Last year I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences. The first, Internet User Experience (IUE), was in October on the campus of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich. The other, Usability Week through Nielsen Norman group (NN/g), was in December in Las Vegas. Both conferences had caliber in the information presented.
Internet User Experience (IUE)
At IUE, I was introduced to the Agile work environment. This environment was based on an Agile Software Development methodology where projects are broken into smaller and shorter deliverable phases with the initial product meeting the core needs of the client. I attended sessions such as Connecting with Customers: User Generated Content, Mosh Pit Memoirs: Lessons and Insights on Creative Collaboration, The Top 10 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, and Better User Requirements Through Story Mapping. My ultimate favorite session, though, was Hold the Sprinkles! Cupcake, Layers and Agile UX Design.
This session summarized the Agile method but applied it to design. The presentation was creative and very thought-out as Carissa Demetris created the parallelism in the process of designing to making a cupcake. Every project has base requirements just like a cupcake has cake as its base. The next layer in a project use enhancements like a cupcake uses frosting, followed by embellishments which would be the sprinkles. How does this approach apply in real projects? An example would be designing a basic login page – our cupcake. The frosting/enhancement for this project would be adding a radio button to remember the user or having a “Forgot password” link. The sprinkles/embellishment would be adding a Facebook login area. Carissa mentioned that most of the time, the need for “sprinkles” comes from the business owners, marketing dept. or someone other than the user. For the most part, these are wish-list items of the higher-ups who project their perception of what their users need. These embellishments don’t add to user experience or the goal, however.
In an Agile environment, the first iteration would be developing the login. If the budget and time hasn’t run out, there’s an opportunity to add the enhancement feature to either remember the user or have a “Forgot password” link. We now have our first iteration that meets our client’s core needs/goals while staying on budget and time. From experience, some of the projects I work on where “sprinkles” are elevated much higher than what they should be, cause delay, add more work and return little value. Carissa concluded with the mantra, “Embrace the cake, frost with care (to add the user experience), and hold the sprinkles.”
Nielson Norman group (NN/g) Usability Week
The NN/g in Vegas was a bit different from a handful of mini-sessions throughout the day like at most conferences. There, one session went for the entire day. The topics covered by the NN/g’s Usability Week ranged from writing for the Web, application design, Web usability guidelines, information architecture principles, mobile Web, and understanding how the human mind works when using the Web. I was blessed enough to have attended two days out of the seven. My goals coming into the conference were to understand our campus community’s thought processes and behavior and to know what tools to use to harvest data to build better websites. Based on that, the sessions I attended were “Web Design Lessons from Social Psychology” presented by John Boyd and “Research Beyond User Testing” presented by Christian Rohrer. I fully enjoyed both sessions but learning to understand behaviors and finding out how they can be manipulated made the Social Psychology session a personal favorite.
Dr. Boyd’s session was almost like a Social Psychology 101 course that talked about research and lab findings. I was amazed at how these findings are relevant on the Web today. Some really cool research was about learning, decision making and personal expectations.
Lets take “Learned Helplessness” which is when a person feels powerless due to constant failure and withdraws effort. When applied to websites, users start believing the effort they put in is useless, especially when trying to navigate a busy site or one that is too difficult to navigate through. The user’s multiple failed attempt to figure out the site will transmit as feelings of powerlessness and they eventually stop trying. This is when we see visitors leave a Web page and possibly never come back. However, if the user does figure out a way to navigate through a busy and difficult site in an unconventional way, the user has or will develop a “superstitious” behavior. This is when the user thinks if she clicks here, then there, then it will eventually work. As Web designers, we don’t want users to develop superstition or the feeling of helplessness. Knowing that these kinds of behaviors are real, website designs should have appropriate signals, architecture and organization in place per site.
Another cool study was on choice. The truth is, there is such a thing as too many choices. Users do not like being in a situation where there’s multiple options and vary minutely or are difficult to distinguish. Most users tend to walk away while some sophisticated choosers are willing to take the time to think about the choices. How does this apply on the Web? Perhaps on a shopping website featuring a slew of products under multiple categories right on the homepage. The sophisticated chooser will more likely check out the multiple categories while most people will leave the site. This behavior is best illustrated in the Jam Test done by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper (see video below).
With so much information, I’m itching to put all of this knowledge to work! I can’t say enough how eternally grateful I am for the opportunities I have to grow professionally.
Some future conferences I have my eye on are:
A little extra:
Here’s a video from HFI that mentions Sheena I & Lepper’s Jam Study.