You’ve messed around in Photoshop, maybe done a couple of side projects. Heck they might have even done quite well. I was very lucky and fell into the best design school you can get, completely by accident. This is the post I’d write to myself if I knew a few years ago what I know now.
I’ve accidentally learned very quickly what makes ‘good design’ and realised that all the stuff I used to be conceded about really doesn’t matter. Typefaces, colour theory all have their place, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re small fry.
If I hadn’t had this lesson, today I would be an even worse designer. But I wouldn’t know.
They key to being a truly great designer is having the ability to understand human behavior. Real people will be using your designs in their real lives. Your ability to understand how people ‘work’ can make the difference between your design making their day or them getting confused, worried and upset because they feel they are doing something wrong. When in fact it is you or I who has designed an interface that people can’t use. It’s our fault, not theres. Do you want to be the designer that makes users cry?
Unfortunately the magic ingredient isn’t very sexy, it won’t help build your Dribbble profile. Nor will it help you look like some San Francisco startup hipster.
The key is to understand the principles of usability.
The best way to do this is to go and work at an agency that specialises in usability. One where day in day out you will be working on usability projects.
But what’s a usability project? Well you don’t get to design anything. You can close down Photoshop and forget about the latest design trends. It’s time to start user testing. You take other peoples designs, create some tasks that real people would do on the site. Then get real people to do the tasks, watch how they get on and report all the problems and potential solutions back to the designers.
Very quickly in this job you’ll start learning how “normal people” use computers, think about online things and how they combine doing stuff online with their real lives.
You’ll also see all the things that people struggle with. The new and trendy design concept that “real people” don’t understand. You’ll sit there and watch them struggle to use the interface, watch them think it’s their fault. This will build up the empathy for users you one-day will design for.
Never again will you put the label for a form field inside the input box, or use a fancy icon where a simple word will suffice. You’ll learn how people interpret what they can click on and what they can’t, when they can scroll and when they can’t.
You’ll learn a million things, and every time you look at a design or website you’ll instantly be able to pick out the main usability problems people will have.
Once you get to a point when you can write out all the usability problems with a website before even going to user testing. Then you’re ready. Then you’re ready to open up Photoshop.
I spent six months doing solid user test after user test and it’s the single thing I’ve done in my very short career that makes a difference to everything I work on every day.
All design projects I work on now include user testing, and because we always get the basics right, we can focus our research on more interesting stuff
So go and find a job doing user testing, understand the basic human behaviour that drives them and you’ll instantly become a better designer.
Hey Jack, I loved your breakdown of mobile input types and how they're used. I was wondering what they look like on Android, Windows 8 mobile devices, and blackberry. I assume they're not all supported as cleanly as they are on safari, but do you know how each input would look? Thanks! -Chris
Hi Chris, sorry for the late reply I was on holiday. I’ve been meaning add this information to the site for a while. Had a quick look around the internet and couldn’t really find any up-to-date images for you :( There seem to be a lot of sites saying things like date picker aren’t available on Android, but it is - I’ve seen it! Will try and get more information and images on that site in the New Year. Cheers Jack
In response to a tweet from @jansru, commenting on the ludicrously of some of these ‘What we can learn about UX from <some random thing>’ posts that are flying around the internet. (Here’s a sample if you’ve been living under a rock and not noticed them. UX lessons from: a car, Jay-Z, children, James Bond, fencing.) What will they come up with next? UX lessons from ice-cream? Challenge accepted.
What can we learn about UX from ice-cream?
Adaptive design - you’ll notice the ice-creams you can buy from a petrol station vary to the ice-creams you can buy at the beach. Service station ice-creams are designed to be eaten with little concentration, just one hand and have wrapping designed to avoid mess. Therefore allowing customers to easily eat them whilst driving. For instance Calippos and Cornettos At the beach however you’ll find ice-creams designed for enjoyment. For instance 99s. They’re difficult to eat without making a mess and require concentration but eating one feels like much more of an occasion Thinking about the type of ice-cream you buy in supermarkets, this has been designed for use in the home. Customers can scoop portions and distribute in bowls, making sharing as convent as possible. What does this teach us? Design products based on where the user is, when they’re using it and what they really need at that time. You’d never find a 99 machine in a service station.
Understand how customers use your products - supermarkets sell cartons of ice-cream with three flavours in. This product likely came about because some research was done that found customers were buying multiple cartons of different flavoured ice-cream and serving a scoop of each flavour as a dessert. The three flavoured ice-cream completely suits this customer requirement and customers are happy to pay a premium. Hence teaching us to use analytics and user research to understand how people actually use products and adapt the design to better support them.
Set expectation - thinking about those ice-cream chests, the selection of ice-creams is shown on sign with pictures and prices. Customers can see the range and price of each product before opening the cold chest and finding the ice-cream they want to buy. This teaches us, that before we ask users to make a commitment, signup, purchase we should set their expectations of what they can expect on the other side.
Location - let’s have a think about ice-cream vans. You’ll always find them by beaches, outside schools, driving around housing estates. Basically they park themselves wherever the people are and where people expect to find them. What does this teach us? Put stuff where people expect it to be so they can easily find it. Signin buttons on the top right corner of the website, reviews below product details.
There are probably more, feel free to tweet me and I’ll add them.
I’ve been in this industry a very short while, but after The Great UX Debate this evening I’ve come to a bit of a realisation. All the UX events at the moment seem to have the same topics, being talked about by the same people over and over. Sometimes there’s a bit of disagreement but it’s usually around understanding of the question rather than the topic. I doubt I’m alone in thinking it would be nice to have a bit of variety.
So here’s a list of topics I’d like to see barred from UX events:
- What is UX
- What do / should UX people do
- Should UX people code
- Are wireframes dead
- Moaning about cowboys
- Moaning about recruiters
- Responsive design
- Will UX be around in 10 years
I’m sure there are more, please send them my way and I’ll add them.
Don’t get me wrong I have masses of respect for the organisers of these events and the big name speakers who talk at them. A bit of variety wouldn’t go amiss though.
I was watching an episode of Grand Designs this evening and a pretty revolutionary method of building a house was adopted. You’ve all seen houses where parts of the house are built in a factory and then shipped to site where they’re all put together. These guys took a different approach to this. They built a factory into a shipping container, sent it to site and then built all the house parts on site. No doubt saving thousands on transport costs.
The developers took a traditional manufacturing process of building the product in a factory and then shipping to customer and spun it on its head. If you have an easy to package factory it’s a “how did I not think of that” moment.
How can we apply this to UX?
This week I worked on my first design project that benefited from on-site stakeholder interviews. I knew this would be a powerful asset in the research and it allowed for some seriously brilliant product development - as I predicted. I was however surprised by the reaction from real users when we tested the site. I’d clearly underestimated how much value these interviews could add and how much users appreciated the features developed souley due to stake holder interviews.
The Grand Designs episode got me thinking though. Stakeholder interviews are great, but they happen and then we go off work out what they mean and start work on the design. Wouldn’t it be awesome though if we could get stake holder input much more easily and much more regularly. Logistically at the moment that couldn’t happen, it would be far too time consuming and cost far too much.
But what if we could?
What if instead of sitting in our office we took the entire UX process on tour? What if there was a way we could take the entire process and do it on the move, traveling around talking to users constantly. Seems very impractical. But is it?
Here’s how we could make that happen.
First off, buy a coach or bus and we’re going to need to do a bit of modification. Essentially what we want is a fully-fledged UX studio on wheels. We could have a couple of testing labs on the lower deck and maybe a meeting room.. The top floor would have all the desks, whiteboards, sticky notes and all the other bits we’d need to our job.
Then we can take the bus and start our tour. Maybe starting in the client office car park, run interviews and workshops to gather requirements. Maybe spend a few days here. Then we’d get on the move, working as we drive. Arriving at various locations around the country or continent. Coming into contact with users all the time, so we can pop downstairs, quick bit of on street recruitment and we can quickly run through ideas, concepts and prototypes with real users. Then move on to a different location in search of a different customer groups or to help understand user requirement variations through geography.
Lets apply this concept to a real project.
Imagine you’re commissioned to develop a new site for a cinema. It needs to show all the films, allow bookings and all that normal stuff. We jump on the UX bus and ride over to the clients’ office. We run some research there and then move on. As we drive we do some work, and then park up outside a cinema. We’re talking to cinema goers getting some seriously valuable research work done. We’ll then go in search of more potential customers, maybe parking up at a school, office block, town center to talk with more people. As we travel we’ll get on with some work developing ideas, putting together quick prototypes.
Anyway you get the idea.
Clearly it’s not going to work for all projects and wont fit all budgets, but could be a unique method to gather valuable research.
I caught the Zuckerburg interview from TechCrunch Disrupt this evening and mobile was pretty much the only topic. Ignoring all the Facebook Phone nonsense some interesting insight into apps was gained. But you can read about that anywhere right now.
One statistic which really got me thinking:
More people use Facebook on mobile web than they do on iOS and Android apps combined.
That’s not a new stat, but for the first time I started thinking about why. It aligns with the patterns I’ve been seeing from user testing where time after time we’re being told people don’t use apps. They just use the browser, even without a mobile website.
What’s causing this behaviour?
The top app downloaded on any app store is Facebook. It’s probably the first app a “normal person” downloads when they get their shiny new smartphone. Why? Because it’s the site they use the most and they want access to it on their phone. People are entering into a fairly un-know territory so it’s only natural for them to download something familiar. They’d also be forgiven for thinking that Facebook will build one of the best apps, because, well they’re Facebook.
They’ve created their iTunes or Google account and eagerly await whilst the app downloads. Finally it does and they have to log in. Beyond this point they’re greeted with a world of slowness, confusion, annoyance and are generally left with a feeling of great disappointment.
They brought this fancy phone to run apps and the Facebook app is crap. You can understand then why they never bother downloading any more apps. “If the Facebook app is crap, they must all be crap” is a statement I wouldn’t be surprised runs through the majority of “normal people”.
What happens next?
They try a more familiar route, this time opening the web browser and punching in facebook.com. They log in and WOW, “this is much more what I was expecting”. It’s fast, easy and just works. “I can spy on all my school friends, see who’s just been dumped and browse the embarrassing photos from last nights work party”. Zuckerburg admitted himself mobile web is a far superior experience to the native apps.
You’d be understanding therefore if the person never opened the app or downloaded another app ever again. With Facebook working well in the browser, the next thing they look up whether it be a film, train ticket, weather will be in mobile web browser. They’re now comfortable using the browser, they understand it and have no need to bother with apps.
This is great.
If this hypothesis is accurate, it means there’s probably a whole group of people with no desire to ever use an app again. Everything they want to do on mobile they will do in mobile web browsers because that’s what they’re used to and they like it.
As more sites develop intuitive mobile web experiences this behaviour will hopefully spread, with more and more people seeing the clear benefits of the browser over having hundreds of apps. When their friends get a smartphone they’ll advise them to steer clear of apps and just use the browser.
Introducing mobileinputtypes.com - a handy resource with the many input types which work particularly well on mobile.
Why’d you make this? A question no-one has asked but I’m going to answer anyway.
First out the gate, input type isn’t really that important on desktop, the user will never tell the difference. This has led to developers being a bit lazy and just setting the input type to text on everything. On mobile however the input type can seriously pull down how the user perceives the experience of your product.
As a UX person clients are consisatntly after the ‘quick wins’. What they mean by this is what can we do to make our product better without spending any money. This practice is often referred to as turd polishing. Changing the input type is literally a few letters of code which can drastically make a task which was 8 or 9 taps drop to just 2 or 3.
Finally, I see so many people getting it wrong. Just the other day I was finding train times on the Olympic mobile site and I had to choose a time. Taping the time picker then redirected me to a new page with a radio button list. Facepalm.
Whether you’re a developer, designer, product dude or whoever, just remember how much using the right input type can improve the experience.
It’s the Paralympic Opening Ceremony tonight, so seemed like a good time to pen some thoughts around user testing and disabilities. First off I’m very junior, it may be that all the stuff I talk about is being done by the majority of folks and it’s just managed to pass me by. I’m not coming to any solid conclusions here, it’s more a basis for discussion.
Having thought about it, I then did a bit of research and just so we’re all on the same page, there are four types of disabilities:
Visual - ability to see or process visual information
Motor - ability to operate a mouse or keyboard
Auditory - ability to hear or process acoustic information
Cognitive - mental ability in areas such as reading, memory, attention
Accessibility testing and evaluations are something I know are widely offered, but they are very often a separate service requiring specialist knowledge and techniques. I believe we have two people capable of doing full accessibility testing, that’s less than 10% of the consulting staff. As such, a hefty additional price tag comes with traditional accessibility testing, which means it’s often over looked by clients. The only time it’s ever really referenced is if the client has specifically asked for it.
Is this right? Should accessibility testing be reserved for those willing to specifically commission and pay for it? Or should we be incorporating it into every usability test we do? In the same way we get a mix of gender, should we be getting a mix of able and disabled participants?
Sounds a bit extreme doesn’t it. I thought so too. Following a bit more looking into it, I discovered a surprising statistic from the Office for National Statistics:
1 in 5 working age adults are affected by a disability
Well this changes everything. Suddenly a small 6 person usability study which doesn’t include a participant with a disability doesn’t accurately represent the general population.
After a bit more looking into it I discovered the BBCs user testing guidelines. They specifically state:
Any user testing with 6-8 participants must include 1-2 participants with a disability.
They’re not hiding disabilities behind expensive accessibility testing, they tackel it head on with every single study they do. I strongly believe we should all be following that lead. By ignoring any form of accessibility considerations we’re essentially excluding 1/5 of adults from any study. Arguably making them invalid.
I’ve seen a number of sites which I knew would cause all kinds of accessibility issues. From low contrast text, to input methods which screen readers wouldn’t have a clue at how to interpret. Yet these issues will probably end up being a couple of sentences hidden somewhere in the report. Why? Because the client didn’t specifically ask for it. They asked for us to review one journey and according to that 1/5 statistic, we ignored most of the problems that 1/5 users will be experiencing. That’s just wrong.
As usability experts, it’s our job to change this and move accessibility testing from being something a few clients specifically ask for to something which is included in all testing as standard. It’s not even mentioned, just done. That’s a long way off, but we can’t keep ignoring the issue and burying our heads in the sand.
In my opinion we need to start educating clients on the amount of people using their services with disabilities and the steps they need to be taking to improve the experience for this large group of people. In the same way if a client came to you saying they don’t want a mobile site for no good reason, it’s part of our job to educate them on why people will be using their site on mobile devices and how improving the mobile experience wil aid their customers. The same principle should be applied to accessibility testing and including disabled participants in user testing.
As I said at the beginning, I’m still very new to all this, if you’ve got your own opinion or have a way of including accessibility testing at your organisation please get in touch. I need to learn more about this myself.
The Samsung Galaxy 3 has gotten a lot of attention recently, all of which I’ve generally ignored. The media will tell you it had more pre-orders than the iPhone. That’s fine, anyone can create a great advert, but creating a great product is a whole other ball game.
I was on the train this morning and the woman next to me fished a Galaxy 3 out her handbag with a pink leather case on it. Whenever people are using phones around me I have this instinct to just watch what they’re doing and formulate reasons why. Must be the inner user researcher trying to escape. Then I had a kind of epiphany:
Everyone knows the Galaxy 3 hasn’t been designed for humans, that’s just marketing people making stuff up. But they may have designed it incredibly well to suit the needs of the 21st century women.
I’m not a woman, so some sterotyping may follow. (You’ve been warned.)
Women keep their phones in handbags.
Unlike the male species who prefer to locate their phone their pocket, woman have them in a handbag with a million and one other things. Although iPhone sized devices fit perfectly in the male pocket, women have trouble finding them in amoungst all their other handbag essentials. They slip to the bottom and take an age to find. So the size really helps as the phone stays at the top because it’s too big to float down into the dark lower depths.
Women have nails
Unlike men, women have long nails. When using smaller sized devices these get in the way. They can’t see what key they’re pressing, what’s being typed in the box or where some buttons are. By having a gigantic display women can use the device much more effectively as everything is much more spaced out so the nails aren’t such a big problem.
Women hold things differently
This is something I’ve noticed quite a bit lately. The majority of males tend to hold their device in one hand. Three fingers on the back, small finger providing support from below and thumb to interact with the display. Women in general however seem to use both hands. They tend to hold the device by the back in one hand then use the spare hand to interact with the display. This hence makes using a larger device much more comfortable than using the typical male holding technique.
Just an insight I had on the train which I thought I’d pen down on the internet.
Cold call recruitment emails for ‘UX people’ are common place in my inbox. Written by people who clearly have no idea what on earth they’re writing about, I often find reading them quite amusing. Here’s one I received today and what I think they really mean:
Hi Jack, I hope you are well.
My client is a central London based top fashion high street retailer looking for a UX Manager to join their team.
Salary up to £50k
Passionate about eCommerce and mobile user experience
Commercial knowledge – understands the relationship between site usability and trade performance
Can work cross functionally with visual designers, information architects and technical project managers
Understands technical constraints, and how these impact site functionality
Understanding of Usability and Accessibility in relation to online e-commerce environments
Strong track record in managing design agencies within an eCommerce environment, in user experience design, information architecture or eCommerce website management (gained agency or client side).
If this role is of interest to you and you feel you have the relevant agency experiance please send your CV and salary expectations to firstname.lastname@example.org immediatly and call 0123 345 6789
Leah (not real name)
Design Consultant (her real job title)
Here’s what she ment to write:
Hi Jack, you’ve no idea who I am, and I really couldn’t care less about who you are. Luckily you came up in my LinkedIn search, so I presumed the right to send you some spam which might help me get my bonus.
My client is a shop looking for a UX Manager. I have no clue what this is, and neither does my client. But they’ve been told they need some UX, so thought they should hire someone to manage it. Like you’d manage a saturday girl or a delivery I guess.
Niether of us have any idea how much we should be paying, so did a quick Google search and picked a salary which is about average for whatever it is you’re going to be doing.
Must know about websites, and we’d like someone that knows how you make small ones to go on phones.
Someone told my client adding UX to their site will make them sell more. You’ll need to know how to do this.
You’ll need to work with other people who have job titles which I’ve seen on other UX job postings.
Must not change too much, piss off our current web people or spend too much money. Just add UX, don’t go changing anything else.
Here are some other words which I’ve seen floating around. I’ll capitalise each of them so it looks like I know what I’m talking about.
The client doesn’t make the UX themselves so you’ll need experience in working with agencies who make UX or equivalent such as information architecture or website management.
I really hope you undertsand that, I have no clue what any of it means. Please email me your CV, I’ve seen other people ask for portfolios, but that just seems unnecessary and means I have to do more work. So just tell me how much money you want and I’ll pick the person who says the least.
In all seriousness, anyone have any idea what on earth a UX Manager would do day to day? Answers in a tweet please.
Everyone loves a good list, I have plenty of them spread across all manor of devices. Sometimes I even write them with a pen, on a form of writable material. Well hipster I know.
Thinking back to the digital lists, there’s a trend, and it’s a fantastic one. Too many software developers compete to add feature, after feature, after feature. Come the end you’re not really sure what it does anymore. Users can sometimes be to blame for this. They have this habit of requesting features, and sometimes you must sit back and say ‘no, that’s not what we do’.
The reverse though is swiping through the list ecosystem. It’s a marvel to watch. I’m now wondering how much more simplistic these lists can get.
It all started, where all good apps start, as a user hack of the iOS Notes app. People were using the notes app to write lists. I still do.
From my memory then Things came along, the biggest and best list or ‘task management’ app. It synced all your notes across all your devices. Amazing, but it costs £34.99, so a bunch of cheaper competitors sprung up jumping on the idea. None caught my attention.
Then came along Wunderlist, wunderchild of a Berlin startup. It was quite simply the most beautiful and simple list app I’d ever seen. To-this-day I’m still a massive fan of 6wunderkinder, the people behind Wunderlist. It pulled out all the guff out and really stripped down the list app. It was awesome, I didn’t think it could get better than this. It did.
Next came Clear. A fantastic list app with no buttons, just gestures. This blew up, to this day them promoting my blog post placed it amongst one of my most read posts. As soon as I saw it, I just knew it would be a hit. For most people something you’d download, use twice, then never use again. But it made them a ton of cash and got the developers a bunch of good PR. The point, they striped down the list app even more than I thought possible. That’s it surely, they’ve taken all the buttons out, you can’t get simpler than that. Well, gestures are actually fairly complicated. People just aren’t used to using them and Clear never got taken seriously.
Introducing Cheddar, seriously stripped down list app, I loved it, a few buttons, beautifully simple. Unfortunately I think there’s some user experience work to be done on it. I can’t always work out exactly how to do what I want, maybe because it’s too simplified, it could be awesome though. Check it out.
This evening a Twitter pal of mine launched Tudu. So simple he’s removed the need for the app. Designed to be used on your phone, it uses local storage to save your list data, so no accounts or profiles to worry about. Just a list. Awesome.
The challenge is on then. Who’ll be the next to launch an even simpler list?