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September 2009 Issue

By Steve Baty

Published: September 21, 2009

“Understanding the people who will ultimately engage with a product or service provides the foundation for user experience design.”

Understanding the people who will ultimately engage with a product or service provides the foundation for user experience design. Modeling those people and segmenting our models into meaningful groups lets us explore different clusters of needs, then address our solutions to meeting the needs of people belonging to specific clusters.

Audience segmentation models come in many shapes and sizes. So far, the practice of UX design has focused primarily on the persona as the model of choice. This article explores alternative ways of segmenting audiences and the design research we need to derive each type of model. Read moreRead More>

By Mike Hughes

Published: September 21, 2009

“Tables are still very useful for the purpose for which they were originally intended—a way to show relationships among discrete data points.”

Tables get a bad rap—especially in the Web world where, once upon a time, Web developers misused them for HTML layout. But tables are still very useful for the purpose for which they were originally intended—a way to show relationships among discrete data points. From a user assistance perspective, we deal with tables in two contexts:

  1. user assistance—Tables can present information or instructions in our documentation.
  2. user interfaces—Tables can display information within a user interface itself.

In this column, I’ll review some of the basic principles of good table design from an information developer’s perspective, then discuss their visual design and interactivity. These principles and my examples provide the bare essentials of table design. When designing tables, a key information design objective is keeping them simple, so if you start needing more than this column provides, you might be making things unnecessarily complicated for your users. Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: September 21, 2009

“With the current state of the economy and many UX teams downsizing, it’s entirely probable that your company will call upon you to both create a UX design and do usability testing to validate it.”

This column was spurred by a simple question I posted to Twitter in mid-August: Can designers effectively usability test their own designs?

This isn’t just an academic question. With the current state of the economy and many UX teams downsizing, it’s entirely probable that your company will call upon you to both create a UX design and do usability testing to validate it. In the future, as the field of user experience progresses, agile UX becomes more common, and functional disciplines become more blended, I think this will occur more and more.

People have often likened doing both design and usability testing on the same project to defendants serving as their own counsel in a court of law. How does that saying go? Something like this: A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client. Is testing one’s own design a similarly bad idea? What are the pitfalls? Are there any advantages? And most important, if you must do it, what pitfalls should you beware of? Read moreRead More>

By Kate Walser

Published: September 21, 2009

“I discovered what really matters to executives, learned how finances and budgets work, and realized the true value of user experience lies not in cost savings at all, but in intangibles.”

Some think the best way to demonstrate the value of usability in a corporate setting is to emphasize the resulting cost savings. While that may be sage advice in some organizations and industries, following it in the information technology and government arenas would cost you respect and a meeting. For some years, I was guilty of following this tack—before I discovered what really matters to executives, learned how finances and budgets work, and realized the true value of user experience lies not in cost savings at all, but in intangibles.

What Matters to Executives?

For eleven years, I worked in corporate America, for companies with 6000+ employees. My approach to finagling more funds for growing a usability practice with my companies started out like this: We can save you this much money and improve your customer relationships. I spent hours, poring over an Excel spreadsheet to see how the cost savings would add up and preparing to use my beautiful .XLS file to prove the value. But each time I presented my spreadsheets to managers and executives, it didn’t seem like they even cared. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman

Published: September 7, 2009

“By following the attribute-based filtering design best practices this article describes, you can ensure your customers can take care of business without having to spend time struggling with your search user interface.”

Recently, Office Depot redesigned their search user interface, adding attribute-based filtering and creating a more dynamic, interactive user experience. Unfortunately, Office Depot’s interaction design misses some key points, making their new search user interface less usable and, therefore, less effective. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Office Depot site presents us with an excellent case study for demonstrating some of the important best practices for designing filters for faceted search results, as follows:

  1. Decide on your filter value-selection paradigm—either drill-down or parallel selection.
  2. Provide an obvious and consistent way to undo filter selection.
  3. Always make all filters easily available.
  4. At every step in the search workflow, display only filter values that correspond to the available items, or inventory.
  5. Provide filter values that encompass all items, or the complete inventory.

By following the attribute-based filtering design best practices this article describes, you can ensure your customers can take care of business without having to spend time struggling with your search user interface. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six and Chris Anthony

Published: September 7, 2009

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

In this column, which is the second of two parts, we’ll continue discussing how companies can ensure the effectiveness of User Experience within their organizations and current product development processes. We surveyed our panel of Ask UXmatters experts to get answers to the following questions and asked them to share their insights with us:

To read Part I of this two-part series, see “Effective UX in a Corporate Environment: Part I.” Read moreRead More>

By Traci Lepore

Published: September 7, 2009

“Designers gather data to understand the personas that represent the users for whom they are designing a user interface. This is quite similar to the way actors must develop an understanding of their characters.”

Recently, I played a character that was originally written as a male. Now, it was Shakespeare, so some gender bending wasn’t totally out of the ordinary. However, in this particular production, we did more than is usual. Things got a little confusing at first—with the pronoun changes and all—but it was fun hearing people called by the wrong gender for a few days. I did find myself having to think about my character in a different manner than I normally would though, making the role a challenge that gave my character-development skills a nice little stretch.

If I was going to play this role as a female, what did that mean for my relationships with the other characters? What did I want out of my interactions with them? How did I fit into the overall picture? I was a female who hung out with the guys and was better friends with them rather than with other females. But why was that so? Did it make me a tomboy? I didn’t think so, because when it came to push or shove, I was a woman, getting angry and ranting just as much as the other females. Plus, the director wanted me all decked out in jewelry. Not very tomboyish now is it?

What I came to realize was that I needed to understand my motives and objectives clearly to make this character make sense as a female. It was going to take some thought and plenty of frustrating run-throughs to find a character who would be believable on stage—one that most certainly wouldn’t live as written on paper. But that’s why we do theater—to experience the fun of the unexpected. Read moreRead More>

By Junaid Asad

Published: September 7, 2009

“UX professionals must now take up a new design challenge. We must address the changing needs for social media and facilitate users’ taking better advantage of everything social media has to offer.”

In a previous article for UXmatters, “The Social Buzz: Designing User Experiences for Social Media,” I discussed the phenomenal rise and fast-spreading influence of social media and how UX professionals are ideally placed to establish interaction patterns for social media and drive user interface designs and information architectures for environments that require a social context for optimal use. As we explore what social technologies can offer and the boundaries they can cross—boundaries that had confined the traditional Web—UX professionals must now take up a new design challenge. We must address the changing needs for social media and facilitate users’ taking better advantage of everything social media has to offer. [1]

A Need to Define Social Media Settings

Some consider cultures that support the dominance of intellectual over social values and social over biological values superior to those that do not. [1] Although struggles exist over which of these different values will prevail, there is an inherent need for the patterns of intellect and the patterns of society to exist in harmony with biological patterns. Social patterns have their own role to play in keeping certain intellectual patterns in check, just as biological patterns keep certain social patterns under control. A mutual dependence among these patterns enables humankind to thrive. Read moreRead More>