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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How to design a great product which delivers Wow!

Great Products are a result of a design process which understands that users should get two essential values out of a product.

1. An emotional value (“Wow! I love my iPhone”)
2. A utilitarian value (“A mobile phone…wow, now I can call my friends from anywhere!”).

These are linked so closely with each other that you just can’t have one, without having at least ‘One’ other one!

Now question comes how do you deliver the Emotional and Utilitarian value? Well there are three ways (Which again are related);

Aesthetics

The product looks good, is “fun” to interact with, has smooth transition, a “clean” layout, is symmetrical, feels “professional”, and has a “cool” factor associated with it, etc.

Functionality

It just does things I really value. For example, I value that I can scan my laptop for viruses, though I find it extremely hard how to do so, but I do value that I can do this!

Usability

The way functionality is delivered. Is it effective, efficient, satisfying, and simple?

Majority of the IT companies, and now even the mobile companies focus on the utilitarian value of a product, and the functionality of the product.

They are forced to sneak in as many ‘Functionality Feature’ in a release as they can; since this is the way ‘Success’ is measured for them.

Apple never re-invented the features of a Phone! They just made the experience beautiful!

On the other hand Samsung did the opposite…adding features [primarily of very less usage] will give them success in short run…but the way experience is delivered – it’s a Steve Baby!

I mean its tough for companies too, cut throat competition, a mindset, which puts more emphasis on ‘Features’ and less on ‘Experience’; the companies are forced to follow the path!

A great product delivers a user experience that combines aesthetics, functionality and usability to meet both the user’s emotional and utilitarian needs. So next question is

How do we do it?

I would call it a ‘Fiver’

Expertise – Have in house expertise, or call upon Expert!

Techniques – Use Appropriate techniques!

Leadership and Culture – Appreciate value of UX from business point of view!

Processes – Define processes!

Perspective – Apply principles and process in the broad perspective!

And You?

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

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.