The Insighter

September 2008

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Neo Insight's e-newsletter on Customer Experience topics and techniques.

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In this issue

Upcoming events

Nov 2-7, 2008 User Experience 2008, Chicago, IL
Nov 11-12, 2008 Site search analytics for a better user experience PLUS Don't make me think: The discount usability testing workshop, Washington, DC
Nov 13, 2008 Webinar – Designing Navigation with Task Management
Nov 13, 2008 World Usability Day

Ways to improve your mobile user experience

The explosive growth in mobile devices poses significant user experience challenges. Mobile devices that run web applications are ubiquitous – 20 million Blackberry devices and 10 million iPhones are in use, and 1.5 million Google Android devices have been pre-sold. People are using mobile devices to run web applications and access web content. Downloads from Apple's AppStore have reached 200 million. Google offers a variety of mobile services. Developers of mobile applications are introducing new offerings at a dizzying rate. If your user experience is being viewed on mobile device there are some basic things to keep in mind. You may be wondering where to start. Here are some ways to focus on the mobile user experience.

Shorten pages – Users have little time to scroll on a mobile device – and if your page takes too long to load, they may not even wait.

Shorten paths – Mobile devices may not have enough memory for lots of drilling down – an iPhone stores six pages before the user must eliminate one to make room in memory.

Provide a page just for mobile devices – More and more mobile devices can view normal web pages, but users will be on the go and may need a unique experience customized for the mobile context.

Use the primary scanning area – Users often ignore information that is not at the top of the centre content – the smaller the display the more likely.

Put the key links near the top – Make sure that links that are critical to users completing their task are in the primary scanning area, near the top in the middle of the page.

Link to HTML rather than other document types – Users may not be able to view native-format documents accurately without special applications.

Consider offering an “app” – Users are accustomed to quick ways to get to a mobile service. If you have a sub-site deep in your site, consider taking users directly to it with an “app”, much like GoogleDocs or LinkedIn take users directly to a web page for mobile devices.

Test on mobile devices – Test with tasks that users do while they are mobile. Identify your mobile users, prioritize their mobile tasks, prototype the experience and usability test it with them, on mobile devices.

These are good working principles for any high-volume task on your website, no matter what the device. Figure out who your users are, what they need to do, the context for doing those tasks, and how well they can do it in a live usability test.

Contact us to help improve your user experience for mobile users.

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Trends in usability testing inventions

Where is usability testing heading? One way to answer that is to follow the trends in patents. Inventions in usability testing patents show a trend toward equipping the usability professional with affordable toos to analyse behaviour patterns. In recent years, patents emphasized the ability to share a screen with a remote user. Over the history of user testing, patents have emphasized other aspects like screen-capture, non-linear video-editing, or digital control of video-taped sessions. Here is a brief history of two decades of usability testing advances, and some examples of patents that typify the progress:

Test and observe remotely
In 2005, TechSmith patented an automated system for remote usability testing – starting, conducting, capturing, synchronizing, stopping, and saving a usability test; allowing a remote viewer to observe. It allows a manager to configure the usability test, analyze the recording files, and prepare presentation videos.

Automate testing
In 2003, IBM patented automated usability testing – prompting a user to perform tasks in an application, collecting data, emailing data, and controlling the test.

Measure task performance
In 1998, Lucent patented how to measure usability – Usability Performance Indicators quantitatively measuring Goal Achievement, Work Rate Usability, and Operability.

Capture human factors data
In 1992, IBM patented how to test human factors – capturing human factors data, including screen images and associated keystrokes entered during a user session, measuring time intervals.

Prototype for evaluation
In 1989, IBM patented the simulation of computer program interfaces – to allow users to evaluate the design of the program before program code is created.

Where will usability testing go next? How can you keep up as an organization? Will technology minimize the need for skilled professionals as it minimized the need for audio/video and computer technicians? We think tools have made skilled professionals even more demand. The patents above build on patents before them. So you can watch who builds on TechSmith’s patent, for instance. One such example lets a remote participant record and send a multimedia capture of a usability session – this patent for user control of a usability recording. But as technologies continually optimize the time and investment required to do usability testing, one thing has not been replaced – the usability professional. With each new technological leap, there is more demand for qualified usability professionals – to plan and conduct usability testing, and to translate findings into an improved user experience.

Let us help you do that. Let us bring the latest in usability testing to your project. We are TechSmith’s representative in Canada for their Morae and UserVue usability testing solutions, using TechSmith’s patented screen capture technologies. Leading-edge user-evaluation methods are more affordable than ever before. Email us for a demonstration of how to put Morae or UserVue to work for you.

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Support users' need for alternate navigation

People are often using alternative means to get around your web site. Your main navigation is not the only means they use. Popular features like Site Map, Top Links, A-Z Index, Search, and language selection offer an alternative. We discuss some upsides and downsides we see in usability testing.

  1. Site map
    Upside – People expect the site map to be organized the way the site is, so the site map provides them more description of the site structure and main menus.
    Downside – If the site structure and main menus do not make sense to the user, neither will the site map! Plus, the links on a site map give an overall view of the site, yet users really just want an overall view of important things they can do. People get frustrated when the site map is not chunked into lists of links that are easy to scan and quick to grasp.
  2. Top links or Quick links
    Upside – Sometimes users look for a list of links that take them directly to key information. Users can be very efficient at common tasks when links to frequently-visited pages are based on user input, web statistics, or call centre data. Frequent visitors get used to them.
    Downside – People don’t easily scan long lists of un-organized links, and they pay special attention to the top and last links in the list. Sometimes quick links are so well-used they keep users from getting comfortable with navigational menus, so they do not know how to navigate to related information.
  3. A-Z Index
    Upside – An A-Z Index is a helpful alternative where users share a common vocabulary, or scientific language, or naming convention. They expect it to be a list of links without much descriptive text, and expect it to be long, but to have clickable letters to skip to that part of the alphabetized list.
    Downside – People get frustrated when they cannot find a common word, or when they have to guess a few times at where in the list to look. They also get frustrated when many index items begin with the same word – like "Canadian this" and "Canadian that" – it forces users to scan longer. If the task takes them too long they leave the A-Z Index. See our articles on how to put meaningful words first in links, and how to make lists easier to scan.
  4. Search
    Upside – Search is the big alternative for people. They can use their own words in finding content directly. In search results they see ranked links, alternative spellings, search terms in context, HTML as an alternative to native-format .DOC, PDF, etc., and options to filter or sort.
    Downside – Often users are not as happy with site-search performance, and defer to an off-site search engine like Google. Also, no Search will help users get around the site once they are deep in content. Good navigation is still needed to drill down, move upward, and see related content.
  5. Language selection
    Upside – If your website has a button on each page to switch from French to English, Chinese-English, etc., it will be used as an alternative way to navigate. A website that supports more than one language is a great tool. Users appreciate the way it helps them browse in their own language as well as learn the words to use when conversing in the other language.
    Downside – Users expect menus to be in the same order, and buttons to be in the same position. If they switch back and forth, they are comparing the menus or buttons quickly. Sometimes they are looking for the meaning, or a word to use in conversation. However, alphabetic menus change order in the other language, and users click to the wrong content, assume wrongly what words mean, or get lost.
  6. Directories
    Upside – People appreciate ways to find contact information. It may be the single most-frequent task on your website, especially for intranets. It has tangible benefits, getting customers directly to the right person, taking the directory-assistance load off call centre agents, and making people more efficient. Frequent visitors to your website also appreciate a directory that allows them to browse by organizational function or topic.
    Downside – Directories can produce very long pages, or lists that are difficult to scan. Though many directories are searchable, rarely does a directory-search box appear in overall site navigation. Sometimes a phone directory cannot be searched by topic. When contact information exists on several web pages, it is often not cross-linked. When someone is looking for information about a person, and gets to content by that person, it rarely links to that person's department, organizational chart, or related output from that person. People get frustrated when a web page offers an out-of-date phone number.

Support alternative navigation in your information architecture. Put links to alternate navigation in a common place so users can compare which alternative suits them. When users are looking for alternate navigation, they don't want to scan all over the page. Another implicit alternative to navigational menus are links in content. Construct links with the top user tasks in mind. Once users get deep into content, make sure your authors offer navigational links with words that really matter to users.

Contact us for an expert evaluation of your alternative navigation.

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Customer Carewords webinar FREE – November 13th

Designing Navigation with Task Management

Hear Gerry McGovern and Gord Hopkins discuss how a well-designed navigational scheme can help your customers quickly accomplish their tasks. As part of World Usability Day, this free webinar will focus on practical design strategies and examples. Learn how to create strategies for your website navigation based on task management. Learn how context-sensitive menus can increase productivity, conversions and engagement. Customer Carewords techniques optimize navigational menus and links to help users do the top tasks. Task Performance Indicators allow managers to measure and continuously improve performance on top tasks.

TIME: 10:00 AM Eastern Time (ET)
DATE: Thursday November 13th, 2008

Register now for this free webinar

See the Customer Carewords website for background information

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Quote of the month

“What leads to success?"

"Passion – hard work – getting good – focus – push – ideas – persistence."

Richard St. John's 3-minute summary of 500 interviewee responses

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