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Usability Interview: Jon Phillips of JonPhillips.ca

Posted by Jacob Creech on September 16th, 2011

One thing we firmly believe in here at IntuitionHQ is learning from experience. We always try to share our views on all things usability, but often there is a lot of value in hearing what others have to offer.

Following along with this idea, we’ve decided to put together a series of interviews with professionals in the usability and user experience design areas so we can all learn from their experiences.

Today we’re featuring the first of those interviews, with Jon Phillips – formerly of Spyre Studios, along with a range of other sites as he explains in the interview below – clearly a very busy man.

Jon is someone I have a lot of respect for, and who always creates, beautiful, usable designs, and writes well written, interesting content as well. You can see some examples of his work on Dribble to get an idea of what he does.

I think he has some very interesting insights into the worlds of design, usability and user experience, and so without further ado:

An interview with Jon Phillips

I think UX and usability are not optional. If you design for the web and have no idea what usability or user experience means, you need to start reading and learning—fast! - Jon Phillips

Would you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

Hi, I’m Jon Phillips, I’m from Montreal, Canada. I design websites, consult and work with companies and online publishers on content creation, website design, UX and usability. I also write a personal blog where I share my thoughts on design, UX, technology and sometimes photography.

I used to run FreelanceFolder, SpyreStudios, Design-Newz and more recently MediaLoot, which I co-founded and helped launch. I now focus mostly on freelance work as well as some other personal projects like CSSFTW and IconsFTW.

How did you get involved with usability/user experience/design?

As far back as I can remember I have always been interested in various creative outlets, from music to typography, design and writing. In fact I’ve been a guitarist for over 17 years now and I guess you could say that designing websites is, in some ways, an extension of this in terms of creativity.

Being in a band is also very similar to running a business, and solving problems is something you need to work on every single day to keep the ship afloat.

I started designing websites about 7 years ago for friends at first until I realized I could do this for a living and started learning more and increased my customer base as well as improved my skills (something you always need to keep on improving).

While I love designing and writing markup & CSS, what I enjoy most is solving problems and figuring out the hows and whys of how things work and how people interact with them. Finding a viable solution to a UX problem is what I enjoy most.

I think UX and usability are not optional. If you design for the web and have no idea what usability or user experience means, you need to start reading and learning—fast!

Why do you think usability and user experience are important?

I think that no matter what your job title is, whether you’re a designer, a developer or whatever else people call themselves these days (ninjas and rockstars?), usability and user experience go hand in hand with everything else you do. Similar to the ‘should web-designers know how to code’ debate that we seem to hear about all the time, I think all designers should have more than just a basic understanding of usability and UX in order to completely fulfill their role.

UX is related to pretty much everything we do. It is what defines a great website from a bad one, it’s what people perceive and feel and how they interact with your interface.

Designers and developers are not the only ones who need to understand what makes a great user experience. Artists, business owners, project managers and even musicians and movie producers, to a certain extent, need at least some basic understanding of usability and UX in order to satisfy the needs, feelings and goals of their clients, fans, shareholders, partners, etc

Any words of wisdom to people learning about UX and usability?

Always keep learning and improving your skills and understand what makes a great user experience (quick tip: don’t take anything for granted). Don’t forget that amazing Photoshop skills won’t help much when faced with a usability problem to solve.

Also, while there’s a ton of design blogs out there with some great tips and tricks about usability and UX, what you want in order to get a deeper understanding is not just tips and tricks, you’ll want to read articles, studies, personal experiences from people in the field, books and even go to conferences and seminars.

I personally really enjoy reading case studies from web-designers on how they solved certain problems—I prefer reading about the reasons behind a design decision rather than the technologies used to make it possible.

Favorite sites or resources you’d like to share.

After reading everything ever written by Jacob Nielsen, Steve Krug and Luke Wroblewski, there’s the obvious sources like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ where you can get a great deal of information about UX, usability and design—granted, not always the best advice, but they’re great tools for finding other resources.

I have some favorite online publications and blogs like UXBooth, UsabilityPost, UXMag, SmashingMagazine, DaringFireball and others which I visit almost everyday. Sure those sites aren’t always about usability and UX, but still they’re very good resources.


We want to thank Jon for his insights, and for being kind enough to share his experiences with the community. If you’d like to read more from him, you can find his blog at blog.jonphillips.ca or follow him on Twitter @JoPhillips.

What do you think?

How does this line up with your experience? What was your favorite part of this interview? Who do you think we should interview in the future? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below, on Twitter @IntuitionHQ, or at Facebook.com/IntuitionHQ.

Thanks again to Jon for answering our questions, and don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed to follow the next in our series of interviews. Coming up next? Blogger extraordinaire Jake Rocheleau – whose posts you can find on almost every design blog on the internet – be sure to check it out next week.

Thanks for dropping by!

 

7 Tips for a More Engaging Website

Posted by Jacob Creech on August 5th, 2011

 
There is a lot of psychology in making a great website, and not many web designers or developers with a huge amount of knowledge about psychology. Luckily there a number of experts in the field that are happy to disseminate their knowledge to help the rest of us better understand our users.

One of these experts is Dr. Susan Weinschenk from Human Factors International who recently put together a great video on Persuasion, Emotion and Trust in User Experience, and 7 Tips for a More Engaging Website. It’s well worth a watch – here’s the video:

Did you catch all that? Quite a lot of useful information there, so we’ve written a bit of a summary for you below, along with some of our own real life examples:

How to make a More Engaging Website

1) If people have too many choices they won’t choose at all

This stands to reason; if you have too many choices, it makes it incredibly difficult to make up your mind which one is best for you, and with so many different options you may feel like you are giving something up by using one instead of another. With so many options the choice isn’t clear.

I’ve recently been suffering from this issue myself – I’ve been looking for a new camera bag, but looking on a site like Amazon or eBay presents thousands of different choices.

Camera Bags on Amazon

270,000+ choices. Yay!

I suppose is one of their strong points, but the results could certainly be better curated – to give you less options with the requirements you are looking for – for example that fits a camera body and two lenses – so the decision isn’t so overwhelming. I’ve actually been putting off my purchase for weeks now because I just can’t make up my mind.

Contrast this with Apple who has a small product line which makes your purchase decision much easier. Want a 15″ laptop? 2 choices. Want a 17″ laptop? One choice. Some people may see this as a weak point, but the truth is when making your decision the choice is very clear and you are far more likely to make a decision.

2) People need Social Validation

Sheep - Social Validation

Social Validation. Photo by Joost IJmuiden

When people are uncertain they’ll look to others to decide what to do. I’m sure you’ve all had this experience before, and I see examples almost every day – especially when people aren’t sure what to do, where to line up, who to ask or other similar situations.

The same is true in the online world; people are always looking to see what others have to say about a site, service or product. If you can provide some sort of social validation around your site, then you will build trust and give people some social validation. All this leads to higher conversions, and a better experience for you and your users.

3) Scarcity makes people want to buy

Scarcity

There are lots of different deal websites that use this concept. We have a very popular one here in New Zealand called Grabaseat the features daily flight and accommodation deals from all around the country.

The idea is (and apparently it’s been proven by psychologists) that when there is less of something available it seems to be more valuable. If you run a special for one day only, or have only a limited amount of something available people will feel more inclined to buy.

Of course, depending on the goals of your site you could do this in other ways as well. I’ve seen many webinars limiting the amount of ‘seats’ available to drive up demand, email newsletters available for one day only and lots of other ways to create scarcity. See what works for you.

4) Use food, sex or danger to attract peoples’ interest

Interested?

Interested? Photo by VeganFest

This one is obviously pretty dependent on your audience, but the idea is that using these kind of images can draw people to your site and (temporarily at least) capture your attention.

One online marketing campaign that did very well using these principles was Old Spice. Their series of videos captured a huge audience – and along with the way they made the campaign interactive, it was a huge boon for the brand.

5) Use the power of faces

The power of faces

The power of faces. Photo by tommerton2010.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, humans tend to react to human faces. By having faces on your site, people tend to spend more time looking at and understanding your site, and apparently the faces in particular.

I find this point quite interesting, especially when they say you should get ‘the faces’ to look directly at the camera. In this post over at Usable World they talk about the results of their eye tracking experiments that showed users look where the faces are looking – so I thought that getting the faces to look at your calls to action would be a great idea.

Either way you might find using faces on your site will create more engagement.

6) People process information better as stories

People process information better as stories

People process information better as stories. Photo by 50 Watts

They kind of gloss over this in the video, but I think it’s a very interesting point. I know when I’m reading blog posts the ones that pull me in are the ones that have a good, personal hook, that tell a story.

Of course, applying that to your website could be pretty difficult, but telling even a little about the story of your site could be a good start.

7) Build commitment over time

Commitment

Commitment

As they say in the video, you can start with a small amount of commitment with your users (like asking them to subscribe to your RSS feed, Twitter feed or Facebook page) and build from there.

By taking your time and not rushing people they will slowly but surely feel more loyalty to your site, service or product.

I’m sure you all have your own experiences of a whole range of services building up a loyal following in this way. It’s tried and tested, and a great way to build more engagement.

Conclusion

Hopefully this have given you some good ideas on how to make your own site or service more engaging.

Obviously some of these points would be harder to implement on some sites than others, but there is sure to be a point or two that will work for you.

If you’ve got your own tips for how to make a more engaging site, we’d love to hear them as well. What has your experience taught you? Do you have any good examples of sites that are doing a great job at engagement?

While you’re here, we’d also be much obliged if you did subscribe to our RSS feed, and if you enjoyed the post, we’d love it if you Tweeted it as well (see what we did there?).

Thanks very much for dropping by!

 

12 Website Usability Testing Myths

Posted by Jacob Creech on July 12th, 2011

 
The internet is a wonderful, magical place that is filled with more amazing content than you could shake a stick at; it has an almost unimaginable wealth of resources on a huge array of different topics, and more or less anything you can think of exists on the internet.

The problem though, is not that there is too much content, nor that there are too many sites, it’s just that the vast majority of sites and services suffer from a number of different usability issues that make using them anything from difficult and frustrating to downright unpleasant to use. I’m sure you can think of a number of sites off the top of your head that fit into these categories.

Unfortunately there are a number of different myths floating about saying that improving usability takes too long, costs too much or doesn’t really do anything useful to these sites and services. As someone who works on a website usability testing tool I hear these myths far too often, and I’d like to dispell them permanently.

Read on to see 12 Website Usability Testing Myths, and why they are wrong:

12 Website Usability Testing Myths


Usability testing is pointless because we won’t make changes anyway

Change ahead

I’ve heard this very depressing argument a number of times, and while I understand that you may not have all the development resource at your disposal to implement required changes, you might still find some things that don’t require much time or effort to change, and that could make a substantial difference to your site and user experience.

I’ve encountered people who initially thought that the business wouldn’t see the value of making changes, but upon being presented with testing results saw how a few relatively inexpensive and relatively fast changes could make a big difference to their bottom line. It’s pretty hard to argue when you have results in front of you showing exactly what is wrong.

Even if there is no chance that you can make changes in the near future, at least you have some idea of what is going wrong, and if you ever do get that development resource, you can implement the required changes.

It will just get overruled through ‘design by committee’

Design by committee

This is a myth I’m very happy to dispel. If design by committee is a designers worst nightmare, then usability testing is the solution to it. If you have been told to put this button there and that button here, and you can present results showing why one location is clearly better than another then it’s very difficult for anyone to argue with those results.

If people start suggesting changing you text to comic sans, and using sky blue text on an azure background, then you can provide testing results showing just how laughable this idea is. Of course, the ideas may not seem so ridiculous, but you get the idea.

Present testing results that showcase a few different options, and it’s very difficult to disagree with the one that works best.

It takes too long

A long way to go

This is a very frequent excuse; many people are under the impression that running a usability test requires weeks of time, and a number of dedicated staff members in order to get any results whatsoever.

The truth is that with modern website usability testing tools that you can create and share a test in just a few minutes.

For example, when creating a test with IntuitionHQ, you simply upload some screenshots or designs, write the questions, and you are good to go. Share you test via email, Facebook, Twitter or any other medium you see fit and you get great results in no time. If you can write an email, you can create a usability test. Simple, and very quick.

It costs too much

Usability Testing can be low cost

Many people are under the mistaken impression that running usability testing costs thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The truth is with remote testing tools you can run tests for a pittance.

Tests with IntuitionHQ cost just $9, and include unlimited questions and respondents. There are other tools out there that enable you to capture feedback in different ways and don’t cost much more.

Whatever your budget, there is a tool to suit it.

It’s impossible to convince management to run tests

Convince management to usability test

We were recently working with a local government agency who were very interested in testing, but couldn’t see how they could sell management on the concept. We showed them how cheaply, quickly and easily they could set up a test, and just by testing with internal staff they got over 200 respondents on their test.

Not only were management blown away with the results they received, but by involving staff in the process the enthusiasm levels went through the roof.

If management can see the value that some simple testing can provide, they will be very quick to get on board. Management love metrics; show them some testing metrics, and they will love it.

My site is perfect, there is no need to test

How to build a perfect website

I’ve yet to see a site that couldn’t do with a little tweak here or there, but even if you think your site is perfect, wouldn’t you rather have the evidence to back that up?

Also, as I’ve already mentioned, people change, trends change. Your site may be perfect now, but I can guarantee it won’t remain perfect for long; look at sites made even a few years ago, and I’m sure you will understand what I mean.

The point here is even if it’s perfect now, it may not always be. With a little testing you’ll catch any problems as and when the crop up.

It’s impossible to show the value of testing

Show the value of Usability Testing

Over on UIE.com they have a remarkable story about a $300 million button. The long and short of it was that by forcing users to do something they weren’t interested in, that company was costing itself $300 million. Obviously $300 million is more than most sites can hope to gain but the point is, every little improvement can help.

How can you know what changes you should make and what things will add value for you company? Usability testing. We’ve done some interesting example website usability tests of Gizmodo, TED and the iReddit iPad app and found some very interesting results. Check out our analysis of the Godaddy User Experience for a fantastic example.

Our testing showed some simple changes that each site or app could make that would dramatically improve user experience – a different navigation label, moving around some key social media icons or following design conventions can all make a big difference to your site and your users. In todays competitive environment you simply can’t afford to miss out on these improvements.

Users don’t care about usability

Involve your users

We’ve run tests on a number of different sites, and every time we get feedback from users saying how great it is that that site cares about usability, that they care about their users, and they want to get users involved in developing the site.

It helps users feel involved in the future direction of the site, and builds up passion and community around a site. The more users are involved, the more committed they will feel to your site.

If users feel you are responding to their needs they will keep on coming back, they will recommend you to their friends, and they will be a great advocate for you. In a day when the switching cost of changing from one site to another is so low, building this passion and commitment is what helps you stand out from your competition.

You need an Human Computer Interaction degree to understand usability

HCI Degree

Again, looking at our website usability testing examples you can get an idea of how simple setting up usability tests can be. Think of some important points you would like you users to accomplish on your site, take some screenshots and get ready to go.

When looking at your results, you get a very quick idea of what is going right and wrong. If it takes users 20 or 30 seconds to find your RSS feed subscription button, you know you have a problem. If only 50% of users can find your signup page, you’ve got a problem.

None of this is rocket science, and if you ever do get stuck or have a question, we’d be more than happy to help point you in the right direction. The truth is though, it’s really not (or at least, doesn’t have to be) that hard.

Designers already know what they are doing, they don’t need to run usability tests

Different users and different personas

While I completely agree that there are a number of fantastic designers out there, even the best designer in the world can’t be expected to understand the needs of an entire user base without a little feedback.

Usability testing gives them that feedback, and helps them understand how their users think and what sort of things their users are looking for. If you think Apple released the iPod or iPhone without any kind of testing, then you really need to think again. To make a great site, service or product, you need that feedback.

Remote testing tools enable you get that feedback quickly, easily and effortlessly, and as designers, we can tell you this is something designers understand and appreciate.

I’ve already tested my site in the past, there is no need to test again

Try try try again

Congratulations; you have taken your first step in the right direction, but this logic is the same as saying something like ‘MC Hammer was the height of fashion in the 80′s, therefore my parachute pants are still in fashion’.

The truth is your audience changes, trends and fashion change, even design conventions change. Testing you site on a regular basis ensures that you are always improving your user experience, that you are keeping up with design conventions, and that users will continue to use your site, and come back in increasing numbers.

Steve Krug advocates testing once a month to ensure you are up to date and know and understand how your users are interacting with your site or service.

Testing on a regular basis means there won’t be any nasty surprises further down the track; it’s easy to make a few small changes on a regular basis, than massive changes a little less frequently. Sensible, isn’t it?

It’s too difficult to get started

Getting started with usability testing

While it used to be true that usability testing required a lot of time and effort – recruiting participants, getting them along to usability testing labs, hiring expensive equipment and so on, times have certainly changed.

I’ve set up tests on IntuitionHQ in five minutes flat, and received hundreds of responses in just one or two hours time. All you need to do is write a few questions, upload a few screenshots, and you are really good to to. Send your test to your site stakeholders, put it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and watch the results roll in. It really is that simple.


Where to next?

If your interested in taking your next steps in usability, we’ve got a few posts you might like to check out:

There are also a whole bunch of great sites out there for learning more about usability and user experience that anyone interested in the topic should check out:

If you’ve got any website usability testing myths you’ve heard before, any questions about usability testing, or anything else we can help you with, please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for dropping by!

Don’t forget to sign up for an IntuitionHQ account while you’re here. Signing up is free, and publishing your tests only costs $9.

You can also subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with the latest news in the world of website usability.

 

Satisfying The Cat and User Centered Design

Posted by Jacob Creech on June 28th, 2011

 
People often ask me how they can convince project managers, stakeholders and people who are otherwise invested in a project that spending time and money on usability and user centered design can add value to their projects. (Not that you have to spend much time or money with some of the tools that are out today)

Of course, it seems logical to me (and I imagine to most of you) that providing a better experience for your users will make them a lot happier, more likely to return and use your site or service, and much more likely to recommend your site or service to others. Makes sense, right?

The clients arguments against usable design

I often hear arguments saying that why should they pay for something that they don’t understand or can’t see the value of, although I think the value is pretty obvious. They want to see the value before it is delivered, and this can be pretty hard to quantify and convey – although in my experience showing case studies of previous work is a pretty good way to go, some people still struggle to grasp the concept.

Regardless of my beliefs of what’s obvious, we need to show these people that it’s worth investing in making a better user experience even if they can’t see how it can benefit them. Then I came across this video, and a fantastic new way to explain the value to clients. Check it out:

Satisfying The Cat:

There are a whole bunch of great quotes in this video, but this is the one that I think sums up the situation perfectly:

“…If the cat doesn’t eat the food, how long is the owner going to remain satisfied…”

Next time you have a client who is demanding X and Y from you, maybe you should send them this video, and see if they can see the as well as providing value to them, you really have to provide value (and a great experience) to their end users. Satisfy the cat, and you’ll have a very happy owner on your hands.

Final thoughts:

 
We find the simplest way to show our clients the value of user centered design is by getting them involved in our design and testing process using usability testing tools, and showing them the results of usability reviews we have run in the past.

Once they see how simple things can trip up users, and how much the could improve their return on investment by making a site, tool or app more user friendly, they start to understand the value that testing and a focus on user centered design can provide. It’s pretty hard to argue with solid metrics, and it helps to avoid design by committee as well.

Yahoo Email Test: How would you view your calendar?

Yahoo Test: View your calendar - This is not a good result; clicks everywhere and a long response time

A good example of poor usability; clicks everywhere and a long response time

How do you show your clients the value of usability and user centered design? Do you have problems showing them the value of satisfying the cat? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for showing value to your clients and bringing them over to the light side. Together we can make the world a better place, one website at a time.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed to keep up with all the news in the world of usability. Thanks for dropping by!

 

What is usability?

Posted by Jacob Creech on May 31st, 2011

 
Every day we talk about website usability testing, what it can do for you, how it can smooth out the design process, and how usability is an ongoing trend that people need to learn to focus on.

All of that said though, every day I get people asking me ‘What is usability, and why should I care?‘. Today I’d like to talk about what usability is, and why it’s so important. I’d love to hear your views on it too, so please feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.

What is usability?

 
So, what is usability? There are a number of good definitions floating around, these are a couple of the ones that really hit the spot:

The state or condition of being usable; The degree to which an object, device, software application, etc. is easy to use with no specific training – Wiktionary

Usability refers to the ease with which a User Interface can be used by its intended audience to achieve defined goals. Usability incorporates many factors: design, functionality, structure, information architecture, and more – Sitepoint

Something easy to learn and easy to understand. Seems simple enough, right? But when you turn your mind to thinking of sites or products that truly meet this goal, how many can you think of? What examples come to mind?

My examples:

Mac OS X

Mac OS X

Mac OS X is well known because ‘it just works’. The simple tasks you would want to achieve are very simple to achieve. The important information is easy to find. Things that say they will work with OS X just work.

Especially if you live inside the Apple ecosystem, everything behaves in a simple and logical way. No blue screens of death, no clippy, no ugly pop up warning bubbles. It just works.


Retail Me Not - save money with coupon codes

Retail Me Not - coupon codes made easy

Retail Me Not is a great website to help you save money on the internet. If you often come to sites that ask if you have a coupon code, then this site will save you money. They have coupon codes for tons of different sites, and the site is designed to make the process of using the coupon codes as simple as possible.

When you find a code you want to use (with the simple, straight forward search function), just click on it and it will be copied to your clipboard. If it’s a referral link it will open up in your browser for you. You can see which codes are working at a glance, and share your own experience with the community. A great way to save money.


Kiwibank is a bit different from regular banking sites. The navigation structure is surprisingly clear and easy to use, and for what should be a content heavy site, none of the pages slap you in the face with too much content.

The important things are easy to find and easy to understand, and you are never more than a couple of layers from the content you are looking for.

They also developed their site without flash (which seems to appear awfully often on banking sites) so it’s extremely accessible as well.


Some more examples:

I’ve actually wrote a post last year over at 1stWebDesigner talking about 9 great examples of well designed, usable sites. Check out the list and see what you think.

Another great site that shows examples of UIs that have had a bit more thought than most is Little Big Details. They have a whole range of examples showing how little details make a big difference to the user experience. Well worth a look.

Why is usability so important?

  1. It gives users a better experience: The more your users enjoy your site, the more likely they are to return, the more likely they are to recommend it to others, and the better your site or product will do in the long run.
  2. It helps you stand out from the competition: Why did the iPod sell so well? It was simple, did what users needed it to do, and not a lot more. It was an extremely usable product in a market where people used to think cramming devices with a million and one different features that barely worked at all was the way to succeed.
  3. It’s what most people want: Well there are a few people who actually like things to be complex and customise things in a million different ways, the mass market wants things that are simple, straight forward and just work.
  4. It means people can spend more time doing, and less time learning: The more usable the interface, the more time people can spend enjoying themselves, making purchases, interacting with your site and achieving goals that are important to you.
  5. You spend less time, money and effort on support: If your site or product is simple and straightforward to use it will require far less support, saving you time, money and energy.

Of course, there is more to usability than this, but these are some really fundamental points about why usability is so important. Regardless of what industry you are in, regardless of the sites or products that you build, good usability will make a big difference.

Your turn

We want your opinion

We want your opinion

So, you’ve seen some examples of what usability is to me and why I think it’s important, and now I’d like to see what usability is to you.

What are your examples of great sites? What products come to mind for you? Or are there any sites or products you can think of that are fail on the usability front?

We’d love to do a usability review of some outstanding sites so people know what is working, and why it works so well, as well as sites that could use some improvement to improve their usability. Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

Interested in learning more about usability and user experience? Curious to see one of our upcoming usability reviews? Subscribe to our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up with all the latest news.

And don’t forget to share your comments on sites you love and hate in the comments below. Thanks for dropping by!

 

Usability testing: What to test

Posted by Jacob Creech on May 24th, 2011

 
When you have decided that you want to usability test, one of the first things you have to consider is what you are going to usability test. Although this may sound like a very straightforward question, there are a number of facets you need to consider to make your test successful and to ensure you are testing the right things.

Of course, what you are trying to test can vary a lot depending on the product or service you are working on, but there are some simple rules that you can follow to ensure you get the best, most effective results you can from your testing process.

What to consider when usability testing:

What do users do on your site/service?

Do you know what your users do when they come to your site or are using your service? How do they get from place to place? What sort of information are they trying to find? Do they follow the path that you’d imagine?

There a number of different ways you can work this out, but one of the easiest is looking at your analytics data. Not using analytics? Check out Clicky (which has free and premium options) for a great, user friendly analytics experience.

Clicky analytics - what are users looking for?

Use your analytics data to see what's popular.

From your analytics data you can get an idea of where users are going, how they are getting there, and how long they spend in each place. If you discover all of your users are looking for your contact information, then you might want to make your contact information more prominent. If you find everyone is using your search box in order to find a certain your blog or your about page, you might consider making those areas more prominent.

Try this on for an exercise: ask a friend or family member to use your site or service, and see if they can complete some common tasks. If they can complete the tasks, did they use the method that you would have thought? If they didn’t complete it, what tripped them up? You’d be surprised at the huge array of different ways people complete seemingly simple or obvious tasks.

Chrome - searching for google

Google-ing for Google. Yes, it happens.

To this day, I never cease to be astounded by the amount of people who type ‘Google’ into the Chrome address bar, or even into the Firefox ‘Search’ bar. You will find the same astounding things by testing on your own site.

Once you’ve seen how your users really use your site, and the sort of information that they are looking for, you can then think of testing questions that will cover these points, and using your test results, you can streamline the process to make it as efficient and enjoyable as possible. You will be surprised how large a difference even a few small changes can make to your users.

What do you want users to achieve?

What are you goals for your site or service? What do you want users to do when they arrive? What do you want them to achieve?

Goal: sign up for IntuitionHQ

We want users to sign up to IntuitionHQ. Hint.

Write down a list of goals, and think of all the things that are really important for your site or service. It might be subscribing to your RSS feed, it might be finding your blog content, it might be a link to your LinkedIn profile. Whatever it is, however many points there are, write them all down and then go ahead and test them.

If your users can manage to do all these simple tasks in good time, then you don’t need to worry, but in my experience 99.9% of sites and have some sort of tweaks they could make that would improve the overall experience of using the site.

Google vs Bing Usability Test

Look at the average click time and the location of clicks. A clear win for Google.

In our recent comparison of the Google and Bing search engines (the UI, not the actual search results) we found a number of small tweaks that even major search engines like these could make. It may not sound like much, but each second you shave off, or each time you make a small tweak that makes things easier to find or understand, a user is that much more likely to return to your site, or to use your app.

Of course, the more that users can achieve your goals, that happier you should be as well, so it’s definitely worth testing to ensure that this is happening.

What are the important features of the site/app?

As well as the important goals that you’d like people achieve, there are also probably a number of things you’d like users to notice on your site. Can they even tell what the site is about when the arrive there? Can they find your pricing page? Can they find the sign up or sign in button?

Easy website usability testing - IntuitionHQ

We want people to remember our tagline, and to have easy access to important pages

You know best what are the most important features, that along with your previously mentioned goals that you would like users to notice. If even a small percentage of people can’t find the pricing page, this might prevent them from signing up and have an impact on your bottom line. There are many apps and services that I’ve come across that seem to be lacking a pricing page, or the link to it is impossible to find – it’s enough to prevent me signing up, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. A quick test will show just how visible your pricing page is.

What about the message you want users to take away after viewing your site? Why not ask them what element of your site stands out the most? When users come to the IntuitionHQ site, we want them to remember that we are a quick, easy usability testing service. What do you want your users to remember? Do a test to make sure the message they are taking away is what you want it to be.

What next?

 
Once you’ve considered all the important points of your site, what the users are looking for, and what you’d like them to achieve, make a list and think of questions you can use to test each point. If you’ve got a couple of different ideas you’d like to test against each other, why not run an A/B test? Want to see what your users prefer? A preference test will help you out there.

Our experience shows that tests with 15 or less questions are much more effective and less likely to have a drop off in respondents. Any more than 15 questions and users start to get distracted. Think of the most important points and try and fit them all into one test. If you have many more than 15 points, run a second test.

Think carefully about the wording of your questions, and keep an eye out for our upcoming post on writing great questions for usability tests. Try not to lead your users in a certain direction with the way in which you word your questions, or your results will lose some validity.

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas about what you should be testing and why it’s important. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help you out. Happy testing.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed for more great usability testing tips and advice, as well as our upcoming article on how to write great questions for usability testing. Thanks for dropping by!

 

How to avoid creative block and other interesting tweets

Posted by Jacob Creech on February 21st, 2011

A whole range of interesting tweets in the twittersphere this week (hmm, doesn’t really sound like a word) ranging from how to avoid creative block, to time management for freelancers (and everyone else if they feel inclined) and everything in between. Read on for some interesting tips and tricks to make your design/development life a little bit easier.

How to get around a creative block: http://ow.ly/3YF92 #writing #web #webdesign #metalblock

A few quick tips for whenever you get stuck in a creative funk.

When & Where Are People Using Mobile Devices? http://ow.ly/3VDxF #mobile #UX

A neat dissection of mobile data from the always fascinating LukeW on how people use mobile compared to computers. Interesting to see the different behaviours.

Content Strategy and UX: A Modern Love Story http://bit.ly/huAXQN #UX #Usability #UCD via @ponscreative

A neat look at content strategy, and what it can do for you.

Providing great user experience with feedback on @37signals http://ow.ly/3WpZn #usability #UX #UCD #feedback

An insightful view from 37signals on how providing feedback can lead to a much better user experience.

9 Ways to Simplify ‘Sign In’ http://ow.ly/3X3Eh #usability #UX #UCD via @niallkennedy

9 simple tips on making life a little better for your users. Check it out.

Hear hear: Why you should fight Apple’s Subscription Extortion http://ow.ly/3YFyK #apple #ios #mobile

A well written piece from the perspective of a content producer on why Apples subscription system is going to kill good content (or promote html 5 web apps).

12 Useful Techniques For Good User Interface Design: http://ow.ly/3Wpxn #usability #UI #UX #Webdesign #UCD

An oldie but a goodie from Smashing Magazine with some useful tips on how to make a better interface. Worth a read.

How to Allocate Time Effectively if You are a Freelancer (and even if you’re not) http://ow.ly/3YFhU #time #procrastination #GTD

Probably should have started with this tweet – procrastinators have probably give up now. Still, some useful tips if you’ve made it this far.

Well, that’s all for this week. Be sure to let us know if you’ve got something interesting you’d like to share, and we’ll put it in next weeks list. Happy testing everyone.

 

Website usability testing and the design process

Posted by Jacob Creech on February 10th, 2011

I often get questions from people who are interested in the idea of website usability testing, but unsure of how they can involve testing in their design process. Based on our own experience, I can safely say that whatever stage you are in the process, even if your site has been live for years, it’s never a bad time to start website usability testing.

When you are first thinking of your designs and come up with sketches of your ideas, you can upload them to IntuitionHQ and see how your idea is going to work out. You can put questions as part of your tests, and coming soon we’re even adding the ability to get comments from your users at the end of your tests.

A Simple WireframeFrom Flickr user Rob Enslin

If you’ve got wireframes or prototypes you can test those as well. You can keep tweaking and optimising your designs to ensure it’s as usable as can be.

Even with the finished design you can keep testing to ensure everything is working as you and your users expect. You can keep making small changes, or just getting proof that is working well.

If you’d like to read more on this topic I’ve written a more in depth post at Spyre Studios so head on over and check it out. Any questions let us know in the comments.

The key thing to take away from this all is that it doesn’t matter where you are in the process, you can still get started with testing your sites. Testing will add value for you, and at the very least provide confirmation that your site is working well. If there are any problems or issues, it will help you to realise and rectify these. Whatever the result, it’s still good information for you to know and understand.

Remember, testing with IntuitionHQ costs just $9 a test, so why not get started testing your own sites today? Happy testing everyone.

 

The benefits of wireframing and other interesting tweets

Posted by Jacob Creech on February 4th, 2011

There have been a number of interesting discussions going on in our twitter feed (@intuitionHQ) this week. We’ve found a lot of interesting resources, and now we are happy to share them with you – there are post ranging from the benefits of wireframing to the ROI of user experience. Check them out below.:

war of the roses

The Benefits of Wireframing a Design http://ow.ly/3OuMC #wireframes #webdesign

Great post over at sixrevisions.com (where if you’ll remember my article “The Key to Successful Collaboration” was published last year) on wireframing, what it is, how it adds value for you and helps improve your design process. Well worth a look.

7 Business benefits of usability testing #UX #UCD http://fb.me/U97xSneM

Nice to see this kind of post – just the same kind of information that I’m always trying to get out there, and great arguments for anyone who is unsure if they should or shouldn’t be usability testing. The short answer: Do it.

Great reading: 9 Ways to Simplify ‘Sign-Up’ http://ow.ly/3OuyX #usability #UX #signup via @UXFeeds

Good reading for anyone who has a sign up form on their website. Follow these very simple tips and increase the experience of your users hugely. Probably get yourself a few more signups too. Win-win.  

Usability on Quora

How can I learn to be a good product designer? http://b.qr.ae/fpkxTW #ux #UCD #design

A range of interesting answers to this question on Quora, with people ranging from a Facebook designer to average Joe Blogs. All good stuff though.

Getting Real: Copywriting is Interface Design: http://ow.ly/3MTiH #usability #readability #UX #UCD

As always, a very interesting post from the folks at 37signals. Everyone should realise just how important copywriting is to a good interface, and this post will emphasize all those key points for you.

Via the (relatively recent) archive – Saving time with usability testing: http://ow.ly/3MSSo #usability #UX #webdesign

A recent post we wrote on saving time with usability testing (hence the title…). If you haven’t checked it out, give it a quick look. There is some useful advice in there.

Neat animation – The ROI of User Experience: http://ow.ly/3MSwb #Usability #design #UCD

And a neat video to finish off with. This post from HFI does help explain the value of a good user experience. Be sure to send it on to anyone you know who might doubt the value. And then get started with a quick test on IntuitionHQ.

That’s all for this week. Hopefully a few interesting resources there to keep you going. Feel free to leave your thoughts on this selection below and be sure to let us know if you have any other interesting resources or articles you’d like to add.

Happy testing everyone.

 

Get started with usability testing in 7 simple steps

Posted by Jacob Creech on January 28th, 2011

I recently gave a presentation to a group of communications managers from local non-profit organisations. While they all had a reasonable understanding of what usability is, most were unaware of how to test usability, how to make changes to improve usability, and how to get themselves started with a usability testing process.

I think many people suffer from this problem. They like the idea of making there sites more usable, but they just don’t know how to get themselves started. So with all of this in mind, I put a brief presentation together to try and help people get started with understanding usability testing, what it is, how it works, and how, who and when to test. You can see the presentation below:

Key points:

Make the most of everyone you can
After our discussion there were a few key points that really stuck out. Most people don’t realise you can started with your usability testing simply by asking a friend, family member or colleague for some quick feedback, or even just observing how they interact with your site. Making observations and seeing how people interact with your site can really show you what is or isn’t working properly. Of course, the other beauty of this is that it doesn’t take any time to set up, and testing only takes as long as watching someone play around with your website. You can send out a question or test on your Facebook or Twitter feeds, in your newsletters, through your RSS feed, in forums you frequent, or any other way you can think of. Just ask, and you’ll find a lot of people are willing to share their views.

When doing this kind of testing, you can either sit back and watch how people interact with your site, or try and prompt them towards completing certain tasks – find our contact details, how much does such and such a product cost – let your imagination run wild. People really do interact with sites in a huge number of different ways – some will search for the product, some will look for certain categories, some will go through all the navigation menus looking for the product – and what you can learn from this is how your process stacks up. Was it easy for people using all of these different methods to find a certain product? Do you even have a search feature? What should the user do if they can’t find the information they are after? All of these things need to be considered.

El Card Sorting también resulta divertido para todos

Try card sorting exercises
Card sorting exercises can be really useful for sorting out this kind of categorisation. Make some kinds with different products and categories (or articles, or anything else that relates to your site) and ask how people think things should be structured. Maybe you would have thought everyone would look in category A for product x, but you find most people look in category B instead. This is useful, actionable information that you can use.

Use the web
As well as soliciting feedback from Facebook, Twitter et al, you can also search around for information on whatever specific topic you are interested in. There are tons of great, cheap testing tools (I’d suggest IntuitionHQ of course) that you can check out. There are a range of fantastic communities you can turn to for feedback – the great Stackexchange sites are a great starting point. The point is, the web is full of useful information, helpful people (yes, and some not so helpful ones as well), and more fantastic resources than you could shake a stick at. Make the most of it.

feedback-site

Listen to feedback
Another point is to consider all feedback that you receive. All feedback is useful feedback. The chances are that if one user has take the trouble to write to you about an issue that dozens more are experiencing it. When you receive this kind of feedback, the least you can try and do is try and test it. If you find an issue, make changes. It will improve the usability of your site.

Don’t be afraid to make changes
Once you’ve observed peoples interactions, received their feedback and heard their opinions, don’t be afraid to make changes. You can keep making small changes to improve the usability of your website, rather than letting everything pile up on top of you.

Know your audience
If you are making a knitting website, the experience should be markedly different than if you were making a programming website. Know your audience, try and learn how they interact with the internet. Making profiles or personas can be a very helpful exercise so you can better understand who is using your site, and what kind of experience they would be expecting when they come to your site. You can come up with several different profiles, and try and optimise the site for how each one of them interacts with your site.

Do it now
The worst thing you can do after sitting here and reading this is not doing anything. You should go out now, ask anyone what they think of your site. Think of some key things that anyone should be able to accomplish on your site, and then ask your friend, family member, workmate, Twitter follower or whoever else to try and complete those tasks. Observe their interactions. Use a web tool like IntuitionHQ. Get their feedback on what they think does or doesn’t work. The point is do it, and do it now. And then prioritise and action all that feedback that you receive.

The final point

Everyone experiences the web in different ways. Everyone has a different understanding of how things should work. Think about the way you use the web compared to friends, family, workmates etc. and how different that is from your own experience. I often use ‘the mum test’ – what does my mum think of the site, how does she interact with it, how does she navigate through it, can she complete whatever task is required when she goes to the site… Try doing a mum test of your own, and get started testing your own sites. You’ll be amazed what you find.

I’ll leave you with this video which will hopefully help to explain just how different people see the web, and hopefully it will help you understand just how different everyone is and how different our understandings can be.

Images from Flickr users: mario_carvajal, hikingartist

Questions? Comments? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. And if you want to get a head start on your usability testing, why not head over to IntuitionHQ, sign up for an account, and test your own start. A more usable web starts now.