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Preview: Demystifying Usability

Demystifying Usability

Uncovering and Exploring Usability Issues.............................

Updated: 2013-08-16T15:03:28-07:00


Avoiding Train wreck User Experiences


A UX train wreck is a user experience that makes you work- really work. UX that's so broken, it breaks you down psychologically or emotionally. In this post we'll explore some big trainwreck user experiences from Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. These companies do a lot of great UX work, but they also do some 'train wreck' ones that make for good learning. Do the opposite of these and you'll end up closer to an elegant user experience.

Designing for the multi-user: missed by Apple, Google and others


The iPad is a multi-user device according to industry reports. But you wouldn't know it from picking up even the latest generation iPad, especially if you are a physician or business user handling sensitive data. The design approach of designing for lone users misses out on a fundamental nature of mobile devices: they are social. To design for the multi-user is to recognize this need for delivering a rich social user experience. Work-arounds to accommodate...

Are your users dumb or are your designers the dummies?


Stupid userIn this post, we'll explore the basic user experience skill of not taking for granted what your users can do. Why is this important? If your assumptions about your users are incorrect, you'll make unwise design decisions...and you'd never want to do that now, would you?!

Does it take Einstein to design for the most important task?


It was Albert Einstein's birthday yesterday, and to celebrate I wanted to share this excellent example of outstanding task-oriented design from Einstein Healthcare Network. What makes me dedicate an entire blog post to's home page? The courage that I believe is reflected in the home page layout choices.

Dr. Seuss on iPad usability


It's Dr. Seuss's birthday today! It's been a few years since I celebrated the good doctor with Dr. Seuss's ode to usability. This time I created the Dr. Seuss iPad usability version to summarize some key points in my upcoming web seminar: iPad Usability: 10 design rules that improve iPad user adoption Dr. Seuss on iPad Usability Swiping, tapping, tipping, topping…Hoping that your app is popping? Users here, users there, users installing apps everywhere. The...

Should your UX person act as Product Owner in Agile?


The Agile development Product Owner role is strategically suited to be owned by the User Experience team or person supporting the project. Since a PO carries a great deal of responsibility, it may be more prudent to share the role with the UX, thereby offering shared control and collaboration- a key feature of Agile team organizations.

Get ready for these new User Interface innovations


City Wall 3D interfaceThe annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2012 just wrapped up in Las Vegas and while word has it there were not many surprises, user experience (UX) and new user interfaces (UI's) were an underlying theme. It's good to see UX on the brain: It shows it is becoming widely understood that the key to user adoption with new technology demands a calculated obsession about your user experience. So what trends and themes can you take away from this year's CES on the user interface front?

Does Agile move too fast for Usability?


Agile's defining characteristic is speed. Unlike other software development methodologies (like Waterfall) that work in timeframes of months, Agile timelines are measured in weeks (2-4 typically) with actual code developed for each 'sprint'. Is Agile's rapid and fixed development deadlines and deliverables conducive of usability activities? In short

Social Circles- the beginning of the intelligent social interface?


The recent release of Google's social circles (part of the new 'Google +' social network) is particularly exciting since I think it constitutes a social interface that accounts for real-world considerations.

10 years in pursuit of exceptional user experience


Experience Dynamics celebrates its tenth birthday this year. It was Spring of 2001 that Frank Spillers founded Experience Dynamics together with Alison Gavine. In this post come with me on a stroll through our high points, the industry and the road ahead. We've been determined from the beginning to deliberately stay focused on the cognitive and emotional aspects of user experience (the stuff that really matters in design) over the draw of offering development or...

Figuring out how to deal with Stupid Users


There's a common belief that the problem with errors users make with Web sites or Web apps has to do with differing intelligence levels.Some users even blame themselves for being dumb. "Sorry about this", I was told by an IT manager at a major financial institution, "It's just that our users are lazy and stupid". If only, we could blame intelligence, IQ or motivation! Waiting for smart users to use your design is like trying...

Is your design Evolutionary or Revolutionary?


Sometimes some of the best usability advice comes from users directly. In some recent usability testing, a user said something which I found very perceptive.

My top 3 User Experience Blog posts of 2010


If you read nothing else on Demystifying Usability last year, read these top 3 blog posts from 2010...

User Experience Calendar 2011- shipping now!


I'm happy to announce our new User Experience Calendar for 2011 is ready to ship!

Design technique: use containership to shape user experience


Containership is a useful design technique that can help you direct your user's attention and shape their experience.

Design and Emotion: Designing for Mood


Most of the Design and Emotion community focus is on emotion and bypasses mood. The main reason is that emotion in design can be measured, mood is not so easy. However this doesn't excuse the lack of effort- mood is as powerful as

Do top and bottom Web page toolbars add Clutter?


In the past few years toolbars have started to appear on popular social networking websites like Facebook; product review sites like CNET; news sites like Reuters and the Huffington Post and social tool services like HootSuite. Today, it seems more Web page-level toolbars are inhabiting our screens. The result: less control of the web page, the session or the redirect experience...and a more cluttered web browsing session.

New Study- Gender differences in Web Usability


Comscore just released a new study yesterday (June 30 2010) entitled Women on the Web: How Women are Shaping the Internet. The worldwide study adds some key insights into the growing research on gender differences on the Web and in particular around social networking usage. Why is this a big deal?

5 Task-Centered Design Patterns Competitors are Employing to Out-gun Your Design


How well you get your customers to their destinations with your design, and help users do what they need to do, is the difference that makes a difference in customer experience. If you are not doing it well, I guarantee you your competitors are or are trying to find a way to. In this post, I'll cover 5 strategic patterns that you need to lead the pack. What is Task-Centered Design? Task-Centered Design or Task-Oriented...

Facebook's Privacy FAIL: Lessons for Designing Privacy in Social Networks


Facebook has dominated the tech news this month since their April 2010 launch of the Open Graph. The problem stems from the new platform changes extending Facebook's ongoing bad habit of violating users actual or perceived privacy. Facebook's problem with privacy has been both a business and a design problem. Today, Facebook held a press conference announcing major changes to their privacy policy in addition to what looks like a significant change in Facebook leadership's...

5 Problems with Borrowing Design Ideas from Apple (and others)


"Imitation is the highest form of flattery" the saying goes. The problem with borrowing design and user interface metaphors from other applications, websites or brands is that what works in one place might not work in another. In this post we'll look at the pitfalls of copying design elements from other designs and what to do instead.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! (usability ode to the good doctor)


Today is Dr. Seuss's birthday! Originally written in 2001, this is still timely and captures the consequences of poor user experience:

The Science of Fun: How Fun Helps Improve Your Design


Fun is important to design usability (Monk et al 2002; Overbeeke et. al. 2002; Hazzenzahl and Burmester 2001). Fun activates several important cognitive processes, known for centuries from games we have created and played. Think of a fun game you lasted played...These same processes make fun an important design usability tool.

User Experience Calendar for 2010...Just Released!


Over at Experience Dynamics, we have just released our brand spanking new User Experience Calendar for 2010! The calendar has a theme for each month (14 months total) with a short usability meditation providing inspiration, food for thought and some some important concepts for those minding the user experience.

Making Things Easier with Tablet computing?


In summary, I am optimistic that the next generation of tablets will bring better user experience. To achieve this goal, focusing on the total tablet user experience will be crucial. Hardware and software, tablet and regular computing interfaces will have to dance around each other, sensing the user's needs. I don't think this is rocket science but it will require addressing the issues raised above. With Apple competing in a once Microsoft-only space, it should get interesting.

The Real-Time Web- thoughts on delivering the Real-Time user experience


On of the interesting developments in content delivery for the Web is what's being called the "real-time" Web. The implications for user experience design are substantial.

What's next in mobile user experience? Augmented Reality


A recent spate of game-changing applications for mobile devices have been emerging over the past few weeks and months. Their defining characteristic? Real-time global positioning providing helpful data overlays, or so-called Augmented Reality displays.

7 Steps to Avoiding User Adoption Problems with Site Redesigns


When you redesign a new site, how do you know users are going to like it? How can you ensure that you know how the redesign will sit with existing as well as new users? Earlier this year, Facebook faced this dilemma when 1.7 million of their uses started a group called Petition Against the New Facebook. The purpose of the group was to boycott the redesign changes Facebook unleashed upon its users: "I dislike...

Privacy: your biggest user experience challenge


"We are all in the privacy business". This was my general conclusion when working on next generation usability for the popular directory look-up portal website (used by 200 million adults in the US). It doesn't matter what your website does online, if it involves giving consumers information, you are in the privacy business first and foremost. What does this mean? Privacy is one of the biggest concerns users bring to the Web experience. It...

How relying on 'user education' is a failed strategy


Maybe you have heard the saying "we'll take care of that in user training". The notion that problems users have can be resolved by user training is severely flawed. Yet entire departments rally around this belief and worse many companies seem to wrap product management around it. The idea that you can educate users about how to use a user interface is misguided. The goal of usability is to create intuitive user interfaces. Intuitive means...

Competitor designs: The danger of borrowing across contexts


The Internet is great for taking a rapid look at what your competitors might be doing as you design a user interface. While this is a valuable learning opportunity, it can also be dangerous and inappropriate for your design. The biggest problem I have found, is that user interface approaches or design elements do not carry neatly across contexts. Each design context is unique. By design context I mean a few things: Brand experience: Each...

President Obama: Vision for Usability?


Usability awareness back in the White House? Obama is already being described as the Internet President. Will his Internet savvy include an agenda for usability? If so, what might that agenda include? In this post I explore these questions, connect some dots and present some potential solutions for how Obama's technology goals are linked deeply to harnessing usability best practices. Tech innovators get excited Late in the election season, Silicon Valley expressed its joy that...

Intro to Emotion Design- Pleasurability and Emotional Design


Here is a recording from a live usability seminar I gave a few weeks ago on the topic of emotion design and pleasurability. (Sign up at the bottom of that page to our usability research newsletter to be alerted to upcoming free usability seminars like this)... In the age of the iPhone, emotion in design is heating up as a competitive differentiator. Products that deliver a compelling and elegant user experience are characterized by their...

Usability 2.0?


I gave a two day workshop on User Experience best practices in Web 2.0 at Gallup (yes, the polling organization) in Omaha last week. Here's a slide from the seminar I thought you might find interesting capturing Usability 2.0 (whatever that is). It is a take on the infamous O'Reilly diagram capturing Web 2.0 concepts. My favorite is"iphone like magic" because I have had clients asking for web applications with that description. BTW, my definition...

8 Things you need to know about improving online experience- new study


A new study (July 2008) entitled 'Factors that Improve online experience' by Sathish Menon and Michael Douma from the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement offers key insights on the current state of online user experience. The study reinforces known usability truths, sheds light on user perceptions but more interestingly points to disconnects between designers and users. The study surveyed perceptions, expectations and practices across various audiences and contrasted the results. The key findings and what...

What color do you like? The usability of look and feel (strategy with icons, images, branding elements)


The graphical or visual aspects of an interface are the most easily recognizable. They require no methodology (Graphic design vs usability) or design distinctions, (What is design?). Everyone from CEO to programmer can understand an interface by it's visual treatment. For some the interface is "eye-candy" and for others representative of organized emotional response and visual perception. Oftentimes, the confusion over who dictates the design can lead to confusion and often a gratuitous use of...

Design Like You Give a Damn!- Sustainable Design


Design Like You Give a Damn is the name of a really great book on architectural responses to humanitarian crises. The book details design projects around the world from the ecologically dry toilet to the hippo water roller. Sustainable design is also the theme of an aerial dance and acrobatics show my daughter plays a part in that's premiering in Portland this month, called ¡Entusiasmo!, a true story of Gaviotas, Columbia. The show is written...

"Forcing functions"- interaction design technique, used but not widely understood


What is a forcing function? A forcing function is a constraint where the user "is forced" to complete a task based on a limited, paired down set of features or controls. Forcing functions help streamline, simplify or minimize how a user interacts with a design. Designers benefit from this interaction design technique by reducing navigation redundancy, task effort and the complexity caused by "feature frenzy" (see my previous article on feature creep). Not all forcing...

Warning: Third-party Usability is Bad for your Health


There is a huge problem in the software and web services industry: 3rd party applications, widgets, dashboards or site add-ons can kill your usability efforts. Poor user experiences with 3rd-party applications can undermine or make your usability efforts look bad. Vendors such as PeopleSoft, Vignette and many others are notorious for providing "clunk-ware", "vapor-ware" or "sneaker-ware" as one of our clients at Experience Dynamics put it. Let's explore why this is a major problem that...

AJAX Usability Checklist (Free holiday bonus for our readers)


This Ajax Usability Checklist is a bonus guide that accompanies my AJAX Usability Seminar, I am offering it in the form of this post as a bonus for readers- thanks for your support! The Web is changing fast. New standards are emerging, new approaches to coding such as Scriptaculous, AJAX, Ruby, Flash/Flex, Silverlight and others are creating a leap-frog situation where many new websites, web apps and portals are implementing next year's User Interface elements....

What is Design? (Yes, all 10 definitions!)


When the term design is used it can mean many things, depending on who you are and which conversation you are having. Rarely do people stop to compare 'mental maps' and clarify which type of design they are talking about! I believe this has to do with the multiple definitions of design and the lack of awareness of each specific type of design, its function and timing in a process. The other factor being how...

Multi-modal design: Gesture, Touch and Mobile big thing?


It's great to see excitement building for the Apple iPhone (launch expected late June '07). Korea's LG Prada, an iPhone competitor product, launched a few months ago in the UK. Just this week a new touch screen device- Taiwan's HTC Touch was announced for release immediately in the UK and later this year in the US. The hot attraction of course with the iPhone, the Prada and the Touch is that they offer touch and...

Is Google's business model Progressive Disclosure??


Quick Google user, you need to look up a measurement; phone numer; UPS tracking code; address; mathematical formula ..."Didn't you know Google had a tool for that?" Yes, Google has a tool for everything these days it seems, but it's not a consistent tool kit. Sometimes you get it and oftentimes you don't. Is that why Google doesn't promote what I call their "world of widgets" (WoW's)? How is it some people know the secret...

"Feature frenzy"- 10 tips to getting feature creep under control


Why the (feature) frenzy? Historically, marketing says "software sells with more features" (or perceived features). There is a psychology (especially true in the United States) that the more you get when you buy something, the better the purchase decision. Unfortunately, added 'bells and whistles' might feel like a better deal, but can turn into a nightmare when you (or your user) sit down with the software and use it. A few words about features Features....

Is Usability a Public Relations problem?


It will be if you don't do something about it. At Experience Dynamics, (a Portland, Oregon usability consultancy) we recently helped one of our Fortune 10 clients with some usability testing on a product that was actively being improved for usability. The client pointed us to a blog entitled "Worst Experience Ever" where the blogger recited his experience with the actual process the program manager was interested in usability testing. This blogger's posting had drawn...

Personas LIVE! Transcript- Interview with Frank Spillers, Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt


The following is a transcript of a live interview with Persona book authors John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin, conducted by Frank Spillers in October 2006. This seminar is available with the slides and audio presentation here (requires brief registration, privacy protected). Transcript of Personas LIVE!: This interview follows the publication of Adlin and Pruitt's personas book, "The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design"- published earlier this year... Frank Spillers Welcome... For...

Usability Testing methods- What are we observing and why? (World Usability Day 2006 Event)


Next week is World Usability Day, a day when the usability community gets out to raise awareness and visibility about the field and goals of usability engineering and user centered design. "World Usability Day 2006 promotes the value of usability engineering and user-centered design and the belief that every user has the responsibility to ask for things that work better". (from the WUD site) Here are a couple of items related to World Usability Day...

What is Emotion Design? (A practical definition)


Two years ago, after returning from the Design and Emotion conference, I shared an extensive post on Emotion Design, a topic that has a lot of potential to open up new conversations about user experience and usability. This week, the fifth conference, Design and Emotion 2006 takes place in Göteborg, Sweden. Since I wanted to attend the conference this year but couldn't, here is a practical definition of design and emotion that I hope you...

The Importance of User Experience- the Poster!


The Importance of User Experience Here's a poster that reflects some thoughts about user experience...all of the bottom row items (outcomes of positive user experiences) in the poster are based on empirical research. Let's review some of that research, a brief glimpse at the science behind what the poster is communicating... About the poster project and translations into many languages below all these quotes (bottom of the post)... Elements that contribute to a positive user...

Designing for the "Average User"


User advocacy is one of the central goals of usability. User advocacy can be defined as the process an IT professional (with an interest in user experience) goes through in re-sensitizing herself to the world of the "average user". Usability expert reviews are largely an exercise in user advocacy, in addition to an analysis of known usability issues and problems based on knowledge of User Interface Style Guide abnormalities. So. why do we forget about...