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February 2010 Issue

By Michael Hawley

Published: February 22, 2010

“There can often be disagreements among the members of a project team on which design direction we should choose.”

In the design process we follow at my company, Mad*Pow Media Solutions, once we have defined the conceptual direction and content strategy for a given design and refined our design approach through user research and iterative usability testing, we start applying visual design. Generally, we take a key screen whose structure and functionality we have finalized—for example, a layout for a home page or a dashboard page—and explore three alternatives for visual style. These three alternative visual designs, or comps, include the same content, but reflect different choices for color palette and imagery.

The idea is to present business owners and stakeholders with different visual design options from which they can choose. Sometimes there is a clear favorite among stakeholders or an option that makes the most sense from a brand perspective. However, there can often be disagreements among the members of a project team on which design direction we should choose. If we’ve done our job right, there are rationales for our various design decisions in the different comps, but even so, there may be disagreement about which rationale is most appropriate for the situation. Read moreRead More>

By Traci Lepore

Published: February 22, 2010

I am a klutz. I fully admit this fact. So, whenever I’m in a show that requires me to learn any kind of choreography, whether dancing, fighting, or intricate movement details, I start to feel butterflies flutter in my stomach. My own nervousness has been known to get in the way and cause me to stumble. I would probably be fine if I could just learn to relax and go with the flow. But the language of choreography and movement is confusing to me. I just don’t get what I should do. Even as a kid, I always hated that silly game Hokey-Pokey. Case in point: I was in the middle of a reasonably simple dance in a show. We were performing outside, on the grass, and I was so worried about ruts or rocks in the ground that I wasn’t paying attention to everything else. One of my shoes went flying off! Horribly embarrassing! Though I’m sure only the people in the front of the audience even noticed. Did I mention I’m a klutz?

As a User Experience Designer, there have been moments on projects when I’ve had similar feelings of ineptitude—usually when I’ve been faced with a large, complex system or some completely new and foreign domain I didn’t understand. Have you ever experienced an awkward moment as you’ve tried to figuratively dance and negotiate your way through an uncomfortable situation? This often brings fear of making a decision or taking a step forward along with it—maybe even some shoe-flying moments. A recent acting class, in which I learned what Laban Movement Analysis is all about, helped me find a way to get past this fear. When people say knowledge is power, they are most assuredly correct. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: February 22, 2010

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

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss two enterprise UX topics:

Every month, Ask UXmatters answers questions our readers have about user experience matters. You can read our experts’ responses to your question in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters! Just send your question to us at: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Ross

Published: February 22, 2010

“Chalkmark and Treejack … provide the ability to quickly and easily test early designs and information hierarchies with large numbers of participants.”

Recently, Optimal Workshop, the creators of the online, card-sorting tool Optimal Sort, released two new information architecture evaluation tools: Chalkmark and Treejack. Though these tools are not perfect, they do provide the ability to quickly and easily test early designs and information hierarchies with large numbers of participants.

As a UX consultancy, Optimal Workshop has been very open to receiving user feedback and has incorporated that feedback in updates to their software. I offer this review in the spirit of providing constructive feedback that I hope will benefit the products. I’m sure these tools will continue to improve over time.

Testing Findability with Chalkmark

An online, unmoderated testing tool, Chalkmark lets you test findability in a Web application design. Chalkmark gives participants a task such as Find special offers on cruises and presents a screenshot, as shown in Figure 1. Participants click links in the screenshot where they think they would find the information they need. Then, Chalkmark presents the next task and the next screen. The test results are heatmaps, showing where participants clicked during each task. The heatmaps show concentrations of clicks and how many participants clicked each area of a screen. Read moreRead More>

By Demetrius Madrigal

Published: February 8, 2010

“People’s preconceived notions can be another elephant in the room—a barrier to achieving accurate and actionable feedback on a concept or design.”

I’ve been a bit of a pizza snob ever since my first job making pizza at the age of 15. I’ve always had a pretty low opinion of Domino’s Pizza®, so I was very impressed when I saw Domino’s recent efforts to reinvent both their pizza and their brand identity by tackling their problems head on. When I first saw their ads and online video, which you can see in Figure 1, I was amazed that they had chosen to use actual user feedback that denigrated their product. It’s extremely rare to see companies admit their own faults so bluntly and publicly, but the best way to deal with the elephant in the room is to acknowledge it, confront it, and ultimately overcome it. We have yet to see whether Domino’s can successfully overcome their negative brand perception, but the message they’ve sent has been enough to motivate me—someone who had previously sworn never to eat Domino’s Pizza again—to give them another try. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman

Published: February 8, 2010

“Filters with numeric values remain among the most confusing, because many sites have not been able to design usable numeric filters that people can use in an intuitive manner.”

Faceted search has been around for a long time and has become the de facto standard for search on most ecommerce sites. However, filters with numeric values remain among the most confusing, because many sites have not been able to design usable numeric filters that people can use in an intuitive manner. Recently, powerful user interface controls called sliders have become all the rage for specifying numeric attributes in finding user interfaces. Unfortunately, in their rush to implement this latest, greatest feature, many companies have not designed easy-to-use sliders. Rather than solving usability problems, poorly designed sliders create even more issues around numeric filter usability. In my experience, the following three usability issues surface most often with numeric filters:

  • representing discrete values for aspects as sets of ranges
  • inadvertently emphasizing overly constrained filter states
  • being parsimonious with inventory information

In this column, I’ll examine each of these issues and present the best practices that solve these problems. Read moreRead More>

By Whitney Hess

Published: February 8, 2010

“You’ve passed the seduction phase. You’ve made the client fall in love with you. You’ve determined the terms of your engagement. Now, you need to make things official.”

You’ve passed the seduction phase. You’ve made the client fall in love with you. You’ve determined the terms of your engagement. Now, you need to make things official.

When I used to do freelance on the side, while still employed full time, I never got my clients to sign contracts. I didn’t see the point, and I hated the formality. It felt stuffy, and I thought it would be a turnoff to my clients. Instead, I outlined a loose schedule and process in an email message, told them the dollar amount, then got to work while I waited for the check. If I didn’t get things done on time, it was no big deal, because my clients’ expectations of my commitment were pretty low. If the check came later than I was hoping, that was no big deal either, because I had my salary to rely on. All in all, everything was fine.

But once I quit my job to do consulting full time, all of that easy, breezy stuff had to change. I needed protection. And so did my clients. Read moreRead More>

By Peter Hornsby

Published: February 8, 2010

“Hierarchical task analysis (HTA) is an underused approach in user experience, but one you can easily apply when either modifying an existing design or creating a new design.”

As UX professionals, we have a great many analytical and descriptive tools available to us. In fact, there are so many that it can sometimes be difficult to decide which tool is most appropriate for a given task! Hierarchical task analysis (HTA) is an underused approach in user experience, but one you can easily apply when either modifying an existing design or creating a new design.

This technique has applications across a range of different problem domains, including time-and-motion studies, personnel selection, or training, and provides a broad and deep understanding of task performance. While there are core principles that guide a hierarchical task analysis, it’s possible to adapt the basic approach in a huge number of ways to support the needs of any domain under consideration. In this column, I’ll examine one approach to hierarchical task analysis that enables UX designers to quickly understand both what a system does and how its capabilities translate into the system’s user experience. You can also use this approach to support the UX development process. Read moreRead More>