The Dyson DCO1: The Product Of 5,127 Design Iterations

“Iteration” is a word which I had not encountered until embarking on this web design project.  According to Wikipedia (2012) it is:

“…the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration,” and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.”

With its roots in the mathematical and computing community, the concept has been adopted by UX designers as a feature of the project management process.  Garrett (2003) advises that

“…you should plan your project so that work on any plane cannot finish before work on lower planes has finished.  The important consideration here is not to build the roof of the house before we know the shape of its foundation”  (??)

Evidence of Iteration In Our Group Project

Mapping our group project onto Garrett’s Five Planes model shows that we are entering the  “Structure Plane” phase of the project.  In line with Garrett’s abovementioned advice, we have taken the opportunity to review our output in the previous “Scope” and “Strategy” planes.  For example, we were advised by our lecturer to refine our user journeys and we were consequently able to clarify our ideas about the personas involved, thus finalising the archetypes.  Building personas was a task assigned to Week 3 of the project schedule but in retrospect, it is clear that it would have been almost impossible to achieve the level of detail for each aspect of the scenarios, personas and user journeys without having progressed the project.

This week we have focussed on wireframing, an activity characterised by iteration.  Bowles and Box (2011) argue that wireframes are a key aspect of the outputs or “deliverables” which document design choices.  However, wireframes play a more useful role by representing a design which can be tested with stakeholders.  Kelley (2011) argues that testing early in a project will provide a wealth of information to refine and improve a product before too much time and effort is invested in an idea. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss the “fidelity” (level of detail) in the deliverables and outline a range of tools to create wireframes with varying degrees of fidelity.

WIREFRAMING WITH LOW FIDELITY TOOLS

Do I Have To Draw?

I am not very confident about expressing my ideas thorough drawing; sadly for me, the artistic gene passed from my mum to my younger sister (an embroidery artist).  However, I was confident that this week, somebody in our group would take the lead and demonstrate a talent for drawing the wireframes for our website design.

It soon became evident that my interpretation of designing on paper was not one shared by the lecturer.  Although we undertook some sketching exercises in a recent class, the lecturer emphasised that the aim was to enable everyone in a team to express their ideas, regardless of their drawing skills via sketching games such as “Six To One” and “Design The Box” (Bowles and Box, 2011).  This seemed like a commendable idea but I could not envisage myself needing to undertake this kind of exercise in the workplace. I was proved wrong this week.

How I Was Proved Wrong

Our group planned a site map together, as shown below:

We then began to discuss the key elements of the homepage.  It was clear that we had many ideas but that they were jumbled up and difficult to describe.  It was at this point that the lecturer suggested that we undertake the “Six To One”sketching exercise.  It became clear that drawing ability was irrelevant, as the aim was to generate ideas and refine them collaboratively.  On reflection, this exercise was in essence, a highly focussed iterative process which highlighted two key issues:

  1. as with the persona and scenario-building exercises, this sketching activity could be used as a problem-solving activity in the workplace
  2. this is a very democratic approach to reaching a mutually agreed decision; it allows everyone in the group to have a voice and to be heard

I will consider these issues in more detail as follows:

1. The Contribution of Iterative Design To The Economy

The first issue came to mind when I listened to Monday’s discussion on “Start The Week” (BBC Radio 4, 2012) with Antony Gormley (sculptor) and Ron Arad (designer, architect).  The programme focussed on the current squeeze on Art and Design subjects in the education curriculum in favour of an exam system biased towards Science, Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) subjects.  The aim is to develop the country’s skills base in these areas (House of Lords, 2012) so as to improve the country’s economic productivity. The participants argued that technological and scientific innovation is grounded in good design principles and maintained that the skills gained through an art and/or design-based education can be transferred to economic sectors outside the creative industries.  I am beginning to see that activities such as the personas, user journeys and sketching exercises are a minor example of the creative approach which could be used more widely to generate ideas with economic benefits in other sectors. For example, some commercial organisations, such as Dyson capitalise on the relationship between design and engineering. The company’s founder, James Dyson trained at the Royal College of Art in London.  The design for his bagless vacuum cleaner was inspired by a structure at a sawmill which span out saw dust.  His first machine, the DCO1 took five years and 5,127 prototypes, an iterative process during which he targetted and tried to solve the key issues which affected users of standard vacuum cleaners.

2. The Rejection Of Elitism

The second issue came to mind after attending a talk on campus about the UX industry from two experienced practitioners.  It was evident that the work culture in this sector is based on collaboration and “a rejection of elitism” (Bowles and Box, 2011) via a relatively flat organisational structure which echoes the culture that I experienced when working as a teacher.  This is in sharp contrast to the library environment where a very strong hierarchical structure continues to dominate the decision-making process at all levels of the organisation.  In my opinion, this type of culture stifles creativity and limits opportunities to solve problems with consensual agreement.

Was Sketching Useful?

Overall, I found that the sketching activities were the key to generating and developing ideas as well as acting as a tool for solving problems; they bridged the gap between our researched user journeys and creating a design for the website.

Would I Use Sketching In The Future?

Having understood the aim of the activity and seen the positive results, I would recommend this activity as a tool for generating ideas.  In the future I would approach it with more confidence and I would feel less self-conscious about using a variety of resources, including different types of marker pens, felt tips and large sheets of paper to help express my ideas.

Given that I would wish to use wireframes to test ideas as part of an iterative design process, I would think carefully about presenting sketches for testing ideas; some stakeholders may find this form of presentation confusing and this could detract from the research being undertaken. However, I would certainly use the abovementioned techniques to sketch wireframes with a group of people so as to mock-up a consensual design using medium/high fidelity tools.

WIREFRAMING WITH MEDIUM/HIGH FIDELITY TOOLS

Having produced some hand-drawn wireframes, our group was encouraged to try out different tools to produce documentation which would be consistent in appearance and easier for stakeholders to understand.  I consequently tried out demo versions of “Axure”, “Mockingbird” and “Balsamiq”.  (The free versions all had restrictions on their functionality.)

Choosing Software For Wireframing

Overall, I enjoyed using Balsamiq the most, as it was flexible, easy to use and it allowed notes to be added.  Axure had the potential to be a powerful tool but there is simply not enough time for us to learn to use if effectively, even though it has a built-in HTML function.

As a group, we decided that Mockingbird was the easiest tool to use but its main drawbacks were that we could not edit collaboratively in the trial version and and that secondly, it did not have an HTML function for us to test a prototype.  After an impromptu tutorial of Visio from our lecturer, the group agreed to use Visio to design the remaining wireframes and prototypes.  Its familiarity (it is part of the Office Suite), accessibility to the full version, HTML functionality and ability to work collaboratively on designs were the key reasons behind our decision behind using this software (although I think that PowerPoint would produce very similar results for our project).

On reflection, if I was adept at using all of the abovementioned packages, I would probably choose a tool to suit the client and the style of website they require.  Thus, I might consider presenting wireframes made in “Balsamiq” to clients in a creative business and use “Axure” for an engineering-based client.

An Iterative Approach To Group Work

Wireframing has been a focussed and well-recorded exercise in iterative design for our group.  However, on reflection, I can see that we have used iteration throughout the project.  As shown above, this has applied to our work output but it has also been implicit to our approach.  We have accepted as a group that our individual contributions whether oral or recorded should be refined by the rest of the group as our collective understanding is greater than the individual’s. This is not always the case and I will explore the reasons why this approach to the project appears to be working well for our group in a later post.

REFERENCES

Axure Software Solutions. 2012. Axure RP [online]. San Diego: Axure. Available at: http://www.axure.com/products [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Balsamiq. 2012. Balsamiq mockups [online]. Sacramento: Balsamiq. Available at: http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups [Accessed 22 November 2012].

BBC. 2012. Start the week: art and design with Antony Gormley and Ron Arad [online]. London: BBC. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nx5jv [Accessed 22 November 2012].

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

Kelley, D. 2001. Design as an iterative process [online]. Stanford: Stanford eCorner. Available at: http://www.academicearth.org/lectures/design-as-an-iterative-process [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Microsoft Corporation. 2010. Visio 2010 [online]. Washington: Microsoft Corporation. Available at: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/visio/ [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Some Character. 2012. Wireframes on the fly: mockingbird [online]. San Francisco: Some Character. [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Iteration [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iteration [Accessed 22 November 2012].

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“If an item does not appear in our records then it does not exist!”

The abovementioned words are spoken by Jocasta Nu, Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives when Obi-Wan Kenobi is searching for the location of the Kamino planetary system…

However, this is a very 20th century view of a library or archive; ongoing development of the Semantic Web is pointing to a future where certain information may only exist as as an entity when created by a user.

The Semantic Web: a web of data

I first came across the term “Semantic Web” when I was researching the changes to cataloguing standards 12 months ago for a previous module.  It is something that that has been of interest to me since then.  Working in a library and studying on this course has highlighted how the library community appears to be struggling to adapt to changes in the information environment.  The Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloguing standard has been developed to encompass digital resources but will not be fully embraced by the British Library until 2013 (CILIP, 2012).  In my opinion, RDA can only be a stepping stone to the adoption of a new standard which will embrace Linked Open data in the Semantic Web, as discussed by Dunsire (2011).  Given that the related issue of ontologies is now being openly discussed on programmes such as “Woman’s Hour” (BBC, 2012) I can only hope that the slow adoption of newer standards does not lead to libraries erasing themselves from the information map!

Some of the principles which underlie this third iteration of the Web are visible in my everyday interaction with websites.  For example, the John Lewis website offers suggestions aimed specifically at me based on the “saucepans” and “table linen” which I have previously viewed:

These suggestions consist of linked metadata from within the John Lewis website and similar examples can be seen on other websites.  However, it was not until this week’s lecture where we discussed how tailored content can be fed into a fully live web page that I was suddenly struck by the fact that static web pages will no longer need to exist in the future.  By linking all forms of an item across all resouces, what will be the implications of this to website design?

This is a complex and evolving field in which I have no technical expertise.  However, I can see that some issues will affect design.  For example, given that searching will become more refined and personalised, the field of information retrieval will probably focus more on “filtering out” irrelevant information.  Designers will therefore need to find more creative ways of ensuring that their site content is accessed by the target market.  The second implication that comes to mind is that users will be able to access content more flexibly.  The traditional hierarchical structure of websites is already being reconsidered by designers so that all pages on a sitemap could have equal importance; reducing the amount of navigation on a site is discussed by Bradley (2012) who examines the development of single page websites.  It is clear that these sites reflect a desire to draw information together into one location, enhancing usability of the website and making it more dynamic.  (Site does not function as well on iPad.) However, I think that this style of website is in preparation for a time when the retrieval of individual web pages will become inefficient and uncompetitive.  Thus, a single page website would help to ensure that the entirety of the organisation’s information would remain unfiltered in a Semantic Web search.

The Synaptic Web: A web of “live” connections

The lecturer discussed a second model for the Web – the Synaptic Web.  My limited reading on this subject seems to suggest that this approach focusses on a folksonomical approach to the future development of the Web.  Thus, proponents for this model discuss the Synaptic Web as being descriptive rather than prescriptive.   However, having examined the transfer of information between different fields, for example, between film archives and academic libraries, it is evident that common standards or a high level of interoperability is necessary to achieve the initial fast, accurate connections prior to developing “plasticity” that is, the connections between the connections, as described by Loux and Blantz ( 2011). Thus, whereas HTML was the common standard for the first incarnation of the Web, Resource Description Framework (RDF) could provide the platform for a more descriptive Web.  My current thinking is that there will probably be a convergence between the two models to create the the Web of the future.

REFERENCES

BBC. 2012. Woman’s Hour: Power list expert witness: science and engineering [online].London: BBC. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010v47s [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Bradley, S. 2012. Exploration of single page websites [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/11/05/navigation-patterns-in-single-page-websites/#more-142481 [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

CILIP 2012. Implementing RDA in the UK: strategies and lessons learned [online]. CILIP: London. Available at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/rda2012/Documents/3.%20Alan%20Danskin.pdf [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Dunsire, G. 2011. Web resource management and semantic web [Online]. Ahmedabad: INFLIBNET. Available at:htt p://ir.inflibnet.ac.in/dxml/bitstream/handle/1944/1605/15.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Loux, K. et al. 2011. The synaptic web [online]. San Mateo: PBWorks. Available at: http://synapticweb.pbworks.com/w/page/8983891/FrontPage [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Halloween Interview and Task Observation

Halloween night was the date when I conducted an interview and task observation with a good friend who regularly attends folk events and festivals. (Please note that the interviewee is wearing the microphone.)

Preparation

I prepared a question sheet for the interview and practised on my teenage son, so as to check the flow of questions, as suggested by Kuniavsky (2003).  I downloaded a free version of Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 in order to record the observation tasks and I practised using this software (again, on my surprisingly obliging son).  I was impressed by the quality of the screen capture and used the headphones and mike pictured above to record the participant’s audio very clearly.  However, I decided not to include the webcam feature as this lagged behind the audio and screen capture.

The data capture sheet had separate boxes for each screen as a reminder of the 4 key questions for each screen.  I felt that this was important to ensure consistency in our approach across  all tasks and all participants.  During my test task observation I became quickly aware that it is almost impossible to take notes whilst talking to a participant and I agree with Kuniavsky (2003) who suggests that this exercise should be conducted by 2 people.

Conducting the interviews and task observations

We encountered a range of issues which I have categorised as follows:

1. Technical Issues

I had to find, download and practise using the software; this initially seemed straight forward but it became difficult to troubleshoot when we encountered problems with Internet connections; firstly with teenage children playing online game during the task observation with Participant 1 and secondly on campus where the Eduroam wireless system failed, forcing us to rely on audio recording for  Participant 3 and 4.  Although I had tested the wireless system on campus at 9.30am, I hadn’t made allowances for the notoriously high demand on the wireless network in the Library between 11am and 2pm.  In the future, I would minimise the chance of this happening by connecting via an ethernet.  Indeed, as I write, I am also wondering why I didn’t video the task observations using my phone…

2. Lack of interviewing experience

Having conducted the interview/task observation with a familiar primary user, I had become aware that the series of questions which we had agreed as a group were very specific to the website and that they were not going to provide as much background information as we might need to understand the lifestyle, interests and motivations behind the behaviours of the interviewees, particularly the primary users – about whom the group had little information.  We needed to ask additional questions but this proved to be difficult as two of the interviewees were line managers for two members of the group!  Although this wasn’t ideal, there were advantages to using senior staff.  Firstly, we were allowed to conduct the interviews during work hours and secondly, we were able to access a suitable venue (a group study room in the Library).  Consequently, given the budget and time restrictions of the project, I feel that we gathered enough information to fulfill our user research objectives.  In a future project, I would include additional questions to enhance our understanding of the primary users.

The second issue that arose due to my lack of interviewing experience was deciding when to interrupt and re-focus the interviewee’s attention to the question/task as opposed to just keeping quiet and listening! This is obviously a skill which needs to be developed over time; recording and listening back to interviews has certainly helped me to analyse my performance.  For example, when observing task 3, I insisted that Participant 1 should try and find the Facebook page from the website, even though she had proposed an alternative route which would have worked in real life.  This is discussed by Krug (2006) who outlines a range of motives for users not choosing a designed route, including the idea that users will revert to previously successful strategies for solving problems, even if they are unorthodox.  The result of my intervention was to force the participant to undertake additional searching which was invalid as it was not what the participant would have done under normal circumstances.

3. Interviewee Issues

There was evidence that interviewees were slightly nervous about the interview/task observations.  Participant 2 arrived late and flustered and seemed less focussed in his approach to the tasks.  I had booked the room for 5 hours to suit participants’ needs.  Unfortunately, the interviews were arranged by another group member with only 15 minute breaks between each participant’s 30 minute slot.  In the future, I would leave longer periods between interviews to accommodate over-runs and to allow time for re-setting equipment.

Participant 3 wanted to give the “right” answers, as shown by the transcript of one of the tasks:   Participant 3 Observation task 1buying a ticket.  We tried to minimise this anxiety by preparing an introduction speech, as discussed by Kuniavsky (2003) which was read to all participants to explain the purpose of the task.  Unfortunately, this participant is an experienced manager who would probably not wish to appear unable to complete a task in front of her junior staff (even if difficulties were due to the website design).  In future, I would therefore avoid any potential conflict of interest by not interviewing my own line manager, unless the person was a key stakeholder to the project.

4. Analysis Issues

The original plan had been for the interviewers to share the transcription process with the other members of the group. Unfortunately, as 2 of the interviews were affected by the technical problems, we thought that it would be very difficult for the rest of the group to transcribe the audio-only recordings of the practical tasks.  Consequently, we have yet to analyse the data.  I am conscious of the fact that transcripts are raw data and that the interviews and task observation results need to be summarised and analysed to obtain the information required to build archetypal personas.  We will try and complete this before next week’s lecture.

What did I learn?

  • Interviewing is difficult; asking searching, open-ended questions without leading a participant or imposing one’s views is a skilled job
  • Researchers need to work in pairs and allow extra time for delays and discussion
  • Researchers should have back-up recording equipment in case there are technical problems
  • Audiovisual recording of the research provides an accurate record intervieweee responses

Was this research useful?

Overall, despite some of the issues outlined above, I can see that this user research has provided us with real information required to map realistic scenarios and journeys for the primary users which had not been available to us from the SurveyMonkey survey. In the future, I would undertake similar research, not only to support the development of personas and user journeys but also to provide an evidence base. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss how this would be particularly important where stakeholders may have conflicting priorities, as it would help focus everyone’s attention on the key requirements.  As with the persona development, I can see how this is going to provide the basis for the design aspect of the website.

REFERENCES

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.

Evans, W. 2012. Customer research & persona development [online]. San Francisco: slideshare. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/willevans/customer-research-persona-development [Accessed 01 November 2012].

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

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

Scenarios and Personas: A New Take on Commedia Dell’ Arte

It struck me this week, that there is a striking similarity between the principles of scenario and persona development in UX design and the Italian Commedia Dell’ Arte.  In the C15th, troupes of actors would put on open air performances using stock characters.  Scenarios would be tailored to the audience and dialogue was improvised, thus allowing the actors to comment on social and political issues of interest to the particular audience.  Similarly, scenarios, personas and user journey planning are techniques used by UX designers (the actors) to generate ideas for discussion by stakeholders (the audience) of a given website.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I am interested in understanding the process of turning analysed data into a design idea using the abovementioned techniques.  I was heartened by the thought that these techniques have been used successfully in theatre for a long time!

Our Group’s Approach To Developing Personas

Given that we had not conducted the research on the primary users yet, we decided to focus on the information gathered from the SurveyMonkey survey which had been sent out mainly to secondary users to develop personas.  The group put forward ideas and then tested them against the quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the survey.  For example, when developing the persona of a secondary user, it was evident from the research that viewing photos on the festival website would be a key activity for this secondary users.  We consequently sketched a secondary persona with a smartphone.  In the midst of generating personas, I remained mindful of the fact that the lecturer (an experienced IA and UX designer) had explained that it is a technique which she does not use as often as user journey mapping.

How Useful Are Personas?

Bowles and Box (2011) discuss how personas are used most successfully in cases where many users are interviewed to identify common themes.  They put forward ideas for making use of existing marketing data to create personas in cases where time and/or money limits research.  Our project has these constraints upon it.  The limited data we have available could, as argued by Evans (2012) result in the creation of a persona based on the group’s own rationalisations and beliefs.   This was demonstrated by the group’s initial idea to use familiar secondary users to develop primary personas due to time/resource limitations.  A reconsideration of this idea has led to research with two primary users whose behaviours, needs and goals are dissimilar to the group’s initial expectations of personas for people who attend folk festivals.

Wechsler puts the issue of personas into context by describing personas as the characters which populate a scenario.  In turn, this can be used to plot a user journey through a website.

Our First User Journey

We developed a persona for a secondary user and created a journey using different colour post-its on a whiteboard.  We took photos to record our work but then reproduced the work on slides to make the journeys easier to read.  We initially plotted the journey using the existing site.  The number of steps reflect the potential user’s difficulty in accessing relevant information:

I was impressed by the flow of this process; the incorporation of the persona into a scenario and the subsequent journey helped to stimulate questions, comments and ideas about the existing site.  Our lecturer then suggested that we plot an “ideal” journeys for the same persona.  The slide below reflects a more intuitive route through the website:

I can therefore see that focussing on personas alone could result in an inaccurate interpretation of user research.  However, I think that any inherent bias or sterotyping becomes less problematic when personas  (both primary and secondary) are seen as part of a wider UX planning process whereby the personas are put within the context of user journey maps, thus generating design ideas which span a range of user behaviours, needs and expectations.

I am looking forward to analysing the the results of the user interviews and task observations; developing primary personas will be the next step in our design process.  I hope that they can be as colourful as the personas in the Commedia Dell’Arte…

REFERENCES

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.

Evans, W. 2012. Customer research & persona development [online]. San Francisco: slideshare. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/willevans/customer-research-persona-development [Accessed 01 November 2012].

Wechsler, J. 2010. Using scenarios [online]. Available at: http://uxthink.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/using_scenarios/ [Accessed 01 November 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.

REFERENCES

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: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/01/design-research-methods-for-experience-design.php [Accessed 28 October 2012].

Horton, S. 2009. Why research-directed website design will make your website better [online]. San Francisco: Peachpit. Available at: http://www.peachpit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1403982 [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: http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/286886/7-steve-jobs-products-that-failed/2 [Accessed: 28 October 2012].

Walsh, B. 2006. Microsoft re-designs the Ipod packaging [online]. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXnJraKM3k [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.

REFERENCES

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: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/50/part/III/crossheading/goods-facilities-and-services [Accessed 17 October 2012].

Longanecker, C. 2012. Give your website soul with emotionally intelligent interactions [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2012/03/28/give-your-website-soul-with-emotionally-intelligent-interactions/ [Accessed 17 October 2012].

Travis, D. 2009. 247 Web usability guidelines [online]. London: Usefocus. Available at: http://www.userfocus.co.uk/resources/guidelines.html [Accessed 17 October 2012].

web-accessibility.org.uk. 2012. Web accessibility: improve the Web for everyone [online]. Available at: http://www.web-accessibility.org.uk/ [Accessed: 17 October 2012].

WebAIM. 2012. Welcome to WAVE [online]. Logan: WebAIM. Available at: http://wave.webaim.org/ [Accessed: 17 October 2012

Withrow, J. 2006. Competitive analysis: understanding the market context [Online]. Available at: http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/competitive_analysis_understanding_the_market_context [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.

REFERENCES

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.