UX Research is not a one-time thing

I have come across this, in my opinion, flawed diagram on ADOBE”s blog called A Comprehensive Guide to U

X Research.  It is a circle, and so the idea is that this is the flow of an iterative process, with research starting the flow of design, prototyping, building, testing an back to research. And I am fine with iterative processes – that is a cornerstone of all good designing (a verb, not a noun).

The diagram suggests a very expensive and inefficient way of product design – how many hours will it take to prototype and build something only to realize that it won’t work? Or won’t work the way you had hoped it would?

If building is a separate step from prototyping, then building means coding? What does it mean? And with the plethora of tools Adobe enables designers to use – one of them being XD that this article is supposed to promote, then why not use rapid prototyping and just test it, for god’s sake! Gather feedback from potential users! Gain insights as soon and as fast as you can!

Sales Funnel Serves Sales People, Not Users

I have experienced several digital projects this past year where the expressed business goal was to get users to get into the sales funnel as fast as possible. And that is problematic because users do not want to be “funneled”.

The easiest way to do that is to get them to fill out a form with their name, email address, and phone number on the website, as soon as the visitor arrives. Granted, there may be “token”contact form with name, email, phone number, etc information pages,  but it is transparent to most users that they this is not a fair deal, and are only willing to do so if they have already made up their mind to work with that company, and are not really looking for any information.  Basically, when the intent behind visiting a website is to hand over your business card.

Interviews I conducted with potential clients clearly show that most users visit a vendor’s website to learn more about the product, see how it works and to decide whether it fits into their budget.

I’d rather go to a different bank than give out my personal information on their website. Then they would just call me all the time and try to talk me into stuff

They do not want to expose themselves to an unwanted sales call. Unless the vendor first earns their trust and does something for the client first. 

That’s how business needs meet user needs. 

Model #1

As the famous social psychologist, Kurt Lewin said,  “there is nothing as practical as a good theory” and that applies to User Experience design as well. Without systematic thinking about a problem to solve, we can only be as  effective as chickens pecking in the pen, finding some grain here and there (solutions that work), but nothing that carries over to other problems. Other practitioners agree with this, and distilled their experience into a few models. Jesse James Garrett’s Elements of User Experience Design is the most well-known, a classic really. For a summary, see this keynote presentation.

The four constituent elements of UV—Value, Usability, Adoptability, and Desirability by Frank Guo

Illusion of Completeness

What is the Illusion of Completeness?

The illusion of completeness is a usability issue, leading users to miss out on relevant content on a web page. This occurs when users do not realize that there is more content to be explored on a page because the design suggests that they reached the end of the page, and there is no need for more scrolling.

While this is a handy heuristic, only research done on actual users can validate your design.

How does it happen?

  1. Large hero graphics/image  take up all the space above the fold and there is no or only weak visual cue for the user to scroll

    Large image above to fold, with a "LEARN MORE" call to action button
    Large image above to fold, with a “LEARN MORE” call to action button
  2. 2. A clear horizontal line, or other segmenting element (such as expansive white spaces, advertisement, social sharing icons) lead the user to assume that they reached the end of the content offered on the page.

How to Avoid it?

The goal is to avoid sending the message that the reader has reached the end of the page.

  1. You may want to choose a smaller sized hero image or carousel so that they do not take up the whole “above the fold” area.
  2. Make sure that the white space between sections is not too wide
  3. The horizontally neighboring segments should not all start and end at the same spot. Here is an example from the Startribune (retrieved on 1/4/2017) . The small news segments in Column A always end at a different point from where Column B’s segments start or end.

Desirable Difficulty in UX

I have been thinking about the notion of desirable difficulty – a concept first formalized by Bjork (1994), which basically says that retention of a material is enhanced if it is presented or practiced in a way that purposefully makes it more difficult than it needs to be. So if a material is presented in a way that requires more effort from the learner, they will be forced to pay more attention to it. Which basically means that teachers should make the material more difficult to digest instead of easier so that learners would remember it. One example is a text written in a font hard to read.

How does that translate into the user experience arena? We normally want to avoid pain points, we want the flow to feel natural and intuitive, just the right size text and icons so that the user would not have to struggle with the application. And that makes sense … except there are times when we do want the user to slow down, pay more attention, otherwise they are likely to make a mistake they would regret later.

What are those special cases?  Mahtab Rezai was talking at the UXPA meeting last month about Purpose and Familiarity and it all made sense. The more critical a task is, and the less experience we have with it (say signing up for a healthcare plan), the more desirable it is to have “difficulty” with it. We want the process to take time and be “unsmooth” by frequently requesting our response in the form of confirming /editing /canceling. We want to be led step-by-step, with informational support available to us to help with the decision-making. We want to be able to process the information piecemeal wise, so we can digest it. And multiple opportunities to review and if needed, edit the information entered before we hit “Submit”.

How experienced we are with a task and how important it is to us

Depending on where our users are relative to the task, we need to design the information architecture and the interface differently.

Quadrant 1 – Not Critical and Frequently Used
Examples: Facebook feed, emails, ordering food
Users expect to
  1. immediately see what’s new
  2. scan a lot of information quickly
  3. complete the task in a simple step
  4. go from high-level view to more detailed information
Quadrant 2 – Critical and Frequently Used
Examples: hotel booking (for a frequent traveler). looking up account information
Users expect
  1. intuitive, easy to learn and use, familiar patterns
  2. quick and simple confirmations built into the process
  3. consistent behaviors for similar functions
Quadrant 3 – Non-Critical, Rarely Used
Examples: exploring museum websites, learning about a person/historical event

Users expect

  1. interesting, innovative new interfaces that encourage exploration
  2. no feedback or response, no confirmation
Quadrant 4 – Critical and Rarely Used
Examples: choosing  health insurance, doing tax returns, applying to college

Users expect:

  1. step-by-step processes, with limited amount of information to review and process at each step
  2. multiple opportunities to review and confirm the information the user entered
  3. easy access to tools and information that are necessary for the decision-making

The information architecture and the interface need to correspond to the user’s needs –  tailored to the task. It does not need to be easy – it just needs to be just right!

Hamburger Menu

I am not a blogging kind of person, but I want to keep track of good and thought-provoking ideas. Ideas come in all shapes – visual, readings, reactions, what not. So this is more of a notebook than anything. With that big bang announcement, let me get started.

I have been looking a t websites and everyday objects very differently since i started to immerse myself in UX design. I find it fascinating how (at least in my case) learning leads to a change in the lens we are perceiving the world through, as opposed to knowledge that you can recall and reproduce. I admire people who can recall things they read (for example my mother) and walk someone through the author’s train of thought. Puzzling to me how that works, what cognitive processes lie beneath that. But back to my main point here: I have been noticing good and less than ideal solutions to design problems.

An often lambasted feature of web sites modified to mobile phones is the hamburger menu. For a lot of users (including myself at first), it is not obvious what you need to do with it. That changes with experience, of course, we learn to click on the set of three vertical lines that look like a hamburger patty between two slices of a bun. Then I came across an elegant solution on The Loft Literary Center‘s mobile site.

loft (1)Loft_close

Wireframing Tools

For me, new programs, and new gadgets are like presents wrapped in shiny paper under the Christmas tree. I can’t wait to put my hands on them, and start playing with them. In the last year, I have tried Axure, Justinmind, Balsamiq, Mockups, etc.

I ended up using the sketch-look of Balsamiq the most often, even though I was told it lacked that professional look. It looks sketchy …. and that’s exactly what liberates me. The smooth look of other tools makes the wireframe “finished”, polished, and, may I say, untouchable in the sense of a marble statue. It is finished, no need to change. Whereas I like to think of design (even wireframe design) as a work in progress – there is always room for experimentation, re-thinking, re-tooling. Wireframes are more thinking tools than deliverables for me at this point. Once developers take over, it becomes a deliverable and will loose its sketchiness.

doctor with stethoscopeA plethora of studies prove that external props go far in defining how we think. A recent study (I will need to find the reference) showed that when college student dressed up in doctor’s smocks, complete with a stethoscope, they performed significantly better than when the same people were dressed in their regular clothes. They identity of a medical doctor made them take on the qualities of intelligence. The same smocks lost their magical quality when the participants were told they are dressed as painters.

Props and tools go a long way influencing our mental behavior.