User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

Awesome Concept Mobile Phones in 2009

April 3rd, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Wired reports on some really amazing concept phones - think Dick Tracy. One concept phone from Kyocera folds like it’s made of semi-rigid rubber.

Folding Kyocera Concept Phone (Image Courtesy http://pikchur.com/sqc)

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Web Analytics and User Experience Design

April 2nd, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Without user experience design to ground and inform it, trying to make sense of web analytics results in conjecture. On the other hand, user experience design without analytical testing to validate and fine-tune it can only be informed guesswork.

Analytics data is useful when it is utilized to measure success of goals and to understand performance issues. The elements of the user experience design field, such as user-centered design and usability paradigms, help to make sense of such data. In addition, while data can measure lack of success, it can not tell provide solutions; it takes a user experience specialist that has training and experience in optimizing such systems to offer potential solutions.

Just as analytics needs user experience design, the UX field also needs analytics. Otherwise, how can we tell that a redesign is effective? Perhaps the new design results in fewer sales, shorter user lifetime, higher bounce rate. There is absolutely no way to know such things without quantitative testing. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve witnessed seasoned experience designers being shocked by the unanticipated shortfalls or successes of their work when put to the test by analytics or other data-driven testing.

ClickZ, a popular information website for digital marketers, has an interesting post about how analytics and user experience design can work together. In the post, the author interviews ClickZ’s own associate director of user experience, Aaron Louie. In the interview, Louie states

[User experience design and analytics] are subservient to higher-level goals. In performance marketing, what drives both analytics and user experience are the business goals and user goals. We ask the fundamental questions: “Why does the site exist?” “What do you want users to do?” and so on. The answers to these questions determine what we design and how we measure the performance of that design….

During discovery, we review the baseline analytics to look for potential problem issues. We then collaborate with the analytics team to conduct the goals analysis, connecting high-level user and business goals to measurable user behaviors. During design, we collaborate with the optimization team to identify and generate design variants for A/B and multivariate testing. And then post-launch, we supplement analytics data with user surveys and usability testing, providing the “why” for the “what.” Then we repeat steps one through four.

I encourage you to read the full interview.

Dimensions of Compelling Mobile Experiences

March 27th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

Dave Zuverink, a Senior User Research Specialist on Adobe XD’s Mobile and Devices team, wrote a compelling article on the five dimensions of successful mobile application experiences. He lists:

Compelling Mobile Experiences Dimensions

Mobile Experiences Dimensions

  1. Core: the fundamentals which support the principle “form follows function”
  2. Social: taking advantage of the platform’s intrinsic communication focus
  3. Contextual: being aware of physical location (also, based on comments in the article, other applications)
  4. Cloud: back-up and optimization
  5. Multi-screen: functioning across multiple devices

Thinking of the user’s experience in these dimensions can bring a much more cohesive and useful experience, which I agree will be much more compelling. Of course, each of these elements can be broken down even further, and I think the contextual piece is extremely important.

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Visual Design Lead Leaves Google: Couldn’t Stand Design by Numbers

March 26th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Douglas Bowman, largely credited with building the visual design team at Google, left the company on Friday, March 20. On his last day he wrote his reasons for leaving on his blog, Stopdesign. In the post he states his frustration with data dictating design and leaving barely any room for creativity. Bowman writes:

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions.

Bowman further writes that in a company such as Google decisions are reduced to simple logic problems relying solely on data for solutions. However, he see the data acting like a crutch, “paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”

He closes by saying that although he “can’t fault Google for this reliance on data… [he] won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.”

Bowman and other visual designers’ recent departures from Google have created somewhat of a stir. Many take issue with the role and respect that visual designers have within a data-driven culture such as Google. However, for me, this has rehashed an everlasting debate that I have had many times with some brilliant individuals about the roles of art and science in functional design. When and to what extent should design be dictated by creativity, uniqueness, divergence as well as art, and when should it be dictated by empirical data and methodologies?

We founded Montparnas on the steadfast belief that data-driven design results in optimal user experiences. I stand by this assertion. However, I also value uniqueness and aesthetics as integral parts of any experience and realize that some projects require more art and less science to create experiences that are emotionally captivating. And while it is easy to measure click-through rates, it is much more difficult to measure brand loyalty and the value of brand fanatics such as many BMW owners.

This is a huge question without a simple answer - only beliefs and stances.

Google’s User Experience Director Speaks About Design Challenges

March 23rd, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

BuisinessWeek has a great Q&A with Google’s Director of User Experience, Irene Au. In the article, Irene Au is asked about Google’s approach to design and brand coherence across different Google products. Not surprisingly, Google has a very scientific approach to experience design, heavily rooted in quantitative methods:

[Engineers] and analysts pore over streams of data to assess the impact of experiments with colors, shading, and the position of every element on the page. Even changes at the pixel level can affect revenue….

A lot of our design decisions are really driven by cognitive psychology research that shows that, say, people online read black text against a white background much faster than white against black, or that sans serif fonts are more easily read than serif fonts online.

When asked if “decisions are based on data rather than on subjective opinion of what might look good,” Irene responded:

A lot of designers want to increase the line height or padding in order to make the interface “breathe.” We deliberately don’t do that. We want to squeeze in as much information as possible above the fold. We recognize that information density is part of what makes the experience great and efficient. Our goal is to get users in and out really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.

I am an unwavering proponent of data-driven design because I have personally witnessed seemingly minuscule design changes make immense impacts. The only way to capitalize on these effects was through data-driven testing to find the optimal solution.

However, I also believe that science can work with art and not against it. Aesthetics have impacts that are very hard to measure. Many of those effects can have long-term consequences for product loyalty or can affect the overall brand value in ways that are not measured in completion times or conversion rates–just take a look at good ‘ol Apple.

Irene Au also speaks about “brand coherence,” which is really a question about the consistency of the user experience across Google’s products. For those in the user experience field, it is an obvious fact that inconsistency and conflicting interaction paradigms cause user error, frustration, and product abandonment. Thus, it was no surprise to me to hear of Google’s conviction to align user experience paradigms across all their products. Irene states, “Inconsistency drives Larry and Sergey crazy.” Well, it drives everyone else crazy too, so kudos to making it a priority.

A Great Example of Lazy (Soft) Registration

March 20th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Imagine you go to a store to buy some new jeans. As you are checking out, the cashier tells you that you must provide your name, email, and passcode to purchase the items you’ve selected. You’d probably exclaim some choice words and storm out of the store, vowing never to return. Well, many websites continue to insist that their users register before completing a crucial action like paying for things you want to buy.

User information is valuable, but insisting that they provide it is pretty crazy and tyrannical. One way to mitigate this dichotomy is the idea of lazy registration. This poorly-named interaction paradigm essentially pseudo-registers users with some basic unique identifier - usually their email address - and then asks (not insists) that they complete their registration in the future by providing a password and other basic information.

90 Percent of Everything has a great video demonstration of lazy registration and its correct implementation.

The Palm Pre User Experience

March 19th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

The iPhone started a paradigm shift in mobile that led to a deluge of touch-screen devices, which differ only slightly in feature sets and overall experience. Marek Pawlowski of MEX writes a very detailed account how Palm went back to its ideological roots and to the blackboard to design a unique mobile device–the Pre. In some aspects, the Pre seems to make improvements on common features such as the ergonomics of the QWERTY keyboard:

The curvature of the handset improves the balance when typing, combating the “top heavy” feeling users complain of with standard QWERTY monoblocs like the Blackberry Bold and Nokia E71.

However, beyond some tweaks to existing models, there are three features that are truly revolutionary. The first is Palm’s dedication to web connectivity as the heart of the device:

Indeed, as the name suggests, webOS has been designed with web connectivity at the very heart of the platform… Users can add contacts from a wide range of sources, either by desktop synchronisation or from web services such as Facebook, and Palm’s webOS will intelligently combine them to ensure duplicate contacts are avoided.

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Digitial Camera User Interfaces

March 19th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

With all the talk of mobile phones and touch screen interfaces, it was nice to come across a fairly complete look at existing camera interfaces, which typically do not get much coverage. Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan, not only gives a great “visual tour” of the top players in camera devices: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Casio, Olympus and Fujifilm, but also a nice round-up on what the various makers are doing right and wrong.

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FedEx Courier Device

March 18th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

This post about FedEx courier devices was just brilliant. I’ve often wondered about these onerous-looking contraptions, and how much training they must require. The mere look of them is not very enticing. Joe Pemberton’s recount of this encounter is a story to which we can all relate. How many times have we heard people gripe about the devices they have to use to do their job?

Eye-Tracking Studies at Google

February 25th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Two user experience researchers share on the Google Blog how their team conducted eye-tracking studies on the interface of Universal Search to gain insight into optimal information design. They write in their post:

Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously…. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.

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