Usability Design

I am such a big fan of usability, my tie-break question when I am working on digital projects is always “what does the user think?”. I am also a big fan of usability testing, although watching it can be painful. I know I’m not the only digital expert to have been shouting at the person taking the test in another room “click on it”.

Put simply usability makes things better. When your site is usable time to learn how to use it decreases, people can recover from an error faster, the logic of the information and use is apparent. In short, from the user perspective the technology fades into the background

Usability also matters in real life.

In the Amsterdam metro the carriage doors include lights with the colour coding – white showing which door will open turning green to show it’s safe to go through the door, and then red to show it’s not. There are also announcements telling you which side of the carriage will open. These steps were taken to improve the usability of the metro network for people with vision impairment or poor hearing, but they work for the rest of us too.

Usability thinking also extends to how information is organised. I find Dutch train timetables easier to read than the Belgian counterparts. The Dutch include a schematic above the timetable to tell you which stations you can reach using the timetable below it, it’s a form of structured navigation. The Belgian timetables are organised by time only – it’s an endless scroll.

Bad design is not just time consuming, it increases the risk of error.

In January the citizens of Hawaii heard or received an alert stating:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

It turned out to be a false alarm. There were a number of contributing errors and when you see the menu used to select the drill you can see how easy it was to confuse the options.

If you’re designing anything, use experts, it really makes a difference. If you’re creating content for online there are some simple rules to follow.

And if you get some entertainment value out of seeing other people’s UX mistakes, I recommend the Bad bad UX instagram account.

 

Just Stop It: Website Overlays

Just Stop it

I hadn’t even  seen the article and the site wants me to sign up and to contact them. If this were a date I’d be sneaking out the back door, escaping the overbearing demands of my date. On this site it wasn’t clear how to get rid of the overlay, it took some random clicking to find that it’s removed by a click on the far left of the screen.

I’ve also seen overlays that whoosh into the middle of the screen if you move the mouse towards the upper tool bar, where the book-mark function is, the overlay attempts to entice you back to read more. But it often comes of as begging for your attention, in dating terms it’s the clingy boyfriend/girlfriend of the internet.

Have these been tested for usability? Am I the only person in the world that resents the interference with my reading time?

Please internet; just stop it.

 

Just Stop It: Pinterest Torture

Pinterest is the latest-greatest-fastest-growing social media platform, with a high conversion rate. Meaning that users are likely to buy something they’ve pinned, according to a small survey done Harvard Business Review 12% of pinterest users have gone on to make an online purchase of something they’ve pinned, and 16 % go on to make an offline purchase of something they’ve pinned.

Great news for businesses.

So why then do businesses pin a great image of their latest trendy product and then…

when I click on it give me this;

Requiring me to create an account in order to see the product price.

Guess what – I don’t. And I’m not alone.

Amazon, surely the standard-setter in online retail, lets you browse as long as you want, and offers you deals and discounts before asking you to log-in or create an account. Everything we know about transactions online says that the customer will only give you information when they’ve made a decision to buy – and that you shouldn’t put anything in the way of that decision. Once that decision is made then the customer is very task oriented, they’ll create accounts and do what they need to complete their purchase.

In the mean time; let me browse – who knows I may find a second pair of sunnies for the weekend.

Usability in Action; Banks

Years ago, more than 10 years ago, I withdrew my rent money from an ATM, as my automatic payments hadn’t been set up. I got the receipt but not the money. Obviously I was a bit concerned, but the bank happened to be open so I went in to try to solve this. The teller told me that it was a Good Thing I’d kept the receipt because it helped them track my transaction, but they wouldn’t be able to do anything until they reconciled the machine’s balance at the end of the day.

Well eventually it was resolved and since then I’ve always chosen the “with receipt” option when withdrawing money.

The process of cash withdrawal at ABN Amro

That’s probably more than a thousand receipts. Think of all that paper. And the only reason I’m doing it is just in case the machine doesn’t give me my money. (Never had a problem since but I’m still cautious).

Well ABN Amro’s machines here in the Netherlands have made a very simple change to the process of withdrawing money. They now ask you whether you want a receipt AFTER you’ve taken the money. Now I choose no. No more receipts. I bet others do the same.

It’s one of those blindingly simple changes to a process that helps the customer, saves money and saves the environment.

I think we should all look at design, including process design from the user’s perspective. We should ask ourselves not just what we want the user to do, but what does the user want out of each step. In this example someone at ABN Amro has worked out that a lot of people get the receipts “just in case” the machine gives them the wrong money. So they’ve moved that step to after the cash step.

We need to take time to re-examine a lot of processes, I bet there are more smart ways to improve design of machines, objects, websites and processes.

image ATM

Design for Development


IDEO, the award-winning design consultancy with success across multiple industries has created a design process kit free for download.

They’ve called it a Human Centered Design Toolkit and it’s aimed at NGO’s and social enterprise, and it’s developed with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They’re arguably the world’s experts in this having worked on design projects in energy, health, education and more recently developed the wonderfully simple kickstart pump which has helped farmers irrigate their land and earn around $37M per year.

The toolkit consists of five guides; introduction, hear, field, create, deliver. Because there can be language barriers making the field research phase the kit includes some visual aspirational cards to ease the discussion. The cards feature images of everything from farming to cities, from money to cowpats; some are shown at left.

The design kit is brilliantly simple, each guide is well set out, with tips on running brainstorm sessions, collecting the ideas and developing them into practical solutions. It helps field workers find solutions that will fit the local situation and economy in developing countries.

But the lessons and process can be applied more widely, and the guides themselves offer inspiration.

Usability in Action; Streets

We respond very well to visual clues on how something should be used, in fact we probably respond more to visual clues than to any other sort of clue

visual_signal

I was reminded of that this week when crossing the road – the one shown in the picture. It’s a little difficult to tell, but it’s a crossing and then a traffic island. On the other side of the traffic island – beyond the bicycles – are tram tracks. You can see it on the google satellite map.

Until recently that traffic island used to be a forest of bicycles and you really had to weave your way through them. It annoyed me, I really wanted to just kick the bicycles out of the way and under a passing tram (for the record I did not do this).

When I went through the city on Thursday I noticed that someone has painted a large white rectangle across the island with an ‘X’ in the centre of it. Marking it a no parking zone, and that’s all it took for cyclists to park their bikes in a way that leaves space for pedestrians.

There’s no sign saying that people may not park there, there’s no indication that the painting on the ground was even done officially, it could have been done by a similarly frustrated pedestrian in the wee hours for all I know.

But I’m fascinated that one visual clue is enough to trigger the mass of cyclists to change their behaviour.

Design 101; the User’s Perspective

In designing websites, buildings, business cards, kitchens, hospitals and pretty much everything else the user/visitor should be central in the decision making. In our current project to relaunch our corporate site we’ve named the visitor, and decision deadlocks are often broken by asking “What would Iris think?”

Paul Bennett from IDEO takes it further step, and discusses designers really going through the visitor experience.

He covers four broad themes in his talk.

1 A Binding Glimpse of the Bleeding Obvious

Sometimes the right idea is so staring you in the face that you miss it. In the case he gives showing hospital staff footage of the ceiling (as seen by a patient) gave the staff a better understanding of the patient’s experience than any amount of data or any fancy graphical representation would have done.

In our case seeing an analysis of the search terms actually used on our site told us that people visiting were looking for content that’s just not there, and (due to legal and organisational reasons) won’t ever be there. (We’ll solve this with an enterprise search engine, which can search across all company websites. We’re working on it, Shell’s already done it.)

2 Finding Yourself in The Margins

Notice the small things at the edge of the experience, these details make a difference. Look at how people subconsciously design their own experience.

This sort of thinking meant that his team noticed that nurses will often comfort a patient by holding their hand as they go through a diagnosis step – so a two-handed diagnosis-palm-pilot was not going to be a solution. They designed a less sexy device that can be used in one hand.

For us a random email set of a small but cool change. There is a glossary on our site, that covers technical financial terms, it’s good, but it’s probably not enough to help the consumer. A rewrite was already planned. And then I got an email, from someone who missed a term, suggested we add it. So our “Word of the Day” will include the possibility of suggesting a term,  suggesting a definition, and adding your email address so we can tell you when it’s added. It’s a tiny thing, and we’re not expecting a huge response, but it’s something on the margins that invites visitors to engage.

3 Having a Beginner’s Mind

Getting to new design solutions requires that you consciously start as if you know nothing; you need to unlearn.

His example is a project with IKEA, for children’s storage. It’s a cool solution from a kid’s perspective but probably not a solution from a parent’s perspective – and it’s not in the IKEA catalogue as far as I can tell.

Having a new person in our team has helped provide that fresh outside perspective.

4 Pick Battles Big Enough to Matter and Small Enough to Win

His example of this was a lightweight portable water pump, not very designer-y, but incredibly practical for the African communities it was designed for, and went on to get on to win design awards.

image design