Posts tagged "user experience"

Web Design: Clarity is More Important than Persuasion

The most important thing a webpage can do is be crystal clear about exactly what you can do on that webpage.

The best word to describe people when they are on the Web is "impatient." They are particularly impatient when they arrive at your website for the first time. They are asking themselves the essential question: "Is this a website I can actually do something on quickly and easily or is it just marketing?"

I had heard the following phrase from customers many times: "This is just marketing. I don't have time for this." On the Web, people are developing banner ad blindness, but they are also developing marketing-speak and communication-spin blindness. They see marketing as stuff that gets in the way, content that is annoying and unnecessary.


MarketingExperiments (site) is a really excellent research organization. It recently stated that the first seven seconds a person spends on your website are crucial to success. "Millions of dollars are won or lost in these first few moments a visitor spends on your site," it writes. It goes on to state that everything it has learned about website optimization can be summarized by these three words:

Clarity Trumps Persuasion

According to MarketingExperiments, there are three essential questions all pages must answer:

  1. Where Am I?
  2. What Can I Do Here?
  3. Why Should I Do It?

"The chief enemy of forward momentum is confusion," Marketing Experiments states. "One of the ways to overcome this inherent confusion is to hit the Back button." The Back button is to a customer what a soother is to a baby. It's very comforting to hit that Back button and get away from all that confusion.

""Clarity" tops the list of the key principles of design thinking identified by the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council," Alice Rawsthorn writes for the New York Times in January 2010. Rawsthorn references John Maeda and his concept of "thoughtful reduction".

The Web reflects a shift to service and, more particularly, a shift to self-service. To succeed in self-service you need a genuine understanding of and relationship with your customer. And you must also strive to give them a fast, simple experience.

I've just spent the last week in Seattle, the home of Starbucks. I've been told that Starbucks are investing millions in replacing their espresso machines. These machines are in perfect working order, so why are they replacing them? They want machines that are not as high, so that the server and the customer can more easily see and interact with each other.

The customer remains invisible to most web teams and that is the single greatest reason so many websites under perform. Understanding, relating to and developing empathy for your customer is one of the greatest drivers of clarity in communication and design. A lack of understanding of customers and a focus on the internal needs of the organization is at the root of most confusing, complex and verbose websites.

Get to truly know your customers and you are on the road to clarity.

Microsoft Unveils a User Experience Kit


Lots of interesting things happening at SXSW (site) over the weekend. Even Microsoft was in the game launching a new User Experience Kit for technical and creative leads. Let's see what's in the box.

Mapping Technology to the User Experience

The Microsoft stack of technologies is big, so big that it may be confusing or frustrating for both technical and creative leads to know how that technology aids in providing a strong user experience. It's not that Microsoft doesn't offer a lot of information on the subject, it's just spread across the entire technology stack.

The new User Experience Kit centralizes all that information, providing things such as videos, reference implementations, sample code, live demos, installable tools, whitepapers, pattern libraries and all that good stuff.

User Experience Kit Deliverables

The kit focuses on a number of important areas including:

  • Rich media Delivery
  • Content Publishing
  • Targeted (Personalized) Experiences
  • Multi-Channel Digital Marketing
  • Publisher Advertising
  • Connected Cients
  • Browser Extensions
  • Advertising Intelligence

It is good to know that the kit includes a great deal of SharePoint guidance in a number of areas listed above. But it also includes technologies such as Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows 7 Touch, Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone, Expression Studio and Microsoft Advertising

Microsoft's Unified Digital Marketing Platform

How to Get Your Kit

The first phase provided the kit via disk/thumbdrive to install locally. But it's this next phase that will show the most uptaket: a web hosted solution — on as one would expect, Azure.

It is implemented using Silverlight, is configurable, searchable and tagged. The Browser framework used by the Silverlight Demo Kit is also used for the UX Kit.

The end goal is to see the kit supported and driven by the community, but initial support will come from a Partner Evangelism team.

Phase 1 was delivered on January 15th at 90% completion. This announcement is for Phase 2. Phase 3 will come by the end of the Fiscal year and should include community submission features.

You can view the kit now (of course you may need IE, because the website didn't come up in FireFox) and download whatever you need to get your job done.

TEDxNYED Examines Media and Technology in Education

When we talk about the digital media consumption of teens and young adults, from social media to the mobile web, we often wonder how the future of online media will evolve. Rarely, however, do we consider what it means for the future of education.

On Saturday, March 6, educators and technologists alike gathered for TEDxNYED, an all-day conference, examining the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education.

Independently Organized, Wholly Engaged

Organized independently by New York educators, the forum combined TED Talk videos and speakers. Conversations among attendees indented to spark insights, deep discussion and connections about the future of education.

Following five themes: participation, openness, media, networks and action, speakers included Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist for National Public Radio’s Social Media Desk; Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?; Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy; and Jay Rosen, NYU journalism professor and author of PressThink, among others.

Tradition v. Innovation 

Schools, public and private, are at a crossroads between preserving traditions and embracing innovations, all in an effort to stay relevant, cultivate patient problem solvers and provide a safe space in which to collaborate and learn. However, ten years into the twenty-first century, many of us are still just talking about technology and innovation, instead of actually implementing them.

The barriers and challenges faced are both philosophical and conceptual, and not unlike the ones being faced by other industries. But when they can be overcome, thanks to supportive and forward-thinking administrators, faculty and staff, the results are astounding.

Whether it’s creating a digital library, where each student is equipped with a Kindle from which to access their English literature homework; or a science class that builds a bio-diesel reactor, which ends up fueling a small town in South America; or connecting students from around the world via video casts to better understand world history, technology and media are not just tools for innovation, but skills that empower young adults to be global contributors.

Exploring the Unknown

If we were to compare the trials and tribulations of the online publishing world to that of the education industry, it’s apparent that they are both paralyzed by their own self-importance. Instead of focusing on and investing in the user, be it the student or reader, they are too concerned about reputations, revenue and rank.

The merit of digital and social media is transparency. With it comes the freedom and responsibility of standing up and declaring that though we may not know how exactly to solve the problem, we are committed to exploring, experimenting and evolving the experience.

In education, not knowing can lead to great discovery. In publishing, it can lead to experimental initiatives like citizen journalism. Events like TEDxNYED help to bring together educators, technologists and innovators so that experiences online, in the classroom and in the community can be adapted, evolved and improved.

TEDxNYED reminded us that it’s not about the diploma or test scores, but rather about the portfolio built, knowledge gained and students reached. Likewise, web publishing needs to look beyond metrics and advertisers, as best they can, and focus on the content and user interfaces. Active learners and online readers want to be engaged — so what better reason to engage them.

Business Optimization: People Are Not Always the Business Optimization: People Are Not Always the Problem

Managers in large organizations are too concerned with downsizing and cost cutting and not concerned enough with efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction.

"Much of the conventional wisdom about downsizing — like the fact that it automatically drives a company's stock price higher, or increases profitability — turns out to be wrong, Jeffrey Pfeffer writes for Newsweek in February 2010.

Pfeffer writes that there is "empirical evidence showing that labor-market flexibility isn't necessarily so good for countries, either. A recent study of 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies over a 20-year period by two Dutch economists found that labor-productivity growth was higher in economies having more highly regulated industrial-relations systems — meaning they had more formal prohibitions against the letting go of workers."

"Buy new technology so that you can let people go" is a golden rule of modern management. There is a belief that the very purchase of technology will in and of itself make the organization more efficient. People are the problem. Technology is the solution.

At some point, letting go of people becomes a counter-productive strategy. At some point, managers need to focus on the people that are left within the organization. A manager needs to ask: How can I make my staff more productive and efficient, not with a view to letting some go, but rather with the objective of making the organization more competitive?

Organizations bemoan the loss of customer loyalty to brands. Loyalty is a two-way street. From an organizational point of view, loyalty begins after the customer has bought the product or service. Loyalty is built or lost when the customer has a problem and needs help from the organization. The downsizing devotees invariably try to spend as little as possible in customer support. Long term, they reap the consequences.

The end objective of technology should be to extend the capabilities of people, not to replace them. Sure, as technology drives efficiency some people will lose out, but that should not be an objective in and of itself. The objective should be to become more efficient and deliver a better service to the customer.

Properly managed, an intranet can deliver greater efficiency and reduce costs. It can help staff carry out tasks faster. It has that potential, but it is a potential that is not being realized in most intranets because of a lack of focus on the tasks and the staff who need to carry out the tasks.

Technology must ultimately be for people, not a replacement for people. I have met many managers over the years who have little or no concern whether the time of their customers or staff is being wasted by websites with confusing menus and links and poor search results. However, if I tell these very same managers that I've found a way to reduce headcount, they get very excited.

The goal of the organization should not be to fire as many people as possible. The goal should be to become as efficient as possible. To achieve efficiency we need quality people working with the technology to test, tweak, mold, refine, adapt, plan.

People are not always the problem. And technology on its own is rarely the solution.

Revisiting the 3 Questions for Great Experience Design

2010 is proving to be about user experience. Even in the past few weeks, we have covered the trends and needs associated with improving usability online, from web design to promoting transparency.

With the upcoming MX: Managing Experience conference that will focus on usability and user experience best practices, we'd like like to revisit the three key variables Jared Spool once indicated as being critically important to the field.

Managing User Experience

In San Francisco from March 7-8, MX: Managing Experience will work to improve customer experiences on the web, mobile and more. The featured keynote at MX is none other than Jared Spool, founding principal of User Interface Engineering. Spool, a contributing writer for CMSWire, has spent much of his life researching usability and experience design.

While he will no doubt captivate the MX audience with insights about usability, we’d like to revisit the three key variables Spool once indicated as being critically important to the field. He wrote about them in 2008, but they still resonate and remind us that while emerging trends may confound us, applying tried and true methods can help us all develop new solutions.

The Three Questions for Great Experience Design

These three crucial questions can shed light about how you and your team work to address issues of vision, feedback and culture. Spool says “teams that answer these questions well are far more likely to create great experiences than the rest of the pack.”

Question 1: What will the experience be like five years from now?

While we all work towards a goal, it’s imperative to make sure that everyone not only understands the goal, but is also able to articulate it in such a way that illustrates how the user will interact and complete the transaction.

Looking ahead five years ensures that the actions go beyond the “immediate reactive requirements and starts considering what a great experience could be.”

Question 2: In the last six weeks, have your team members spent at least two hours watching people experience your product or service?

It goes without saying that if you’re focused on user experience, learning how people engage online requires observation. If you’re not watching, you can’t advance their experience. From usability tests or field studies, it’s necessary to spend at least two hours observing the current experience.

Question 3: In the last six weeks, have you celebrated the problems discovered in the user experience?

Spool believes that problems become opportunities for improvement. Establishing a culture that accepts failure, as well as appreciates it as a way to learn about the users and their needs, can learn best from their mistakes.

Ultimately, by making the learning process explicit — offering rewards and acknowledgment for finding bugs — the culture starts to look for it.

Lasting Lessons

If you don’t know what’s wrong with a user experience you can’t fix it. Improving behaviors starts with the vision and leads to observing users’ actions and results in finding and fixing mistakes. There isn’t a cookie cutter for approaching usability. Furthermore, you can’t begin to understand others’ behaviors without defining what you want them to be.

As we dig deeper into usability design in 2010, the questions posed to us nearly two years ago are still relevant.

Mochila and Netseer Bring Concept Based Advertising to Web Content

What do you get when you combine premium content with user intent? A partnership between Mochila (site) and Netseer that seeks to deliver content-based ad units that are tailored more accurately to the user’s immediate needs than ads targeted by context keywords.

The Partners

Mochila is best known for their massive online media marketplace that allows publishers access to quality photos, video and content. With more than 1,500 top-tier distributors, Mochila works to broaden a brand’s reach, while creating large-scale advertising opportunities. Supported by deep-dive metrics, an approach that is 100-percent customized and known for their short-term/high integration effort, advertisers can run ads within certain content categories like specific publisher or by keyword.

Netseer, by contrast, employs ad solutions that are based on a concept matching technology rather than keyword match or popularity ranking. Claiming that “keywords in isolation fall short of understanding the full intent of the user while popularity ranking may obscure the subject the user is interested in,” Netseer seeks to understand the user’s interests or intent in real time.

The Partnership

Through a strategic agreement with NetSeer, Mochila has licensed NetSeer’s concept-based advertiser and publisher solutions. This means that ad-supported links can be both conceptually relevant to a site and linked to associated search ads, which can further engage prospective brand advertisers.

Being able to integrate NetSeer’s unique scientific approach so that Web-derived “concepts” can be identified, Mochila will apply those concepts to its Ad Impact Platform (AIP), ultimately seeking to enhance its ability to deliver relevant ads within targeted content.

The Result

By taking traditional targeted advertising and adding new contextual and behavioral elements, concept-based advertising is poised to bring new benefits to what Mochila calls the “online advertising ecosystem.”

And while advertisers and publishers can better monetize their content, consumers can benefit as well, by being able to receive relevant and useful information to supplement their online user experience.

Forrester: Most U.S. Internet Consumers Using Multiple Channels

Your website is your primary communication tool, so you give it plenty of love. However, research says this is not sufficient as more than 70% of U.S. Internet consumers are now using multiple channels.

Examples include:

  • Call centers
  • Direct mail
  • Mobile apps and interfaces
  • Social networks
  • In-store displays

Today's ruthless consumers expect a seamless cross-channel experience. Unfortunately, consumers often report that their cross-channel experience are poor — A.K.A., you have work to do.

With this problem in mind Forrester Research is teaming with CoreMedia this Thursday at 11am EST/4pm GMT to present a webinar titled: The Role Of WCM In Cross-Channel Customer Relations.

Forrester analyst Tim Walters says you can maximize your online presence to create the optimal cross-channel user experience. And further, that your web content management system can play a key role in the process.

If you're responsible for optimizing your customers' cross-channel experience this webinar may be just what you need. Skip on over and register here.

Challenges With Transparency, Usability and Government Websites

Think you know what websites have the best usability?

A survey by the UK-based research firm Webcredible found that the top performing industry sectors were news and media websites, followed by travel and utility websites. The sites voted most unfavorably belonged to local authority and government sector websites.

The study surveyed 1,000 users during the last quarter of 2009. The results indicate that some industries could improve from a renewed focus on their interfaces.

Promoting Transparency with Usability

While the survey may represent a small cross-section of actual web users, a recent study by ForeSee Results also supports the need for better usability among government websites.

ForeSee Results conducted its first ever E-Government Transparency Index and found that transparency has a direct impact on citizen satisfaction. Maybe not a big surprise for those of us immersed in usability design, but it’s a big kick in the pants for those at the federal level.

The ForeSee Results E-Government Transparency Index surveyed more than 36,000 U.S. citizens who visited federal websites in the fourth quarter of 2009 and assigned specific quantitative transparency scores in order to create a baseline from which agencies can benchmark progress.

Satisfied Users Make Engaged Citizens

When citizens find a website highly transparent (80 or higher on a 100-point index), they indicated that they were 85% more satisfied than citizens who rate a federal website’s transparency poorly (69 or lower). In fact, citizens who perceive a federal website to be highly transparent are also more likely to participate in communication with the agency, collaborate and use the agency's Web site.

Screen shot 2010-02-18 at 11.12.53 AM.png

Such insight may help guide agencies to make user-centric decisions about how to disseminate information to users so that it can be perceived as being both transparent and informative. Ultimately, improving usability on a government website not only improves the user experience, it can lead to better citizen interaction. For democratic governments, the web can be one of the best tools to engage users and disseminate information in a manner that promotes transparency and citizen satisfaction.

The Essence of a Successful Persona Project

Personas are a flexible and powerful tool for user researchers. They're also one of the most misunderstood. When done well, they ensure the team focuses on the needs and delights of their users.

Like other effective user research techniques, personas deliver confidence and insights to the team. Personas help the team make important design decisions with a thorough understanding of who the users are, what they need, and when they need it.

For the last few years, we've studied how a variety of design teams have tried to harvest the benefits of persona projects. We've explored several wildly successful persona projects and many that fell far short of their goals. We now better understand where the magic lies with personas — what the essence of a successful project is.

An Advanced Technique

You don't get the benefits of personas for free. While we saw many teams reap new insights within the first few hours, the teams that saw the most out of it made a long-term investment.

Our research showed timing is a critical element in the success of persona projects. The team has to be in a place where they can proactively tackle design challenges. If the team is dealing with a firehose-stream of feature requests and enhancements, the project won't get much traction.

At the same time, the organization needs to be ready to make the users' overall experience a priority. We noticed this often comes after an experience disaster — some external issue that brings the overall experience, not just the features and technology, into the limelight.

For example, when a major e-commerce web site suffered a failed redesign launch, reducing sales by 35%, their senior management finally understood the need to know more about how their customers shopped. Before the devastating launch, the management's focus was all about features and slick visual design, but because of the revenue decrease, customer experience was now on everyone's mind. Personas were now a priority.

Because personas take time to develop and integrate into the culture, they require involvement at all organizational levels to be effective. Like any important endeavor, if the organization can't give the team the time and resources, then the persona project will probably fail. When that happens, it's likely the organization is just not ready.

Starting With Information You Already Have

We were surprised by how easy it was to jumpstart a persona project. We came into the research thinking successful projects had to start with an intensive research effort, costing big bucks and eating up the calendar. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Many successful teams started by culling information the organization already had in their heads. Using techniques that collect this information, such as Tamara Adlin's Ad-Hoc Persona workshop, these teams get working personas very quickly.

These quick-start methods are often fun and inspiring, as they focus the team on users’ needs from the very beginning of the project. A key element is involving senior management and stakeholders from the get-go. Their participation sanctions the work, helps everyone think from a user experience vantage point, and simplifies the persona ranking process.

At first, we were wary about constructing personas from existing viewpoints instead of from fresh research of real users doing real things. We thought it would create a design trying to solve problems that don’t encompass real users needs.

However, almost every team that used the jumpstart method went off to do more robust, formal field research, visiting users and observing real issues. As the new information came in, they changed their personas along the way, showing management where the internal beliefs differ from the real world. And, because the team involved senior management in the first pass, it was easier to sell the more rigorous research.

Our big surprise was discovering this: A team using the same, incorrect personas is better than each member designing for a different user, where some hit the mark and some don't.

Having the same personas to work with, even if they're off the mark, gives the team a common language. Since the successful projects ensured their teams had subsequent exposure to real users, correcting any wrong beliefs was easy. When everyone started on the same page, they found it easy to talk about how new information needed to change their understanding.

How Do You Know You've Succeeded?

A common fixation amongst the failed persona projects we studied was the look and feel of the description document. The teams believed they needed a great looking description for each persona for its adoption. These teams invested hundreds of dollars (sometimes thousands) to produce slick posters, screensavers, and slideshows, describing the intricacies of each persona.

Studying the successful projects, we learned these description documents aren't important at all. These teams often had very bland, non-descript documents describing each persona. Instead, we found four success criteria: internalizing the personas, creating rich scenarios, prioritizing the most important personas, and involving all the stakeholders and influencers.

Internalizing the Personas: Each team member had the same personas in their head. As we talked with each person, they could describe the personas as if they were their favorite story characters. They had internalized the details — making them real.

Creating Rich Scenarios: The team members could talk through the personas' scenarios in detail. They could share each persona's context, the desired scenario outcome, and the approach the persona took to get there. It was clear the team had talked about these scenarios often, because everyone would tell us the same details, much like when people share their favorite fairytales.

Prioritizing: Interestingly, the successful projects also had something we hadn't originally looked for: a clear understanding of each persona's priority. We'd always thought the importance of a persona would shift depending on the designer's current focus. However, amongst the successful teams, they knew which personas were most important and which they could sacrifice when compromises had to happen.

Stakeholder Involvement: The most successful projects made sure this knowledge extended beyond the primary design team members, to all the people who could influence the design. When we talked with stakeholders and influencers outside the core project team, such as business line managers and the company's lawyers, it was clear they were also well versed in the personas, their scenarios, and their priority. They told us of frequent meetings and memos where an in-depth analysis of a persona's scenario influenced important business decisions.

We've found there's a simple test to measure whether a persona project will be a success: Walk up to any team member, stakeholder, or influencer and ask who the most important personas are. If they can give the same story as everyone else on the team, you have a winning project on your hands. Slick posters and screensavers aren't spreading this understanding — it's frequent, in-depth discussions at practically every point in the project.

The Essence of Successful Persona Projects

We've long believed personas were a valuable design tool. We were initially disheartened by the many failures we'd seen, but now that we've had a chance to study some successes in-depth, we can see teams realizing the promised benefits.

The trick is to not rush into it. Ensuring the organization is at the right place in their user experience maturity is critical. Using a jump-start technique works, but the team needs to follow up with robust research. Finally, keeping the personas alive through frequent discussions, especially around key decisions and trade-off conversations, makes them a valuable design asset.

5 Ways Web Design Focuses on Usability

TechRadar recently delivered what they and top experts consider to be key trends for the next 12 months in web design. At the core, is an increased focus on usability. Smashing Magazine sought to promote better user experiences with storytelling, encouraging designers to capitalize on users' emotions. The bottom line: by focusing on usability, a better website can be built.

Plagued by a turbulent economic outlook, web designers are finding it in their best interest and those of their clients to scale back on building micro-sites and head-to-toe redesigns, and focus more on improving the overall usability of their websites.

According to TechRadar, the advances the industry has provided have also enabled "clients to take advantage of the web's efficiency and modularity" perhaps making usability and functionality all the more important because they now know what to expect. 

As well, better usability can help web designers assert their authority about how the web is used and how it can translate into revenue and brand loyalty for companies. But usability, as we often find, just makes sense.

1. Functionality

In 2010, functionality incorporates elements of common sense and viability. Integrating third-party enhancements into a site are often more user-intuitive and free, saving designers lots of time and money spent recreating the wheel.

Video and photos are best to be showcased using well-known distribution channels like Flickr and YouTube, while Twitter and other social media APIs can be integrated within sites.

2. Interaction

While seemingly complex, website interactivity can actually simplify user interfaces. Richer interfaces that use Flash are diminishing their threat, being replaced, instead by JavaScript.

Meaningless (and cumbersome) visual animation will be replaced by beautiful interaction that works to promote specific user engagement behaviors. Pretty and functional interactive displays will be essential to the user experience.

3. Dynamic Content

Smashing Magazine says,

storytelling and user experience have common elements — like planning, research, and content creation — that can be utilized for effectively developing an experience.

Putting a face with a name essentially helps users relate to personas and makes them want to contribute to the story, either helping to shape it with their own words or how they choose to share it with others.

Blending emotions with design can help steer users in the direction appropriate for your website, ultimately improving functionality and customization.

4. Web Standards

In the last few months, we've covered the measures taken by the W3C on how to handle inaccessible websites, CSS3, HTML 5 and the semantic web, among others. As designers and developers adapt to changing web standards, they must also be mindful of anyone using browsers that don't support cutting-edge technologies.

Web standards don't just target traditional websites, but those that are mobile-based, as well. In the interest of time, money and accessibility, creating mobile-specific sites may be less important than designing better accessible websites altogether.

5. Expanding Skill Sets

Whether it's designing apps for the iPhone or working with open source technologies, designers and developers alike need to get skilled. Customers are already demanding cutting edge applications and enhancements. Being able to make educated decisions about designs that promote new technologies, web standards and good usability will be a challenge, but ignoring it all together, won't make them less relevant.

Overall what design and usability intend to do for websites in 2010 is very similar to what the underlying goal of any website should be: making information easy to find, navigate and engage.