It won’t have escaped your notice that despite many companies investing in user experience, everyday consumer products still have the ability to frustrate the living daylights out of people. I argue this is because marketing teams, influenced by big retailers, unwittingly block the design team’s view of the end user.
If you’re a user experience manager (or just like to take a strategic view), start here. This eBook contains 78 pages of real-world help on subjects like recruiting UX staff, selling usability and institutionalising usability in your organisation.
If you’ve been tasked with running a usability test, then you’ll love this instructional guide. Aimed at people about to moderate their first usability test, this graphic instruction guide covers the essential techniques you’ll need to moderate a usability test. Free to newsletter subscribers.
ISO 9241 is widely cited by user experience experts who would be hard pushed to name any other standard — but all most usability professionals know about the standard is its name. This eBook describes each of the published parts of ISO 9241 in detail. £9.
This eBook contains all you need to make sure that you’re fully prepared for your next usability test. The document includes easy to customise usability test forms, such as screeners, a discussion guide, questionnaires and data logging sheets. £9.
Targeted at both new and experienced users of Morae, Morae for Usability Practitioners is a step-by-step guide to using Morae to plan, execute and analyse usability tests. Packed with insider tips and expert advice, this guide will help you use Morae to its full potential. £9.
User Experience Research articles & resources
1 Oct 2012 – There are two different types of usability test and each has different aims. Which test you choose will have implications for the number of participants you test, the methodology you use and the way you log, analyse and present the data.
3 Sept 2012 – A common concern of people running usability tests is that sooner or later they’ll run into a difficult participant. Who are these difficult characters and how can we prevent them from being a problem?
6 August 2012 – Without a clear understanding of a research problem one cannot expect customer or user research to deliver useful findings. Here are five things you can do to help better define a research problem and sharpen your research question.
2 July 2012 – Here are 6 steps for benchmarking your user experience designs against your client’s business objectives. The same approach works whether your clients are internal to your organisation or external. The approach works for web sites, mobile apps, desktop software, intranets, consumer products, even services.
1 May 2012 – It’s easy to create a mobile prototype on a desktop computer. What’s not quite so easy is to usability test the prototype and still allow the participant to use mobile interaction gestures like long presses and two finger pinches. We can overcome this obstacle by combining Axure’s mutually exclusive non-conditional cases with Wizard of Oz usability testing.
5 March 2012 – In ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries describes a design process to help manage risk when developing new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This article describes three established user experience techniques we can use to support this design process: narrative storyboarding; paper prototyping; and the Wizard of Oz.
4 October 2011 – The parallels between good research and good detective work are striking. In this article we take a close look at what user experience researchers can learn from the investigative methods used by detectives. And, in the spirit of all the best detective stories, we draw an important conclusion: if you want to become a better researcher you should learn to think like a detective.
1 September 2011 – When properly carried out, usability reviews are a very efficient way of finding the usability bloopers in an interface. But there are four common mistakes made by novice reviewers: failing to take the user’s perspective; using only a single reviewer, rather than collating the results from a team; using a generic set of usability principles rather than technology-specific guidelines; and lacking the experience to judge which problems are important.
7 March 2011 – Many usability tests are worthless. Researchers recruit the wrong kind of participants, test the wrong kind of tasks, put too much weight on people’s opinions, and expect participants to generate design solutions.
6 September 2010 – You may not get many chances to visit and observe your customers at their place of work, so you want to make the most of the opportunity. But what’s the best way to run a site visit? Highly effective field researchers show 5 specific behaviours. They create a focus question, audio record the sessions, take photographs of the environment, take notes and write up a short summary of the observation immediately.
3 August 2010 – Although the cognitive walkthrough gets less coverage than Nielsen’s heuristic evaluation, it’s just as effective at uncovering interaction problems. It’s also an ideal way to identify problems that users will have when they first use an interface, without training.
5 July 2010 – The magic of usability tests is that you get to see what people actually do with a system (rather than what they say they do). This gives you great insights into how people behave and how to improve your design. But if your tasks lack realism you’ll find that people just go through the motions and don’t engage with the test — reducing the credibility of your results. Here are 6 ways to captivate participants with great test tasks.
1 June 2010 – Many people think that the key to great web surveys is to craft good questions. Creating good questions is important but this is really just a small part of the battle. To design great web surveys you need to follow 6 steps. Following these steps will help you get the valid and accurate data you need to drive commercial business decisions.
6 May 2010 – It’s sometimes said that usability professionals are good at finding problems, but not quite as good at coming up with creative solutions. This article describes a creativity technique called SCAMPER that will help you effortlessly generate dozens of design solutions to any usability problem you identify.
1 Apr 2010 – Observing a usability test seems simple but it’s easy to lose focus during a session and record only the dramatic or obvious usability problems. As you watch the test, you should make minute-by-minute observations of the participant’s behaviour as single letter codes. Datalogging ensures you note all behaviours, not just the ones that stand out, and provides all you need to quickly create a list of usability issues you can pass to the design team. This article includes a macro-free Excel spreadsheet you can use to timestamp your observations.
2 Nov 2009 – For most products, it’s easy to track down participants for a usability test. But there are some products where end-users are difficult to find and recruit. For these products, it’s better to use surrogate users as a proxy for genuine users than not to usability test at all, but you must manage the risks appropriately.
5 Oct 2009 – A typical usability test may return over 100 usability issues. How can you prioritise the issues so that the development team know which ones are the most serious? By asking just 3 questions of any usability problem, we are able to classify its severity as low, medium, serious or critical.
3 Aug 2009 – Does your organisation use personas to describe users’ characteristics, goals, needs and behaviours? Although they are a popular tool for communicating knowledge about users, many personas are little more than anecdote, hearsay and rumour. These kind of fake personas rapidly fall into disuse. Make sure your own personas get used by validating them against this 7-item checklist.
1 June 2009 – If you’ve been tasked with running a usability test, then you’ll love this instructional guide. Aimed at people about to moderate their first usability test, this free graphic instruction guide covers the essential techniques you’ll need to moderate a usability test.
6 May 2009 – Moderation seems effortless but there’s a lot more to good listening than opening your ears. Here are 15 suggestions to improve your own listening skills.
13 Jan 2009 – 2008 saw the release of several international usability standards, many within the influential ISO 9241 series. Two of these standards focus on accessibility and another provides guidelines for usable web sites. This article explains why usability standards are important and summarises the 13 new parts of ISO 9241.
6 Nov 2008 – “Know thy user” is the first principle of usability, so it’s important that you involve the right kind of people in your usability study. These 8 tips for screening participants will show you how to recruit articulate, representative users for your research, quickly filter out the people you don’t want and help you avoid the dreaded “no show”.
4 Sep 2008 – In an unmoderated usability test, a computer automates the process of administering a usability test. This means you can test with much larger samples than with a conventional test, calculate reliable measures of usability and feel confident that you’re capturing your customer’s context of use.
2 Aug 2008 – Targeted at both new and experienced users of Morae, Morae for Usability Practitioners is a step-by-step guide to using Morae to plan, execute and analyse usability tests. Packed with insider tips and expert advice, this guide will help you use Morae to its full potential.
2 Aug 2008 – Site visits are the best method we have of gaining real insight into the way customers work — to understand what customers do, rather than what they say they do. But to get the most from a site visit you need to polish your interviewing skills. Great interviewers show five characteristics from which we can learn.
2 Jun 2008 – ISO have released a new standard for measuring the usability of every day products, like ticket machines, mobile phones and digital cameras. This standard, ISO 20282, includes test methods for quantifying the usability of consumer products to ensure they meet a pre-defined quality level. This development is exciting because the standard’s focus on usability measurement reflects a sea change in the evolving practice of usability. In the old world, usability specialists just found usability problems with a design. In the new world, usability specialists also answer the question: “How usable is this design?”
5 May 2008 – How should you go about collecting data in usability tests? This article examines the data collection process in usability studies and describes some popular data logging solutions. Since most of these tools are expensive, we show you how you can use Microsoft Excel with Visual Basic macros to collect the data.
2 Apr 2008 – Many people enjoy behavioural research, whether it’s running a usability test, fielding a survey or observing people doing their jobs. Finding things out and making new discoveries excites our natural human curiosity. But when faced with the task of analysing the data behind the research, many people feel their excitement drain away. Most of us are not excellent mathematicians and the notion of using data to test scientific hypotheses can be intimidating. But data analysis is an important aspect of virtually all research. So how can you overcome a fear of maths to learn how to use statistics?
2 Apr 2008 – This Excel spreadsheet allows you to measure task completion rates, time-on-task, analyse questionnaire data, and summarise participant comments. Latest version just released!
3 Mar 2008 – Most usability tests culminate with a short questionnaire that asks the participant to rate, usually on a 5- or 7-point scale, various characteristics of the system. Experience shows that participants are reluctant to be critical of a system, no matter how difficult they found the tasks. This article describes a guided interview technique that overcomes this problem based on a word list of over 100 adjectives. We also include a spreadsheet to generate and randomise the word list.
4 Feb 2008 – Are you a CIO, purchasing officer, or IT manager, about to invest in productivity software for your company? If you are, here’s a question you should ask your supplier before you sign on the dotted line: “Just how usable is this product?” Astonishingly, most companies won’t be able to answer, and those that try will answer the question only vaguely. But now help is at hand. It’s called CIF. And it’s about to change the game.
3 Sep 2007 – This year marks an important anniversary for people who moderate usability tests. In a classic study carried out exactly 30 years ago, psychologists showed that people are very poor at explaining the reasons behind their choices. This is why usability tests focus on what people do, not on what people say. So why do so many usability test moderators continue to ask participants, “Why”?
2 Aug 2007 (Updated 6 Jun 2009) – Every usability professional knows that Morae is a useful tool for running a software or web usability test. But did you know you could also use it to dramatically speed up the time it takes to do a heuristic evaluation? This ‘How do I…’ article gives you step-by-step instructions on how to carry out an expert review with Morae, complete with explanatory screen shots.
1 May 2007 – Many people think questionnaire and survey design is common sense. If that’s true then common sense can’t be that common because many surveys on the web are very poorly designed. For example, surveys often ask irrelevant questions or biased questions or just too many questions. These problems make the resulting data impossible to analyse. This article reviews best practice in survey design.
16 Apr 2007 – Most people that carry out usability expert reviews use Jakob Nielsen’s ten usability ‘heuristics’. Many of these guidelines are common sense but they are not based on substantive research. The International usability standard, BS EN-ISO 9241-110 proposes an alternative set of seven guidelines. These guidelines have the benefit of international consensus and they can be applied to any interactive system.
2 Jan 2007 – This eBook contains all you need to make sure that you’re fully prepared for your next usability test. The document includes easy to customise usability test forms, such as screeners, a discussion guide, questionnaires and data logging sheets.
25 Mar 2006 – Important roads in London are known as ‘red routes’ and Transport for London do everything in their power to make sure passenger journeys on these routes are completed as smoothly and quickly as possible. Define the red routes for your web site and you’ll be able to identify and eliminate any usability obstacles on the key user journeys.
1 Jun 2004 – Focus groups continually fail to tell us what customers want. The fundamental problem is that, in spite of what conventional wisdom tells us, it is not the voice of the consumer that matters. What matters is the mind of the consumer. The big mistake is in believing that what the mind thinks, the voice speaks. It is time to start embracing methods that can deliver stronger predictive value.
17 Jun 2003 – People often throw around the terms “objective” and “subjective” when talking about the results of a usability test. These terms are frequently equated with the statistical terms “quantitative” and “qualitative”. The analogy is false, and this misunderstanding can have consequences for the interpretations and conclusions of usability tests.
5 Jun 2003 (Updated 21 Apr 2006) – It’s a truism that even a bad usability test will help improve your software. But the findings from different usability tests are notoriously difficult to compare. This makes it difficult to track usability improvements or to see how you compare against an earlier product. A new international standard looks set to solve this problem.
2 May 2003 – Discount usability techniques are a great way to eradicate usability problems. But they can never answer the question, “How usable is this system?” We blow the dust off some techniques commonly used in the early days of usability testing to see if they can provide an answer.
10 Jan 2005 – Usability practitioners are called on, not only to conduct many research studies during their careers, but also to read, review, and advise on usability studies that have been conducted and reported by others. The ability to critically review the research of others, and to help stakeholders weigh up the merits or shortcomings of research data and conclusions, is an extremely valuable skill. These checkpoints will help you ensure your review covers the key issues.
User Experience Design articles & resources
2 July 2012 – One of the quickest ways to speed up your use of software is to learn shortcuts. Here are 5 little-used shortcuts for Axure that will help you work like an expert.
1 June 2012 – Reading user instructions continues to rank high on people’s lists of ‘activities-to-be-avoided-at-all-possible-costs’. We’ve worked with a number of clients to improve their user support materials and we frequently encounter five common mistakes made by development teams. This work has given us some insight into how best to avoid these problems occurring in the first place.
5 December 2011 – “Lean UX” is the new black. We can summarise the philosophy behind it by saying: If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then a prototype is worth a 1000 pictures (with apologies to Ben Shneiderman). But given that we are increasingly working in environments where we need to deliver more with less, how can we speed up the process of prototyping?
1 August 2011 – Visual design is often dismissed as eye candy. In fact, we can use four key principles of visual design to create more usable interfaces. These principles are Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity.
7 February 2011 – There are five different classes of image used on web pages and each class of image requires a different approach to writing the ‘alt’ attribute.
6 December 2010 – Paper prototyping is probably the best tool we have to design great user experiences. It allows you to involve users early in the design process, shows you how people will use your system before you’ve written any code, and supports iterative design. So why are some design teams still resistant to using it? Here are 7 objections I’ve heard to paper prototyping and why each one is mistaken.
11 November 2010 – Ideally, you’ll design your system to prevent errors from occurring in the first place. But no matter how simple your system, someone, somewhere, will make an error when using it. The difference between a great user experience and an awful one is what your system does next.
1 Mar 2010 – A recently published international standard requires manufacturers of medical devices to follow a systematic usability process. To comply, manufacturers of medical devices will need to change the way they design, develop, test and manufacture their systems.
1 Feb 2010 – This article reviews 6 simple but powerful research techniques you can use to improve the information architecture of your product or web site. None of these activities requires a computer. You simply need a bunch of cards, a participant and a desk.
6 July 2009 – Although designing usable systems requires far more than simply applying guidelines, guidelines can still make a significant contribution to usability by promoting consistency and good practice. This article contains a list of 247 guidelines we use for expert reviews in our consultancy work. You can also download the guidelines as an Excel workbook.
1 Dec 2008 – With consumer budgets tightening, retailers need to fix every potential leak in their e-commerce site. Many sites lose customers during the series of screens that appear after the customer clicks the checkout button. We’ve observed hundreds of e-commerce sessions in our usability labs and the best performing sites demonstrate these 9 features.
3 Jul 2008 – Designed for use with Axure RP Pro 5 and the Pencil extension for Firefox, this resource will help you layout prototype web pages using the 960-grid system.
5 Jan 2008 – It’s easy to get caught up in the promise of new technologies and lose sight of the fundamental issues that make a product successful. By listening to the questions venture capitalists pose when reviewing new products we can develop a checklist to assess the viability of a new product idea.
3 Dec 2007 – Morae makes it easy to log usability tests, create video highlights and allow observers to view a test in progress. But Morae is designed to support usability tests of software, not paper prototypes. This how-to article shows you how to exploit the full functionality of Morae when carrying out a paper prototype test.
2 Sep 2007 – This white paper describes each of the many parts of ISO 9241 in detail. Now available for viewing on-line and off-line (in pdf and epub format).
2 Aug 2007 – Are you finding it difficult to keep up with the variety of web sites, blogs and articles devoted to usability? If so, help is at hand. We’ve put together a web page that aggregates the best of these web sites and made the page available through Netvibes.
4 Jul 2007 – Rather than create yet another definition of usability, we decided to take a different approach and work through the alphabet, picking one word for each letter to capture the flavour of the field. So we proudly present the A-Z of usability — or usability in 26 words.
4 Jun 2007 – User manuals have a bad reputation. In a recent USA Today poll that asked readers “Which technological things have the ability to confuse you?” user manuals came out top! Increasingly companies are rethinking the way they approach user manuals. Here are some suggestions for improving the usability of user manuals based on our experience writing them.
3 Sep 2006 – A concise list of the most useful accessibility tools on the Web. These tools and web sites are indispensable when carrying out accessibility reviews.
25 Apr 2005 – Do you have an uneasy feeling that your forms aren’t working as well as they should? Or are you simply looking for ways of making them even better? Here are four ideas for better forms.
16 Aug 2004 – We often come across the misperception that an accessible site means an ugly site. In fact, by following standards, designers can create virtually any visual design yet still make it accessible. Just to prove it, our associate Trevor Morris carried out makeovers of nokia.com and vodafone.co.uk. Neither site met even the minimum levels of accessibility before he started. Once he had finished, both sites were “AAA” accessible. This is of enormous benefit to a disabled user — yet to a sighted user the original and “madeover” sites look virtually identical.
23 Apr 2004 – Last week the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) published a significant report on web accessibility. This report marks the DRC’s intention to get tough with organisations whose web sites cannot be used by disabled people. Over the next twelve months, we predict that the report will influence redesigns of virtually every major web site in the UK as organisations jockey with each other to avoid getting sued.
5 Feb 2004 – ISO is developing a new standard for web usability. The new standard will be of interest to anyone who designs, evaluates or commissions web sites and it is likely to have a significant impact in improving the overall usability of the web.
15 Aug 2011 – These stencils will help you communicate user-centered design activities and proposals to clients and development teams.
This e-commerce usability book introduced the notion of “customer centred design”.
User Experience Management articles & resources
If you’re a user experience manager (or just like to take a strategic view), start here. This eBook contains 78 pages of real-world help on subjects like recruiting UX staff, selling usability and institutionalising usability in your organisation.
5 Nov 2012 – It won’t have escaped your notice that despite many companies investing in user experience, everyday consumer products still have the ability to frustrate the living daylights out of people. I argue this is because marketing teams, influenced by big retailers, unwittingly block the design team’s view of the end user.
3 Sept 2012 – What’s the difference between information architecture, interaction design, visual design and usability engineering? I argue that each of these areas is critical in a design project but that they need to be co-ordinated by a User Experience Designer to ensure the end user’s experience is a satisfying one.
2 April 2012 – Heard these before? ‘Market research uses hundreds of people. How come you can get answers with just 5?’ ‘Our product is aimed at everyone, so we can use ourselves as users.’ ‘Users don‘t know what they want’ ‘Apple doesn‘t do user research so why should we?’ ‘Our agency does all of this for us.’ Here’s how to successfully counter each of these objections.
6 February 2012 – Most of the work on user experience (UX) competency focuses on an individual’s ability to show evidence of technical skills. But technical skill is just one sphere of expertise required by UX practitioners. A fully-rounded UX practitioner also needs competence in two additional spheres of practice: process and marketing.
4 January 2012 – The new year is as good a time as any to review and improve the way you work. With a good user experience now widely seen as the key attribute of many high-tech products, it makes sense to review your own products to see how you can give them that user experience edge. Here are 20 quick, simple and virtually free ideas you can apply in 2012.
7 November 2011 – User experience metrics are measures that help you assess how your design stacks up against the needs of your customers and the needs of your business. Lab-based methods of collecting UX metrics are too slow and expensive to be part of most design projects, especially those using agile methodologies. But with online usability testing tools, regular user experience benchmarking is now cheap and quick to carry out.
4 July 2011 – Lecturing to people is a poor way to help them learn new facts. People learn better when they are actively engaged in their learning. Here’s a training game that we use on one of our training courses to help people learn about usability heuristics. Why not play this game with your user experience team during your next team meeting?
6 June 2011 – An important usability standard has been updated for the user experience era. The standard describes 6 key principles of human centred design and serves as a manifesto for the field of user experience.
2 May 2011 – Trying to recruit a single individual with all of the skills needed to create great user experiences is like trying to hire a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci. A better strategy is to build a multidisciplinary team with people specialised in the following areas: Management, Research, Information Architecture, Information Design, Visual Design, Technical Writing and Prototyping.
4 April 2011 – In spite of a proliferation of books, articles and blogs explaining how to measure usability, few companies seem to put their usability metrics to good use. In this article we show how you can link the numbers from usability tests to the numbers that steer business decisions — and in the process, influence your company’s business.
5 January 2011 – Many design teams launch into development without a shared vision of the user experience. Without this shared vision, the team lacks direction, challenge and focus. This article describes how to use the ‘Design the Box’ activity to develop a user experience vision, and then describes three ways of publicising the vision: telling a short story; drawing a cartoon showing the experience; and creating a video to illustrate the future.
4 October 2010 – We’re increasingly asked by organisations for advice on building a user experience competency. Our advice is to start at the top and get the right person for that first critical leadership role. User experience leaders demonstrate 3 core competencies: they understand research; they follow user experience methods and standards; and they are great communicators.
4 Jan 2010 – Do you spend so much time firefighting that you forget to think about your career? January is as good a time as any to think about improving your career prospects so here are some tips to help you get more from your job — or even get a better job. Presented as 12 bite-sized, monthly activities, do just one a month and watch your career take off this year.
7 Dec 2009 – Follow a young man’s journey as he discovers the three secrets of user-centred design. After reading this 40-page fable, you’ll understand the framework of user-centred design and know how to apply it to your own design project. It’s a small book that has big results.
7 Sept 2009 – When trying to communicate the process of user centred design to senior managers it helps to convey the idea as concisely as possible. This infographic conveys the various steps and phases of user centred design on a single page.
8 Apr 2009 – There’s no shortage of software that will record videos from usability tests, but how do you put the clips together in a way that will convince management and the design team to take action on your results? Our solution is to use the rule of 5: Create 5 separate highlights videos each focusing on one usability issue, with each issue comprising 5 clips and with each video lasting 5 minutes or less.
9 Mar 2009 – Two measures commonly taken in a usability test — success rate and time on task — are the critical numbers you need to prove the benefits of almost any potential design change. These values can be re-expressed in the language that managers understand: the expected financial benefit.
10 Feb 2009 – We’re often told that senior managers don’t have the time to read a detailed report describing the findings from a usability test. This means our thoroughly argued, carefully analysed and clearly presented 60-page report could have no effect on improving the product or changing the culture. How can we better engage managers with our data?
1 Oct 2008 – Being frugal during economic hard times is good business practice. So how can you squeeze your usability budget and still deliver great insights? These 10 suggestions for streamlining your usability efforts explode the myth that usability is expensive and time-consuming.
1 Oct 2007 – Until usability gets embedded in the processes of your company, you’ll probably find you need to justify the investment. Fortunately, usability initiatives deliver a major return on investment: it’s not unusual for usability projects to return benefits of 5-10 times their cost in the first year alone.
2 Nov 2006 – Before you can implement a usability initiative in your organisation, you’ll need to convince your manager it’s worthwhile. The obvious approach is to use a cost-benefit argument, but experience shows that this approach often fails because many managers find the data unconvincing. An alternative approach is to tailor your argument based on your manager’s MBTI personality type. This approach generates many different ideas for selling usability within your organisation and is much more persuasive.
24 Sep 2005 – Trying to embed usability in an organisation needs more than persuasive, logical arguments. You also need to appeal to managers’ emotions and political ambitions. This article describes five successful strategies that we’ve seen work in companies large and small.
14 Nov 2006 – “A mobile phone needs a manual in the way a teacup doesn’t.” Brighten up your office and help spread the word with one of our World Usability Day quotation posters. Or print a couple on postcard-sized photo paper and send them to manufacturers of hard-to-use products with your own witty aphorism on the back.
3 Sep 2005 – This Excel spreadsheet provides a test to help you measure the “customer-centredness” of your organisation.
15 Jul 2008 – These crosswords feature words and concepts in usability. Use them in your training courses or to raise awareness of usability in your team.
These case studies from our consulting practice will show you how usability is applied in the real world.