Do you have a relative with dementia? Please help with a website usability study (London)

I’m working on a website usability project for a charity that provides services to anyone affected by dementia. This project will help to ensure that we are delivering support and information services in the best possible way.

We will need an hour of your time on Monday 23 November in Central London. There will be other studies conducted throughout 2010, so please let us know if you’re interested but not available on this date.

If you’d like to participate or to find out more, please complete this form and we will contact you with more information. London travel expenses will be reimbursed.

If you know someone who might be interested in participating, please pass them this information.

Thanks very much for your help with this.

Customer Vs User Experience

Since it came up in discussion at the recent London UX Bookclub where we were discussing Selling Usability: User Experience Infiltration Tactics by John S. Rhodes, I have been thinking about whether it would be useful to start calling myself a Customer Experience Consultant rather than a User Experience Consultant.

In the book, the author advocates using the term ‘customer’ rather than ‘user’ because your business colleagues will both understand & value a ‘customer’ more than a ‘user’. This is not really the reason that I would consider the change, though. It’s actually more about me and the kind of work I do.

The main reason that I would consider changing to a Customer Experience Consultant is because I’ve found that more and more the scope of ‘experience’ that I need to access and can have an impact on goes well beyond the website. Despite the fact that I have much more expertise in engagement with customers in digitally interactive environments, more and more the holistic experience that the customer has with the business I am designing for is relevant and important in the strategy, recommendations and ultimately design work that we do.

By defining myself as a ‘User Experience Consultant’ I am effectively signaling that my scope, interest and usefulness starts and ends at the digital border (however fuzzy that border may be becoming these days). I don’t think this does anyone any favours.

I’m also on the record as not being a huge fan of the term ‘user’, because there are so many more descriptive and humane alternatives. It would be a nice fringe benefit for me to get the word ‘user’ out of my job title.

Of course, there are downsides to this. ‘Customer’ is also a fairly limiting term, it implies consumer focus, it doesn’t allow for differentiation between the person who is ‘buying’ the product/service and the ultimate end user (who can sometimes be very different people!), and it is often too generic and not descriptive enough for companies we engage with, where ‘customers’ are called ‘members’, or ‘readers’, or ‘subscribers’ for example. (Were I working inhouse I could tailor my title to suit, but as a freelancer this is more challenging!).

Another downside of this change is that it creates yet another definition for us (the IA/UX/IxD and however else we already define ourselves) to argue over, it is another title for clients to learn, and it doesn’t give any clues around ‘usability’ which is still something that a lot of clients look for when they are really looking for user experience (but don’t yet know it exists).

I’m not really one for labouring over definitions of what we do, and I don’t think I’m going to go out and change my business cards tomorrow, but it’s something I’ll be mulling over for a while I think. My gut feel is that there is something important here, but also a bunch of problems. I’d be very interested to get your thoughts on this as well, included suggested alternatives.

Translations:
You can now read this post in Belorussian (thanks to Fatcow for the translation).

Make it measurable: set clear goals & success criteria for your projects

Over the past few weeks I’ve been wrapping up and kicking off a bunch of projects. It is during both of these phases that I am reminded how incredibly valuable it is for me, as a UX practitioner, to proactively encourage my clients to clearly define the goal for their project and to create success criteria – ways that we can tell whether or not the project has been successful.

Be specific

In my experience it is very often left up to me to make sure that the project goals are as clear as they need to be. Many clients come into projects wanting ‘to improve the usability of our website/application/etc’, in my experience that is most often too vague a project goal as to be useful.

The kind of project goals that are really useful go more like this:

We’re getting lots of traffic to the site but not many are joining/buying/contributing/coming back. We want to fix this.

We’re getting lots of calls from people who have visited our website but still don’t know what we do. We want to fix this.

People are coming to our site and doing X but we really want them to start doing Y, we want to find out why this is happening and what we need to do to address it.

As soon as you start defining more specific project goals you can immediately see the way that success criteria start to become immediately apparent.

Measuring success criteria

Some success criteria are immediately apparent and easy to measure, for example return visitors, increased membership, activity or sales. Ideally you want to put some numbers around what you’d consider would define this project as ‘successful’, but even just identifying the metrics that you will use to judge the success of the project is a good start.

Some success criteria are less easy to ‘measure’ but don’t let that discourage you. Often for these kinds of criteria I’ll use a round of research to determine whether or not we’ve been successful – those things that are difficult to quantify are often quite easy to examine using qualitative research. I find myself more and more using a last round of research to ‘check off’ the less quantifiable success criteria for projects.

What’s in it for me?

Failure is a built-in risk of success criteria, but don’t let that put you off. Failing knowledgeably is actually an incredibly useful learning experience for practitioner and client alike (and yes, I speak from experience). I would argue that by defining clear goals and success criteria you are going to do nothing but increase your chances of success in a project.

Clearly defined project goals allow you to make all kinds of good decisions on a project and it can impact everything from design decisions through to who you recruit to participate in design. Just the other day a project I’m working on managed to avoid wasting a number of research sessions on ‘people we felt we had to include’ because we were able to really clearly define why, for the purposes of achieving the goals for this project, they were not our target audience. Without the clear goal we would never have been able to come to this decision.

Clearly defined and measurable success criteria similarly guide you through decision making throughout the project, but they also continue to be useful well after a project has wrapped up. Of course, we use them to judge the success of the project, but we can also use them to communicate this success to others in the organisation and beyond. Clearly defined and measured success criteria give us something tangible to talk about and take much of the ‘touchy feely’ fuzziness out of User Experience and that makes it much easier for more people to understand and appreciate the value of the work we have done.

Would love to hear your thoughts & experiences.

Designing for the wrong target audience (or why Drupal should be a developer tool and not a consumer product)

As you may know, I spent a few months this year working with Mark Boulton and the Drupal community to try to make Drupal 7 (their upcoming release) a Great User Experience. I’ve spent the past weeks reflecting on that experience and trying to understand what we learned from that project and with any luck this will be the first of several reflective posts.

It is all to easy to make excuses for why designing in an open source community can be tough. Certainly there are lots of communication challenges and we don’t necessarily have the right tools. Some people focus on the relationship between designers (minority) and developers (majority) in these communities – I think to do so is to focus on a symptom  of the problem and not the cause.

We faced many challenges with the D7UX project, but the greatest of all was to convince the community that the changes we were suggesting were actually going to result in an improvement to their project. There are many who steadfastly resisted our approach and who continue to do so.

It would be very easy to take this personally and to argue about the details of the way the design works (and I most definitely include Information Architecture when I say design). This would also be a fairly typical Drupal thing to do. Actually, I think almost all the issues stem from a much more fundamental place – defining the real purpose of Drupal and it’s real primary target audience.

From the very outset our goal with D7UX was to make Drupal more accessible to people outside of the Drupal community and less technical people – people who didn’t even know what PHP was let alone how to code it. Verity and Jeremy who emerged as part of this definition embody the target audience that the design work that Mark and I were doing in this project. This approach is representative of the goal to make Drupal more of a ‘product’ – an out of the box CMS solution that non-technical users can drive. This is key to the goal to increase the reach of Drupal, as Dries outlined in his keynote at the recent Drupalcon.

There is one big problem with this approach, particularly if it touches the very core of Drupal. The changes that are required to the interface to really achieve the goal that we were tasked with – to really make Drupal understandable to Verity & Jeremy has the consequence of making Drupal a less efficient and enjoyable place for Drupal developers to build cool stuff.

Drupal developers (and some designers!) who want to build cool things with Drupal are the core of the Drupal community. They are the people who make Drupal the incredibly vibrant community that it is. Without these people, Drupal becomes a shadow of it’s current self. These people are more than an important audience, they are the most important audience. What this audience wants is not Drupal as a product that Verity & Jeremy can use out of the box, they want a developer toolkit that gives them more and more flexibility and capability to build cool stuff, and to push Drupal way beyond the realms of a simple Content Management System.

And so we have this tension. Drupal as a ‘Consumer Product’ and Drupal as a ‘Developer Framework’. Currently, the official direction is that the project is going to attempt to be both. I think this is a serious problem.

The target audiences for each of these objectives are so far removed from each other in terms of their tasks & goals, their capabilities, their vocabulary, their priorities. An attempt to devise an interface to suit both will result in an outcome that I expect we’ll see in the release of Drupal 7 – that is a compromise to both parties. Verity is still going to need a lot of support to get anything done in Drupal 7. If Drupal 7 had been designed primarily as  developer tool, it would be a much more focussed and efficient tool for developers. As it is now, it is hopefully an improvement on Drupal 6, but certainly not the best that it could be for developers.

For Drupal to really succeed, a decision has to be made, and I think there is only one decision that can be made. Drupal 8 should be designed with developers as the primary target audience and the language, tools, interface should be designed to support them in their goals of building really amazing stuff using Drupal.

That doesn’t mean that there is not still a lot of work for the User Experience people in the Drupal community to do – there is still an enormous learning curve even for those new to Drupal who have great PHP and other technical skills. It’s going to be much easier to address that learning curve with a more finely targeted audience in mind – or more importantly, with the right target audience in mind.

So what of Verity & Jeremy? How will they ever come to know and love Drupal?

There are a number of ways that we can address the experience of non-technical users of Drupal and to ‘productise’ Drupal as a content management system. The most obvious is to design and develop an admin theme that is specifically targeted at these end users that can be applied by developers once the development work is done and the site is being handed over for administration.

I’m not sure where the incentive to design and develop this theme comes from (given that it doesn’t exist today it strikes me that there is a problem here incentive-wise).

There are also opportunities to be explored with installation profiles (see above though re: the fact that they don’t really exist now and no one seems motivated to work on them, where is the incentive?).

And, of course, we have the emergence of tools such as Buzzr from Lullabot and Gardens from Acquia, perhaps also products like Open Atrium from Development Seed can included in this list.

A tough decision but a necessary one

I know that for many people the idea of making a Drupal that Verity can love, making something that can actively compete from a UX perspective with the likes of WordPress, is a grand aspiration. So it is, but unfortunately I also think it is the wrong aspiration for Drupal core.

The sooner we focus on the core target audience of Drupal core – the developers – and commit to making a user experience that supports them in their use of Drupal, the sooner we’ll really have actually achieved a really Great User Experience for Drupal.

If that is really our goal, then let’s get focussed, let’s re-write the design strategy and principles, and let’s take the work we’ve done already and refocus it more tightly on the community we know and love. Focussing on the strength of Drupal and then looking for new and innovative ways to create and motivate the Drupal community to do a better job of looking after our Verity’s and our Jeremy’s.