Archives for posts with tag: usability

I recently came across this example of documented return on investment (ROI) for User Experience gone wrong. To summarize, a popular email marketing service tried to correct its significant homepage login failures by adopting “social login” (with Twitter or Facebook). Their initial attribution of a huge correction (a whopping 66% reduction in login failures) the next month was really due to a combination of replacing text copy and a few design changes related to (what they considered to be) “minor” usability testing results.

As a UX Researcher, I’m not surprised by this. Companies (and designers) wrongly make assumptions about customer motivations and behavior all the time. What does surprise me is the UX community’s continued inability to “sell” the value of UX processes and methods to decision-makers. Dan Turner wrote an accurate depiction of this problem last year, especially as it affects startups:

“Build first” plays out with brutal regularity. The founders have an idea, which they see as the hard part; I’ve actually had people say, “You just need to implement my idea.” They have heard about something called “UX” but see user experience design as but a simple implementation of their idea.

As a result, the meaning of both the U and the X get glossed over.

I get it. My practical empathy enables me to understand how founders feel that they have solved a gigantic problem for themselves…and the reasoning goes, that if *they* had the problem, then surely others must have the exact same problem, too.

But that logic is flawed. Founders are already committed; they’ve already invested time and energy and resources into a product. They are risk-takers by necessity. But customers haven’t and aren’t (necessarily) invested. They need to be convinced, wooed, shown that you really understand what the product “does” for them, how it makes them feel, why they would choose it over any other alternative. That your company, brand, product marketing, etc…really “gets” them. That’s where my work comes in. And it can be Lean and cheap and fast.

A commenter’s quote below the same article also resonates with me:

I used to take pride in the fact that what I did was invisible, that if I had done my job properly, the end user would not notice my work but get on with enjoying the experience. But this is a huge problem. Ordinary founders, VCs and end users don’t think about a “great user experience.” They just see an awesome app.

If that doesn’t speak to decoding whitespace, I don’t know what does.

I can’t say I’ve discovered the best solution to selling UX, either. Several weeks ago I attended a career fair for startups and had access to a “VIP” executive lounge. Every company I spoke with immediately shut down my pitch with a “we don’t have time for research.” Then it was repeatedly mentioned that these companies had launched a website recently, and could I perhaps give them some feedback (free of charge, of course)?

If you don’t have time for Lean user research, do you have time and money to waste on developing products and services that fewer people will buy or use? Even if you invest a mere 10% of a design project’s budget into usability testing, the rewards on average will still significantly increase your ROI. It could double it.

Perhaps the answer is to try and work for people who think differently about the value of UX already. In my last startup job, my boss preferred that instead of summarizing all the results of my research incrementally, I only report regularly on patterns about what was “new and surprising.”  This enabled him and the team to easily assess if our tested assumptions were incorrect, had to be re-prioritized, and ultimately deepened our understanding of users as more than just faceless username ids and market segments.

Or maybe I’ll just keep ranting every so often 😉


Lately I have been coming across quite a few related articles and blog posts about making it easier to read content online, ensure screen accessibility, that type of thing. In my own user research and usability testing at work we discovered that users almost always prefer to download or print a PDF for reading rather than scan the HTML, especially when it comes to scientific content.

Preferences like this seem to exist for a few reasons: 1) PDFs lack flashy advertisements and related site content, and 2) once printed, you “own” the PDF content, or as others note, you have possession of it. You can write in the margins and take notes on it, or fold it, or make paper airplanes.

Larger websites seem to be continually offering flashier HTML features and interactions, but rarely focus on making the experience simpler.

The removal of ads for reading content online is already available in various subscription services and apps like Readability or the Chrome iReader, or Papers for research content, but I wonder about reader usage. Perhaps readers aren’t aware of these options? Or maybe people still prefer the “feel” of paper between their fingers — which is one reason I personally prefer reading actual printed books to an eReader.

Interestingly, sites like the New York Times seem to be embracing this user/reader preference; they launched a beta site this year that seems to be (for now) advert-free, with a redesign that incorporates lots more whitespace (!) to make reading online easier.

Earlier today someone asked me if I could find out in which cities the Formula 1 races are being held for Japan, South Korea and Hungary…since I am normally incredibly fast at researching tidbits like this, I thought, no problem, just a second. How wrong I was.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I am probably not the intended user for this site, but that doesn’t mean the information shouldn’t readily be available. That’s what usability and user experience (and GOOD design) are about: creating the BEST experience for ANYONE who encounters a site, no matter what their gender, age or sports preferences are.

Immediately I searched for the official Formula 1 site; where to find this sort of information? After a brief scan of the top menu bar, I clicked on “Tickets & Travel”, which brought up a table of countries:

Oh, there’s Japan! I clicked on the flag, and Japan was highlighted. But what city are the Japan Formula 1 races in? My immediate instinct was to again click on the text “Japan”, in the hopes that this would link me to the information I wanted.  But nothing happened!

Eventually after scrolling, my eyes scanned the bottom of the page where it read, “Book Now“, which took me to a separate booking page. All right, I was sure this would give me what I need. Who would book a trip to Japan without knowing what city they are visiting?

The next page header reads: “2- or 3-Day Pass to the 2011 FORMULA 1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX (Suzuka)” with a picture and then “Tokyo” next to the header:

But I am immediately suspicious. What is “Suzuka”? Is that a subdivision within Tokyo? Or another city? I scroll down some more. And scroll and scroll and scroll.

FINALLY, at the bottom of the page I see this:

The Suzuka circuit is located about 37 miles (60 kilometres) south of Nagoya. The most convenient airports to use are:

  • Nagoya: 42 miles (68 kilometres) north
  • Osaka Kansai: 102 miles (164 kilometres) south west
  • Tokyo: 250 miles (400 kilometres) north east

Wow, Tokyo is like 250 MILES from the race track! What if I hadn’t known that, and booked a hotel in Tokyo too? Even Nagoya is some distance away. I experience the same frustration with finding the nearest cities for Formula 1 in South Korea and Hungary as well.

Eventually I find a page listing the calendar for the 2012 races. Though the city or location is in parentheses next to the race, it’s still not immediately clear where the race location is.

How about a geographic map of ALL the races together, instead of just individual race maps, huh Formula 1? The tix are pricey enough anyway…

What is “white space”?

White space is commonly referred to as the space between things, such as words of text, or images, or radio frequencies. For a long time I’ve been interested in what’s left out of conversations, design, or print. What are those unspoken messages that we process, information we read between the lines, or visual cues we intuit without actually seeing?

As a web developer, I’ve become very interested in how a user experiences a website, without knowing what’s behind the scenes. Code itself contains a series of spaces (or non-spaces) that define its characteristics, how it displays on a page, and the functionality it enables. When I’m coding a widget or description, I must pay attention to the visual spacing the code will create for the user, as well as the spacing of the code itself (so it remains valid and parses). Luckily, however, as a developer I can validate or parse my code before it goes live; if the spacing is incorrect, I receive an error message:

A website user, unfortunately, doesn’t have the option of validating the messages they’re receiving; they have to make sense of what limited information they’re given to make purchases, find information, or communicate with others. How does a website make a user feel? How does a user figure out how to use a site and its tools? Can we define it?

When I was in college, a few of my English courses focused on post-modernism and deconstruction. One of my professors loosely defined “deconstruction” as explaining or recognizing what’s not being said or talked about in the story. What’s the elephant in the room?

In this blog I’ll attempt to deconstruct — or decode — what’s happening for users in terms of usability and emotional experience. You know, the sound of silence.

Thanks for reading.

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