UX and the 80/20 Rule

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As I’ve written about many times, I’m a great fan of the 80/20 rule in design and UX, also known as the Pareto Principle, and Jennifer Aldrich has written a great article at the InVision blog getting into a specific approach for applying the 80/20 rule within the context of UX.

Ms. Aldrich writes about a multi-step process that has remarkably low overhead for getting at the core of the user experience issues; in this case, the 80/20 rule uses 20% of the effort to get at 80% of the problem. Genius!

As Ms. Aldrich states:

“This method is for those who don’t have a background in research or statistics, or for experienced professionals who just need some quick and dirty data. It’s a powerful, fast, and cheap way to quickly evaluate how you can pack the most UX punch when you’re planning improvements to your product or service.”

Rather than paraphrasing Ms. Aldrich’s informative and well-researched article I’ll simply point the way and say that if you’re interested in understanding the 80/20 rule in the context of UX this is a good read and well worth your time.

UX simplicity is an iterative process

 

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When it comes to design, reducing something to its most basic parts is not just a design or aesthetic discipline, but it’s also the discipline of looking at what’s needed rather than trying to imbue the design with what you want.

The best designers know this, maybe intuitively, because at the core of the work they’re doing is the hope that a design, this thing birthed from one’s intellect, takes on a physical life of its own, is used and maybe, if you’re super lucky, brings joy to the user.

So, simplicity, like complexity is all about which direction you take the iterations in. Do you want something with lots features, buttons, screens, etc.? Or, do you want something with a few critical functions that are intuitive, straight-forward and easy to use?

This is the fundamental dilemma of design: Provide many features, which, historically, has implied a greater value, or to minimize, giving only the most important features and perfecting them to ensure the best possible experience.

With each design iteration there’s change, growth and refinement; Simplicity leaves room for things to evolve, organically — I think that perfection is a phantom, but iterations will be what gets you closest to a more perfect design.

The problem with “intuitive” design

 

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Over the years I’ve talked with many people about creating intuitive designs, making something user friendly, usable, even, in the contexts of websites, apps and products. However, the idea of ‘intuitive’ presupposes that one person is able to nail, completely, what is or is not intuitive without any user perspective. Sure, we can can make some basic deductions about a user experience or user expectations based on what we think we know about a user, but really the smallest bit of scrutiny given to the idea of making something intuitive, makes the entire idea fall apart.

Intuition is based on past experience, conscious or unconscious, cumulatively, and determines some level of expectations.

My ability to pick up an iPad, and “intuitively” complete a task will make much more sense to me than if Benjamin Franklin picked up an iPad and tried to complete the same task. I understand user interfaces. I’ve been steeped in a world of human-computer interaction, it’s a modality for the completion of tasks that I understand. Similarly, old Ben Franklin would be much more adept at lighting, servicing and maintaining a whale-oil lamp than I ever could be. My intuitive iPad is not his intuitive whale-oil lamp. Our experiences and our particular epochs are radically different, so, too, what is intuitive is different.

In order to create something that’s intuitive to your users, you have to meet your users where they’re at. How are they using the design? Where are they using the design? When are they using the design? What tasks are they trying to complete? How do they feel about past iterations of yours or a comparable design for completing the same tasks.

The problem with intuitive design is that it’s not really about intuition at all, but about researching your users, their goals, their biases and generally who they are to determine what the best design solution is for them.

Asking for an intuitive design is a cop out.

Do the work and create the design your audience needs.

Meet me there… UX design and the user environment

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User experience design requires an empathic, user-centered design perspective.

You have to meet people where they’re at.

Once you’ve completed your user interviews, and finished your personas, use-cases and journey maps, you have to really get inside the mind of the user.

One of the most difficult tasks of the UX designer is trying to not just get in the mind, but also the physical space of where the user experience is happening. Is it a loud manufacturing facility, is it a cramped commuter train, or is it a quiet health facility?

Knowing where the user experience is happening, getting a sense of that environment, even visiting, if at all possible, is the best way to ensure that the user experience is being designed, not just for the right kinds of users, but also for the right kinds of environments. We do it for different mobile devices, screen resolutions and browsers; why wouldn’t want to also design for the physical space?

The short answer is that we would.

Being an empathic and user-centered UX designer means that you have to capture as much as you can about the user, how and where, they interact with your design — The physical environment shouldn’t get any less consideration than any of the other design criteria.

UX Design: Putting users first

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A user experience can go two ways.

The first way is the one you design.

With the first way you do research, build personas, do user interviews. You’re constantly testing, measuring and making adjustments. With this way, you know your users, your audience, your customers, etc… With this way, they use the design, and they appreciate the work you’re doing for them. They might even be extremely satisfied with your site, app or product and return time and again, with enthusiasm, because they know you care and are trying to make the most of their time.

User experience can go another way.

The second way is the one that has no design.

People need to use your site, app or product, but you do no research and give no consideration to the user; there are no personas, or user interviews. You don’t know your users, you underestimate them and you don’t value their time. You know that they can get the tasks done, because they’ve found workarounds, and for those that can’t we chalk it up to “user error” and write it off.

Nobody wants to do it the second way, but sadly, this is still how many organizations operate. A time is coming when this organization will be moved to the margins, and eventually discarded entirely, by others that are more enthusiastic, more energetic and more service-oriented, in fact it’s already happening.

Which way do you want to take?

You don’t know me – Why user interviews matter

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At USAGE, one of our favorite things to do, when doing UX evaluations, is to talk to actual users. But it wasn’t so long ago, in a land pretty much where we’re sitting right now, that considered user interviews around website usage inconceivable.

Them: ‘Our website users don’t want to talk to us about how they’re using the website! That’s crazy! Just make the website pop!

Us: “Umm… Ok.

Sigh… how many times have we heard that… Isn’t it great that times have changed and folks now understand the value of talking to your users; in fact a whole industry is growing around the idea. Excellent!

UX is growing and we’re excited to be part of it. Generally, we focus on the user experience of human-computer interaction, but as time goes on our user relationship with all manners of product and service is being scrutinized, evaluated and reconsidered. User interviews are a really great way to get to the core issues of their usage, but, as Jakob Nielsen, the Father of Usability states:

“What users say and what they do are different…”

It’s true that what users say and what they do are different, but it’s still one of the best ways to get into the mind of the user.

Admittedly, user interviews are more art than science and this is one of the reasons that some folks like them, while other folks would prefer to use moderated and unmoderated remote user testing, or some other form of quantitative testing — the classic qualitive (user interviews) vs. quantitive (A/B testing) research dilemma. At USAGE, we prefer both and take a mixed-method approach. The science is nice, but it’s kind of cold, we prefer the warmth of human interaction; this approach creates checks & balances that gives a space for the quantitative information but allows it to be tempered by qualitative information.

If you haven’t done a lot of user interviews they can be tricky to get off the ground, but Charles Liu gives some great pointers in his article Never Ask What they Want – 3 Better Questions to Ask In User Interviews, where he suggests these three questions:

  • What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)
  • How do you currently do this? (Analyze workflow)
  • What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

These are great questions to get the conversation flowing. You are quickly able to determine what a user’s expectations are around how something works, but also how they’d like it work. As the user talks about their experiences, you get an insight into their world and you’re able to get a feel for what it’s like to walk in their shoes. In our experience this is the best possible way to get to know your users. While a mixed approach is necessary and pros & cons abound, there’s no substitute for getting to know your users and having that one on one relationship with them.