Samsung Galaxy S8 Unboxing and Setup

I’ve been waiting AGES to get a new mobile. I had my heart set on the Samsung Note until it started exploding… I checked out the Pixel but wasn’t impressed by the hardware – it felt cheap and I didn’t like the back of it. I even considered the iPhone, after all I’m a loyal Apple customer, all my other devices are Apple so why not my phone too? But although I love the hardware of the iPhone, I’m just not overly impressed by what’s inside. It feels like they’re not pioneering in the mobile sphere as much as they used to. They’ve got a bit comfortable…

So, when I heard of the Samsung Galaxy S8, I tried not to get my hopes up too much. However, when I saw it in the Samsung Experience store I was suitably impressed.

 

Hardware

The hardware is NICEEEE! I’ll admit, I’m a hardware snob. What can I say, I used to work in mobile hardware so I’m now a bit fussy about good looking, high quality feeling devices. And boy, does the S8 feel high quality! Rounded edges, a good weight and classic shiny black finish that blends seamlessly into the infinity screen. Weight is important as a heavy phone is more likely to be dropped, whereas a light phone will psychologically feel cheap. It’s a fine balance.

The hardware keys are easy to locate by finger touch. However, the finger print scanner and the health sensors are very close to the camera lens. The topography of each is difficult to feel by touch alone so there’s a risk of getting finger prints over the lens if you’re not careful (although a case solves this).

I went for the S8 because I’ve been using a Note and I find it too big to use one-handed. It’s nice to mix things up a bit so I thought I’d drop down in size for this phone and maybe go up again after that. Using a bigger screen is a really nice experience, however because the screen in the S8 is tall and narrow as well as being edge-to-edge, the phone manages to be physically smaller but with a larger screen larger than bigger mobiles.

 

Galaxy-S8-and-S8-vs-Pixel-XL-vs-iPhone-7-Plus

 

Software, setup and user interface

The setup process was relatively easy. It took longer than I expected (and longer than it takes on iPhones), which was surprising because I’d already backed up my old phone ready for the transfer. There are a lot of steps and a lot of small print to accept.

There’s also a lot to remember.

Much of the setup process involves teaching you how to use the phone, including it’s many hidden gestures. This is both a positive and a negative. On the positive, it simplifies and cleans up the user interface as there are less onscreen buttons and commands required. On the negative, I’ve probably forgotten most of them already as there was a lot to take in (did you know our short term memories can only hold around 5-9 items for 15-30 seconds unless they’re repeated?).

The setup process teased me with the face recognition, iris scanner and fingerprint scanner as security measures, but it skipped the actual setup process of these which was odd. I had to go back into them afterwards and they are impressive! I’ve now setup all three but am currently using the face recognition. You do have to press the hardware key first to wake up the phone but then the process of scanning your face is almost instant. In the past, Samsung have been let down by gimmicky features that didn’t actually work very well in reality, but this is reliable, quick and cool. I love it!

The edge panel is a little disappointing. It’s one swipe access to your favourite apps, contacts or editing tools, however I don’t see the benefits, when you could just put your favourite apps on your Home screen, or you could just swipe up to see all your apps. It also covers the whole screen as opposed to just popping out from the edge. It feels like a step backwards from their previous designs of the edge. On the Note, the edge was something I used all the time to access my favourite apps because it’s always onscreen. On the S8 it doesn’t have that benefit. Instead, I’ve placed my fave apps on my Home screen as it feels easier to access than dragging in the apps from the edge (which often switches panels instead of bringing out the edge, so you need to be accurate).

Bixby is amazing! I love that I can take a photo or add an image and it will find me that item online. It will even translate languages. I’m looking forward to trying this when I visit Lisbon later this month – it should make translating menus really easy!

The camera is incredible in daylight and I’m really impressed with the background blur effect that you can get (who needs an SLR when you have an S8?!). However I tried both photos and video last night and they were both a little pixelated. In fact, I’d say my Note Edge was better for night time shots. I did just have it on the default mode so this may be improved if there is a night mode – I haven’t played around too much with the settings yet.

There’s a nice hardware shortcut that I discovered to get to the camera. Let’s face it, no one really carries a camera with them anymore because your phone is your camera these days, so why is the camera app always so cumbersome to access? Samsung have solved this by a simple double press of the Power key. It means there’s no need to look at the UI (which is a struggle on a sunny day), you can keep your eyes on the subject you want to photograph whilst you’re taking your mobile out and turning on the camera. THIS IS GREAT USER EXPERIENCE!

There’s so much more I could say but I’ll save that for another post once I’ve settled in with the S8 and used it a bit more.

So far, I’m really impressed. Sleek, high quality hardware and impressive features. It feels futuristic and I can’t wait to see what else it can do!

Is there anything you want to know or see of the S8?

Let me know and I’ll check it out for you.

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

 

 

 

My nightmare user recruitment experience…

As someone who has worked both client and agency side, I can tell you that I’ve found it very difficult finding good participant / user recruitment agencies. The country where I’ve had the most issues has been the UK and I believe this may be because of the recent explosion and in cases exploitation of ‘UX’. Companies who traditionally recruit participants for market research, have added UX, usability testing, user research recruitment to their list of services without making any changes to how they approach the recruitment.

 

My nightmare experience…

One experience that I remember very well (because the recruitment was an absolute nightmare!) was a project that my agency Keep It Usable was conducting for a global retailer. This was several years ago, when we used specialist recruitment agencies to find our participants for us. We had done everything for them to prep, including writing the screener, so all they had to do was promote it and screen people to find our users. It was a very niche user group (roughly about 3% of the population) so we made sure to give them plenty of time to recruit (about 5 weeks) and they were certain there would be no issues.

You can probably guess what happened next… with one week to go they told me they had found it impossible to recruit even one person for me! One week! With such a niche user group and only a week to go, no other agency would take the recruitment so we had no other option but to bite the bullet and pull out all the stops to try and recruit users ourselves. We did it! It wasn’t easy but we managed to do in one week what an experienced recruitment agency couldn’t do at all.

I guess this was the starting point for me in not trusting participant recruitment agencies. I’m very conscientious about the work we do (in fact in my school reports the word conscientious cropped up all the time), and the reputation of our work was potentially at risk if this happened again.

 

4 weeks notice…. really???

Another problem I had with agencies was that they needed at least 4 weeks notice which is just ridiculous in the world of UX. 4 weeks notice is a real luxury that us UXers just don’t have.

We’re iterative! We’re lean! We do things fast!

 

The solution…

Not being afraid to innovate and pioneer, we decided that if no one did UX recruitment up to our standards and the needs of us as UXers, then we’d just go ahead and create an agency that did! We’ve been testing and refining our recruitment methods over the past 2 years and after many happy clients, we’re now opening up the best user recruitment experience to you too.

 

Welcome to I Need Users

I hope you like the name 🙂 I Need Users is a specialist user recruitment agency for UX research. Founded by and run by UX experts, who totally understand your needs and the research you do.

ineedusers-ux-user-research-participant-recruitment-specialists

 

Bonus….there’s a loyalty scheme too!

Why shouldn’t you be rewarded for your investment into improving user experiences? My original motivation for getting into UX was to make the world an easier, less frustrating place to live in through our everyday interactions. So, to encourage you to invest in your UX and improve your experiences (as well as of course your conversion), every time you buy user recruitment through I Need Users, you’ll receive loyalty points that can be swapped for fantastic rewards!

You can also earn points for any spend with our full service UX agency Keep It Usable and our pioneering UK based UX Lab HomeUXLab.com

 

I’d love to hear about your experiences – have you had any nightmare user recruitment experiences?

 

You might also be interested to read:

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment

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! 🙂

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

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.

Improving your research validity

Research validity is incredibly important, without it you risk biasing and even invalidating your research efforts.

Good validity = good research

What is research validity?

Validity refers to the quality of research. In short, the rigor or trustworthiness. Joppe (2000) provides the following explanation of validity:

“Validity determines whether the research truly measures that which it was intended to measure or how truthful the research results are.”

How can it go wrong?

The main cause of poor research validity is caused by the interviewer and can be due to inexperience, poor interview skills or subjective bias that they’re unaware of. Asking leading questions ‘Would you say design A is the best then?’ is especially common as it can take years to perfect this art but leading questions give misleading and false answers, therefore biasing and even invalidating your data.

Can you imagine if you recommend going with design A when actually if the research had been conducted differently the answer might have been to go with design B.

It’s important to remember that users won’t just sit there and tell you their honest opinions, they want to be helpful, they want to please you, so they are highly influenced by the interviewer. It’s the interviewer’s job to be as objective and open minded as possible, not transferring any bias through poorly worded leading questions, tone of voice, facial expressions or body language to the user.

How to improve your validity

Unbias your discussion guide

5W-s

I’ve heard stories from clients of receiving discussion guides full of leading questions. Fail at this stage and your bound to fail at the interview stage. The first step is to ensure all the questions in the discussion guide are fully thought through, flow well and all leading questions re-worded – Try using open questions that begin with the 5 Ws: What, Why, Who, When, Where and How.

Practice like an actor

practice

The more familiar you are with what you’re testing and the questions in the discussion guide, the greater ability you’ll have to stray away from the discussion guide when you need to. This preparation will also free your mind to give you greater ability to construct questions on the spot that aren’t leading. The more your cognitive resources are taken up the less likely you’ll be able to construct a good question, so by reading through the discussion guide multiple times in the days leading up to the research you’ll hopefully be so familiar and comfortable that you’ll be able to conduct some great research!

Watch your performance critically

smile

When you re-watch the research interviews, watch out for moments where you may have influenced the participant. Think about how you could ask the same question but in a different way to get a better response. Depending on the amount of influence you may have had, you may need to remove that user’s response from your data analysis. However, being critical of your own performance and learning from your mistakes is the best thing you can do to improve for next time.

Don’t worry about the odd slip

oops

It’s bound to happen. More at the start and less the more experienced you get. But even with experience, the odd slip will happen. Don’t worry about it too much. With experience you’ll recognise your mistake the moment the words leave your mouth. Don’t let the frustration of your error show to the user, let them answer, then later on re-word the question in a different way to double check their response. If it differs from their previous response then you know you biased their previous response, just take their new answer as their true opinion.

A note from me:

Lisa Duddington CircleThis is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, make sure you follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin

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:

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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