Introducing MediaCityUX.com

Hi everyone! How are you doing?

This is just a quick post to tell you about the launch of our new site MediaCityUX.com

As I’m sure you already know, I run three UX businesses:

Keep It Usable: Human-driven research and design. Award-winning user experiences, service design and innovation based on Psychology, Science and Behavioural insights. You’ll often see us speaking at events and educating about how Psychology can be used to change behaviour in digital experiences and persuade people to buy online!

Our work has been showcased at 10 Downing Street, won awards and featured on BBC’s Horizon. We’ve also appeared on BBC Breakfast, radio and at events, sharing our expertise.

Home UX Lab: Pioneering homely style research lab, combining the benefits (validity) of ethnographic research with the rigour of a lab. Home lab has been the inspiration for multiple home style labs since we invented it.

I Need Users: The only participant recruitment agency run by UX experts. Shorter lead times, last minute recruitment options, extra screening processes, better quality users and less dropouts. Worldwide user recruitment.

They’re all based at Media City here in the UK, although we work worldwide for global clients. So, we created MediaCityUX.com for you to easily find UX services when you need them. Whether that’s a full design project or research piece by Keep It Usable, needing to rent a lab in the UK (Manchester) or needing participants for your own research.

Bookmark it.

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Smyths: Increasing conversion through user research

(Scroll down to watch the video)

I’ve had a fantastic time this week working with Smyths Toys to improve their future e-commerce website.

As part of improving your customer experience and online conversion, it’s crucial to involve user research / user testing. If you’re job title includes the two letters ‘U’ and ‘X’ but you’re not including real life users in the design process, then you’re kidding yourself, you are not a UX designer, you’re just a designer. But don’t worry, you don’t need to do the research yourself, it might be another member of your team or even an external agency, but it’s so crucial to your understanding of your customers, how they think and how they behave that without research, it’s unlikely the experiences you design will be as successful because the more you get to know your users, the better fit your designs have to their needs and the more you’ll be able to influence their behaviour.

Smyths Toys have been working to improve their e-commerce website, particularly their mobile experience. They recognise the importance of listening to their customers, watching how they interact with their website and making design changes to be more in line with customer needs in the online environment. Of course, they’re aware that the more they do this, the more customers will enjoy using their site, they’ll be more likely to transact with them as opposed to a competitor, they’re likely to increase their basket size, return to buy again in the future, recommend the website to friends and family and shop in-store.

 

Here’s what the team had to say:

It’s important for us to get feedback from test candidates to see if we’re on the right track and we certainly spotted some things that we need to work on in the future and the team here helped us to identify those little issues and gave good recommendations on how to improve those for the future. And that’s what we’re going to do now… go back home, work on it and come back to do another session to evaluate that we’ve done the right changes.

 

Companies used in this research:

UX agency for UK research: Keep It Usable

User recruitment: INeedUsers.com

UX Lab: HomeUXLab.com

 

 

 

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! 🙂

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

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