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July 2010 Issue

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: July 19, 2010

“In this installment of On Good Behavior, I’ll provide an overview of a product design process, then discuss some indispensable activities that are part of an effective design process….”

My last column, “Specifying Behavior,” focused on the importance of interaction designers’ taking full responsibility for designing and clearly communicating the behavior of product user interfaces. At the conclusion of the Design Phase for a product release, interaction designers’ provide key design deliverables that play a crucial role in ensuring their solutions to design problems actually get built. These deliverables might take the form of high-fidelity, interactive prototypes; detailed storyboards that show every state of a user interface in sequence; detailed, comprehensive interaction design specifications; or some combination of these. Whatever form they take, producing these interaction design deliverables is a fundamental part of a successful product design process.

In this installment of On Good Behavior, I’ll provide an overview of a product design process, then discuss some indispensable activities that are part of an effective design process, with a particular focus on those activities that are essential for good interaction design. Although this column focuses primarily on activities that are typically the responsibility of interaction designers, this discussion of the product design process applies to all aspects of UX design. Read moreRead More>

By Michael Zuschlag

Published: July 19, 2010

The Principle of Least Astonishment: “When two elements of an interface conflict or are ambiguous, the behavior should be that which will least surprise the human user.”—Wikipedia

“Consistency is a fundamental design principle for usable user interfaces.”

The Principle of Least Astonishment, in shorthand, encompasses what we, as designers, must achieve to ensure consistency in our designs. Consistency is a fundamental design principle [1] for usable user interfaces. But the thing that astonishes me is that it’s actually necessary to explain this principle. Surprise implies the unexpected. Of course, users want the response to a given action to be what they expect; otherwise, they would have done something else. In user interactions, the unexpected is pretty much the same as the unwanted. Surprise usually implies something bad rather than something positive—unless users already have such dismally low expectations of their software that they might think, Wow! It worked. I’m so astonished.

What does our need to give this simple principle a name mean? Are there software designers who don’t believe software should do what users expect? Could it be that there’s a school of design that believes software’s responses need not be consistent with the way the software indicates it will respond? That would explain a lot about what I see on the Web, now that I think of it. Read moreRead More>

By Peter Hornsby

Published: July 19, 2010

“Frequently, problems arise when capturing requirements. Some product people feel more comfortable describing requirements in terms of the user experience.”

For most of us, the ideal when working on a product-development project would be to work with a group of like-minded professionals, each with their own areas of responsibility, but sharing the same overarching goal. Yet all too often in User Experience, we encounter unwarranted resistance to our ideas, making the product-development process much less efficient and adding to a project’s costs. The apparent cost of involving User Experience early and throughout a product-development process becomes a series of hidden costs, resulting from project delays, incomplete requirements, and less than optimal products that result in higher error rates and reduced efficiency for users.

Frequently, problems arise when capturing requirements. Some product people feel more comfortable describing requirements in terms of the user experience. This can range from the very general—“The user needs to upload a file.”—to the very specific—“The user needs to click a check box to accept.” When Product Managers define requirements in this way, then pass them on to UX designers, those designers confront an immediate challenge—they must contradict the requirements as defined and must also assume an additional workload to overcome the deficiencies of the requirements as stated. Yet this also presents an opportunity: When UX designers sketch a user interface and shares their sketches with their product team, they help people to visualize the existing requirements and identify opportunities for improvement. The reason requirements frequently contain UX elements is that people think of products in terms of their user experience. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: July 19, 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 the following topics:

  • career alternatives to management
  • best design practices for blogs

Every month in Ask UXmatters, our panel of experts answers our readers’ questions about 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 questions to us at ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Ross

Published: July 5, 2010

“Recruiting the right participants is the foundation of effective user research, because your research results are only as good as the participants involved.”

Recently, at the end of a busy day of usability testing, I looked at the list of participants we had recruited for another client’s usability test the following week. That’s interesting, I thought. Here’s another guy with the same unusual name as the participant we had earlier this morning. Wait a second! That’s the same guy! Somehow he had slipped through the recruiting process and had gotten on two different tests in consecutive weeks. Luckily, I noticed this ahead of time, and we were able to replace him with someone who wasn’t looking to supplement his income as a professional user research participant.

Recruiting the right participants is the foundation of effective user research, because your research results are only as good as the participants involved. Representative, well-spoken, and thoughtful research participants can provide invaluable feedback. Yet finding and recruiting such ideal participants and getting them to show up for their sessions is sometimes difficult.

Over my ten years of experience in user research, I’ve recruited my share of no-shows, professional user research participants, and oddballs—as well as unrepresentative, uncommunicative participants. Despite your best intentions, less-than-ideal people can slip through a seemingly sound screening process. Read moreRead More>

By Jeff Johnson

Published: July 5, 2010

“Research psychologists and neurophysiologists have been busy, and their efforts have greatly improved humankind’s understanding of perception and cognition.”

For my new book Designing with the Mind in Mind to reflect an up-to-date understanding of human perception and cognition, I had to update my own knowledge. It had been over thirty years since I had studied psychology seriously. Of course, human perception and cognition have not changed much in the last three decades—or even in the last three millennia. However, over the thirty years since I finished my psychology degree, research psychologists and neurophysiologists have been busy, and their efforts have greatly improved humankind’s understanding of perception and cognition.

In two successive articles on UXmatters, I will summarize some of the new bits of knowledge I picked up while gathering information for the book. This first article focuses on visual perception. The second article will focus on reading, memory, and cognitive and perceptual time constants. Read moreRead More>

By Demetrius Madrigal and Bryan McClain

Published: July 5, 2010

“Every user researcher has a unique background, and each researcher’s background results in different strengths.”

One of the strengths of the UX industry is the diversity of the people in the field. This diversity ensures variety in the perspectives UX professionals contribute to the design of a product. Every user researcher has a unique background, and each researcher’s background results in different strengths. As founders of Metric Lab, we’ve both benefitted from having a formal education in research—in the form of Master’s degrees in experimental psychology. In the course of our work, we’ve met very few user researchers who have had the formal training in research we’ve had. We’ve met qualified and experienced researchers with backgrounds in fine art, finance, human-computer interaction, communication, political science, and many other fields. All of these researchers were able to do their jobs effectively, but our training has provided us with resources they were unable to leverage in the same way. Therefore, this month, we’ll discuss some of the strengths we’ve gained from our education in two areas: research and human factors. Read moreRead More>

By Corrie Kwan, Jin Li, and May Wong

Published: July 5, 2010

“Funding for user research travel is becoming more limited, and the availability of local users who meet the need for diversity is often insufficient. Therefore, UX professionals have started using remote usability testing methods to gather adequate user feedback.”

Success in a diverse global marketplace increasingly demands that companies engage customers from diverse global backgrounds in both discussions and usability studies. However, funding for user research travel is becoming more limited, and the availability of local users who meet the need for diversity is often insufficient. Therefore, UX professionals have started using remote usability testing methods to gather adequate user feedback.

The software development industry is relatively young, the UX professions within it are even younger, people working in user experience have different backgrounds, and their professional practice is still evolving. Remote usability activities have not yet been well studied. Consequently, a number of myths have arisen.

In this article, we’ll draw on our collective, first-hand experiences doing remote usability studies for numerous real-world projects to describe and debunk these myths. Our goal is to share knowledge and inspire action. Read moreRead More>