One of the first steps I take in the discovery process of a new project is to get a better feel for what the competition is doing. Why would we care what the compassion is already doing for the same feature or app? Oh there are so many good reasons.
Why do a competitive analysis?
So you know how the major competition in your software, product or digital space is handling a similar feature
Understand where your product stands in reference to its competition
Idea generation on how to solve various usability issues
Get an idea of what you can do to gain a competitive edge or make your product better
No need to reinvent the wheel. Understand what already exists you you don’t have to start anew.
To know what the trends are in your industry and on the web
Identify best practices or patterns. Then you can make improvements on what exists.
Seeing what already exists can spark new, and even better ideas.
They key benefit of performing a competitve analysis is to identify strengths and areas for improvement. You have to see what already exists out there before you can do this for your own product.
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.
Card sorting can be used for much more than just organizing a website’s navigation. In fact, that is why information architecture is such a broad term. And one tool for helping people organizing and creating a structure is a card sort.
So what exactly is card sorting? According to the Wikipedia entry for card sorting: “Card sorting is a simple technique in user experience design where a group of subject experts or “users,” however inexperienced with design, are guided to generate a category tree or folksonomy. It is a useful approach for designing information architecture, workflows, menu structure, or web site navigation paths.”
Now that we know what it means, how do we use it? Or in other words, why do we use it? In my case, I wanted to test a few of the doctors who use my company’s enterprise software. We have a portion of the software that is Electronic Medical Records, aka EMR. I wanted to see how different participants thought the information should be structured in the patient’s EMR.
Should each entry be strictly entered chronologically?
And if that is the case, is the oldest entry first or newest entry first?
Should the most important information be surfaced to the top somehow?
Is there a way to create bundles of information or sub groups?
What does the user think the best way this information should be organized?
All of these questions could prompt hours and hours of discussion and speculation. So instead of endlessly talking about it, let’s get direct feedback from the users.
I know that many UX Designers use post-it notes on a wall to organize thoughts and create a taxonomy. However, what do you do if you don’t have a wall? And what if you do if your tester is not located in the same room as you? In other words, you need to perform the card sorting remotely.
I looked high and low for online and electronic resources to perform a card sort. I found that most of the online options were either too expensive or simply did not offer the functionality I was looking for. In the end, I settled on the free Mac program called XSort. This great little program (though visually very outdated) had the basic features I needed to perform a card sort. It allowed me to have more than 10 cards, it had the ability for the user to create subgroups within groups, and the cards would not automatically “snap” in to place like some services would. The users could place the cards wherever they wanted to on the screen.
So far, we have performed a few pilot tests with a handful of doctors to work out some bugs. The main lesson we are learning is that what the user is saying as he/she is going through the card sort is actually more valuable than the actual results. So instead of “throwing the test over the wall,” or in the online word, just sending out a card sort link and viewing the results, it is actually better to have the user talk you through their thought process. What is also valuable is that being able to moderate the card sort, and to answer technical or clarifying questions probably produces more accurate results. If a user is confused about a term or abbreviation, he or she might categorize that differently, and thus throwing off the card sort, than if the tester clearly understands the term. Finally one more valuable gem that I realized while performing cards sorts: Keep your mouth shut! Let the tester talk you through the awkward silences. If you must speak, ask probing and clarifying questions. But do your best to try not to suggest ANY way that a tester could group items. They tester will struggle at first. But that is OK. Just let them absorb all the cards and try to make sense out of them the best way that they can. You will get great user feedback if you actually let the user provide you that unbiased feedback.
The bottom line lesson here: Yes kids, card sorting can be used for more than just organizing navigation of a website. Try it out!