My Favourite UX Tool

April 25, 2013

ImageUX work often involves a number of tools. More and more tools become available to support UX methods and processes. Which should I use?

An upcoming event organised by UXPA Ireland shows which tools practitioners like and why.

Thursday, May 16, 7pm in the Engine Yard, Dublin.

The event is free, register for My Favourite UX Tool.

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Reflecting on Eye-tracking

December 10, 2012

We have used eye-tracking in most of our studies in NELL. Some data are really interesting, in other projects we didn’t learn as much. Why is that? Here are some ideas what to watch out for when planning an eye-tracking study.

  • Eye-tracking data needs to be combined with other data sources. We found that in many cases the eye-tracking data could be interpreted in a meaningful way only when looking at interview responses of that person at the same time. Unless tasks are short, unambiguous and deterministic, the observed gaze behaviour may have a variety of reasons.
  • Eye-tracking helps to improve design. Did users look at that image? How long did it take them to notice the button? What attracted their attention first? These are questions that eye-tracking can answer and that may inform design decisions.
  • Eye-tracking may be more effective in later stages of the design process. Once you have a full mock-up quantitative analysis of gaze behaviour, heatmaps, etc. can be very informative. In contrast, wireframes or other early prototypes are probably better evaluated with qualitative feedback. For example, we explored which type of information learners would use when looking for help from a peer. We created three different mock-ups of the PeerFinder component and compared both the eye-tracking results as well as their preferences.
scanpath of PeerFinder

scanpath of PeerFinder, a component developed for a Learning Management System

After all, User Experience is really all about selecting the right methods at the right time for the given target group and given tasks. I frequently tell my students that they have to be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a method in a given situation. Eye-tracking is one of many data collection methods. It may be used in a number of different ways.

This blog gives a good overview of the advantages and disadvantages of eye-tracking: The eye is the mirror to the soul? What does eye-tracking research tell us?

Your Mum is a Persona

November 2, 2012

Just came across this funny piece: 15 Signs You Work in UX. It’s a great way to reveal some of the stereotypes as well as true values of the UX profession.

I guess, it’s not as funny if you are not deeply involved, but some of the signs made me laugh out loud. My favourite is: “Your mum is a persona.” While I never used her photo in any personas and have no intention to do so, I admit that I have referred to “people like my mum” numerous times when explaining the shortcomings of a particular interface. And I am surely not the only one to do so.

Btw., we are thinking of getting her a tablet for Christmas, but please don’t tell her. I am keen to see how she is going to explore the new interface (orientation phase), how long it will take her to send an email (learnability) and whether we have to show her how to switch it on a week later again (memorability). Sign number 16: “Your mum is a study participant.”

User Experience Professionals' AssociationUXPA Ireland is the Irish chapter of the User Experience Professionals’ Association. The UXPA promotes collaboration and excellence in UX and supports individuals who are involved in the research, design, and evaluation of user experiences. We plan to organise a number of talks and workshops on hot topics, maybe a job fair and other activities that are useful for UX professionals.

The official launch of UXPA Ireland will take place on November 8, 2012.

Our guest speaker will be Tom Tullis, author of Measuring the User Experience and Beyond the Usability Lab. Tom is Adjunct Professor at Bentley University and VP of User Experience Research at Fidelity Investments.

Join us for some refreshments on November 8, 2012. The event is free, but we would ask you to register. If you can’t make it, sign up for our mailing list to keep informed.

Tracked Down

May 4, 2012

Being involved in research on user modeling and adaptive systems, I know a bit about the techniques of identifying users and tracking user behaviour. At this point most people will be aware that some websites set so called http cookies through which your browser can be re-identified and information can be stored for future sessions. There are many scenarios where these cookies come in very handy: forms may be pre-filled with the data you inserted the last time, settings or other personalisations may persist across sessions. So when I go and book a flight with Aerlingus, Dublin will be selected as my home airport, before I ever log in. I don’t think they have ever asked me explicitly whether I want to store this information, but their website has left this little textfile with my browser with “homeAirport: DUB” in it. I don’t really mind and find it convenient.

However, it gets more tricky when my behaviour is tracked across websites. Some websites will set third-party cookies (unless you block them from doing so). This means a third party (usually involved in ad serving) will be able to see that I visited both site A and site B.

As I said, I was aware of that fact anyway and even deleted certain cookies from my system at times. However, I was not really aware of the extend of this cross site tracking until I came across this TED talk by the CEO of Mozilla Corporation Gary Kovacs. In this talk he introduces a Firefox add-on called Collusion which visualises the sites that track your behaviour. I installed it immediately and just half-an-hour and a couple of clicks later my Collusion looked like this:

Collusion Tracking cloud

Tracking the trackers. Collusion visualises tracking sites.

Each circle represents a website. I have actually visited those with with a halo, but the grey ones have set a cookie and “know” that I visited site connected sites. After this quick session, a website that I had never visited called turn.com (“we help you to make marketing decisions”) had seen me indirectly visiting about a third of all the pages I visited! At that point I decided it’s time to re-visit those privacy settings in my browser.

Gazing over your CV

April 23, 2012

Stephan Weibelzahl's LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn profile: Is your resume usability tested?

At first glance, this has nothing to do with e-Learning or UX, but I came across this study that illustrates what we can and cannot learn from eye-tracking. “Keeping an eye on recruiter behavior” explores what recruiters may focus on when browsing your CV. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that recruiters spent little time with each CV. On average, it took them just 6 seconds to read a resume. Accordingly, their main focus was on the key facts, i.e., name, current position, previous position and the respective dates. Other parts of the CV were merely scanned for keywords.

So, next time you write or revise your CV, think of it as a usability design task. What would make it as easy as possible for the user, i.e., the recruiter, to pick up the message you want to get across? How can you get them to read beyond the name of your previous company? In fact, I would argue that the same principles as for website design apply: strive for simplicity, use effective writing, use white space effectively, provide visual structure, highlight important information, avoid distracting graphics, etc.

Taking this idea even further, consider to do usability testing on your resume. Test early and test often. Remember, just five users will help to identify more than 80% of the issues.

The UX Factor

May 11, 2011

mandelbroitset-Pics4Learning

Pics4Learning Mandelbroitset

As we know, traditional usability testing (as detailed in ISO standards), allows us to look at how effective and efficient a system performs against defined usability tasks.  However, in recent years, we have seen this term expand to become ‘user experience (UX)’ which looks beyond the functional and technical aspects of testing to consider how the social environment or wider human experiences and emotions can impact on user engagement with a system (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 2006)

As technology is becoming more accessible and users more technologically sophisticated, we see that users are increasingly looking past the mere functionality of an application and seeking to engage in interactions that are not only usable but also offer a positive emotional experience.

But what does a positive emotional user experience mean? And how do we describe it?

The first definition I like is from Hassenzahl  and Tractinsky (2006) who consider UX as “a consequence of a user’s internal state (predispositions, expectations, needs, motivation, mood, etc.), the characteristics of the designed system (e.g. complexity, purpose, usability, functionality, etc.) and the context (or the environment) within which the interaction occurs (e.g. organisational/social setting, meaningfulness of the activity, voluntariness of use, etc.).”

McNamara and Kirakowski (2006) contend that engagement, pleasure, presence and fun have a huge impact on how users interact with a system.  They talk about investigating an individual’s personal experience of using technology and considering questions such as “how the person felt about the experience, what it meant to them, whether it was important to them, and whether it sat comfortably with their other values and goals.”

Beauregard et. al (2007) in their research to better understand a Quality User Experience propose a UX model that looks at user experience in terms of “Emotions, attitudes, thought and perceptions felt by users across usage lifestyle”.

And finally, coming back to Hassenzahl (2010)*  and my favorite description so far, when he talks about experience in terms of a Story “emerging from the dialogue of a person with her or his world through action”. He reminds us that this experience is “subjective, holistic, situated, dynamic, and worthwhile”.

So, while we may not yet have a complete definition or understanding of what constitutes a positive user experience,  the literature suggests that  much of the engagement is psychological in nature and dependant on the users’ attitudes, emotions and feelings.   Nor is it clear the extent these states vary dependent on the type of scenario the user is engaged with or indeed how they might change dependant on the user themselves.

As Oscar Wilde, another well-known UX expert, tells us ‘ the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”   

And though we may not know all the answers yet, asking questions is surely the first step on the road to understanding…

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 *** This is from M Hassenzahl’s featured chapter from the excellent new on-line resource Interaction-Design.org,   The mission of this group is “about the Democratization of Knowledge: That people from all the far corners of the world can get free access to world-class educational materials on HCI”

Spread the word on http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/

Reference List

Beauregard, R. Younkin, A. Corriveau, P.  Doherty, R. Salskoy, E. (2007). ‘Assessing the Quality of User Experience’, Intel Technology Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1,pp.77-87.

Harper, R ,Rodden T,  Rogers Y &Sellen, A. (eds.) (2008), Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020.Cambridge. Microsoft Research Ltd.

Hassenzahl, M. &Tractinsky, N.(2006), ‘User experience – a research agenda’, Behaviour & Information Technology, Vol. 25, No. 2, March-April 2006, pp. 91 – 97.

McNamara, N.&Kirakowski, J. (2006).‘Functionality, Usability, and User experience: Three areas of Concern’. Interactions, November-December, pp. 26-28.