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The Benefits of a Sound Taxomony

shutterstock_144197983_350Grace Lau, lead business consultant, Perficient XD, recently wrote an article for Boxes and Arrows on building the case for taxonomy. In the piece, she explores concerns surrounding ill-defined site redesign projects and the ROI of taxonomy. She also breaks down taxonomy  and compares it to her personal task of organizing spices in her kitchen to make sense for all users in her family.

The benefits of a sound taxomony?

“…in the long run will improve your content’s findability, support social sharing, and improve your site’s search engine optimization.”

“Helping the business understand the underlying concepts is one of the challenges I’ve faced with developing a solid taxonomy. We’re not just talking about tagging but breaking down the content by its attributes and metadata as well as by its potential usage and relation to other content. The biggest challenge is building the consensus and understanding around that taxonomy—taxonomy governance—and keeping the system you’ve designed well-seasoned!”

To read Grace’s full post on the Boxes and Arrows site, click here.

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Digital DashboardI just read Changing change management shared by David Stallsmith. No doubt digital (interactive media) and the software powering it can be incredibly useful for delivering and managing change within organizations. The descriptive and prescriptive digital examples discussed in the article seem to verify that digital is both positive and transformative when done right. And digital design is bringing enjoyment and enrichment into our work. Even during change it can be useful. But is “it” that transformative? Or, is it the people behind digital and the strategy for using it that is truly transformative? My bet is on people and strategy. Read the rest of this post »

CX and software – consumers lead the experience (part 2)

Part 1 see: “Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?”

Software eating our world

In the earlier post I mentioned that more companies are focusing on the opportunities software offers to create customer value through the customer experience (CX). This rising development is a result of the rise in popularity of software, and it is spawning the age of the consumer − consumers are now leading the experience they want to have (i.e., Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, buyer power). I give credit for a chunk of this leverage to software sites such as Twitter, Yelp, Kudzu, TripAdvisor and the like for enabling consumers to socialize their experiences rapidly and easily, and providing leverage to the individual buyer. In our hyper-competitive markets this is putting pressure on companies to look across all customer touch points and evaluate how they measure up, not just looking at their customer satisfaction ratings (the good minus the bad ones) but on the total customer experience and the reasons WHY.

This era of transparency and perfect information is not all bad for businesses. It’s offering them an unprecedented opportunity to learn what attracts customers in the first place and how to satisfy them in the long term, and even retain them for life (i.e., lifetime value of a customer). But where do we start? Read the rest of this post »

Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?

Part 1 of 2 

Software eating our world

Are software companies poised to “take over large swathes of the economy?” Apparently Marc Andreessen thought so in an article from 2011. I think he is right. Let’s take a quick mental inventory of a few of the major firms running on software and delivered as online services – eBay, Amazon, Pandora, Shutterfly, LinkedIn and Netflix. Each one of these organizations, within their respective industries, has used software (digital services) to gain control over, or seize, sizable market share; and in some cases they’ve pushed top competing firms out of business. Anyone remember Borders or Kodak? Personally, there was a time I thought Monster would always be the juggernaut of recruiting and placing job seekers. Well, I had to smile when recently in an article in Forbes the writer compared Monster to “a 2001 Dodge Neon – a resume repository.” And how is LinkedIn doing? The firm just got an upgrade from Barclays so things seem to be going well for them. I think some of its success stems from robust features for sharing, joining groups, and as a research tool. It’s attracting the best candidates and in turn attracting the best recruiters.

It’s clear that the things we want to do are, more and more, being serviced and provided through software. We have become dependent on software to connect us with our friends and family, to educate us, and for games and shopping. So more companies are focusing on software to deliver customer value through the customer experience. Now this gets interesting. Software is spawning an emerging tension between CIOs and CMOs to tango over spending to reach customers. A prediction from one Gartner analyst (Laura McLellan) is that by 2017 chief marketing officers (CMOs) will out spend CIOs on IT. This spending is on digital marketing along with software. That is the great news. On the flip side – “ehm” – do we (meaning those of us in software) have a solid idea of how this disruption is affecting our customers in the markets we serve? Jeffrey Bussgang of the Harvard Business School says, “…Marketing leaders and agencies now carry the burden of understanding technology’s impact on their business, the entire customer experience…to win market share.”  Read the rest of this post »

Top 3 Reasons Your User Research is Boring

shutterstock_226425211_350Kara Swisher of Re/code gave a keynote address for Interaction 15 in which she described trends in content. One thing she talked about was the way Buzzfeed rapidly generates listicles and memes from shared media experiences. She joked about trying to apply this lighthearted approach to subjects she has covered–“15 Things Bill Gates was thinking while I was interviewing him.”

Well, I’m a user researcher, so Swisher’s talk made me think of user research. If you’ve ever wavered over whether to take a survey in exchange for being entered in a drawing, you won’t be surprised to learn it takes skill to design a study people will actually want to participate in. And if you’ve ever pondered the hit to your budget for recruiting participants from a highly-specialized user group, you might be interested in this study suggesting that playful surveys can intrinsically motivate people to participate (meaning, it’s not payment that’s motivating them, and they are better focused on the task).

Why does so much user research require extrinsic motivation? Because the studies are boring, generic, and the users don’t understand what’s in it for them. Well, how the heck does that happen?

Reason #1: You don’t want to offend anyone.

Right now, I’m working on an application for customer service representatives who take calls from health insurance subscribers and health care providers. We’ve done several rounds of usability testing and interviews, but now I think we may have missed an opportunity to play a design game: “Make Your Own David Letterman Top 10 List.”

  • Top 10 ways you know you’re going to have to escalate this call
  • Top 10 ways you know someone has worked here more than 10 years
  • Top 10 things every new rep should know
  • Top 10 people most likely to eat your lunch out of the break room refrigerator

Humor is tricky, and we don’t want to put people in the position to say something they’ll regret when we are recording them on the job. Nor do we want to subject them to someone’s disrespectful take on their work. I’d have to keep playing with “the Buzzfeed effect” to find an appropriate way to employ it with enterprise users.

Design games are not new, though. Playing a game makes space for participants to reflect, compare options, and imagine what could be. Even busy executives can find value in seeing their Very Serious Project from a playful perspective.

Reason #2: You don’t know what motivates your users.

Another place I could see a Buzzfeed-style approach is with a website survey, à la Woot.com’s community polls or Anne Friedman’s GIF-laden survey of her newsletter subscribers (You’ll want to click that second one–monetization is rarely so delightful.).

Here’s an idea for a potential unmoderated usability survey:

  1. How many times did you curse while using this site?
  2. How many times would your dad have to call you if he used this site?
  3. How close is your face to the screen right now?
  4. How much do you like baby sloths, on a scale of 10-28?

OK, so that’s also a little tricky. We don’t want to use a voice that isn’t consistent with the company’s brand. But even if the brand is conservative, some legwork and creativity can find a way to connect with participants beyond a paid incentive. Whether that’s through humor, or through doing an effective job of communicating the value of the study, it doesn’t happen without some effort and skill. And that can’t be replaced by an Amazon gift card.

Besides, when I see the same few survey pop-ups on every site, I have to think a more customized, engaging approach would have a better chance of being on-brand.

Reason #3: You don’t have the right people.

So, if I told you that our Experience Design group is packed with researchers, designers, and content strategists who regularly knock each other off our custom ergonomic office chairs with memes and one-liners, how likely would you be to have us talk with your customers?

  1. I already hired you, and I’m so glad.
  2. Call me.
  3. I’d better forward this to my manager.
  4. Wait, what’s a GIF?
  5. Lolol

Leo Laporte Falls Off His Exercise Ball (with Audio)

make animated gifs like this at MakeaGif

My Thoughts on the First Enterprise UX Conference

I recently attended the first annual Enterprise UX conference. UX professionals of varied backgrounds and areas of specialization, developers, designers, business analysts, content managers, project managers, IT and marketing managers, program managers and more, all gathered to learn how to plan and manage large application development projects. I enjoyed two days of speakers, a full day interactive workshop and a great time of discussion and sharing with colleagues in the enterprise UX space.

The conference presentations were good, especially Kelly Goto’s “Emotion Economy: Ethnography as Corporate Strategy.” She talked about “humanizing technology”, and the importance of balancing data and emotion to inform strategy and design, encouraging us as practitioners to embrace the move from “I think” to “I know”.

Because the area of enterprise UX is relatively new, and this was the first year of the conference, there weren’t we didn’t have many examples shared of successful enterprise projects. Most of the examples shared were consumer projects and only a few case studies were presented that involved enterprise UX. The rest were consumer examples that we were encouraged to consider and adapt to our environments. That was a slight disappointment, because in talking to other attendees, we were really eager to learn vetted methods and processes.

For the first conference though, we got good insights. Most we knew and understood, but it was good to hear others share their experiences, from the smooth to the painful, both successes and failures. Here are my key takeaways:

1. We’re all learning. Many of us left very excited to try new methods as well as perfect the processes we have been working on to find an effective way to manage the UX side our enterprise projects.
2. Creating a shared understanding is key. Enterprise projects can be executed more smoothly when the entire team, from stakeholders to developers, are meaningfully engaged and consistently informed, providing input and insight or clarifying goals and needs at each stage of the project from discovery to development.
3. Design and development team collaboration during a project can save time and build confidence. Waiting to engage key players can minimize a project’s success. Once the work starts, researchers, designers and developers should work together when/if possible. When a designer receives a report from a researcher or a developer receives a “blind” handoff from a designer and they haven’t been involved in the project prior, it takes time to ramp them up and context may be lost, results or designs may be misinterpreted or reworked because of lack of understanding.
4. Failure is expected but keep trying. Presenters and attendees shared stories of failed projects and the not-so-great moments of their enterprise projects. It was helpful to have presenters analyze failures and show how they could have adjusted and improved for a more favorable outcome.

Enterprise UX is emerging. No one has mastered the process. But with conferences like Enterprise UX 2015, we can come together, share information and learn and grow together. That’s exciting.

Posted in Design, Musings, UX

What Does This Icon Mean? The Answer

On Monday I showed you an single icon from NPR One’s website, and I asked you ponder what you might expect to happen if you clicked on that icon, then to post the name you would give the icon in the comments.

It’s friday. So, I’ll make good on my promise to reveal the true meaning of the icon in question.

Read the rest of this post »

What Does This Icon Mean?

In his blog What Happens When You Push the Broccoli Button? Brian Flanagan brought up a great point about iconography.  A few hours later after reading it, I misinterpreted the meaning of an icon on a website. I showed the icon to Claire, a co-worker, who guessed something completely different would happen upon clicking the icon than I did, yet we were both wrong. Inspired by this coincidence, I’d like to know what you think the icon means.

Read the rest of this post »

Design for Users with Limited Literacy Skills (UXPA 2015)

mobileI was surprised to know that designing for people with various forms of literacy issues would benefit literate users. In one study presented in a session I am now attending, I learned it does! Another surprise, about 50% of U.S. citizens report some type of literacy problem. As a result, when we think about digital transformation and designing for multi-channel usage (especially mobile), there are some things we need to know to help our clients understand the wide range of users who are using their digital products, for example…

– Literacy issues are often merely a result of “situational literacy.” For example, health data is very domain specific and people are often more overwhelmed trying to understand a diagnosis, to sort through health plan coverage or to follow directions for how to take and submit a lab sample. Read the rest of this post »

The UX of Enterprise Applications – What’s So Different?

shutterstock_268845611 (1)The UX of enterprise applications has typically lagged behind consumer applications. Look at the way you order a product from Lowe’s or Amazon, and it’s click, click, click, done! That’s what consumers are used to, and it’s reasonable to expect that every digital experience will be simple.

Enterprise applications have significant differences that challenge design simplicity – a challenge that UX practitioners have been working to meet. Enterprise application development can be a paradox. Good design often emphasizes simplicity and ease of use. But how do we achieve simplicity with all the security and technical concerns, business processes, and compromises across business units to consider? These add to the complexity of the design and development process.

Below are some characteristics that differentiate enterprise UX from its consumer counterpart:

Context of use is different. Business, not pleasure. People use enterprise tools because they have to. Intranets, portals, CRM applications, order entry systems and the like are used by employees and are the only option for completing necessary tasks. Often, these tasks are complicated by required business rules and processes that don’t exist with consumer applications.

Enterprise applications aren’t “sexy.” Always consider context. Saying that a CRM application needs to be “sexy” is like saying a 90 year-old grandma’s going to the nursing home but needs to shop for a bikini first. Purposeful, efficient design trumps “sexy” every time.

Stakeholder vision doesn’t always align with user needs. A shared understanding among the UX team and stakeholders about user needs is critical. The need to gather knowledge of user tasks and processes – gathered from actual users, not user proxies or alternates – should not be overlooked. Very often stakeholders will provide input and have never or will never actually use the application. Real user feedback will provide insight so the team can have the same vision.

Enterprise applications are complex, task-based systems. For enterprise applications are largely task-driven. Tasks are often complex, involving multiple steps with multiple security checks. Multiple departments/divisions have to weigh in. Tasks are seldom isolated, so a holistic understanding of the process and environment is required.

Personas often include Super Users and Casual Users. Desired functionality and features can differ for each group. For example, with a CRM application, a sales manager might use a sales tool a few times per week, maybe once a day. A sales rep might use the system every day, 4 hours per day. And both likely use the system differently for very different tasks. Even in the same role, there are differences. Some sales reps with more accounts may use the system more, for examples.

Mobile isn’t always a given. Some tasks are so complex and involve so may steps and checks that completing them on a mobile device would be too cumbersome and time-consuming. In a recent research study I conducted for a manufacturing client, a user said “If I had to enter all of this information on my phone or tablet, I’d shoot myself. I’d never use this tool on mobile.”

Because they are task-based, it makes sense to think in terms of their simplest, most direct execution. However, context of use is key. For example, if an application is only installed and used on desktops in-house and there are no plans to migrate to mobile, there is no need to spend time and resources on a separate mobile experience.

This is not to be confused with the wider value of responsive design where mobile principles are inherent. It’s still smarter to design keeping mobile in mind, even if it is five years down the road.

Enterprise apps have to balance user needs, system capabilities, business rules and stakeholder goals. The discovery phase is key to determine use cases and common scenarios. Talking to users, analyzing tasks, understanding processes all help to set priorities for project work. What other distinctions can you share? I’d love to hear your thoughts.