Monday, September 8, 2014

Archetypes and Stereotypes

This article is intended to compare between Archetype and Stereotype as it pertains to personas, design, or usability testing.

If you look up Archetype in google, you will find that a simple definition of Archetype is that it's "a very typical example of a certain person or thing.", and going on you c an also see it defined as "an original that has been imitated". That seems pretty straight forward. 

When you refer to archetypes in the design world, you often can't help but avoid the topic of personas. A persona is a profile document of a fictional person that consists of a compilation of the main qualities, characteristics, goals, frustrations and other possible data points of a target user group or archetype for an interface or design. The purpose of personas is to reduce data to usable sizes that are both representative and workable.

When it comes to building personas for a product, it makes sense that we'd want to build our product to meet the needs of specific users without paving the way to "feature bloat". Further, the purpose of personas is to reduce data to usable sizes that are both representative and workable. To create personas that would imitate specific user groupings, should we sit down at the computer and throw our personas together based on our loose assumptions and general understandings of our users without putting forth a little bit of up-front research and due diligence? Hopefully your answer to this question is no.

In order to create a "very typical" user persona (or role for usability testing), we need to do a bit of research. Usability testing, contextual research, and surveys will help us best understand how to appropriately create a archetypal user pattern for use in communications and design.

This term generally carries a whole host of negativity along with it. For example, how many times have you been flipping through channels, to come across an older lady with curly hair dressed in dusty 1950's cloths and carrying a bible. To top off this visual, you see that she is angry about someone doing something wrong! 

As a Christian, I notice this all the time AND yes, for me it is an insult. You've probably encountered some stereotype at some point that has been either personally offensive, or that you have found uncomfortable. 

I like to think of stereotypes as simply uneducated guesses based on the person's own subjective reasoning and pasts experiences.

Making Sense of this Phenomenon
Like every lie, there are general truths that can be found... But let's put that phrase completely behind us when looking to improve our design or user experience skill. To avoid offending folks, make sure you are basing your personas, role, and/or profile types on facts.

If you take one thing away from this article, it's that our decisions for grouping (or pigeon-holing) should not be taken lightly, otherwise, you run the risk of producing a product that is either ill informed and doesn't meet appropriate need, or even worse... making enemies with the business that you are designing for.

Keep your grouping informed and respectful to the groups you are design for. keep it positive and up-beat without crossing any lines.


Monday, September 1, 2014

UX Definitions

A/B Testing
A term used to describe a testing method where two or more variations of a design are presented to users to see which one does better. Generally the measurement is based on key business metrics.

Confidence Interval
A confidence interval is a range that estimates the true population value for a statistic. A confidence interval is a way we can understand the role of sampling error in the averages and percentages that are ubiquitous in user research.

Competitive Analysis
Competitive Analysis is a research approach in which a comparison is made of two or more competing or similar designs.

Dark Pattern
The term 'Dark Pattern' is used to describe design patterns and practices that may be sneaky, tricky, or carry a deliberately applied illusion about them. These Dark Patterns aim to exploit the user's tendency to be persuaded or manipulated to complete a task or provide information that the user would not normally divulge or carry out. Dark patterns can take form at all levels of design.

Formative Research
Research carried out with the intent of capturing qualitative or quantitative data that can help mold or form a product, service or design. As such, it's usually research that is done when a product, service or design is being first created, or as part of a redesign effort.

Guerrilla Usability Testing
Guerrilla Usability Testing is a term that is used to refer to the practice of conducting high level, quick, and cost efficient tests. One such guerrilla usability test is a Hallway Test.

Hallway Test
The term 'Hallway Test' is used to refer to a method of usability testing in which random users (who might be walking by in the hall) are recruited to participate in a usability test. Hallway Tests are generally used when timelines and tight deadlines are preventing a greater amount of resources. It is also a fantastic method of testing early designs as it helps identify large scale design problems that are still being worked out. This method of testing might be considered an example of a Guerrilla Usability Test.

Halo Effect
The Halo Effect refers to a generalization that is made based on one or more outstanding characteristics of a person, product, service, or design which results in an overly favorable evaluation of the entirety of that which was evaluated.

Heuristic Assessment or Evaluation
A Heuristic Assessment is when a member or members of a UX Design Team conduct a "best practices" evaluation of a product, service or design with the explicit goal of identifying usability focus points.

Interaction Design Principles
A set of general principles that provide guidance in determining appropriate system behavior in a variety of contexts.

Mean (numeric)
The Mean number is the average number, calculated by adding all the other numbers in a group, then dividing the total number by the count of numbers in the group. Example: The average of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 is calculated in this way: (5+6+7+8+9)/5. The mean number of that group is 7.

Median (numeric)
The Median number is the number in the middle of a sorted list. For example, if the list is 10, 3, 5, 4, 11, then the sorted list would be 11, 10, 5, 4, 3 or 3, 4, 5, 10, 11. The Median for both of those lists is 5. 

In the case where there are an even number of values in a list such as 11, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, then to get the Median, then mean number of the two middle numbers would be gathered. In other words, 5+4/2. The Median of this list would be 4.5.

Mode (numeric)
The Mode number is the number that appears most often in a list of values. For example, if the list is 11, 10, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, then the mode is 5 because it appeared two times. 

If there is no repeated number in the list, then there is no mode. 11, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 does not have a mode.

The Multi-channel Experience
The Multi-channel Experience is a way of referring to the interconnection between hardware screen resolutions of various sizes and how a screen design, or user interface is served up within each based on the users contextual needs, and the platforms capabilities. One design might show all functions of the UI in the desktop display, however when viewed on tablet a less complex version may be served up. Further, a mobile screen may show only the minimum functions from the full site.

Parallax Scrolling
Parallax Scrolling is the term used to identify a design technique where a page's code is configured so that images set at different layers move in different ways based on a user's scroll input.

The user who is observed as they complete tasks in a user test. When we refer to them as a participant, we focus on their role in a session as a target user.

A persona is a profile document of a fictional person that consists of a compilation of the main qualities, characteristics, goals, frustrations and other possible data points of a target user group or archetype for an interface or design. The purpose of personas is to reduce data to usable sizes that are both representative and workable.

Qualitative Research
Tells you why you have the problem and is used to collect insights from users to drive design.

Quantitative Research
Tells you what your problem is and involves collecting and measuring research with statistical significance.

Range (numeric)
The "Range" is the difference between the largest and smallest values in a list of numbers. For example, the range of 11, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2 would be calculated like this: 11-2. The range of this last example is 9.

Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a term used to describe a way of planning and designing for the the possibility that the interface will be viewed on varying platforms and screen resolutions. It aims to create the best experience for various strategic channels. See also The Multi-channel Experience above.

Summative Research
Research carried out after a product, service or design has been completed. Usually this sort of research is intended to help validate that design goals have been met. As the name implies, it's a way of summarizing an effort.

(adapted from "The Handbook of Usability Testing")
Usability, as it pertains to the User Experience industry, is the measure of how well a design meets a users needs and expectations without causing them hindrance, hesitation, or question.

Some contributing factors in gauging usability are...
  • How satisfied is a user with the design?
  • If the user hasn't used the design for a period of time, how easily or quickly can they get back up to speed?
  • After learning the design, how quickly can a user make their way through tasks?
  • How many errors do users encounter? How severe are those errors? Can the user recover easily from the error?
  • How easy is it to use the design for the first time?

Usability Study
The total number of testing sessions.

Usability Testing
The process of observing representative users performing realistic tasks with a product so that improvements can be made.

Usability Test
A single testing session.

A person for whom a product is designed. Also called "Representative User", "Targeted User", or "End User". In usability testing, we recruit a target user who becomes a participant in the study.

User Centered Design
User-centered design (UCD) is often referred to as a process of identifying the usability or user experience focus points within a product or service in order to instantiate the new into existence, or better the designs of the past. Through focusing on the user's needs and expectations UCD can at times eliminate or prevent points at which a user might hesitate, be held back, or become road-blocked in their effort to get through a process, to get through a series of screens, or to become proficient with a product.

UX Assessment or Evaluation
A UX Assessment is when a member or members of a UX Design Team conduct a "best practices" evaluation of a product, service or design with the explicit goal of identifying usability focus points.

UX Findings
UX Findings are inferences, or conclusions that a User Experience practitioner, or team of practitioners makes from analyzing the data and/or activities tied to a research effort.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Function Follows Form / Form Follows Function

When it comes to buzz words and phrases in the UX forum, one term comes to mind. Or, rather two phrases come to mind "Form follows function" and the other is "Function follows form". In this article, I will hopefully help shed some light on these two terms and how they apply to what we do in User Experience.

Form Follows Function
"Form follows function" is a principle that has followed architectural design around for some time. Another name you may know this by is "Functionalism". The principle means that what is created is created based on it's intended function rather than based on the intended look. 

Designs born of this concept are likely to be characterized by being minimally decorated, straight angles, flat surfaces, bland color schemes, low movement, and simple. Some might consider these sorts of designs boring.

Here's an example of a building design from the 1930's where the function of the design was much more important than the aesthetics of the building.

And here's a modern day example of a program that has put design in the backseat while function drives...

Really the biggest thing to notice is the purpose of these two examples. They are both focused on getting stuff done. Getting the job accomplished. Completion or fulfillment.

The problem
They may allow the job to get done, or provide a solution to the equation, but do the users of such products want to use the products? If the user's are not invested in usage, there is a likelihood that they will shortly become discontent and seek out a product that is more appealing. Maybe they will look over the fence to see if the grass is greener over there. Maybe they will look for an equivalent that is simply more pretty, or attractive. Just because a design allows the capability to complete a task, does not necessarily mean that the user will find satisfaction in using it.

Function Follows Form
This phrase is a bit newer term that is generally used to downplay the old "Form Follows Function" term. It's basically saying that the design should come first, then depending on the design, we'll figure out what we can do with it. Yikes!!!

I don't think that I've seen this second term employed in that exact context. More often though we can see that an item may be super artistic, almost so much in fact that the design outweighs the purpose or function of the product. 

Here's an example where the design is so overpowering it's difficult to determine what it is that we are looking at. What is it?! I don't know, but I want it because it's so FETCH!!!

And here's a website example. Again, the design is simply overpowering the purpose and action that the website is trying to present. While I'm watching as this website loads various fancy visual effects (which I'm very pleased to be experiencing), I'm finally left on this page. Where do I start? What do I do?

I've personally known folks that will muddle with a product that looks good for a long time even though it may not be functional. It's clear that the problem with this is that looks can only take us so far. At the end of this sort of day, the user's time has been wasted, and they must inevitably seek out a more usable, more capable solution to their goal.

It is clear that form following function, and function following form are not principles that should be adhered to completely or to any great extent. They both can lead to a product that will simply leave us wanting. 

When you are designing your product combine these two principles into one. Remember that without purpose, the product is just a distraction. Without beauty, a product is boring or uninviting. Ideally we should strive to create beautiful, usable products.

Usability is the measure of how well a design meets the needs and expectations of a user without causing them hindrance or hesitation. They are likely going to expect a product to look good AND to meet their needs.