Archives for posts with tag: whitespace

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 😉


Oh my little blog, I’m sorry I abandoned you for so long…

The last couple years, I admit, I haven’t taken time for reflection. I’ve been solely career-focused, obsessed with work and broadening my skills and output in UX research, and learning how to (re)brand myself in a more unique light. I spent a very, very productive year at an amazing ed tech startup creating and building their user research capabilities from scratch. I found a mentor, changed jobs; I’m now mentoring others. The whole experience has taught me so much about what I’m good at, what I need to improve. And one thing I need to improve in my work and life is that elusive concept of balance.

I’ve been focusing so much on improving the Function of me, that I’ve forgotten about the rest, the Form, or the “ideal” form, to reference Plato. Sleep? I don’t need sleep! Provide / Produce / Do has been my motto. No time to exercise!

In User Experience we value the combination of form and function. Products should be intuitive, useful, usable, AND delightful. But I’ve been doing myself a disservice. I need time to nurture my inner self and reflect; without reflection, there is no learning, no progress.

I’ve been denying myself whitespace. The space to just “be.”

Reflecting on what I value and need lately has also made me consider how little time there really is. I read how others have learned to live by minimalism. We seem to think that technology will save us time, but new devices and apps only compete for your attention and won’t increase your time or quality of life, or your focus.

So I’m writing again. And exercising, too. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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.

The other night I was watching a documentary about origami, “Between the Folds“.

Each of the artists profiled said that in their earlier years of origami, they focused on the complexity of each creation, on how many new folds and shapes they could create or use. But as they matured (in both age and artistry), each was drawn more and more to the simplicity.

One man said he challenges himself over and over to create all kinds of shapes using only one single fold in the paper. It reminds me of the mysterious Möbius strip.

Personally I find origami soothing and relaxing — a way of losing yourself in something, as you concentrate on making the perfect creases and flaps. What’s between the folds is whitespace, after all.

Similarly, I think the best websites are like this too; when the experience of reading, interacting or purchasing something is easy and pleasurable. Everything you need is right at your fingertips, and you don’t have to look very far to find what helps or stimulates you.

I’ve been reading the UX Bible recently, Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and I find that I get increasingly irritated when office phones don’t function as they should, or sites that I regularly read switch their design/layout and it makes it harder to enjoy.

For instance, I regularly check this site for news and updates, but the one thing I wish they’d do differently is function more like Gawker or Lifehacker (and their other sister sites), where the right nav articles are ALWAYS available, and you never stray from the main format screen. Now I have to continuously hit the Back button or the homepage icon to return to the full list of articles.

Something like a one-fold solution would do the trick, I think.

Sorry I’ve been away — moving and traveling — aren’t those life’s constants, anyway?

InteractiveWall from Festo HQ via A List Apart on Vimeo. The wall reacts to the presence of users, just like responsive websites should.

Last night B and I re-watched Inception, and I was thinking this morning that it probably wasn’t as popular or deemed Oscar-worthy as it could have been, potentially because the film didn’t use universal archetypes to create its dream space. The few characters that were fleshed out had flaws and attributes, but they weren’t necessarily the kind that most people identify with. It’s the universal that draws people and allows them to engage with a film or product, but in order to access the universal, you have to truly know your users (audience).

Along this same note, earlier I was reading about responsive web design, and how web designers need to be aware that they don’t know much info about the user; and many times, they don’t have a clue what kind of device or screen resolution the user uses.

The idea is that you now have to design for every single variable and difference — for devices that don’t yet exist, that will react to users who may not exist yet either!

So perhaps the lesson is that the future of web design and user experience is HOW to create and architect a (white) space that allows the User to dream his own dream — to fill a universal space with his or her own particular subconscious. Easy, right?

After my last post about neural networks and movie sales predictors, I looked up the original New Yorker article. Gladwell intros with a quote by philosopher David Hume:

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

Then the article contrasts this by laying out the evidence that there DO seem to be some standardized evaluators of what human beings find appealing in music and in movies (and websites?). What about books? The canon of literature?

The High Priestess

The High Priestess card from the popular Rider-Waite Tarot deck represents what we don't know or can't define; in other words, "whitespace".

Visually-speaking, I think movies are a fast-moving collection of symbols that our subconscious minds react to. Yep, that’s right, I’m referring to Jung’s definition of archetypes. The symbol of “mother” or “teacher” are universal symbols that we as human beings seem to process the same way, independent of culture or background or upbringing. Not to get too esoteric, but these same ideas of archetypes are the basis for the Tarot deck.

One method of choosing (or predicting) user experience is to create personas for the user. Let’s say I’m building a new site for my personal resume (which I am). Suppose Steve, a middle-aged manager of a marketing department at a medium-sized company is looking for a web developer (or UX/UI designer). Steve knows relatively little about how developers work, but he does know what he finds aesthetically pleasing. My job in building this new site is to please Steve’s eye, but also help him find the information he needs to determine whether I’d be a good candidate for the job. That would include my contact info, easily clicked samples of my code and designs, and my work history (so he knows I’m experienced).

So what if there were methods of mapping these archetypes and emotionally-charged information for website users? How would you use symbols to increase users and/or website sales? It’s a bit Mad Men, isn’t it?

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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