Thursday, February 25, 2016

Recommended Web Form Design Books (2016)

Form Design is one of those things that will always be important as long as we take in user data on our websites, in our applications, at our kiosks, etc. But, where can we go to learn how to do this better?

I believe that we can ask the UX industry through the web to give us the answer. Recently I conducted a quick research effort where I asked the internet... 

"Which books are the best books to read on Form Design?"

I essentially searched for terms like "Best Book Form Design" and "Book layout Form Design". Out of the 70+ different websites I visited, I found that the following book recommendations on the topic of Form Design bubbled to the top of my list by honorable mentions.

The lesson learned from this exercise? If I want to beef up my knowledge on web form design, I'll likely start with reading Luke Wroblewski's Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks. After that, I'll read Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney's Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability. I have to admit that there are some others on the list that I wouldn't mind checking out also.

Here's the link to my Google Sheet where I kept track of the 70+ different websites:

Recommended Form Design Books List (2016)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Testimony isn't always a solid foundation for design

My dad would say there’s always two sides to a story. Having a good healthy dose of skepticism was a skill he felt appropriate for the proper socialization of his child. Every now and then as we’d be listening to the radio, we’d hear a testimonial from someone. No matter who it was, what their credibility or what the scenario, it was common (and probable) for him to add his own take on the situation. For example he might say “Yah right, you probably lit the house on fire yourself to claim on insurance!” He’d keep his disbelief and criticality right out in plain sight, unaware of contending nose curls and raised eyebrows of those around him. Many writers believe that testimonies are a strong piece of evidence for basing an argument. I would like to submit a caution to the one who solely relies on this form of evidence, for there are always two sides to a story, and there are always skeptics that need elephant sized rebuttals.

Further objectionable dismantling of assumptions is needed if we aren’t able to literally climb into one’s head to determine how “in touch with their moral compass” they are.

A testimony can only give us one’s perspective. That is the precise reason for the need for an objectionable dismantling of assumptions. Further testimonies may very well fill the gaps of the story, or perhaps other forms of evidence such as those that Aristotle has provided us for Rhetoric. Either way, one testimony, no matter who the source, simply can leave too much room for one to form inaccurate assumptions. Depending on the stakes of the argument, or the severity or priority of the need for the testimony, we would be doing ourselves and those interacting with our work a disservice if we only give them our subjective assumption-filled singular standing testimony.

One definition of the word Testimony, coming from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, says that it is “something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth.” ("Definition of Testimony.") If someone promises to tell the truth, then certainly there isn’t any chance that they might “bear false witness” (Exodus). Of course that is not a true statement. One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of when false witness has occurred in the legal system. In fact, it happens so much that someone thought it appropriate to come up with the word “Perjury” to hold the definition for “telling a lie in a court” (“Definition of Perjury").

One hope that a testimony offers is that what is told may protect one from eminent doom of potential injury such as humility or incarceration. But then, severity of the situation may create a sense of requirement for the person who is strongly in touch with their moral compass to put forth the truth even at personal risk. Yes, that same severity or priority may very well be what causes another person of the opposite moral standing to side with a shielding lie. Further objectionable dismantling of assumptions is needed if we aren’t able to literally climb into one’s head to determine how “in touch with their moral compass” they are.

Another hope that testimony can carry is potential to build credibility. In J. L. Austin’s work titled How to do things with words, she states “The statement of an authority makes me aware of something, enables me to know something, which I shouldn’t have otherwise known. It is a source of knowledge.” (Austin). So, then perhaps this is why the rhetoricians come to testimony. It’s a trust relationship that those who wish to continue a “sands of time” conversation must adopt in order to take part in such a gathering of words and thoughts. An authority is assumed to be the expert on the subject matter. And so, a submitting to this ranking must take place. Yet, isn’t it still wise to seek an objectionable dismantling of assumptions even when we’re asked to believe this, or that by those in power, in authority, in higher rank, or in “control” of a space, place, or domain of knowledge?

It’s a trust relationship that those who wish to continue a “sands of time” conversation must adopt in order to take part in such a gathering of words and thoughts.

In Jakob Nielsen and J. Levy’s article titled “First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to the User” (Nielsen), we learn that “To design the best UX [User Experience], pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior...” The problem with testimony is that we don’t often report well on our behaviors, which has a direct connection to testimony. Although this can be somewhat insulting to some, the claim that Jakob Nielsen is putting forth in his article is a well known and tested research concept.

Taking this a bit further, one common research method relies heavily on testimony and also finds itself in the User Experience Design field: Surveys. Professional Researchers / User Experience Designers Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler both contend that one of the biggest challenges with written, online or in person surveys is “Making sure questions are well-written so that you get accurate answers without leading respondents to a particular answer.” (Unger) Are people really that mallable? The answer has been proven to be a resounding, “Yes”.

To conclude, one might infer that the situation that the testimony finds itself being presented has a strong influence on the actual testimony that comes out. In other words, the story is only partly right depending on priorities, severity of issues, person’s clarity of mind, and their bond to a moral compass. It’s up to every person who seeks truth to put on their research hat. There are situations where testimony can let us down in court, in life, or even in conversation with others, or perhaps it can fill gaps in our full vision of the unknown. The fact is that we don’t have cameras all over the world in every situation and thus don’t have a better way to hear about “this” or “that”. We are reliant on eyes to be our cameras and minds to be our recording device. Each person must work out whether they will trust the words of another individual, or if they will conduct an objectionable dismantling of assumptions.

Works Cited:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Consumerism Comprehension

What does consumerism have to do with User Experience? It's important that we take time to comprehend those larger influences of our user's behavior. With a clear understanding of Consumerism, we can be more intentional about those decisions we get to make.

Have you ever thought for a moment, “How the heck did I get to work?” in a way that was not necessarily due to you literally forgetting the steps that got you there, but in a way that was more like discovering that the mundane ritualistic tendencies have reached a point where you barely have to think about the tasks; you simply do them on “autopilot”? I’ve done this. In fact, many of the choices I make are determined by my practiced “autopilot” behavior. Take shopping for example. Like many workers around me, I find that I live from paycheck to paycheck. The money comes in, I spend it, and then I have to go back to work to get more of it. Where does it go? Food, Shelter,... Entertainment? Yes, even my choice in entertainment is subject to my “autopilot” tendency. Perhaps it’s because I can watch a movie within two hours that allows me to experience an adventure, romance, or scientific thought that would otherwise (or in real life) take upwards of days. My shortage of time is maximized. For that form of entertainment I pay, and that continual payment practiced over time contributes to a phenomenon known as Consumerism. With knowledge gained by exploring consumerism and its impact on the systems around me, I am able to intentionally and intelligently curb my own behaviors potentially for a greater good.

Some might say that one of the most obvious vehicles by which consumerism has influenced systems surrounding us is the marketing machine and the advertisements that it generates to help sell products. In “Chapter 7: Consumerism” of the book American Society: How It Really Works by Erik Olin Wright and Joel Rogers, it states that “Ads do much more than simply transmit information: they display and reinforce certain values, constantly affirming the association between happiness and consumption, between success in life and buying things, between sexual attractiveness and particular forms of consumption”. In my words, this sneaky, conniving mechanism seeks to leverage all the worst attributes I have in order to help a company make a sale. In this next section we’ll look at the three examples I’ve found in a bit more detail.

The first marketing sample is a Winston Cigarette advertisement taken from a Stanford College website dedicated to researching into the impact of tobacco advertising (see figure 1). This ad depicting a young attractive lad with a cigarette in hand and a pack of Winston’s in her back pocket is clearly trying to sell Winston brand cigarettes to men. I believe it’s directed at men specifically because the product is placed in the attractive women’s back pocket. The ad seems to be playing on the male tendency to be more sexually stimulated by way of “visual cues” (Seltzer). I’m lead to think that if maybe if I’m sitting at a table outside smoking, that I am likely going to meet pretty women who also smoke. Unfortunately for Winston, the advertisement doesn’t work for me since I once-upon-a-time smoked (10+ years), but have since quit (5+ years). For some though, this simple visual is enough to lead them to purchase.
The next ad I want to look at is one taken from the Caples Awards website (, which is dedicated to “honoring the best in direct and interactive marketing around the world” (Caple Awards / Direct Marketing news) (see figure 2). This ad showing skillfully drawn art using a Sharpie marker on paper cups seems to be targeting artists. In her lecture titled “Why do we consume so much”, Juliet B. Schor said that one of the structure features to blame for excessive consumerism is what she referred to as “Consumption Competitions” (Schor). She stated that “The dominant goal of consumers now is for status products and luxury”. The ad makes it seem as though if I were to buy this product, that perhaps I could produce an artistic design that could make me famous, or at least set me equal to the others in the art domain. At the end of the day, I’d buy this pen. Not because of the tricky targeting, but because it says that the pen doesn’t bleed through; I don’t like pens that bleed onto the table under the paper.

This final ad taken from the Mercy For Animals website ( is a billboard with a puppy and a piglet (see figure 3). Both are cute. Both are likely friends. One however seems very edible, and one does not… At least the other does not according to our standards for animal consumption here in the United States. This ad seems to be directed at people who eat meat. It’s an attempt to change the meat eating crowds behavior by way of appeal to their sense of logic and emotion. The ad works for me; I will no longer eat puppies.

So what is the lure of shopping and material possessions? For me, it depends on the product and my life situation. Much of the time my family would say that I do not fit into the mold spoken about in the “Consumerism” chapter from Wright and Rogers book that reads “we are naturally acquisitive, and when possible, will always want more stuff”. In fact, I actually tend to be the one who wants to get rid of stuff. I am essentially a minimalist living with four, what appear to be hoarders in their own rights (I may have a mild compulsive tendency that is likely skewing my perception).

A Functionalist might agree with Wright and Rogers statement that “If large numbers of people were to say ‘enough is enough’ and opt for a life style of ‘voluntary simplicity’ by rejecting consumerism, the economy would face very serious difficulties.” Luckily that doesn’t seem to be any sort of possibility in the near future. Maybe the correct approach is for small numbers of people to begin to feel the way I do with my desire to stop the insanity. Stating that it can either be one way or the other is an “either-or” fallacy. The truth is that maybe equilibrium is simply going to happen through a naturally occurring paradigm shift from consumeristic mentality to an attitude of respect for the environment and our neighbor.

One final thought I have is to a scripture I’ve read in the Bible that reads “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale” (Proverbs 18:11). It is utterly likely that to the rest of the world, the United States has placed their confidence in their riches. I have to admit that I too have actually thought to myself that it’s unlikely that we’d ever need to fear an attack because we have resources to drive a defensive and offensive war machine that other countries simply do not have. To that end, maybe it won’t be the other countries in the world, those countries that would strive to dominate or kick the chair out from under us that will do damage in the future of our nation. Maybe it will simply be our fall from our “fortified city” (Proverbs) walls that are “too high to scale” (Proverbs) that will strike the next damaging blow.