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February 06, 2017 Edition

Information Architecture: The Structure Behind Your User Interface

Finding Our Way

Navigating the practice of Information Architecture

A column by Nathaniel Davis
February 6, 2017

When information architecture (IA) arrived on the scene in the late 1990s, it brought attention to an aspect of user-interface design that was then only marginally understood: structure. The need to focus on structure is still a significant concern—especially in environments of large scale and complexity.

Digital product and services organizations and large institutions regularly fall short of their desired goals because their user interfaces lack sufficient structure. With today’s complex landscape of human-digital experiences, it is necessary to be mindful of the importance of structure—and its relationship to the practice of information architecture. Read More

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The Paradox of Control Versus Collaboration

February 6, 2017

UX designers tend to be perfectionists—purpose-driven idealists, who are intent on creating experiences that users love. Many designers believe that Business and Engineering don’t care about the user experience at the same level they do. Sometimes, this is the reality. As a result, UX experts often take the full burden of creating great experiences on their own shoulders. After all, shouldn’t the user experience be left to the professionals? While a UX designer’s first instinct might be to command sole ownership over the user experience, the problem is that no isolated UX team can create a product without collaborating with other disciplines—particularly Product Management and Engineering.

The truth is that the best products result from product teams participating in integrative thinking—working together to solve problems than none could solve as well alone. As Roger Martin points out, “Integrative thinkers consider the problem as a whole rather than breaking it down and farming out the parts.” UX professionals must realize that we actually need the help of our Business and Engineering partners to create the best experiences.

In this article, I’ll consider the paradox of control. What are the implications when UX professionals seek control of the user experience? And, alternatively, what happens if User Experience relinquishes control? Read More

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How IBM Is Embracing the Future Through Design

February 6, 2017

Shifting trends are forcing technology companies to reimagine their value proposition. IBM has chosen to create disruption through design. In embracing the future, the company is essentially invoking its past. Back in 1956, IBM was the first large company to establish a corporate-wide design program. But this time, the company’s goals are more ambitious.

Recently, we interviewed Karel Vredenburg, Director of IBM Design’s worldwide client program and head of IBM Studios in Canada, who told us, “We’ve put everything into this transformation.” The company is investing more than $100 million in becoming design centered. Read More


Are You Giving Users What They Ask For?

Selling UX

A unique perspective on service UX

A column by Baruch Sachs
February 6, 2017

If you give users what they ask for, they’ll continue to ask for more. As I sat reading the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to my son one evening, I started thinking about its applicability to our consulting for clients. If you do not know Laura Numeroff’s story, it is what some might describe as a circular tale. The plot centers around a little boy and a mouse. The mouse asks for various items and, when the little boy gives the mouse what he wants, the mouse asks for something else. If you give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk to go with it. If you give it some milk, it will eventually want something else—until you get to the very end of the story, when the mouse wants just one more cookie. So, the tale could conceivably go on forever.

My children love this book. They think it is very funny and ask me to read it again and again. It was during one of these countless readings that I realized this story holds some great messages about how I find myself interacting with clients every day. How many times have we gone through multiple iterations of designs, only to come back to our original design? How many times have we given the users what they want, only to find out the solution tests poorly and user adoption is low? Sometimes, during an engagement with a client, I feel as though the biggest impact of a request I’ve granted is simply that it begets yet another request. Read More


A Manifesto for Maturing the Making of Meaningful Work, Part 2

February 6, 2017

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we established the need for a manifesto for maturing the making of meaningful work, explained what you need to do to fulfill your intention of achieving this goal, and described the value of defining an integrated practice framework. Now, in Part 2, we’ll define the eight best practices that this integrated practice framework comprises, as well as four roles that foster the making of meaningful experiences—for your team and your customers alike.

A Manifesto: 8 Best Practices

Our Manifesto for Making Meaningful Work consists of eight best practices that help us frame and answer the question of how to make meaningful work. We keep these practices in mind throughout our day-to-day project work. They help us and the people with whom we work to choose a healthier approach to work and achieve sparkle by gaining clarity on our projects’ intent. Read More

January 23, 2017 Edition

The Differences Between Enterprise and Consumer UX Design

Ask UXmatters

Get expert answers

A column by Janet M. Six
January 23, 2017

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our expert panel discusses the key differences between UX design for enterprise applications and consumer applications. Among these differences is the fact that most enterprise users have their applications chosen for them, while consumers have freedom of choice and buy their own applications. While actual users may have the opportunity to define requirements for and evaluate enterprise applications, personas represent the target users of consumer applications, and the people who test them merely resemble those target users.

Enterprise applications typically have much greater scope and are much more complex than consumer applications, so enterprise solutions are often tailored for people working in specific roles. Plus, enterprise applications are designed for a specific business domain rather than a specific task, as many consumer applications are. Administrators usually configure enterprise applications, while consumers configure their own applications. Employees routinely use enterprise applications in their work, while the use of most consumer applications is less predictable. Enterprise applications often must connect with legacy systems. Read More


Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories

January 23, 2017

This is a sample chapter from Steve Portigal’s new book Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories. 2016 Rosenfeld Media.

Chapter 11: The Myth of Objectivity

Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

In our culture in general, we place a high premium on the notion of objectivity. We hold high the values of fairness and neutrality. Journalists frequently face the criticism of bias. But the endeavors of law, news, science, and user research are led by humans. Unlike Vulcans, humans are not wholly led by logic. The field of behavioral economics, increasingly totemic for business people of all stripes, seeks to understand the ways in which people’s behaviors and decisions are influenced by irrational factors.

The field of science has long understood this about people, establishing the practice of blind experiments in the 1700s. In blind experiments, the subjects who received different conditions didn’t know what those conditions were. Starting in 1907 and fully established by the 1950s, the double-blind experiment goes even further. In a double-blind experiment, neither the subjects nor the experimenters know what the conditions are. Read More


Product Review: Whatusersdo

Innovating UX Practice

Inspirations from software engineering

A column by Peter Hornsby
January 23, 2017

Someone recently asked me to provide recollections of my earliest experiences with usability testing. This took me back to around 1997, when as part of a research project, I analyzed the use of a then new Web-based library catalogue system, conducted user interviews, and redesigned the system according to the resulting findings. While this sounds straightforward now, with Google Analytics and today’s online survey tools, back then it necessitated writing raw HTML and Perl to capture data and C code to parse and analyze log-file and survey data, then mocking up alternative designs in HTML. Today, 20 years on, our expectations of software have changed radically. Fortunately, so have the tools at our disposal for designing and testing software.

For me, being able to conduct usability testing remotely is one of the biggest developments of the last 20 years. Add the gig economy, fast networks, and screen recording, and we’ve set the stage for being able to get low-cost, high-volume feedback on our software, in a way that complements our ability to rapidly prototype and do iterative, agile development. Read More


Social User Assistance

January 23, 2017

Users expect today’s advanced user-assistance platforms to deliver the most relevant information from multiple sources—and want to get that information quickly. Thus, we’re seeing the rapid adoption of social user assistance. Through user forums and online communities and social-media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, user-assistance platforms can provide relevant information to a diverse audience with differing needs.

This article defines the capabilities of social user assistance, describes the evolution of user assistance and shows how social user assistance has become an integral part of technical communication and the overall user experience, outlines some available sources of social user assistance, and describes the benefits of social user assistance. Read More


Using Card Sorting to Create Stronger Information Architectures

January 23, 2017

Card sorting is an information-architecture technique that enables a group of subject-matter experts or users to either

  • provide input to the definition of a new information architecture for a Web site or application
  • evaluate and provide feedback on a Web site’s or application’s existing information architecture

During a typical card-sorting exercise, participants organize a set of cards comprising navigation items for a particular context into categories or groups that seem logical to them. Participants can name these groups and, thus, create a folksonomy, or user-defined taxonomy. Read More