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April 2009 Issue

By Steve Baty

Published: April 27, 2009

“Personas are archetypal representations of audience segments, or user types, which describe user characteristics that lead to different collections of needs and behaviors.”

This is not going to be an article about personas or even what distinguishes a good persona from a bad one. Instead, this article is about the ingredients we can draw on when creating audience models and some alternative ways of communicating the results of an audience analysis.

First, however, let me briefly discuss what we generally mean when we talk about personas and the role they play in the design and development process.

A Very Brief Introduction to Personas

Personas are archetypal representations of audience segments, or user types, which describe user characteristics that lead to different collections of needs and behaviors. We build up each archetype where the characteristics of users overlap.

According to Alan Cooper, author of About Face 3.0 with Robert Riemann and David Cronin, “The persona is a powerful, multipurpose design tool that helps overcome several problems that currently plague the development of digital products. Read moreRead More>

By Lindsay Ellerby

Published: April 27, 2009

“Research outputs that we build around a core insight or truth compel design teams to empathize with users, and thus, to design truly meaningful products and services.”

Conducting primary user research such as in-depth interviews or field studies can be fairly straightforward, when compared with what you face upon returning to the office with piles of notes, sketches, user journals, and audio and video recordings. You may ask, What should I do with all this data? and How do I turn it into something meaningful?

These are big questions that I cannot answer in just one article, and deciding what kind of documentation or design tool to develop—for example, personas, mental models, user scenarios, or usability test reports—depends on your goals for conducting the research in the first place. But regardless of the output, I believe, for most researchers, the overarching objective is to identify true insights, instead of just reporting facts. Research outputs that we build around a core insight or truth compel design teams to empathize with users, and thus, to design truly meaningful products and services.

In this article, I will outline an approach to gleaning insights from primary qualitative research data. This article is not a how-to for creating the design tools that are often the outputs of primary qualitative user research—such as personas, mental models, or user scenarios. Instead, it identifies an approach to generating overarching insights, regardless of the design tool you want to create. Read moreRead More>

By Jonathan Follett

Published: April 27, 2009

“Increasingly, virtual teamwork means UX professionals must get things done in an environment devoid of the physical presence of colleagues and lacking the relative ease of on-site collaboration.”

As a UX professional, whether you work for yourself, a small shop, or a large company, the chances are increasing that you’ll need to collaborate on a regular basis with a colleague or stakeholder at a distance. In addition to the cost-saving benefits of using distributed teams—especially during these difficult economic times—the availability of broadband and wireless Web connections is making virtual teamwork and collaboration both more desirable and more common. Employing virtual workers, be they freelance or full time, can save companies money on office space and the overhead that comes with it—including furniture, equipment, services, and utilities. And for the virtual worker, there is often no commute—or perhaps just a minimal one to a co-working space—resulting in savings from reduced consumption of gas and car maintenance or use of public transportation.

Increasingly, virtual teamwork means UX professionals must get things done in an environment devoid of the physical presence of colleagues and lacking the relative ease of on-site collaboration. Effectively completing UX tasks while at a distance from our clients, stakeholders, and team members can be challenging, from both technical and process perspectives. How can we, as UX professionals, enable the close collaboration with others we need and manage the process of creating engaging digital experiences when we’re so far apart from each other physically? Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: April 27, 2009

Send your questions to Ask UXmatters and get answers from some of the top professionals in UX.

This time, Ask UXmatters covers two topics:

Ask UXmatters is here to answer your questions about user experience matters. If you want to read our experts’ responses to your questions in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Michael Hawley

Published: April 13, 2009

“Key to a successful competitive review is to have a clear objective for your review and minimize the risk of bias when doing your own designs.”

A common activity at the outset of many design projects is a competitive review. As a designer, when you encounter a design problem, it’s a natural instinct to try to understand what others are doing to solve the same or similar problems. However, like other design-related activities, if you start a competitive review without a clear purpose and strategy for the activity, doing the review may not be productive. One risk is that you may find you’ve wasted your time reviewing and auditing other sites, because you end up with findings that don’t help you design your own solution. Another risk is that the design and interactions of competitor offerings might influence your solution too heavily, whether you intend them to or not. Once you’ve seen how others have solved a particular problem, their solutions may subconsciously affect your own thinking.

But while competitive reviews pose some risks, I contend that doing them is still valuable. Designing without first understanding what others are doing in the same competitive space means you’ll miss out on an opportunity to leverage others’ experience, and you might not be cognizant of possible threats to your strategy. To differentiate your Web sites and applications in the marketplace, you must be aware of what others are doing. Key to a successful competitive review is to have a clear objective for your review and minimize the risk of bias when doing your own designs. In this column, I’ll discuss a structured approach to competitive reviews I’ve used successfully to help my team understand the competition. This approach focuses on identifying opportunities for differentiation. Read moreRead More>

By Colleen Jones

Published: April 13, 2009

“With good content heuristics, we could make a case for better content without painstakingly doing an analysis of all of the content up front.”

How do we know whether content is any good? This simple question does not have a simple answer. Yet, I think having a good answer would help us show our employers and clients why their content needs to improve and how their content compares to the competition’s. As a start toward an answer to this question, I offer a set of content quality checklists for seven different lenses through which we can view content. I see these checklists as the groundwork for content heuristics, which would enable us to do heuristic evaluations and competitive analyses efficiently. With good content heuristics, we could make a case for better content without painstakingly doing an analysis of all of the content up front. Imagine, making a case for better content quality in a few hours instead of a few weeks.

Many interactive projects address content quality only through a style guide. A style guide is helpful, but it isn’t enough. One problem is that a style guide often emerges at the end of an interactive project, capturing how a team handled certain content issues and how they intend to handle them moving forward. That doesn’t help much during the project. Another problem that often occurs is a company neglects maintenance of the style guide going forward. (For information about living style guides, read Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. [1]) Finally, many Web style guides I’ve encountered address word choice, brand voice—and that’s about it. The scope of content quality is much broader. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman and Tricia Clement

Published: April 13, 2009

“Web site user assistance that consistently exceeds customer’s expectations can catapult your company to legendary status and create brand equity you can measure in billions of dollars.”

Web site user assistance that consistently exceeds customer’s expectations can catapult your company to legendary status and create brand equity you can measure in billions of dollars. However, making Help a strategic asset for your company is an arduous task. To shed light on this important topic, I have teamed up with Tricia Clement, a renowned cognitive psychologist and Web site user assistance expert. In this month’s Search Matters column, we’ll deliver actionable insights about Web site user assistance.

We can broadly classify Web site user assistance content or components as either

  • aspirin—solutions that address an acute problem for people who need assistance right now
  • vitamins—solutions for process optimization and longer-term learning and training

Read moreRead More>

By Kyle Soucy

Published: April 13, 2009

“Why wasn’t I winning any of the bids from these RFPs? … I didn’t have a relationship with the prospective clients before submitting my proposal.”

Imagine that you’re sitting at your desk, and you receive an email message from someone you don’t know who is sending you a Request for Proposal (RFP). You don’t even have any contacts at their company. What do you do?

Like so many other independent UX consultants, when I first started consulting, I would jump at the opportunity to bid on work for new prospective clients. Excited about a new prospect, which just seemed to fall in my lap, I didn’t hesitate to spend a day crafting the perfect proposal. Over the years, I’ve responded to countless RFPs—without gaining the work or a client list to show for it. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t I winning any of the bids from these RFPs?

It took a lot of guidance from different mentors and a sales coach before I finally understood: The reason I wasn’t winning these bids was because I didn’t have a relationship with the prospective clients before submitting my proposal. I was responding to unsolicited RFPs, without ever having had a conversation with the project stakeholders. I didn’t realize that, under these circumstances, it’s better to not even respond to the RFP. The goal of this article is to help other UX consultants by preventing their making the same mistakes I’ve made with RFPs and, hopefully, to educate prospective clients on a better alternative for reaching out and hiring us. Read moreRead More>