Evaluating UX | Incorporating UX Design in a Project | Using Flash on a Home Page

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A column by Janet M. Six
January 22, 2009

In this installment of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss three different topics:

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Evaluating the User Experience of Existing Products

Q: How should we evaluate the user experience of our current product design?—from a UXmatters reader

Joshua Seiden—Design Group Manager at Liquidnet and President of IxDA—answers this question.

“There are so many ways to evaluate a user experience, but they break down broadly into two categories. In expert reviews, one or more experts render an opinion. Alternatively, usability testing involves observing users interacting with a product or service. There is a multitude of variant methods within each category. Contrary to what some pundits advocate, there is no one, single ‘best’ method.

“So, the most important first step is to understand your assessment goals. Are you looking for bugs? Are you certifying the product? Are you testing early concepts? Are you trying to prove something to stakeholders? Or are you just doing it for your own background?

“In general, testing with users is the most persuasive if you’ve got skeptical stakeholders. It is slower and more expensive though. Very often, a structured walkthrough by an expert or team of experts will find just as many problems, but if your stakeholders are skeptical, expert reviews tend not to be persuasive. Rolf Molich has run a number of studies over the years on the effectiveness of evaluation methods.

Effective Ways of Incorporating UX Design in a Project

Q: What are some effective ways to incorporate good user experience into a project?—from a UXmatters reader

Steve Baty—Principal Consultant at Meld Consulting and UXmatters columnist—answers this question.

“The biggest mistake I’ve seen UX designers make when introducing experience design practice into an existing organizational process is to expect that everything will be changed to accommodate their own preferred process. They lay out a grand vision for how things shall be without taking stock of the existing landscape. From then on in, they are struggling against a great deal of entrenched resistance and end up ultimately frustrated with little to show for their efforts.

“I strongly believe the most effective way to incorporate good user experience and design practice into a project or organization is start with small, tangible improvements. Demonstrate early and often how UX practices can improve the end product or service. Get involved first with the existing process, and see what you can do to help through user research and usability testing. Also, sit side-by-side with the development team and answer questions about information architecture, interaction design, and usability, as you face those design decisions.

“Once you’ve been able to demonstrate the value of your experience and practical skills, you can start to broaden the scope of your activities. Create more formal documentation. Put a research process in place. Start to tailor the existing process to incorporate UX practice throughout. It will take some time, but you’ll find the people around you are much more likely to take note after you have some runs on the board.”

Using Flash on a Home Page

Q: Our president and designers want to use Flash on our Web site home page. They feel we can show off more product beauty shots, using a rotating Flash presentation. I don’t think visitors are interested in watching this sort of animation on a home page and may be annoyed by it. Is there a way to make a case against using a rotating Flash presentation? Or, if we have to implement Flash, what’s the right way to use it?—from a UXmatters reader

The following experts have contributed answers to this question:

  • Steve Baty—Principal Consultant at Meld Consulting and UXmatters columnist
  • Whitney Quesenbery—Principal Consultant at Whitney Interactive Design; Past-President, Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA); Fellow, Society for Technical Communications (STC); and UXmatters columnist
  • Daniel Szuc—Principal Usability Consultant at Apogee Usability Asia and founding member and President of the UPA China Hong Kong Branch

According to Steve, “The biggest problem you face is that the only counterargument you have is based on your own opinion. On that basis, the President will win that argument every single time. The other problem you have is that there are a lot of different ways to attack the problem, so let’s look at some of those.

“The first thing I notice—and this is the bane of a lot of UX designers’ existence—is that you’ve been given a solution without any statement of the problem. What is the issue they’re trying to address with the product shots on the home page? Are visitors not finding the products? Are there products that need promoting, because they generate more profit? Is this an attempt to generate more sales through the Web site?

“Now look at whether the proposed solution is the best way to address that particular problem. And look at whether the proposed solution goes far enough. For example, if the intent is to generate sales, what happens after the visitor sees the product? Is the rest of the site being optimized to support that transaction? If the intent is to help visitors find products, perhaps some work needs to be done on findability in general and, specifically, search engine visibility for the product pages.

“The second thing is the choice of Flash as the delivery method for the photos. This may simply be symptomatic of a lack of knowledge of alternatives or a deliberate preference for Flash. Personally, I’m not a fan of the use of Flash on the home page of a Web site—or any major landing page, for that matter. In this case, Flash doesn’t provide any functionality that isn’t available in HTML / Javascript / CSS, so I’d be tending away from it. However, there are times when Flash really is the best implementation option. I’m a big proponent of Flash. I just frequently see it used poorly—and this might be one of those situations. But until you know what the problem is, you really aren’t in a position to judge whether this is one of those times.”

Daniel agrees, “Before deciding to use Flash—which is a technology decision—I suggest standing back and asking what you would like to achieve on the home page using that section of the page where the Flash component would display. So I would ask the following questions—but not limited to these:

  • What is the purpose of the home page?
  • Who visits the home page?
  • What do you want people to do after looking at the product shots? What is the call to action?
  • How will the product shots move people toward a buy?
  • Is there a way a user could rotate through products to get an idea of the catalog or special deals? What is the user value?
  • What will happen if people don’t have Flash installed on their browser? What could be displayed instead of the Flash?

“Overall, you need to apply the answers to questions like these in order to assess the value of a Flash component on the home page for both users and the business. Finally, what benefits can you derive from using Flash on the home page that you could not achieve through HTML? In this way, you can present a balanced perspective.” Daniel also suggests reading his article on UXmatters, “Home Page Design.”

Whitney adds that you should “be careful to make the Flash accessible—especially if it’s on the entryway to your Web site. Of course, that will also make it something that works on mobile devices, older browsers, and all sorts of what the W3C calls user agents, including assistive technology. The other thing I want to say is that a selection of alternating images isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. The trick to this—or any other requests you receive—is to be sure the Flash component earns its place on the precious home page real estate.” Whitney recommends Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir’s book Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed and Jared Spool’s blog Brain Sparks as good resources for information about home page design.

On a personal note, Steve tells us, “The last time I got into a discussion like this with a client, I lost. The CEO wanted something he could show his peers that would catch their eye and make them envious. He wasn’t interested in usability, user experience, or utility. He just wanted something he could brag about. None of those other things were important to him. Hopefully, you’ll have more success than I did!” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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