About sandy

Writer & maker from Perth. In my past lives, I made websites, designed user experiences, advocated usability & accessibility, strategised content, managed projects, harvested low-hanging fruit, and once drank six pints of ale in one sitting. Once. When I can, I sequester time to paint, draw, crochet, cook, play games, practice music, study martial arts & football, learn maths & science, write letters, sip tea and hang out with my cats. I write, ghost-write and create content for a variety of clients and industries worldwide. My favourite people to work with are fellow creatives and brands who believe in making the world better through quality and love.

Could better sites make people better?

An interesting perspective on whether bad UX contributes to ego depletion:


But even if we can justify consuming our user’s cognitive resources while they’re using our product, what about our marketing? Can we honestly believe that our “content marketing” is a good use of their resources? “Yes, because it adds value.” we tell ourselves. But what does that even mean? Can we honestly say that “engaging with our brand” is a healthy, ethical use of their scarce, precious, limited cognitive resources? “Yes, because our content is useful.”


And that’s all awesome and fabulous and social and 3.0ish except for one, small, inconvenient fact: zero sum. What you consume here, you take from there. Not just their attention, not just their time, but their ability to be the person they are when they are at their best. When they have ample cognitive resources. When they can think, solve-problems, and exercise self-control. When they can create, make connections, and stay focused.

Could simply making better websites make the world a better place, one more-satisfied user at a time?

via @lordmortis

Dark Patterns: evil UX that tricks users into doing what you want

UX is a tool, a drug, a craft – it can be used for good and for evil.

The evil bit sucks, and this article (below) gave me such rage today because it reminded me of all the evil things that can be done using magical UX powers. It’s a great read, and links off to a great site where you can dob in evil asshole sites and companies who do evil asshole things.

A paraphrased excerpt:

Imagine you’re operations director for an NHS hospital in the UK. Imagine you’ve got three kids and a big mortgage. This job is everything to you. So how would you react when your boss says to you that you have to cut wait times to under 5 minutes per patient or you’re fired. Just think about this for a moment. You’ve got no spare capital, no spare staff time, no way to stretch your resources. How can you possibly do this?

Well here’s a little idea. How about you create a job role for a nurse where their job is simply to say hello to new patients. Nothing more. That way the patients are seen to, that way the wait time problem is solved. You get to keep your job. Sounds devious – but this really happened throughout the NHS in the 90s.

After about 5 years, the NHS realised what they’d done. An NHS spokesperson admitted in the British Medical Journal that: “We shouldn’t just count things that are easily counted – but provide meaningful data about the quality and effectiveness of treatment in the NHS.”

They hit their targets – they did their jobs – and it looked good on paper; but in reality they created a cheaper, nastier experience. In other words, they created a Dark Pattern.

To put it another way, Dark Patterns are often conversion rate optimisation projects that have gone wrong because of an unhealthy working environment.

Thanks, @niaalist, for the link!

Little niceties about MailChimp’s new logo

The MailChimp email newsletter company got a new logo recently – Creative Bloq explains the designer’s attention to detail.

Interesting read; it’s nice to be able to see what the pros see.


How users read on the web

How Users Read on the Web is an article from 1997 on writing style, formatting and language – and research on what worked best for websites. It’s old, but I’d still put stock in it, just from how tired I still get after reading hyped, flashy, marketing copy.

Here are some highlights:

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

[W]e found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links.

Users detested “marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (“hottest ever”) that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.

Check out the table with test results for how changing writing style improved usability. Their theory of why it happened hit home for me:

Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts “Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions,” their first reaction is no, it’s notand this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.

Usability and Accessibility

I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately, trying to introduce user experience concepts to people who don’t deal with this stuff day to day. Thought I’d share a bit. 🙂

don norman's three teapots

Don Norman’s three teapots, from a story on usability and design of everyday objects.

Usability describes how easy a system is for its audience to use and learn. This isn’t restricted to just websites and software – you can consider the usability of everyday objects too, like teapotstelephones and ticket machines – anything someone can interact with towards a specific goal.

On the web, usability is important because it enables users to do what they came for. If users can’t get what they want, they either leave or complain – two things that can end up costing you money.

The terms ‘usability’ and ‘user experience’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but don’t mean the same thing. A site can be usable – ie. easy and functional – but not a delightful experience at all. User experience is primarily concerned with feelings, and while usability is just one aspect, it can have a huge influence over what a person gets out of using a system.

You’ll sometimes hear usability and accessibility discussed together. They’re two different concepts, focusing on different aspects of websites, but they ultimately share the same purpose – to allow any user to get what they came for.

Accessibility refers to how available something is to a wider audience, regardless of location, experience, physical and mental condition, or the type of technology used. It is considered a matter of human rights – much like how anti-discrimination laws require parking spots and wheelchair ramps in the offline world, there are laws for online spaces too.

So you’ll often hear about accessibility in the context of how people with disabilities can get the information they need, but disabilities aren’t limited to physical, learning or neurological conditions – they also include technological ‘disabilities’ like sub-optimal hardware, and slow, unreliable or expensive internet connections. Web accessibility aims to include everyone who uses the internet to perform tasks or acquire information.

Web accessibility is guided by WCAG, a set of internationally recognised guidelines on how to offer text, websites, images, video, audio, documents (eg. PDFs, Word docs), forms and interactive content in the most usable way for as many people as possible.

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

I did some reading at:

Guidelines for website credibility

Handy copypasta guidelines from the wiki page on the Stanford Web Credibility Project:

Guideline Additional Comments
1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site. You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.
2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site. Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization will boost the site’s credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce.
3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide. Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.
4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site. The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.
5. Make it easy to contact you. A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.
6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose). We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
7. Make your site easy to use—and useful. We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.
8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently). People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.
9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers). If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.
10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem. Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.


What stops users doing what you want them to?

This is quite clever – a simple way of looking at user behaviour and the factors that influence it:

[Fogg’s] Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: MotivationAbility, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Read more: BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model

Fogg’s Behaviour Model (FBM) is a work-in-progress study and discussion in human behaviour online. Dr. Fogg, the guy working on it, researches and experiments on how the computer medium can influence people’s thoughts and behaviours. Interesting, huh?

We need to be very careful when talking about contexts.

We need to be very careful when talking about contexts — design decisions related to context must be based on fact rather than assumption. For example, a context-based assumption would be to change the language of a Web page in response to the location of a device — a terrible idea because the reader might speak a language that isn’t native to the detected country.

Source: Responsible Considerations for Responsive Web Design via @smashingmag