Archive for the ‘User Experience’ Category

The Great UX Debate

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Last night at Sapient Nitro’s London HQ October’s Great UX Debate took place. Lead by Giles Colborn, the panel – comprised of Lee Sankey, Cennydd Bowles, Daniel Harvey and Windahl Finnigan – spent around 90 minutes debating various UX-related topics.


Towards the end of the night the debate really did kick off in regards to whether design (not just UX, but design in general) needed more representation at a higher level in business and organisations. While this was probably the most engaging part of the debate (with strong points and rebuttals being made on both sides) for me the most poignant points of the evening were several made by Cennyd Bowles.

To paraphrase Cennyd (hopefully not too wildly):

I’d rather ship at 80% perfect and get to work on something else, and get that to 80% as well, rather than spending three weeks getting the first thing to 98%

Cennyd also called ‘bullshit’ on this belief we need to user test everything. He qualified this point by arguing that – if experienced enough – UX designers should know what will work and what won’t. The power of heuristic evaluation – perhaps a forgotten process these days?

This goes back to his 80% v 98% analogy: if you’ve designed a working login process before, you should be pretty confident doing so again (and confident that it will work for at least 80% of users). To get it to 98%, it might take weeks of work (not to mention additional costs for testing and development). 98% is great but in that same time what if you could get a search system implemented at 80%?

I know what I’d rather have. I think there’s far too much fear and anxiety about launching products and features, and not just from some in the UX world – this extends to developers, project managers, clients etc.

Of course you don’t want to ship something that’s broken, but we’re thinking about 80% here. That should be well beyond the point of minimum viable product. It’s not perfect, but it’s built and out there – it’s alive and not languishing behind closed doors having thousands of tiny details polished to a ridiculous degree.

We have a huge luxury in the software and online world: the final product can be updated after it’s been shipped. So we can iterate on our 80% easily – and moving beyond 80% on a live product is even easier as you can analysis usage metrics that can sometimes give you insight far greater and truthful than 5-10 users in a lab in hour-long sessions. (Edit: as Fabien Marry pointed out, this will only give you quantitative feedback, not qualitative feedback).

I’m not for a minute saying don’t user test. But we need to look at this in the big picture and use our expertise to make a professional call in many situations. With that in mind, my final take away from the great UX debate? The adage of the software engineering realm: ship early, ship often.

Who said what: when a game isn’t a game

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Over the years a trend in content has emerged where users are invited to compare two controversial yet radically different people and their quotes in the form of a simple quiz or game. A particularly good example of this from a few years ago was Charlie Sheen v Muammar Gaddafi: whose line is it anyway? from The Guardian.

It’s straightforward, and while not the slickest experience, it’s genuinely interesting to compare the rants of Charlie Sheen and Muammar Gaddafi.

Jeremy Clarkson. Ick.

A similar concept was recently launched by The Times comparing Caitlin Moran to Jeremy Clarkson. Visually and experience-wise it’s far more engaging than The Guardian’s earlier efforts — and indeed the product team might’ve taken some inspiration from some of the Us Vs Th3m interactive “toys”.

But there’s a major flaw with the Caitlin v Clarkson “quiz”. As soon as you get a question wrong, that’s it: the game is over. This is a terrible quiz; it’s not an X/10 score, it’s just a single number that honestly has a 50% chance of being zero from the start of the quiz.

The biggest problem here is that as soon as you get one question wrong, you have to start over. That’s actually the beauty of these quizzes: the actual chances of you getting 10/10 are very slim. The fun part is exploring these daft and controversial quotes. Thinking “Did they really say that?

By kicking a user out as soon as they’re wrong The Times has basically removed a huge element of fun. They’ve created a game without game: it’s unforgiving and quite un-fun solely because of the scoring approach. And trying again with repeat questions? That’s a chore.

In these situations let people guess away. It’s not a real test: it’s just a more exciting way of exploring two contrasting personalities.

A minor user experience improvement for the Liberal Party of Australia

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

I don’t often find myself visiting the website of the Liberal Party of Australia. Politics aside however, when I did stumble across the site today, a newsletter subscription form pop-up welcomed me:


Sadly, these sorts of annoyingly desperate newsletter pop-ups are fairly ubiquitous online these days. However, can you see how to actually close the window?


If you look above the National Party leader Warren Truss and squint you can just about spot a little white “x”.

Obviously, from a user experience perspective, closing this window (that 99% of users will probably want to do) isn’t an easy task. The simple solution? Of course, make the “x” larger and more prominent.

Perhaps this would work better? Let’s put the X in the most prominent place possible… over the face of Liberal leader Tony Abbott:


Much, much better.

(To be fair, I’m up for putting big crosses over any politician’s face… but with the exception of The Nationals, no other major Australian parties nag their users like this. So Tony will have to do for now!)

Prescribed: A personalized tour of Obamacare

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

The Wall Street Journal published a great interactive piece today entitlted “Prescribed: A personalized tour of Obamacare“.


I was particularly excited by the tagline:

Explore how America’s health-care overhaul will affect you on this first-person adventure.

Personalized and adventure? This sounds like it has an element of gamification or game narrative.

I don’t want to detract from Prescribed for a second as I genuinely believe it’s an excellent interactive guide but after my initial exploration it felt it lacked slightly on the ‘adventure’ and ‘personalization’. The first person perspective is great, but the only input into the narrative I have as a user is the ability to explore facts as the story progresses.

I wonder if a simple change to the narrative might help improve this sense of adventure and personalization. For instance, in the “Is My Employer Affected” section, Prescribed explains the differences between employers with 50 or more employees and ones with fewer. Instead of just talking through this, why not throw the question straight to the user?

Prescribed 2

Now regardless of what the user inputs, the voice over could continue to explain the differences: but the big difference is as a user I really do feel more like this is personalized to my situation by simply adding in some very simply game dynamics.

There’s an even better opportunity for this when a surly manager approaches the camera and tells the user “we need to talk about your hours”.

Prescribed 3

A side link offers to take the user to an explanation of what’s considered “full time”:

Prescribed 4

However, by asking the user how many hours a week they work it makes the journey into this explanatory video feel far more personalised and relevant. The video content probably wouldn’t need to change — but by simply getting the user to interact with their own situation the feeling of personalisation and relevance is surely far greater.

Prescribed is still a great new format — and I hope the Wall Street Journal continue with it — and that other media outlets can steal be influenced by it.

UX Scotland Round-up

Monday, July 1st, 2013

It’s been almost a week now since the inaugural UX Scotland up in sunny Edinburgh. Here’s my round-up of what I saw and what themes came up during the two days of talks and discussions.

Overall I think the most interesting theme I took from the conference was that of context. A lot of this started on day one after a goldfish discussion on the future of broadcasting and was cemented by Giles Colborne’s keynote on day two which looked exactly at context and what it means for user experience.

Context is a great challenge for user experience designers: getting the context right for a user is a wonderful experience. But getting context wrong and it the experience is awful. Getting context right is the real challenge.

UX Scotland

Day one

After a quick intro from the organisers (Software Acumen) Jeff Gothelf kicked off the talks with the first keynote: “Better Product Definition with Lean UX & Design Thinking“. This was a great reminder of how products can (and will) fail if you simply make assumptions about your users. The demise of Plancast is a stark reminder of how not really considering your users can lead to disaster.

I was lucky enough to be talking next: my debut presentation of Play & Engage: Practical Ways to Gamify Your Content. (There’s also a fairly comprehensive blog post of my key points available too). Unfortunately on at the same time was Graham Odds talking about data visualisation, which I really wanted to see — you should check out his slides if only to admire some masterful and beautiful CSS3.

Next up: Martin Belam took a look at “Designing ‘The Bottom Half of the Internet“. He took us through the love-it-or-hate-it world of comments and demonstrated some truly staggering douchebaggery in the form of comments left on Holly Brockwell’s blog after her open letter to Hyundai regarding their awful ‘suicide ad’. A key lesson for anyone involved in moderation: comment often. It seems most commenters are not unlike five year old children (are you really surprised?) and some grown up presence seems to help them behave.

Then I sat in for a double-feature of internationalisation and user experience: Chui-Chui Tan gave us some great insight into how different cultures use technology with Your Mobile Experience Is Not Theirs. Chris Rourke followed this up with Cross Cultural UX Research – Best Practices for International Insights that gave some valuable insight into working internationally (and user testing remotely to boot).

After this was a real highlight: the goldfish discussion on broadcasting in a multi-device world. Rhys Nealon from STV kicked off the discussion with several industry figures — and it soon went from being a panel discussion into a general group discussion which was fantastic. Pretty much everyone attending contributed: it’s amazing how everyone has an opinion on consuming television content.

But the overriding challenge in this multidevice world soon emerged as context. How can Netflix (or any other product) differentiate between me watching Games of Thrones and then my children watching Sesame Street — without a myriad of different logins? How can we balance discovery with curation? Not many answers from this discussion but some very exciting questions.

To end the day Sam Nixon from RBS took us through a look at the future of money and specifically digital money services. How can we make online banking more useful? He provided some great insights into how useless breaking down your ‘monthly’ spend is and instead proposed easier and smarter payment systems (such as Barclay’s Pingit) will be the real future of digital money (along with a few mentions of — of course — Bitcoin).

That’s was the end of day one: time to head over to the Voodoo Rooms for some hard earned drinks (and some very fine curry).

Day Two

As I’ve already touched on, Giles Colborne added nicely to the context theme with his in-depth talk looking at all facets of context and how it affects user experience.

Following this was an immensely fun and very useful look at “How to Make Your First UX Comic or Storyboard” with Bonny Colville-Hyde. I’ve been sketching here and there for my whole life but this certainly gave me some inspiration to take it much further.

UX Comic
Look! I made a comic!

After another wonderful lunch over looking the Salisbury Crags, Ian Fenn took us through his experience in “Getting UX Done” which had a nice element of humour in amongst practical advice on dealing with all manner of challenges. Immediately after Mike Atherton took a look at “Brand-Driven Design“. A glass of whiskey and some cigar smoke would’ve nicely rounded off his look at advertising from the 60s and how brand is a fundamental part of any experience.

The final presentation of the day came from Cathy Wang. In “The Future in Designing for the Sex(es)” she explored what future implications the blurring of gender might have for experience design.

And thus concluded two days of diverse and very interesting look into UX. Fantastic talks, great venue and awesome people really made it worth the trip up (not that I ever need much of an excuse to go to Edinburgh). It’ll be great to see what UX Scotland 2014 has to offer next year.

Potluck: social networks as an endless game

Friday, June 28th, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “endless games” and how they apply to content. From SCVNGR’s game dynamics playdeck:

Endless games: Games that do not have an explicit end. Most applicable to casual games that can refresh their content or games where a static (but positive) state is a reward of its own.

This same mechanic is at work within almost all social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even Quora. It’s a simple concept: every time you return to any of these social networks, there’s something new for you. Something to read, something to discuss, a funny animated GIF, a link to explore — and on and on. The fact you’re getting something new and unknown whenever you return to a social network is one reason they have become such a powerful part of digital life.

And that’s why I was quite excited about Potluck — a social network dedicated to sharing links. As a link junky this sounded like a wonderful proposition. From their homepage:

Discover new things your friends think are cool (that you wouldn’t find otherwise!).

Sounded pretty good. I signed up and even sent it to work colleagues and tweeted it out. I connected to around a dozen people on the first day. Found some nice new links. A good start. But since yesterday afternoon?

Zip. Nothing is happening. Just tumbleweeds rolling by.

What motivation do I have to return to Potluck?

Zero. There’s nothing new there.

Critically, because it’s only very new and I only have a few connections, of course there’s likely to be little there. Where are the link suggestions? Trending links? Popular links? There is literlaly no reason for me to bother ever signing in again. Am I missing some part of the site? Or is it really just meant to be like this?

Potluck has failed at creating a sense of an endless game, and for me that means it’s failed entirely as a social network concept.

It’s incredible that a product with such an impressive team behind it (Evan Williams and Biz Stone to name just two) could be launched like this. This isn’t even beta.

Potluck describes itself as The best house party you’ve ever been to. On the internet.

Alas, this seems more accurate…

Forever alone

Hollow: an interactive documentary

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

If you’ve got a spare ten to fifteen minutes, I really recommend checking out Hollow Documentary. It’s a genuinely interesting look at the rise and fall of small town America (brought to life through Kickstarter).


In amongst the beautiful visuals and mind-boggling amounts of parallax interaction, there’s a particularly interesting design choice: “locked” content that is only available after watching other parts of content. A legitimate piece of gamification at work within a far larger, complex narrative. This might not be that new, but the execution in Hollow’s documentary is really well done: I think because it does present such a strong and compelling story that discovering more is a reward in itself.

The parallax scrolling ties in with however patient you’re feeling: there’s a huge amount of content, and you can either skim through quite quickly enjoying the visuals and the odd sound clip or take your time and soak up every little detail.

My only criticism of the website? A poor choice of target platform: desktop only.

Alas, desktop only...

This type of content experience is where tablets really excel. It’s a shame it wasn’t developed with that in mind — not only are they excluding a large market, they’re also denying them a great experience.

Play & engage: practical ways to gamify your content

Thursday, June 13th, 2013
This is a preview of a talk I’m giving at UX Scotland on June 20, 2013. If you’re heading up to Edinburgh, please come and listen to me speak!

While I’ve worked under various job titles over the years, much of my work has consisted of creating and maintaining the best possible experiences related to content-rich websites across a broad-range of areas — including arts, news, sport and even transport.

A lot of this experience design has to do with navigation and information architecture. But beyond this, what happens to a user once they’ve found their content? A good experience shouldn’t end there. But even if your content is superbly written, edited and laid-out, sometimes there’s a limit to the impact you can have just with the written word. Sometimes we can do more with far less – and this is where we can look to the world of gaming for assistance.

Yes, I’m suggesting we can gamify content for the better. But perhaps not in the way you’re thinking (and possibly dreading).


A brief post on iOS7 and flat design

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

If I read another article about flat design v skeuomorphic I think I’ll probably tear my hair out. So of course, I’ve decided to write one, and I’m hoping it’ll be one of the shortest articles about the topic ever.

So, the new Apple iOS7 has moved quite radically towards flat design. Unsurprisingly, designers around the globe are crying foul.

I’m personally a big fan of flat design. But even I have to admit I’m not sure about this new direction. The biggest problem? It feels more like a cheap Android rip off.

Samsung Galaxy S4... now with iOS7This is entirely Photoshopped. But did you even suspect for a second?

And that’s where I think the big problem is: as far as user experience, I don’t think flat or skeuomorphic makes a big difference — unless you take it to the extreme either way (but hey, that rule goes for anything in life: moderation is good).

But with iOS, this is bad because it’s so different to the previous iOS, which hasn’t changed much since its initial launch in 2007. This won’t so much affect experience on the surface, but it will create a disconnection with people and the iOS brand. And people will focus on that disconnection over any fundamental UI change. And that’s when people will start to feel that iOS is a bad experience.

Changing a beloved brand is always risky. When your brand is so intergrated into every product like Apple, changing the interface is changing your brand: so how bad will the risk be? Will this be just an Apple Maps hiccup or more of a Windows 8 start button capitulaton?

The Webby Awards and what Government sites really need to be?

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Earlier this year, the new UK Government portal GOV.UK won “Design of the Year” from the Design Museum. But this wasn’t just in the web or digital category — it was THE design of the year. The site was valued higher than the architecture and construction of The Shard and even the Olympic Cauldron from London 2012. An amazing precedent for digital work that rightly illustrates what a tremendous and ground-breaking project GOV.UK is and continues to be.

Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, sums up GOV.UK nicely:

all the things that we would like to take for granted from the Government but, in a sea of red tape and jargon, usually can’t

When the 2013 Webby Awards were announced at the end of April, I made a casual assumption that GOV.UK would make the list of awards. However, it didn’t. But what I find interesting is perhaps not so much GOV.UK’s omission, but more what the actual winner of the 2013 Webby Awards for Government website was.

Hold on folks, strap your bullet-proof vest on and cock your pistol: this shit is about to GET REAL. Ladies and gentlemen, take cover as you visit MILWAUKEE POLICE NEWS.COM. (If you’ve got motion sickness pills, take them now: the parallax is like a stormy sea).


Wow. They say the Webbys are “The Oscars” of the web — and in this case Michael Bay and Vin Diesel have just won. The site is missing one thing: Bad Boys by Inner Circle playing in the background. The site is seriously like an episode of cops… but in some strange futuristic world or perhaps a different dimension.

I’ve not been to Milwaukee, but I was always under the impression it was a quite nice place. However, after visiting this site I’m concerned that Milwaukee is a cross between Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and a city in some Latin American narco-state. (The most wanted section is particularly indicative of this).

I’ve actually got no idea who this site is for. I can’t even see any way to contact Milwaukee Police on this site. There’s not even a single mention of 911 on the page. There is a link to how you can pay parking tickets, but it’s about 10,000 pixels down the page just above the sexy photo of a SWAT van.

So, GOV.UK clearly has a lot to learn from MILWAUKEE POLICE NEWS.COM and their Webby triumph. As a proud British resident (and almost citizen), I’ve decided to help out the nice folks at GOV.UK and redesign their homepage to make it more better and stuff.

Check it out: the new and improved GOV.UK.