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.

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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 4: The Use of Guidelines in Menu Interface Design

Souza, F., & Bevan, N. (1990). The use of guidelines in menu interface design: Evaluation of a draft standard. Proceedings of the IFIP TC13 Third International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 435-440. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=725751

Purpose
This article reported that only few designers religiously follow design guidelines. For this reason, the authors evaluated the extent that designers are able to use such guidelines to offer new improvements in clarity and efficiency.

By developing the guidelines further, it would help improve accuracy and present information in a way that makes them more usable. However, refinement doesn’t mean that designers would necessarily use them in their interface design processes.

Methods
Three interface designers were given a set of 87 guidelines in which they marked any difficulties or terms they found unclear. Later, they were observed during a study in which they were to identify and redesign problems using a whiteboard, but were encouraged to use the guidelines. At first they were not obligated to follow them, but were asked to think aloud their reasoning. Afterwards, they were told to change the new interface by applying all the guidelines one by one.

Main Findings
91% of guidelines resulted in errors with at least one designer, however only 11% of the guidelines were actually violated by their new design. The authors found that the designers tended to misinterpret the guidelines and mainly focus on prior designer experience. Examples the paper provided show lack of clarity for conditions and nature of guidelines and difficulties with certain terms.

Analysis
As a designer the results were not surprising. Personally, I often rely on past experiences rather than the clarity of guidelines. I also think that guidelines are just that– guidelines: encouraged to be followed but you should know when they can and should be broken.

The difficulties the designers had were also relatable. For example, reading about the design process for class and applying them later in class is a completely different matter. I often find myself not knowing how to effectively apply a process until experiencing it firsthand.

I would say that clarifying guidelines is a good proactive and should be done, but this study revealed that following them isn’t completely necessary to make an exceptional design.

Reading Reflection 7

Cooper. (2007). About Face 3.
Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 of his book, Cooper talks about taking the requirements from scenarios and using them to design. The designer needs to decide on what form the design will take, how it will be used, the input methods of the users, and elements and functions that are to be included. This is done by using information from previous stages and applying design principles to create low-fidelity models. It makes sense that detailed designs are to be avoided at this time, and I liked Cooper’s suggestion of using whiteboards to sketch and cameras to capture ideas for reference.

In general, the Framework phase is about defining the tone and types of interactions that will be in the design. The line between what you should focus on and the detail you should not include was different from what I had guessed, but Cooper does a decent job of defining it. I had thought something such as “visual language studies” would be saved for the refinement phase, but if this phase is focusing on the overall tone, then I suppose it would be included.

Sharp, Rogers, & Preece. (2007). Interaction Design.
Chapter 11: Design, prototyping, and construction

Other than the overall topic, this reading was similar to Coopers in various ways. They both discussed speaking with stakeholders about your ideas, understanding the interactions and functions you will include before designing, and considering interfaces to set the tone and suggest possible behaviors. One similarity that really stood out to me was the advantage of using low-fidelity prototypes – it not only is cost efficient and quick, but causes the designer to focus more on functions and user goals than pixels and widget design.

The chapter described low-fidelity prototypes as representations that doesn’t use any of the actual materials that would be on the final product. This reminded me of the Art and Design course I took last year where my partner and I made a prototype washing machine built from cardboard, Styrofoam, paper, tape, and a yoga ball. It was not at all what we intended the product to be, but it allowed us to test the dimensions of our design with actual people and target problems with it.

Interesting Blog 5: Boxes and Arrows

boxes and arrows

Boxes and Arrows is an online journal filled with peer-written design articles by contributors that tend to have experience in the industry. Anyone can suggest a topic, and readers can comment on it or even write an article on what was suggested. That being said, Boxes and Arrows has many pieces worth reading. There is a lot of information to be absorbed from this site: articles, stories, case studies, ideas, and more. I especially enjoyed the article Are your users S.T.U.P.I.D? where the author provides acronyms to help designers consider their audience and design. Pretty creative, if you ask me.

boxes and arrows homepage

I have yet to fully explore this blog seeing as there is so much to read, but thankfully it is well organized. If you have any questions on design, be it graphic design to information design, it looks like this is the site to go to!

Good/Bad Design 5: Hipmunk

Last week I posted a link to a design blog by Sacha Grief (Attack of Design), but today I would like to draw attention to a website he mentioned on his blog: Hipmunk

Hipmunk Start

Hipmunk is a travel start-up much like Travelocity or Kayak, however it focuses much more on data visualization. From the get-go, users are introduced to a large, simple interface. After inputting details on your trip, you get to see your results in a colorful, organized timeline that allows you to visualize a lot if data at once. I would say this differs from the many travel sites that give you text-based results.

Hipmunk

Hipmunk allows for a lot of options while remaining visually appealing. Not only can you sort by different options such as prince, duration, arrival, but you can narrow your search down to specific airlines, start a parallel search on the same page, and talk to live help, if available.

Aside from the functionality of the site, there are several principles that help this succeed. For one, the obvious use of a grid helps align this information to give users a better sense of the timeline. The menu is also well done and simplified, where drop downs are for secondary functions that might not be used right away. Certain data is also noticeably clickable (buttons) as they give the affordance of being pushed.

Overall, I would just say that Hipmunk, Inc. did a notable job in displaying such a large amount of information in a very simple matter. Compared to other travel sites, it really does succeed in helping users visualize, however, it goes without saying that there is always room for improvement. In fact, I discovered later that Sacha Grief had several ideas on this: Hipmunk Redesign