10 UX Tools I Couldn’t Live Without: Oct 2014 Version

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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 = Magical).

Silverback App – Mac usability testing.

Trello – Organize all the things.

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.

Bonus Tool:

Spotify – Great music gets the creative juices flowing!

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


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.

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


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.

Stop Asking Your Users To Explain Themselves! (User Research Magic)


“Jennifer Marie Aldrich, what were you thinking?! Explain yourself!”

This is the line I hear in my head in my mother’s ANGRY voice (she is the sweetest person ever, so usually whatever I did deserved the angry tone) every single time I see an open ended comment box on a survey with the heading “Explain.”  I’m immediately shot into a zone of feeling defensive, like I’ve done something wrong and need to defend my honor. The feeling is not warm and fuzzy, it makes me feel borderline offended. “Here I am trying to give you feedback and you’re asking me to EXPLAIN myself? Forget this.” Then I close the browser.

On the other hand, when a company does a good job rewording the “Explain” question type, I have a completely different reaction. The question, “What kind of change would you make?” makes me feel like they genuinely care about my feedback, and like they’re really listening,  which makes me more likely to give detailed in depth feedback.

Weird right? At first I thought it was just me, then I tried a little experiment. When conducting our latest Pareto Principle based remote user research study, we asked the question, “What kind of change would you make to the product area you identified?” rather than just going with “Explain.” What we were looking for was for the users to give us more detailed information so that we could uncover the specific problems they were facing with the current solution.

Any guesses on the completion rate for feedback when when I worded it the warm fuzzy way?  No? 100 freaking percent! How crazy is that!? Every SINGLE respondent gave us a big old paragraph of feedback, and several of them thanked us for asking, and for being so in tune with our users needs! I mean, I have the best users in the world, but I almost fell down when I saw the difference in completion rate!

So the moral of this story is, don’t ask your users to “explain themselves” when you’re conducting user research. Ask them how they would change things to uncover the underlying, deeper issues they’re encountering. It’s kind of magical, you’ll end up with amazing data, and happier users who feel well taken care of!


User Research Doesn’t = Instant Designs, It Identifies Problems Your Designs Can Solve!


I read the WEIRDEST article today. Some miscellaneous guy was rambling on about how he is anti user research and usability testing because of the quote that may or may not (no can can seem to verify) have been said by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

I got more and more irritated the longer I read the article, and by the end wanted to grab a megaphone and scream in the guy’s face, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND USER RESEARCH!”

Let me elaborate.

When conducting user research you need to talk to your users to find out what their problem areas are. User research is an incredible way to gain insight into what your clients need, and where your product pain points are, but you have to ask the RIGHT QUESTIONS. You can’t just ask, “What do you want me to make for you next?” If that’s how you’re conducting user research, you’re doing it wrong. User Research and Usability Testing are the core of UX design, but they’re steps that lead the design process; they aren’t the entire process itself.

You need to ask what kinds of problems your users are facing, so that you can bring that information back to your design team to brainstorm ways you can help SOLVE those problems. Every design we work on, the first thing my VP says during a brainstorming meeting is, “Which user problem are we trying to solve here?” We focus on coming up with the best solution to the problem and weave it into a killer product or feature.

Could we ask, “What do you want us to make you next?” Absolutely, our clients would tell us. We could build exactly what each client asks for, but we’d end up with a bunch of similar yet slightly different features, since user needs vary greatly. By asking about the problems our clients face, we are able to identify trends in the market. “Look, 75% of the clients we interviewed are facing a similar problem, lets design a solution to address it!” Boom. Happy clients, designers with the freedom to come up with innovative solutions, and fab product results.

I’m not saying that you can’t ask clients what they want, and then make enhancements based directly on that feedback. The clients are the ones using the product day in and day out, they know when something isn’t usable. I’m saying that if you ask your clients what they want you to change, you need to follow up with a question asking WHY they want it to change, to ensure that you’re not just putting a band-aid on something that needs a complete facelift.

In my opinion, Henry Ford (?) was correct in that user research is not a process of making users design their own solutions. Getting the feedback, “I want a faster horse,” means horses aren’t fast enough for the users. The problem is speed, user research = successful. Then you design a faster, innovative solution – the Model A, later the mega popular Model N, and even later the famous Model T.

So to the miscellaneous guy who is hating on User Research and Usability Testing I just want to say: User research is the key to ensuring that you’re designing useful products that will solve problems and make your users lives easier. It also helps ensure that you’re not designing an elegant solution that no one wants or needs. User research is NOT asking your clients to design your products for you, FYI. </rant> 🙂


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


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, 😉

Designers: No Matter What You Do, You Can’t Make Everyone Happy All The Time

So you launch your latest product or website enhancements, and you get a mixed bag of responses from your clients.

You slaved over your design for months, perfecting every detail.  You did tons of user research, and applied your findings to improve usability, but when you launch there are still people who complain, and hate it, and for a split second you feel that creeping frustration in the pit of your stomach. How is it possible that even with all of the killer improvements you made, people are still hating on your design?!

Here’s the thing. In life, in EVERY situation in life, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. It’s not humanly possible to please every single person in every single way. And, design trends come and go, what’s popular today won’t be popular 5 years from now, or a year from now, or even in 2 months in some cases.

So now you’re thinking, “Great I’ve set myself up for an totally unattainable goal, why even bother making all of these fabulous improvements?”

Why? Because we are innovators, a creative group of people who look at user problems and come up with solutions. We’re not going to sit back and let our products sink into outdated oblivion, we are PASSIONATE about our products! We live to make them the best they can be!

Instead of letting negative feedback get you down, view it as a stepping stone on the path to innovation. Absorb it, learn what you can from it, and then continue innovating and creating and bringing your products to life!

Like I said, you can’t make everyone happy all the time, but when you’re a designer, it sure is fun to try!

PS: This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Barry Briggs (@quiffboy) and Rick Threllfall (@rick_threfall) on Twitter today. Thanks for the stimulating conversation! 🙂

When Usability Testers Scream at You Silently


So recently I was standing in my new kitchen reaching for a drawer because I needed a spoon, and I said out loud, “Oh, duh, wrong drawer.” Then I realized that the wrongness was that the spoons were being stored in a drawer that didn’t make ANY sense from an ergonomic point of view. They were far away from the stove and the mixing bowls and every other thing that I would ever be using a mixing spoon for. So rather than continuing to feel stupid for reaching for the wrong drawer, I switched the drawers.

When I’m doing user research, I often come across this phenomenon. Users say things like, I couldn’t find the button, I expected it to be over here. And there are often trends in the feedback. The “expected it to be over here” location tends to be similar for groups of people, which means we’ve definitely “put our spoons in the wrong drawer”.

We had a design recently in which tester after tester gave the feedback, “I couldn’t find the button.” (It was on the far right hand side of the screen at the top.) We reran the test with an alternate group with the button still on the right but closer to the center of the screen, and not a single tester had any issue.

Sometimes when you do research, your users are speaking in code. They don’t jump up and down and scream “Change X right now, it’s ruining my experience with your product!” Instead, they frown and mutter, “Where the #$&% is that button?!” Sometimes, (often times) it’s what people DON’T mention in their feedback, that’s key. It’s the interaction they pause on, or the button they can’t find.  As a researcher it’s your job to really listen when your product UX speaks to you through your testers non verbal communications.

This is one of the reasons I love tools like UX recorder and Silverback. Facial expressions and pauses in click tracks are huge indicators of areas you need to work on, often more so than verbal or written feedback.

Have you ever had a tester struggle and curse their way through your usability test only to say, “That was so easy!” at the end? Always listen, but also watch and let yourself absorb what your testers are feeling while they experience your product to get a full picture of which areas you should focus on.

Some of the best UX pros I’ve met are avid people watchers, and folks with tons of empathy to spare, who really tune in when people are telling them things. They don’t just listen to what testers are saying, but observe their body language, and pay attention to whether or not emotions are hitting the eyes. They’re the ones who catch it when testers are screaming silently during a usability test.

Identifying the right areas to focus on can be tricky but if you really listen to what’s said as well as what isn’t said, you’ll create fabulous user experiences whether you’re working on button placements, interaction flows or where to place drawers full of spoons.

New to Usability Testing? You’re not alone!

You Are Not Alone!

I recently presented a user research method that I found particularly helpful at a tech conference, and at the start of the session I asked how many of the 60+ attendees had performed usability testing. A majority of the hands in the room went up. I then asked, “How many of you had usability testing listed as part of your original job description when you started your job?”

All but 2 hands went down.

2 out of 60+ people had expected to dive into usability testing. And that was when it hit me. I was not alone in my baptism by fire introduction to usability testing. I was standing in front of a room full of people who had been in the same boat I’d been in when I started!

How I Landed In Usability Testing Land

I was hired as a UX Editor and Content Strategist, with a primary focus on defining our product voice and tone through consistent screen copy & error messages, as well as editing wireframes to make sure that interactions flowed smoothly and in a way that would make sense to our user base. A fellow UX Editor specialized in usability testing, so I didn’t really dabble in it much in the beginning.

You’re Doing What Now?!

We had a pretty great system going until a few years ago, when she announced that she was leaving to fulfill her lifelong dream of starting a restaurant.

You Want Me To Test Who, With What?!

I had literally zero experience with usability testing, other than observing what she had done during a round of moderated testing in our office, which was both recorded and live broadcasted to our design and development teams in a conference room. (She rocked it and we got killer feedback.)

I would not be exaggerating if I said that I had a giant panic attack the moment that I realized that all of the companies usability testing needs were going to fall on me when she left, but I found it exciting at the same time! I’ve ALWAYS been a people watcher, and have a background in Psychology, so figuring out why people do the things they do and how to make their lives easier went from a hobby, to part of my job description!

My coworker gave me a great crash course in tools she had been using, pointed out the websites she’d found helpful, gave me a manilla folder full of test results and a zip file that contained her research results. And with that, I dove in. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive innovative VP and an equally amazing manager who helped me get my sea legs and introduced me to some awesome tools and tricks they’d come across as well, and then I was hooked.

Love It!!

I started scouring the web for the latest and greatest in testing tools and research methods, and haven’t stopped since, I can’t get enough! It’s almost an illness. I love testing all the things!

Don’t Get Overwhelmed!

For all of you out there who are just getting started, and you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, don’t despair! There are some great tools out there that make usability testing a breeze! I have a list of some of my favorites out at https://userexperiencerocks.wordpress.com/favoritetools. I hope you find them helpful!

A Few Articles To Get You Started

To get you started, I’ve written a couple posts about some of my favorite testing methods, recruiting methods, and tools. I hope you find these helpful as you begin your journey into the wonderful world of usability testing!

MailChimp and Survey Monkey: 2 Tools That Make Recruiting Remote Usability Testers Easy and Fun

SolidifyApp: Prototyping in Minutes

Card Sorting: How do I analyze all of this crazy data?!

UX and Design Tools That Will Improve Your Productivity

Mobile Usability Testing Tools

A Complete Moderated Mobile Usability Testing Solution

Pareto Principle Based User Research Methodology

In Closing: We Heart You And Welcome To Our Awesome UX Community!

You are NOT alone! You’re surrounded by an amazing, supportive UX community! Get on Twitter and search for UX, and start following the folks that pop up in your search results! Some of the coolest tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years have come from articles I’ve seen posted by other UX pros on Twitter!

With that I’ll leave you with the wise words of Steve Krug: “Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.

Now get out there and start making the world a better more usable place! 🙂