Archive — User experience
Over the summer my user experience team at the University of Edinburgh had the wonderful opportunity to work with a Behavioural Insights (Nudge) Intern. There are lots of parallels between behavioural science and human-centred approaches. Nudge models give us the opportunity to bring an extra level of formality to our approaches.
Working with a behavioural science specialist has brought things full circle for me. My first association with the University of Edinburgh was when I studied economics here for my undergraduate degree.
And it really is full circle, because this was my last blog post as an employee of the University of Edinburgh. I’ll publish more about that news shortly.
This post on my team’s blog outlines why and how we have moved away from using personas to behavioural archetypes.
Existing personas had served the team well for over 10 years. But with our work to reimagine the future of our web services, and our attention turning to the development of a new Web Publishing Platform, we recognised that these old personas needed to evolve.
Now, our archetypes focus on people’s behaviours — who does what, how they do it, and why.
Note — 2022-02-18
How often do you buy Valentine’s Day gifts? More often than once a week? Less often than once a month?
Stop making people complete terrible surveys that you won’t even be able to interpret the results of!
I have been interviewed for the podcast UX Soup. The host Chris Schreiner was interested in the User Experience Service’s work at the University of Edinburgh. He spoke with me about:
- how the consultancy model works in a higher education context
- the history of our service
- the projects we get involved with
- the methodologies we follow
- the specific challenges we face working in higher education
It was good fun being interviewed. Please have a listen if you have the time. Thank you to Chris for the opportunity.
Join me at next week’s UX Glasgow ask us anything event. I will be on a panel of eight human-centred professionals answering your burning questions about user experience, interaction design, user research, content design and service design.
You’ll have the opportunity to join two or three breakout sessions with rooms for your choice of topic.
To help us prepare, please if you have the time take two minutes to fill in our short questionnaire where you can submit your questions in advance.
Have you ever participated in a user engagement session designed for you to share your views, but felt that you weren’t properly included, or that your views wouldn’t be acted on? Fed up with bad surveys and poorly planned focus groups?
Most of us want to engage with our users and stakeholders. We all want to make sure our users have a voice in projects that will affect them. But the approach you take can have a major effect on the success or failure of your engagement.
There are some basic truths about human behaviour that we know from psychology and other social sciences. But in many projects, these basic truths tend to be ignored.
Read this post on my team’s blog for tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of poorly planned user engagement, and how to make user research effective.
The second of my two posts on my work team’s blog about UCD Gathering, the remote conference I attended in October.
This blog post covers the third theme I wanted to highlight: how we can better demonstrate the business impact of human-centred approaches.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend the UCD Gathering conference, a new virtual event for practitioners of user-centred design in all its forms. Over on my work blog, I have published the first of two posts reflecting on what I learned.
This first post covers two themes:
- Being aware of bias, and other cognitive considerations
- Improving readability of content
The post also mentions my own session at the conference, about our user research into the needs of staff and students working with course materials online. The Learn Foundations project has proved fortuitous in that it has helped schools move their teaching online and prepare for hybrid teaching in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
I will be speaking at next week’s UX Glasgow meetup. This month it is a service design special, coinciding with Services Week.
My presentation will be based on my blog post Service design and the Mario complex, exploring the similarities and differences between user experience and service design.
It’s part of a bumper line-up of speakers, including sessions about the Scottish Approach to Service Design, some excellent research into the service design community in Scotland, and a student project imagining the future of Glasgow.
It’s a ticketed virtual event, so sign up to be part of what should be a brilliant session.
Last month our brilliant colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran left our team after more than 10 years. In her final blog post for our team’s blog, she has written this plea to keep humans at the centre of all our decision-making.
For the past few years I’ve been working with Lizzie, I’ve always been impressed at the impact and quality of the work she has delivered in often challenging circumstances. She is a key reason why Website and Communications has such a strong user-centred culture.
Moreover, her impact stretched far beyond our own team. She influenced human-centred approaches across the entire university. She has played a genuinely leading role in our communities of practice. The effective digital content training that she has designed ensures that our content editors will continue to create well-written content that meets users’ needs.
Most recently, she did most of the heavy lifting in a project to revolutionise the university’s editorial style guide. The outcome of this is that, for the first time, we have a unified style guide that is designed for use across all content, print and digital, being managed across organisational silos.
Our team genuinely will not be the same without her.
This interview with the civic tech leader Cyd Harrell covers interesting ground around user experience, including:
- the differences between the public and private sectors
- making privacy a priority
- avoiding “attention theft”, where we bombard users with more and more notifications
An analysis of the design of postal voting materials in the US.
Where are all the UX designers and researchers, service designers, and content writers and editors when voting process and materials are designed? Not there or simply beaten by bureaucracy or deadlines?
A good reminder that user experience goes way beyond technology and even design. It’s about the small decisions that are made by everyone involved in a process, that if made badly can prevent people getting fundamental stuff done.
I realised that while the summer got pretty busy for us, there are a few work blog posts that I haven’t cross-posted here yet. So I will drip-feed them here over the next little while.
This first one is from July, where I outlined some of the lessons we have been learning from getting collaborative activities done remotely. This post also highlights some of the work my colleagues have been doing to continue our user experience work despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak.
This was a follow-up to an earlier blog post, Meeting the challenges of conducting user research remotely.
Keep an eye on this impressive blog. Join Helen Wiles and explore the world of user experience.
This blog is quite new, but already there are brilliant articles on topics like:
- Recruiting a representative sample of participants
- Conducting remote usability testing
- The difference between empathy and sympathy
They are all written in a very accessible and creative way, making it an enjoyable read.
One thing I have noticed from working in UX is that the concept of user experience itself isn’t exactly the most usable… as most people don’t even know what it is! So, I’m trying to create a space where I can give useful advice and tell stories that help to make it more accessible for everyone, as I think it’s so important.
A write-up of a brilliant talk Jo Arthur gave at this month’s UX Glasgow event, where she outlined how the National Lottery Heritage Fund analyse user research remotely. I found it super useful, not least because this is exactly what we need to do at my work right now, and I have taken a lot of inspiration from this. Thanks Jo!
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.
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”.
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.
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.
A useful guide for those of us trying to push user research forward in our organisations.
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 article1 comment
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!
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.
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.