Category Archives: User Research

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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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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Quality Product Design: Don’t Give Me What I Want… Solve My Problem.

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After being in the industry for years, I’ve discovered 2 important things:

A. Product Designers and UX Pros think differently than other humans.
B. Really skilled Product Designers and UX Pros see problems that need to be solved, not features that need to be added.

When a client steps forward and asks for a feature request, rather than saying, “Sure! Let me just toss that in here!” an experienced product designer says, “That is great feedback! Can you explain how you would apply that feature, and how it would improve your experience?”

Sometimes you come across companies who have a strong focus on integrating client feedback, but their products eventually implode and become so feature laden that they sink.  There are ways to integrate feature requests and take a user centered approach without destroying your product.

1. Listen to feedback clients throw your way with an interpretive ear, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper to identify underlying problems.

Listen beyond the words your clients are saying and the features they’re requesting, and get to the root of the problems they are trying to solve.

2. Sometimes feature requests are actually usability issues in disguise. 

We’ve had several situations where a client requested a new feature, and after some digging and discussion we discovered that an area of our product would solve the problem with some minor tweaking. There was just a usability stumbling block getting in their way.

3. Sometimes the product features clients request are actually new product offerings in disguise. 

“I wish the product would do this. If you’d add these features, I could use this to do Y.” All client feedback doesn’t have to be fed into a primary product, when the problems that need to be solved could be handled with a separate product with a laser focus. Bloating your flagship product with a million features will lead to client frustration. Creating a new product that solves a client problem with ease = gold.

4. Focus your energy on hearing the users’ needs not the users’ wants. 

“I want to be able to do this task more quickly” could really mean, “The feature I need to access needs to be in a more prominent position on the screen.” Or, it could mean, “The feature I need to access should be a standalone solution because it is part of my daily workflow and digging through a bloated product to find it is killing my experience.”

5. More features do not equal a better product. 

Products in their purest, simplest form, are a thing of beauty. Any designer in the world can create a product and snap a million features on top of it, and around it and under it. It takes a skilled product designer & UX pro team to pare down a product to its simplest form, until it’s a clean, elegant, easy to use solution.

So basically what I’m saying is, listen to your clients. Respond to your client needs. But don’t just give them what they ask for… solve their problems.

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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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You have a mobile native app! Great! But why?!

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Brands I shop at very occasionally keep spamming me with their announcements about their new improved native phone apps.

Some of them are actually kind of cool. SweetFrog has an app that contains games for kids, and a frequent shopper QR code. You pay, they scan your app’s QR code and they give you credit for your purchase. A certain number of purchases = free ice cream. Who doesn’t love free ice cream? The app is a total win.

Another app I couldn’t live without: Mobile Banking. How did I ever survive life before I could cash a check using my phone?! Driving to the bank is so 4 years ago. If a bank does’t have a solid mobile banking native app, I refuse to do business with them. A responsive website isn’t enough for me because I check my account daily (thank you identity theft incident for making me paranoid) and a native app is more convenient/feels more secure to me.

Walmart has their new app that contains their price catcher thing, which actually proved to be kind of helpful during back to school time. You scan your receipt, they compare your purchases to local sales at other stores, if they are charging more, they credit you the difference. Why is this helpful? As a parent, I didn’t have to go to 982374 different stores to save 20 bucks on school supplies. I threw them all in my cart, scanned my receipt and got my savings 3 days later.

Now lets talk about native apps that don’t make sense to me. Once a year at Christmas time I hit our slightly lame mall and buy a bunch of stuff for my family.  I’m not going to download the native GAP app to shop there once every Christmas. I’m not going to download the AE app because I buy a gift card there once a year for my sister. I’m not even remotely invested enough in these brands to download their native apps. That’s space that I could be filling with pictures and videos of my kiddo and my puppy.

Are younger shoppers downloading these apps and using them often? Could be.

On the flip side, I do occasionally shop on my phone at Christmas time, to avoid the crowds (since I’m kind of a hermit). If your retail site isn’t responsive, and you try to force me to download a native app to shop, I’m not buying your stuff and I’ll move along to your competitor.

Choosing between Mobile Native Apps and Responsive Web Design is a big deal for brands. One size does not fit all. Sometimes a responsive site just makes sense. Sometimes you really need to have a mobile native app. Think about your audience and how they access your brand.

If you can swing both a responsive site AND a mobile native app, and they both make sense for your target demographic, more power to you.

Is your target audience a group that will surf the app store to find you? Will they download your native app if you put a giant banner on your lame mobile web site that doesn’t contain any content? Or are they the type that will visit your site on their mobile device and expect to be able to find everything and shop without that annoying download step?

If you’re legitimately not sure which way the majority of your target audience will swing, ASK THEM. Fire off an email campaign, ask your audience which they would prefer and why. It’s a pretty big decision for your brand. If you make the wrong choice you’ll potentially be losing out on mega bucks. It’s very much worth the time to conduct some user research.

To sum things up, don’t just assume that you need a mobile native app because everyone else has one. Take a hard look at your audience and see if the investment makes sense. Obviously you HAVE to have a mobile web presence of some sort these days or you’re going to lose out on huge amounts of cash, but don’t assume it has to be a native app if it doesn’t make sense for your target audience.

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How to Build An Amazing In-House Product Design Team

 Schoolwires Product Design Team

While conversing with some of my UX pro peers recently, I discovered that in-house design teams at software companies are extremely varied in make up. Some places have great team dynamics and others really don’t. At my company Schoolwires, we have a completely awesome Design & Innovation team with members that work incredibly well together, not only from a personality stance, but from a combined powerhouse of skills stance. So today, I’m going to focus on answering  the question:

What does it take to create a killer in-house Design and Innovation team?

1.      An Incredibly Innovative Vice President

At my company we have a VP of Product Design and Innovation who is one of the most contagiously creative, innovative people I have ever met. You go into what should be a mundane meeting with him, and come out feeling inspired every single time. He also has a vision of the future of technology that reaches out decades. He’s always thinking about the next next, with his finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest apps and software and technology trends.

2.      A UX Manager Who Thinks in Wireframes and Dreams Code

Our Manager of User Experience literally thinks in wireframes and dreams code. She hears a concept and immediately starts brainstorming the wireframes in her mind. She is incredibly talented, and has a background in code, so she not only pictures design in her mind, she knows how to MAKE the things she envisions. She’s also a mobile developing/designing genius. Cap that off with being a phenomenal, supportive manager and you’ve got Sara.

3.     Three Creative UX Architects Who Love to Design

We have three fantastic architects on our team who really enjoy designing. Our architects do the data layer/api/business layer work for all of our projects, but they also lead designs and create wireframes at times.They are able to tell us at a glance if what we hope can happen is actually feasible. If we had to wait until our designs were passed off to development to find that information out, we’d end up with hours and hours of additional rework time. Don, Heather and Craig are the key to keeping us agile.

4.     Two Extremely Talented UX Designers 

Our UX designers are fantastic.

Danelle makes our CMS interface and our mobile apps look like works of art, and can kick out gorgeous high res mockups on a dime! She is constantly looking for the latest and greatest design tricks and tips, and brings fresh ideas and concepts to our products on a regular basis to ensure positive user experiences.

Kelly is an epic interaction designer. She comes up with new innovative ways to make our products even more interesting and user friendly! She focuses on a user centered design approach to ensure that our latest features and product enhancements will positively impact the lives of our clients.

5.      A Content Strategist With A Background in Psychology

Our Content Strategist & UX Editor Jennifer loves conducting user research & usability testing regularly, writing user friendly microcopy to ensure consistent voice and tone,  reviewing and collaborating on designs to ensure usability, analyzing product statistics to identify trends, and discovering all the ways we can make our clients lives easier through design.

The 8 of us work together exceptionally well because we work in an environment that supports open sharing of ideas. We all have the utmost respect for one another, and our leadership team has made it clear that every member of the team is valued, as are their opinions.

It’s also accepted team wide that no one is perfect, nor are they expected to be. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong but the safe environment for sharing both good and bad ideas leads to incredible collaboration and ultimately stronger, more innovative, user friendly products.

You don’t have to go freelance to love your job! Our department is living proof that in-house design team utopia does exist.

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Google Analytics Free: Your Data Is Fake (But It’s OK)

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I recently discovered that users of Google Analytics Free don’t always fully understand what they’re seeing when they log into their dashboards. They think they’re looking at their actual, honest to goodness data. So let’s clear some things up:

1. Your data is fake.
“What are you talking about! It’s not fake, there are graphs!” Your data is sampled. In some situations it’s still statistically significant. In fact, in most cases it is, so don’t panic yet.

2. Want access to your real unsampled data? Fork over $150,000.
For major corporations it’s pocket change. For the average person with a small site, your sampled data is still statistically significant, so it’s no big deal. If you’re a start up company who is still poor but is experiencing rapid growth, you’re out of luck. Break out your wallet.

3. If your company is expecting/experiencing rapid growth & has set up a bunch of custom events, of the four leading analytics companies, Google Analytics Premium is by FAR the cheapest.
If you hit 5 billion events per month, Google Analytics Premium bumps up to a flat rate of $220k. Adobe Analytics jumps up around $7.4 MILLION dollars per year. That is not a typo, it’s a legit quote. If you’re scaling crazy fast and need quality data, Google Analytics Premium is your friend from a financial perspective.

4. Unsampled, pure data is freaking expensive.
It just is. If you really need it, surrounded by a UI that isn’t terrible, be prepared to shell out some serious cash.

5. I previously mentioned that sampled data is statistically significant for most companies, so who cares about whether data is sampled or not?
CMS companies in particular need to care. Let’s say a company has global analytics tracking. They may have 4 huge clients (3 million events, 2.5, 2, and 1 million events per month) a handful of 100k – 250k events-per-month clients and so on into tiny client land.

Google samples the daylights out of your data. The higher the number of monthly events, the worse your sampling rate becomes.

From a global tracking perspective looking at high level metrics, sampling is no big deal. However, if a 100k events-per-month client calls and requests a report about mobile device traffic to their primary domain, you’re statistically SOL. You can pull the report, but the drill down data will be garbage due to the crazy sampling rate.

The worst sampling rate I’ve come across in Google Analytics Free was .02%, but you get what you pay for.

The moral of this story:
For small sites and small businesses Google Analytics Free is a viable option. Your data is “fake”, but still statistically significant.

If you’re a rapidly growing business with a pile of domains being tracked under one account, eat the cost and upgrade to Google Analytics Premium. From a scalability perspective it’s the cheapest option, and you can pull unsampled reports to obtain accurate data all day long if you want to.

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User Research & Usability Testing Should Be At the Core Of Your Design Process, Not Something You Add At The End

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I didn’t realize how fortunate I am to work at a company whose core focus is on UX, until I went to an awesome conference (ConvergeSE) and ran into a few UX pros who expressed frustration about a problem they were running into that completely blew my mind. In their organizations they were having issues getting their teams to allow them to do usability testing and user research at the beginning of, and during the design and development stages.

I was kind of shocked. They said their organizations were basically forcing them to do their testing at the end of the process, when the entire release was “complete.” When they uncovered major usability issues, they were told those would be integrated into the next release.

What the heck is going on?! The whole point of usability testing and user research is to ensure that your product will be usable and improve your users’ experiences! Why release a garbage version, when you could release a great one to start with if you just integrated UX research into the core of your design process?

Rather than wasting weeks or months of work on a garbage release, just do the usability testing and user research up front, and do it right the first time! Spending all of your dev hours fixing a jacked up version, rather than spending that time working on innovative NEW ideas, seems completely counter intuitive.

If you’re in one of these organizations, and you’re given push back in the form of, “But we can’t afford to do usability  testing and user research,” there are some mega cheap remote testing tools available these days. (I’m looking at you SolidifyApp!) A $19 buck a month subscription and a couple hours per week of dedicated testing time could save your company massive cash in wasted dev hours. Dollar signs talk! Just saying, 😉

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