Taking Research out of the Lab

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To date, usability testing has been largely confined to usability labs. This ensures a controlled environment where users can interact with products or designs and researchers can field questions. The downside of this is not being able to get the context of use of what you are testing. But a recent project for a life science organization cemented the idea that taking user research out of the usability lab yields the best results.

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Focus on Usage Maturity: Part I

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Designing for All Users by Starting at the Beginning

Far too often, products are designed to meet the needs of the typical user. As a user experience researcher, I’m always cautious about defining the “typical user” for any of the digital or physical products I work on. My UX research has included work on business processes, websites, services, software platforms, digital games, physical products,  and physical properties.

I prefer to use a usage maturity matrix and design to meet the range of functional priorities of our users.

  • Usage maturity is a measure of users’ comfort and familiarity with and degree of use of a product.
  • A usage maturity matrix defines the functional priorities at each level of usage maturity.
  • The matrix lists beginning, proficient, and advanced level functional priorities and can expand to include novice and expert levels to account for greater complexity.
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Don’t Send Personal Messages Through LinkedIn (Unless You Want People to Hate You)

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Looking through my parents’ storage boxes, I found letters that my mother and father sent one another prior to my existence. This unfathomable world was decades away from mobile phones, public internet connectivity, and social networking. Along with explanations of humorous or ordinary everyday episodes and proclamations of love, the letters included doodles, crossed out words, and long postscriptums. I don’t know if my mother or father ever dabbed some perfume on their letters hoping to evoke butterflies in the other’s stomach; it would not have been out of place.

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Case Study: How to Build a Digital User Experience Monitoring System

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Most software user experience and product management teams have similar questions: How do users feel about our products? How is our product experience changing over time? How do users feel about a recent change we’ve made in the product?

Our user experience (UX) and product teams are no different, so we set up a system that provides an ongoing stream of data that answers these questions and does much more.

In this case study, we describe our user experience monitoring system at Qualtrics.[1] With data collected through this system, we are able to monitor the overall UX of our software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, share dashboards and reports with stakeholders, and send automated messages to individuals and groups based on key performance indicators. This system complements our existing traditional UX research initiatives (such as interviewing, surveying, usability evaluations, and reviewing telemetry data) with an actionable stream of high quality user experience data collected with very little ongoing effort from our team.

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How to Use Gamification in Mobile Apps: A Case Study

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Gamification, or the addition of game-like elements to anything that isn’t a game, pops up all over the design world.

In my last post for Boxes and Arrows, I focused specifically on gamification in mobile app onboarding. The moment when users first open your app is critical to the app’s success, and you can use gamification as a tool to get a new user through the learning curve.

But gamification doesn’t just fit with onboarding. It’s possible to apply gamification to any part of app design, or even design an entire app—that is not a mobile gaming application—around it.

I’ll examine Forest, a productivity app, as a case study of gamification embedded so deeply into an app’s framework that gamification becomes the entire reason to use the app in the first place.

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Creating the Persuasive Pattern Card Deck

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One of our finest tasks as designers is to filter the abundance of choice into easily digestible bits. Creating great interfaces is as much about motivating, teasing, leading, and guiding users along—so that they experience value, faster—as it is to improve usability by removing friction. This requires an endeavor into product psychology and the art of designing with purpose and intent.

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Honing Your Research Skills Through Ad-hoc Contextual Inquiry

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It’s common in our field to hear that we don’t get enough time to regularly practice all the types of research available to us, and that’s often true, given tight project deadlines and limited resources. But one form of user research–contextual inquiry–can be practiced regularly just by watching people use the things around them and asking a few questions.

I started thinking about this after a recent experience returning a rental car to a national brand at the Phoenix, Arizona, airport.

My experience was something like this: I pulled into the appropriate lane and an attendant came up to get the rental papers and send me on my way. But, as soon as he started, someone farther up the lane called loudly to him saying he’d been waiting longer. The attendant looked at me, said “sorry,” and ran ahead to attend to the other customer.

A few seconds later a second attendant came up, took my papers, and jumped into the car to check it in. She was using an app on an tablet that was attached to a large case with a battery pack, which she carried over her shoulder. She started quickly tapping buttons, but I noticed she kept navigating back to the previous screen to tap another button.

Curious being that I am, I asked her if she had to go back and forth like that a lot. She said “yes, I keep hitting the wrong thing and have to go back.”

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The Power of Collaboration

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A quote that I stumbled on during grad school stuck with me. From the story of the elder’s box as told by Eber Hampton, it sums up my philosophy of working and teaching:

“How many sides do you see?”
“One,” I said.

He pulled the box towards his chest and turned it so one corner faced me.
“Now how many do you see?”
“Now I see three sides.”

He stepped back and extended the box, one corner towards him and one towards me.

“You and I together can see six sides of this box,” he told me.

—Eber Hampton (2002) The Circle Unfolds, p. 41–42

Creating a Learning Resource with Aboriginal Students

My graduate school thesis project was to create a learning resource for an Aboriginal literature course for Aboriginal students at the University of Alberta. This effort was an interesting challenge since it involved me—a non-Aboriginal designer—trying to design for Aboriginal students from multiple cultural backgrounds.

While navigating the expected cross-cultural design issues, I met some wonderful people and learned a great deal about the importance of letting those with whom you design guide the research and design process.

This daunting task left me more than a bit intimidated at the end of the day. However, I felt from the outset that if I took the time to get to know my design partners and if I took the time to examine how they could guide me, somehow we could be successful.

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Content Strategy — in 3D!

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For centuries, the well-heeled Christian faithful in Europe made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, but most couldn’t afford these expensive and dangerous trips. In the fifteenth century, monks met the demand by setting up shrines along the roads. Together, these shrines told the Passion story, so that the faithful could take the same trip in miniature, at home. In the seventeenth century, these shrines moved inside the churches, becoming the modern Stations of the Cross.

The church had met a design challenge by constructing a narrative in an environment that advanced its messaging goals and met the goals of its audience. As the visitor moves from illustration to illustration depicting the famous trials and tribulations, they are moved both physically and emotionally.

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Case Study of Agile and UCD Working Together

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Large scale websites require groups of specialists to design and develop a product that will be a commercial success. To develop a completely new site requires several teams to collaborate and this can be difficult, particularly as different teams may be working with different methods.

This case study shows how the ComputerWeekly user experience team integrated with an agile development group. It’s important to note the methods we used do not guarantee getting the job done. People make or break any project. Finding and retaining good people is the most important ingredient for success.

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