lemmings all the time – I still think it’s one of the best games ever! But the game I used to play all the time was called Dungeon Master. Did anyone else play this? (please tweet me if you did!) The game started out in a chamber with portraits on the wall and you chose who you wanted in your team. Then you entered a maze and had to fight monsters, find food, complete tasks, find potions to make your way through the levels. I still remember my favourite character – he had a black cloak, red eyes and his name was Gothmog.

Commodore AMIGA

IBM

Ah these are the computers that we used at school. They never did what you told them to do and there were no end of hands going up in class for help with lost work, floppy disks that wouldn’t save, etc. And they took up the whole desk so you had to balance your school book on the edge of the table or on your lap. I don’t have particularly fond memories of this one!

IBM

Toshiba laptop

Toshiba Laptop

Oh no! It’s growing up with UI like this that drove me to get into usability. I remember constantly thinking, I know really clever people design and build technology, so why do they make them so difficult to use? Of course I know why now – if you’re too much an expert in something it’s difficult to look at things from a new users perspective. This error dialogue is a classic. Just look at the choice of colours used too – really poor readability on the command text at the bottom.

Toshiba Laptop Error

Floppy disks

There were lots of kids at the science festival and I wonder if any of them thought these were printed versions of the Save icon. I find it interesting that we’re still using this as a Save metaphor despite the fact that the true meaning is lost on many young people. However, they have learnt that it’s the Save icon, which begs the question should it really be updated or should it stay as a floppy disk, bearing in mind that although youngsters don’t understand what a floppy disk is, they do associate that icon with Save functionality. It’s a tough one.

Removable media

Other computers – do you know any of these?

Commodore 64

Dragon 32

Commodore PET

Macintosh

google

Google: Over 50% xmas enquiries will be mobile

Yesterday at the London e-commerce expo, Google’s Martijn Bertisen, spoke about e-commerce trends for 2015. Mobile is set to be BIG business and this christmas, over 50% of christmas retail enquiries are likely to come from smartphones. 2015 will be: The year that mobile takes over. The year of wearables – watch out for Google Glass. We’ll see this coming into the retail experience. Martijn said:

If there’s one message I wanted everybody to take away, it’s that what is increasingly enabling e-commerce is mobile devices. We’ve shifted from the desktop era into the mobile era and it’s still being underestimated… it’s where consumer behaviour is.

ux_advert

Missy_Elliott-This_Is_Not_A_Test-CD

Never use the word ‘Test’

When I first started life as a user researcher, it was commonplace (and it it still is) to refer to research as user testing or usability testing. I soon observed that when you use the word ‘test’ it:

a) Implies that you’re testing the end user (which is wrong, you’re testing the interface, you’re understanding of the customer, your user journeys, etc).

b) As soon as you mention the word ‘test’ to a participant they instantly tense up and worry. I used to say something along the lines of ‘please don’t be concerned, we’re not testing you, we’re testing the software’ and even this was too much. It’s a bit like if I say to you, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think of is a pink elephant – you just can’t help it, it’s how the human brain works.

I also noticed that when I used the word ‘test’ sometimes participants would ask me during the research session how they were doing or ask whether they’d got something right. In effect, they were treating it like a test. I haven’t experienced this since I stopped all use of the word ‘test’.

Now, when speaking with participants I always use the word ‘research’ which has a much more positive connotation. Of course, clients still use terms like user testing, and that’s absolutely fine, let’s not undo all the hard work ux professionals have done over the years to gain awareness of what we do, but let’s keep in mind that we’re always researching and aiming to understand things from the perspective of your target audience.

Have fun researching!:)

Update, BBC Radio appearance and awards

bbc radio manchester

I’ve been super busy recently which you can probably tell by the infrequency of my posts. As a business, Keep It Usable, has grown phenomenally this year and we’ve been working day and night to make sure we do great work for every single one of our clients. We genuinely care about every business we work with and we deliver high quality work for every single client. It’s something I’m passionate about, especially with the growing amount of people entering the ux industry with no formal training or experience. It puts businesses at great risk and damages the ux profession as a whole.

I’m a mentor for the UXPA and I’m in great favour of a regulatory body / chartership to distinguish between different levels of professionals. It’s difficult for me to read between the lines of someones cv or other agencies claims of ux so I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone commissioning an agency to know who to believe and trust. In fact, one of our clients had a bad experience with quite a well known ux agency. They were failing in their capacity on a number of levels including the delivery of work, so we were called upon to effectively rescue the client, takeover the work and meet the deadline which was by this point very tight. Of course we hit it, and they were incredibly pleased with the work, so much so that we’re now partners. But what is concerning with this story is that even agencies you should be able to trust, because they are well known, you can’t. It really is a minefield out there.

Awards

It’s because of our commitment to our clients that we’re going from strength to strength and I’m honoured to be shortlisted for two Women In Business Awards: SME and International business. Keep your fingers crossed for me!:)

BBC

I’ve also been invited as a guest on BBC Radio Manchester tomorrow morning. I’ll be choosing several stories form the days papers to chat about. I don’t have much time to watch the news these days so it should be interesting!

BBC Radio Manchester, 29th October, 6.45am and 7.22am

Listen live: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002mwyt

How guys will use Google Glasses (Project Glass)

I just had to share with you this video on how guys might use Google Glass (or should that be glasses?) in the future. Pretty funny! Maybe we shouldn’t laugh too soon though as it may well become the future! People are distracted enough as it is, it’s just that the glasses may make the distraction harder to detect. At least right now you can see if someone’s using their mobile whilst they’re supposed to be listening to you.

I find it amazing the number of people who walk down the street looking down, eyes glued to their handset, using only their peripheral vision to navigate their way through the world. At least with Google Glasses they’ll at least start looking up once more, even if they are still not paying attention to the world around them.

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…