Tag Archives: design

Life as a user experience designer

I started writing this post about 1.30am this morning when I couldn’t sleep. I had lots of thoughts running through my head so I wanted to clear my mind hoping that it would help me drift off to sleep.

Apparently I point out a lot of things that my friends and family don’t even think twice about. They say “Oh, you only noticed that because you’re a designer, nobody else would have thought that.” Here are some examples…

Example 1: Misleading affordances
Every time I go to a meeting on another floor at work (which is a lot) I have to push a button to unlock a door that leads to a staircase. The door in question has a handle and every time I try to open it I attempt to pull the handle and every time I get it wrong because despite the handle indicating that it’s a pull door it is in fact a trick and you actually have to push it. However when you want to come back in from the other side the handle is there again but this time you do need to pull it but I always try to push it because in my mind I’ve just learnt that the handle affordance is wrong and I should ignore it. It’s not just me, my colleagues do it too and we all say what a bad design it is.

Example 2: The unattainable plug socket
There was a plug socket in my hostel room in Chiang Mai last year that was approximately half way up the wall. It was the only socket in the room that I could reach (the other one was about a foot down from the ceiling and used to power the fan) and it was just ridiculous. The length of my charging cable was shorter than the distance from the floor to the socket so every time I wanted to charge something I would have to make a little tower out of my luggage to balance it on. I was travelling light with only a small backpack so this task involved a lot of careful stacking of objects on top of my bag only to realise afterwards that I needed something from my bag so I would have to disassemble it and start over again.

Example 3: Chaos in the deli
And lastly (for now) there’s this deli near where I used to work that had absolutely no system whatsoever that drove me so crazy that I had to stop going there as it made me so agitated I couldn’t enjoy my lunch. There were two counters but although you could order from both (wraps from one, hot food from another) you could only pay at one which meant that if you wanted something to order a wrap you first had to queue and order from the wrap counter and then you had to queue up all over again at the other counter to pay. It just didn’t make any sense. After paying you were given a piece of paper with a number but nobody told you what to do next or where to wait and nobody seemed to know what to do next or where to wait. Everyone would just look at each other and shrug their shoulders in confusion. Eventually somebody would shout your number from across the room and you had to make your way through the crowd to collect your lunch by which point I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

So there you go.

Although this post has basically been about some of the things that have irritated me in the past year I hope it doesn’t give the impression that I’m a negative person because quite the opposite is true. Every time I encounter something like this I think about what could be done to change the situation and improve usability. A small table or shelf placed underneath the socket, a simple “Push” sign on the door and a process that streamlines sandwich ordering, payment and collection – order here, collect there, lunch ready, happy customers. These things are all easy to resolve and I think that’s what bothers me the most about them.

Small changes, big improvements.

A positive customer experience served with a dash of milk

Harris + Hoole coffee cup

If you’ve read my blog before you might have noticed that I’m a huge fan of Foursquare for discovering new places and Tuesday afternoon was no different. I had just met a friend near London Bridge and I really fancied a coffee so I opened up Foursquare on my phone and searched for nearby coffee shops. I was looking for something new and spotted Harris + Hoole located just around the corner on Tooley Street and then saw a tip that said “Download the iPhone app for a free coffee”. Having just got back from three months travelling I am conscious of my spending so this sounded perfect!

I tapped on the website link in the tip and was greeted with a link to download either the iTunes or Google Play version of the H+H app (which was good because I’m an Android girl now!) and I installed the app. The first thing I saw was a welcome screen followed by a few more screens that gave me a quick intro to the app where I also discovered that I could choose pay with my mobile – things were just getting better and better!

Eager for my caffeine fix I happily went about setting up my profile and added a selfie from my photo library that would allow me to be recognised in store once I was checked in. I then selected and customised my favourite cup of coffee known within the app as “My Usual” which can then be used to automatically order your drink when you check in (flat white, medium sized, three shots, whole milk, standard temperature, no flavourings and certainly not decaf).

A selection of screens from the app

Screen views from the Harris + Hoole mobile app: Profile, coffee menu and loyalty card

Upon my arrival at H+H I was greeted by the two lovely ladies who were working there. Now, I probably should have mentioned that I was sitting right next to H+H in More London eating my lunch whilst I was setting up the app and being a little bit over excited I had already tapped the check in tick to see what would happen. It said I was checked in to the coffee shop and I could go ahead and redeem my free coffee. It was probably another 10 minutes or so before I actually made it inside and when I showed them my phone they said “Oh, there you are!”. Apparently I had flashed up on screen when I first checked in but at the time the shop had been full of men in suits none of whom matched my newly added profile pic! I explained that I worked in digital design and had a tendency to play around with things like this! My previous check in had expired so I checked in again and voilà “My Usual” was on its way.

We had a little chat about the app and the system and as the staff knew who I was they addressed by my first name. I was made to feel really welcome and, well, special as I was getting personalised service and a cup of coffee made just how like it.

The coffee itself was really great and it tasted so much better having just had a really good customer experience. This is the actual message that I sent to my friend as I was drinking my coffee which is basically a summary of this post:

“I just found a coffee shop on Tooley Street using foursquare, read a tip that said download their app for a free coffee, so I did and I created my profile and selected my fav coffee, customised exactly how you want, then I checked in when I got here and it ordered my coffee straightaway AND they all knew my name and welcomed me! How cool is that?!?!”

I went on to tell him that he should visit and sent him the link. I felt compelled to tell others about my good experience so they could experience it too.

The app also includes a map of H+H branches and a loyalty card which allows you to collect stamps and receive another free cup after six visits. Adding a payment card for future use was super easy and you can choose between manual or auto-top ups for convenience. The app is simple and not over loaded with unnecessary features. It knows what it is and it does it well.

So, if you want to do coffee sometime I know just the place!

UXPA UK February Event – Brand and Experience

Consistent = Trust

The February 2013 UXPA UK event was about the intersection of brand and experience design. Here is a short overview of the talks and a few thoughts on the subject.

User experience is at the heart of your brand
Kevin Keohane (@brandviolet) and Don Fogarty (@DonFog) from Brand Pie gave a talk titled ‘User experience is at the heart of your brand’. They began with some brand basics: be relevant (to the audience you want to engage with), be authentic (don’t say one thing and do another) and be differentiated (why should people chose your product over a competitor’s?). When working with clients they ask what’s your purpose, ambition, strategy and positioning? These questions apply to both internal and external facets of the company and they believe that strong, enduring brands align what they do with what they say and position themselves based on what they’re great at and not just on what’s happening in the market.

They then explained why they think that brand experience and user experience need to be one and the same thing and referenced a study published in the Journal od Applied Psychology that gave poor treatment as the number one reason why people leave brands (a whopping 73%). Customers who have memorable experiences with your brand are more likely to remain loyal, spend more money with you and recommend your brand to their friends. Conversely customers who have bad experiences will also share these with people in their network on a variety of channels.

“Create an experience that provides a memory that relates directly to your brands purpose, ambition, strategy and positioning” – Kevin Keohane and Don Fogarty

As Kevin and Don explained the prize is to become market leader but even leader brands can be knocked off the top if a nimble challenger brand comes along with a simple, usable, focused product that is backed up with a superior end-to-end customer experience connected across all touch points.

Brand is Interface
David Eveleigh-Evans (@eveleighevans) from Method spoke about the ways in which the nature of brand definition is evolving and adapting and how interaction design is shaping the experiences between people, technology and brands. He explained that interaction design is becoming ever more important in differentiating a brand and maintaining customer loyalty as product experience surpasses traditional marketing communications and advertising.

David explained that your brand is more than a logo, a typeface and a series of colours, your brand is your interface and the gap between brand promise and brand reality is determined by the truth of use. Being consistent and transparent creates trust and brand loyalty.

“A brand is not a product or a promise or a feeling. It’s the sum of all the experiences you have with a company” – David Eveleigh-Evans

Social networks provide brands with opportunities to join in the discussion on a much more personal level and they are also opening up new touch points for customer engagement and support (conversely they are also creating new outlets for your customers to talk about you). David explained that the challenge now for brands is to bridge the gap across all of these online and offline touch points.

Digital technology is bringing us closer to brands than ever before via mobile, desktop and offline channels. How can brands differentiate themselves in this ever-changing world?

Customer experience should be at the heart of everything you do. A user-centred design approach aligns business goals with the needs of customers across channels, devices and touch points. After all, customers who have a positive memorable experience are more likely to return. However, if you have a fantastic product but your online presence leaves your customers frustrated and unsatisfied then they may well start looking for alternatives.

RunKeeper – Be goal oriented


Climb a mountain and reach for the cake!

This is a great design for an empty state on the RunKeeper iPhone app before you have set yourself any goals.

Having neglected my RunKeeper app for a while (and running in general) I am back using it again and I’m rather enjoying the latest version of the app which is full of lovely little touches like this.

Empty states – parts of apps that have no content or data – are all too often neglected or left showing some unfriendly technical error messaging and I love it when the time and care is taken to address these views. Often you come across empty states in parts of an app or website that require your input or an action so they might contain an instruction or hint but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring.

Not only did I smile when I saw this but I also felt compelled to show it to somebody sitting next to me and then I did actually set myself a goal to run a distance of five miles by Sunday. Hmmm, I’m beginning to regret that now!

Take a look at some more examples on the Empty States tumblr.

dConstruct 2012 – Playing With The Future


“The future hasn’t happened yet and never will” – James Burke

I went to UX Brighton today which reminded me to post one of my favourite quotes from James Burke’s dConstruct 2012 talk ‘Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll’.

Anyway, back to the future (I couldn’t resist!). No matter what we predict, the reality won’t be exactly the same when we get there. How can it be? The future is shaped by the past and inevitably there are unexpected twists and turns along the way that change the future before it happens.

The future won’t be what it used to be.

Or something like that… it’s getting quite late and it’s been a long week!

The image used in this post is from Seb Lee-Delisle’s session: Pixels, People and Play. Seb never fails to impress and this year was no exception as we were treated to PixelPyros and we had a whole lot of fun with glow-sticks!

UK UPA – Designing For Engagement Workshop


This is shockingly late but I’m finally posting my notes from the UK UPA Designing For Engagement workshop that was held a very long ago (Monday 23rd April to be exact) with Susan Weinschenk AKA ‘The Brain Lady’.

During the evening Susan shared with us some insights from psychology research and we looked at some of the ways in which this research could help us design more engaging and persuasive websites and online interfaces.

I attended the Cognitive Psychology UX Bootcamp with Joe Leech earlier in the year (more about that another time) and this workshop followed on nicely from that.

Here’s a short summary of the points discussed:

  1. The Fusiform Facial area (FFA) makes us pay attention to human faces – We are programmed to recognise faces from as little as six hours old! The most attention grabbing facial images are those of people looking straight at you. Avoid juxtaposing two different faces because our brains don’t like it. Straight on, symmetrical, eye contact.
  2. People can remember/deal with only 3-4 items at any one time – Forget Miller’s Law of 7±2. People can only hold 3-4 items in their working memory at any one time. They may go back and select another batch of items to review but they can only really focus on 3-4 at once. Susan then went on to talk about choice. People like having choice but if you give people too many choices, they’re more likely too not choose anything at all. As American psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, although we have more choice now than ever before we are not benefitting psychologically as everyday decisions have been made increasingly complex which could be having a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing.
  3. People have mental models – User research allows us to understand people’s mental models of how things work (or should work). Designers can then use this insight and design in a way that supports these.
  4. When uncertain, people look at the behaviour of others to decide what to do – Testimonials, recommendations, how many times a video clip has been played and Amazon’s ‘What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?’ are all examples of social validation and herd behaviour. In turn they can influence behaviour.
  5. SEX… Now that I’ve got your attention, carry on reading! Food, sex and danger grab attention – Fear of loss results in anticipation of gain. Scarcity can drive value upwards as people are more motivated to make a purchase or act quickly if they believe that they might miss out.
  6. Video is the engaging media – Video on websites is particularly compelling and movement captures attention. Research shows that we are hard-wired to imitate and emphasise and video can be an effective medium to encourage this.
  7. People are motivated to connect – Dunbar’s number (proposed by Professor Robin Dunbar in 1992) is a theoretical limit of stable social relationships that one person can maintain at any one time. There is no exact number cited but it is esitmated to be approximately 150.
  8. Beauty is in the eye of the unconscious – Our brains crave unpredictability but Susan explained that if things get a bit too crazy the “old brain” kicks in and says “enough, give me some order here!”. Apparently we like unbalanced column widths and uneven numbers (personally I like a bit of order!).
  9. The brain processes information best in story format – Personal stories, quotes and anecdotes invoke empathy and trigger emotional reactions that help people process data and make decisions. Real people telling real stories.
  10. People expect technology to follow human-to-human interaction rules – Susan joked that having a 60 second loading bar on a website is like ignoring somebody for a minute! Write as if you are talking, use real and meaningful sentences and think about your micro-interactions including error messages and labels. Be friendly (but not creepy!).

Following Susan’s talk we split into small teams and set about reviewing and redesigning some example website pages in need of some TLC based on everything that we had discussed. The image used for this post is the sketch that our group did of a redesign of a university application page.

You can watch a video of the presentation any time you like.

UK UPA – Profiling the Perfect UX Practitioner


On Thursday, 19 July I attended the UK UPA event ‘Profiling the Perfect UX Practitioner‘. Sitting on the panel were Aline Baeck, Andy Budd, Stavros Garzonis and Jason Mesut. The evening began with each speaker sharing their views on what makes a perfect UX practitioner and ended with a Q&A session that sparked further discussion about portfolios, mentorship and design education.

So, what is a perfect UX practitioner? Well, in short, there isn’t one. We UX folk come from many different backgrounds and have different qualities and different experiences. Job roles and responsibilities vary between companies and the environment and culture that we work in affects what we do and how we do it. This makes it hard to define the skillset that every UX practitioner should have. But that’s OK.

During the evening there was a lot of talk about soft skills outweighing the hard skills and this pleased me. The ability to empathise, build relationships and communicate with colleagues, clients and users is a must. Being able to think conceptually and having listening and reasoning skills is also extremely valuable. And there were plenty more skills mentioned. I was pleased to hear so much value placed on these soft skills as I myself do not have any formal qualifications in UX (I have a degree in Graphic Design) but I do believe that I have something worthwhile to contribute and I am the first person to admit that I have a lot to learn.

Rather than finding that one ‘perfect UX practitioner’ it makes a lot of sense to build up a team so that a variety of skills are available to help tackle design problems from all sides. This also provides opportunities for mentorship and for people to learn from each other and to develop.

So, to conclude (for now), we are all making stuff that people use and being able to do that well comes from experience. Do we need formal qualifications in order to ‘do UX’? No, not really. Would formal qualifications make it easier to identify a good practitioner from a bad one? No, not necessarily.

Above all, have a passion for what you do and show it. Build up your experience and your confidence will follow. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches and use whichever tools are suitable for the task in hand. Instinct is important and mistakes are inevitable. Learn from them and move forward.