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April 2013 Issue

By Nathaniel Davis

Published: April 22, 2013

“The majority of people still don’t understand information architecture and the value that it brings to Web sites and other information-technology experiences.”

The title of this column could have been “Getting Your Information Architecture Right.” But, to be honest, my guess is that the majority of people still don’t understand information architecture and the value that it brings to Web sites and other information-technology experiences. Uttering the term information architecture when speaking to a sophisticated business person or even an intelligent lay person typically leads to raised eyebrows and a tilted head—that is, an expression of perplexity—or perhaps curiosity.

While information architecture, as a term, sounds impressive, it consists of two concepts that can be difficult to grasp—even for IA practitioners and academics.

Even though the average person deals with many forms of information every day, people’s popular view of information is as an abstract idea that applies to just about anything. Anything can be information. As for the term architecture, it’s equally troublesome. Read moreRead More>

By Tal Bloom

Published: April 22, 2013

“Just as we ask our clients to focus on users when making design decisions for their Web site, shouldn’t we similarly focus on our clients when making service decisions for a project?”

As UX professionals, we practice user-centered design—which means we stay focused on users and their needs when designing a Web site, product, or service for a client. We may spend days, weeks, or sometimes even months surveying or interviewing users or conducting diary studies or focus groups. Often, we create personas to crystallize our understanding of users and their needs. Ultimately, a Web site exists for the sake of its users. If users are not able to find or comprehend the information or functionality that a client’s Web site provides, it won’t be useful to them. On the other hand, if we endeavor to consider the user’s perspective in making every design decision, we can help to ensure a meaningful and successful experience for the users of a client’s Web site. Read moreRead More>

By Steven Hoober

Published: April 22, 2013

“Adding any widget, feature, interface, interaction, or piece of hardware never automatically solves your problems with any information service or application.”

For the past few years, it has been fashionable to point out faults in things like TV interfaces and interactions, while positing that innovative new hardware like smartphones and tablets would fix everything any minute now—but it hasn’t yet.

For example, I chose my television programming service provider largely based on the service’s usability and usefulness. Dish has a rather good remote and, for years, has had many of the features that popular articles insist we need to break out of our current mode of interacting with television programming. For instance, users can perform keyword searches. Our service provider even offers to connect the system to the Internet, so you can control it with any smartphone, tablet, or via the Web—and even watch TV on those platforms from anywhere in your house. Read moreRead More>

By Maurice McGinley

Published: April 22, 2013

“My reaction to someone’s touting a design as intuitive is similar to my reaction when I hear claims that instructions are easy to follow: cynicism.”

My intuitive sense must be broken. It doesn’t help me. I hear long discussions about which icon—like that in Figure 1—or layout or menu structure is intuitive, and the words just don’t make sense to me. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that my reaction to someone’s touting a design as intuitive is similar to my reaction when I hear claims that instructions are easy to follow: cynicism. They say intuitive, but I hear: “I don’t personally have any problems with it.” Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: April 22, 2013

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 how responsive Web design and accessibility fit together.

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

By Baruch Sachs

Published: April 1, 2013

“You must possess technical, design, and marketing skills to be truly successful as a UX consultant. I find that a large number of UX consultants have the most difficulty with that last skillset.”

Part 1 of this series addressed some myths about what people often believe makes for a great UX consultant. Now, in Part 2, I’ll share some advice that I’ve received from some truly great UX consultants or that I can offer from what I’ve observed through my own experience.

UX consulting always requires a three-pronged approach. You must possess technical, design, and marketing skills to be truly successful as a UX consultant. I find that a large number of UX consultants have the most difficulty with that last skillset.

In my experience, marketing in the world of UX consulting is not just about promoting yourself or your skillset. Marketing yourself means ensuring that the people who have hired you not only want to hire you again, but also tell their colleagues about you. In other words, you need radiation—both within and outside your clients’ organizations—to be successful. To accomplish this, people need to want to work with you. In user experience, the smartest person in the room is not necessarily the one who gets the work. The people who get the most opportunities are those who know how to work well with others, communicate well, and make people believe that they are the one who is going to deliver that amazing user experience they want for their product, application, or Web site. Read moreRead More>

By Tyler Tate

Published: April 1, 2013

“We perceive the world—both physical and digital—in spatial terms.”

Browsing the Web. Surfing the Net. Navigating a Web site. Traversing a hierarchy. Going back. Scrolling up and down. Returning home. We’ve seen such metaphors throughout our history of using computers to interact with information. Haphazard though they may seem be, these metaphors highlight a universal reality of human psychology: we perceive the world—both physical and digital—in spatial terms. As George A. Miller [1] observed in 1968:

“Mankind evolved in a world of space and time. Our memories evolved to record events that transpire in space and time. Modern attempts to externalise and enlarge that memory should not, and probably need not, neglect its spatiotemporal dimensions.” Read moreRead More>

By Traci Lepore

Published: April 1, 2013

“The lack of shared, common language … will eventually lead to what I call the spinning-in-circles syndrome.”

The trouble with language: you say po-tay-toe; I say po-tah-toe. But does it really matter?

I’m currently working on a project where our internal debate on the use of a particular term has caused multiple rehashes of the same argument. The system has always used one term, but recently, some of us have wanted to change it to a more user-friendly, industry-standard term that the users of the system are familiar with. When discussing the project, we often get confused because team members are using both terms interchangeably. Whenever that happens, the two sides in the argument bring up the discrepancies between the terms. The back and forth is a never-ending constant.

Recently, when I was watching American Idol, I became aggravated—not for the first time—when a contestant sang a classic song, then said, “I’d never heard this song before.” In this case, the song was Let It Be, by the Beatles! I wonder how someone could want to be a musician, but not think it would be worthwhile to become well versed in such well-known material? Jimmy Iovine had trouble getting through to the contestant with his feedback—not surprising because they shared no common ground to work from. Read moreRead More>

By Leo Frishberg

Published: April 1, 2013

“I began to formulate a theory of my design practice…. In essence, it mirrored Bill Buxton’s discussion of the fundamentals of design: sketching, critique, and reflection.”

Historically, crafting world-class user experiences has required an investment in research, modeling, and design up front—before the process of software design and implementation can occur. But, more recently, agile approaches to software development have raised concerns about doing “big design up front” and, as a consequence, investing too much time and effort before delivering concrete business value. These are very real concerns in organizations that are transitioning from waterfall to agile, but as this article suggests, we can easily reconcile them.

Back in the Day, When I Was a Young Designer

I started my design career way back in 1974 as a young architectural student. By 1979, as I entered graduate school, I began to formulate a theory of my design practice—something I fondly referred to as the Barf method of design. In essence, it mirrored Bill Buxton’s discussion of the fundamentals of design: sketching, critique, and reflection. Read moreRead More>

By Laura Keller

Published: April 1, 2013

“What’s notable about the DMV is that people across the U.S. think it’s one of the most miserable customer experiences they’ve encountered.”

Each of the states in the U.S. has a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that is responsible for handling diverse citizen needs such as personal identity cards, driving permits and licenses, and registrations for vehicles such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, and boats—both commercial and personal. One of the most common interactions between people and their government is with their DMV. Everyone has to interact with the DMV at some point in his life and, more than likely, these interactions occur annually—whether for registration renewals or violations, if you drive like me.

What’s notable about the DMV is that people across the U.S. think it’s one of the most miserable customer experiences they’ve encountered. When you tell someone, “I have to go to the DMV,” the response is universally, “Oh, long groan, I’m so sorry…” and an empathetic pat on your shoulder. Few things cause a citizen more angst than preparing for a visit to the DMV. No matter how sure you are that you have got the right paperwork, have followed the right process, and have brought the right means of payment, you always have this nagging feeling that something will go wrong. While you might think that adding the human element to the experience—DMV employees—would conjure up a feeling of relief, the opposite is actually the case. You’d likely approach an employee of the DMV in much the same way Dorothy approaches the scary Wizard of Oz—with timidity, apologizing all the while, and being prepared to be yelled at. Read moreRead More>