All posts tagged usability

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The Ten Commandments Of User Experience

Nice presentation from Nick Finck, Director of UX at Blue Flavor, about the 10 major principals of User Experience. Check out Nicks blog at

  1. The user is always right
  2. Understand the user
  3. Avoid solutioneering
  4. Form follows function
  5. Content is king
  6. Innovate, do not imitate
  7. Access is for everyone
  8. Plan before you design
  9. Understand the goal
  10. Learn from failure

15 Principles of successful web apps

Please note the last 5 principals have been cribbed from ‘Shortboredsurfer and great principals they are too. It’s not my intention to claim them as my own, just compile them with the others I collected to provide a list I think is the most useful.

The following functional principals, along with the measurements of Usefulness, Findability, Accessibility, Desirability, Usability and Credibility are my little list of ‘must-haves’ when designing stuff. I’ll likely continue to add stuff to the list when I find it. So keep checking back.

1. Speed

First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature. If your application is slow, people won’t use it. I see this more with mainstream users than I do with power users.

2. Instant Utility

What this means is the service is instantly useful to you. If you build a service and the user has to spend an our configuring the service, setting it up, importing contacts, doing a lot of data entry, I don’t think people are going to – most people aren’t going to put up with that. The service has to be useful right from the start.

3. Software is Media

This is one that I got a lot of questions on. My view is that software is media today. Particularly consumer software, when people use it, they approach your software in the same way they would approach media. When I say media, I’m talking about a magazine, or a newspaper or a TV show. Software and web applications, Apps and gadgets need to have an attitude, and a style and uniqueness.

4. Less is More

Less is more, and I really believe this, particularly early on when you launch something. Over time, you can grow the utility of your service, and Facebook today probably offers 20 or 30 different features of significance in their service. But, when they launched, it was really quite simplistic. I think that’s true of most great services.

5. Make it Programmable

Talking to a group of web app developers, I think this probably goes without saying, but I think it’s important to make your application programmable, and make it possible that others can build on top of or connect to or add value to, in some way, your web application. That means API’s, and in my opinion read/write API’s.

6. Make it Personal

Personal means many things to many people, but essentially, it’s a lot like the prior slide. You want third-party developers to infuse your application with their energy. You also want to make your application infused with your users’ energy. The more of their data and their personality and energy that they can contribute to your application, the more ownership that they feel of it, and the more likely they are to advocate it and become, in effect, your marketing force. It’s very important to make your application personal for everybody. Clearly, user-generated content lets people start to feel ownership of your web application better.

7. Discoverabilty

When you launch a web app, it’s a needle in a haystack. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of web apps out there on the World Wide Web, and how is anybody ever going to find yours? At its base level, for me, this means search engine optimization. You have to understand search engine optimization and you have to understand the rules; you’ve got to know how to do it. You have to build your application from the ground up to be discovered by Google, and optimized for Google.

8. Clean

Clean, to me, means that the application cannot be busy on the page. You need to be able to look at it and not be bothered with lots of stuff. It’s white space, or dark space; it doesn’t really matter whether it’s white or dark, but lots of space. I think big fonts, not too much functionality presented on any one page. Make it very inviting, and make it so the people know, right away, what they need to do.

9. Playful

Last but not least, is playful. We have 6 words that we live by at Union Square Ventures. Only one of them actually made it into this deck. The 6 words are: mobile, social, global, playful, intelligent, and I’m forgetting what the last one is so I’m going to fail today, but in any case, that’s kind of what we think about thematically in terms of web apps. Only one of them made it onto this slide deck, and that’s “playful”.

10. Viral

Viral conjures up visions of Old Spice Man, but it’s more than that – It’s the power of pass-it-on… being able to share things with your peers, friends and family and let them join you in the experience and then tell their peers, friends and family to expand their experience too. It’s not about chuckling at a video on YouTube and emailing a link or Tweeting a response, it’s purer than that – Viral is about joining in and taking other people along for a ride. Here are the golden rules of viral:

  • Web-based – Viral loops are far better suited to the frictionless world of the internet
  • Free – Users consume the product at no charge; after aggregating a mass audience, you may be able to overlay various revenue generators
  • Organizational technology – These sites don’t create content, their users do. They simple organize it, but facilitating can lead to a mass audience – Just ask Google.
  • Built in virality – Users spread the product purely out of their own self-interest and, in the process, offer a powerful word-of-mouth endorsement to each subsequent user.
  • Network effects – The more people who join, the more people there are who have an incentive to join
  • A point of non-displacement – A tipping point, after which it’s nearly impossible to take a company down.

11. Match Experience & Expectations

When using a product or service for the first time there is likely to be an element of learning needed to get to grips with it. This learning curve can often be an uncomfortable experience especially if the proposition doesn’t feel familiar. Match your audience’s prior experiences and expectations is achieved by using common conventions or UI patterns.

12. Cognitive load

Cognition is the scientific term for the “process of thought”. When designing interactions we need to minimise the amount of “thinking work” required to complete a particular task. Another way of putting it is that a good assistant uses their skills to help the master focus on their skills.

13. Functional Layering

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule), in the context of interaction design, is the rule that 20% of the functionality is used 80% of the time. Therefore we should make the most common or important functions easiest to find. We can do this by hiding or reducing the prominence of infrequently used or advanced functions.

14. Mousing

In my daily interactions ‘mousing’ is becoming less of an issue as I begin to rely more on touch screen interfaces such as my iPhone and iPad. However, in the classic desktop environment ‘mousing’ relates to the ease in which you are able to move between controls, which is described best through Fitts’ law.

Fitts’ law is a model of human movement in human-computer interaction (HCI) and ergonomics which predicts that the time required to click an object is proportional to the distance and inversely proportional to the object size.
With key functions or sequential mouse-operated controls we need to maximise the size of the controls and minimise the distance between them. This not only improves efficiency but in certain instances can reduce the risk of error.

15. Hierarchy of Control

The hierarchy of influence between elements should be clearly apparent. Generally, controls which affect an object, should be grouped with the object, such as zoom controls on a map.

Controls which influence a group of objects should be associated with the entire group, forming a hierarchy.

My top experiences of 2010

It’s getting difficult to judge campaigns & digital work based solely on usability these days because there really is a lot of blur around the topic of ‘best practice’… It’s really all about accessibility (how easy it is to take part in the proposed experience rather than the traditional accessibility of inclusiveness for people with disabilities) & ease of use of the media itself. So this years list of experiences I’ve found is really more of a hot-pot of great ideas executed well. When design meets a good idea which meets business requirements which utilises social media and gives users a jolly good time… then the experience box has a big tick in it & I consider that to be job done (Sorry Jakob Nielsen, the concept of ‘rules’ for usability no longer apply – it’s user centered experiences that rule the digital waves now).

In no particular order these are the experiences that engaged me and worked well this year:

1 – Volkswagen – See Film Differently

It’s all here isn’t it? A really clever idea blended with some good web-experiences that lead people to great offline experience. It’s true through-the-line work. For my money not very many brands have ever got this right & I suspect Volkswagen got this right totally by accident. Hats off to ‘Church of London‘ for creating some brilliant content. Anything draped in movies is instantly going to gather an audience, however, it’s difficult to get it right when people can get so passionate about a topic… so to pull this all together as a set of ideas is just genius. Have a look at the Ghostbusters video & tell me the idea here isn’t brilliant… I dare you!

For my money… the best experience I found this year. OH… and one final thing… and this is the brilliant bit… how many of you forgot that you were part of something essentially advertising cars? That’s the genius of new marketing. Subconscious brand awareness.

2 – Quora

Elegant interactions. It looks simple; it prompts instant and easy engagement; and it takes the hide-and-seek elements of a Q&A site away, leaving the user with a trove of relevant information at his or her fingertips. Quora is basically the future of FAQs for businesses. Rich, intuitive and fun.

3 – Levis – Workshop

Again – For me this has just nailed the challenge of blending something people are passionate about with that right amount of brand-awareness. It’s Levis – ACE – so they can get away with alot more than most brands… but what I actually love about Levis is that they know how to tap into peoples passion about a topic & then own it. The Workshops project running in New York is a pretty basic experience truth be told… sign up to attend a bunch of workshops about photography from names in photography that have respect… nothing new, right?

Check out the wealth of good images being stacked against the Levis Workshop search term too… that right there is a brand starting to look comfortable with it’s consumers. You’re part of the brand, not just on the end of food-chain. Have a look around Flickr at ‘Levis Workshop‘ photos too… it’s just brilliant… users are actually spreading the message about an experience & indirectly advertising Levis. Most of you will be wondering what this has to do with UX? Well it’s simple… think about it… this is users (consumers) EXPERIENCING Levis… it’s pure User Experience.

4 – Google

Silently up’ing the game all year round. Unless you’ve got beady interface eyes like me you probably didn’t even realize it. If you could go back a year Google was a totally different place from an experience point of view. It just ‘worked’ and that was enough. Now they’ve bolted in the bells and whistles that not everyone needs, but some will relish. For instance – How about that the left nav… notice when it appeared? Probably not… but it’s already a ubiquitous  part of my Google behavior. Live Preview? Spot that one? Not so useful to a lot of people (probably 95% of people to be honest) but to a small minority this has just become the difference between clicking on a link & then hitting back in the browser because of the site not being the one they actually wanted. It’s like looking through the letterbox before going into a house. Seedy but good.

The Google Updates - 2010

5 – The best job in the world

SapientNitro delivered a multi-platform campaign promoting its “The Best Job in the World” contest. Which although pretty traditional as an approach (it’s been done before) was a stroke of genius in terms of promoting something usual in an unusual way… its the Queensland Tourist Board remember… no? You didn’t know that? Well then that’s why as an experience it’s been a massive success. You saw Queensland and you fell in love with it… experienced it first hand, but didn’t have a sale-pitch to get you there.

Great campaign. A lot of social media buzz… tapped into peoples love and desire for reality TV and talking about reality TV online. Generally just a great use of media to promote something that’s actually pretty difficult to sell in times of financial hard-ship (“Don’t travel TOO Queensland, let someone else win the chance to go & then feedback on their experience” – It’s still desirable though, and one day you’ll remember that & go).

6 – HipMonk

Think of HipMonk as a test bed for possibility. It’s not brilliant, but like some of my examples in this list it’s taking UX and being experimental with it. Which I admire. HipMonk is basically a new way of searching for flights. Simple as. Results are displayed in a more digestible way than normal flight-checkers (think of it more as a Microsoft Gant-Chart for air-travel!) and users are able to make comparisons in a more information driven way.

7 – iPAD

Let us just reflect on this little product of 2010. It’s a solution in search of a problem… we were fine without it and nobody asked for it. I’ve forced myself to use mine a bit since I spent the £450 on it… but it’s still brilliant… it’s that old cliché “it changed the game”… and it has. New paradigms for experiencing content. So fair play to Apple for once again bringing us an experience that’s really too good to be true.

Nothing more to say on the iPAD – If you’ve got one you’ll either agree with me or disagree… it’s a game changer & an opinion splitter.

8 – Twitter

As an experience it really started to infect my life this year. It’s probably my social medium of choice now. I’m bored of Facebook… it’s too explicit… Twitter has just opened up my learning & consumption experience to a whole new level. Back on piste for a minute – The new interface they unveiled this year was a slice of usability brilliance too. Sleek, original (for a website), intuitive and most of all still ‘to the point’. What I’ve always admired about Twitter is that they don’t pretend to be a million things for a million people. They’re just a single thing doing it brilliant. Delivering 140 character messages to followers. So I admire them for not giving in the temptation (Facebook!) to try & be lots of other things.

It’s definitely DIGG that DIGG should have been.

9 – Virgin – The Project for iPAD

I’m not going to lie to you. I absolutely hammered this with criticism when I first loaded it onto my iPad. The biggest flaw is the file size. It is MASSIVE in terms of iPad usage (lets not forget iPad is still just a really big mobile phone with no talking bit) with it’s 450mb downloads… even on my work super-charged wifi network it took an age to download and then load. #fail. But then I started to play with it. Discover things. Use my fingers to explore & really get the experience and it is BRILLIANT. It’s taken all the best paradigms of the last 10 years and remoulded them into something tangible. We gushed over the adverts (panasonic digital lenticular?! GENIUS) and were gobsmacked about the quality of the videos. The Tokyo guide is superb. Fresh blend of opinion and video. Loved it.

What ‘Project’ is to be fair isn’t perfect… far from it… but it does start pushing the world forward in terms of media experiences. It might just be the first glimpse of something halfway between ATL and BTL. Which in itself is where the game changed. Again.

10 – Amazon Kindle

To be specific, for me, the iPAD Kindle app (why do I need a Kindle device, I’ve got my mid-size web touchscreen jobby now!) which has not only re-ignited my passion for reading in a way I never thought possible, but it’s actually teaching this old dog new tricks. I’m bowled over by it. As an experience it’s so pure but it’s so powerful. I can read a book, click on a word if I don’t know what it means and learn the dictionary definition (think about that a moment), I can highlight bits with my finger and save them for later. I can browse books and buy them cheaper than ever before, download them in seconds & not clutter my shelves at home. I’m actually contemplating taking a lot of books to Oxfam Books and buying them back in digital format. So as an experience, and a very intuitive one, it’s made a big impact on my 2010. Thank you Amazon – Proof that content is king – with a little help from Steve Jobs!

11 – Axion Banner Concerts

Quick one this. You’ve probably not heard anything about the Banner Concerts idea. Basically Axion streamed live-gigs in the frame of traditional banners… nuff said… not ground-breaking… but a new experience and one to watch out for in 2011. Live experiences in traditional spaces.

Simple. Brilliant. Inventive. Great experience.

12 – Flipboard for iPAD

A good idea. Well executed. Not convinced it’s going to change my behavior, but I applaud anybody willing to try something revolutionary & Flipboard to me was ‘THE’ iPAD app of the year in terms of showing people what is now possible.

13 – QWIKI

So this list is also about the possibilities we were introduced too in 2010 and nothing really solidifies the new possibilities of user-experience much better than QWIKI which arrived on the scene in 2010 (and will probably leave the scene at the same time next year to make way for something bigger, more refined & more… well… Google!). It’s essentially information redefined. It’s not perfect. I wouldn’t use it everyday (which to me is the ultimate definition of user experience) and I can’t see how it improves me life. But I like what it represents from a UX perspective, which is new ways to digest content. New ways for my son (when he’s old enough) to learn ‘stuff’. It’s stuff we never had growing up, so it can only be a good thing. The world is absolutely getting smaller everyday.


A lot of things taught this old dog new tricks this year. Which is why I got excited about experiences again in 2010. User experience is obviously more about enjoyment and entertainment than the old-skool usability stuff… get a person involved in something & they’ll remember it, amplify it, tell their mates & engage with a brand… make it easy & they’ll keep coming back… make it part of their lives & they won’t have any choice but to keep coming back. This sort of thing started coming of age in 2010. Looking forward to seeing the next evolution of digital urban experiences.

The user is always right. We’re not.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that whether or not I like it, I’m what the industry has dubbed a ‘user experience’ or ‘UX’ practitioner. Oh the indignity… I’m a closet coder, a designer, an alright I.A, a marketing snob, a digital evangelist and sometimes when I’m in the right space a pretty good salesman… How have I come to be a ‘UX’ guy? Even the term ‘UX’ is easy & simple, it’s so degrading of my talents.

I jest. The answer is actually pretty simple – I love people, that’s why I’m a UX guy. More importantly though I love people loving my work & the work of the agencies I’ve worked with. I’m a supplier of FMDG (fast moving digital goods) you see. What I produce gets consumed & if the consumption experience sucks then nobody will want it anymore or tell their friends about it. That’s UX… Not academia or hyperbole and complicated methodology. So I put this to anybody interested & reading this, if you’re someone involved in digital in some shape or form, no matter how big or small & your interested in how the end-user is going to consume your FMDG then you’re also a UX Practitioner, and I welcome you warmly to this very un-exclusive club of ours! So you might be a UX Planner, or a UX Designer, or a UX Coder… Even a UX Project Manager… It doesn’t matter, you’re part of this big UX puzzle we’re all working together to solve.

Now on to the moral bit of this story I’m telling… If you’re NOT a UX Practitioner then you’re wasting time with whatever FMDG product being created. Seriously… Stop… Put down the mouse & go find an insular job that doesn’t have an end user involved. We hit the point in the evolution of the WWW where we stopped guessing & started listening a long time ago & the results are everywhere. I’ll put my professional neck on the block & guarantee that every success story from the last 10 years was created using UX principals, not good luck & best judgement. Alright, so I admit there are sites out there that started a bit ropey (eBay anybody?) but I bet they really evolved to the point of non-displacement because they took on board user feedback & kept the momentum positive, not buried heads in hands & stuck by the guns.

I’ve worked with companies that thought they knew better than the general population & did things in their own way, for themselves & because they knew best… Never saw a success story with any of them (we had the occasional fluke, but that’s all it was).

The frustrating part is that it actually takes less time to consult the audience before, during & afterwards than it does trying to fix issues retrospectively. Fact. I’ve seen companies waste months going over old ground when following a user-centred-design approach would have and should have informed solution right from the start. Infuriatingly schoolboy stuff these days. There’s actually no excuse not to make UX the single guiding principal. If a company tells you they’re user focused but doesn’t let real users guide design, instead deferring to the ‘expertise’ of an individual or individuals then I say run, and run fast, because they’re creating a self fulfilling prophecy of almost certain failure. Harsh words, but ones grounded in the facts of hundreds of very successful businesses from all over FMDG.

Find your audience using wisdom, skill, planning & judgement, engage them during the definition & planning phase. Show them your best crack of the whip, incorporate their feedback & then sit back safe in the knowledge that at least you didn’t guess.

Users make or break FMDG, so at least allow them to define what they want… We’re all UX practitioners remember, but we’re also hyper-users, so our best guess & judgment is probably the worst kind.

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