Thursday, June 12, 2014

Usability Part 2 - How To Do It

In my last post, Don't Fear The User Part 1 - Empowering Software Development With Usability Techniques, we talked about what usability is. The practice of making software easy to use. And that you accomplish this by listening to your target end user. Incidentally there is a great post on Good Experience today where Mark Hurst mentions his tweet:

Before you get customers involved, first you should probably check if the boss can handle bad news.

This is important because before you try to do usability work your boss needs to be on board. If you're boss is fearful and can't handle bad news then it might be a futile effort. Instead usability should be empowering. It will resolve problems and can help an organization meet its goals.  Now I'm going to elaborate on how to do it.

Step 1: Who is The End User?

User Experience Designers when we go to work, we do this thing called "User Centered Design". And all this means is we try to focus on The End User when we're designing. Let's use Blogger - this blog - as an example. If I were to sit down and start creating this Google product we know as Blogger, the first question I would ask myself is, "Who is the end user for Blogger?" THAT is the person you design for, not your client or your boss.  You want to target a persona that accurately represents your end users. If you do design for your client, boss, or self the problems are: a) you miss a lot of good ideas b) you miss all kinds of important details c) you might overcomplicate things for the person who needs to use that software d) your boss's wants are in conflict with the end user's etc.

Common question: But what if we want everybody to use our product? There are techniques for that too. For large-scale high traffic websites & apps, there are best practices. And if this is your product, you really need to work with a professional UCD person and I'd love to speak with you more :^)

Step 2: Listen to The End User

Wow I know right? This is so common sense you're probably rolling your eyes. OK but LISTEN - there are ways to listen to your customers. You don't just want to fire off a bunch of surveys, that's sooooo marketing. Nor do you want to ask for a list of all the features the user wants (they'll ask for everything). The best thing to do is listen to users as they interact with something. You take notes and record your research. It's fun and easy. This is also known as User Research, and sometimes referred to as Listening Labs.

Common question: But we aren't even settled on a product idea? Listening to your potential customers will help you figure this out. Watching them use a competitor's product will reveal all the ways you can succeed. If you work with an experienced product designer (ahem) they can help you glean this information from user research.

Step 3: Focus on The End User When Developing Your Product

There's always this temptation while developing something to look at your colleagues and say, "Wouldn't it be cool if it did this?!" It's fun to come up with cool ideas but it's better to postpone frosting the cake until after you bake it. Never forget who you're designing for. Don't let your bosses forget. Remind the developers so they don't forget and code a bunch of shortcuts and hacks.

Step 4: Usability Test

This is not QA testing. You are not looking for bugs. What you are testing is weather or not the end user can perform a task using the product. How long does it take that person to perform the task? How many clicks do they have to make to do what they need to do? Can they find the button? Do they know what feature lives in that dropdown menu?  That is usability testing.  See how agnostic this is? 

Step 5: Apply the Research and Testing To Your Product

Don't just report your research and testing, apply it. Make concrete recommendations for how to fix flaws in the UI that impede people from performing a task. Ideally this is all done as part of a larger development process and you have time allocated for usability testing and time to make changes to your interface.

Here is how to make this sound like bad news to the boss:
"When we did research, people complained that it was hard to sign-up. When we tested the sign-up process, only half the users were able to sign-up."

Instead it's better to discuss improvements you can make to remedy the problem: "When we did research, people complained that it was hard to sign-up. When we tested the sign-up process we found that if we reword the title and make this button larger we can make sign-up easier."


That is how you do it. Let me know if you have questions.




Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Fear The User Part 1 - Empowering Software Development With Usability Techniques

Usability is the practice of making things easy to use

Usability is the practice of making products, especially software, easy to use.  If you can think of some frustrating website that just didn't work, or even a bad customer service experience, you understand how important usability is.

The whole world needs usability. Here we are just talking about the intersection where humans and computers meet - software. Since software is exploding, the industry needs user centered design more than ever. As consumers we need our smart phones and apps to be easy to use. But professionals probably need more usability than consumers... just so they can do their jobs. And sadly, way too many B to B applications and enterprise software are unwieldy and difficult to use.

There is a way to fix software so it's easy to use. Incorporating usability techniques into your development process accomplishes two things. #1 it allows you to focus on the goal of making your product work as best it can. #2 it keeps software projects honest, prevents money being wasted on endless, directionless development.

What Usability is NOT

Usability is not about design in that it has nothing to do with attractiveness. Usability is not about content, but it involves how people find and interact with content and information.  Usability is not about marketing, it's not creative, but good usability leads people to like a particular app as opposed to hating it, and this grows user adoption.

Usability IS Business

It's funny that usability is entrusted to a design team on a project because it has more to do with business goals than design goals. Business people and executives should regard user research and testing as a means to gain more control over their business. At tech companies they will have researchers perform usability testing. But since designers dictate what the User Interface (UI) will be, designers are helpful in translating usability findings into the UI. Still usability needs business's buy-in in order for it to be effective.

Here are some scenarios where a little usability work could have a big impact on business:

  • An application used by your company is confusing, and people need to ask others for help in order to use it.
  • You have a massive amount of data, it's so huge you can't make heads or tails of all that information. You need to figure out how to display this data in a way that works for your clients.
  • You are customizing off-the-shelf software that comes with all these great "capabilities" and you need help deciding which functions would be best for your business.
  • Your company spends way too much money on customer service calls and your business could save a lot by just making your product easier to use.
  • It takes too long for people to do their job with the software you are currently using. You can increase revenues if people can do their jobs faster.

At it's core usability is about listening - to customers, to clients, to the "end-user" and translating that research into a functional UI. It sounds simple, and it is, IF you know how to do it. In part 2 I'll discuss techniques for DIY usability testing and user research. But if you have a large-scale application that needs help then contact me for more in depth consultation. After more than 10 years of analyzing usability in software, a short consultation may be all you need to fix your usability problems.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing the Web Some Prosperity Too!

IF these wishes come true, I guarantee everybody's lives will get easier and 2014 will be a good year. :)
Wishing people learned their lesson in 2013 and we don't have any more websites like Healthcare.gov. Wishing that more websites get designed FOR THE END USERS, and not for some executive. Wishing people see the value in EXPERIENCE. Wishing people hire truly senior talent to work on their website.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Part 3 of Social Media Marketing - Do's & Don'ts

The funny thing about internet marketing is the people who would benefit from it the most probably are the same people with limited budgets - Artists, writers, and musicians.  Independent creative people and students usually don't have an annual marketing budget.  If you fall into the Artist category pay attention, this post is for you. I reveal how to simply use social media. If you DO have a marketing budget then contact me and let me show you how to ROCK your internet marketing.

Writers have already blazed a trail on the internet and there are many websites dedicated to helping writers. Since I have a Fine Art background and I think like a designer, I'll focus on artists & other kinds of small businesses like restaurants.

DO: Get yourself set-up with a website or blog

First you need a "hub". A command center where you can connect to all sorts of social media and networking sites. In case you didn't know a blog is actually just another kind of website, just with more 'self publishing' tools. Having your own site is important because this gives you the greatest control over the flow of information and most importantly you can measure - yes you can actually see - the results of your marketing efforts. And then your can fine tune everything, do more business and make more money. Great NY Times article covers this nicely.

DON'T: Put off launching your website or blog. Otherwise Google and people on Yelp will talk about you behind your back.


 Your goal is to get other people to help you promote your business on social media through their normal sharing activity.

DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and set goals that you want to achieve

What is your goal? What do you want to achieve with the internet? You need to be able to answer this question. A good goal for a local bar would be, "To increase average nightly clientele by 25%"
Some good goals for small biz people are:
- Grow your fan base
- Get people to discover you
- Get new clients or customers
- Sell more products
- Rent your space
- Find projects to work on

DON'T:
  Assume that just having a blog and making a couple of random posts (like everyone else) suddenly makes you a marketing guru. :^|


DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and make a plan

It's critically important that you PLAN AHEAD for all your marketing efforts. You need time to work for you. If you are throwing an event you need to start planning your marketing at least a month ahead of time. If you are a caterer who wants to get work catering weddings then you should be  marketing yourself no later than February to get work on a June wedding.

DON'T: Wait until the last minute to think about you marketing plan!  Otherwise you completely miss opportunities to get your event announced in print media and email newsletters. 


DO: Pay attention to the timing and frequency of your posts to social media.

People mostly cruise Facebook or twitter during their morning commute or during lunch at work. So time your big announcement to coincide with the mob of internet users that are likely to see your post. And reiterate your post a few extra times so it reaches as many people as possible. For more information on timing of posts just do a search.

DON'T: Wait to the 3pm on a Friday to do only one tweet about your bar's happy hour special. You should be tweeting that tantalizing announcement several times earlier in the week.


DO: Make good quality posts on multiple social media sites

It's all about the quality, and quantity of your posts - where ever you post them. You want to reach as many people as possible, that's the point, so use the services that suit your business.  Remember the web is an interactive communication tool and you will interact with people and communicate your story well to be successful.

DON'T:  Don't go overboard and sign up for every site. It's too much work and you won't maintain them. If you're never going to make a video then don't bother with YouTube.  If you find Google+ to be a waste of time, it's OK to not use it. Just be strategic. 


DO: Use photos and images as much as possible

People click on images. I've seen the research! It's true! People pause to look at and read images like they never do with text. So always try to include an image with whatever post your trying to make. If you're a bar for example, you should tweet a photo of that happy hour drink. Or better still... get your customers to post photos of your drinks for you!!!  This really makes web people like me happy... should you decide to hire somebody like me to help you with social media marketing then this gives us valuable content to work with.

DON'T: Write too much. According to research people don't actually read that much online.  At least not in social media (not when marketing is concerned). It's better to keep your text short and sweet and use a photo to tell the story.


DO: Create business specific profiles

If you have a Facebook page as opposed to you normal Facebook profile then you can use all these bonus tools, like analytics. This will show you how many people reacted to your posts and even how they interacted with it! This is extremely powerful because this helps you accomplish many thing like helping you write and make better posts that more people are likely to follow through on. Also, this keeps your personal life separate from your business. Facebook offers it's own analytics for pages and you can even run your own targeted advertising on Facebook too.

DON'T:  Trust me I speak from experience. It's not going to help your business to let everybody read your political rants on Facebook. Keep it professional on your "page".


DO: Have a Clear "Call to Action"

This is an insider trick. A 'Call to Action' is a design on a web page or advertisement, like a "Buy Now" button or the "Like" button in Facebook. You want to have one of these 'calls to action' in some of your posts. For example, you'll want people to click from Facebook to go look at your new artwork - on your website. And you want this to be clear and obvious. If you can get people to click over to your website you can give them a lot more detail to entice them to buy your stuff. You're more in control.


DON'T: If you don't have a call to action, then all you are achieving is that somebody might read what you wrote and maaaaybe they might remember it.  If you're not clear, they may not notice that you have anything for sale.


Like I said in my previous post, internet and social media marketing is actual work. But with a good set-up all you need to do is an hour or so a week of good quality posts, to whatever venue on the internet that connects you to the most amount of people for your time and effort. The hardest part really is getting started... And you can always hire me to help you get set-up.   

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shamelessness Part 2: Why Social Media Marketing Matters & Who Should Use It

There's been a ton of talk lately about how people can use social media to grow their business. Thanks to the web you don't have to have an expensive marketing budget, you just need to create a few accounts to services like Facebook and Twitter. Last week I wrote part one about social media,  a success story about my client Kevin O'Malley. Next week I'll reveal more details on how to do this stuff yourself. Now I want to explain WHY you should care about social media marketing and explain WHO really needs to use it...

How social media marketing works

Yesterday on my favorite NPR show, the MidDay show, they had an expert speak about Social Media and Viral Marketing. Jonah Berger did a great job at explaining the "viral effect" and demonstrated that social media does indeed work.  But Jonah forgot to explain HOW to USE social media which I will reveal in part 3!

Here's how it works - Right now millions upon millions of people are doing this... joking, criticizing, reviewing, recommending, and sharing something with each other in conversation.  The internet itself is structured around writing, and the most successful websites, even YouTube, are designed to perpetually foster active chat style conversations. So internet marketing works because it exploits a very popular and natural human activity - talking to each other.

WHY you should care about social media

The question I get asked from people the most is "Why should I care? What's the point of this, for me?" The answer is different for different people (see the WHO section below).  If you're running a business, you need to manage your reputation on the internet. Why? Aside from being a great tool for growing your business, if you don't manage your online reputation then other people, and internet forces completely out of your control can and will hijack your online reputation if you don't take control of it yourself.

Imagine this time 1,000,000 and then imagine your business being mentioned in these chats.  

So let's use an example of restaurants. Restaurants really need social media marketing because complaints and bad reviews online could literally shut them down. Conversely, praise and good reviews will help them grow. Aside from that, people can make reservations and write reviews all from their smart phones with almost no effort. So customers expectations for restaurants - on the web -  are already very high. Admit it, you read the reviews too so you know they work. They also help businesses communicate with their customers and be better.

There are at least 7 major websites (or apps) that let people criticize restaurants:
  1. Yelp
  2. Google 
  3. OpenTable
  4. Zagat
  5. Foursquare
  6. Facebook
  7. Foodspotting ... does anybody use this site?
  8. Plus a LOT of local websites like your local newspaper

WHO should care?

Although internet and social media marketing is easy - it's still work.  If you want to grow your business you should use social media because it is the cheapest and most effective way to promote anything, period. But (I am going to dispel one myth that traditional marketing people won't mention) most people don't need to use social media.  So figure out if you need it before investing your time.

Who needs social media?
Any business should care about social media marketing but some businesses benefit more than others.
  • Writers, Authors and Bloggers make the best use of social media to grow their audience on a budget. 
  • So should Artists and Designers for the same reason as writers. 
  • Any new business that needs to grow quickly should use social media to get the word out. 
  • Restaurants, Hair Salons, and Shops because they interact with the public.
  • Job seekers, for competitive reasons, can benefit from social media. My friend got a job with the National Parks Service because she ran a blog... about her baby girl.
  • People like me who do internet development and marketing need to. 
  • Anybody in a public leadership position, like a professor or head doctor because they have important information to share and they are in a position of authority. 
  • Tiny local businesses like a neighborhood landscaper would also benefit from a very small and free web presence and a little social media.

Who does NOT need to waste their time with social media?
  • Individuals in general don't need social media marketing. 
  • Doctors don't need to market themselves.  
  • Therapists or any profession where privacy is essential should stay away from social media. 
  • Lawyers mostly don't need social media although they can be interesting. 
  • Isolated successful businesses like my neighborhood bar which is already popular. They don't do happy hours and they never have specials. They do not need social media or any marketing whatsoever. 
Fun fact: Did you know that more "data" has been created in the past decade, than has been created in the entire previous history of the Earth? That's a lot of joking, complaining, reviewing, and conversing online! What does this have to do with you and your "online reputation"? Everything, it's all about you... and me... and us. So TAKE CONTROL of the the web and make it work FOR you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Be Shameless - The Art of Self Promotion on the Web

Nobody promotes themselves more shamelessly than my client Kevin O'Malley.  Kevin is a children's book illustrator and he literally walks around with a pad of paper in his hand, he's constantly drawing, at the coffee shop, in the park, everywhere. After Kevin cranks out another instant masterpiece (just like Picasso)  - he gives it away! Seriously. He gives away the drawing. Kevin WAS ALREADY a  walking social network and he didn't even know it. I must have mumbled a couple of things to him over time about the internet. We friended on Facebook where Kevin posts a lot of his drawings and works in progress.  I told Kevin that he should blog and maybe get on Pinterest - since he's already posting drawings to Facebook he mine as well post to a couple more websites.  Kevin took these suggestions but still... his website was out of date.  Kevin still needed a "hub".  So he  turned to us, and we made him a new website.

Thanks to Kevin's incredible content, it was easy to make him a great new website.  Now, anybody that wants to stay on top of Kevin's latest happenings, weather they are drawings or new books, can do so very easily at booksbyomalley.com.

The funny thing about using the internet to promote yourself is, it's really easy... It's really easy BUT you need to get 'set-up' first. Here's what we did for Kevin:
  1. Redesigned and re-coded his website (to make the most out of Google)
  2. Strategically added his YouTube videos to his website
  3. Got him on Pinterest and embedded a live feed of his illustrations on his website
  4. Helped Kevin set-up a blog to start blogging his works
  5. Tethered his blog and his Facebook page to the website 
  6. Added press with cross linking to enhance everything
  7. Massaged Google for Kevin
Now, all Kevin needs to do is just tell people "please check out my website and tell your friends to check it out too!"  Now, whenever he shows off his illustrations, which is all of the time, he just needs to continue being shameless.

And so should I...

Here is MY Pinterest board with some of my portfolio work. Please contact me for your social media hub.

- - -