Essential User Experience Skills

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These slides are from the STC Atlanta ( workshop on usability. We spent the day teaching technical communicators about usability and walked them through a mock usability test. The …

These slides are from the STC Atlanta ( workshop on usability. We spent the day teaching technical communicators about usability and walked them through a mock usability test. The workshop was hosted by User Insight (

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  • 1. Essential UX Skills forTechnical CommunicatorsNovember 14, 2009
    Mark Richman
    Information architect
    Yina Li
    Technical Writer
    Horizon Software
    Rachel Peters
    Technical Writer
    Aon eSolutions
    Will Sansbury
    UX architectSilverpop Systems
  • 2. Thanks to User Insightfor hosting us today!
    Tweet your
    appreciation to
  • 3. Agenda
    All times –ish. And we’ll throw in a potty break or two if you’re well behaved.
  • 4. Heuristic EvaluationThat’s a $2 phrase for “expert review.”
    Mark Richman
  • 5. What’s a heuristic evaluation?
    A quick-and-dirty usability technique, this is a big-money term for an 'expert review' of a website or application using a set of guidelines or 'heuristics'.
    Heuristic evaluation involves having a small set of evaluators examine the interface and judge its compliance with recognized usability principles (the "heuristics").
    JakobNeilsen and Rolf Moloch created this technique in 1990…
    Using a fixed list of heuristics keeps the evaluator on track. Some evaluators have their own sets of heuristics.
  • 6. Neilsenand Molich's Heuristics (1990)Neilsen now offers an updated set of heuristics
    Visibility of system status: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
    Match between system and the real world: The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
    User control and freedom: Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
    Consistency and standards: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
    Error prevention: Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
    Recognition rather than recall: Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
    Flexibility and efficiency of use: Accelerators -- unseen by the novice user -- may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
    Aesthetic and minimalist design: Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
    Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors: Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
    Help and documentation: Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.
    Some Others
    Don't force user to make precise actions
    Direct attention properly
    Consistent use of color or saturation
    For this list and another well-regarded list of heuristics visit:
    Or search on “ heuristics”
  • 7. Our Task
    Several group members evaluated four sites with content similar to STC
    We each took different approaches to our evaluations
    Here: summarize different approaches and also the results
  • 8. Heuristic Evaluations:Value and Caveats
    Heuristics are mental shortcuts or assumptions that help us quickly make sense of the world.
    How does it work? The expert uses your software product and looks for violations of the guidelines. For instance, hundreds of ad-packed pages would fail the heuristic ‘Aesthetic and Minimalist Design’.
    Does it work? Yes and no.
    Appraisers will differ in the usability problems they find
    Evaluators may have trouble uncovering domain-specific issues.
    Tests have shown that up to 50% of problems identified don’t actually affect the product’s usability
    Why use it?
    Great way to quickly and cheaply point out serious usability issues
    Use it early in the design process to uncover some blatant problems
    Know that usability testing may uncover additional issues
  • 9. Perform a Quick Evaluationof
    Some Heuristics that might be useful:
    Aesthetic and minimalist design: Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with others and diminishes their relative visibility.
    Direct attention properly
    Consistent use of color or saturation
    Consistency and standards
    Display data in a clear and obvious manner
    Error prevention
  • 10. Sites We Evaluated
    Sample Heuristic Evaluations
  • 11. 11
  • 12. 12
  • 13.
  • 14. 14
  • 15. Strategies
    Two evaluators browsed page by page through the sites, looking for usability problems and violations of the heuristics.
    One evaluator performed a representative task on two similar websites and used that task to focus her evaluation.
    Takeaway: There is no right or wrong strategy, but performing a task can make your evaluation deeper and more meaningful
    Don't focus on the task exclusively, but use it to add richness to your evaluation of the complete site.
  • 16. Technology Association of Georgia
  • 17. Technology Association of GeorgiaText evaluation
    The layout of the home page is very busy. Many colors are used on this page. Along with the fast changing slides, there is no clear focus.
    The top navigation is clear. However the quick links under the TAG TV are hard to notice.
    The member login is placed at an easy to find, traditional location.
    The search box under the member login is not in its usual place and could be missed by novice users.
    The slideshow changes too fast but it does offer the audience the information about events at a glance.
    The home page contains so much information that the user can't get a quick overview of the site.
  • 18. Technology Association of GeorgiaAdding a picture clarifies the text
    Layout is very busy and contains many colors. There is no clear focus.
    The top navigation is clear but the quick links under the TAG TV are hard to notice.
    The member login is placed at an easy to find, traditional location.
    The search box under the member login is not in a usual place and could be missed
    The slideshow changes too fast but it does offer the audience event information.
  • 19. Technology Association of GeorgiaNavigation
  • 20. Technology Association of GeorgiaEvaluation using callouts
  • 21. Technology Association of Georgia Callout Format: Page Content and Layout
  • 22. Technology Association of GeorgiaSummary
    Site has great content and oozes professionalism.
    However a lot of strongly emphasized content competes for the user's attention. This is seen in the red, underlined links, large colored areas, and vibrant logos
    Some web conventions are not followed, adding to the difficulty of finding items on a crowded page
  • 23. Information Architecture Institute
  • 24. Information Architecture InstituteCategories and Navigation
  • 25. Information Architecture InstituteDirecting Attention
  • 26. Spotlight: Comparing Header Types
    Headers at IAI
    Typical headers
  • 27. Information Architecture InstitutePage Content and Accessibility
  • 28. Information Architecture InstituteSummary
    Clear hierarchy, directs attention effectively
    Navigation and headers are clear without taking emphasis away from the content
    A lot of content without being distracting
  • 29. STC Intermountain Chapter
  • 30. STC Intermountain Chapter Text with Pictures and Callouts
  • 31. STC Intermountain Chapter Finding the Next Meeting
  • 32. STC Intermountain ChapterSummary of Findings
    Consider: Top findings might be the first item in each section.
  • 33. STC Washington DC Chapter
  • 34. STC Washington DC ChapterAdditional Recommendations
  • 35. Heuristic Evaluation Tips
    Pictures are invaluable to add context to the evaluation
    You may do a narrative or a page-by-page evaluation.
    Narratives express findings in a conversational manner, but are not be easy to scan. To counteract this, use bullet points.
    Callouts are great but care should be taken to keep them neat
    Align them if possible
    Keep them roughly the same size
    Don't be Negative Norman – call attention to good design and practice in the existing system. The customer will appreciate that you respond to her good ideas.
  • 36. Card SortingSomething for the office supply fetishists.
    Rachel Peters
  • 37. What is card sorting?
    Image by cannedtuna -
  • 38. What aisle is hot dog chili on?
  • 39. With the hot dog buns?
  • 40. Chili’s kind of like a soup…
  • 41. Chili has beans…
  • 42. Nah, that’s too easy!
  • 43. Is hot dog chili a condiment?
  • 44. Card Sort Activity
    Finding a place for everything
  • 45. Card Sort Instructions
    How would you organize the STC Atlanta site?
    Group the cards into categories.
    Is something missing? Use a blank card to add it.
    Something doesn’t belong? Put the card aside.
    Card belongs in more than one group? Be creative.
    Label the categories
    Use a blank card to name each category.
    Category names are up to you.
  • 46. Now What?
    Look for trends in the results
  • 47. Open vs. Closed Sort
    No set category labels
    Good for exploratory research
    Helps you understand how the users arrange the information
    Set category labels provided
    Good for testing existing structures (navigation, table of contents, etc.)
  • 48. A Few Notes
    Not Tarot cards
    Use card sorts to help with decision making
    Don’t let the cards decide for you
    Remote testing options
    OptimalSort -
    WebSort -
    More tools listed at
  • 49. For More Information
    Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories
    Donna Spencer
    Available from Rosenfeld Media:
  • 50. Just for funHow a grocery store is like a web site
    A visit to Publix
  • 51. Home Page
  • 52. Feature Product or Article
  • 53. Ads
  • 54. Pop Up Ads!
  • 55. Checkout
  • 56. Usability TestingNo creepy two-way mirrors required.
    Yina Li Will Sansbury
  • 57. What is usability testing?
    Image by eekim -
  • 58. What is usability testing?
    Small scale; usually stop seeing significant new findings after 5 to 7 tests
    Loose, forgiving method
    Analysis based on observations
    Relatively cheap and easy to execute
    Large scale; requires large enough sample of users to statistically validate findings
    Stresses rigorous scientific method
    Analysis based on crunching numbers
    Expensive in time and money
  • 59. Planning and Preparing a Usability Test
    Yina Li
  • 60. Planning a usability test
    Image by Experimental:DB :
  • 61. Goals
  • 62. Focus
  • 63. Focus
  • 64. User Profiles
  • 65. Deliverables
    Consent form
    Pre-test questionnaire
    Post-task questionnaire
    Post-test questionnaire
    Facilitator script
    Test plan
  • 66. Types of scenarios
    First impression
    Open-ended tasks
    e.g. join STC on this site.
    e.g. find information about the next chapter meeting
    Nielsen Norman Group Usability In Practice: 3-Day Camp 2008
  • 67. How to create unbiased scenarios/tasks?
    Avoid lingo used in the testing product
    Do NOT provide instructions or steps
  • 68. Anything else?
    How many tasks should I prepare?
    35-40 minutes
    What sequence of the tasks should I use?
    Easy on the first task
    Prioritize the tasks
    Prepare extra tasks
    RUN a pilot test
  • 69. Fun time
    Write the two tasks for the STC website usability test.
  • 70. How to recruit test participants?
  • 71. User profiles / Personas
  • 72. How to recruit test participants?
    How many participants?
    5 (
    20 (
    Should I recruit the participants?
    Where to start?
    Client relations
    Account executives
    Customer support
  • 73. Creating a screener
    What is a screener?
    Sequence of questions
    Sample questions
    What’s the last time you booked a hotel room online?
    How many hours do you spend on internet per week?
    What is your household income? Give a range.
    What is your profession?
    What company do you work for?
  • 74. Incentives
    Type of incentives
    Gift cards
    Software or product the company makes
    How much
    It depends…
  • 75. It’s time to call
    Not a sales call
    Your opinion will help improve the product
    Your time will be paid and how much
    How long the test will be, where, and when
    We will video and/or audio tape the session
    Still interested? Now ask the questions in screener.
    Nielsen Norman Group Usability In Practice: 3-Day Camp 2008
  • 76. It’s almost the testing day
    Call to confirm
    Send the following information:
    Testing time
    Parking info
    Driving direction
    Contact information
  • 77. Facilitating Usability Tests &Analyzing Usability Findings
    Will Sansbury
  • 78. Brief your observation team.
    Image by llawliet -
  • 79. Observation Team Ground Rules
    Focus on observation
    Limit side conversations
    Take good notes
    Don’t jump to solutions
    Keep your frustration in check
    Trust the facilitator’s judgment
  • 80. Observation Team Ground Rules
    NEVER tear down the user!
    As facilitator, defend the user’sdignity above all else.
    (Seriously. I’ve kicked people out of the observation room before.)
  • 81. Embrace multiple personalities.
    Flight attendant
    Keep participants happy
    Protect the participant’s safety and dignity
    Keep the observation team engaged with play-by-play
    Conduct sidelines interviews between sessions
    Plan and execute the test
    Analyze the test results
    From Carolyn Snider’s Paper Prototyping
  • 82. Make the participant feel comfortable.
    Image by Tom Purves -
  • 83. Start when you confirm the test date.
    Avoid email
    Give them a choice of times
    Charm with chit chat
    “Do you go by Thomas or Tom?”
    “Your office is in the Highlands? My favorite restaurant is down there.”
    Absorb ALL the pain
    Image from stock.xchng –
  • 84. Make sure they can find you.
    Image from stock.xchng –
  • 85. Be the host(ess) with the most(est).
    Image by Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake -
  • 86. (Just don’t be freaky.)
    Image by Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake -
  • 87. Help them know what to expect.
    Explain the test procedure
    Stress the importance of thinking out loud
    Obtain signed informed consent form
  • 88. Make sure they understand that…
    You’re testing the product, not them.
    When they’re struggling, you’re learning.
    If they’re frustrated or have questions, they canask you for help.Set up a faux helpdesk phone number to ring the observation room.
    Thinking out loud is critical. Affirm what they’re doing, but repeat the importancebefore each scenario.
  • 89. Run the test.
    Image from stock.xchng –
  • 90. Run the test.
    Provide the participant with written scenarios. You can give scenario instructions verbally, but written instructions can tell a more compelling story.
    Ask them to read the scenario aloud.Primes the pump for thinking out loud.
    After they finish the scenario, administer a survey.Some standard surveys exist, and tools like Morae include them.
    Rinse and repeat for each scenario.
  • 91. Meanwhile, in the observation room...
    Image by Ken Lund –
  • 92. Meanwhile, in the observation room...
    Log interesting observations.Track time of each so that you can correlate notes with the video.
    As you see usability issues, point them out to the observation team.You’ll have a common ground to start analysis discussions.
    Pay attention to nonverbal cues, too.Look for odd mousing behaviors, facial expressions, andsounds of frustration.
  • 93. Add it all up.
    Image by stuartpilbrow –
  • 94. Analyze the test findings.
    Run analysis in two stages
    Immediately after a test session, have each observer write down the issues they observed.
    After all sessions, review all observations.
    Transfer each observation from each session on to an index card or sticky note.
    Once all issues are recorded, post them on a wall.
    Read through each, and group similar items.
    Look for high density areas which indicate issues observed often across multiple test sessions.
  • 95. Communicate findings to decision makers.
    Formal report
    Assign priority to findings and present highest firstBe careful to not dilute report with too many findings
    Include stills from videos to illustrate findings
    Brief profiles of test participants and actual quotes from tests foster empathy for the user
    Highlights reels of videos go a long way with executives
    Informal reports
    If you’re agile, generate user stories directly from the final analysis session
    Capture findings on wiki, intranet, or other shared resource
    Just write it down somewhere! Don’t let findings be forgotten.
  • 96. Let’s eat!We’ll answer questions, too…
    …if you don’t mind us talking with our mouths full.
  • 97. Mock Usability TestSome participants may be professional actors.