Tag Archives: research

A surveys does not have to be the dirty ‘S’ word

Jennifer Blatz User Experience UX design and research
Surveys can be useful to supplement empathy interviews.

When it comes to user experience research, there are several methods to gather information. One of those research methods is a  survey. Now, a lot of UX researchers might frown upon the use of surveys. It’s true, they are a great way to gather quantitative information. And that is great to gather in a lot of circumstances. But when it comes to user experience, quantity is not as important as understanding the “why” someone does something. That is the value of qualitative research over quantitative.

So a lot of “pure” UX researchers choose to not even entertain the idea of sending out a survey. I think this mindset is because a survey may be an opportunity to gather some insights, but they are not always very helpful insights. And for those who don’t know any better, a person might interpret these survey answers as gospel. Again, they don’t provide the “why” someone is doing something.

For the survey portion I am sharing above, I used a survey as a supplement to a recent empathy interview session I performed. I was interviewing people on their recent car-purchase journey. Instead of asking participants what kind of car they bought, or what automobile features were of the utmost importance, I chose to gather some of this information in a survey. I gave the participant this survey to fill out before we had our interview. And in case you are worried, I did ask a lot of the same information about why they bought a car so that I could dig deeper in to the “why” they bought what they did. Also, this gave me an opportunity to see just how consistent people were in their answers. Thankfully all of them were.

So, the lesson here folks is that as a user experience researcher, don’t completely rule out a survey. You can gather a lot more information you might not have time to find out in just an hour interview. Remember, as a good researcher, you should have a lot of tools in your tool kit. And yes, a survey should be one of them.

Peak-End Rule and User Experience Design

Have you ever interviewed a user, after the fact, about an experience and they had nothing but positive things to say about it? But you know that they struggled or had pain points along the way. This phenomenon has a name, and it’s known as peak–end rule.

What is the peak-end rule?

Peak-end rule is a phenomenon where people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak. The peak is the most intense moment. In other words, they forget about all of the feelings and emotions they were experience throughout the entire event. And thy seem to just “remember” how they felt at the peak, whether that is good or bad. This model dictates that an event is not judged by the entirety of an experience, but by prototypical moments (or snapshots) as a result of the representativeness heuristic, according to Wikipedia.

Why does it happen?

The peak-end rule tends to happen more on emotional events, even though people are not usually aware of their motional involvement at the time.  Also, people tend to remember how things turned out overall. If they had final success in the process, then their memory is going to be more positive and they tend to forget about the struggles they had along the journey. People just tend to think more positively of themselves when they have accomplished something, and therefore forget the negative aspects. One way to think about this is, if people think too much about it, and focus on the pain they went through, then they are likely to feel that pain again. So perhaps this is a instinctive defense mechanism? Without obtaining a psychology degree, I will leave that question open for debate.

How can you avoid it in your research?

The best way I can think of avoiding the peak-end bias is to observe participants in real time instead of relying on their account of it after the fact. This is why ethnographic research is so important in User Experience design. People are not even aware of some of the actions they perform. But if you are there to observe them in person, you discover all sorts of nuggets in behavior the user might not be aware to share. When you observe a participant, you see things like pain points, struggles, repetition, redundancy, mistakes, hacks, work arounds, cheating, confusion and all sorts of gold nuggets of user behavior.

I have seen it time and time again, a participant is trying to complete a task, and the software or website they are using does not perform as expected. The participant is frustrated. Maybe she expresses a slight sigh in displeasuer. Maybe she even tries to accomplish the task in a different way. Maybe she concedes and relies on the “hack” she has created as a work around. When confronted on an obvious frustration, she makes comments like:

  • Oh what to you mean? Did I make a face? I didn’t even notice.
  • I always have to do this.
  • It’s no big deal, it’s just part of the job.

These comments are a tell-tale sign of actions that would likely not be reported in an interview after the fact.

The bottom line: Get out of the building and observe your user first hand. You will get much more context witnessing them in their environment rather than just “taking their word for it.” Observation is king!

2016: Year in review

Jennifer Blatz UX Design 2016 year in review

Seems like everyone has a year in review. What celebrities died this year? What were the biggest news stories? What can we expect in 2017? Well I am not going to recap all the biggest news for 2016. Instead, I would like to reflect on the crazy year it has been for me and to see if I actually accomplished ANY of my goals. ha ha.

To start with, I took a look at my mid year post “Mid Year: Revisiting My Personal Goals” to see how my goal accomplishment were stacking up there. Well, as you can see from the article, I missed few and hit a few. That’s ok, because my career to a huge shift in the middle of the year that caused me to quickly start a new job and move across the country.

Accomplished
  • Re-learned Axure. I did, but I have not practiced it as much as I should have so I probably forgot a lot of the actions.
  • Continue writing blog posts. I wanted to hit 30 blog posts this year. I am pretty sure I did that. I want to continue this practice in the new year.
  • Join a side project. I helped out with Wingspanarts. As of today, the site has not launched their redesign. But I hope they will find a great developer and do so early in the new year.

So those were my major accomplishments. My list was much shorter than I hoped. But I am OK with that. Like I said, I had some major career shifts this year and I needed to focus on sharpening new skills needed for the job. My plan is to think about my new goals for the new year and write a post soon.

Until then, I hope you had a wonderful year. I hope you accomplished some goals, and don’t beat yourself up about the ones you did not knock off your list. There’s always next year to revisit those goals and to make new ones.

Like we all know in UX, it is ok to learn from your failings. Also, it’s ok to pivot in your goals when life hands you changes. Just go with the flow…in 2017.

Card sorting for more than navigation

I recently had the opportunity to practice a research method that is often used to help organize a website’s navigation. Card sorting is a research method used to help structure a site, product or other system. Card sorting helps you to get better insight in to the user’s mental model, as well as how they expect things to be structured and organized. I have written about my experience using card sorting before in another article titled, “UX Deliverables: Card Sort.”

Today I want to discuss using card sorting as another way of understanding how users organize information. Again, card sorting seems to be primarily used to organize navigation. In this study I used card sorting to have customers prioritize and sort education topics based on their interest in that topic. In other words, I had them show which topics they had an interest in, and those they did not.

“Card sorting is a user-centered design method for increasing a system’s findability. The process involves sorting a series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or functionality, into groups that make sense to users or participants. http://boxesandarrows.com/card-sorting-a-definitive-guide/

The Reason

A customer is signing up for a new loan account. This is a great opportunity to give them more information about loans and finances. We wanted a better understanding of the types of information a person would want in the onboarding process. And as important, we wanted to know the types of information a new customer did NOT want.

The Method

No need to get all fancy and high tech. The great thing about card sorting is you can do it in the dark – well sort of. You don’t need a computer to gain great insights from your participant. Just use some index cards (or regular paper) with words or phrases typed or written on them. Have a flat surface where the participant can lay out the cards. Have a few extra blank cards and a marker just in case the person wants to create new cards. This happens more than you would expect. Do your best not to provide too much information or any definitions because you want to simulate a natural experience. In the context of her home, she would not have anyone explaining the terms to her. So we need this situation to be as realistic as possible.

The Process

Present these cards – in no particular order – to the participant and have him/her organize them in to categories that make sense to him/her. In this case, the categories were predetermined for the participant, but then he/she could create more if needed. In fact, in this study, one participant did create his/her own category. While the person is sorting out the cards, encourage him/her to talk through the process and explain his/her rationale. It’s this information that is actually much more valuable that the final results in many ways. To get a better understanding why he/she is putting items in to groups helps you to understand his/her mental model. This will help you to create a better structure and design. If you know why people group things together, you can anticipate future groupings if you need to add more choices later. Also, customers tend to organize things much more differently than the business would. It’s better to see the customer’s point of view so that you can make his/her journey successful.

The Results

What I love most about a card sorting is two things that will often surface: the surprises and the trends. Both ends of the spectrum are so wonderful when card sorting. As the administrator of the study, you want to see common themes emerge and bubble up to the surface. This helps you to organize topics cleanly and in a way the customer will enjoy. If multiple people expect things to be grouped in a certain way, that makes your life as an Information Architect easier.

The other side of the coin is items that surprises the research team. This could be especially helpful if you use a term that the participant does not understand. Most likely it’s industry or technical jargon – which should be avoided at all costs! If you do come across terms that confuse the participant in any way, consider changing or modifying it. In fact, you could ask the person what term they would use instead. Again, asking the person for feedback will often enrich your research and aide in creating a better experience.

The End

After the study, share your insights with the team. It’s even better if members of the team are sitting in the research session with you so they can see first-hand what the participant said and did. But if you can’t have those team members who are involved in the product directly observe the card sorting session, sharing a brief, insightful report is the next best thing. The lesson here is to keep the card sorting method in your pocket for potential use in the future. Card sorting does not have to be reserved strictly for determining navigation. It’s a versatile tech-agnostic method that can be used to organize information quickly and easily. Try it out next time you need to organize and structure information.

BigD Conference: Visualizing User Feedback

Jennifer Blatz UX design treemap data visualization
A treemap is a visualization method I learned about as part of Big Design Conference talks.

Another good class I took as part of the Big D Conference was presented by Eva Kaniasty, the founder of Red Pill UX, and a research and design consultancy.

The role of the UX researcher is an important one. We, as UX researchers, need to design our research studies for analysis. Obviously when we perform a story, we are trying to gather important data. This data we gain in our research efforts need to be analyzed and our findings need to be communicated to others. We need to think about how to visualize our research.

Get your stakeholders to empathize with their customers and users. One way to do this is to take photos of the real people using the product. Don’t use fancy stock photography with posed fake models. Use your smartphone and take pictures of people using the product. And take more pictures of the person, sort of posed, to use as your persona image. This makes the persona more realistic and will provide the opportunity for your stakeholders to see the real person behind the persona.

I learned about the website UI Faces where you can go and get more “realistic” photos that are free to use in your personas or other needs. Granted, I checked this site out, and there’s a lot of avatars from people I follow on Twitter. But hey, your customer probably does not follow them and therefore they won’t recognize the images. So go ahead and check out the site to see if it needs your image needs for personas.

The problem with personas today is that many people just make them up. They don’t generate them using interview data or base them on real users. People often create personas based on “ideal” customers which is not accurate. Be sure that when you create personas, create them based on real research. Also make sure that they represent real people and customers, not ideal ones.

Additional notes from this talk

  • Pie charts are poor visualization tools much of the time.
  • Icons can be used to visualize data, but don’t over use them.
  • After you have a research session, write a quick summary right afterwards so you don’t forget the important details. The longer you wait, the more you will forget.
  • Videos are time consuming and become outdated quickly.
  • Quotes can be very powerful and easier to generate than video clips.
  • Look for patterns in your data.
  • Don’t use a word cloud to summarize data.
  • Word clouds are hard to read, noisy and the colors used can be confusing, portraying a confusing hierarchy.
  • A treemap shows the frequency of terms used in a combined bar chart.
  • Make any color coding meaningful and explain what it means.
  • Test with color blindness tools to make sure that color can be seen.
  • Do no over aggregate that data. That happens when you smooth and combine data together too much. When this happens, the data can lose its meaning. Don’t combine much because if you do, you can lose where the problems are.
  • Use words instead of illustrating with a bunch of repetitive icons.
  • Don’t use statistics for something subjective like severity ratings.
  • For “Ease of Use” ratings, use a bar chart, not a pie chart.
  • Stars are not good to rate the severity of something. People think more stars means “good” and that is the opposite mental model for the severity rating scale.
  • Dot voting is good to give everyone a chance to vote and it surfaces up the problems that need addressing first. The most votes wins!

Top visualization mistakes

  • Implying statistical significance
  • Over aggregation
  • Comparing apples and oranges
  • Leaving out context

UX Deliverables: personas

Personas as a UX deliverable for Jennifer Blatz User Experience Design

 

What is a persona anyways?

Different people, be it a User Experience Designer or someone in the Marketing department of your company may have a persona. So what does a “persona” mean in the UX world? Wikipedia defines a person as: a fictional character created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. In other words, a user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users.

How do you make a persona?

No you don’t just make it up. Pick a fictitious name, throw some random facts on a page and say “This is our personal Sally Student.”  No, no, no. You use actual user research to develop a persona. As mentioned before, a person is created from combined data based on interviews and other research methods. The most important factors in a persona are generally not demographic information like age, political interests, or what type of car a person drives. Though some of these types of factors can be used to give the persona some human characteristics and personality. They key is to use information that is important to portraying the persona. They type of driving habits a person has, would not be important for a persona representing a user of medical software. But that information would be important for an app that tracks a person’s mileage and gas consumption when they drive.

Generally personas consist of:

  • The user’s name
  • Age or level of expertise
  • Title or some occupational reference
  • Goals
  • Behaviors
  • Painpoints
  • And perhaps a quote that summarizes the user’s goal, feeling or general outlook about the product or process

Persona advantages

There are many advantages of using personas. Some of these include:

  • They simply provide a “face” for the user story.
  • Provide an emotional link to the person so you can build empathy with that user.
  • Promotes surfacing a real goal, pain points and motivations rather than just making them up as the discussion evolves.
  • When you need to play out a use case, the persona is a true character to use as reference, along with all of her data and behaviors.
  • Keeps the “facts” of the user more concrete. If it’s recorded on paper, traits of the user are less likely to morph and change.
  • Gives the team a focal point of on person to discuss rather than a theory about a group of users. You can specifically reference how “Sally the Student” would use the product so you make sure you are meeting her goals.
  • To focus the design on a “real” user rather than what we “think” is the best solution.

Now that you have a better understanding of personas, I hope that you will use them on your next project. If you are using personas now, please share your process of how you develop them and how you use them with the team.

UX Deliverables: Ethnographic observation

Jennifer Blatz UX design performs ethnographic research for the virtual travel sheet.
Understanding how users work in their natural environment will provide great insight in to your research.

Simply put, I love ethnographic research. I mean it when I say that this form of user research is probably the most valuable way to gain insight on your users and your product. And, unfortunately, it is far too often overlooked as time consuming or simply viewed as a waste of time. I could not disagree more!

First let’s define the term. According to Wikipedia, ethnography is:

 The systematic study of people and cultures. It is designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.

So how does this apply to UX and research? By observing your users in their natural habitat, you get exceedingly more information and context about their real world.

The benefits of ethnographic research for me include:

  • You see users use your product in a natural way, not in a fabricated lab setting
  • It provides context to their environment
  • You see things that you would never discover with a phone call or what the suer just tells you
  • You discover that what users say they do, and what they really do can often differ greatly
  • You see first hand the pain points that users are not aware that they have
  • You can observe true behaviors
  • You notice the environmental factors, like interruptions from c0-workers, slowness of equipment, and other physical attributes that affect the user
  • You have the opportunity to ask questions, on the spot, as circumstances arise
  • You can record aspects of the environment by taking photographs and video that could not be done remotely
  • You can establish a better rapport with your users
  • You can observe the entire context of the working environment, across rooms, buildings, people and other circumstances
  • It provides impromptu “bitch sessions” that the user would probably not normally share
  • It allows the user to feel like he/she is being heard
  • It allows you to be an “eye” for the other team members who are not able to view the user’s world
  • It gives the UX designer the best opportunity to really empathize with the user, by seeing how their work or life really is

Hopefully my reasons have given you enough understanding and reasoning to do your own ethnographic research. If you have your stories to share about ethnographic research, please do so in the comments.

 

Design Space Vs. Solution Space

Jennifer Blatz UX Design user requests solutions to design problems
Users often request a “button” or other feature to solve what they think is the problem.

As UX designers, we have all heard our users or customers offer solutions to a problem.

  • “Can I have a back button at the top left?”
  • “Will you put these 4 item in the pull down too? I use them all of the time.”
  • “I’d love it if I could have a widget to help me build my plan in to a nice organized package.
  • “Can you put a button on the main page for me to easily access all of the uploaded files so I don’t have to click on the menu to go there?

Yes these might sound like good solutions on the surface. But it is more important to really find out what the user is having a problem with. That’s when you try to stay in the “Problem Space.”

The Problem Space is the portion of discovery where the UX designer really tries to understand the user’s problems. It’s good to hear the user out in this phase, even if he is proposing solutions to his problems. A good way to dig deeper, and to gain a better  understanding of the problem is to keep asking the user “Why?” This is know as the “5 Whys” technique and is often used by UX designers to discover more information. When a user gives you an answer, ask him “Why.” And ask “Why” again. And again. This way, he will divulge more information than he might be providing to you. Get deeper in to the problem. Try to get a better understanding of what he is struggling with, what his pain points are. Maybe, when more information is revealed, you as the UX designer will come up with a better solution that the user is proposing. That is the goal anyways. Maybe you will also discover that this user’s problem persists in other areas of your site or application. And a more universal solution would not only solve this user’s problem, but many other problems too.

Albert Einstein put it perfectly when he said:

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

It pays off to devote more time to analyzing the problem than quickly jumping to a solution. If you jump too quickly to a solution, without really understanding the problem, you might not actually be providing the best fix for the problem.

I understand that it is easy to quickly jump to the Solution Phase. Especially if a solution, which seems like a good idea, has been proposed. But by refraining from taking the leap, which requires patience and discipline, it gives you an opportunity to really define the problem. And this is crucial to success.

Remember that residing in the Problem Phase should not express any solutions. Just focus on a complete understanding of the problem before proposing any solutions. Also, clearly defining the problem, can help eliminate ambiguous terms that might be used and to get the entire team on board with the project.

Don’t waste a moment. Take advantage and learn.

Jennifer Blatz UX design always learning
Even on casual encounters, like an Uber right home, take advantage of meeting a new person and learn something.

When riding home one evening in the back of an Uber car, I took advantage of a situation. Sure, I could have sit back quietly and enjoyed the ride in silence. The driver did not have the radio on, so it could have been a peaceful ride.

Instead, I decide to make the ride a bit more interesting. Don’t worry, I was not going to engage in anything illegal. I decided to engage the driver in a conversation. Gasp! Talk to a stranger in Los Angeles? What? Who does that??? Well, I do.

You see, I am a gal from the Midwest. People from that part of the world are not afraid to engage in a conversation. In fact, this art form was eloquently taught to me by my father. I can recall on several instances the following circumstance: I am in a long line for an amusement park ride. My dad is waiting for me outside the ride on a bench until I am finished. By the time I get back from the ride, my dad has had a long chat with the person sitting next to him on that bench. I didn’t even notice the person when I started to get on the ride.

So what was happening here? My dad was a very smart man, and knew that having a conversation would help pass the waiting time. He didn’t want to read a book because he liked to people watch. These were the days before smart phones. So he wold strike up a chat with a complete stranger.

Not only did a conversation like this pass the time, he also learned something. And that is what I am trying to promote here. Instead of looking down and checking your smart phone, strike up a conversation with a stranger. What was so magical about the conversations my dad would have with strangers is what he learned about the other person. He would say things like, “That guy lived just a couple of blocks down from where I grew up in New York. And our parents when to the same social hall for dances and parties.” Or he would say, “The lady I sent next to on my flight is the inventor of body glitter.”

What do you do to learn more? Just start a conversation. I know this is not easy for some people. Striking up a conversation with a complete stranger can be terrifying. But if you want to be a UX designer, you have to break out of your shell and learn how to be comfortable in a conversation with others. It’s ok, the (probably) won’t bite.

  • Start the conversation small, maybe make a comment about the weather or the current surroundings.
  • Or ask a generic question about something you “seem like” you need assistance with like the time the the store is closing or do they if know….
  • Maybe you can make a comment out the phone they are looking at. Ask, “Oh is that the new iPhone? Do you like it?” People love to talk about their gadgets.
  • Gage the person’s reaction, if they give you a short answer, they might not want to chat. See how negative they seem.
  • If they ask you a question back, it’s a good sign they might want to have a conversation.
  • If a person is reading a book or has earphones on, this is a sign  they might not want to talk to you. But if they are just gazing at their phone, they are probably just killing time.
  • Don’t get too personal. But it’s ok to ask what they do for a living and what they do in that type of job.
  • Just remember that people love talking about themselves, and the point of this exercise is to learn, so let the person do a majority of the talking.
  • Be brave, learn to read others and be safe.
  • But most importantly have fun and embrace the opportunity to learn from every experience.

 

User research: measuring information

User research measuring quantity vs. quality Jennifer Blatz UX design
Author/Copyright holder: Nielsen Norman Group.

When conducting user research, there are a variety of methods to acquire valuable data. This chart, courtesy of the Nielson Norman Group, illustrates the ranges that your research can measure.

Let’s break this down to the extreme ranges of this chart.

Behavioral

Ethnographic research is a fine example of behavioral research. This is where the researcher goes in to the user’s natural environment and observes the user in the user’s normal and regular context.

Attitudinal

Surveys and Interviews are some ways to see what the user says they would or would not do something. Often users will give answers they think the research wants to hear or what they think is the “correct” answer. The key here is that the user might actually believe what they are saying is true. But in fact, when the researcher actually observes the behavior, what the user has said might not be accurate.

Qualitative

One-on-one interviews and ethnographic research are a couple of great ways to get qualitative research information. The researcher can devote individual time to the user, and really get deep information about them. This takes time, and therefore can be difficult to accomplish in mass quantities. But submersing yourself in the users world will provide much more in-depth information than more quantitative research methods.

Quantitative

Surveys accomplish quantitative research very well. Especially with the plethora of online survey tools (many of them are free), one can easily send out a survey to hundreds, if not thousands of participants and gather a large amount of data. This data can then be accumulated to show trends, make charts and post results of several people. However, this research method does not provide individual insight and appreciation that a more qualitative research will provide.

All in all, there are many research methods that a UX researcher has at his or her disposal. They key is to know which research method is best for the type of information he or she is seeking. Also, many of research methods fall within the middle ranges of this chart, and not at the extremes. I encourage you to use a variety of research methods in your next UX project.

 

Researching new topics: Medical travel sheet

Travel sheet UX research and discovery by Jennifer Blatz
Master lists like this can help people remember conditions they might otherwise forget in a medical examination.

Travel sheets are a traditional medical document used by doctors as a sort of a check list of conditions. It’s a quick way to mark items that a patient may or may not have.

What do I know about medical exam travel sheets? Absolutely nothing! But that is a great start for any UX Designer. You don’t have to be an expert on your subject so start researching. In fact, the less you know can work to your advantage. Approaching a topic from a completely new and innocent perspective allows you to empathize how someone else who is new to the subject will be introduced. You have fresh eyes, less bias and a lack of knowledge to jump ahead of yourself.

So if you don’t know a lot about a topic then get started on learning. Use the web to research what others have said on the same topic. I don’t have to tell you the wealth of resources there are online. Also, talk to your stakeholders and clients to learn from they. they know their subject, and they should not be afraid to share this valuable information with you.

Jennifer Blatz UX Design travel sheet research for medical ERM project
Travel sheets may not be the prettiest thing to look at. But they have a strong function in the medical field when assessing patients.

Create UX Deliverables to Build up your Portfolio

There are many people trying to figure out how to make the jump in to the UX field. I too, not too long ago, was trying to transition (or to use the buzz word “pivot”) in to the field of UX.  Thankfully, I made the transition and I am now a UI Designer. However, it took a lot of hard work, networking, self discipline, education and pushing myself to learn more about UX every day.

Jennifer Blatz UX design deliverables
Use all levels of fidelity to show your progress through the UX design process.

One way I went about getting experience about UX was to learn as much as I could about the deliverables in the UX field. I would hear a term like “personas” or “wireframes” and decide that I was not only going to learn as much as I could about these topics, but I was also going to put it in to practice.

UX deliverables like performing a competitive analysis can show progress in a project.
UX deliverables like performing a competitive analysis can show steps in a project.

Here’s an example. Say you are a web designer for a flower shop. Sure, you could just design the website per the shop owner’s request. But why not take it a step further? Why not do a bit of discovery and research before starting the design project? You could interview the owners and customers to find out what the business goals and customer goals are. You could do a bit of ethnographic research by observing people shopping for flowers or employees performing a transaction. Sketch our a few concepts before diving in to the code.

Jennifer Blatz design UX deliverables
Creating a mood board helps set the tone of a project and informs you of what designs already exist in the same arena.

If you are trying to get experience in UX, and want to build up your portfolio, use some or many of these methods to show that you are so much more than a visual designer or developer. Show off your analytical skills and how they are applicable to a career in UX.

Here is a brief list of UX deliverables to get you started:

  • User Stories
  • Personas
  • Competitive Audit
  • Sketching
  • Stakeholders Interviews
  • Brainstorming Sessions
  • Moodboard
  • Prototypes
  • Annotated Wireframes
  • Storyboard
  • Information Architecture (Taxonomy)
  • Task Analysis
  • Interviews
  • Ethnographic Observation
  • Heuristic Evaluation
  • Examine Business Goals
  • Examine Customer Goals
  • Content Audit
  • Sitemap Creation
  • User Flow
  • Usability Testing
  • A/B Testing
  • Card Sorting
  • Pattern Libraries
  • Site Map and Architecture
  • Whiteboard and Sticky Notes
  • Functional Specifications
  • Interactive Mockups
  • Style Guide
  • Surveys
  • Market Research
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Use Case Scenario
  • Creative Brief
  • Diary Study
  • Navigation Model
  • Web Analytics
  • Persona Empathy Map
  • Affinity Diagrams
  • Ideation Workshop
  • Task Model
  • Cognitive Walk Through

Now take all of these deliverables and practice creating them. Then,  use the most important UX skill of all: Tell us Your Story.

Ethnographic research – getting to know the environment

Jennifer Blatz Design user research UX UI
Members of hospital staff are working in their natural environment. In this case, a dog is getting prepared for a procedure a technician reviews X-rays on a computer.

One way to really understand how your users work on your product is to view them in their natural environment. That puts their working circumstances and environment in perspective. By observing people, you see things they would not normally tell you. Maybe because it’s so routine they don’t realize they are performing such actions. Maybe because they do not think it is relevant. If you just observe a person in their work situation, then you can decide what actions they take are related to the software or product you are working on.

Here are some questions to keep in when when you are performing an ethnographic research study:

  • Is the work place quiet and calm?
  • Do the users get interrupted a lot?
  • What other tasks do they do while working on your software or product?
  • How is the work station set up? Is it on a desk?  A counter? Shared by several users?
  • What real world objects do they use instead of using the computer? (like post-it notes and pens)

You can learn a lot by acting as a “fly on the wall” and getting a feel for how the workplace is run and how the software interacts in that work flow.

Jennifer Blatz UX User experience interface design ethnographic research
The doctor shows me how her files are situated on a wall so that she knows what items need her attention.

 Value of Ethnographic Research

I cannot express enough how important it is to get out of the office and get in to the user’s real world. In the photo above, had I not visited this doctor in her office, I doubt she would have told me about her paper files organization. It’s just as useful to understand a person’s physical environment as it is to understand their electronic or software environment. That way, you can figure out how you can make the two world meet seamlessly.

Plus, you get to see things like these cutie pies.

Jennifer Blatz UX research User interface puppies software

The discovery phase in a new UI project

Jennifer Blatz design research and discovery UX
Looking at design examples of dashboards that already exist helps me to get in the right mindset of designing something similar, and hopefully better.

I find that the best best place for me to start on a new  project is to see what’s already out there in the world. I like to do a bit of research, and see what items exist that are similar in design and purpose. It helps me to think about possibilities, what I like and what I don’t like.

I am currently in the process of designing a Dashboard that will be used in several veterinary hospitals. Having never designed a dashboard before, I thought I would scour the internet to see what visual examples I could use as inspiration on helping me get started.

After viewing various dashboard examples, I figure out what traits apply to my design concept, and what do not. Even though I might not have a pie chart in my concept does not mean I would discard a design completely. It’s often useful to pull pieces from several designs and combine them in to one.

As you can see from the collage of Dashboards above, they have a variety of components. Some work within my design and some do not. As the project progresses, we will see if any of these designs or pieces of the design end up in the final product.

When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods

This post originally came for Nielsen Norman Groups website in the full article “When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods”. Here is an excerpt  from that article highlighting a comprehensive list of research methods.

Research methods chart on Jennifer Blatz UX Design

20 UX Methods in Brief

Here’s a short description of the user research methods shown in the above chart:

Usability-Lab Studies: participants are brought into a lab, one-on-one with a researcher, and given a set of scenarios that lead to tasks and usage of specific interest within a product or service.

Ethnographic Field Studies: researchers meet with and study participants in their natural environment, where they would most likely encounter the product or service in question.

Participatory Design: participants are given design elements or creative materials in order to construct their ideal experience in a concrete way that expresses what matters to them most and why.

Focus Groups: groups of 3-12 participants are lead through a discussion about a set of topics, giving verbal and written feedback through discussion and exercises.

Interviews: a researcher meets with participants one-on-one to discuss in depth what the participant thinks about the topic in question.

Eyetracking: an eyetracking device is configured to precisely measure where participants look as they perform tasks or interact naturally with websites, applications, physical products, or environments.

Usability Benchmarking: tightly scripted usability studies are performed with several participants, using precise and predetermined measures of performance.

Moderated Remote Usability Studiesusability studies conducted remotely with the use of tools such as screen-sharing software and remote control capabilities.

Unmoderated Remote Panel Studies:  a panel of trained participants who have video recording and data collection software installed on their own personal devices uses a website or product while thinking aloud, having their experience recorded for immediate playback and analysis by the researcher or company.

Concept Testing: a researcher shares an approximation of a product or service that captures the key essence (the value proposition) of a new concept or product in order to determine if it meets the needs of the target audience; it can be done one-on-one or with larger numbers of participants, and either in person or online.

Diary/Camera Studies: participants are given a mechanism (diary or camera) to record and describe aspects of their lives that are relevant to a product or service, or simply core to the target audience; diary studies are typically longitudinal and can only be done for data that is easily recorded by participants.

Customer Feedback: open-ended and/or close-ended information provided by a self-selected sample of users, often through a feedback link, button, form, or email.

Desirability Studies: participants are offered different visual-design alternatives and are expected to associate each alternative with a set of  attributes selected from a closed list; these studies can be both qualitative and quantitative.

Card Sorting: a quantitative or qualitative method that asks users to organize items into groups and assign categories to each group. This method helps create or refine the information architecture of a site by exposing users’ mental models.

Clickstream Analysis: analyzing the record of screens or pages that users clicks on and sees, as they use a site or software product; it requires the site to be instrumented properly or the application to have telemetry data collection enabled.

A/B Testing (also known as “multivariate testing,” “live testing,” or “bucket testing”): a method of scientifically testing different designs on a site by randomly assigning groups of users to interact with each of the different designs and measuring the effect of these assignments on user behavior.

Unmoderated UX Studies: a quantitative or qualitative and automated method that uses a specialized research tool to captures participant behaviors (through software installed on participant computers/browsers) and attitudes (through embedded survey questions), usually by giving participants goals or scenarios to accomplish with a site or prototype.

True-Intent Studies: a method that asks random site visitors what their goal or intention is upon entering the site, measures their subsequent behavior, and asks whether they were successful in achieving their goal upon exiting the site.

Intercept Surveys: a survey that is triggered during the use of a site or application.

Email Surveys: a survey in which participants are recruited from an email message.

Ethnographic research of tourists in Hollywood

First thing I wanted to do before tackling the Hollywood Walking Tour App was to observe how tourists do research or way find on the boulevard. I wanted to see how people navigated the area. As suspected, some tourists were holding up unfolded maps or looking at books. Some people were part of a larger tour group, being lead around by a hired guide. Some were standing to the side looking at a smart phone. Perhaps they were researching the area? And others were just wondering down the street checking out all of the starts on the sidewalk along the way.

Ethnographic study and observation of tourists in Los Angeles.  Jennifer Blatz Design
Ethnographic study and observation of tourists in Los Angeles.

Walking Tours Competitive analysis

As part of discovery for my Hollywood Walking Tour App, I thought it would be a good idea to compare other apps that are available on the market. Granted, I only looked at free apps. But I want my app to be free, so this really is my competition. I was really shocked and surprised how poor the apps were for apps concerning walking tours in Los Angeles, and specifically Hollywood. The Hollywood walk of fame is surely bar far one of the biggest tourist destinations in Los Angeles. And it is best seen of foot. So I was really disappointed in the apps on the market now covering this topic.

Below I am comparing several apps that either have to do with Los Angeles tours, walking tours, or a combination of both.

Competitive analysis of other apps covering walking tours in Los Angeles. Jennifer Blatz Design
Competitive analysis of other apps covering walking tours in Los Angeles.

Ethnographic research? Sure!

For the Hollywood Walking Tour app I am now developing, I thought it would be a great idea to go to one of Hollywood’s biggest tourist traps, I mean spots. I spent a couple of hours observing tourists and talking to them about their traveling experience. Specifically, I wanted to see how people navigated the streets (Did they use a map or guide book? Or were they just wandering aimlessly?) and find out how they researched their trip to Hollywood. Here are some observations I made:

Ethnography tourist in Hollywood 2014

Competitive analysis is a valuable tool

I recently took it upon myself to compare three online movie ticket purchasing websites: Fandango*, movietickets.com and Arclight Cinemas. By comparing the features, design, content and user flow of similar websites, one can gain invaluable knowledge about their own sites.

When you compare your website to what a competitive website is doing, you will learn:

  • What your website or experience is doing right
  • What your website or experience is doing wrong
  • What your competitors are doing right
  • What your competitors are doing wrong

This is a great jumping off point in improving your own website or experience.

This graphic only shows some some of the insights I discovered when comparing websites. My brief overview is below:

Comparative Analysis for movie sites as a User Experience learning tool and step in the process
Comparative Analysis is a valuable process for getting your website up to par. See what other websites are getting right and wrong, and you can modify your own website accordingly.
* At the time of publishing this post, Fandango had not yet released its redesigned website and mobile app. Therefore many of the specific features I discuss here will no longer be applicable. However, going this process was still a great learning tool.

Comparative Analysis: Fandango

I know that Fandango will be launching a redesign very soon, so the shelf life of my analysis is ver limited. Still, I would like to share with you a few things I learned when analyzing Fandango.com website on the desktop:

  • If something looks like a button, then it should be a button.  The “Find Movie Times + Buy Tickets” looks like a button, but is not. Best not to confuse the user.
  • Movie posters can be too small and sometimes difficult to read the title. Maybe use a simpler image to illustrate film?  And therefore help me read the title of the film.
  • Use the user’s language, according to Jakob Nielsen’s “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.” On the Fandango site: Features> I thought that meant Feature films. This language could be confusing to some users. It was to me.
  • Fandango Comparative Analysis
    Fandango Comparative Analysis

 

Comparative analysis: movietickets.com

When analyzing the movie tickets.com website on the computer/desktop, I discovered a few key points:

  • Highlight theaters where I can buy the tickets from, not just all of them
  • Make the CTA (Call to Action) button clear. I want to buy movie tickets. Make it easy for me. Just like Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think.”
  • I found this to be a particular pain point: there is a long list of theaters with no address or map. How do I know how far away the theaters are?
    movie tickets.com Comparative Analysis of the computer/desktop version
    movie tickets.com Comparative Analysis of the computer/desktop version.

     

 

Comparative analysis: Arclight Cinemas

Some take-aways I discovered when looking at the arclight.com website on the desktop:

  • After a failed search,  provided closest options rather than saying “no results found”
  • Indicate where I am in the buying process, Like Jakob Neilsen’s HeuristicsVisibility of system status
  • When I get an error message in a purchase, indicate what fields are required by an asterisk so I know I which fields I must fill out

    Arclight.com Comparative Analysis for desktop (computer) website.
    Arclight.com Comparative Analysis for desktop (computer) website.