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! 🙂

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WINNER: Keep It Usable, Best online/digital business

I’m very proud to announce that Keep It Usable have won the WIBA award for best online/digital business in the North West! WIBA stands for women in business awards and representing Keep It Usable was of course me! Lisa Duddington.

I’m incredibly proud of Keep It Usable and everything we continue to achieve. Right from the beginning, huge brands were trusting us with their projects and it’s testament to our knowledge, passion and skill.

As for women in business and male dominated industries? I say go for it! Yes I’m often the only woman in a room full of techy guys but it doesn’t bother me one bit, my opinion is respected because I know what I’m talking about and being a woman brings the advantage of seeing things a bit differently, especially in terms of the customer.

Finalist in the national WIBAs

The winners of each region are now interviewed and taken through as finalists for the national awards which are held in November. I’m really excited and proud to be representing the online/digital sector. I can’t wait to meet all the other successful and inspiring ladies!

lisa_duddington_wiba

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

Don’t use one way mirrors for ux research

Do you use one way mirror labs? Do you value research that gets you the best results? Then you might want to re-consider using one way mirrors. Here’s why…

Talking to users is fascinating! It’s something I still love doing despite having conducted thousands of them over the last 10 years. When it comes to location, you can test almost anywhere but there’s one place that I now advise against, and that’s one way mirror labs.

What is a one way mirror lab?

A one way mirror lab (also known as two way) consists of two adjoining rooms with a mirror between them. One room is used to interview people and the mirror functions as a normal mirror from this side. On the other side of the mirror is the observation room where people watch the research taking place, from this side the mirror behaves as a window, enabling the observers to secretly observe what’s happening in the research room.

The negative consequences for research

I’ve used this setup many times and I’ve sat on both sides of the mirror. These are the problems:

Nervous users

As a researcher you should always tell the participant that there are observers behind the mirror. However, if I say to you now, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think about is a pink elephant. In psychology we call this the Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Principle and it refers to the human tendency to continue to think about something after being told not to think about it.

So we’re ethically bound to tell people there are people behind the mirror but by doing that their attention is being drawn to it. Many users are fine with this and they’ll forget about the mirror. There are other users who will interview ok but afterwards they will mention how they felt like they were being watched and finally, some people simply do not interview well. They may appear nervous, glance at the mirror throughout, whisper some answers to you because they don’t want the people behind the mirror to hear any negative feedback, etc. And the mirror is a difficult thing for people to get over once they have a problem with it, because it’s such a huge object in the room and therefore a constant reminder.

Ask yourself, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable knowing there were people watching you behind a mirror in the room?

Positively biased responses

If you knew there were a group of people watching you behind a mirror wouldn’t you be more inclined to give positive responses and to withhold negative opinions? But it’s really important that we understand negative feedback in order to make things better.

Sound leakage

Your observers need to be relatively quiet. I’ve seen labs provide headphones so that observers can turn audio volume up without sound leaking into the testing suite.

When two rooms are next to each other, it’s impossible to soundproof them completely. If the observers next door get quite loud, the sound can leak into the adjoining room. This can be fatal if they laugh and the user hears this. In some labs, the doors don’t close quietly either – this is then another reminder to the participant that there are people watching them.

Noisy cameras

One way mirror labs almost always have cameras that can be controlled in the observation room. These aren’t always silent though. You might be in the middle of a really interesting insight when suddenly you hear the buzz of the camera. Off-putting to say the least and yet another reminder to the user that they are being watched.

Dark, uninspiring observation room where no one speaks

Observation rooms in labs are awful places really. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, the lights have to be turned off (otherwise you can see straight through the mirror) so it’s a dark, dull, uninspiring room to be sat in all day. In one way mirror labs sometimes the observers can be much quieter than in labs without a mirror, because you can see how close the participant is to you.

The problem is these are great setups for observing research, especially focus groups, not UX research. If you have a team of designers observing research, the one thing they’re guaranteed to want to do is sketch, but how do they do that well when they’re sat in a dark room? It’s not an environment that encourages team collaboration, makes a team feel energised, inspired and creative. Conversation and teamworking should be encouraged – now’s the perfect time for the team to collaborate and get to work on designs.

Ironically, no one really observes what’s happening through the mirror!

We spend most of our time watching the TV screens, which give us consistent detail, clarity and control. The glass, for all its glamour, doesn’t always fulfil its worth.

In UX research, the most important interaction to focus on is that between the user and what’s being tested, and in this regard you can’t see anything through the mirror, the detail is through the cameras pointing at what the user is doing. Therefore, the majority of the time, observers are focussed on the tv screen – where the action is. Compare it to UX design…if you want the users attention to focus on something you might give it a more central position, make it bigger, put everything else around it. So when the UI is the most important thing for people to observe, why do labs show this on a small tv screen and give the highest visual prominence in the room to the mirror? It’s crazy!

The solution

The alternative, better solution is to use two rooms that have all the same technology to record and observe the user and their interaction but in the observation room, there are TV screens and no mirror. GDS (Government Digital Services) also use this setup which you can see here. Without a mirror, you’ll get better insights from your more relaxed users and the observation room can now be a creative haven. You can turn up the lights, have natural daylight (windows), have dynamic team discussions and work together on sketches and ideas.

It suddenly becomes an exciting and inspiring workshop to turn user feedback into better designs! And this, is the whole purpose of user research.

A note from me:

This is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, you can follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin

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

BBC Home page research and redesign

I conducted a quick piece of research on the BBC Home page as part of an event called BBC Connected. Did you know it’s the third most visited home page? Yet only a very small percent of visitors actually use it? As our research discovered, most people bypass the page completely, preferring to use the navigation bar or a direct url (usually saved as a bookmark). Here, we share our findings and a few of our design proposals to improve the user experience of the BBC Home page, in particular under-served audience(s).

How do you use the BBC website? Do you ever look at or click on items on the home page? Have you used it more or less since the last redesign? I’d love to hear about your experience. Share your story using the comment box below.

Research by Keepitusable.com

Keepitusable Shortlisted for 2 Business Awards

2012 salford business awards
You may or may not be aware that I run a Manchester UX and Usability Agency called Keepitusable (keepitusable.com). We started the business in late 2010 after lots of people told us we should! So, the business was built very much on our existing reputations as great designers and user researchers. I’m predominantly the lead on anything to do with users, research, psychology, ergonomics. Ricardo has more UX and UI design experience than anyone I know so he leads all our design and prototyping work.

Our magic is the unique mix of our skills and experience plus our equal male/female balance that gives us the ability to see things more completely from the audience’s perspective.

We’re really pleased to have made the final four for 2 Salford business awards; Rising Star and Entrepreneur. It was very competitive and we had to really prove the value of user experience during the interviews. This can be quite tough as any UXer will know! At first it was clear they thought we were developers or graphic designers which is understandable as people always try to make sense of something new by comparing it to what they already know – mental models anyone?

Please keep your fingers and toes crossed for us and hopefully we will win at least one of the awards. The finalists are incredibly diverse so it will be interesting to see who wins! 

Using kittens to explain the power of Scarcity

(True story)

There are 4 kittens in a pet shop…

3 tabby kittens

and 1 black and white kitten

black and white kitten


Fact: Tabby kittens are adopted much more quickly than black and white kittens.

So, which kitten do you think will sell first?

Answer: The black and white one

Why?

The principle of Scarcity

What is the principle of Scarcity?

When something is scarce or rare, people see it as more highly valued and more desirable. This is why shops often have sales and why antiques have such a high value. Scarcity is closely related to the fear of loss – people fear losing what they have and also what they don’t yet have. They will act in sometimes non-sensical ways to avoid this loss (shopaholics and hoarders are good examples).

How do I know the black and white kitten really will be sold first?

Because these kittens have been advertised on the residents board where I live and everyone wants the black and white one.

How to sell more by using scarcity in your website design

  • Limited numbers of a product left? Make this information clear in the interface.
  • Show an end date or time for an offer.
  • Offer something free with the product but limit it’s availability.
Scarcity is a very well know persuader and influencer of behaviour. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll start to see how it is used everywhere so it’s well worth thinking of how you can utilise its power in your designs. 

Amazon use 2 scarcity elements on their product page
amazon scarcity example

Asos use ‘fear of loss’ to persuade within their basket page
asos

I’m in the news…

salford university carnival

I’ve been featured on Creative Boom talking about the amazing Salford University Carnival held at Islington Mill this week. We had a great time! Below is an extract of the article and if you want to read more just head on over to Creative Boom.

Over a hundred Salford University graphic design students showcased their amazing work at Islington Mill yesterday in a fun carnival themed event organised in conjunction with Designers Northern Alliance.

Representatives from key Manchester and Salford agencies attended the event to inspire and look for the next generation of fresh talent. Keepitusable, Magnetic North, Design by Day, Eskimo Creative, and Code ComputerLove were just some of the industry experts to attend the event.

Lisa Duddington, co-founder of Keepitusable Salford’s first user experience design agency whose clients include the BBC, saw the event as a valuable opportunity to connect with and inspire the next generation of designers.

“It’s so exciting to be part of this event! We know how difficult it can be when you’re first starting your career, so we’re eager to help students and graduates to gain the valuable experience and knowledge they need to succeed in what is an incredibly competitive industry.

We have a fantastic relationship with Salford University and are proud to be able to offer both their students and graduates incredible opportunities to gain industry experience.”

Badly designed road layout

Take a look at the following road layout. Can you spot what’s wrong with it?

badly designed road layout

As this photo was taken at Media City, Manchester, UK, what’s clearly wrong with this is the entrance and exit are on the completely wrong sides! In the UK, it is the law to drive on the left side of the road. Needless to say, when turning into this car park, absolutely everyone drives in using the left side of the road. This is because the brain has built up an existing schema or map of how to drive and what to expect so it takes shortcuts where it can to avoid unnecessary processing. When we’re used to driving on the left side and entering car parks on the left side, we don’t look for or consciously notice road signs that might tell us something different. So the Stop road marking (which is upside down anyway to the driver so would be too difficult to read) and the arrow pointing to the right wouldn’t be noticed by the driver.

Surprisingly, Media City is a very new development so this car park was only created a maximum of a year ago. It’s slightly ironic when you consider that Media City is the new home of the BBC who place high importance on accessibility.

This car park has all the makings of an accident just waiting to happen.

There is also another thing wrong with the design of this car park that isn’t shown in the photo. Basically, this car park is right outside the Booths supermarket. So, if you are specifically coming to Media City to shop at Booths and you see this large enticing car park right in front of the store with an obvious road leading to it you will turn into it as it’s the only visible road into the car park. This road actually is one way, and it’s an exit road not an entrance road! So if you drive down this road you are going the wrong way! They’ve actually designed it as a one way system that involves driving quite a distance past Booths then taking two left turns. It’s completely unintuitive to drive past the store and the car park, which is why so many people make the unintentional mistake of using this road as the main entrance to the Booths car park.