Archive — User experience

Note — 2019-11-14

IxDA Scotland logo

I’ll be speaking at the next IxDA Scotland community meetup about our user research with the Learn Foundations project.

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

Full details about the IxDA community meetup event

Maybe see you there?

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Repeat after me: Preference testing is not A/B testingDavid TravisUserfocus

Person holding up two photographs

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.

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Marry data science with user research — ethical design depends on itTony Ho Trandscout

Illustration of Ovetta Sampson

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.

See also: ‘What’ means nothing unless you know ‘why’

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The flowSimon Wilson

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.

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First click tests — building up the elements of user experience for Learn FoundationsWebsite and Communications Blog

First click heatmap

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.

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Note — 2019-09-02

I’m doing a couple of talks this week. They are both about the user research we’ve been doing for the Learn Foundations project.

This evening I will be presenting at the Edinburgh UX monthly meetup. It’s a friendly meetup and it’s free, so do come along if you’re interested.

Then on Wednesday I’ll be presenting with my colleagues Karen Howie and Paul Smyth at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Annual Conference.

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Author of Practical Empathy Indi Young on going deeper than insightsCarrie Neilldscout

Indi Young illustration

It’s always great to see advice from Indi Young. Here are tips on how to better identify and synthesise patterns in qualitative data.

…when you’re looking at data, don’t group things together by noun. Group them together by verb. I’ve done a lot of work with the healthcare industry, and one thing I often see research teams do is bring together insights that are all about a noun — here is all of the data that we got about how people feel about the doctors. But when you do that the intent behind what people are really saying ends up all over the place.

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Card sorting has informed a new information architecture for Learn coursesWebsite and Communications Blog

Results of the card sorting study

How we used card sorting to help us devise a consistent information architecture for Learn VLE courses at the University of Edinburgh.

775 students participated in the study — and no two students submitted the same card sort. This highlights the great challenge faced by the Learn Foundations project in attempting to create a more standardised template that meets the wide variety of needs across the University.

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Creating the perfect UX workshop bag@kyecassUX Collective

✔️ Love stationery
✔️ Love workshops

This is a great guide to workshop essentials. I’m impressed that this kit contains a wider variety of materials, and yet seems so much smaller than the workshop bag we use at work. Maybe we rely too much on mountains of sticky notes!

I’d be tempted to add planning poker cards to this list. Planning poker is usually thought of as a technique for estimating work in agile projects. But it can also be used as a prioritisation technique in workshops.

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What is co-design?Kelly Ann McKercherBeyond Sticky Notes

Venn diagram describing co-production as an overlap of co-planning, co-design, co-evaluation and co-delivery

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about co-design recently (as well as doing some of it too). This website, Beyond Sticky Notes, has provided me with even more food for thought.

I am particularly struck by the table describing various approaches from transactional to transformational. In this model, “Anything ‘centred’ — human, user, patient etc.” is little better than “Designer as expert”. Meanwhile, what I thought of as co-design may actually be more like participatory design. There’s so much more to do.

But one line of warning is familiar to any good user experience practitioner, and is worth repeating until the cows come home.

Co-design builds long term commitment. By contrast, consultation often gives the illusion we’ve bought people on board — only to have them then fall overboard. With consultation, we pay later — often in costly, public and damaging ways.”

Make sure you also see Mindsets for co-design, another enlightening article on how to do co-design better.

This website is in support of a book due to be published in 2020. I am now looking forward to it.

Thanks to Alison Wright who retweeted the latter article and brought it to my attention.

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Top tasks surveys have identified what really matters to students using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Pie chart of students' top tasks in Learn

As part of our programme of user research in support of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a top tasks survey to understand what students need when accessing course materials online.

What we found was that students value three items much more than everything else. Those items are all to do with lectures.

See the full post to find out more.

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The elements of a better user experience in LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

The sketch that started it all

As part of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a programme of quantitative research to ensure a user-centred approach to solution development.

The Learn Foundations project team wanted to develop a new template using a user-centred approach. This template would be designed to introduce more consistency between different courses in Learn. But it also had to support a diverse variety of needs across different courses, supporting different schools, colleges and teaching needs. It also had to be developed quickly.

We took inspiration from a classic user experience diagram to ensure this new template could be built on firm foundations.

This post introduces the steps we took. Forthcoming posts will describe each step in more detail and some of our key findings.

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Interviews with students to understand users’ needs and contexts around LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Foam board summarising insights from interviews with students

Summarising the key findings from a set of user interviews I conducted with students on their needs around accessing course materials digitally. Just one of the strands of the Learn Foundations project, which I still have much more to write about.

After analysing and synthesising the insights gathered through the interviews, we built up a picture of how and why students’ experience with Learn varies throughout the year as students attempt to complete different tasks. This is presented as a semester in the life of students using Learn.

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Encouraging self-service through improving content at the University of EdinburghLauren TormeyGatherContent

Diagram demonstrating process of continuous improvement

My awesome colleague Lauren Tormey wrote this blog post about a brilliant project she’s been involved in. She has been collaborating with our Information Services Helpline to reduce unnecessary support calls by iteratively improving content with a regular cycle of usability testing.

Over two summers, we had done work to improve content related to getting a student ID card. This was another case of turning long pages with giant paragraphs into concise step-by-step pages.

From July to September 2017, the IS Helpline received 433 enquires related to student cards. For this same period in 2018, they received 224, so the figure nearly halved. I repeat: halved.

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Scapegoating user experience designKhoi VinhSubtraction

Stylised photo of a Nest camera

An article published yesterday in The Washington Post demonstrates the danger of design’s failure to broaden popular understanding of our craft.

The article pinpoints Nest’s focus on reducing friction as the reason for their cameras’ weak security.

Khoi Vinh points out that…

…the concept of user experience writ large is not to blame here; what’s actually at fault is bad user experience practice.

The point being that good security is fundamental to good user experience. As any good designer would know, they are not in conflict. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It strikes me that Nest are using ‘reducing friction’ as a poor excuse for not implementing better security. I’m sure they’re not the only ones guilty of this.

On another point, this article got me thinking about journalism. Khoi Vinh refuses to blame the Washington Post’s perspective on “lazy journalism”, perhaps correctly.

But any time I read a mainstream/non-specialist journalist write about a topic I know a little about (motorsport, the web, whatever), I’m always astonished at how many basic errors are made. It’s a challenge if designers want the help of journalism when “explaining what it is that we do to the world at large.”

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User research into the needs of students and staff using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Me running a workshop for Learn Foundations

Since September, my main focus at work has been to carry out a comprehensive programme of user research for a project aiming to improve services surrounding Blackboard Learn, the University of Edinburgh’s main virtual learning environment.

I wrote this blog post providing a high-level overview of all the work that’s taken place this academic year. More detailed blog posts about each of the strands of research will come in due course.

This is been a brilliant project to be involved in. We’ve been given a lot of time and freedom to do large amount of research in support of one of the university’s most important digital services, used daily by most of our students, and many staff members.

We have made some really important discoveries. This work is ensuring that improvements are based on a strong understanding of users’ behaviour and needs when working with course materials digitally.

Check out this video, where I describe the work and some of the findings in a bit more detail, and keep an eye out for the forthcoming blog posts.

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Describing personasIndi YoungIndi’s Essays

Personas are one of the most popular techniques in the user experience toolkit, but they also remain among the most controversial. It is often still unclear to some what value personas can bring, and how to avoid the pitfalls of bad personas.

This article brings one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen of how to make good personas. It is a lengthy but must-read article if you make personas and want to make them work.

This article is particularly useful at explaining why obsessing over demographics is bad, and why you should instead focus on “thinking styles”.

Statements-of-fact, preferences, and demographics frequently serve as distracting barriers. They kick off all kinds of subconscious reactions in team members minds.

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Improving student experiences in Learn: usability testing showcase and workshopInformatics Learning Technology Service

Prioritised usability issues

My colleague Alex Burford from the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics has written this great blog post about some usability testing we have conducted in support of the Learn Foundations project.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Duncan Stephen on this mini project. The feedback was informative, encouraging, and a call to action. I’m looking forward to embedding similar practice across the School for alternative platforms for content delivery.

You can read my own reflections on this work at the Website and Communications team blog.

Each month we are working with a different school to conduct usability testing in Learn, the virtual learning environment, to inform improvements to the Learn service.

This is just one strand of a huge amount of user research I’ve been carrying out for the Learn Foundations project. It’s been a fascinating and very enjoyable project to work on. I’ve been pretty lax at writing about it yet — but I’ll be posting much more about it soon.

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How harmful is the net promoter score? — Jeff Sauro, MeasuringU

Someone using a screwdriver as a hammer

How harmful is the net promoter score? — Jeff Sauro, MeasuringU

A very useful contribution to the debate surrounding the usefulness/harmfulness of net promoter score. Jeff Sauro transcends the often polemical nature of the debate, by analysing actual research on the effectiveness of net promoter score.

The news still isn’t all that great for proponents of net promoter score. But at the same time, it’s not quite as bad as its detractors make out.

Kudos to Jeff Sauro for doing some actual research on this.

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UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

I’m always in two minds about whether people should use work-based techniques on personal problems. I have heard of people using Trello boards at home to organise tasks, which sounds as nightmarish as it sounds sensible. I’ve even heard of people running scrum-style weekly planning meetings with their family, which definitely sounds overboard to me.

But I do like the look of some of the ideas here. For instance, I’m keen to map out out my life in weeks.

And I already know that affinity mapping can work great at home and for other stuff.

When we did the MoRun in November, Lauren and I made an affinity map to decide which of two runs to enter. My gut feeling told me another run would be better. But writing down all the pros and cons of each race, and grouping them, made it clear that my gut feeling was actually wide of the mark.

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UX past, present, and future

Desire paths

UX past, present, and future

An enjoyable and informative history of user experience. Some familiar themes, but not entirely your standard take. A reminder that people have been doing something like user-centred design for longer than we sometimes think.

…UX is not really a new thing. It might seem new to your organisation and its design process, but in fact it’s been emerging since before the dawn of the internet, back in the 80s, and people have been looking to solve similar problems for almost 140 years.

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Keeping it weird

Keeping it weird

Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.

Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.

We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.

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Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide

Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide

McKinsey report on how to engage employees.

People who find meaning at work are happier, more productive, and more engaged. Four practical interventions can help make the search more likely to succeed.

I am struck by how two of the four interventions listed are fundamentally about understanding your users better.

Reduce anonymity

Talk with employees about who their customers are, and encourage each employee to connect with one.

Build regular, face-to-face interactions with customers into existing processes, stimulating employees to learn who is most affected by their work.

Help people grasp the impact of their work

Invite customers who have had the best—and worst—experiences with your products to talk with employees in person so your team can see how their work affects customers.

Another reason why user experience is worth it.

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Distracted driving — UX’s responsibility to do no harm

Distracted driving — UX’s responsibility to do no harm

More on the need for (UX) designers to consider ethics in everything they do.

I urge you to consider your own design priorities and choices in the same way that responsible physicians do when they take the Hippocratic Oath, saying “first, do no harm.” So, I ask the UX community at large: what is an equivalent code of ethics for our discipline?

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Security design: Stop trying to fix the user

Security design: Stop trying to fix the user

On the tendency of security approaches to rely on somehow educating users on this complex problem.

I’ve read dozens of studies about how to get people to pay attention to security warnings. We can tweak their wording, highlight them in red, and jiggle them on the screen, but nothing works because users know the warnings are invariably meaningless. They don’t see “the certificate has expired; are you sure you want to go to this webpage?” They see, “I’m an annoying message preventing you from reading a webpage. Click here to get rid of me.”…

We must stop trying to fix the user to achieve security. We’ll never get there, and research toward those goals just obscures the real problems. Usable security does not mean “getting people to do what we want.” It means creating security that works, given (or despite) what people do.

The same could be said for usability of any kind — but it seems especially vital in this case.

Via Khürt Williams.

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6 mistakes that prevent UX teams from having boardroom influence

6 mistakes that prevent UX teams from having boardroom influence

A good list of don’ts when you’re trying to set up an effective user experience function.

In particular, the pitfalls of “cargo cult usability” could do with being more widely understood. But I also enjoyed this point about being too insular.

Newly formed UX teams have a tendency to quickly turn inwards and focus heavily on their own practices, tools and methods: heads down, working in a vacuum, doing great work that doesn’t actually influence anything. As a result, we hear frustrated stakeholders say things like: “I don’t involve the UX team because they always seem too busy”. We’ve even heard UX team members themselves complain that, “We’re so busy and so mired in the day-to-day that we don’t have time to work alongside the development team.”

This reminds me of the (hilarious but true) story of the Staffordshire UK bus company. In 1976 it was reported that the buses on the Hanley to Bagnall route were not stopping to pick up passengers. People complained that buses would drive right by long lines of waiting passengers. The complaints prompted Councillor Arthur Cholerton to make transport history by stating that if the buses stopped to pick up passengers it would disrupt the timetable!

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The hunt for missing expectations

The hunt for missing expectations

Jared Spool tells the story of a bookkeeper who became frustrated using Google Sheets because it didn’t have a double underline function.

To keep [usability] testing simple and under control, we often define the outcomes we want. For example, in testing Google Spreadsheet, we might have a profit and loss statement we’d want participants to make. To make it clear what we were expecting, we might show the final report we’d like them to make.

Since we never thought about the importance of double underlines, our sample final report wouldn’t have them. Our participant, wanting to do what we’ve asked of her, would unlikely add double underlines in. Our bias is reflected in the test results and we won’t uncover the missing expectation.

He suggests interview-based task design as a way of finding these missing expectations. Start a session with an interview to discover these expectations. Then construct a usability test task based on that.

I recently ran hybrid interviews and usability tests. That was for expediency. I didn’t base tasks on what I’d found in the interview. But it’s good to know I wasn’t completely barking up the wrong tree. I plan to use this approach in future.

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Smart voice assistants and smart homes — from the past

Smart voice assistants and smart homes — from the past

A really enjoyable piece on the history of smart home devices, and how Google Home and Alexa aren’t such new ideas. The video is well worth a watch, particularly because it demonstrates 1970s technology from Pico Electronics in Glenrothes! It’s amazing to see it work so well.

The point of Thomas Baekdal’s piece here is to demonstrate how trends aren’t new, but they emerge over a long period of time. It reminds me a bit of Gartner’s hype cycle, and a recent Nile webinar about how to employ foresight to understand emerging trends. Not to forget the Nielsen Norman Group research demonstrating that intelligent assistants still have horrible usability problems.

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Designers are defining usability too narrowly

Designers are defining usability too narrowly

Another call on designers to think more widely when they are working on digital products. Khoi Vinh saw a Nielsen Norman Group report on best practice on websites aimed at children — but he felt the report focused too narrowly on usability.

I don’t dispute the findings at all. But it’s disturbing that the report focuses exclusively on usability recommendations, on the executional aspect of creating digital products for kids. There’s not a single line, much less a section, that cares to examine how design impacts the well-being of children…

We’re moving past the stage in the evolution of our craft when we can safely consider its practice to be neutral, to be without inherent virtue or without inherent vice. At some point, making it easier and easier to pull the handle on a slot machine reflects on the intentions of the designer of that experience.

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Thinking in triplicate

Thinking in triplicate

This is a very strong piece by Erika Hall, raising some seriously good points and questions about where user experience design is, and where it needs to go. It is well worth reading the full piece, and me pulling out a quote cannot do this justice. But here are some selections I particularly liked:

If good design entailed good business, women’s clothes would come in a wide range of sizes with usable pockets and our social media feeds would unfurl in reverse chronological order with an unremarkable absence of Nazis.

While most of the designers I know are far from objectivists, design as it is currently practiced is tantamount to Ayn Rand’s radical selfishness. We design for the experience of a single user at a time and expect that the collective experience, and the collective impact, will take care of itself.

It’s much more pleasant for designers to talk about empathy in one room and MBAs to talk about profits in the other and have marketers in the middle like an injectable filler.

This is exactly the sort of article we need to be seeing more of.

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