Monthly Archives: April 2010

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Watch these 10 must-see usability videos…

10 Must Watch Usability Videos

I guarantee they’ll change the way you think, and design!

If a picture is worth a thousand words than a useful usability video is probably worth several million more.  The following 10 must-see usability videos provide excellent examples of practical approaches to usability testing and usability topics.  I guarantee that if you watch and internalize the messages from each of these, you’ll change the way you design for the better.

These usability videos can also be used for:

  • Demonstrating usability testing concepts
  • Training or educating on usability methods and best-practices
  • Providing stimulus to your team members to apply key learnings
  • Serve as the starting point for discussions of applying usability systematically

I hope you find these valuable and refer back to them from time to time.  And if I’m missing your favorite, be sure to add a comment at the bottom letting us know which one you would include.

The top 10 must-see usability videos:

Paper Prototype usability test by Corel Corporation 7:36

This is an excellent video because it effectively demonstrates how to conduct a paper prototype usability test, and record it for subsequent analysis and recommendation.  Asking users to walk through a task-flow and observing them pointing to items they would click provides actionable and real data.  This information can be used to make tremendous improvements to an application, well before coding ever begins.

SXSW 2010 Presentation – My 3-year-old daughter is my usability expert by Dave Stanton 53:21

This is a video of the very well received SXSW 2010 presentation by Dave Stanton in which he demonstrates how his 3 year old daughter provides usability feedback and demonstrations of key usability concepts.  You can learn a lot from a 3 year old! This reminds me of Steve Krug’s point that anyone can be a usability tester and you, as the usability practitioner, can conduct usability testing anywhere, with almost anyone, at almost anytime and learn valuable information.

Usability Testing with Tobii T60 Eye Tracker and Tobii Studio by Tobii Technology AB 3:36

This is a very interesting and well produced short video demonstrating the Tobii eye tracking software and hardware.  This brief but very well done video describes how eye-tracking, coupled with the Retrospective Think Aloud method can be used to find, analyze and report usability issues with applications.  Although this is technically an advertisement video for Tobii, I find it enjoyable to watch because it’s interesting, describes eye tracking well and has high production values.  For anyone in marketing by the way, this video should be considered a best-practice for how to advertise using YouTube videos (without bludgeoning your audience over the head with annoying advertorials).

Usability testing 3PO 6:20

No, this is not a Star Wars video staring R2D2 and C3PO and yes, as this video demonstrates so simply you can usability test anything with real users and learn lots.  In this case we are observing people trying to use a binding machine.  Usability is for more than just web sites, it can be used on anything. As with web-based application designers, an industrial designer could observe real people interacting with a prototype device. This could help the engineers conceptualize an amazing number of improvements, based on watching the user interactions, well before production actually begins.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug: Usability Demo by Steve Krug 24:27

Watch the usability guru and celebrated author of Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy conduct a usability test.  Watching this video is exactly the experience a remote usability testing observer experiences when observing remote usability tests.  It’s a great way to see a master in action, including the inevitable and highly-annoying (funny) Windows alert message that pops-up right in the middle of his test (at about 10:30 into the video).  Even usability gurus have their sessions brutalized by Windows!  Makes me smile in a been-there-done-that sort of way.

The 3 ways that good design makes you happy by Don Norman 12:42

Where does good design and usability come from?  It can be said that it comes from the pleasant interactions you have at the sub-conscious and conscious levels with your environment.  This video, from Don Norman, another Godfather of usability, was recorded at his 2003 TED talk.  It’s a wonderful primer into the various sub-conscious levels at which we interact with our environment and objects around us, and explores what makes up beauty, fun and emotion.

Right Way to Wireframe by Todd Zaki Warfel 4:24

This is a brilliant little video that uses time-lapse (and cool music) to summarize the process needed to; understand your users needs, research and describe Personas, and create wireframes that simulate the application they will interact with, all of which is essential for good usability.  This video is by Todd Zaki Warfel who’s an IA and wireframe expert and has a movie-star-looking twitter avatar.

Strike Up The Brand: How to Design for Branding by Jared Spool 47:00

Jared Spool gave an interesting talk on usability and brands at a Google TechTalks event in 2006.  It’s a valuable discussion of how people formulate emotional ties and beliefs or perceptions (positive or negative) with Brands, based on their interactions with many different elements that comprise a brand.  And I don’t think he complained about a trip in a plane even once!

TEDTalks: The paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz 20:23

Usability optimization is about simplifying tasks and the experience associated with tasks.  Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that in western society we actually are paralyzed and indeed less happy because of too much choice.  Watching this should convince you that examining your applications to search for ways to simplify and reduce is exactly the right thing to do to improve usability.

BBC Click Accessibility By the BBC 7:12

Back in 2006 the BCC TV series Click produced a very interesting TV segment on web site accessibility.  Among the key findings mentioned was the fact that according to the Disability Rights Commission 2004 study accessible sites were over 1/3 quicker for non-disabled users.  This is a significant statistic considering the importance Google is placing on site speed for organic search rankings.  I defy any web site developer who uses spacer.gif on their site to try their site on a reader.  I’ll bet you you’ll instantly want to rip the design apart and start again, but this time designing the right way with no spacer.gifs.

Conclusion: 10 must-see usability videos worthy of your time

My bet is if you watch each of these, and input what’s being discussed, it will dramatically change your designs.  You’ll probably end up being far more focused on user-centered design, will test much more than before, and will apply best-practices of minimizing and reducing obfuscation in all the work you do from now on.  Enjoy!

PS – If I missed your favorite usability video be sure to mention it in the Comments!

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5 Steps to an Uber user experience job description

I’ve seen plenty of consulting and full-time positions in the past few years for User Experience experts.  However, I’ve never seen two job descriptions for user experience that are the same.  And unfortunately I’ve seen plenty of job descriptions that actually include conflicting information, or have confusing descriptions for what user experience practitioners actually do.

UX Job Descriptions drive me nuts, Flickr photo by Cayusa via Creative Commons
UX Job Descriptions drive me nuts

There’s good reason for this.

It’s fashionable for companies to use the term “user experience,” but nobody has a clear, simple and standardized definition of what it actually is.

User Experience is not a common or well understood job, such as Accountants or Bookkeepers, that have well defined and broadly known duties.  Worse, many of the Associations that a typical user experience professional may belong to, that hiring managers may refer to for job information, have overlapping or confusing descriptions for the practice.

The reality is UX is a bucket for all types of job duties, everything from information architecture to usability testing to visual design can be defined as “user experience.”  But each of those is actually quite different skill sets that may or may not be suitable for a particular UX role.

So if you are interested in hiring a user experience expert, but don’t know exactly how to write the job description, here’s 5 steps that can help you:

#1 – Determine your firm’s user experience goals

Instead of trying to determine what skills (IA, usability testing, research, etc.) the position should have, start by determining what goals this position must accomplish.  The goals should directly align to the business’ success metrics, and if possible should be quantifiable based on goals typically tracked by the business.

For example: An eCommerce company that sells products online to new and existing customers might have the following goal:

“The user experience leader’s goal will be to help increase eCommerce sales by 5% annually through optimization of the UX for new web site visitors and existing customers.”

#2 – Define the user experience expert’s place in the firm

Often, job descriptions I’ve seen typically do not specify clearly where in the organization the user experience expert will operate.  They fail to communicate where his or her boundaries are.

Yet this is important information because it can help prospective candidates mentally map the position to their prior experiences and skills, to see if they qualify for the position.  And more importantly, it can help the hiring manager clearly identify if the prospect has the requisite past experience in this type of function.  If there are no boundaries, and the user experience expert has the ability to interact with all divisions that should be made known as well.

For example: A medical devices firm with products for physicians might have the following boundaries:

“The user experience expert will report to the SVP of research and development, and will interact with R&D, manufacturing, operations and product managers to conduct user research, testing and optimization of new and existing devices.”

#3 – Identify expertise and skill sets the user experience expert should possess

This is a tough one, because many job descriptions I’ve seen conflict in terms of expected expertise and tools used.  I’ve seen plenty of “visual design” type expertise descriptions (create visual design guidelines and standards) coupled with a requirement to know and practice coding, like Javascript, AJAX or other programming languages.  This seems to me to be at odds with typical practitioners, who may come from a more graphical and design background, or psychology trained background, or a more software development and coding background, but usually not all of them.

If the company’s focus and goals are about improving the UI and visual aspects of the UX, then expertise and skills that map to visual design user experience practitioners should be used.  If however the company is more focused on user interaction and functions of applications, then potentially UI or coding skill sets may be necessary.

A hiring manager should carefully research what they think they may need, based on the goals and boundaries, but be open-minded to differences in expertise and skill sets among candidates.

For example: A company seeking user experience improvements of internally and externally focused applications may identify the following skill sets:

“The user experience expert will utilize wireframes, html-mockups and simple prototypes to test and recommend improvements to internally and externally focused applications.”

#4 – Indicate desired management level / expertise

Many larger sized firms already have user experience groups, but many mid and small sized firms do not.  It’s important to indicate whether this role is entrepreneurial, i.e., a single user experience position that must do the work plus manage processes and vendors, or is managerial, thus responsible for managing the work of an already existing user experience team. If the company desires to grow a UX team, then this too should be noted, and experiences at building staff and processes should be mentioned in the job description.

For example: A firm looking for a “sole proprietor” hands-on UX expert without an already existing staff may indicate:

“The user experience candidate will act as the single practitioner for all UX work for the firm, and will perform all activities as well manage 3rd party vendors in conducting UX research and optimization.”

#5 Explain any development process experience needed

Some firms use Agile or SCRUM methods to develop applications, and if so this must be noted.  The methods used for ‘traditional’ user research, such as with contextual inquiry, field research or 1-on-1 usability testing sessions may not work as well in Agile environments where iterations come in weekly batches.  Methods of user research used may need more speedy yet less deep methodologies of research, and expertise in conducting same.

For example: A firm that uses Agile methods to develop mobile apps may require:

“The user experience candidate will operate in an Agile development environment and will be expected to deliver UX feedback on a weekly basis.”

Conclusion – How to write a user experience job description

There are plenty of other, more traditional aspects of a job description that should be included for user experience practitioners.  These include, but are not limited to any need to interact with other virtual team members spread in geographically diverse areas, any need to interact and deliver analysis to senior executives, and education requirements or specific software usage requirements.

Coupled with the 5 tips above, a user experience job description can be written in such a way that both the hiring manager and the candidates will have a clear understanding of the duties and requirements for the job.

Sources for more user experience job description information:

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Interview with Paul Veugen, founder of the remote usability testing tool Usabilla

Paul Veugen is a fresh out of university entrepreneur and founder of the remote automated usability testing tool Usabilla.

Customers of Usabilla include some pretty big names like; The Discovery Channel, HowStuffWorks, Thomas Cook and the World Wildlife Fund, just to name a few.

Paul is a rare and gifted person; he’s a young and successful start-up founder and business person, he’s trained in Communications and Digital Media, and he’s a knowledgeable practitioner of usability and user experience.  Studying Paul and learning about what he thinks is the next Big thing could be very useful information for anyone interested in the future of usability and UX.

Paul Veugen, founder of Usabilla
Paul Veugen

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

My background is in Communication sciences. I studied Corporate Communication & Digital Media at Tilburg University (The Netherlands) and graduated just recently. I really enjoyed my time at Tilburg University and spent most of my time working, race-rowing, (including acting as the race-rowing Board member), and even some studying!  I definitely learned the most about working for and with various people (clients) while running a large rowing club for a year as President of the board.

At the age of 15 I started working for a local web design firm, mainly focusing on design for SME’s in the southern part of Holland. I’ve worked for this company for almost ten years and choose my studies based on my early working experiences.

It didn’t take very long before I got a more leading role in the company and specialized more and more in strategy, user experience, and social media.  The more I learned by practice, the more interested I became in research about entrepreneurship, user experience and usability.  That’s when the business ideas for a new type of usability business started popping up in my head, and became more and more frequent.

Q2. How did you get into the usability field?

I started working as web designer at an early age and learned to design with the client and client’s customer in mind. When I just started I was spending most of my time on various tutorial sites to work on my technical skills in Photoshop and Illustrator.  I quickly discovered that to successfully design a webpage you don’t need all the eye candy in Photoshop. With some very basic technical skills, for example using Photoshop or Illustrator, anyone could in theory design a webpage.

However, building beautiful and easy-to-use websites is completely in a different league.

When I realized my creativity and technical skills were not the most important limiting factor to a successful user experience, I started to focus more on topics like interaction design, usability, and user experience. I really enjoyed scanning and reading hundreds of blog posts a week on these and other interesting topics.

Q3. What is it about usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

Good usability is so complex and simple at the same time.

I prefer to put usability in the bigger picture of user experience. I think usability is a more technical approach, where user experience expands the scope with aesthetics and attitude. If you only focus on usability and basic task performance, you could probably just simply build black and white, functional webpages with blue underlined text links.

I like the more complex relationships between desirability, usability, accessibility, value, credibility, and findability.

User Experience Graphic
User Experience

Q4. You founded the online usability testing tool Usabilla.  What is Usabilla and why should someone use it?


Usabilla is a simple tool to collect valuable real-user feedback on any sketch, mockup, website, or image.

Participants perform simple tasks on your webpage or concept and can add points and notes. For example, You can ask participants;

“Click on the things that are the most important for you” or “Where would you click to find information about rates?”

Participants can answer these tasks by clicking anywhere on the screen to add a point and can add notes (‘Post-its’) to leave additional feedback.

You can use our tool to set up task orientated tests (example, “Where do you click if you’re interested in usability resources?”) and to collect feedback (example, “What’s important on this page and why?”).  You can then analyze the test results with plots, heatmaps, and time per task.

Usabilla provides a really simple way to collect feedback from large numbers of users and can be used in any stage of the design process to test task performance.

Q5. As founder of Usabilla, what was your motivation for creating this tool – why did you believe Usabilla was needed?

Usability research is booming. There’s a large group of innovators and experts sharing their ideas and knowledge about testing.

In the past 15 years academic researchers wrote hundreds of interesting papers on usability testing and the pros and cons of different testing methods. There are many verified testing methods available, but most of us only focus on (lab based) best practices from just a handful of experts.

At the university I searched for a quick and dirty method to test my mockups. That’s when I first found out about the Plus-minus method for document evaluation. The idea for Usabilla is based on this method.

The Plus-minus method is a simple yet effective tool to collect feedback on a document. You ask participants to draw pluses and minuses on the document for the things they like and / or dislike. Afterwards you ask your participants why they added a plus or a minus. About ten years ago a researcher made a first attempt to adapt this method to the screen in a lab setting. We’ve used the method and translated it to a flexible remote tool.

We try to make it as simple as possible to test your (early) ideas, without slowing down your development cycles.

Most of our clients are usability experts, designers & developers, and online companies who made Usabilla part of their usability toolbox and combine our data with other tools to create a more complete picture of their users.

Q6. Usabilla is now out of Beta and a full-fledged paid service.  What were some of the key learnings from your Beta days you believe made a difference to your current success?

We launched a first beta release of Usabilla less than a year ago (2009). Our first version was buggy, but it clearly showed our ideas about usability testing and what we were aiming at. We received very interesting Beta user feedback. This feedback and interesting use cases helped us to improve our product and fine-tune our ideas.

We received great suggestions for interesting tasks to use in a test.  Using this feedback, we implemented new features, improved our test interface bit by bit, and made our platform scalable.

Our early Beta users turned out to be great ambassadors of our product. Our Beta period helped us to proof our concept and gain traction in the marketplace with their word of mouth and advocacy.

We’ve removed the Beta label by the end of December 2009 and launched our paid plans at the same time.  This was just a formality.  The months before our public launch we were already running interesting cases from a variety of users. Once we were (almost) sure that everything worked as planned and our service could deliver real value, we kicked off the public release.

We’re now still developing at the same pace. We try to push out new releases every two weeks. Many of the features and improvements we’re working on are based on the input of our users. Practice what you preach!

Q7. What advice do you have for other start-ups that wish to create an online service, whether usability related or otherwise?

I often meet other entrepreneurs working on what they call an exciting new business concept, who are afraid to share their genius idea with others. They spent months in their home offices with closed curtains and disconnected laptop to build their awesome concept into a wonderful company at least 1% of the world is craving for.

Only a few true geniuses are able to build a company like this, who have the network to plug their product or service.  Everybody else is probably more likely to succeed if they start an open conversation and not hide their ideas.

Developing a company is about iteration.  Trial and error.  Listening to the eco-system you’re trying to become part of.

There’s a striking parallel between building a company and designing a website.  Sure, some of us can close our eyes and ears and build a great website, but most of us could benefit greatly from a conversation with our potential users. A conversation helps you to understand your user and can give meaning to behavior. Building a company or a website is a combination of your vision and goals PLUS valuable input (both attitude and behavior) from your users.

Q8. What’s in the future for Usabilla, what changes or improvements are you working on?

We’re going to expand our development team and make an exciting roadmap for the upcoming months.  Besides general improvements in the flow of our back-end we’re currently working on an API.  This API allows you to retrieve all your test data and use it for example to create custom reports in Google Spreadsheets or import it into other usability tools.

The first version of our API will be ready by the end of April 2009. That’s just the beginning.

We plan to integrate Usabilla in large content management systems and combine our tests with other usability tools. Other features that have our attention at the moment are improving reports, testing user flows, and small performance improvements.

Q9. What do you think the next year to two years will bring for remote usability testing?  Do you see it growing, if so by how much?

In 2009 a large number of remote usability testing services popped up. It’s interesting to see how these services all take their own approach to usability testing.

In my opinion there is no such thing as THE usability test. We’re data junkies combining multiple sources to learn from our users.

I expect an enormous growth of the entire usability market and remote research in particular. Innovators like the guys from Bolt|Peters (read their book ‘Remote Research‘ or get it with your Usabilla account) are paving the way and sharing their best practices with the world.

Usabilla currently works with researchers, designers and marketeers. They all share the same hunger for information to learn, improve, and optimize.  Usability and user experience is hot.

I expect that remote usability research is going to show the same sort of growth as the analytics market showed a few years ago. Everybody can use Google Analytics and dive into the data to learn some basics about visitors. Remote testing services are the new analytics, providing additional insights in the behavior and/or attitude of users. These tools could be used by everyone for basic information, and become powerful new data sources for the usability professional.

Q10. What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

Every morning I wake up full of energy.  I get really excited by working on Usabilla.

My focus for the upcoming two years will be Usabilla.  I want to spent my time building something that provides value to our users and their customers. I want to expand our eco-system. One of the most stimulating things for me is meeting new people, both online and face-to-face, and learning from them on a daily basis.

I plan to attend some great events in Europe (be sure to check out UX-LX in Portugal) and the U.S. in the upcoming months to meet people and share ideas on usability & user experience. And you can always feel free to connect with me (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN) if you would like to share your ideas about user experience, usability, and business.

Thank you Paul!

For more information about Usabilla, or to try the service out, be sure to check out their free test.