d.Construct: Jeff Veen – Designing the complete user experience

People who were on the web in the mid-90s were producing the web and so understood it. Now, most people who use the web don’t create websites so they don’t understand the technical issues and have very little interest in decoding interfaces that don’t meet their expectations.

When people can’t find information, they blame themselves and don’t think that it might not be their fault. Lots of companies have data that they are willing to tell customers, but which customers can’t actually access via the web. Yet customers assume that if they can’t find something, that they must be looking in the wrong place.

Venn diagram:
1. Viability: is there a business case for having this website?
2. Feasibility: is it even possible to build it?
3. Desirability: do people want it?

Napster was example of site with tremendous desirability; had the technology; but financially was a nightmare. These three things not in balance with Napster.

But the iPod is. Tech is right, business is right, desirability is right.

How can we use this on the web?

Usability is a balance between following the rules and ignoring the rules. Some sites break all the usability rules (such as those created by Jacob Nilsen), but are still successful. But simply following rules without understanding them just gives the illusion of competence.

We have many best practices, but too early to have a solid rule set for web design. There is no ‘One True Way’ or ‘Four Step Process’. Twelve years is a drop in the bucket and we should avoid the arrogance of ‘we know all this now’.

User centred design is about experience, not about making pages pretty. Doesn’t matter what it is that you’re trying to achieve.

Experience is based on users trying to accomplish goals and our stuff (whatever it is) getting in the way. So we need to enable that cycle of people getting stuff done. Solve that by looking for the patterns in our stuff that enable people to get stuff done.

Get a pile of stuff, look for the patterns which turn stuff into an experience, which through labelling turns into navigation that is intuitive to users.

But not all users have the same goal. A good designer lets all users access all stuff in any way that makes sense to them. But this is not easy.

Classifications differ, the way people classify the world is different.

Globalisation – needs to be in several languages, hard if you have no budget. And it’s not just internationalisation but localisation, so content specific to the region.

Accessibility issues are big.

Design suffers from jargon. Marketing often come up with weird jargon, and whilst there is no reasons for people to use identical nomenclature, unnecessary jargon gets in the way.

Politics get in the way, when the site reflects the internal org chart. Companies end up with silos, with no communication between, but that makes it into the website so that the sections have no cross-fertilisation, and a different user experience in each section. Does a disservice to the users.

Extensible. Amazon added a tab at the top of the page every time they added a new business area, but that is not scalable. They had to find another way to do navigation in order for their site to remain usable.

We don’t know what else is going on in the user’s life. We make assumptions about their experience which are usually wrong. People multitask and get distracted. So you have to have a sense of overall context, so have to do user research.

There is the top-down, understanding what people are trying to do;
– interview or observer users
– develop mental models
– match goals to features

And bottom-up:
– inventory what you have
– evaluate content and features
– organise with librarianship
– let users participate

Hard to figure out what people want unless we talk to them.

At Google Analytics, what do people do to figure out how successful their website is? Interviewed some people, had it transcribed, and then tried to figure out what people would do. Would write each bit on a post-it and try to group it, and tried to match stuff that people were saying with the stuff that Google had. Derived an architecture from that, and hopefully provide users with an intuitive experience.

Mental model. Try to work out what was going on in people’s minds when they do their work, (tasks), and then what the software does, (features).

Mind the gaps. Where isn’t there stuff? Look for tasks that don’t map to features you have, or tasks with no features. Good prioritisation plan.

Why? Helps you eliminate a lot of possibilities for your design early. Helps you narrow down the design so that it is what people want. Early on, easy to change your mind, later on the cost of changing your mind rises dramatically. This helps to convince people that, up front, they need to spend money to talk to people.

Jeff‘s presentation is up online.