Monthly Archives: October 2012

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This quotation, attributed to John T. Ford, encapsulates the tension that exists between user-centred and designer-led product design approaches when managing the development of a product.   Hawley (2009) summarises the debate surrounding website development by discussing design from both the users’ and the organisational perspectives.

User-Driven Design

Hawley argues that users’ criteria for judging the success of a product includes learnability, efficiency of use and satisfaction.  From the organisation’s perspective, the value of these criteria is debatable; user research-based design process is expensive, does not lead to innovation or creativity and design goals frequently include other aims, aside from usability.  For example, the desirability of a product.  The author uses the spoof video created by Microsoft employees to draw attention to the restrictive design objectives set by the organisation:

Genius Design

A designer-led approach (which Hawley terms “genius design”) focusses instead on the creativity and skills of designers to innovate products without an interative user research-based process.  According to the author, this approach initially requires fewer resources and is unconstrained by existing products.  However, it is evident that entrepreneurial designers frequently refine design ideas after launching a product unsuccessfully.  For example, the NeXT Step operating system was designed by Steve Jobs after leaving Apple.  The product failed but was later refined and incorporated into Apple’s OS X operating system when Jobs returned to the company.  Moreover, Horton (2009) argues that users have many different goals and are not clear about how to meet them.  As a consequence, a user-driven approach to a design project can result in too many unfocussed objectives which do not fulfil the organisation’s business needs.  Kuniavsky (2003) argues that a product ultimately must meet the business aim of generating revenue.  This is consistent with the Garrett (2003) model which defines user needs and site objectives as the key aspects of the strategy which underpins a web development project.

Our Approach To The Project

Our group has decided to incorporate the forthcoming results from our user research into our objectives and requirements.  I hope that this will reveal overlapping objectives which we will take forward into our final design and I have sketched this simple model to focus my thinking during the research process:

To date, we have encountered some of the problems outlined by Hawley in the research phase of the project:

  • Research is time-consuming: the target users need to be identified, located and booked in to undertake research whilst adhering to tight project deadlines
  • Research can be inaccurate: the pressure of deadlines can result in the selection of unrepresentative users, thus skewing research results
  • Research can be expensive: a suitable venue has to be booked and participants need to be recompensed for their time

As a result, our initial research was comprised of a survey that was sent to group members’ friends, family and colleagues.  The results of this survey are being used as the basis for the interview/task observation and as a contributory element for further research activities including personae development and journey mapping.  Given that the majority of respondents were largely representative of the secondary users of the website, it could be argued that the resulting product may not appeal to the target user group.  Fortunately, we have identified two primary users for the interview/task research.  In a real-world scenario I would expect the commissioning organisation to make available the contact details of mailing list subscribers and Facebook users, thus generating a more representative sample of primary users.

So what is the best approach for designing a website?

Hawley and Horton agree that a merger of the user-centred and design-led approaches is a pragmatic solution.  By obtaining a broad understanding of the motivations underlying users’ behaviours, designers can become better informed about needs and aspirations of the target group and design a website accordingly. To achieve this, the use of techniques such as personae and scenario creation, user –journey mapping and sketching are widely advised (Bowles and Box 2011; Hawley 2009; Garrett 2003).

User Experience Design

It is becoming increasingly evident to me that a user-centred approach does not necessarily meet either the user and/or organisational objectives and that there may be an underlying truth in the John T. Ford’s words.  I had been using the term “user-centred design interchangeably with the term “User Experience Design”.  However, I think that the latter is a more accurate description of a bilateral approach to the design process.  This creative approach to using research-derived qualitative and quantitative data is something that I will explore in my next blog post.


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Hawley, M. 2009. Design research methods for experience design [online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 October 2012].

Horton, S. 2009. Why research-directed website design will make your website better [online]. San Francisco: Peachpit. Available at: [Accessed 28 October 2012].

Kuniavsky, M. 2003. Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann

Steele, C. 2011. 7 Steve Jobs products that failed [online]. New York: PCMAG.COM. Available at: [Accessed: 28 October 2012].

Walsh, B. 2006. Microsoft re-designs the Ipod packaging [online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 October 2012].

Error 404 with attitude: good UX design?

Our task this week was to undertake a competitor analysis and I decided to focus my reading on the benefits and costs of  such a review.  I began by reading the Withrow (2006) article which discussed the advantages of understanding the business context in which a product and user exist.  However, I was puzzled by the author’s suggestion that user-centred design and information architecture are separate aspects of website design:

“While user-centered design focuses on user needs/tasks, and information architecture focuses on content, these two aspects alone offer an incomplete picture. What is missing is the context: the environment in which the website or web application is used as well as the market in which it exists.”(Withrow, 2006, para. 1)

Consequently, instead of looking at the role of competitive analysis in the project management process, I decided to concentrate on clarifying my understanding of the concept of “usability”.

Usability Models

My initial interpretation of the term “usability” seemed to reflect a similarity with the marketing concept of putting the customer/user at the heart of the business process.  According to this model, the information architecture of the site should be designed so that it can be used intuitively by the user.  I was heartened to see that my interpretation of usability (or user experience/UX) is supported by Brinck et al (2002) and also by Bowles and Box (2011) who discuss its centrality at every stage of the project management process.  Garrett (2003) clarifies the issue for me with his 5 planes model:

The author argues that the user experience community was developed from two separate fields: those who approached the problem from a product (software) development perspective and those who perceived the Web from a publishing and information science perspective.  This duality of approach seems to partly explain the confusing terminology.  For example, the interchangeability of the terms usability, user experience and UX design.   By splitting each plane into a “Web as a software interface” and a “Web as a hypertext system” section, the author proposes a model which takes account of both aspects of user experience. For me, this integrated approach to designing a website is probably the most successful in terms of defining UX.  The model brought to mind a comment made by the lecturer who suggested that a website should be like a duck swimming on water; the duck appears to glide effortlessly whilst invisibly below the surface, its feet are paddling furiously…

Analysing A Website’s Usability

As part of our heuristic usability review we compared the analysis tools proposed by Bowles and Box (2011) and Userfocus (2009).  This quickly revealed that the majority of criteria could be mapped easily from one tool to the other.  However, the “accessibility” criterion was surprisingly not a distinct element of the Userfocus tool.   A team member with experience of managing assistive technology undertook additional research and was able to add key questions on accessibility to the review.  The review was undertaken using a free online tool which focussed on sight-related disabilities.  My experience of working with stroke survivors with aphasia (communication difficulties) has raised my awareness of other forms of disability which can affect access to the Web, including mobility problems, deafness and cognitive impairment.  The Web Accessibility website summarises some of the issues which designers should take account of when creating websites; this is especially important given the need for organisations to uphold the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).  However, given the constraints of this project, I feel that the questions used in our expert review will highlight the need to meet the most common accessibility standards.

Usability and Error Minimisation

My final comment in this post is related to the issue of error minimisation.  It is certainly the case that I don’t see the old-school “Error 404” message as frequently anymore.  Instead, when I do encounter a problem, I am presented with messages tailored to the website and the organisational image.  Longanecker (2012, para 1.) argues that

“the websites and apps we truly love have one thing in common: soul. They’re humanized. They have emotional intelligence designed into the user experience. And this emotional intelligence is crafted through thoughtful interaction design and feedback mechanisms built into the website.”

Hence my unashamed inclusion of the South Park Error 404 message. Although the user does not want to be confronted with an error message, good UX design ensures that the technical failure remains in keeping with the brand identity.


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Brinck, T. et al. 2002. Usability for the Web: designing web sites that work. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Great Britain. 1995. Disability discrimination Act 1995 [online]. London:HMSO. Available at: [Accessed 17 October 2012].

Longanecker, C. 2012. Give your website soul with emotionally intelligent interactions [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 17 October 2012].

Travis, D. 2009. 247 Web usability guidelines [online]. London: Usefocus. Available at: [Accessed 17 October 2012]. 2012. Web accessibility: improve the Web for everyone [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 17 October 2012].

WebAIM. 2012. Welcome to WAVE [online]. Logan: WebAIM. Available at: [Accessed: 17 October 2012

Withrow, J. 2006. Competitive analysis: understanding the market context [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 17 October 2012

One brick at a time

2006. The year I made my first online purchase.  I was not an an early adopter of Web-based services.  It’s not that I’m a technophobe; it was simply the case that until then, the World Wide Web had not offered me a significant reason to invest the time and effort in learning how to use a computer. Purchasing that V-Wing Fighter Lego set was the beginning of my realisation that future innovations (as discussed in my favourite 1980s TV science programme “Tomorrow’s World”), were in fact a current reality.  I had taken my first step into joining the digital world and by 2010 I was occasionally leaving the fug of child-rearing to undertake some basic IT training.

My previous roles as a primary school teacher and as a volunteer working with stroke survivors have been influential in my desire to support people in finding, accessing and using information.  Thus, my personal aim for this module is to develop a foundation of theoretical understanding and some technical skills to support the delivery of a user-centred information service.

To date, this course has given me a good grounding in the organisation of information within a library context.   However, I am also aware of the work being undertaken by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in exploring the potential of Linked Open Data in the Web of the future – the Semantic Web, whereby all formats of an object on the Web will become linked and more easily identified.  I am not sure what the implications of this will be for websites and their users.  I will try and consider this issue over the course of the project.

The group project: Initial Ideas

We explored websites that were familiar to us and which have caused us frustration as users.  Interestingly, this included websites for well known organisations, such as the Science Museum, British Library and CILIP .  However, it became clear that setting a scope for the redesign of these sites would be problematic for the purpose of this project.  For example there was too much content in the British Library site and our attempts to focus on one section of the CILIP jobs section proved to be limited in content and potential for a redesign.  We therefore took the lecturer’s advice about criteria for selecting a website (at least 10 pages, opportunities to search  content and find locations) and decided to consider using an event-based website.  This should provide some focussed content and avoid “scope creep” which was a potential issue for some of the other organisation-based sites we had initially looked at.  A search on Google revealed that folk events are not always best represented on the Web.  We quickly found a suitable site for the project.

Our initial observations were quickly translated into features which we thought could improve the site.  However, Wodtke and Govella (2009) suggest that this approach can contribute rather than solve problems, as features are frequently bolted-on and do not serve the overall needs of the business or its users.  So we are going to focus our efforts on defining the key objectives for the website via a systematic analysis of the organisation, the site, its users and competitors prior to making any changes to the existing site.

The reality is that I have no idea how to actually build a website but I am heartened by the fact that Krug (2006), Wodtke (2009) and Garrett (2002) agree that user experience is the ultimate measure of success.  And I have certainly done a lot of online shopping since 2006 so that must make me an expert in user experience…

I’m approaching this project in the same way that I build Lego. One brick at a time.


Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Krug, S. 2006. Don’t make me think! : a common sense approach to web usability. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Wodtke, C. & Govella, A. 2009. Information architecture : blueprints for the Web. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.