Could better sites make people better?

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

Excerpt:

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!

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:

The ROI of User Experience

Video

Great video by the author of the article featured in a previous post.

Exciting take-aways:

  • Up to 15% of all projects are “abandoned because they are hopelessly inadequate”.
  • Programmers spend 50% of their time on rework that is avoidable.
  • Fixing an error after development is completed costs 100x that of fixing it before.
  • 3 of the top 12 reasons why projects fail are related to UX:
    • Badly defined requirements
    • Poor communication among customers, developers and users
    • Stakeholder politics
  • Factors that can measure return on investment:
    • Conversion rate
    • Users take the action you want them to take
    • Decrease in abandonment
    • Decrease calls to helpdesk
    • Reduce training required
    • Increase usage of an application or action
    • Save user time
    • Save development time
    • Reduce errors

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

E. F. Schumacher (mis-attributed to Einstein)

The Five Worst UX Mistakes Websites Make

From a design perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in internal squabbles (“No, no, THIS is the content that has to be front and center”) or distracted by tools or methods (“I say we use lean UX on this project”). When this happens, we often forget that at the end of it all waits a person who wasn’t in on all these decisions, and just wants to get the information they need, buy the product, or be entertained for five minutes while waiting for the train.

Read all about The Five Worst UX Mistakes Websites Make at UX Mag.

Tl;dr –

  • Paying too much attention to the Macro (eg. IA, layout, nav) and not enough to the Micro (buttons, interactions, UI elements).
  • Putting too much time into designing the homepage – and not enough on the other pages.
  • Relying too much on text, when audio, video and images can be much more persuasive.
  • Designing for the wrong generation.
  • Ignoring multi-screen behaviour (ie. taking a desktop-only approach)

Five HCI laws for UX design

From Measuring Usability:

Usability is hardly physics or chemistry. But there are some important principles from decades of research in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) that apply to design and user research.

Read all about it: Five HCI Laws For User Experience Design

Tl;dr –

  • Miller’s Law of Short-Term Memory Load: People can only hold up to about 7 pieces of info in short-term memory.
  • Fitts’ Law: Users will hit a target faster if it’s big and close to where they start.
  • Hick-Hyman Law: Users will take longer to decide if you give me heaps of choices.
  • Power Law of Practice: Users do stuff faster the more they practice.
  • Pareto & Zipf Laws: The 80/20 rule – the majority of stuff will be addressed by a minority of things. (Eg. “A small portion of our site gets hit by a majority of our users.”)

Link via @higroup

How users hold their mobile devices

HoldPhones_Figure-1

Voice calls occupied 22% of the users, while 18.9% were engaged in passive activities—most listening to audio and some watching a video. We considered interactions to be voice calls only if users were holding their phone to their ear, so we undoubtedly counted some calls as apparent passive use.

The users who we observed touching their phone’s screens or buttons held their phones in three basic ways:

  • one handed—49%
  • cradled—36%
  • two handed—15%

While most of the people that we observed touching their screen used one hand, very large numbers also used other methods. Even the least-used case, two-handed use, is large enough that you should consider it during design.

Read the full article at UXmatters: How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?

Your website has two faces – one talks to humans, one talks to machines

When a user interface—intended for human consumption—reflects too much of a system’s internals in its design and language, it’s likely to confuse the people who use it. But at the same time, if data doesn’t conform to a specific structure, it’s likely to confuse the machines that need to use it—so we can’t ignore system requirements, either.

People and machines parse information in fundamentally different ways. We need to find a way to balance the needs of both.

Read more: Your Website has Two Faces at ALA