UX + Me

Six years have passed since my last post on this blog and today I’m ready to say that I’d like to give reviving it a try.

Since my graduation from Purdue University, I have gone on to work for my dad’s multiple startups – some in biotech, one in enterprise consulting – and have acted as the sole designer and administrator for these companies. I’ve done one UI, multiple iterations of not-too-great websites, and many, many brochures and posters. Needless to say, I haven’t done much UX design.

It’s a little daunting to be writing again after so long; I fear I am out of practice and will not be able to formulate my words effectively, but I suppose that is my journey. (I’m welcoming back Grammarly to my browser as we speak.)

It’s also daunting to come out and say, “Hi there. My name is Laura, and I’ve been doing so much graphic and print design in recent years that I feel out of touch with UX,” but there you have it. Therein lies another part of my journey: reacquainting myself with UX design and processes.

I don’t intend on taking a bootcamp or formal classes. It will just be me, the mostly-free resources I can obtain from the internet, and this blog to help my brain sort the information. I also plan to get a little help from my friends – Hello, UX Wizards group!

Join me in this exploration of UX as a designer in need of a refresher course. I will be starting from the beginning to discover what I know and what I need to know. Also planned is the redesign of one of my biotech company’s website. After all, I will need a project to practice with!

Do I need a catchy sign off phrase? How about–

To usability and beyond, designers!

Yes? Yes? Ye – no? Ok. Maybe not.

Participants Needed!

VOLUNTEER PARTICIPANTS NEEDED
for my Master’s thesis!

New Research Study:
Perceptions of Older Adults Toward iPhones

As a graduate student interested in accessibility, my Master’s thesis is focused on understanding the perceptions of older adults towards iPhones. Therefore, I am currently looking for participants over the age of 60 that would be willing to sit with me – via in person, Skype, or phone – and answer questions I have on their opinion of the iPhone.

Interviews should take about 30 minutes, and I will ensure that your personal information and answers to the interview questions remain confidential. Participation is completely voluntary and you may skip any questions you feel that are not comfortable to answer. Unfortunately, at this time I will not be able to offer compensation other than my sincere gratitude.

If you are interested or think you know someone that may be interested, please contact me at williale@purdue.edu or (408).800.1539 (my Google Voice number). For more information, feel free to call/email me or consult the information sheet below:

Good/Bad Design 10: MAMP

Last night, I wasted 4 hours trying to figure out how to connect to mySQLServer.

I recently downloaded MAMP, which is Apache, MySQL, PHP for Mac. Everything worked fine and dandy – I had green lights for both servers:

MAMP - Green Light

But on the start page, whenever I clicked on “myPHPAdmin”, I was given an error that said it couldn’t connect. I then googled for hours – many people have had the same problem, but solutions that I actually understood didn’t work. After about four hours, I had my roommate look at it. We deleted the program (for the second time), reinstalled it, but no results.

Finally, my roommate happened to click on this little number:

MAMP myPHPAdmin

And for some reason, it worked. I don’t know why that link overcame a faulty connection to the mySQL server, but it did. It frustrates me that I wasted four hours clicking the main link above it and racking my brain when the solution was just a few pixels below. Well, I certainly feel dumb.

I don’t know much about programming, but it’s certainly poor usability when similar links work in different ways. Also, what was that popular design saying by Krug? Oh right, “Don’t make me think!”

Good/Bad Design 9: AmazonLocal

If you don’t know what AmazonLocal is, the easiest way to describe it would probably be to relate it to services like Groupon or LivingSocial. Basically, you can sign up to get notifications on deals in your area, and “save up to 75% on local restaurants, spas, entertainment, and more.”

I sometimes get these emails, although I’m not sure why because I don’t ever recall signing up for it. I didn’t bother unsubscribing though; I usually just ignore and delete them. What I found interesting was that apparently Amazon noticed! One day I received this in an email:

AmazonLocal Notification

I’m pretty sure my eyebrows rose upon reading this. They’ll stop sending me emails on their own accord? That’s the first I’ve seen a company do so.

Anyway, perhaps this is a better example of good public relations than design, but the fact that AmazonLocal was realizing that their emails didn’t interest me and acted accordingly made me want to applaud them a bit. Definitely increased my user experience due to their attention to my needs and wants. Nice.

Good/Bad Design 8: Apple Help Menu

I was working in inDesign the other day when I needed to use Spell Check on my work, yet didn’t know where to find it. Rather than hunting aimlessly through the menu structure, I went to the Help menu to type in my search. Using the Help menu is an action I rarely do; I usually know what I’m looking for or don’t trust the application to give me a straight answer. A reasonable reaction, I think. After all, Cooper says that Help menus are more often created poorly and historically known to not be very helpful.

But what I found through my search was that the menu not only changed results according to my input, but it would highlight and point to the menu item I was looking for. I thought it might have been an Adobe feature, but later I discovered that it was just my iMac. 😛

Help Menu

So from a usability standpoint, the Help menu not only helps users find what they’re looking for, but also shows them where it is by highlighting it and providing a blue arrow that moves slightly to catch your attention. Cooper states that Help menus should aid the user in understanding the program, and I would certainly say that this does a good job of that.

Help Menu 2

RAA 5: User-Centered Design and Usability Testing of a Web Site

Corry, M., Frick, T., & Hansen, L. (1997). User-centered design and usability testing of a Web site: An illustrative case study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(4), 65-76. doi:10.1007/BF02299683

Purpose
The authors of this article were given several tasks from administrators at Indiana University. They were to determine how useful the current university website was through needs analysis and usability tests, and then develop a new site that would better meet the information needs of users.

Methods
A needs analysis was first conducted. The authors interviewed 35 campus departments to determine most frequently asked questions. These questions were put onto index cards and were used in card sorting by frequency, in which over 30 categories were revealed. These findings were used to create a first paper prototype.

Usability testing was then conducted with 21 people, through usage of paper versions of both the original website and the new prototype. Participants could only view one page at a time and were asked a think aloud while they answered 15-20 questions for each website.

A second phase of usability testing was then conducted with 16 participants, focusing only on the newer website. Changes that were made before testing included renaming links, reducing multipage nodes to a single page, and organizing university departments into a long list of alphabetized links.

Once usability testing using paper prototypes were completed, the authors conducted another usability test with an online version of the newer website, using 11 participants. You can tell that this article is dated because the website was tested on Lynx, Mosaic, and Netscape browsers by all participants.

Lastly, a second testing with the computer prototype was conducted to look at the changes that were made to fix the problems identified in the previous phase.

Main Findings
The first paper prototyping and usability testing revealed that the proposed website was more usable than the existing, when finding most-frequently asked information. In general, participants were often faster and more successful when completing tasks with the new prototype.

Results of the second usability testing helped identify more links that were confusing and/or misleading.

As for the usability testing on the computer prototype, there were several problems identified including too many key presses and scrolling to navigate. These problems often had to do with the browsers they were using.

In the second phase of testing the computer prototype, there were higher success rates than the phase before it due to clearer navigation and terminology, fewer keystrokes required, and more of a breadth-based navigation structure.

Analysis
I thought this article had a lot of commonalities with what our Computer Interaction Design class was doing right now. The authors basically used an iterative process to clarify and reorganize the information architecture of the university’s website. Similarly, our class is taking the information from nanoHUB.org and using card sorting and usability testing to validate our own information architecture. That being said, this was a helpful reading to further understand the process we will be going through in class.

I would also like to mention that this article did well in putting the information we learned about IA into context. For example, using breadth rather than depth for navigation structures, and limiting information to one page because users will often ‘suffice’ and not even bother looking at the next page. Overall this reading was a very good supplement to our current course content, despite being dated. But then again, I guess that shows how some design guidelines tend to be timeless.