Usability Mistakes – Assumptions and Solutions!

Too Many clicks!

What makes any software usable be it a healthcare, Retail, or say Airlines industry?

The message that product gurus are receiving from users is clear – many of today’s solutions are perceived as non-intuitive, with the potential to confuse workflow and slow down their practice. Organizations that focus on product usability are gaining competitive advantage by showcasing success stories of innovative design, ease of adoption, and long-term satisfaction.

Having worked on few products; I have come across quite a few Assumptions. We in this 4 part series will talk through these assumptions and try and see if we can have a solution around these assumptions!

Assumption 1: All info at single screen

Majority of the times it is assumed that information presented by a software product should be
visible on a single screen!

The question that comes with this assumption is how come in the world the huge amount of data can be presented into one screen without making it cluttered?

This is a classic user interface problem. Typically, this type of observation stems from prior experiences in
which the user was forced to hunt for information.

Usability Mistakes

Usability Mistakes

Users become frustrated when they can’t find the information they are looking for. And this results in the assumption that the solution to their problem is to have all of the information available “up front” so that they don’t have to search for it.

But this approach is not a correct one! It has its own flaws…a single UI screen simply just can’t have enough space to house all information.Even if you somehow are able to adjust the data in one screen, this would end up making the scree or page cluttered!

What I feel we never understand what exactly user is looking for; To me they are really asking for the ability to obtain the information they are looking for in a

quick, non-stressful fashion

You can only help them do this if you understand the common tasks performed by your users and the terminology that they use in their work day.

  • Reserve dashboards for primary tasks only

If you design the dashboards without formal user research and usability testing, you would see cluttered dashboards / main screens on almost every product.
Once you understand the users’ workflow, you would discover that users have a distinct set of primary and secondary tasks. They may look for some information quite a few times per day, while they may only want to access other information once a day or once a week.

The key is to ensure that the information can be found and accessed in a logical fashion and displayed at the right time.

Research has shown that if the path to the desired information is clear and obvious, a user will not mind navigating two or three pages “deep” as long as they know that they are on the right track.

It is therefore important to design the interface in a way that

  • reduces the time for a user to think about where to go
  • moves them through the interface in a logical fashion.

If users become confused about where to look for information or the time it takes to return to that information, they will become frustrated and their confidence in the solution will be shaken.

A desired page might be just one or two clicks away, but if users do not see a logical path to that information, they often assume that it is not available – or simply give up before finding it.

We will talk about few more mistakes that a user would do in our upcoming posts! Till then ‘Don’t let your users think!’

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Complexity a necessary evil in UX

You don’t have to be a UX practitioner to understand that simplicity is a good thing; no one goes around the office saying, “Alright team, let’s make this application really, really complex!”

Removing that layer of confusion to make the user’s goals easy to achieve means making things simple and clear. However, removing confusion doesn’t always mean removing complexity—it’s somewhat of a grey area. Sometimes complexity actually isn’t such a bad thing. In this article we’ll examine some of the many faces of complexity and explore the balance we need to find for successful solutions.

Is Simplicity Overrated?

Imagine looking at a sky that’s completely clear and compare that with a sunset with a variety of colors, layered with clouds, and the beams of sunlight striking the sky. One view would seem less interesting or not as photo-worthy.

Although most people would say they seek simplicity in life and products, our actions say something different. We actually enjoy, and at times prefer, complex things.

In some cultures complex products are more appealing than products that appear simple. In South Korea, for example, products like refrigerators are designed to appear more complex than non-Korean ones, even when the prices and specifications are very similar, because that complexity is equated with sophistication and value, and is thus a symbol of prosperity.

Simple vs. complex blender controls

Think about how we compare products when looking to make a purchase—we examine the features. Can this blender do the same things as this other blender, and more?

A “simple” blender might seem like it doesn’t do as much as a similarly priced one with fewer controls, making it perceptively less valuable to consumers. Even if the simplicity is intended to make the device easier to use, if it diminishes the consumer’s sense of the blender’s value and the manufacturer’s ability to sell it, then simplicity in this case is bad.

The Appearance of Complexity

In design and UX, a simple-looking approach generally receives more praise than a complex-looking one. Google is often held up as an exemplar of simplicity. Even though the back-end workings of Google are incredibly complex, a search engine’s UI inherently lends itself to simplicity; the interface doesn’t require much in the way of controls or content. Simplicity of use sometimes is confused with taking a minimalist approach in the UI design.

Comparing the context and purpose to other sites reveals more about the apparent simplicity of Google. Google is a search engine whereas Yahoo! and MSN are Web directories—two different types of tool that require two different approaches to the UI. Donald Norman explains why these other tools seem more complex than Google:

Why are Yahoo! and MSN such complex-looking places? Because their systems are easier to use. Not because they are complex, but because they simplify the life of their users by letting them see their choices on the home page: news, alternative searches, other items of interest.

The appearance of simplicity in physical products can also be deceptive. Consider ice skates or a guitar; it’s obvious from their appearance how they’re meant to be used. But it takes years to learn to use them well. Their lack of controls and few moving parts decreases their apparent complexity, but actually means they’re more complex to operate. A jump in ice skating or strumming a melody on a guitar requires a complex range of actions on the part of the user.

If your UI even vaguely resembles an airplane cockpit, yo're doing it wrong - John Gruber

As John Gruber of Daring Fireball said, “If your UI even vaguely resembles an airplane cockpit, you’re doing it wrong.” The cockpit of an airplane certainly is as complex-looking as interfaces can get. When we see an interface or product that appears complex, we assume it must be difficult to use. But to assume that a complex-looking interface means it is difficult to use disregards the goal and tasks involved that a user may require of the interface.

Presenting Information

How information is presented in the UI is an important consideration. There are two important concepts presented by Edward Tufte that relate to how we present the visual layer of interface:

Adjacent in Space vs. Stacked in Time

Adjacent in space is taking elements of an application and positioning them all on the same screen. Depending on the information and number of features an application has, it can make the screen appear more, or less, complex. An airplane cockpit is an extreme example of this approach. It makes all of the controls readily available to pilots and keeps critical readouts and important data ready at hand to help pilots make quick decisions. The adjacent in space UI approach gives more immediate power and control. It also reduces the need for navigation between screens to reach additional functionality, speeding up interactions.

Stacked in time is splitting the functionality up into several screens or layers, like a story being spread across pages in a book rather than crammed into a single long page. This approach can reduce the chance of the users making a mistake by guiding them down clear path. It also offers a gradual engagement, showing and hiding controls so only the necessary UI/information is displayed, reducing the perceptive complexity of the UI. It can allow more screen space for feedback and guidance for the user, and can allow for a more aesthetically pleasing and/or branded experience. The stacked in time approach tends to make an application less intimidating and doesn’t overwhelm the user with choices.

The adjacent in space and stacked in time approaches each has its own trade-offs. In most cases placing too many elements on screen at the same time creates unnecessary complexity. Not all controls are needed at once, so they should only be presented when needed. However, a stacked in time approach also can become overwhelming to a user if not executed correctly. If the features aren’t mapped in logical paths or are split across too many layers, users might not be able to quickly find what they need. This is especially apparent on smaller screens for devices.

When Less is More… Confusing

The amount of data that needs to be presented affects the perceived complexity of applications. When creating a UI, generally speaking, having as few elements as possible on screen is usually the best approach. Simplifying UIs by removing unneeded navigation and UI elements is important to creating focus. But in some cases, it’s more important to keep a higher level of information density. As Tufte explains, “Small screens, as on traditional cell phones, show very little information per screen, which in turn leads to deep hierarchies of stacked-up thin information—too often leaving users with ‘Where am I? puzzles. Better to have users looking over material adjacent in space rather than stacked in time.”

iPhone and Windows phone information resolution comparison

This need for balance was made clear in a recent comparison of the interfaces of the iPhone and the forthcoming Windows 7 Series Phone. The Windows phone takes a more minimal approach with the UI, reducing the amount of content that can be displayed in one screen. In some cases, the Windows phone requires one or two extra steps (or taps) to get to the information, whereas the iPhone reveals it immediately because of its higher information density.

The navigation in an application should propel the user toward his goal rather than act as a barrier created just to satisfy an aesthetic requirement for a simpler-looking UI. Simplification in UI design should be focused on reducing “computer administrative debris” while keeping the focus of the interface on content and information.

Complex Tasks Are Complex

Simplicity allows many applications to be powerful. The UIs are not clouded with unnecessary controls. They are focused on specific tasks and don’t get in the way by forcing the user to do too much at once. There are some occasions, though, that the normal workflow for a particular set of users is complex. Therefore, it can be expected that the application that controls these types of tasks will be more complex.

In fact, a complex UI can sometimes be exactly what the user needs. For example, a dashboard that displays visualizations of large data sets can only ever be complex because its purpose is complex.

The cockpit analogy needs to be viewed from the perspective of a trained pilot. The complexity of this interface is necessary because the task of flying a plane is quite complex. One would not expect to be able to fly a 187,000 pound hunk of metal from one end of the globe to another with one button. Pilots would lose control of the system if it were heavily automated and the interface were highly abstracted. Removing all the controls and distilling them down too far for the sake of simplicity alone would come at a very high cost.

References

  1. Simlicity is Highly Overrated – Don Norman
  2. Google Says “More is More” – Luke Wroblewski
  3. The Truth About Google’s So Called “Simplicity” – Don Norman
  4. The Psychology of Everyday Things
  5. How Bad Is Bad? – Daring Fireball
  6. Learning from “bad” UI – 37Signals
  7. iPhone Interface Design – Edward Tufte
  8. Information Resolution on the Windows Phone 7 Series – Luke Wroblewski
  9. About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design – Alan Cooper
  10. Why is 37 Signals so arrogant? – Don Norman
Image Credits

How to handle clients with varied sense of UX

An excellent article, which explains in detail about how to handle various clients depending non their  ‘Usability and or UX’ understanding.

Project management, and UX strategy to me, these fields are inextricably linked as part of the planning phase of any project.

In this article let’s learn about how to introduce two things:

  1. A governance framework that walks through the value of UX during various stages of a project.
  2. Hurdles UX strategists face, and how to overcome them.

Experience Design Process

The following presentation outlines the various documents that can be created during the planning phase of any project. Although it’s rare that all of these documents would be required, a number of them will be useful for every project. It’s a good template to reference on every project to ensure you’re setting the project up for success.

The Experience Design Framework

With the planning phase defined, the role of a UX specialist often gets forgotten. Throughout the project lifecycle, a UX specialist can be invaluable to the success of a project. In this document, I describe how to integrate the role of a UX specialist into every phase of a project, regardless of the project management methodology used.

The UX Project Lifecycle

Clip from The UX Project Lifecycle
(Download PDF – 61kb)

External UX Hurdles

Risk-averse client

Hurdle: Risk-Adverse Client

Issue: A Risk-Adverse Client is a common issue that pops up on many projects. The client will push back on any innovative solutions, and will not want to commit to a single solution without testing, written rationale, or other 3rd party support.

Overcoming: The easiest way to overcome this is through upfront stakeholder interviews. If you detect a Risk-Adverse Client, you will need to probe for the root cause of their fear, and may need to perform upfront research or user testing to help assuage the client’s fear. Doing this upfront will do two things: 1) it’ll show you’re taking the client’s concerns seriously 2) it’ll prevent fears from inhibiting innovation further down the project pipeline.


New World Client

Hurdle: New World Client

Issue: It’s said that in 1492 when Columbus came to America, the native inhabitants were able to look out over the ocean, full of ships, and see nothing but water. They had never seen ships before; in fact, they’d couldn’t even dream of such things. The only way they knew a contingent was on approach was because of the ripples the ships caused in the ocean.

This is the same issue that New World Clients have. It’s known as perceptual blindness, and it’s contested whether or not it actually exists. In this case, New World Clients might push back or make unusual requests because they’re used to having things look, feel, and behave in a certain way and don’t know any other way to think.

Overcoming: Just like the first person to spot the ripples in the water, you need to get the New World Client to see that something new and important is on its way. Show them examples, prototypes, or any other materials that illustrate that what you’re proposing is right. New World Clients need special attention, but much of the attention should be given during the onboarding process.


Big-Eyed Client

Hurdle: Big-Eyed Client

Issue: Think kid in a candy store. The Big-Eyed Client wants everything, every feature you could name. A great indicator that you might have a Big-Eyed Client is vendor-itis; if your client has more than five vendors providing niche services on a single site, there’s a good chance you have a Big-Eyed Client. These clients will push for as many features as possible, regardless of the impact on user experience.

Overcoming: Again, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. In this case, prioritization and focus are key to reining in a Big-Eyed Client. This can be done in a number of ways: by prioritizing user flows, scenarios, user stories, or a feature list. Adaptive Path recounts this process in detail here starting on slide 52


Fox-in-the-Hen-House Client

Hurdle: Fox-in-the-Hen-House Client

Issue: This is an example of the Highest Paid Persons Opinion (HIPPO) effect, where a misinformed UX advocate holds an elevated position within an organization and can influence everyone else simply by offering his opinion. In many cases this type of client will offer outdated or misinterpreted information he’s read or heard from others. No client wants to create problems for the user; the Fox-in-the-Hen-House client believes what he’s saying is true, and will benefit the user.

Overcoming: Don’t argue a specific issue—you’ll never win. Even if you end up winning the issue at hand, you’ll have built animosity between yourself and the client. Instead, focus on imbuing the wisdom that a single solution isn’t right all the time, and that different contexts require adapting and manipulating solutions to improve an experience. Even banner ads worked until we realized users were developing banner blindness.


Can That Be Done Client

Hurdle: “Can That Be Done?” Client

Issue: In many (if not most) organizations, the client contact you’ll be interacting with will not be familiar with technological constraints. Additionally, he may not be familiar with emerging conventions and new types of tools and technology that are available. The issue this type of client will often create is one of hesitation; he’ll want to pass every innovative idea past their IT department. As we all know, IT departments can be the place where innovative ideas die.

Overcoming: Being able to navigate the pitfalls of an IT department is a skill few people possess. However, if you have access to a seasoned developer (or better, can develop a relationship with one of the developers within the IT department), you can utilize that person to communicate how a solution could be implemented.


Too Many Chefs Client

Hurdle: Too Many Chefs Client

Issue: When working with clients that are part of larger organizations, there may be a lot of stakeholders, all looking out for their own interests. In many cases, these varying interests conflict with one another, and prioritization of these interests becomes unmanageable.

Overcoming: Rather than trying to accommodate everyone, it’s best to take a two-step approach to preventing this issue:

  1. Produce a comprehensive content inventory either by auditing the existing site/app, or by developing a new one. This will help identify all the potential stakeholders. Tip: Add a responsibility column to your content inventory and get the client to fill it in. This should outline the business owner of each piece of content that will be created.
  2. Facilitate a prioritization breakout session with representation from all stakeholders to determine whose content will be considered mandatory on all shared content pages and modules.

Astronaut Client

Hurdle: Astronaut Client

Issue: The Astronaut Client is a visionary; he doesn’t want to get bogged down in details and knows what he wants when he sees it. This type of client, while open to innovation, is often only open to innovative ideas that mesh with his perception of his vision. A big issue I’ve run into with Astronaut Clients is that they often don’t want to review planning documents, but will reserve feedback for visual design.

Overcoming: A standard onboarding procedure should address this issue. The client should either be educated on the process they’ll be asked to run through, or asked to provide a proxy who can review and provide approval to elements the Astronaut Client doesn’t want to review.


Proxy Client

Hurdle: Proxy Client

Issue: A proxy client is generally a person who’s selected to represent the interest of another stakeholder because that stakeholder is too busy or unavailable to interface with you directly. This is an example of “broken telephone,” where an opportunity exists for the proxy client to misinterpret direction from the stakeholder due to a lack of background information.

Overcoming: Strong relationship management skills are required to overcome this issue. The easiest way to work with a Proxy Client is to ensure regular reviews are scheduled with all vested interests. When that is impossible, a governance document may need to be created to have some documentation on what elements the Proxy Client can approve, and what elements the Proxy will take back to the stakeholder for approval. Tip: Never allow the Proxy Client to present your work to the stakeholder. Whenever possible, present your own work.

Summary

If you use the Experience Design Framework, and follow the process laid out in the UX project lifecycle, you’ll experience far fewer hurdles. If you’re not able to do this for whatever reason, you’re likely to face some of these hurdles.

You’re now equipped with the tools you’ll need to combat the hurdles you may face from these types of clients. That said, you may face combination clients who have traits from several of the above types. If this is the case, you need to consider both your well being and your organization’s well being.

Ask yourself, “Is this work going to be worth the education and relationship management required to transform this client?” I’ve phrased this question deliberately, because I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to simply capitulate to every client whim, and you wouldn’t want to invest in a client that isn’t willing to produce quality work.

If it is worth the time and effort required, you may need to schedule an education session. Earlier this year I was hired as a consultant for a major Canadian financial institution where I was able to conduct such a workshop. It uncovered major organizational issues that couldn’t be corrected immediately, but caused stakeholders to be cognizant of their potential biases. These issues were also documented and raised to the corporate HR lead and the executive team. I was also invited to give a high-level presentation to the board of directors, who will be considering several proposals my team made.

This is all to say, if you’re a digital shop who’s working with a client, you have options to make your relationship much more valuable and fun. If you’re a marketer, consider hiring an agency that is capable of offering you the direction you need. If you’re hearing “yes” to all your ideas, or are being required to provide more direction that you believe should be required, you probably have an agency that doesn’t understand the nuances of UX strategy. If this is the case, consider hiring your own consultant to provide the project with guidance, or consider finding an alternate agency that can.

Risk in Being Precitable

Wow! What a day it has been. At times you stumble upon something, which…just end up filling such a huge gap…that you feel like taking leaps…and today was such day…

Carrying on the same…it’s been a long time, I wrote about UX and Predictability…this is in continuation of what we read earlier….

Let’s start with what are the underlying failures in Predictability:

Revealing the underlying causes of a failure in predictability.
  • Submerge yourself in the customer’s experience through a series of thorough contextual inquiries. Nothing beats true in situ (observing customers doing things in the field) feedback from people who are living it.
  • For longer processes, consider a diary study where real customers record their thoughts and feelings for you and report in regularly.
  • Consider secret shopping the experience yourself and documenting it as you go.
  • Map this data into an end-to-end journey and define the major phases with the smaller phases contained within them.
  • Note break points where customers expected something different than what they got.
Rinse and repeat with the business
  • Submerge yourself in the business process by following it from beginning to end.
  • Interview the key stakeholders to understand how this process came to be, and the reasons behind it.
  • Spend time with the employees who actually implement the process and document the ways that they enforce or deviate from it when necessary.
  • Map this data into a complete journey and define major phases with the smaller phases and tasks contained within each.
Along with Predictability comes the RISK:

The Risks of Predictability

There is very little in the design world where a “one size fits all” approach is best. Predictability as the basic design element of customer experience is no exception. It comes with a price tag, since there can be downsides when predictability is at the core of an experience.

Stifling innovation

Predictability can stifle innovation when standards aren’t questioned and progressed. This introduces your first risk. Before Apple introduced the iPod click wheel and iTunes, every MP3 player had the same user experience dating back to the VHS era. Would Apple have taken a leading position if the standard had prevailed and they never pioneered their new intuitive interaction and enhanced service offer?

Apple was able to be different without losing its competitiveness through introducing learnable interface and new service model that was significantly better than the standards at the time.

Now here is another element, the Predictability raises the concern for ‘Raising Expectations’
Raising expectations

A common example of this is timetables. If the timetable states the bus should be at your stop at 7:45am, even a 10-minute wait can feel excruciating. Yet, we all know that the bus timetable has factors beyond the control of the bus company. City Council in Queensland is moving away from timetables for high frequency buses to combat customers’ inevitable disappointment. Instead, these services are based on frequency and operating time, e.g., the service runs every five minutes between 7-9am and 4-6pm weekdays . This focuses the customer’s attention on the likely wait time, rather than on an exact minute of arrival.

For your Businesses:

Ask the right people

Start at your call center. When predictability breaks down your call center staff is the emergency crew that handles it.

  1. Have support staff track the number of calls for the process in question and the overall reason for the call:
    1. Customer didn’t understand the product functions or features.
    2. Customer didn’t understand the process.
    3. Customer had unrealistic expectations of time and number of steps.
    4. Customer was surprised by the bill, cost, or fees.
  2. If a large volume of support calls fit the above issues, then there is likely a predictability problem to be addressed.

Credits: UxMag

How to Achieve Predictability

Make it intuitive

It is critical to remember that predictability is about the ability of customers to foresee the future course of events as they interact with a company. It’s more than merely being consistent.

Some companies attempt to resolve this by educating customers about how their internal processes work. But this tactic is a poor fix because they’re just trying to get customers to think like them. The correct solution is to understand what customers expect and then align internal practices with that. When customers experience this, they often report that the experience felt “intuitive” and went exactly as they had hoped.

The best way to understand the predictability is to understand the Mental model of the customer. This mental model is something, which a customer expects your product to behave in a specific pattern. If you ever want to improve predictability you need to understand why customers call customer service or go online for help, as these are instances where their mental models don’t match the product or service model—in other words, they can not predict how the thing works.

Analyzing service calls or online forums and bringing the issues to the development team is one way to start putting predictability back into the user experience.

And I guess this is where DoCoMo has done a great job. They introduced the notion of one touch customer care and quite a bit intuitive plans.

Plantronics InstantMeeting does a great job in understanding the mental of consumer. Have a look at this amazing video

This is absolutely what most of the people suffer, and as their VP, GM Gunjan Bhow puts it: Its a one click solution to all your conference problems. For more on InstantMeeting please visit: http://instantmeeting.plantronics.com

Being Predictable: The First Essential Of A Customer Centric Business

Have you ever walked up to a door and grasped the doorknob expecting that familiar turn, click, and open, only to be startled when it did not operate as you expected? Recently a visitor to a hotel described how a closet in his room had a doorknob that looked like it should turn, but did not. Instead the knob was simply screwed in and the door held shut by a magnet. He described how that bothered him and that he never got used to it. Every time he went to use that door it bothered him. Its behavior was unpredictable, both in its lack of intuitiveness and its inconsistency with every other “door experience” he’d ever had.

Many customers are not satisfied with their service providers or with the products that they use because of a lack of predictability.

Many organizations large and small lose business as they fail to deliver a predictable experience to their customers. Common examples include inconsistent levels of knowledge among staff, unintuitive products, and poor management of customer expectations. Predictability is underrated.