Category Archives: User Research

Articles about user research.

Tools Not Included

While working on my presentation for Mobile Camp Chicago 2013, I’ve talked to fellow user experience pros about mobile user research. After multiple stories that involved everyone doing their best MacGyver impression to capture usability feedback, I got fed up. Why aren’t usability testing tools part of operating systems? Think about it. We know that the best solutions are created when the people who create them watch real people trying to use what they are building. OS creators have a vested interest in providing the best platform that delivers the best experience. So give the people who build the things people use on your machines the tools to do this easily.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, everybody listen up. Here’s my feature request: An integrated, standardized tool to screencast, with audio while recording.While you’re at it, please capture clicks and gestures. Throw in the ability to capture the user’s face with the camera at the same time. And make it a part of the operating system. For every device.

The world of UX will write you love letters and you will have the best, most usable software for your customers. It seems so obvious. Let’s do this.




Easier Choices, Happier People

“Every waking moment is a shopping moment. Anytime, anywhere.” -Steve Yankovich [1]

We the hyper-connected, never-slow-down people have taken our shopping mindsets out of the store and into our other daily experiences. The explosion of mobile devices also provides access to content from any context.  The increase in our mindshare devoted to shopping gives marketers unprecedented opportunities to deliver their brand message. But there’s a downside to increasing the time a consumer spends thinking about buying your product.

Could always shopping behavior be a coping mechanism rather than an obsession with getting more stuff? Every day we encounter a daunting array of options for everything. “Would you like organic, low fat, nonfat, or sustainably sourced ranch dressing on that salad?” We are challenged with fleeting windows of opportunity, and limited resources.  At least we have an endless font of data to help evaluate our options (snark)! In order to cope, we extend our data gathering and product evaluations beyond the marketplace. Always shopping means hyper-vigilance about what’s available, our needs, and our means.

Grocery Store
Photo Credit: Lyza Danger Gardner copyright 2004

Barry Schwartz has done great work understanding our world of abundant choice. He’s found the more time we spend evaluating options, the less likely we are to feel satisfied by them. Instead, we experience anxiety and doubt. By extension, the less effort we spend in choosing, the less self-doubt we experience.[2]

Look at the near religious fervor among Apple customers. Apple extends its simple is better design philosophy to the product selection process. Few options are offered within each product family compared to the decision gauntlet you need to navigate when buying a PC. Since there are fewer opportunities for picking the wrong option, Apple customers have more confidence in their selection, contributing to higher enjoyment with their purchases.

The narrower the difference within our decision set, the less confident we are in our ability to select the right one. Products that break away from a cluttered field clarify the options into this or that. Upon their introduction, the Dyson vacuum clearly differentiated itself from its competitors. They also inspired passion in their customers. Are these people really that happy about cleaning their carpets? Or was their enjoyment freed of self-doubt?

Offering a better environment to choose a product has a huge impact on the perception of brand as well. I love cooking, but hate supermarkets. Picking between 4 types of fresh strawberries and 10 brands of ice cream while managing a cart and trying to remember what is currently in my refrigerator takes the joy out of an ice cream sundae. Peapod gives shoppers an organized, low pressure setting to shop. Their fans rave about the service’s ease and simplicity. It may be a hassle to arrange delivery of these perishables, but I’m saved the anxiety of staring at that wall of salad dressings while my child runs into my ankle with the cart.

Woman hugging her new car
Photo Credit: Ross Berteig copyright 2007

Seizing every moment as an opportunity to get in front of consumers’ eyeballs may increase brand awareness, but negatively impact customer satisfaction.  Minimizing the effort it takes to select your product will improve satisfaction, as well as reviews and social activity. The real opportunity in this “always shopping” culture is shortening the time it a person considers your product before choosing it and completing that transaction. Faster, clearer choices make happier consumers.


[1] Steve Yankovich, head of eBay’s mobile business, 9 August 2012

[2] Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice, TEDGLOBAL 2005

The crowd at CAM

Effective Crowdsourcing – Case Studies

Recently, I had two great experiences participating in crowdsourcing exercises at local events. Both events were successful in getting a diverse population of unsuspecting individuals to generate tangible results within an hour. Amazing! I’ve had varying degrees of success trying to get non-designers involved in group design activities in the past. I want to take a close look at these exercises and how they were facilitated to understand why they worked. What made these events so successful and how can I apply that in the future?

The crowd at CAM
The crowd at work.

The first event was at the Innovation in MiKE Council Meeting. This was a meeting of individuals all interested in developing the city of Milwaukee as a design, technology and innovation cluster. Consistent with this mission, Katherine von Jan spoke about RadMatter, a new platform for campus recruiting. RadMatter applies gamification principles to tackle the challenges of talent development and recruiting. Their goal for the event was to generate quality content for their beta launch and forge strategic relationships.

Tip: Select an audience that is invested in the topic or final outcome.

The lively presentation did a good job of grabbing the audience attention. Not only was it a tool that would address an issue in which the the group has a vested interest, there was a solid case made with research and data to explain why it could succeed. Companies represented by the attendees could also get fully engaged in the beta if and reap the benefits. By the end of the presentation, people were nodding their heads and smiling about this new, innovative idea.

Tip: Get the audience excited about your goals and the big picture.

After briefing the audience on the driving principles of the design, Katherine informed the crowd that they would be participating in developing some content. And there would not be much time to do it.  In fact, the crowd had 20 minutes to self organize, brainstorm and distill a single idea into something actionable.

Having an incredibly small amount of time to work made people quickly assign themselves into groups and hit the ground running. Since there was no time to entertain social anxieties or analyze what we were about to do, people focused on doing.

Tip: Tightly time box the exercise.

I’m always fascinated by human behavior in groups. Anytime you get people together who need to make decisions, there are consistent roles that emerge. There is always someone who steps in and takes a leadership role driving the group forward. Someone facilitates, keeping the group on track, watching the time and making sure the rules are followed. And there are others who prefer to be scribes and the hands on people molding the group’s idea into the tangible. In my group, we had been given a theme. We explored several options before selecting the idea to pursue based on the time remaining.

Each of us had received a hand out with the instructions, guidelines and the principles that the result should embody. We all referenced these documents repeatedly. It was a lot of information, but it was laid out in a way that made each topic easy to reference. When questions arose, we were able to find the answer without seeking out the organizers or other groups. This event had over 60 attendees. It would have been disastrous if the organizers would have needed to provide individual guidance to each team.

Tip: Write down and distribute the instructions and supporting information so that the participants can reference it when needed.

Each group was able to submit their work using the actual beta software. This was great because there was an invitation for continued engagement via the software. The interaction gave us a familiarity and head start working with it. In addition to the ongoing involvement, participants would have a way to keep up on the progress of the project through the software.

Tip: Provide ways to continue the participation and make the path to engagement clear.


Tip: Let people see the value that came out of their contribution.

Part of the continued engagement allowed participants to compete for $50 gift certificates to Kohls for each member of the winning team, and tickets to a Present Music Concert in Milwaukee. Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition?

Tip: Reward participants for their time.

The other event was the Leap Day Event for the Creative Alliance of Milwaukee. This organization is in it’s beginning stages of development. The individuals gathered ranged from working artists to corporate recruiters all interested in developing the creative industries in the Milwaukee area. The goal of the event was to have attendees explore the vision and strategic plan of the organization. Facilitating the event, Bob Schwartz and were members of the GE Global Design team.

After a presentation of the vision and strategic plan, the team introduced themselves with great enthusiasm and the project in which we were invited to participate. Everyone had been given a number upon arrival that indicated the group with which they would work. Similar to the RadMatter exercise, each team was given a set of written instructions that clearly detailed the exercise instructions and goal.

The teams were given 20 minutes to complete their project using community stores of supplies. Magazines, newspapers, markers, glue, glitter…all fun things that most of us used as kids. This really helped set the mood and keep participants from worrying about achieving perfection. They even went so far as to disallow scissors. We were exploring abstract ideas such as vision and strategy through visual collage.

Tip: Use materials that focus participants on the ideas not perfect execution.

It was a fun exercise and I was surprised how well our little team of 3 worked together. We brainstormed, revised, distilled ideas, and compromised. We completed our project at the buzzer and felt good. All of the teams then placed their masterpiece in the gallery area and everyone was given time to mill about, network, and look at what the other teams created.

Tip: Make it fun

To wrap up, each team was asked to have a representative present their project to the entire group and explain what they did. It was fabulous to see the excitement and energy created by going through the collaborative effort in such a limited time. The organization was able to capture a wealth of information about the groups attitudes and ideas from this exercise while at the same time energizing those who will become the drivers of the organization. The GE team then created a mural showing the long term vision of the organization. It was a nice, although obvious, metaphor conveying that everyone there could contribute to making the vision a reality.

Tip: Give everyone an opportunity to see what the other teams created.

The vision of Milwaukee as a hub of creative commerce fulfilled

What did these two events have in common that made them successful?

  • Each event selected an audience that had common goals.
  • They began by reviewing those goals and getting people energized around the common mission.
  • The audience was quickly transitioned into the exercise. No time to belabor they whys and wherefores of what was about to be done. Just get to it.
  • Organizing into teams was quick and easy.
  • The events were so tightly time boxed that the teams weren’t sure they could complete what they needed to do in that time. This got people moving and removed any anxiety about perfection.
  • The directions and relevant information was printed out and the participants could refer to it again and again during the mad dash.
  • There was a final product completed at the end.
  • Everyone had great opportunity to meet others during the event.
  • People understood how their work would contribute to the overall vision
  • Invitation for engagement beyond the exercise.

The other factor which had a big impact on their success, was the confidence and enthusiasm of the facilitators. They were truly excited about what everyone was about to do. That energy was contagious. They also gave the teams room to figure things out and didn’t jump in when we had that initial “What are we doing now?” moment. The direction was clearly given, enthusiastically and they trusted the participants to do the work. Perhaps those were the most important factors to successful crowd sourcing.