User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

User Experience Design: An Executive Summary

December 4th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

This article strives to explain, in non-technical terms, what is user experience design, why it is critical in the modern business landscape, and how businesses can take advantage of what the field has to offer.

What Is User Experience Design?

User experience design is a specialized field that combines product strategy and usability engineering. It aims to make products and services useful, enjoyable and easy to use, which drive competitive advantage and profitability.

Making Products Useful

Customers use and buy products because they are useful, enjoyable, or both. User experience designers use their expertise and methodologies to establish what specific features and traits can render a given product useful and enjoyable to the target customer.

Making Products Profitable

User experience designers constantly strive to improve products, and they have the expertise to evaluate the most promising product features as well as to analyze the competition to discern how to gain advantage over them with new features or by improving existing ones as well as ease-of-use. Not only that, but for certain products and services like web sites, they can formulate a strategy that will increase target user actions such as online purchases and page views.

Making Products Easy to Use and Enjoyable

In today’s business landscape, ease-of-use is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage and customers are demanding and expecting products to be intuitive and easy to use. User experience designers are trained to systematically improve the organization of information and the intuitiveness of interactions of products and services.

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Comparing Google Android Phone to the iPhone

November 13th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

Mark Chu-Carroll, an engineer at Google who’s been beta testing the Google Android Phone for six weeks before it officially launched, wrote an excellent review of it on his blog, Good Math, Bad Math. He drew many comparisons and contrast to Apple’s iPhone, which serves as his primary mobile device.

In a nutshell, he concluded that “the software is excellent, the hardware less so,” but he was also quick to note that “the software is really late-beta quality. It’s lacking polish, and there are a few awkward points.” Mark went on to comment on the Android’s web browser, as he believes browsing capability to be a distinguishing factor for phones such as the iPhone and Google’s Android phone. He wrote:

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On Usability Problems with Voting Machines

November 4th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

Today is the big day, and no matter for whom or what you are voting on November 4th, you not only want your vote counted, but you also want it counted correctly. In the spirit of fair elections with a twist of usability geekiness, we at Montparnas compiled a few resources where you can learn more about usability of voting machines.

Usability in Civic Life: Voting and Usability Project

The Usability¬† Professionals’ Association (UPA) has been running a great project that seeks to evangelize good usability in voting machines. It’s one thing when it’s difficult for a user to add an item to a shopping cart, but it’s a whole different ballgame when votes that determine a presidential election are miscounted or not counted at all. Usability in voting machines is perhaps the most important application of the usability engineering field. The UPA writes on their site

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Engaging Users with News Feeds

October 20th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

ReadWriteWeb wrote on Thursday that the news feed is the “dominant information paradigm of our time.” I don’t know that I would go quite that far, but it has spread like wildfire throughout the web despite causing a ruckus when its originator, Facebook, first launched it just two years ago. Today, most respectable social websites have some form of a news feed.

Why has something that was once so hated, suddenly become indispensable? Well, it was hated because it gave others visibility into one’s actions. Why did we eventually fall in love with it? We fell in love it because our voyeuristic tendencies eclipsed our privacy concerns, and those services offering news feeds improved the paradigm by giving users greater control over what is broadcast and to whom.

Vimeoland - Community News Feeds 3.0

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20 Ways to Supercharge Any Social Media Website

October 2nd, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

Social media includes community-based video, photo, audio, and news websites as well as blogs. Although each of these types of websites has unique content and dynamics, they are also alike in many ways. This article explores various ways to get the most out of any social media site.

Social media sites rely on user-generated or user-submitted content to draw other users (visitors). In turn, users add content to these sites because they reach a broader audience. Additionally, the social interactions that are made possible by these websites create further draw. It is in these three areas - sharing, consuming, and interacting - that social websites can be optimized.

Empower Dissemination and Interaction

Don’t let the website’s content sit idle. One of the most difficult things in creating and running a successful social media site is amassing content, whether it be video or news story submissions. That is why it is critical to get the most of out the content by allowing and encouraging users to disseminate it throughout the web and fostering various interactions that bring that content to life and build a community around it.

1. Let users submit content to third-party social news and bookmarking services like Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.

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Virgin America’s Customer Experience

September 17th, 2008 by Kimmy Paluch

From mood lighting, to an exhaustive entertainment system, to reasonable fares and good service, there is a lot that Virgin America is doing right. I recently flew the airline, and was taken aback by the attention to detail and the luxury experience that VA has created. I flew on their 1 year anniversary so there were added perks such as red cake and champagne at my destination. These are beyond the differentiators that the company highlights, but exemplary of the company’s outlook–it’s about the experience.

Inside a Virgin America plane:

Virgin America plane interior

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Should Facebook Fully Launch Its New User Experience Design?

September 16th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

It is a good thing that Facebook is slowly rolling out their new design; they might have had another huge revolt on their hands if they just threw it on their users. However, despite easing users into the new version, there is still a significant number of users that dislike the new experience and refuse to accept it. At latest count, almost 40% were still using the old version and many of them are adamant about keeping it that way. There are numerous groups on Facebook whose members are voicing their displeasure with the new design.

The big question remains: should Facebook fully launch the new design given that a large portion of their users refuse to adopt it? It is certainly a tough decision to throw away a major redesign after so much time, effort, and money has gone into it, but it might be worth it to start from scratch.

Doubtless, Facebook will lose some users in the transition, but it is also a matter of how many and how the new user experience design will affect remaining users. For example, even if they lose one out of ten users but increase the interaction level (time on site, clicks, etc.) of the remaining nine by 20%, that is still a huge gain.

It is impossible to please everyone, but is pleasing 60% of users enough to get the green light? What do you think, should Facebook try again or proceed with the new user experience design?

Facebook Effectively Rolls out Experience Redesign

September 4th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

A while ago, I wrote about the dangers of radical experience redesigns and how to implement them so the fewest number of users will abandon the product during the transition from old to new. The main points articulated in the article were:

  • Make only changes that really will benefit users
  • Let users know what improvements will be made and why
  • Give users a preview of the new design
  • Make sure that users will perceive the changes as beneficial in the short-term as well as long-term
  • Give users aids such as tool tips, tutorials or an overview of changes
  • Give users the option to continue using the old version

Facebook’s limited launch of its new design serves as a great case study of putting these points into practice, and it also serves to extend them.

In the past, Facebook has  launched a number of radical changes to its product with little forewarning or transition strategy, which resulted in great unrest and even upheaval among its users. They have finally learned that just thrusting large changes into the experience upon its users can be dangerous to their business. Facebook chose a more sensible approach this time to ensure that they avoid user discontent and facilitate adoption of the new design. They employed many of the recommendations mentioned above. Specifically, they

  • Gave users a preview of the new design
  • Gave users the option to continue using the old version
  • Gave users aids such to help them learn the new experience

Easing Users in

It is almost a given that all major changes to a product’s user experience will displease some set of users. By giving users a preview of the new experience along with giving them the option to continue using the old version, Facebook effectively eased users into the new site. This ensures that users give the new version a chance rather than dismissing it outright, and this also attenuates negative opinion. There are many anecdotal stories of users vehemently opposing changes to products to later adopt them to the point of not being able to live without them. And if the new version is thrust upon them, users feel like they are backed into a corner and are likely to have a stronger reaction to change and less likely to give it a chance.

Compete.com, an online web analytics company, recently released some compelling analysis of users slowly adopting Facebook’s new design (new.facebook.com).

People Using New Facebook Design

While the above graph shows the number of users trying the new design increasing rapidly, another graph (below) showing the proportion of those users trying the new site and going back to the old site projects a slightly different picture; many users are resistant to Facebook’s new design.

People Using New Facebook Design and then Going Back to Old Facebook

The percentage of users reverting to the old site has dropped from about 55% to about 40%, but that is still a large chunk of its user base. I guess the larger question that arises from this is: What proportion of users must adopt the new design to roll it out fully?

Help Users Learn and Adopt the New User Experience

One thing that Facebook did with the redesign that I found very helpful as a user was providing visual aids that identified major changes and explained how to user them.
Examples of Tool Tips and Aids on Redesigned Facebook site

The above screen shot shows how visual aids (cues) help users learn the new experience on the redesigned Facebook.

Giving Users a Voice

One point that I missed in my previous article is giving users a voice. Giving users an opportunity to provide feedback and vent empowers them and reduces their anxiety, and thus frees them to explore the new design. Facebook allows users to provide feedback by clicking a link in the upper right of the page and also created a discussion forum where users can also voice their concerns and ideas.

Going the Extra Mile

The jury is still out about whether the changes to the user experience on the new Facebook site are truly beneficial for users in the long term, but it is certain that they made design choices aimed at improving the user’s experience on the site. However, beyond posting a press release about the redesign, Facebook did not greatly reach out to its users to explain the redesign. Effectively communicating to users changes to the product, explaining their underpinnings, and assuring users that the redesign is aimed at improving their experience is key in reducing anxiety and encouraging adoption.

All in all, Facebook has been doing a great job in rolling out its new design in a way that minimizes negative impacts and improves adoption of the new site.

Google to Release a New Browser: Chrome

September 2nd, 2008 by Kimmy Paluch

Google announced in a nifty way its new, soon-to-be-released open source browser, Chrome. Frankly, I am really looking forward to it based on the description they presented. It is clearly both an evolution of Mozilla’s own product, and a complete innovation. Google, staying true to their revolutionary core, threw away practically every existing model to create a browser that promises to solve current problems of performance and stability, and improve the user experience.

The Chrome team sums up the problem aptly:

Google Chrome Description (the problem)

Chrome promises innovation on many fronts including:

  • a browser primarily tailored to web applications and processor-intensive sites
  • faster multi-processing that follows the infrastructure of operating systems
    independent tabs (one tab crashing doesn’t crash the entire browser)
  • a brand new Javascript virtual machine: V8
  • an improved UI where each tab independent has its own controls and URL box (the Omni Box)
    auto-completion tailored to what the user has explicitly visited/typed
  • a new default tab that contains the user’s most visited sites (and a privacy mode of course)
    better malware protection and security (only plugins pose a slight risk)

The user interface builds on existing tab paradigms but introduces more independence. Of the “Omnibox,” the team writes:

“The Omnibox handles far more than just ULS. It also offers suggestions for searches, top pages you’ve visited before, pages you haven’t visited but are popular and more”

Google Chrome Interface Further, the comic explains some of the motivation behind the interface as:

“We don’t want to interrupt anything the user is trying to do. If you can just ignore the browser, we’ve done a good job.”

The concept seems very intriguing and I am certainly going to give this a try when it comes out (the date has still not been released). The comic offers a lot of detail, including more information on their testing procedure and other programming exploits. Many may ask, ’so why make this open source?’ Turns out the comic answers this too:

“Google LIVES on the internet. It’s in our interest to make the internet better and without competition we have stagnation.”

So here’s to innovation, open source and more projects like this to come.

Update: The beta version of Google Chrome is now available for Windows only.

Examples and Trends of Headers and Navigation

August 18th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

This survey takes a look at the various example and trends of headers and navigation across major websites. (Scroll down to see examples.) In particular we focus on headers coupled with horizontal navigation as that has become the industry standard. Many top sites, like those shown below, have adopted this paradigm. A few notable exceptions include shopping sites like Amazon.com and news sites like NYTimes.com and BBC.co.uk. Typically those sites that opt for vertical main navigation tend to have too many top-level navigation categories to fit in the horizontal space and resort to a vertical listing out of necessity.

For the majority of other well-known sites the header and horizontal main navigation ensemble offer a compact and elegant solution allowing users to access all major areas of the site as well as critical functionality like site-wide search. In addition, this solution frees up the entire horizontal real estate below the header and main navigation–a welcomed benefit considering conventional size limitations.

Header and Horizontal Navigation Trends

It is well known by now that the top of the page is by far the most precious real estate on a web page and making the best of this space is vital. By using desktop applications and by continually encountering similar navigation paradigms, users have come to expect the top of a web page or web application to provide pathways into the most important sections of a web site as well as access to critical functionality like site search. At the same time, web sites and web applications seek to promote their brand, spread their message, make money, and drive users to high-value actions such as uploading media. And even though almost all of the sites surveyed share the same goals in designing their headers and main navigations, there are two main schools on designing a user experience to meet them.

One school of thought is to make the header and navigation as simple as possible and thus to focus user attention and interaction on a small handful of sections and interactions. This, of course, has the serious limitation that users have to perform more actions to get to many of their destinations or to perform desired tasks. The master of this approach is none other than Apple on apple.com as well as other popular sites also surveyed here like YouTube.com, Veoh.com, and LinkedIn.com.

The other approach is to expose a great number of navigation paths and interactions allowing users to quickly get to their goal. Conversely, the latter paradigm spreads users’ focus and interactions among many items. The best example of this approach in our survey is ESPN.com. The majority of the sites that we looked at fall somewhere in the middle.

Other smaller trends that we have found are that more sites now put a prominent search bar in the header, more sites put large advertisements in the header, and some are starting to move user-centric navigation like login close to the branding on the left.

(Examples are listed in alphabetical order.)

Apple.com Header and Navigation

Apple Header and Navigation

CNN Header and Navigation

CNN Header and Navigation

Current TV Header and Navigation

Current TV Header and Navigation

DeviantART Header and Navigation

Deviant Art Header and Navigation

Digg Header and Navigation

Digg Header and Navigation

Ebay Header and Navigation

Ebay Header and Navigation

ESPN Header and Navigation

ESPN Header and Navigation

Flickr Header and Navigation

Flickr Header and Navigation

Flixter Header and Navigation

Flixter Header and Navigation

Hotels.com Header and Navigation

Hotels.com Header and Navigation

Hulu Header and Navigation

Hulu Header and Navigation

LinkedIn Header and Navigation

LinkedIn Header and Navigation

MetaCafe Header and Navigation

Metacafe Header and Navigation

MTV Header and Navigation

MTV Header and Navigation

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-out State

MySpace Header and Navigation

Netflix Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

Netflix Header and Navigation - Logged-in State

Netflix Header and Navigation in Logged-out State

Netflix Header and Navigation

Sony Playstation Website Header and Navigation

Sony Playstation Header and Navigation

Technorati Header and Navigation

Technorati Header and Navigation

Veoh Header and Navigation

Veoh Header and Navigation

Yelp Header and Navigation

Yelp Header and Navigation

YouTube Header and Navigation

YouTube Header and Navigation

Zevents Header and Navigation

Zvents Header and Navigation




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