A beautiful set of diagrams documenting the designs of parliamentary halls from across the world.
Archive — Design
A delightfully geeky breakdown of how a London bus stop is designed and built. It got me thinking of design systems.
This case study would be seen by some as a reason not to understand users at all. “If I asked users what they wanted, they’d say faster horses. Hurr hurr.”
In fact, like the idea of faster horses, it demonstrates how important it is to understand your users in the right way, not just pay lip service to doing so.
Badly-designed user research leads respondents to certain responses. This is often unintentional — avoiding bias is difficult.
Sometimes it’s intentional. Perhaps the survey designer has a pet idea. They might (subconsciously) skew the questions in a certain way to get the answers they want.
A classic example is asking someone if they would like a certain feature to be added to a product. The answer is almost always: “Er, yes, I suppose so.” People think they like choice, so more features sounds good. But in reality, too many features — or too much choice — leads to choice paralysis and greater frustration.
The lesson isn’t to ignore user research. But be aware of your biases. Be wary of surveys as a methodology. And don’t simply ask people what they want. Instead, understand what they do, and why they do it.
This piece really challenged my thinking.
In my job I am currently trying to figure out ways to make quality user research scale across the organisation in a sustainable manner. It’s like one of those triangular diagrams outlining three goals: “you can have two of these things”.
Working in such a large organisation, central resources inevitably have their limits. My desire is to empower others to carry out their own user research. Our role becomes an education role. How we do that remains an unsolved problem. Various attempts have yielded variable results.
But Saswati Saha Mitra, reflecting on her experiences of trying to democratise user research, suggests that it is a bad idea.
A researcher is a dynamic thinker who has to adapt their methods and questions based on who is in front of them, how much they have already learnt and what new areas could be probed on. This did not happen. We got a lot of verbatim and videos which after a point became repetitive and did not add more to the analysis. This then led to analysis paralysis.
I’m inclined to continue trying to empower others to conduct user research. But this article is food for thought.
The University of Edinburgh Website and Communications team is hiring a Senior Content Designer. Come and join my team!
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
Read the blog post to learn more about the position and how to apply.
What makes a good principle? How do you avoid principles that are mere motherhood and apple pie? According to Jeremy Keith, it’s all about establishing priorities.
He goes on to outline the danger of prioritising the experience of developers or designers above the user experience. He makes an interesting observation about a perceived difference in the way developers, er, develop and the way designers do.
Developer efficiency is prized above all else. Like I said, that would be absolutely fine if we’re talking about technologies that only developers are exposed to, but as soon as we’re talking about shipping those technologies over the network to end users, it’s negligent to continue to prioritise the developer experience…
I’ve been talking about developers here, but this is something that applies just as much to designers. But I feel like designers go through that priority shift fairly early in their career. At the outset, they’re eager to make their mark and prove themselves. As they grow and realise that it’s not about them, they understand that the most appropriate solution for the user is what matters, even if that’s a “boring” tried-and-tested pattern that isn’t going to wow any fellow designers.
The coronavirus outbreak has posed massive challenges for everyone in society. For practitioners of human-centred approaches to design, where face-to-face interaction is often so important to enhancing our understanding, our current requirement to maintain social distancing creates obvious barriers.
However, this doesn’t mean our work to ensure we’re meeting people’s needs has to stop. In fact, there are some perhaps surprising advantages to working remotely as a user experience practitioner.
Over on my team’s blog, I have outlined some of what I’ve learned about remote user research over the past month or so.
What’s worse than design by committee? Design system by committee.
Talk about designers “having a seat at the table” generally leaves me cold. But this useful article explains why it can matter — but why designers have a duty to do more than simply be at the table.
Evidence has long suggested that companies with a strong design focus are more successful. The example of Logitech outlined here bears that out.
But if some CEOs don’t understand the value of design, it’s up to designers to articulate it properly.
The Gov.UK Design System team have discovered that using the HTML element
<input type="number"> creates some surprising problems in certain environments.
Some of the limitations in assistive technologies such as Dragon Naturally Speaking are disappointing but unsurprising.
But Chrome deciding to convert large numbers to exponential notation is rather more eyebrow-raising. Then there is Safari adding commas to long numbers that are in fact credit card numbers. You have to wonder about some of the decision-making among browser vendors.
A short list of surprisingly common things people ask users to do during a usability test — and what you should do instead.
Not mentioned in this list is the idea that you can ask people just to tell you what they think of the website generally.
The golden rule is: “Try to simulate reality”.
A fascinating history of messaging from 1996’s ICQ to the present day. It details how a series of seemingly minor design decisions have had massive privacy implications and ultimately transformed how humans communicate.
The perils of using an overly-familiar tone of voice in your copy. There are some cracking examples here of support content that prioritises daft quips over getting to the point.
You’ve ordered a package and you want to know how long delivery will take. It’s a straight forward question, so you would expect to find out quickly and easily. What you don’t need is a couple lines of heavily branded content standing between you and your answer. You just want to know how long the delivery will take…
Users are task-led and time-poor.
Come and work with our team!
We are looking for three experienced Content Designers to join the University of Edinburgh’s Website and Communications team as we embark on major projects to launch our new web publishing platform and services.
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
There are three positions available. Find out more in the blog post. If you have any questions, just get in touch with me.
For my personal view on what it’s like working with the University of Edinburgh, check out my previous blog post: Why I value working in user experience in higher education.
This is possibly the best explanation I’ve seen of how to conduct user research interviews. This framework could be given to almost everyone, and they would be on their way to conducting good interviews.
It includes a very useful diagram outlining how to structure the interview — when to be open, and when to narrow down.
Why a design system should not be thought of as a Thing like a style guide, but in fact is all about building a community.
I have to tell you: a lot of the time that I’m working in design systems, I’m not even touching a design tool. Or coding. Rather, it’s a lot of people-focused work: Reviewing. Advising. Organizing. Coordinating. Triaging. Educating. Supporting. That’s a lot of invisible systems work right there.
An exploration of the similarities and differences between journalism and design, and how the two disciplines can support each other.
Like journalists, designers research human behaviour, through interview and observation, in an attempt to understand complex problems…
But where journalists focus on content, designers focus on experience — what and who the content is for, how it’s delivered, and how behaviour may change as a result. And where journalists synthesise these insights to tell stories, designers push into making solutions.
This must be the most spurious “road safety” feature ever conceived.
A Dutch town decided to install rumble strips that are set at certain frequencies so that cars “play” the regional anthem as they drive over them.
This article focuses on the fact that this feature is driving residents crazy as they repeatedly have to hear this raspy version of the same melody all day (and night) long.
But surely the spurious justification is more deserving of ire.
Local officials hoped the strips would encourage drivers to stick to the speed limit.
Because, apparently, the melody would only play when drivers are driving at the right speed. Except, as officials concede later in the article, that’s not even true. If you drive at a different speed, the melody still plays — just at a different speed. Perhaps drivers may even speed up just to end the din more quickly.
What a terrible idea!
This article also contains a brilliant video from Tom Scott demonstrating an even more disastrous version of the same idea, in California.
A useful guide for those of us trying to push user research forward in our organisations.
Balwearie High School opening (BBC archive)
This video is apparently footage from a 1964 BBC interview from the opening of my old high school, Balwearie in Kirkcaldy. It’s fascinating to see how much of it looked exactly the same when I went to school between 1998 and 2004 — and how much of it was totally different.
For example, it is a revelation to see what the roof was originally like. The attractive and useful rooftop garden and astronomical equipment was gone, replaced with a plain felt roof with a haphazard walkway of paving slabs.
The school was also about twice as big by the time I went there. No-one confused it for a luxury hotel. But then again, that’s what 30 years will do to a building.
I wonder what it’s like now, 20 more years on.
Via Rich Gordon
How do you make participation in workshops and training sessions as accessible as possible? My colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran has created these low-tech voting cards (using letters, colours and shapes to include as many people as possible) that are easy to make yourself — and a lot less fiddly than some of the technology solutions out there.
Town planners in the mid-20th century faced a big problem. The advent of the motor car brought increased congestion and safety risks. Planners wrongly thought that separating pedestrians and vehicles on different levels was the solution. If you know where to look, you can still see remnants of this thinking. Read full articleComment
It is human nature to add things, making them more complex. This feels like you’re doing something, but actually you’re probably making the situation worse.
We see this in web design. People like adding pages to their websites because it feels productive. But actually, the most effective websites are the ones with fewer, simpler pages.
The same can be true for any design, including the way we structure our work.
We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance — they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose and iteration.
The session will outline the comprehensive programme of user research the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service conducted on behalf of the Learn Foundations project. It will show how, as the project went along, we adopted a service design approach in order to better meet the needs of both students and staff. Read full articleComment
Useful definitions outlining the differences between user-centred design, person-centred design and human-centred design.
If user-centred design is more functional in terms of understanding and meeting needs. Person-centred design is more holistic. This means that it’s more focussed on emotional needs and goals. Human-centred design is then about thinking beyond individual needs and more towards the collective needs of a system, place, or community.
Note — 2019-11-22
We’re looking for a University of Edinburgh PhD student intern to work with us next year. This is an exciting time to join the Website and Communications team, and an opportunity to help us improve high-profile web services like MyEd and the University website. Take a look!
Why it may not always be right to design as smooth a journey as possible.
This idea seems counter-intuitive at first, but makes perfect sense on further reflection.
…people who had an issue with a service that was later resolved gave a better rating to it than people who didn’t have any.
It reminds me of a story (which I now cannot find) about someone who annually camped out for nights on end to get tickets for a particular event. One year, this person’s dedication was rewarded with free tickets. This gift offended the person. They derived their utility from the effort they were putting in (or perhaps in showing that effort to other people). The value was in the struggle.
Note — 2019-11-14
Duncan’s talk will take us through how the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service has undertaken a comprehensive programme of user research supporting a project aimed at improving students’ experience accessing course materials digitally. Find out how they developed a programme of multiple user research methods to understand what students really need.
Time: Wednesday 4 December
Venue: Amazon Development Centre, 2–4 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh
Maybe see you there?
Reasons why you shouldn’t simply ask users to choose which design they prefer.
It turns out people aren’t good at answering this kind of question. People don’t know why, or they don’t care enough to answer, or they may not want to tell you. When asked for an opinion, most people will form one on the spot. Such opinions aren’t carefully considered or deeply held. It’s not that UX researchers don’t care what people like: it’s just risky making important design decisions based on fickle opinions.
User experience isn’t about discovering what people think they want. It’s about finding out what they need.
A wonderful interview with Margaret Calvert, who worked with Jock Kinnear on my favourite design — the system of UK road signs.
If you look on Wikipedia, it says we were “responsible for some of the road signs”. We weren’t – we were responsible for thinking out an entire system as well as designing how it was to be, the arrangement of the information and the pictograms that followed. It wasn’t just “some road signs” – that is such an understatement!
Useful for those who like to write in plain language.
In this case, most people (including, at times, myself) have fallen foul of the trap described here. That of thinking that setting a few breakpoints for smaller screens is enough to be responsive.
It reminded me of Jakob Nielsen’s 2012 article in which he advocated building a complete separate mobile site. This was a controversial viewpoint at a time when responsive design was becoming seriously trendy.
But seven years on, can we truly say the mobile web is a great experience?
If you can bear another article about whether non-designers should get involved in design work, this isn’t a bad one.
Designers — if you think strategic design is a realm reserved just for you, I’m afraid not.
Other professionals — if you think you can just pick up strategic design like any other general skill, then I’m afraid not.
…the best and most effective use and impact for many people, is actually just to incorporate design thinking techniques into their day jobs.
I have long held the view that user experience is best thought of not as a role, but as a mindset. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for professional designers and user researchers — there absolutely is. But anyone can adopt the techniques and set off on the journey to become more user-centred.
We should encourage more people to do so.
My final blog post about our user research for the Learn Foundations project, outlining how our service design approach has left the University of Edinburgh in a stronger position to understand how we can really improve services for students.
Why do unethical products keep being designed? According to Ovetta Sampson, it’s because of an unnecessary disconnect between user researchers and data scientists.
…it’s easier to say, “I’m just the engineer” or ”I’m just the numbers guy.” It allows us to divorce ourselves from the responsibility of what that data can do to people.
The most notable thing about this article is the sorry list of weak excuses offered up by businesses who can’t be bothered to make their websites accessible.
- “…a blind person can always ring Domino’s toll-free number and order that way…”
- Why should they have to?
- “…there is no clear objective guidance on what constitutes an ‘accessible’ website.”
- O rly?
- “The online environment was never intended to be covered by the ADA…”
- Says who?
How about just doing the basics that will help include your customers, and your fellow human beings?
As part of our comprehensive programme of user research in support of the Learn Foundations project, the User Experience Service has conducted contextual enquiry to better understand the contexts and needs of staff members working with Learn. This blog post summarises our findings.
Self-checkout machines may seem like an easy target for critcism. But there’s a really interesting point here about what happens when people get used to a new technology, their flow changes — but the technology hasn’t updated to adapt to people’s new behaviour.
Happens all the time — people are used to these things but the machines aren’t used to what the people now do. I am here to correct the machines.
My colleague Nicola Dobiecka wrote this brilliant blog post about how designers need to take different approaches depending on the level they are working at. It builds on Jared Spool’s analogy with Charles and Ray Eames’ classic film Powers of Ten.
Essentially, colleagues at different levels of the organisation have different perspectives. All valid, but all require different skills and processes.
Photo — 2019-09-18
It would be great if smart replies were actually smart.
Here’s what happened when we ran usability testing with staff members using Learn for the first time. From four videos we found 20 usability issues, and a wide variety of strategies to complete the same basic tasks.
We had developed an information architecture and tree tests as part of our programme of user research for Learn Foundations. The next step was to use first click tests to pit the new template against existing courses.
The latest post in my series for the Website and Communications blog about our user research work around the University of Edinburgh’s virtual learning environment.