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December 2010 Issue

By Whitney Quesenbery

Published: December 20, 2010

“Focusing an application’s user experience on users’ key tasks is good advice for design on any platform. It’s also good advice for usable accessibility.”

Over the past year or so, Luke Wroblewski has been talking about “mobile first” [1]—that is, designing for mobile before designing a Web application for a desktop browser. It’s an intriguing idea. The motivation that drives designing for mobile first is the explosion in the numbers of mobile devices and mobile users, as well as the competitive issues this has created. But the key benefit for users is simple, focused products, because the constraints of small screens force you to prioritize features and create “an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish.” Focusing an application’s user experience on users’ key tasks is good advice for design on any platform. It’s also good advice for usable accessibility.

Pondering this made me wonder: what if design projects started by thinking about accessibility first? I don’t mean the basics like ALT text for graphics, following coding standards, and creating correctly structured information hierarchies. Building in accessibility at the code level is the only way to remove many of the barriers people with disabilities experience. But if our design thinking started with the idea of making a product that focuses on key tasks and is flexible, would that create a better user experience for everyone? Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: December 20, 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 what skills are essential and desirable for a UX Designer.

Each month in Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your question to us at: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Bill Schmidt

Published: December 20, 2010

“Why not create a design artifact that is not disposable, but instead, one your team can convert to actual production code?”

Within many companies, the use of wireframes in user experience design can be a contentious issue. People typically think of wireframes simply as artifacts designers create when generating design concepts, then later discard. Why not create a design artifact that is not disposable, but instead, one your team can convert to actual production code? Is this Holy Grail of the design process a good idea? Is it even possible? Or does the answer depend on the project, the team, and its agility? This first part in a two-part series takes an in-depth look at the process of converting wireframes to code.

The Question

My exploration of this idea began when a software developer—who was in the audience during a recent presentation on wireframing and prototyping—asked me, “Why can’t you just use the code from your wireframes as the basis for the final code?” This really great, straightforward question stuck with me for some time after the meeting. The real question was: Why waste time and effort on throw-away design artifacts? You could save everyone a lot of trouble by actually starting with working code. I was already aware of several software tools with which I could accomplish this goal and, in fact, had taken this approach on a recent project. Read moreRead More>

By Caroline Jarrett

Published: December 20, 2010

“I’m going to devote this column to books … on form design. … I’ll try to help you pick out the ones that are most relevant to you.”

It’s December, and we’re coming up to the gift-giving season. In case you want to put something professionally relevant on your wish list—or, perhaps more realistically, in case you haven’t yet spent your 2010 book-buying budget—I’m going to devote this column to books. Specifically, books on form design.

I admit that I am coauthor of one of them, but I’m going to try to be as objective as possible. If you’re a forms geek, you’ll want all of them. Not a forms geek? Read on, and I’ll try to help you pick out the ones that are most relevant to you. Read moreRead More>

By Colleen Roller

Published: December 6, 2010

“What affects decision outcomes most is the actual context in which people make decisions. All kinds of things affect decision making….”

In my last column, “Decision Architecture: Helping Users Make Better Decisions,” I talked about how people make decisions and what affects their decision-making process. Although it’s a common assumption that people are largely goal oriented and know what they want, research on decision making has shown that our preferences are actually quite malleable—especially when we encounter something new.

What affects decision outcomes most is the actual context in which people make decisions. All kinds of things affect decision making—the type of decision someone is making, the decision maker’s level of expertise, the number of options available, the way and order in which options are presented, and many others. This column examines how the number of available options affects the decision-making process. Read moreRead More>

By Graham Rhind

Published: December 6, 2010

“Web forms are an essential part of the strategy of any organization that has a Web presence. … We need to open a channel of communication with our customers. Web forms are often the channel of choice.”

Web forms are like the poor relations when it comes to their getting the attention they deserve from the usability community. Usability bibles, when they make mention of Web forms at all, have barely enough to say about them to fill more than a page. Where authors have given Web forms more attention, their appearance and the placement of elements get the lion’s share of the coverage, while the quality of the actual data researchers have gathered hardly gets mentioned. And on those few occasions where authors do provide data from research, they fail to be truly mindful of the problems people from different countries encounter using Web forms.

When you put all of this together, you can see that usability experts are focusing just a tiny part of a single percent of their attention on looking at Web form design. But Web forms are an essential part of the strategy of any organization that has a Web presence. Getting customers to our Web sites, then keeping them there is challenging enough. Once we accomplish that, we need to open a channel of communication with our customers. Web forms are often the channel of choice. Read moreRead More>

By Demetrius Madrigal and Bryan McClain

Published: December 6, 2010

Freemium is a business model that provides users with free access to a service’s core functionality, but charges for additional or improved features.”

Freemium business models seem to be gaining in popularity and rapidly becoming a dominant factor in the success of Web startups. Massively successful social-gaming companies like Zynga and Playdom have had a role in driving their adoption. These companies have been able to grow quickly and make substantial revenues through a combination of ad sales and charging small amounts of money for additional game items and features.

Freemium is a business model that provides users with free access to a service’s core functionality, but charges for additional or improved features. In social gaming, this often takes the form of letting players purchase special, limited-edition virtual goods using an in-game, virtual currency. Other Web services allow users to purchase a premium user experience. For example, Pandora lets users listen to music without ads. In each of these cases, there are opportunities to enhance the appeal of premium services.

In this month’s column, we’ll discuss methods of getting the most out of the freemium model and maximizing the likelihood that users of basic, free services will start paying for premium features. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Ross

Published: December 6, 2010

“It’s almost always better to solve usability problems than to train people to work around them.”

Arrgh! I cried internally as the stakeholders on a recent project dismissed yet another usability problem with, “That’s a training issue.” Unfortunately, that was their solution for most of the problems we’d discovered.

To these stakeholders, it seemed easier to change users’ behavior than to change the design of their notoriously problematic, difficult to modify, internal enterprise application—and actually solve its problems. The application’s design problems seemed so insurmountable to them that training looked like an attractive alternative to improving its user interface. Since the application’s users were employees of their company, it was easy for stakeholders to take the position that they’d just have to adapt.

What’s the best way to respond to people who think training is a solution for usability problems? Is training ever an acceptable alternative to redesign? This column will explore these questions, then explain why it’s almost always better to solve usability problems than to train people to work around them. Read moreRead More>