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.

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.

You are lecturing in Higher Education. You are an expert in your subject and in how to teach that subject. But you are not a usability experts-of course not. Nevertheless, you are required to create course pages in your institution’s Virtual Learning Environment for your classes.

MoodleIf the above applies to you, then we have the solution for you. We developed a Style Guide for lecturers. It is intended as a support for lecturers when creating course pages in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Moodle or Blackboard. The Style Guide offers a series of solutions of typical problems that can occur when making online materials and learning activities available.

The Style Guide is meant to be a living document. If you have any suggestions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us or respond to this block post.

NAIRTLThe Style Guide was developed in the context of the How do you Moodle? project and was supported by a grant from the National Academy for Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (NAIRTL).

Just download the Style Guide and improve the learning experience of your students.

UX in the Cloud

UX in the Cloud

We are currently developing a new MSc in Cloud Computing. This is next big thing, I am told. It’s everywhere. Even this blog is in the Cloud if you like. There is quite a bit of confusion on what Cloud Computing really is. These days everyone wants to be in the Cloud  and so naturally people just interpret the term as suits. More often than not, people seem to confuse Cloud Computing with Software as a Service (SaaS). Sure, that’s an important aspect, but as far as I can see, changes on the software side are triggered by advances on the infrastructure and platform side. Hence, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). If this trend continues, we might have UX as a Service soon.

What does Cloud Computing mean for UX? Well, at first glance there is nothing new. In fact, the user in many cases doesn’t see whether an interface is cloud-based or not, and most of them frankly don’t care either. But before you turn away, have a closer look. Here are three trends that will have an impact on UX design and evaluation.

  • Thin clients: We have seen thin clients before and we will see many more of them. Whether it’s a virtual desktop or a chromebook. Thin clients come with a number of advantages for UX design: We don’t have to care as much about hardware configuration and maybe even software configuration.  Things are managed and updated centrally, the user can focus on the tasks at hand. But the thin client may (potentially) come with less computing power for say some graphical effects, real-time simulation or modelling.
  • Variety of devices: Even more so than now, we will access our data through an ever increasing variety of devices. Your laptop just ran out of power? Why don’t you use that plasma TV screen over there. Just login and you can continue working were you stopped. The idea is that it doesn’t matter any more where or how we access our working environment, you’ll get a comparable user experience on any device. Well as I said, that’s the idea. There is actually still quite a bit of research and development to do, before we get there. System metaphors that work on the desktop may not work on a mobile device. Layouts that work on the mobile device may be a waste in kiosk mode on a large screen.
  • Mash-ups: Already now, many websites provide much more than their own information. They combine existing services and information streams into a new offer. From a software development perspective it is quite straightforward now to stick in yet another news stream, search box, video, you name it. That’s great in terms of breaths of functionality, but bad in terms of consistency. UX designers need to take care that all components have the same look & feel, behave in the same way and support the overall structure of the site. A lot can be achieved by simple CSS, but if you cannot tweak the behaviour to make it conform with the rest of your site, I would recommend to leave it out.

None of the above is revolutionary. Nevertheless, the shift towards public and private clouds, mainly driven by cost considerations, will facilitate developments such as the above. This will bring new challenges for UX. Let’s make sure UX doesn’t end up out in the rain, but up in the cloud.

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.