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June 2008 Issue

By Jonathan Follett

Published: June 23, 2008

“An organization’s reason for being, like that of any organism, is to help the parts that are in relationship to each other, to be able to deal with change in the environment.”—Kevin Kelly

“The UX professions are at a stage that could very well be a tipping point—where the rapid rise of digital devices, services, and connectivity converge to create a massive need for UX professionals.”

Over the past three decades of computer/human interaction, we’ve seen digital technology evolve from a curiosity to a convenience to an integral part of our everyday lives. For UX professionals, the demand for our skill sets and the opportunities to practice seem only to grow, whether we be designers or developers, usability specialists or information architects, working in fields as diverse as Web, mobile, desktop, and embedded software systems. The UX professions are at a stage that could very well be a tipping point—where the rapid rise of digital devices, services, and connectivity converge to create a massive need for UX professionals. The mobile space alone could generate demand that we can only begin to imagine.

As the need for UX professionals grows and our fields evolve, so too does the nature of our professional community. With an increased demand for our services comes a pressing need to advocate for our profession’s business value and secure a strategic role for UX, train and mentor new practitioners, exchange knowledge among peers, and find ways to positively affect our society. Read moreRead More>

By Joe Lamantia

Published: June 23, 2008

From “The Big Chill”: [1]

Michael: “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.”

Sam Weber: “Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.”

Michael: “Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

“Better understanding of the choices we make as designers can help us create more ethical user experiences for ourselves and for everyone.”

Designers rationalize their choices just as much as everyone else. But we also play a unique role in shaping the human world by creating the expressive and functional tools many people use in their daily lives. Our decisions about what is and is not ethical directly impact the lives of a tremendous number of people we will never know. Better understanding of the choices we make as designers can help us create more ethical user experiences for ourselves and for everyone.

In Part 1 of this series on Designing Ethical Experiences, “Social Media and the Conflicted Future,” I explored the familiar dynamic in which design mediates unresolved conflicts between business stakeholders and users by making unethical compromises and looked at changes in technology and culture that make this unhealthy dynamic more likely in the future. In Part 2, “Designing Ethical Experiences: Some Practical Suggestions,” I outlined some practical techniques for effectively resolving ethical conflicts during our design efforts by adapting existing user experience tools and methods. Read moreRead More>

By Ben Werner

Published: June 23, 2008

“Competent management does realize that the user experience is critical to the long-term health of their company.”

A common frustration among UX professionals who are employed in the software development industry is the perception that executive-level management gives lip service to user experience rather than supporting specific UX activities by allocating sufficient resources for them.

This perception is seldom a reality. Competent management does realize that the user experience is critical to the long-term health of their company. Unfortunately, when developing software, the temptation to steal from the feature-list cookie jar and try to squeeze just one more feature into the current development cycle by skipping UX work is simply too great for most Product Managers. This strategy, however nearsighted, can and often does make money in the short term by achieving a temporary increase in sales. The only way to win resources in this situation is to bring the discussion back to dollars.

This article tells you how to build a quick-and-dirty UX cost-benefits compass that directly ties persona efficiency to dollars. You can use this compass to focus UX efforts on specific activities that provide the greatest benefit, as well as justify increasing UX activities in general. It is often possible to construct a working UX cost-benefits compass by assembling existing data, and it’s easier than you might expect. Read moreRead More>

By Luke Wroblewski

Published: June 9, 2008

“The basic structure of an address is so familiar, people don’t need the guidance labels provide.”

As enablers of online conversations between businesses and customers, Web forms are often responsible for gathering critical information—email addresses for continued communications, mailing addresses for product shipments, and billing information for payment processing to name just a few. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that one of the most common questions I get asked about Web form design is: “How do I deal with international addresses?”

But before we get into the nuances of address variations, it’s worth pointing out that addresses have a commonly understood structure. Through years of experience with mailing and postal systems, people have a pretty concrete idea of what constitutes an address block. This common understanding is so definitive that eyetracking data suggests, once people begin filling in a set of input fields that make up an address, they often cease looking at their labels. The basic structure of an address is so familiar, people don’t need the guidance labels provide.

This is an important point to consider when laying out the input fields that make up an address. Figure 1 shows how to lay out the fields commonly included in an address in the United States. The alternative, a divided address structure in which each field appears on a separate line as shown in Figure 2, doesn’t offer the benefit of being understood as a set of related input fields. So people are more likely to consider each input field in relative isolation instead of looking at the address as a whole. Read moreRead More>

By Colleen Jones

Published: June 9, 2008

“Many bills are poorly designed, causing needless confusion and frustration for customers and businesses alike.”

The bill is a cornerstone communication in the customer experience, especially when it comes to billing for services. Customers want to easily understand and pay their bills, and businesses want to get paid on time. One would think a business would value the bill enough to invest in a thoughtful design. Yet many bills are poorly designed, causing needless confusion and frustration for customers and businesses alike—not to mention expensive customer service and customer churn. To encourage forward progress in the design of bills, this column profiles three common types of bill readers, discusses nine tips for improving bills, and notes some common implementation challenges.

Types of Bill Readers

An important consideration in creating better bills is, of course, how customers read them. To provide guidance for the design of bills, first I’ll describe a few common types of bill readers in a business-to-consumer setting, based on my own experience. As with all UX design, considering the specific types of customers a business has, what industry a business is in, and other related issues of context is critical to designing for its specific types of bill readers. Read moreRead More>

By Meghashri Dalvi

Published: June 9, 2008

“Perhaps the most difficult aspect of managing this complexity is providing Help that is really helpful to expert users.”

When creating Help for any application, the typical starting point is user profiling. We create user personas, find out what tasks users perform, and identify which tasks are more frequent. We also note users’ preferences for delivery format and language.

However, as applications become more and more sophisticated, their Help systems tend to be equally complex. Some of the reasons for complexity in a Help system are that, more often than not, users have a variety of roles, with different sets of permissions for changing configurable options, and different levels of expertise. The result is an intricate and multilayered Help system. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of managing this complexity is providing Help that is really helpful to expert users.

Who Are the Expert Users?

Expert users are individual users who use an application extremely skillfully, perform most tasks super-efficiently, and achieve the highest performance results. They use the application very frequently—either as a professional or as a hobbyist. They understand the application’s complex functionality very well and look forward to mastering it. Read moreRead More>