Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Google it [the Good UX]

To google something means to search something on the web by using a search engine (even Bing). But from a design perspective to google it takes another meaning – to design something in a simple and efficient way – the google way.
And if we talk about search engines and search boxes, it’s definitely the google way to do it. Which is being simple and precise: one search to find them all. So, we are using one big search box which can offer us all the information we need.

Due to Google having a large website with an efficient search function has become a necessity, and the old feature of advance search, popular some years ago has been forgotten. The search function must be smart enough to find the right information fast and in one single search.

The basics: 
  • Place them in a visible place (look at Amazon, eBay).
  • Keep the search words in the box (ex: search for shoes and keep shoes in the search box in the results page, maybe you want to filter further to men’s shoes).
  • Filter mixed results by dividing possible results into meaningful categories (Amazon).
  • Suggestions with auto-complete (like Amazon does). 
  • Correct misspelling or propose alternative versions (as Google does it, and Amazon). E.g. on ebay if I search “teg hauer”, the proposed alternatives are with “Tag Heuer”, the correct spelling of the brand.
  • Never, but never show an empty page results. If there are no results, display something related to it, otherwise you might lose the client.
  • State what you search there (IMDB: “Find Movies, TV shows, Celebrities and more”).
  • Google “like” design, simple and very fast.
  • Order suggestions in a meaningful way (TripAdvisor: first the location Bahamas, and then places there).
  • Use color codes or icons in the suggestions to make a difference between them (e.g. TripAdvisor).
  • The last resort – if you cannot offer auto-complete or suggestions (due to time & budget limitations) show meaningful results in the search page, with categories and related search (as Amazon does).
  • Use the right keywords to search for (e.g. above our top result for “shoes” is a shoe cleaner – so, bad UX).

Under the hood (the Information Architect’s job)

How does it work? We must have a decent code behind it, like a customized version of jQuery Auto-complete and an organized database. Still, to really make it meaningful we need to do more:

  • Search in the right field in the database and in the proper order. E.g. for Amazon the first field should be the name and then the category of the product.
  • Keywords are the keyword. If the user searches for “punk” on a product site, if we have something labelled as a punk style shirt, but without punk in the name it should still display it.
  • Correct labelling, a shoes cleaner should not appear in front of a shoe product.
  • Dictionaries – for alternative spelling and misspelling or synonyms (e.g. on search of “sneakers”, shoes should be mentioned).
  • Special characters – German language has special characters, but if we are using a British keyboard it should also work (e.g. Stra├če equals Strasse). 

Making an efficient search is not rocket science anymore, but it requires to read the right UX books, have the right coder helping and most important, see what the competition is doing (better or worse).

Thursday, 8 May 2014

UX (User Experience) 101

UX (User Experience) has been a buzzword for some time now, but slowly it becomes an integrated part of product creation, by product we refer to a website, a financial service or in-store experience. As Wikipedia puts it so simple “User experience (UX) involves a person's behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership.” – Which to put it in less words it is all the types of interactions / experiences which we have in contact with a product/service.

From a software company point of view it can include activities related to usability testing, information architecture (IA), user experience design (UxD), somehow graphical design, interaction design (IxD) and a good deal of user tests (with focus groups, interviews, eye tracking, etc.)

For the end user it is the experience of using a certain product, with all the tiny interactions involved, from the website design, customer service, invoice layout and clarity, packaging, etc.

Why it matters: in a blunt way, if you neglect it, the product might (will) fail and you might be out of job.

What is about: how easy is to learn to use an iPhone for a first time user. To complete the overall experience, we consider the Apple website, an Apple store - which is designed with the same “feeling”, the simple package used for products and how easy is to set it up the iPhone. 

Fig 1. Apple website – shop – iPhone package – iPhone 5s

In Fig 1 we can see the design elements with which we get in contact to buy an iPhone. What of course is missing is the human element, which makes a lot of the UX thingy – how easy can we find information in the store and how fast can we learn to use our new super duper smart-phone.

Testing it the hidden word in UX. Without it we cannot evaluate before launch a product. It is just something we need to do as UX professionals, and ideally in few iterations so we can measure how much the experience has improved since the first iteration. By iteration we refer to a basic plan – design – test cycle. [So we got to UX testing, but this is an entire domain in itself].

How to improve the experience: by doing UxD (User Experience Design). Which as Wikipedia puts it so well is “the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users. User experience is any aspect of a person's interaction with a given IT system, including the interface, graphics, industrial design, physical interaction, and the manual.” More UxD theory here:

When is wrong: at an IA conference some years ago, somebody (can’t remember exactly who L ) said that the problem with IA (Information Architecture) and UX is that the user realize about it when is missing, when is unhappy, when he cannot set up the easy function of.. xxx.. or why does he need to tap 5 times before making a phone call (iPhone 1 users know).

UX is better showcased in IT products, websites mostly, so enjoy some compilations of the worst of the worst on the following links: