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wireframing with Google Drawing

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I’ve been experimenting with wireframing using Google Drawing. And not entirely because I like making my life hard.

(and yes, I’ve been doing lots and lots of sketching too, so there’s no need for the sketching mafia to scold me)

I’ve started off at the Guardian with a PC but we were a bit uncertain if I would switch to Mac+Omnigraffle. I could have got Visio but as I’m working in an office that uses Google Docs I thought I’d give Google Drawing a go.

The big advantage is that I can share the wireframes with anyone in the office without creating PDFs. We could in theory collaboratively edit them but at the moment we’re still in a world where I produce and the others read. Another advantage is that everyone is always accessing the latest version.

And you never have to save. Drawing does sometimes crash but never when you’ve forgotten to save for the last 30 minutes of intense productivity (I’m looking at you Visio).

Morten has produced some basic wireframes which are a good place to start but as he acknowledges one of the big limitations is the lack of customisable stencils. He gets around this by keeping his shapes in the gutter. I’ve tended towards keeping them in a separate document and then copying them to the web clipboard. For some reason you can’t just copy and paste shapes between documents, you have to use the web clipboard option on the toolbar. Lack of stencils was a real pain getting started but I’ve pretty much adjusted now.

There’s also no layering, which would be a shop-stopper for anyone producing large multi-page specifications, that need to be regularly updated. I don’t do that kind of wireframing very often so this is actually less of big deal for me.

Drawings are single page only. If you want to print, you’ll have to create every page in separate drawing. If printing doesn’t matter so much you can just create multiple wireframes on a very big Google drawing page. Where I’ve been creating a series of wireframes, I’ve created separate drawings in a folder and then just shared the folder with everyone else. This is probably the thing that feels hardest to get around.

Which all sounds pretty awful for keen wireframers but I’ve quite enjoyed it really. It worked best when I was drawing a single new component and then needing to share it quickly and widely.

Drawing is more straightforwardly suited to flows and sitemaps as they are likely to be single page, not need layers, and only use a couple of shapes (probably ones available in the fixed set of stencils).

Oh, and it’s free.

Some tips:

  • Objects pasted within the document are pasted on top of the copied object, regardless of where you’ve scrolled to. If pasted from another document then they appear in the position they would have in the original document.
  • Keep the text boxes as small as the text allows (other wise you may find it hard to select other ‘smothered’ objects)
  • Similarly putting frames or boxes around other object stops you selecting the objects within
  • To make the page larger, zoom out so that you have more grey space to drag into.
  • You only need to highlight any part of an object to select it.

Keyboard shortcuts/controls:

Move a gridline  :  Up / Down / Left / Right arrow
Move a pixel : Shift+Up/Down/Left/Right
Move up/down in Z-order : Ctrl+Up/Down
Move object to the Top or bottom : Ctrl+Shift+Up/Down
Group selected objects : Ctrl+G
Ungroup selected objects : Ctrl+Shift+G
Delete and add to clipboard :Ctrl+X
Add selection to clipboard : Ctrl+C
Paste clipboard contents  : Ctrl+V
Duplicates selection : Ctrl+D
Delete selection : Delete, Backspace
Smooth drag  : Alt/Option while dragging an object.
Restrict to vertical or horizontal dragging : Shift while dragging.
Copy an object : Ctrl + drag the object to copy
Preserve aspect ratio while resizing: Shift while resizing an object.
Rotate in 15 degree increments : Shift while rotating an object.


Written by Karen

May 27th, 2011 at 6:45 am

Posted in deliverables

ux themes in ‘Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love’

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Marty Cagan ran a product management workshop for us yesterday and I spent some of this morning reading Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love. The workshop was based around his top product mistakes.

My background has often blurred the line between product manager and UX person, and I was interested to hear some tension(?) at London IA last month about IAs being perceived as claiming product management territory.

Inspired is mostly a practical, sane book exploring familiar (to me!) problems. It deals with UX a lot and is definitely worth reading if you are working in an environment that has both UX and product manager roles.

Marty suggests (p6) that the right ratio of roles to have is one product with:

  • one product manager
  • ½ interaction designer/information architect
  • â…› visual designer
  • 5-10 developers

He sees 4 ux roles, which maybe be separate individuals or not (p18)

  • interaction design (deep understanding of users, tasks, flows, navigation, wireframes)
  • visual design (precise layouts, colours, fonts, emotions)
  • rapid prototyping
  • usability testing

There’s some supportive stuff about the timing of UX work (p117)

  • UX work should be done before implementation,
  • using a sprint zero approach, maybe one or two sprints ahead for an agile team.
  • need to give UX team some (but not loads) of time and space to research and design

Some good advice for working in large organisations (p170) and with your manager (p63)

  • measure and plan for changes in plans
  • conduct the real meeting before the official meeting
  • be low-maintenance to your manager (use someone else as your mentor)
  • learn how decisions are actually made in your organisation
  • do skunk works projects/seek forgiveness not permission
  • build relationships before you need them

Other interesting points

  • doesn’t recommend outsourcing interaction design because it takes time to develop the deep understanding of the users, they need to be on hand throughout the project and UX is just too core to the business. (p19)
  • recommends that Product should be “organizationally on par with engineering and marketing” and that ideally Product should include the UX team (p53)
  • recommends high fidelity prototypes as the product spec (p113)
  • product manager should attend every usability test (p133)

Written by Karen

March 30th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Posted in ucd,work

working with constraints

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Constraints was another topic of conversation in the coffee breaks between The Story sessions. I’m not sure how much it was inspired by the presentations or was just the direction the discussions went in.

At the BBC, our attitude to constraints and their role in design was one of the sources of friction we identified between our (finely defined) UX sub-disciplines. Those with ‘architect’ in their title tended to be very conscious of the constraints. The IAs often spent longer working with particular products and were more likely to be embedded with the product team. They developed a detailed understanding of the content structures, technical systems and the organisational politics around a product. The interaction and visual designers were more likely to work from the design hub with other designers and to work on products for defined projects. They came to projects fresh and unblinkered. Neither situation is wholly good or bad. Both bring insights.

But it did result in the designers feeling that the IAs were too aware of the constraints and were unambitious in pursuing the best solution for the users. Conversely the IAs often felt the designers were being idealistic and naive, and that’d they never get anything built.

(these are broad brush generalisations, there were some great examples of successful partnerships between the teams but there were certainly issues)

In these conversations somebody usually brings up the serenity prayer:

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And Wisdom to know the difference…”

My instincts are often on the side of accepting many of the organisations constraints. I like realistic plans, and I’m aware how deep seated some constraints can be. I don’t see how designs that never see the light of day help the users. But it would be simplistic to say I’m always on the side of conservatism.

In my last team, our troubleshooting explicitly involved dividing problems into ‘change’ and ‘accept’ categories but I surprised myself at how uncomfortable I felt at some of the things that ended up in ‘accept’. I wasn’t happy to just leave them like that.

This all reminded me of a creativity course that I found helpful in accommodating the instincts of both dispositions. One of the techniques the course taught was to explicitly structure ideas generation into phases:

  • firstly unshackled ideas generation (everyone is reminded they’ll be able to bring the constraints in at the next step)
  • then a step where the ideas are filtered with the constraints. Ideas are divided into do-able now or soon, and ideas that require work to tackle the constraints (which may require another ideas generation session!)

The approach helps me to use both my desire to make things better and my desire to get working stuff out the door. The different types of ideas could be taken forward by different teams but I suspect most of us would be happier if we could accommodate both types of challenge in our our work

Written by Karen

February 20th, 2011 at 6:50 am

navigation isn’t a (good) promotional tool

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One of classic IA arguments is about why New Service X shouldn’t be added to the primary site navigation.

Users aren’t *generally* just wandering around the internet going “ooh, what’s that? I have no idea, why don’t I click it and see”. If you just add random new stuff to the primary navigation, the main thing that will happen is it will get ignored as users carry on their journeys to wherever they were already going.

It can work ok for a new product category e.g. groceries but it really isn’t very effective for a new brand or unfamiliar feature e.g. X-PIL.  Combined with a big marketing push it might work, so you can get away with it if you have reason to believe this is going to be a really big new feature e.g. iPlayer *and* you are going to heavily marketing the brand.

Written by Karen

February 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Posted in navigation

giving the user choice over “Did you mean?”

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Be really really wary of expanding the users queries without telling them. Don’t just give them results for aubergine and results for eggplant, when they only searched for Aubergine. You think you are being clever and helpful. If you’re wrong about the expansion then you are just being extremely irritating.

a) Suggest the expansion but don’t run it for them. Risks them missing it.
b) Run the expansion but tell them you’ve done it. Still risks them missing it.

Google’s experimenting with both approaches over the years. And currently has a bit of a mixed approach. Don’t assume their approach has “cracked” the problem.

Written by Karen

February 3rd, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Posted in search

search: which features actually help?

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1. Ranking

This is the least visible thing, that you might not consider a feature, that mostly gets ignored and is absolutely the most important thing for you to dedicate time to getting right.

If the query isn’t particularly ambiguous then you need the top results to be right, without asking the searcher to do much else.

Ranking isn’t sexy and it takes care and attention. But isn’t magic, it’s just rules. Ask what the rules are. Don’t be fobbed off. If no-one knows, work it out yourself.

2. Manual Suggestions (query expansion/narrowing)

This basically means Best Bets.

I’m very, very attached to Best Bets. This is mostly because I’ve been a search product manager as well as an IA on search re-design projects. Once the project team has packed up, the product manager (or web manager/editor) can still improve results and resolve problems using Best Bets. And they will need to. Promise.

3. Automated Suggestions (query expansion/narrowing)

We can’t spell and we can’t type. And then we blame the poor old search engine when it doesn’t find what we were looking for.

Any decent search solution needs to have some solution to misspellings (where to put them is a problem for another day!). You can do some of this with Best Bets, but with a big and diverse enough set of users you’ll probably need something a bit more automatic like Google’s Did You Mean?

A related but broader concept is suggesting related searches. You might have spelt your query correctly but there’s a similar term that would get you better results. Ask.com used to do this.

It might seem perverse to prioritise the manual intervention over the automated one. I’d usually expect to have both but I have a few reasons for picking manual if it comes to a choice:

  • the manual option is probably cheaper to add on if neither comes as standard
  • automated suggestions often get better over time but might start a bit ropy
  • automated suggestions may be ‘black-box’ you might not be able to do anything with them if they are wrong/misleading. And every system I’ve worked with and/or used makes mistakes sometimes.

It’s worth asking whether there is any control over the automated suggestions. Is there a dictionary? Is the right language (esp. UK v US English)? Can we edit it? How?

4. Filters and sort options (after you got search results)

These tend to get missed by users or interfere with their understanding of the page. Not all users will understand them, especially complex faceted filters. The positioning of filters/facets is very difficult to get right. Users home in on the top results, so above the first result is most likely to get noticed and also most likely to get noticed for being in an annoying position.

If you are doing product search then I’d probably still prioritise 1-3 but I’d strongly argue you need 4 as well.

5. Clever query language

Quote marks seem to be reasonably widely understood, so I might argue these should be higher up your expectation list.

But unless you’ll have access to your users and be able to train them all… I wouldn’t prioritise operators like wildcards, NOT/And/Or etc..

Find out what you get out of the box. Make that information available to interested users. But don’t invest lots of development effort and money here.

6. Filters and sort options (before you run the search)

a) Radio buttons and drop-downs.  These get missed, people don’t think about using them, they tend to just stick words in and hit go. Other users won’t use them because they don’t know they need to use them until they see the search results aren’t focused enough. So then they have to go backwards. So you might as well go with (4).

If you can sensibly default them then they can be more useful but establishing what the sensible default  is problematic.

b) Advanced search pages.
These are basically a collection of filters for the user to set before you run the search. Search specialists inevitably find advanced search useful but your average end-user doesn’t. The exception here is power users  but be sure the users actually are “power” users.  You are likely to find power users where there are time/cost pressures around searching e.g. staff answering customer calls or researchers using databases where they pay for searches. In these situations even reasonably techno-phobic users are motivated to get to grips with advanced searches including some of the more complex query building ones.

Another reason advanced search might be worthwhile is if your power users are also your most mouthy. If the segment of your audience that blogs/tweets is also the segment that might demand power features then you might consider the feature as marketing.

(Don’t be worried by people being intimated by the label “advanced”.  If they are intimated by the word then they’ll be intimated by the features. )

Written by Karen

February 1st, 2011 at 6:47 am

Posted in search

Best Bets in SharePoint

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SharePoint search allows you to create Best Bets. They can be created by the Site Collection administrator.

If you go to Site Settings, you should see ‘Search Keywords’ under the Site Collection Administration heading.  If you don’t see it you probably haven’t got the right permissions.

You create a keyword, associate some synonyms with it and then add one or more Best Bet links. You can set it to expire and/or be reviewed.

Keyword: The search term that will generate the Best Bets and also is displayed above the Best Bet e.g. PenFriend

Synonym: Other search terms that will also generate the Best Bet. These aren’t displayed e.g. Pen Friend

Best Bets: The editorially picked search result e.g. Penfriend Audio Labeller

I can’t for the life of me figure out how to delete a keyword (Best Bet, yes. Keyword, no). Maybe it’s a permission thing again.

SharePoint Best Bets screenshots

Written by Karen

January 31st, 2011 at 6:38 am

Posted in search,sharepoint

e-commerce: google keywords

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign.

Analysing your search referrals only tells you about the traffic you were successful in attracting. Even if you are getting lots of traffic for a particular keyword that might be a tiny fraction of the number of people searching for that keyword. And the referrers says nothing about what you missed out on completely.

So it helps to look at search engine traffic for keywords in the kind of space your website sits in. The free tools like Google AdWords keyword tool have generated lots of debate about how useful they are but I tend to see them as worth a look if you’re just looking for rough ideas about language and relative popularity.

With our shop research, I didn’t get much data for easy to see, easy to read, giant print, big print, canes, liquid level indicators, and (my favourite) bumpons. I couldn’t find information about Moon (the alphabet) because it was drowned by references to the satellite and all the other things called moon.

What I’ve learnt:

Generally people refer to concrete properties of the product rather than their condition. So it is ‘big button phone’ rather than ‘easy to see phone’ or ‘low vision phone’.

Singular is much more important than plural for objects like clocks and watches but the opposite is true for book formats e.g large print books. Which is kind of obvious…you only want one watch but you may want many books. This might have a bit of effect on our labelling policy, but not much as Google doesn’t seem to make a huge deal about singular verus plural.

There’s clearly a big opportunity around low vision products. The interest in products for blind people (like Braille) is less significant, which makes perfect sense when you compare the size of the audiences.

And loads of people are interested in magnifiers.

Written by Karen

January 28th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

SharePoint search administration via SSP

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SharePoint search features are managed at 3 levels

  1. Farm level (configure the search service, configure crawler timeout settings etc…)
  2. SSP (Shared Services Provider) level
  3. Site collection level

The SSP functions are accessed via the Shared Services Administration.

SSP search functions:

  • add sources to the crawl
  • block URLs and URL patterns from the crawl
  • define crawl schedules
  • inspect crawl logs and troubleshoot crawls
  • emergency removal of items
  • install IFilters to support non-default file types
  • add/remove file types from the crawl
  • specify authoritative pages
  • create scopes for all site collections (you can also create at a site collection level)

And in theory specify noise words and create a custom thesaurus.  See Inside the Index and Search Engines
chapter 5 for more.

You can by default index these types of content source:

  • SharePoint sites
  • Non-SharePoint websites
  • Windows file shares
  • Microsoft Exchange Server public folders (you can index exchange mailboxes with a 3rd party add-on)

Crawl management:

  • Full crawl: indexes all content
  • Incremental crawl: only accesses content that has been updated since last crawl. Faster, but slow if  accessing an external website
  • Crawl schedules can be specified for each content source
  • Crawls should be scheduled for low usage times

Crawl rules

  • content can be excluded by defining a rule
  • rules are applied in the specified order so you usually need to move exclude rules in front of include rules.
  • a URL can be excluded by adding it as an exclude rule
  • URL patterns can also be excluded and help keep the management of rules neat e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/* or http://www.amazon.co.uk/*/dp/*
  • Exclude rules will remove any matched URLs during the next crawl
  • If you need to remove a URL in an emergency you do this via “Search Result Removal” instead
Sharepoint search admin screens

Resources elsewhere:
Introduction to SharePoint Search Indexes for DPM Administrators
Enterprise Search administration

Written by Karen

January 28th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Posted in search,sharepoint

the recommendation trap: iPlayer

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I am a bit obsessed by ‘when recommendations go wrong’ scenarios like the JustRabbitHutches incident.

iPlayer hasn’t done anything that silly, but it does seem to struggle with the recommendation concept. They sit particularly uneasily alongside the new Favourites functionality.

When the latest incarnation was in beta, I was quite excited by the prospect of favourite programmes and categories functionality. This had the potential to meet some of the needs that the absence of sophisticated browse function left. If I could tailor the content more then I’d need to browse less.

But the new site makes surprisingly little use of the favourites functionality. After you’ve put the effort into setting your favourites, it pretty much ignores all the work you’ve put in.

The favourite programmes bar is always closed. The favourite categories are similarly always closed. The radio stations box doesn’t remember your selection.

The homepage is dominated by four sections: Featured; For You; Most Popular; and Friends. None of these areas seem to be influenced by your own preferences.

Featured is rarely of interest to me but I get the editorial need to have some promo space.

For You is where the recommendations kick in but at least initially I had no idea what this section was supposed to be doing. A good design pattern is to explain recommendations ala Amazon and to let you know if there is anything you can do to make the suggestions better.

Most Popular is ok for me. Occasionally my interests overlap with the majority and then this spot is useful. Friends might be occasionally interesting, although “a people like you like” might have been more valuable. It seems a bit odd for the area to persist if you don’t login/specify any friends.

All these sections are potentially useful but the best predictor of my interests is my interests. It seems that in this design My Favourites and My Categories are given lower emphasis than *everything* else.

This is compounded by the presence of the For You section. As another commentator put it:

“why on earth would the site suggest I watch Eastenders? It’s been on TV for over 25 years and I’ve never once felt inclined to watch it, so what intuitive masterstroke has been developed to think that I may now wish to start?”.

Once you give recommendations personal labels like “For You” then people start to take your recommendations personally.

I’m annoyed that I told iPlayer what I like and it still insists on telling me that BBC 3 sitcoms are “for you!”. It’s started reminding me of my grandad and that’s not a flattering comparison.

Written by Karen

November 9th, 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in bbc,recommendations