Authors Posts by Craig Tomlin

Craig Tomlin

148 POSTS 55 COMMENTS
I've been improving revenue with online marketing, usability & conversion optimization for start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 500 firms since 1996. I'm a Certified Usability Analyst and multi-award winning marketer. Contact me for website usability testing and audits!

Interview: Austria Design and Usability Company Simplease Shows the Way

Visionary design and UX Entrepreneurs are not just found in Silicon Valley. The new Silicon Valley may very well end up being in Europe and the Eastern European Countries, as witnessed by the four-man team leading Simplease and UserBrain.net.

Simplease-Userbrain-team-from-UsefulUsabilityGraz, Austria is home to a new kind of design and usability company, one that takes a unique leadership approach that may just show the way for the future of UX firms.

In their company Simplease, co-owners Andreas Riedmüller, Markus Pirker, Mathias Placho and Stefan Rössler each share leadership and ownership of their up-and-coming firm, and their success may just point to the future of the agency model. It may also point to a new entrepreneurial spirit driving design firms in Eastern and Central Europe. The same kind of entrepreneurial spirit that drives Silicon Valley.

In this interview we learn more about how they built a successful start-up in the design and usability space, the unique leadership approach they use to manage their successful firm, and what new endeavors they are working on next. Watch out Silicon Valley, the new entrepreneurs may just be coming from an entirely new place, Europe!

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

Our shared story begins some eight years ago. Around that time we started studying Information Design at the FH Joanneum in Graz, Austria. We didn’t know each other back then, but everyone of us was already designing websites for himself and for clients. That said, we weren’t too interested in particular subjects, because we worked during most of our classes. This didn’t change until one day, when we had a subject called “virtual companies”.

SimpleaseThe goal of this course was to team up with some colleagues and start a company. Although it wasn’t for real, you had to get at least one client who actually pays you for designing a logo, website, or whatever.

Since most of us already had a handful of clients, we decided to get together and start our own company. We called it Simplease. Today we are still working in the fields of Strategic Design & Usability with clients in Austria and other European countries.

Q2. How did you get into usability field?

It was during our studies of Information Design. Before that, none of us had even heard the term usability. We were not aware of the fact that you should test your designs with real people. It was a real game-changer.

The first usability video any of us had ever seen was a short clip. Our usability teacher used to play this video to his students, to introduce them to usability testing. The video shows someone trying to pour milk from a carton into a cup. The usability of this carton was so bad, that the guy spilled the milk all over the place. This was the moment we realized that design is not just about making the packaging look good. Design is about making something that real people could actually use.

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

That it’s good for people. If it was not for usability testing, we would still think about design as something that exists for its own sake. Now that we know about usability, we realize that it’s not about the look & feel of something, but the people using it.

Today this is obvious for almost everyone, but some years ago, usability was still this academic concept that ordinary people didn’t care too much about. This has changed over the past few years, and it continues to change. Maybe that’s the thing we enjoy most about it: finally everybody cares about usability. It’s great!

Q4. You are co-owners of Simplease, what does your firm do? How do you you’re your clients to be successful?

As you know, we are four guys, and each of us owns exactly 25% of Simplease. At first, people were smiling at us because we didn’t have a declared single owner or boss, but over the years it proved to be the right way for us to do it. We don’t have employees either, so every client gets to work with at least one of us during our partnership.

As to how we help our clients to be successful, we refer to it as “Apropos partnership.” That’s how we help our clients to be successful. We don’t focus on specific methods or work routines, but try to be the best partner for every client we decide to work with. In the first years we were building a lot of websites and in a way learned our craft. Then we got into offering usability testing and started to consult with our clients.

At the moment we do a lot of strategic decision making, and help our business partners to determine how to best invest their resources.

Q5. You recently founded a brand new company called userbrain.net, correct? What was the inspiration for your new firm?

Our work with clients was the biggest inspiration for Userbrain. You have to know, that we were already giving talks and teaching usability and interface design in several universities around Austria. But when it came to our own client work, we didn’t do as much testing as we would have wanted.

We felt like we talked the talk, but didn’t didn’t walk the walk. It was frustrating, but it inspired us to build or own a usability testing service.

Userbrain.netTalking with hundreds of colleagues, students, and clients, we found out, that no one really does a lot of usability testing. It was strange because everybody knew how important it was. And if they finally did some testing, it was a hell of a lot of work, and the odds of doing it again were getting lower every time.

Existing tools didn’t address this need to perform usability tests on a regular on-going basis, and that’s why we started to build Userbrain.

Q7. The usability testing tools field has lots of competition, why did you decide to enter this field, what differentiates Userbrain from the competition?

All the other usability testing tools provide their customers with fast feedback whenever they need it. While that’s useful, it’s not a very smart way of doing usability testing. Why? Because you get accustomed to only testing when you absolutely have to.

We believe though, that the true potential of user feedback lies in making it an integral part of your workflow, instead of just testing every once in a while. Userbrain is not for fast on-demand testing, it’s for product developers to continually receive user feedback each week, for months or even years.

This has two primary benefits;

  • First, it continuously streams usability data to the business so that on-going optimization becomes part of their business (a competitive advantage).
  • Second, it reduces the overall cost of each usability testing session to something along the lines of $10 per test, unlike competitors who charge $35, $50 or even more per test.

As you might imagine, Userbrain doesn’t work for some agencies who are just conducting one-time only usability projects. They live in a fast-paced, deadline-driven world, and they need instant feedback. That’s not the model for Userbrain, instead we focus on businesses that rely on continuously improving their websites, applications or related tools.

The primary advantage in using Userbrain is delivering on-going usability testing data to continuously optimize the user experience. And ultimately, improving the user experience is about improving a website or application for customers, for people. Userbrain is for businesses who care about improving their websites over the long run. It’s not about speedy one-off projects. Userbrain is about on-going, durable testing and optimization.

Q8. As an entrepreneur and start-up founder, what do you find are common issues or misunderstandings about starting a business?

The biggest misunderstanding we had was that we thought we needed to work for someone else and learn from their knowledge first, before we started working at our own company. That’s just wrong! As Einstein put it, the only source of knowledge is experience, and that’s why you have to just dive into it and gain your own experience.

You don’t have to take a job somewhere else before you’re able to start a business. You can just do it. Now! You can always figure the rest out later while you’re going. What’s the worst thing that could happen to you anyway? Well, the worst thing is, that you are not successful. You can then still search for a job and work for someone else.

Q9. What do you think it takes to be a successful start-up?

You have to be honest. Not only to your clients, customers, or colleagues—you have to be honest to yourself. Am I working too much? Do I enjoy what I do every day? Should I change something about my situation? There are a lot of uncomfortable questions you have to ask yourself every day. And while this sounds scary, it’s the most enjoyable part of owning a business.

The moment you realize that you are in control, everything starts to change. You stop whining about circumstances, you stop blaming others for your misfortune, and you stop searching for excuses. You grow comfortable in the person you become, and if you dislike anything about your life or even about yourself, you just change it. That’s what successful people do.

Q10. You are located in Graz, Austria, is that correct? Have you felt like Europe, and specifically Central and Eastern European countries, are now more aware of and involved in UX? If so, why do you think that is?

We talk a lot to colleagues from other companies, and of course we meet a lot of students. Those from Eastern European countries especially seem to be deeply involved in UX. You have to imagine, they drive some hours just to meet on a Saturday and enjoy a handful of talks about Design and Usability. They are in their twenties and they spend a weekend in a conference room, while the rest of us are having well deserved weekends. That’s just amazing!

Some of them told us that there are not a lot of job opportunities in their home countries. That’s why they drive to Graz for example, just to connect to like-minded people. And that’s also why they get involved in UX. They were not born into a world of bells and whistles, and they realize that they have to use their creative potential for more than just putting lipstick on pigs. They care about UX because they care about people and the world they live in.

Q11. What do you think the next two years or so will bring for usability and UX?  What is the next big thing?

The next big thing? Maybe one of these emerging usability testing tools ;)

A lot of people are cheering for UX. Since it’s the nature of UX to take on a holistic viewpoint, they will eventually start to care about usability testing. Over the next few years, the biggest innovations in usability will not be in some academic domain. They will be in making usability testing methods available for ordinary people.

Designers, developers, and any kind of creator will start asking for new ways to improve their work with real users. It will be a time of making usability testing available for the mass market.

Q12. What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

That’s a tough one! To be honest with you, we don’t know yet. We always did what we enjoy, and when it works, we do more of it. If it doesn’t work, we just stop doing it. That said, we don’t have any specific plans for our future careers.

Anyway, we want to keep our focus on people. Instead of consulting with these people, we more and more want to help these people help themselves. We want everyone to learn about usability, and start doing their own tests.

Why?

Because we think that’s the most effective way to build something valuable. Being valuable—that’s what we want to focus on.

Conclusion: Interview with the Simplease & Userbrain.net team.

My thanks to Andreas Riedmüller, Markus Pirker, Mathias Placho and Stefan Rössler for their thoughts, and good luck with Simplease and your latest startup, Userbrain!

Clearly, having four co-leaders of a successful strategic design and usability firm is unique in the industry. It is also notable that many applications, whether web or mobile based, are developed in European countries by start-ups, existing businesses and entrepreneurs.

And in my own case, some of the plugins and even the very WordPress theme for this site were developed by entrepreneurs and firms in Central and Eastern European countries. Whether this trend will last who can say, but the interest in UX and Usability expressed by the attendees of the meetings and lectures in European Universities and business conferences is I think a real hint of what the future may have in store for design and development.

Watch out Silicon Valley, a new entrepreneurial hot bed might just possibly be developing in Europe! Only time will tell.

And thanks again to the team at Simplease and UserBrain.net for their time in conducting this interview.

Note: Companies mentioned in this article may or may not be sponsors of this site. However, in no way does their sponsorship or lack thereof impact the results of this or any other editorial content on the site. The editorial content of this and all other articles written by the Editorial team is determined without regard to whether a company is a sponsor of the site or not.

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Usability Testing Tools Poll Results Tell an Interesting Story

UsefulUsability-Poll-What-Usability-Testing-Tool-Do-You-Use-RESULTS-326x235The Usability testing tools poll results are coming in for the question, “What usability testing tools do you use?” Here’s the story that the results to date are telling.

As of December 7th, 2014, there are over 201 votes from 147 visitors of UsefulUsability.com. Although the results are not necessarily statistically significant at this point, there are some interesting trends we can see already.

Chart of Usability Testing Tools Poll Results by Number of Votes for Tools Used

Usability-Testing-Tools-Results-Graph-from-UsefulUsability
Number of Votes for Usability Tools Used by UsefulUsability.com Visitors

Loop11 and UserZoom top the list

Near a dead-heat for first place, both Loop11 and UserZoom rank as the top most voted usability testing tools for this poll among visitors of UsefulUsability.

Why might that be?

Among some of the possible reasons, both of these tools are web-based, they both are remote un-moderated usability testing tools that can be set up anywhere, delivered anywhere, and they both work on both PC-based and Mobile experiences. These are key advantages of web-based tools not shared by platform-based in person tools.

In addition, in my opinion this also reflects the need usability practitioners have for executing research projects that incorporate multiple tools within the main tool. Both Loop11 and UserZoom provide usability, card sort, task metrics, reporting and other handy devices that make conducting and reporting on UX research testing easier and more efficient.

Loop11 Usability Testing Tool image from UsefulUsabilityLoop11 has the ability to provide task based testing of not only your website, but your competitor’s website as well. This enables a true ‘apples to apples’ comparison of your experience versus your competitor’s experience, something that might help from a product or marketing standpoint. In addition, Loop11 provides handy reporting of a variety of user data after completion of the testing. Loop11 offers pricing packages, for either one-off project based needs ($350 per project) or for a more on-going type need of a monthly pricing plan ($158 to $825 per month based on company size).

UserZoom usability testing tool image from UsefulUsabilityUserZoom is another remote un-moderated usability testing tool that has the additional benefit of recording users voices and/or faces as they conduct task, plus recordings of their screen interaction. UserZoom also includes the ability to record sessions (including face and audio) of mobile sessions, a big advantage in helping researchers define the ‘why’ of poor or good task performance. UserZoom also provides other tools very handy for usability and UX research, including Card Sorts, Click testing and heatmaps, Voice of the Customer and more. UserZoom offers several pricing packages, with the Business pricing starting at $19,000 per year. Agency and Consultant pricing is a more reasonable $1,000, and University pricing (you must be a professor) at a price that is not mentioned on their website.

Morae and UserTesting also Rank High

In another near dead-heat for third place, Morae and UserTesting are nearly tied. Morae is a desktop solution that enables recording of usability testing sessions using advanced tools that are perfect for in-person moderated usability testing sessions. UserTesting is a relatively popular service for remote unmoderated usability testing on both PC and Mobile devices.

Why are they both near the top and ranking high?

Both of them are strong tools for usability practitioners that need a robust solution for obtaining critical usability testing research data. Both of these solutions are popular with practitioners, although it takes a bit more expertise to use Morae’s full capabilities than a casual usability fan may realize.

Alternatively, UserTesting was one of the earliest web-based tools to enable even casual usability fans to use a sophisticated system to capture usability testing sessions, at a fraction of lab costs.

Both of them represent unique needs of usability testing, one at the more expert level, and one at the more basic level.

Morae image from UsefulUsabilityMorae by TechSmith is the popular usability testing lab in a box. The tool is PC-based, and enables full recording of all user screen, click and related engagement activity, along with voice and video of the tester. Morae was considered the first tool to allow usability practitioners to be able to be uncoupled from cludgy and clunky video camera, screen capture recorders and lab set-ups. As such, Morea is still a very powerful and useful tool for those practitioners who need to be able to set-up and run in-person moderated usability testing sessions. Pricing for Morae is $1,995, although there are discounts available for government, non-profit and educational institutions.

UserTesting-300x200-image-from-UsefulUsabilityUserTesting was one of the earliest remote un-moderated usability testing tools available and is a popular choice for usability practitioners and others who need quick user experience data. UserTesting offers recorded sessions with both screen interaction and the users voice describing their activity as they perform the testing tasks. UserTesting also offers both PC and Mobile based recorded sessions, which makes learning about cross-device user experiences easy and quick. UserTesting offers the ability to use their own very large panel of testers, or to recruit your own testers. Pricing is a major reason UserTesting quickly became the popular choice of tools for usability research, as each session costs $49, and you can have as many or as few sessions as you wish. A Pro version of pricing is also available for $225 per month for small businesses and $1,250 per month for enterprises.

The rest of the Usability Testing Tools Poll Picks

The rest of the usability testing tools used by visitors to UsefulUsability include a broad mix, but lower vote volume, than the first and second level tools mentioned above. These include TryMyUI, Tobii Eye Tracker, UsabilityTools and Silverback, to name a few. Many of these are listed on my recent article, 14 Usability Testing Tools and my older 24 Usability Testing Tools article, so I won’t go into detail here.

As with the above two groups of tools, the key takeaway from the voting data is web-based tools that enable various research methods using remote un-moderated testing techniques are favored. This is because these tools enable an anytime, anywhere type of testing and research that facilitate data capture when and where researcher’s need it. Likewise, specific tools, such as the Tobii Eye Tracker, perform specific functions that help usability practitioners capture the appropriate data based on their specific research needs.

Together, these tools enable usability and UX research and testing in ways only dreamed of just 10 years ago. What the future may potentially bring is really exciting, and will be the subject of a future article I’ll be writing.

Finally, and most importantly, the voting for this usability testing tools poll will continue, and as the numbers add up we may see clear leaders for first, second, third and other positions. As events warrant I’ll update the data to keep you fully informed as to which usability testing tool is receiving the most votes.

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UsefulUsability-Poll-What-Usability-Testing-Tool-Do-You-UseIt is time for a quick poll. This poll asks you to check any and all usability tools you are currently using. It is fine to check more than one tool.

And if your tool is not listed here, just check ‘Other’ and then in the comments please list your tool.

Which usability tools do you currently use?


View Results

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Remember, if your usability testing tool is not listed above just check ‘Other’ and enter your tool or tools in the comments.

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Usability testing training speech and hands-on workshop at the UXPA Austin chapter

My recent speech and training session on Usability Testing was very well received by the 83 members of the UXPA Austin Chapter who attended.

I’ve been receiving more and more requests to speak at UX and usability events. I enjoy speaking at these events as it’s a great chance to educate the community on the application of usability testing to improve conversion and ROI of websites and applications. I also enjoy having a chance to meet others who share my interest in UX and usability.

Here is a brief 6 minute highlight video of the usability testing speech and training workshop I gave:

As I mentioned, I had the pleasure of giving a speech and a hands-on usability testing training session to a packed house of over 80 members of the Austin Chapter of the UXPA (User Experience Professional’s Association). It was an enthusiastic group, and everyone seemed to have a good time learning about and practicing the art and science of usability testing.

What is interesting to me is that even in this enlightened age of usability and UX, there are still many people working creating applications that are unaware of the power of usability testing, and user centered design. That is why I enjoy speaking at industry events, it is a small way I feel I am contributing to the common good, by espousing the benefits of usability testing in application development.

Craig Tomlin speaking to 80 members at the UXPA Austin Chapter Meeting

Prior to the training, I provided a brief overview to the UXPA group of what usability is, why it is so critical for business success, and the proper methods to use to conduct usability testing in one-on-one moderated situations.

Next, the group trained on in-person moderated one-on-one usability testing techniques. Each member of the group had a chance to participate either as a moderator or user. This gave everyone a chance to learn how to conduct a session, keep the user engaged using the think aloud method, and how to probe if the user uncovered a usability issue.

After the speech and training session, all of the attendees said they found the usability testing session very helpful and informative. Because they were testing actual websites and applications, many of them couldn’t wait to rush back to work next day to alert their teams with the findings of their testing. This is truly a case where the training and results from the training are instantly practicable.

Feel free to contact me if you are interested in having me speak at your event and I’ll be glad to get back to you with more information.

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The ultimate list of 24 free eBooks on UX and interface design will help you be a UX rock-star. Study from gurus for free!

Ultimate List of 24 Free eBooks on UX and Interface Design from UsefulUsability.comWant to be a UX rock star like Nick Finck of Amazon Web Services, Dave Garr of UserTesting.com, Jan Jursa of the mighty @IATV or even Jacob Nielsen, the ultimate UX guru?

Then you should study the UX subjects they and other smart UX practitioners know.

But why pay for all that great UX and interface design information when you can get it for free?

Yes, free!

Many UX books, guides and research studies are now available free as eBooks.

I’ve compiled the ULTIMATE list of free UX and Interface Design eBooks so that you have this handy list to help you improve your UX guru-ness.

And even more good news!

There is additional bonus material at the end of this article, carefully curated by me and including some of the top gurus and thought leaders of UX and interface design including:

Here’s the concept of this article in a nutshell:

Without further ado, I present to you…

The ULTIMATE List of 24 Free eBooks on UX and Interface Design

1. The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web by Richard Rutter (updated 2014)

Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web image from UsefulUsability.comContent is king, right? And that content almost always takes the form of text, right? So knowing how best to use text on the web or apps is really important, right?

My friends, study this eBook (which is helpfully presented in web format) and you’ll be the king or queen of good content and great readability.

Presented by FontDeck and Clearleft founder Richard Rutter, this is an excellent source of top-notch typographic style information.

Do NOT make the mistake of assuming all text presented in default mode is good text.

Learn the correct way to present text and typographic style and you’ll progress your UX and interface design career farther, higher and better than ever.

2. Six Circles – An experience design framework by James Kelway (2012)

Six Circles An Experience Design Framework image from UsefulUsability.comHave you noticed how UX and consumer products or services are quickly becoming intertwined, basically the same thing?

Do you think Steve Jobs was onto something when he went waaaaay out of his way to create satisfying and simple experiences?

If yes, then read this book, which will provide you with a framework for how to create and utilize an experience design framework in your organization.

This is required reading for anyone that is designing or creating experiences for organizations, no matter whether an app, product or website.

Let’s face it…

3. Designing Mobile Interfaces by Steven Hoober and Eric Berkman (2011)

Design Mobile Interfaces image from UsefulUsability.comBe sure to scroll down on the page to find all the great mobile patterns!

The book “Designing Mobile Interfaces” is great and is a must read for mobile interface fans. But the authors have created an excellent mobile UI patterns wiki with notes since publication, which can be found on their Designing Mobile Interfaces Wiki.

If you’re into mobile, then don’t try to recreate the wheel.

Save yourself time, energy and frustration and read and use Hoober and Berkman’s great content and mobile patterns. You won’t be sorry!

4. eBook Readers: User Satisfaction and Usability Issues by John V. Richardson Jr., Professor of Information Studies and Khalid Mahmood (2011)

eBook Readers User Satisfaction and Usability image from UsefulUsability.comAre you reading your eBooks on an eBook Reader? If yes, and you’re curious about their design, then this is good research for you!

It’s seldom that we actually have access to free information on the pros and cons of various devices, so this eBook on eReaders is worth reading.

Designing the user experience for multiple device consumption is the new realm of UX, and so it makes sense for you to be thoroughly acquainted with the user satisfaction and usability issues of eReaders, which are rapidly becoming a major way all over the world to access and consume content.

5. Human Computer Interaction Course Notes by Dr. Keith Andrews (2011)

Human Computer Interaction Notes image from UsefulUsability.comHuman Computer Interaction professor Dr. Keith Andrews has been a virtual HCI and UX guru at Graz University of Technology and other notable institutions.

Sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to become better educated about HCI at his courses, but I have the next best thing, his notes! And now you do too!

Now you too can follow along with course notes in HCI and build a foundation of the principles of UX.

Well worth reading for UX beginners and advance UXers as well!

6. UX Storytellers – Connecting the Dots by 42 UX Masterminds (2010)

UX StoryTellers Connecting the Dots image from UsefulUsability.comThis is a compilation of stories from 42 UX gurus as they share their personal experiences of being a User Experience professional.

Edited by Jan Jursa, Stephen Kover and Jutta Grunewald you’ll read personal anecdotes from the likes of; Aaron Marcus, Andrew Hinton, Daniel Szuc, Deborah Mayhew and many more.

It’s a good read and well worth your time. UX stories from practitioners are an excellent way to add to your UX knowledge.

And of course the price is right (it’s free)!

7. Designing for the web by Five Simple Steps and Mark Boulton (2009)

Designing For The Web image from UsefulUsability.comDesigning for the web is not as easy as just writing some copy and throwing a few pictures around for good measure. No, not at all!

Or at least so says Mark Boulton.

It takes an approach that includes researching the usage of the site, understanding typography, utilizing color for navigation as well as presentation and creating a usable and satisfying layout.

This guide, “A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web” will teach you the best techniques for designing your website, using the tried and true principles of graphic design.

8. Getting Real by 37signals aka BaseCamp (2009)

Getting Real image from UsefulUsability.comOver 15 Million people use BaseCamp, the project and communication software which is what the company formerly known as 37signals created.

15,000,000 people!

That kind of success doesn’t happen often, so when the team that created BaseCamp writes a FREE eBook on the right way to build a successful web application, you should read it!

The Getting Real book has sold more than 30,000 copies at $19 online, and is still selling the paperback version at $20. This free eBook includes 16 chapters and 93 essay articles, and did I mention that this is 100% free?

9. Search User Interfaces by Marti A. Hearst (2009)

Search User Interfaces image from UsefulUsability.comPop quiz!

What’s the number one way users try to find information on your site after your website navigation fails? And BTW, it fails a LOT more than you think.

Answer, your website search of course!

The VAST MAJORITY of UX designers and developers rarely, if ever, spend real and valuable time ensuring their search function and interfaces are maximized for success!

Why risk losing your valuable visitors because your search interface sucks? Remember the golden rule of usability…

10. Taking Your Talent to the Web by Jeffrey Zeldman (Updated 2009)

Taking Your Talent to the Web image from UsefulUsability.comThis book, “Taking Your Talent to the Web” has been RATED FIVE STARS at Amazon.com since the day it was published!

Yes, it’s that good!

And now dear reader, it’s absolutely free to you.

The book was originally written in the dark eon of 2001 by guru Jeffrey Zeldman, founder of Happy Cog Studios, for print designers whose clients want websites, print art directors who’d like to move into full–time web and interaction design, homepage creators who are ready to turn pro, and professionals who seek to deepen their web skills and understanding.

11. User Centered Design – The Fable of the User-Centred Designer by David Travis (2009)

The Fable of the User Centred Designer image from UsefulUsability.comI heart Userfocus, and so should you. They know their usability.

So when they (meaning Dr. David Travis) write a short, interesting journey of one young man as he learns the three secrets of good user-centered design, it’s something you can and should read and leverage.

It’s only 40 pages long.

But after reading it, you will have a much better comprehension for the framework of the user-centered approach to UX and interface design, and be able to apply it at will.

Live the fable, read the eBook!

12. Building Accessible Websites by Joe Clark (2008)

Building Accessible Websites image from UsefulUsability.comThe odds are VERY high that you either have a family member, or know of someone at least one degree connected who has some form of disability. Accessibility is probably pretty important to that person.

Yet, and this is odd, many website and application designs are developed with little or no regard to ensuring good accessibility.

I say ‘odd’ because 15% of the world’s population have significant physical or mental disability (according to the World Bank and World Health Organization). Why EXCLUDE 15% of your target audience just due to lack of accessible websites?

This free eBook by Joe Clark will not only help you help that target 15%, but will make your website or application easier for everyone else to use as well.

13. Converting the Believers by Usereffect (2008)

Converting the Believers image from UsefulUsability.comI love Dr. Pete. Well, not in THAT way. But you know what I mean.

Most people know him as the SEO guru and frequent (and highly funny) tweeter ( @dr_pete).

But this guy ALSO knows usability backwards and forwards!

He actually is a cognitive psychologist, and lifelong programmer (now apparently reformed).

If you want good conversion (and we all do), then reading “Converting the Believers How to Turn Website Visitors into Buyers” is a must read.

14. Introduction to Good Usability by Peterpixel (2008)

Introduction to Good Usability image from UsefulUsability.comPeter Conradie, aka @peterpixel is a PhD student at Ghent University, and something of a long time usability proponent.

His writings about good usability and design guidelines have been compiled into a short but interesting free eBook.

For user-centered design or usability learners, this is a good reference to get you into the amazing and fun-filled world of UX.

It’s definitely worth anyone, whether a beginner or advanced practitioner, to freshen up from time to time on the subject.

15. The Best & Worst of the Mobile Web by mobiThinking.com (2008)

Best and Worst of the Mobile Web image from UsefulUsability.comDon’t you just love a good horror story?

You know, like the ones where a young couple is making out in the back seat of a car, so involved in their passion that they don’t see the horrible monster of bad user experience and usability about to jump at them through the interface of their smart phone or iPad!

Hide my eyes, I can’t look!

Well, there are other monsters, and beauties, in the form of mobile web usability. This is a great book if you want to be reminded on what to do, and not do, when designing the UX or interface for mobile usage.

16. Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design by Shawn L. Henry (2007)

Just Ask image from UsefulUsability.comWe all know that there’s no such thing as asking a dumb question.

There are only dumb answers, right?

So this free eBook, “Just Ask, Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design” is one you should definitely NOT be afraid to ask for and tell about.

Let’s face it, with 15% of the world’s population having significant physical or mental disabilities, knowing the right way to make the UX more accessible is a benefit for you, your visitors and your firm.

17. Time Management for Creative People by Mark McGuinness (2007)

Time Management for Creative People image from UsefulUsability.comWant to be a UX or interface design rock star?

Then manage your time, because all of us, and I’m including myself as well, are wasting time that we NEVER GET BACK.

You simply cannot be a UX or interface design rock star if you squander time, or worse, cause others to waste their time.

Think about it. As you read this, the seconds of your life are literally ticking away, never to return, moving you inexorably toward that great UX lab in the sky.

But don’t get depressed about it. Instead, use this free eBook to manage your time better! It’s been downloaded over 100,000 times, so I am confident it’ll help you be a more efficient and effective UXer.

18. Designing Interfaces – Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell (2006)

Designing Interfaces image from UsefulUsability.comConsidered a classic and a UX library must have, “Designing Interfaces” is certainly required reading for anyone that fancies themselves a web designer.

The good news here is there is a free set of patterns that the author, Jenifer Tidwell, has made available to all.

Remember, don’t recreate the wheel, start your designs by using one of these complete patterns, and you’ll be that much closer to a UX victory.

19. Web Designers Success Guide: How To Profit From Freelance Web Design by Kevin Airgid (2006)

Web Designers Success Guide image from UsefulUsability.comIs the entrepreneurial spirit, like the Force, strong in you? If so, you may be contemplating, acting on or already involved in running your own freelance web design business.

Here is some sage advice that might help you help your freelance business become a real success.

Don’t make mistakes or trip over landmines that you can in fact avoid!

The step by step instructions in this eBook will help you be a better freelancer.

And even if you’ve been in the freelance web design business for a while, there’s some great tips here that should help you improve your business and services.

20. Knock Knock: An Incomplete Guide to Building a Web Site that Works by Seth Grodin (2005)

Knock Knoch Seth Godin Book image from UsefulUsability.comSeth Godin is to marketing Gurus as Jacob Nielsen is to Usability gurus. Except he potentially has slightly less hair.

Among Seth Godin’s 17 books there are VERY famous marketing books include “Permission Marketing” and “Unleashing the Ideavirus.”

These books are considered mandatory reading in the dubious marketing gangs circles in which I hang out in.

But less well known is his free eBook; “Knock Knock: Seth Godin’s Incomplete Guide to Building a Web Site that Works” which he used to sell online for $9, but which is now (as I mentioned earlier in this rather long sentence) completely free.

Seth shares in this book his thoughts and insights, based on his own experience, of developing winning websites.

21. How to Recruit Participants for Usability Studies by Deborah Hinderer Sova and Jacob Nielsen (2003)

How to Recruit Participants for Usability Studies image from UsefulUsability.comJacob Nielsen, the Guru of all things Usability and User Experience, provides plenty of free and practical advice in his Alertbox articles. He also provides, for a price, in-person training at his many events.

However, he has ALSO written an excellent resource that is completely free, the “How to Recruit Participants for Usability Studies.”

Whether you’re just starting out in usability, or a long time veteran, you no doubt face the same hurdle of where to find and recruit good usability participants. This free eBook will show you how.

22. Web Style Guide by Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton (1999)

Web Style Guide image from UsefulUsability.comOK, I know what you are thinking.

“Jeez Craig, this is from 1999 for crying out loud. I mean, that was before that whole Y2K thingy, before Twitter, before FaceBook. Bill Clinton was President! Are you SURE this book is relevant today? Really sure?”

Yes. I’m sure.

Inside this free eBook are some basic principles of design that have stood the test of time, because they are central to best practices. Sure, the technology mentioned may be as funny looking as watching an old silent movie, but the information contained is relevant.

You could do FAR worse than reading “Web Style Guide.” Trust me on that one!

23. Task-Centered User Interface Design by Clayton Lewis and John Rieman (1994)

Task Centered User Interface Design image from UsefulUsability.comAgain, don’t let the age of this report fool you, there are excellent ideas here.

This ‘report’ which is actually a very detailed ‘how to’ will walk you through the steps of designing systems based on user-centered tasks, something more software companies should consider.

If you want to know how to design, create, test and execute something that users actually ENJOY using, then this is the guide for you.

Oh, and it’s actually shareware with a suggested donation of $5 to the authors (which they fully deserve, although you can donate as much or as little as you prefer).

24. Mental Models in Human-Computer Interaction by John M. Carroll and Judith Reitman Olson (1987)

Mental Models in Human Computer Interaction image from UsefulUsability.comAnother in the ageless series of eBooks that is relevant today is “Mental Models in Human Computer Interaction.”

HCI in this case refers to users, and their mental models of how they approach interaction with computer based systems.

This is a great reference and good reminder that we don’t build systems for designers, for the product department, for the CTO or even for the CEO.

Bonus UX and Interface Design Material!

Want to know what the UX rock stars consider important or influential books? Want to learn from the best?

Listed below are picks of favorite books or websites where you can read UX rock star advice.

Reading their recommendations or content is a GREAT way to improve your UX and interface design knowledge.

Enjoy!

Dave Garr

Usability testing success stories from UserTesting.com – Let’s face it, selling usability and usability testing internally is hard. Typically your internal Doubting Thomas’ want ‘proof’ that this whole new fangled use-a-whatever testing actually works.

Well look no further, because the case studies from Dave Garr and the team at UserTesting.com will help you address those needs for real proof that usability testing works.

And, Dave has added his favorite book to this list, and here it is…

Don’t Make Me Think, Revised – It’s a GREAT way to easily and efficiently explain what usability and usability testing is to anyone. It’s a classic and MUST HAVE.

Nick Finck

Nick Finck’s inspiration Blog – Good UX and design comes I think from good inspiration coupled with the ability to see the world in a new way from someone else’s eyes.

When that someone else is a UX expert, founder of several UX design shops, a frequent UX and design industry speaker and now one of the head UX honchos at Amazon Web Services (by the name of Nick Finck) then you could do far worse than visit Nick’s blog to catch some cool inspiration.

And Nick has several book recommendations for you, including…

A Project Guide to UX Design, 2nd ed – for those who need to work with UXers (Devs, PMs, etc).

Cadence & Slang – for those who are doing UX and really need to better understand “craft” & “rigger” in their work to produce better results.

Design is a Job – for those young UXers who get upset at clients and have an ego that needs a bit of taming perhaps.

Jan Jursa

Jan Jursa’s fire hose of UX Tweets – Anyone more than casually interested in UX or design no doubt has heard of Jan Jursa and his @IATV twitter feed and IA Television blog.

If not, make sure you connect!

His twitter feed is a non-stop fire hose of useful UX and design (AND IA, AND usability, AND analytics, etc. etc. etc.) information.

He also is the guy of Europe’s premiere mobile UX summit: mobX

Rich Gunther

Rich Gunther, founder of Ovo Studios and 2013 UXPA President shared a few books he considers worth of mention, here’s what he has to say…

Human Factors Psychology – Even though it’s a bit dated and broader than just traditional UX modalities like software, websites, etc., I find that most of the chapters in this book have been earmarked in some fashion throughout my career. The examples are not going to feature things like smartphones, of course, but with a little squinting the lessons still apply well.

Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected World – As UX has spread worldwide, we practitioners have had to become much more, well, worldly. This book discusses a lot of the ins-and-outs of this.

Nielsen Norman Group

Nielsen Norman Group Alertbox – I included it above, but just in case here it is again. Guru UX thinking from the guru of UX and usability, Jacob Nielsen and the Nielsen Norman Group.

Daniel Szuc

Daniel Szuc is head of Apogee Asia and founder of the UXPA Hong Kong, along with a noted speaker and UX celebrity. Here are his recommendations for UX books…

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights – Interviewing Users provides invaluable interviewing techniques and tools that enable you to conduct informative interviews with anyone.

This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases – If you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sell the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other.

Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected World – As UX has spread worldwide, we practitioners have had to become much more, well, worldly. This book discusses a lot of the ins-and-outs of this.

Conclusion: The ULTIMATE List of 24 Free eBooks on UX and Interface Design

This then is the ULTIMATE list of 24 free eBooks on UX, Interface Design, the Universe and everything.

There are plenty of other UX celebs I didn’t mention in this post, but because this is now over four thousand words, and because your eyes are probably crossed with all the reading, let’s agree to stop for now.

But what do YOU think?

Did I mention your favorite?

If not, leave it in the comments!

Other UX and Usability Articles You May Find Useful:

15 Valuable Usability PDFs you Never Heard Of

10 Must See Usability Videos

5 Radical Ideas from Usability Presentations

14 Usability Testing Tools Matrix and Comprehensive Reviews

Image courtesy Samantha Marx via Flickr Creative Commons

Kill your conversion killing carousel now, before further damage is done to your website ROI and revenue

Kill conversion killing website carousels nowKill conversion killing carousels now, because a carousel is one of the major reasons why your conversion is much weaker than it could be.

Website carousels or sliders were all the rage a few years ago. You almost couldn’t visit three sites without finding two that were using them.

What’s a carousel? It is the technology that allows a series of images to briefly appear on the home page, then rotate in order, being replaced by the next, and the next, after several seconds go by.

The theory behind using carousels was threefold:

  1. Allow multiple messages designed for multiple personas to appear on the all-important above the fold screen real estate on the home page
  2. Provide a mix of messaging in one place, typically including Branding, Product-specific, and Thought-leadership
  3. Placate internal stakeholders who demand their messaging be present on the home page

The Data is in, Carousels are Bad for Conversion

Sadly, carousels just don’t work. Not at all. Based on website audits, conversion data and usability testing I have been collecting over the past several years I can conclusively say most carousels are hurting conversion, some modestly, and many severely.

The reason carousels do not work is because the theory behind carousels is wrong. The theory is that home page visitors will hang around long enough to see each of the messages. In fact, the vast majority of website visitors will only spend a few precious seconds on a home page before either navigating into the site, or leaving it. They typically never see all the carousel images.

If a carousel has 5 images, each of which appears for 3 seconds, and allowing 1 second for the ‘sliding in’ and ‘sliding out’ transition effects, then for a visitor to see all 5 sliders it would require a total of 20 seconds (5 images X 4 seconds per image = 20 seconds total).

The problem is, website visitors do not actually stay nearly that long. Most sites are lucky if the majority of their visitors stay longer than 10 seconds.

But that is not the worst part, which is that even if they stay, often they will be more confused, not less, by the multiple messages displayed in the series of carousel images.

Going even further, many of the usability tests I conducted revealed that ‘banner blindness’ was occurring on the carousel itself. Meaning most of the study participants simply ignored the sliding or animating messages as they hunted for the information they were interested in. The proof is in the Click Through Rate of banner images, which is not good typically.

Carousel Click Through Rate below .1%

Among the hundreds of website audits I have conducted in the past several years, I have seen average Click Through Rates (CTRs) of less than .1% across thousands of carousel banner images. In fact, that rate is just as bad as the average CTR for banner ads as reported by Google, which currently is at .089%.

DoubleClick click through rates for display ads image from UsefulUsability.com
Google DoubleClick Display Benchmarking Report, U.S., All Verticals, All Formats, Feb 2014-Oct 2010

 Length of Visit Data is the Nail in the Coffin for Carousels

The length of visit data from the hundreds of sites I’ve analyzed over the past several years is the nail in the coffin for carousels. The data is clear and damning to carousel believers that maintain visitors will hang around long enough to view each image. In fact, as the data clearly shows, they don’t.

The average length of visit for most sites is typically under 10 seconds for the vast majority of visitors. This means that most visitors are in fact not hanging around to watch each of the carousel images advance across the home page, and are either abandoning the site immediately or moving on without the opportunity of ever being exposed to the messages in the carousel.

The image below demonstrates an average length of visit report, in this case for a client of mine. Almost all length of visit reports I have seen replicate this data fairly closely. Note that the majority of site visits are less than 10 seconds.

Visit Duration of a typical website image from UsefulUsability.com
The vast majority of length of visits for most websites is well under 10 seconds

Carousels Often Fail the 5 Second Test

As I wrote about in my article on 5 second tests, a home page must communicate three critical pieces of information in 5 seconds, else losing the website visitor potentially forever. They are…

  1. Who you are
  2. What product or service you provide
  3. Why your visitor should care, how can you help them?

Carousel images are notoriously bad at passing the 5 second test. This is because although some images may be on topic, and may help the visitor understand who you are, what you do and why they should care, many other carousel images don’t. The images that fail typically counter-act any benefit derived by the images that succeed in communicating with the target audience. And often, none of the images pass the 5 second test.

Below are results of a 5 second test of two carousel images from an Ecommerce website that sells watches. One image was fairly on-point, and thus scored fairly well. The other image caused great confusion to the visitors, and thus completely failed the 5 second test.

5 second test results from a typical website carousel image from UsefulUsability.com
A 5 second test can reveal which images in a carousel are not working and thus causing poor conversion

The results of the above 5 second test are very typical for the vast majority of sites I have tested. Typically out of five images, only one or two actually do the job of communicating fairly effectively. And the other three or four images are so bad at communicating that they more than counter any slight benefit gained from the good carousel images.

Conversion Improves When Carousels are Killed

Among the hundreds of website audits I have completed in which carousels were causing poor conversion, when my clients killed their carousel, they typically increased their conversion significantly.

The message is clear, kill you carousel before it kills your website!

Conclusion: Kill Conversion Killing Carousels Now!

Kill your conversion killing carousels now, before more damage is done to your website ROI and revenue. The good news is among over 50 websites I sampled, slightly less than a quarter are still using carousels, with the vast majority either removing them entirely, or using a modified version where the carousel is below the main home page image and message.

By removing your carousel and replacing it with content that passes the 5 second test, you will be better off converting those all important website visitors, which will improve your website ROI and revenue.

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