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.
Build a command line option into your next user interface.
Some of you techies may be reading this and thinking, “Yes! I live in a command window all the time on my computer.” Well, I’m not really thinking about you as my target audience. I’m talking more about applications used by everyday people outside the IT industry.
Hear me out.
User experience (UX) researchers tasked with improving customer-facing products face many challenges on a daily basis—perhaps none more daunting than translating their research insights into positive change. This article presents 10 tips I have learned over the course of my career to help UX researchers increase the impact of their research insights in applied settings. These tips are intended primarily for in-house research teams, but they may apply to consultancies as well.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.”
At the SAP Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC), we frequently organize the so-called “Method Mondays,” a regular one-hour meeting series in which the team members share, practice, and test different methods.
In this article, I would like to share the five methods with you that work best for us—they’re worth trying!
The majority of our work at Google has involved conducting user research with small business owners: the small guys that are typically defined by governmental organizations as having 100 or fewer employees, and that make up the majority of businesses worldwide.
Given the many hurdles small businesses face, designing tools and services to help them succeed has been an immensely rewarding experience. That said, the experience has brought a long list of challenges, including those that come with small business owners being constantly on-call and strapped for time; when it comes to user research, the common response from small business owners and employees is, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
To help you overcome common challenges we’ve faced, here are a few tips for conducting successful qualitative user research studies with small businesses.
From start-ups to banks, design has never been more central to business. Yet at conference after conference, I meet designers at firms talking about their struggle for influence. Why is that fabled “seat at the table” so hard to find, and how can designers get a chair?
Designers yearn for a world where companies depend on their ideas but usually work in a world where design is just one voice. In-house designers often have to advocate for design priorities versus new features or technical change. Agency designers can create great visions that fail to be executed. Is design just a service, or can designers* lead?
*Meaning anyone who provides the vision for a product, whether it be in code, wireframes, comps, prototypes, or cocktail napkins.
Have you ever asked for an update on a project you’d invested a great deal of time and energy in, only to hear “they have completely redesigned it since then”?
I did, and it left me with this very empty feeling.
After some wallowing, I realized I needed to discover a new way to think about the way I work and what really matters in my consulting career. My answer: The mark of a truly good consultant is investing in people. Focusing on investing in people will ensure that your work will still continue to see results long after the application is redesigned, and that is change that matters in the long run.
In the following article, I will give three areas in which we can focus our efforts: mentoring, client education, and our own team members. I hope that the reflection will help us all be better consultants and make better investments.
Design research has always been about qualitative techniques. Increasingly, our clients ask us to add a “quant part” to projects, often without much or any additional budget. Luckily for us, there are plenty of tools available to conduct online surveys, from simple ones like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey to more elaborate ones like Qualtrics and Key Survey.
Whichever tool you choose, there are certain pitfalls in conducting quantitative research on a shoestring budget. Based on our own experience, we’ve compiled a set of tips and tricks to help avoid some common ones, as well as make your online survey more effective.
We’ve organized our thoughts around three survey phases: writing questions, finding respondents, and cleaning up data.
Which version of the ‘suspended account’ dashboard page do you prefer?
Perhaps you don’t really care. Each one gets the job done in a clear and obvious way.
However, as the UX architect of the ‘overview’ page for a huge telecom leader, it was my job to tell the team which treatment we’d be using.
I was a freelancer with only four months tenure on this job, and in a company as large, diverse, and complex as this one, four months isn’t a very long time. There are a ton of things to learn—how their teams work, the latest visual standards, expected fidelity of wireframes, and most of all, selecting the ‘current’ interaction standards from a site with thousands of pages, many of which were culled from different companies following acquisitions or created at different points in time. Since I worked off-site, I had limited access to subject matter experts.
In 2008, Lloyds Pharmacy conducted 20 minute interviews1 with 1,961 UK adults. Almost one in five people admitted to having taken prescription medicines incorrectly; more than eight million adults have either misread medicine labels or misunderstood the instructions, resulting in them taking the wrong dose or taking medication at the wrong time of day. In addition, the overall problem seemed to be more acute among older patients.
Almost one in five people admitted to having taken prescription medicines incorrectly; more than eight million adults have either misread medicine labels or misunderstood the instructions.
Medicine or patient information leaflets refer to the document included inside medicine packaging and are typically printed on thin paper (see figures 1.1–1.4). They are essential for the safe use of medicines and help answer people’s questions when taking the medicine.
If the leaflet works well, it can lead to people taking the medicine correctly, hopefully improving their health and wellness. If it works poorly, it can lead to adverse side effects, harm, or even death. Subsequently, leaflets are heavily regulated in the way they need to be designed, written, and produced. European2 and individual national legislation sets out the information to be provided, in a specific order, within a medicine information leaflet.
Figure 1.3: Paracetamol instructions (front).
Figure 1.4: Paracetamol instructions (back).
Adding to the design challenge is the fact that the guidelines for how medicine information leaflets are designed changes from country to country, and the guidelines are often vague.
One of the changes in the 2004 European Commission directive2 was to ensure that all medicine information leaflets ‘reflect the results of consultations with target patient groups.’ In other words, when producing a leaflet, user testing (or ‘readability testing’ as it is also known4) must be done. A satisfactory test outcome is when the information requested within the package leaflet can be found by 90% of test participants, of whom 90% can show that they understand it.3
The diagnostic testing method for medicine information leaflets also raises a unique challenge when designing leaflets and is more rigorous than the level of user testing most designers are used to.
Additionally, medicine information leaflets are required to be reviewed and approved by a competent authority, which varies from country to country, before being included in the packaging with the medicine.5
Possible Design Improvements
How can these materials be designed so that people end up taking the medicine as directed?
One issue with medicine information leaflets seems to be that most people do not read the document from start to finish, although it contains important information. Reasons for not reading or only skimming the leaflet from start to finish could be due to the amount of information or the leaflet design.
Competing sources of information introduce additional confusion. Sometimes the pharmacist will attach to the packaging a sticker with dosage instructions. That sticker can cover the dosage instructions printed on the packaging itself.
There are now potentially three sources of dosage information: the sticker, the packaging, and the leaflet, all with different densities of information. This creates an assumption on the part of the patient that everything they will need to know will be on the sticker–a dangerous assumption because patients do not read through the whole of the medicine information leaflet.
Medicine information leaflets are usually long and contain a wealth of information and complex terminology. An option would be to provide the document written to different educational levels.4
Sometimes leaflets do not make the most of headings and sectioning, which keeps people from finding quickly the information they need. Medicine information leaflets are usually minimally treated, featuring only plain text with headings in bold.
Could a more designed and illustrated appearance lead to people taking the medicine in the prescribed manner? A study6 suggests this is the case: Layouts that reduce text density, use purposeful sectioning, highlight key messages, and use a logical type hierarchy helped people to find the right information more quickly.
The example shown in figure 1.5 is a step in the right direction; the different types of information have been given a diversity of treatments to provide emphasis.
Layouts that reduce text density, use purposeful sectioning, highlight key messages, and use a logical type hierarchy helped people to find the right information more quickly.
In a similar vein, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed a redesign of nutrition labels on food packaging. Among the changes were putting calorie counts in large type, adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat, and additional information about sugars in food.7
The Lloyd’s Pharmacy research stated that older people make the most mistakes when using medicine information due to either misreading medicine labels or misunderstanding the instructions. Clearer written instructions would solve the comprehension issue; a more ‘large print’ design would enable both older and a wider variety of people to better use the leaflet.
Medicine information leaflets are often printed on thin paper and folded many times to fit into the medicine package. There is a lot of show-through from the information printed on the back of the leaflet, which decreases readability. When the leaflet is unfolded, the paper crease marks affect the readability of the text (see figures 1.3 and 1.4). A possible improvement would be to print the leaflet on a thicker paper.
Article 63(2) of the European Commission, 2004,2 states that: ‘The package leaflet must be written and designed to be clear and understandable, enabling the users to act appropriately, when necessary with the help of health professionals.’
Diagnostic testing is examining an existing design to find out how it performs against the agreed performance requirements set at the scoping stage; for example, a satisfactory test outcome is when the information requested within the package leaflet can be found by 90% of test participants, of whom 90% can show that they understand it. Diagnostic testing takes the actions of people using the document as symptoms of the document’s health and is concerned with finding out what is wrong with a design. Diagnostic testing should be used iteratively—that is, repeated until its performance reaches the agreed benchmark. Diagnostic test questions are designed to see whether a consumer can find information quickly and easily and perform actions appropriately.8
Earlier research from Lloyds Pharmacy1 and Dickinson et al.6 demonstrates that design and writing has the potential to make a real difference in regard to medical errors and that design, writing, and production of a medicine information leaflet can have a real positive effect on people’s health.
The design of medicine information leaflets provides some interesting challenges because they might not be seen as a typical creative graphic design job. Just because they do not contain overly designed text or graphics, however, does not mean creativity is not needed, in fact creativity is usually lacking in leaflets typically produced.
Furthermore, creativity when designing medicine information leaflets usually comes in the form of clear writing, clear layout, and user testing—more of an information design challenge rather than graphic design.
The designer’s job is to clearly communicate the desired message. The designer also has to follow guidelines—in this case, not corporate identity guidelines but guidelines laid out in legislation and vetted by a regulatory body.
Effective design can make the difference between a person deciding to read a leaflet or not, or getting the information they need about the medicine they are taking or not. And that difference can be a matter of life or death. The not so typical design challenge of medicine information leaflets shows the importance effective design can have.
1 Lloyds Pharmacy. (2008). More than eight million patients admit medicine mistakes. Retrieved April 2008, from www.lloydspharmacy.com/wps/portal/aboutus/pr.
2 European Commission. (2004). Directive 2004/27/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed January 2014, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/ LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2004:136:0034:0057:EN:PDF.
3 European Commission. (2009). Guideline on the readability of the labelling and package leaflet of medicinal products for human use. Revision 1. Brussels: European Commission. Retrieved January 2014, http://ec.europa.eu/health/files/eudralex/vol-2/c/2009_01_12_readability_guideline_final_en.pdf.
4 van der Waarde, K. (2008a). Designing information about medicine for people. Retrieved April 2014, from www.valedesign.org.br/pdf/karen.pdf.
5 Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. (2005). Always Read the Leaflet: Getting the best information with every medicine. Report of the Committee on Safety of Medicines Working Group on Patient Information. London: The Stationery Office. Retrieved January 2014, www.mhra.gov.uk/home/groups/p-la/documents/publication/con2018041.pdf.
6 Dickinson, D., Teather, J., Gallina, S., Newsom-Davis, E. (2010). Medicine package leaflets – does good design matter? Information Design Journal 18(3). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
7 Tavernise, S. (2014). New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings. New York Times. 27 February 2014. Retrieved September 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/27/health/new-fda-nutrition-labels-would-make-serving-sizes-reflect-actual-servings.html.
8 Sless, D., and Shrensky, R. (2007). Writing about medicines for people. Australia: Communication Research Institute and The Australian Self-Medication Industry.