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July 2009 Issue

By Jim Nieters

Published: July 19, 2009

“What we, as UX professionals, can do is bring possibilities to life by visualizing solutions for stakeholders and enabling them to see those possibilities in tangible form.”

I hope so! Every discipline on a product team provides unique value—including User Experience, Product Management, Engineering, Sales, and Business Development. But each of them views the world through a different lens. When all of these disciplines deliver strategic value, their products delight users and their companies successfully differentiate themselves in the marketplace—which translates to greater revenue and profitability. Successful companies deliver a tangible value proposition. Think about it. What are the value propositions for Southwest Airlines, Apple Computer, Toyota, and Starbucks? Are they the same? No. Each is unique, and their value propositions are clear.

Just as companies need to differentiate themselves by creating and promoting a clear value proposition, so do UX groups. What is our value proposition? What can UX teams do that other disciplines cannot? We think in terms of design. We communicate visually. Nobody else can do this as well as we can. Other disciplines may do a much better job of communicating numbers in spreadsheets or giving slick presentations highlighting features. What we, as UX professionals, can do is bring possibilities to life by visualizing solutions for stakeholders and enabling them to see those possibilities in tangible form. Whether you’re in a company where UX already has a seat at the strategy table or are working toward that goal, you can help visualize big opportunities for your company. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: July 19, 2009

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

This time, we’ll discuss two topics in Ask UXmatters:

Ask UXmatters answers our readers’ questions about user experience matters. If you want to read our experts’ responses to your question in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your question to: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Mike Hughes

Published: July 19, 2009

“Everett Rogers’s seminal model of the technology adoption process … suggests an approach that might let us put the proverbial 10 pounds of content into a 5-pound bag of writer capacity.”

A theme I deal with a lot, both at work and in this column, is organizations’ asking user assistance (UA) developers to support more products with fewer resources. For UA developers who are experiencing a resource crunch, the obvious solution is writing less user assistance for a product than we would have produced in the past. (See my UXmatters column “Hockey Sticks and User Assistance: Writing in Times of Resource Constraints.”) But that still leaves the problem of how to write less and cover users’ information needs adequately.

Everett Rogers’s seminal model of the technology adoption process [1], charted in Figure 1, suggests an approach that might let us put the proverbial 10 pounds of content into a 5-pound bag of writer capacity. Rogers noted that the phases of technology adoption correspond to its adoption by distinctly different classes of people, who accept new technologies at different paces. Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: July 19, 2009

“Here are 8 things you should be doing to improve and grow in your professional practice, but that you’re probably not doing—or not doing enough.”

Let me get a bit meta with you right at the top. This month’s column is more than a touch formulaic. But here’s the thing: The reason columnists keep coming back to drink from the X-things-you’re-not-doing-but-should well is because readers find it irresistible. Why? Because, when this format is done right, it scratches the itch that UX professionals have for self-improvement—for lifting themselves out of their ruts.

So, enough with this combined apology/meta explanation, let’s get right to it. In no particular order, here are 8 things you should be doing to improve and grow in your professional practice, but that you’re probably not doing—or not doing enough. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman

Published: July 6, 2009

“For most users of consumer-facing ecommerce applications, the difference between a sort and a filter presents a mystery they understand dimly, if at all.”

What is the difference between filtering and sorting for a search query? Any SQL developer would be happy to tell you that a sort translates to a SQL ORDER BY statement, while a SQL WHERE clause performs a filter. However, for most users of consumer-facing ecommerce applications, the difference between a sort and a filter presents a mystery they understand dimly, if at all. The distinction between sorting and filtering blurs, because of a phenomenon I’ve called filtering by sorting, which leads to all sorts of interesting search user interface implications.

Filtering by Sorting: It Was Colonel Mustard in the Study

During one particularly memorable usability study involving filtering and sorting, my first participant—who I immediately dubbed Colonel Mustard, because of his resemblance to the character in the Milton Brothers’ Classic Game of Clue—kept referring to the sort control as a filter. During the think-aloud portion of the usability test, he repeatedly said, “I am filtering by price,” while manipulating a drop-down list we’d clearly labeled Sort By: Price: Low to High. Despite his confusion about terms, this participant was getting exactly what he was expecting—that is, lower-priced items—using the Sort By control, so sorting was working fine in helping him reach the task’s goal. At the time, I attributed this confusion about filtering and sorting to the participant’s lack of technical vocabulary and dismissed the finding as inconsequential. Read moreRead More>

By Jonathan Follett

Published: July 6, 2009

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”—Linus Pauling

“For UX professionals—and creative professionals in general—our ability to both stimulate creative thinking and capture it when it happens is a key aspect of our work process.”

For UX professionals—and creative professionals in general—our ability to both stimulate creative thinking and capture it when it happens is a key aspect of our work process. Capturing creativity—that Aha! moment of inspired thought—is trickier than we’d like to admit. While some people might be able to be creative on demand, whether you’re a visual designer, interaction designer, information architect, or software developer, creativity is rarely something you can turn on and off as necessary. In fact, in my experience, creative moments often happen when you’re least ready to capture your ideas.

If you view creativity as the melding and molding of disparate ideas into something new, a relaxed mindset is usually a key ingredient. Some creatives run, swim, or take a walk to achieve that mindset. You can have a great idea just as you’re nodding off to sleep, in the instant when you wake up, or even standing in the shower. Read moreRead More>

By Daniel Szuc

Published: July 6, 2009

“We noticed we were asking more questions about the product to help us determine how our research could drive key business results.”

As my company planned for a recent study, we noticed we were asking more questions about the product to help us determine how our research could drive key business results. For example, we explored product descriptions, market positioning, selling points, key differentiators, and other critical areas that might require deeper exploration with users. So, I started asking myself:

  • Was I undergoing some sort of transformation?
  • Was I caring less about the users and more about the business?
  • Was I trying to think like a Product Manager?

Perhaps a little of all three of these is true. Read moreRead More>

By Michael Hawley

Published: July 6, 2009

“The laddering method of interviewing … is a technique that is particularly helpful in eliciting goals and underlying values, and therefore, possibly helpful during early stages of user experience research.”

A number of my previous Research That Works columns on UXmatters have focused on semi-structured user research techniques. My interest in these techniques stems from my desire to get the most out of my time with research participants and to leverage foundational work from other disciplines to gain unique insights for user experience design. With this in mind, a colleague of mine recommended that I try the laddering method of interviewing, which is a technique that is particularly helpful in eliciting goals and underlying values, and therefore, possibly helpful during early stages of user experience research, as I learned after a brief review of the literature on this topic. This column introduces the laddering technique and describes my first experience trying it for myself.

Background—From Laddering to the Means End Chain

Clinical psychologists first introduced the laddering technique in the 1960s, as a method of understanding people’s core values and beliefs. The technique is powerful, because it provides a simple and systematic way of establishing an individual’s core set of constructs on how they view the world. Laddering is well established in the field of psychology, and its success has led researchers in other industries to adapt its core tenets to their fields. Read moreRead More>