Category Archives: user experience

5 Books Every Designer Needs

Recently I’ve been asked for design and UX book recommendations fairly often, so I thought I’d put together a list of 5 of my favorite design books. I hope you love them as much as I do!

And just in time for the holiday season! Feel free to direct that family member who keeps buying you socks to this list for gift inspiration. 😉 Enjoy!

The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition


Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter)



Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products



Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems



Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days


 

Bonus: I also adore the A Book Apart Series. You really can’t go wrong with those. My very favorite one in the series is Designing for Emotion.

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“Why do you love design?”

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Tonight I was chatting with a friend, and he asked a question that comes up with my friends and family on a fairly regular basis: “Why do you love being a designer so much?”

Normally I ramble off a long list of detailed reasons, most of which include design jargon and acronyms. This time I decided to break it down into 8 easy to digest one liners. They went something like this:

Being a designer is amazing because…

  • Creating something that didn’t previously exist is intoxicating
    It’s kind of like having kids. First there’s an idea. Then over time it turns into this amazing thing that exists, and you are its creator.
  • Designing products and features is completely addictive
    Once you been bitten by the design bug, you’re a lifer.
  • Solving people’s problems is incredibly rewarding
    When you’re starting a new feature or product, you’re trying to solve a problem for a specific audience. You research, you interview, you do kick off meetings, all of these things are to make sure that you’re solving the right problem. Once you’ve nailed it down, you start brainstorming all of the zillion ways you could go about solving that problem, until you find the magic one: the square peg to fill the square hole.
  • There is always something exciting to look forward to
    No matter how much you love a design, you’re proud and excited for about 30 seconds when it’s done. Then you hit 31 seconds and you’re consumed by thinking of all of the enhancements/changes you want to make in the next iteration, which is just as exciting.
  • You will never, ever know everything
    As a designer you learn new tips and tricks and find new tools every single day. Trends change, new tech is created, new languages are written, tools are enhanced, tools disappear, you have to enjoy being a life long learner to survive in this profession.
  • Design inspiration is EVERYWHERE
    Everywhere you look, you’re taking in detail and drawing inspiration. There are the expected places, like design blogs, sites like Dribbble, beautiful collections of inspiring design on sites like Muz.li, etc. But the main source of design inspiration comes from EVERYTHING — the shade of the orange on your countertop, the shape of a lamp post, the design on a comforter, the shading created by a shadow on the sidewalk, the vibrance of flower petals — there is a never ending stream of inspiration everywhere you look.
  • You see the world around you differently than other humans, and want to fix all of the things
    As a designer, in addition to seeing inspiration everywhere you look, you see things that need to be fixed. Poorly designed doors are your nemesis. Oddly arranged grocery store layouts give you a twitch. Menu’s with terrible font choices are cringeworthy. Kerning in school holiday performance programs can be painful to look at. And it’s not negativity driving these observations, it’s a deeply rooted need to fix these things that makes them stand out. You constantly imagine ways to improve the world around you. And when you get to act on those thoughts? It’s a great day.
  • You’re always surrounded by a deeply passionate, supportive community of like minded people
    Being a designer means you’re part of something big. Designers understand each other because we process the world around us in similarly different ways. It makes us close knit in a way that other professions don’t seem to understand. The design community is a family that celebrates thinking outside the box, and imagining that the impossible is possible. We embrace this line of thinking because all of the most innovative creations have come from designers making impossible things exist.

After I rattled off my quick list, my friend seemed to really get it.

His response was, “I’m pretty jealous that you found a career that you love so much. Most people never get to experience that feeling.”

He’s absolutely right. Having the opportunity to design for a living is a magnificent gift.

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Stop Letting Your Garbage Onboarding UX Destroy Your Company

We’ve all been there right? A company advertises their product as “free”. You get all excited and run out to their site to sign up. You provide your name and email address, maybe even a bday, no big deal. Then you hit next only to find that they want your #$(%&*$ credit card number!

Why? Why do companies do this? They are CRUSHING their onboarding conversion potential! This is the LAMEST UX on the face of the earth. Other than, you know, nuclear reactor buttons being poorly arranged.

Horrible practice though, seriously, especially when your target audience is even remotely tech savvy. You need to gain user trust before folks are going to fork over their credit card numbers. By asking for it too soon in the workflow you alienate people who could have become paying customers over time. Not only did you alienate them, you just completely obliterated any semblance of brand trust that could have existed straight out of the gate if it weren’t for your shady, lame onboarding UX.

So in a nutshell: Stop it. Right now. If you’re guilty of this, fix it. You’re brutally murdering your company’s sales potential at the very first user touch point.

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Designing with Analytics Insights: Because People Lie

Users Lie

Why integrate analytics in your software designs? Because sometimes, users lie.

It’s not always on purpose, in fact, most of the time it’s not on purpose.

For a majority of people on earth, our memory recall is just straight up flawed.

We have conducted studies in the past in which folks would tell us they use a feature on a daily basis, only to find when we pull analytics that they are using the feature MAYBE every 3-6 months.

Could it be a misunderstanding on the part of the participants around which feature we’re asking about? Yep. Could it be that they just feel like they use the feature way more than they actually do? Yep again.

Analytics It Up

Integrate analytics tracking everywhere you can. Google Analytics makes it extremely easy to record custom click events. Toss some of those click events on tasks you want more information about, and you’ll have a goldmine of data to draw from.

Don’t Limit Your Research Methods

Should analytics tracking be the only form of user research that your company relies on? Absolutely not. Analytics data can answer very specific questions and help you track trends.

It cannot tell you WHY the data is coming in the way it is. You need to perform user research with real, live people as well. Mixing and matching your methods will help develop a more complete picture of what your clients are doing and the problems you need to help them solve.

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Then: I don’t care how it looks, just ship it! Now: Ship quality, or your product is dead in the water.

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“I don’t care that it looks like trash, just ship it!”

Ok… let’s chat about this, like rational adults.

Back in days of old, when no one cared about UX at all, users just wanted a product that worked most of the time. This was the case because typically there was only one product on the market that did what they needed it to do, so this attitude was fine. Folks continued to buy relatively lame products, because they didn’t have a choice. In fact, it was an industry standard to just shove things out the door regardless of quality. It didn’t have to look good, it didn’t have to be very usable, it just had to kind of work.

Fast forward to the present. UX is the foundation of product design, and the industry is moving at break neck speed. You can no longer afford to ship a garbage release, because it gets easier every day for users to migrate to a new, better executed product.

Innovation doesn’t just mean creating something brand new, it can mean making something that already exists more extraordinary. Why did I mention this mid article? If your product releases are shipping half baked, a company that is more agile than you are is going to sweep in and clean out your customer base. By the time you catch up and fix your mistakes it will be too late. The other company will have moved on to adding even newer, more fabulous features, and you’ll be eating their dust. (If you can even afford their dust at that point.)

It’s 2015. You can no longer ship trash. If features in your upcoming release are a hot mess, YANK THEM FROM THE RELEASE. Give yourself time to clean them up, and pull them into the next release.

The general public is not going to put up with ancient product release attitudes anymore. If you want to stay in business, get on board with the quality comes first mentality.

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User Experience Rocks Is Officially 2 Years Old!

User Experience Rocks Turns 2. Stick figure holding balloons and a birthday cake.

User Experience Rocks is officially 2 years old, and I just wanted to take a moment to express my deepest thanks to each and every person who has taken the time to read my articles over the course of the past 2 years! I can’t even begin to express how much it has meant to me. You folks are the absolute best! ❤ Cheers to a fabulous 2015 to come!

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I Did My Taxes On My Phone This Year! TurboTax Mobile Site FTW!

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So I kind of wish I could kiss every member of the TurboTax mobile design team.

I did my 2015 taxes ON MY PHONE! And it was, *gasp*, FUN!

When I say, “did my taxes,” I’m not talking 1040EZ… I’m talking mortgage, student loan interest, kiddo deductions, stock, IRA etc. style taxes.

It was unreal. Every time I got a new tax form in the mail I’d whip out my phone, enter the deduction, save it, and think, “Dude… I’m doing my taxes on my freaking cell phone, and the UI is amazing!” Then I’d grin like a raging weirdo.

A task that is normally boring and stressful and frustrating was full of unexpected delight.

This experience was exceptionally better than my usual system, which is spending a week of being stressed to the max, rifling through piles of paper trying to find copies of lost tax docs all over my house.

The hamburger could use a menu label, but otherwise the UI was flawless. Perfect touch target sizing, clean inputs, clear fonts, simple nav, easy editing/deleting, etc. It’s beautiful and easy to use and I love it.

Huge kudos to the entire design team at TurboTax. Your clean, seamless mobile UI and absolutely fab UX have me looking forward to doing my taxes in 2016! Thank you for taking the agony out of tax submission time! Bravo!

And seriously people, if they can make an app used to do taxes this fabulous, apps for every other industry have a chance. They took the most boring, borderline excruciating task on earth and flipped in into a mobile masterpiece. There are no excuses left now, the bar has been set!

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Top 11 UX & Design Tools of 2014

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SolidifyApp – Mega simple prototyping/click tracking tool for desktop and mobile usability testing.

UXRecorder – Mobile usability testing app (Create a native prototype in SolidifyApp and run it through UXRecorder = Fabulous).

Silverback App – Mac usability testing.

Slack – Completely streamline all of your team communications. It’s kind of magical.

Skitch – Fab for UX reviews.

Balsamiq – Best collaborative wire framing tool on the market.

TargetProcess – Track Design/Development/QA progress and burndown.

GoToMeeting – Design collaboration via video chat/recording sessions & screen sharing with Audio.

Google Analytics – Analyze how your clients are using your product, look for pain points, adjust UX accordingly.

InVisionApp – Hi res desktop and mobile prototyping.

NotableApp – Great tool for detailed collaborative UX reviews.

Bonus Tool:

Spotify – Great music gets the creative juices flowing!

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How To Rock Your App Launch: 10 Quick Tips

Launching a new app can be a pretty daunting task.

A good friend of mine recently developed and launched an app because she had wished for years that it would exist. It’s an app that allows wrestlers, parents and coaches to track wrestling scores, matches and opponents with ease.

I learned some important lessons while watching her go through the app launching process that I’d like to share with you.

1. Make sure you’re passionate about the concept behind the app that you’re developing.

She needed this app to exist so that she could use it, and she thought other parents may want to use it too.

2. Launch your app at the right time.

The pre-season just started, and she put the app on the market at exactly the right moment. Before her app had even been out for 1 week, she already had tons of downloads. If she had launched it a few months before or a few months later, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at launch.

3. If you’re going to launch the app yourself, make sure you do your pre-marketing months in advance.

Before her app was even finished, she was posting teaser links in wrestling forums, and reaching out to wrestling organizations to let them know it was on the way.

4. Check branding options before you become too attached to an app name.

She didn’t name her app until she made sure that the domain name, Facebook url and Twitter handle were available. If they hadn’t been, she was willing to change the name of the app.

Don’t marry yourself to an app name until you’ve secured the appropriate branding.

5. Perform Usability testing with all of the appropriate personas.

She tested her app with kids, teens and with adults to ensure that it would be usable by her entire target audience. She focused closely on UX from the very beginning which helped with her rapid adoption rate at launch.

6. Once you launch, sincerely ask your users for feedback.

After she posted links to the app in various forums, she asked sincerely for feedback and feature requests from her target audience. Her son has only been wrestling for a few years and is in elementary level tournaments, so she didn’t have experience yet with high school level wrestling. She wanted to make absolutely sure that she was meeting the needs of her entire user base.

7. Iterate like crazy.

She launched the app with the features she felt were necessary for success, but had a plan for various iterations of those features in advance. After launch, several of the feature requests that her users presented were so fantastic that she integrated them in with the first couple of planned feature iterations immediately.

8. Don’t trip yourself up by trying to integrate every single feature that is requested, but don’t get so focused on your planned iterations that you don’t listen the feedback you’re receiving from your target audience.

This is quite possibly one of the trickiest parts of app development. The knee jerk reaction in the beginning stages is to include every single feature request people send your way. Over time your app will become huge and cumbersome and so feature heavy that the UX will suffer.

At the same time, you can’t get so obsessed with your pre-planned release strategy and timeline that you don’t take time to integrate the best feature requests while you work on iterations of existing features.
Strike a balance between these two areas and you’ll wind up with a phenomenal app that really meets your users needs.

9. Pre-plan your monetization strategy.

Before she had even finished her app, she reached out to some experienced industry folks through Twitter and other social media outlets to determine the best way to monetize her app.

The option she landed on makes perfect sense for her audience. Don’t think that you need to milk people dry from the beginning to make money. I don’t ever download an app that I have to pay for, unless I have an opportunity to try a lite version first, and I often find myself upgrading to the paid version if I love the app.

10. Add analytics from the get go.

You know what’s awesome? Being able to watch the use of your app increase on a daily basis, and having the opportunity to watch which features are being used the most. Custom events in Google Analytics are a great way to keep an eye on what’s going on with your app in real time. You can also put together some pretty killer stat sheets based on the data you receive on a monthly basis. Having analytics access also helps you locate problem areas from a UX perspective with ease.

My friend added custom events before her app went live, and is having a blast looking at her stats each night. Data = fun. 🙂

I hope you found these tips helpful. Now get out there a launch some killer apps!

In case you want to check out her app, you can download it for Android or iPhone by visiting http://www.suplexapp.com, http://www.facebook.com/suplexapp or http://twitter.com/suplexapp (See? Solid branding FTW.) 🙂

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UX Thinking: It’s Contagious!

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This past weekend my daughter and I walked into a restaurant and they had a napkin dispenser on the counter.

When you tried to pull out a napkin, about 45 more came out with it.

After attempting to use it for a second time with the same irritating result, my daughter looked up and said very seriously, “You need to take a picture of this for your blog.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because the UX is horrible!” She replied. “It would be so easy to fix! They just need to make it work more like a tissue box!”

I’m deeming that a parenting win.

UX thinking is contagious, and family members are especially susceptible!

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