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Removing The Mystery Of UX Design

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This article is an entry level of UX design, written for UX designers.

UX design is about developing products that are both usable and user-centric. The “design” aspect focuses on how the ease of use and efficiency for a user’s interaction with a product can be improved. The question you probably often ask yourself, though, is how it all works in practice? What do real-life UX design processes actually look like?

In this article, I want to show you how to start a UX design project. The article will give you a taste of the techniques used by UX designers when working on designing or redesigning a product, as well as show you the order in which specific UX steps should be taken. We’ll touch on subjects such as User Research, Design, and Testing.

Before Project Starts

To craft good user experience both the business context and project objectives must be clearly understood. Before starting any design project it’s important to create a strategy. A strategy will shape the goals of the project—what the business is hoping to achieve with the project and how its success should be measured.

Value Proposition

Value proposition is a process of mapping out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it is for and when/where it will be used. Value proposition helps the team narrow down and create consensus around what the product will be.

UX designers create a document to communicate a value proposition which contains the following information:

  • Key business objectives
  • UX attributes that will influence the success (both directly and indirectly) of the key objectives and desired outcomes
  • Desired state of these UX attributes
  • A list of activities and design work that can be done to improve the state of the UX
Value proposition of UX should be directly associated with key business objectives. Image credits: uxmag

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

KPIs help inform design decisions along the way and measure results of the UX efforts.
Usually, UX designers conduct a series of interviews with stakeholders to define KPIs.

Same as for value proposition, the key is to connect your KPIs to your business objectives. A few common examples of KPIs:

  • Conversion (sales / visits)
  • Bounce rate (e.g. basket abandonment for e-commerce site)
  • Average order value
  • Total number of sales

UX Design Process Explained

Once UX designer has a clear idea of a product definition and how it might fit into the current market, s/he moves into user-centric modelling. Although there are no hard and fast rules to this process, UX design generally occurs in the following five stages:

Value proposition of UX should be directly associated with key business objectives. Image credits: Usability Geek

Step 1: User Research

Dieter Rams once said, “You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people”. A great product experience starts with a good understanding of your users. That’s why user research is every UX designer’s starting point for a UX design project. User research has to come first in the UX design process because without it, designer’s work can only be based on their own experiences and assumptions.

“Good user research is key to designing a great user experience. Designing without good user research is like building a house without solid foundations – your design will soon start to crumble and will eventually fall apart.” – Neil Turner (Uxforthemasses)

Research phase is probably the most variable between projects. What is involved In user research:

Interviews

Interview is an in-depth one-on-one discussion between an interviewer and a user from the target audience. Interview should be designed to discover the underlying needs and requirements of the user when using your product. This technique is especially useful when the target audience is new or unknown to the team.

When starting a new project, you actually need to talk to people from your target group.

Online surveys

An online survey is a questionnaire consisting of a set of very precise questions sent to a sample of your target audience over the internet. The length and format of an online survey can vary from project to project.

Interviews and online survey can work together. Before you start writing questions for your online survey, take the time to conduct a few interviews to fully understand the user’s problem space. This will help inform your survey questions.

Surveys are used to validate the assumptions that designers make about a product. Image credits: Usability Geek

There are many tools available for running surveys, ranging from lightweight and inexpensive tools right through to specialist market research tools. For most UX applications simple surveys tools such as Google Forms, SurveyMonkey or Wufoo should offer adequate functionality to create surveys.

Competitive analysis

Evaluating the competition is one way to determine where a designed product stands, and what potential markets it can break into. When conducting a competitive analysis, UX designer evaluates a competing product’s usability, interaction design, and unique features, to see how their own product stacks up. Competitive analysis is especially important when designers are building an entirely new product that hasn’t entered the market yet. A competitive analysis gives insight into what competitors are doing right, and what difficulties they face, leaving opportunities available.

Research the competitors, get information about features, advantages and disadvantages Image credits: xtensio

Step 2: Analyze & Define

The aim of the Analyze & Define phase is to draw insights from data collected during the User Research phase. This step is clearly the ideation part of the process.

Persona

When a designer has finished a user research and know what users need and what they expect, s/he can summarize those findings into user personas. Personas are fictional characters which are used as a representation of a real audience and their behaviours. The purpose of personas is to create reliable representations of target audience segments for reference (UX designers build a product based on personas). Personas make it easier for designers to create empathy with users throughout the design process.

Persona’s template by romanpichler

User Stories

Once UX designer has a clear idea of who might use a product, it’s time to map out how they might use it. Every user has a goal to achieve, UX designer needs to define each step that the user will go through to get to the final goal. These steps will shape a user story. Good user story must clarify the specific type of user, describe the task with comparable detail, and clarify on the context in which work must be done.

Each individual action needs a corresponding user story. Image credits: UXPin

Step 3: Design

The premise of the Design is to create a product which will be tested with real users. This product may be represented by paper or interactive prototypes, interactive wireframes, or semi-functioning prototypes. The Design phase of a UX project should be collaborative (involving input and ideas from all team members) and iterative.

Information Architecture

Navigation is a make or break aspect of the user experience of a site/app. Each person who’ll get lost navigating through a site is going to have a bad experience of that product. To avoid these scenarios, UX designers perform a process called Information Architecture (IA). The purpose of IA is to organize the content on a site so that users can find exactly what they need to perform the task they want and to reach their goal.

The outcome of IA process varies based on the type of a project. If UX designer is creating a website, s/he’ll create a sitemap during this step. Sitemap is one of the most iconic IA deliverables, consists of a diagram of the website’s pages organized hierarchically.

Sitemaps are a hierarchical diagram showing the structure of a website or application. It makes it easy to visualize the basic structure and navigation of a website.Image credits: kristenjoybaker

Card sorting is one of the most popular UX techniques used for creating IA. During card sorting session, users organize topics from content within an app/website into groups that make sense to them.

Organizing the hierarchy of the content using card sorting technique. Image credits: Zurb

Brainstorming and sketching

Brainstorming is the most frequently practiced form of ideation. Brainstorming helps to generate constraint-free ideas that respond to a given creative brief. The intention of brainstorming is to leverage the collective thinking of the group, by engaging with each other, listening, and building on other ideas.

Brainstorming relies on a group of people coming together with their prior knowledge and research in order to gather ideas for solving the stated problem. Image credits: Tubik Studio

Brainstorming work in tandem with sketching. Sketching is the easiest way of visualizing ideas.All you need is just pen and paper. Sketching allows designers to visualize a broad range of design solutions before deciding which one to stick with. I haven’t met a single designer who doesn’t use quick sketching or some other paper prototyping form at the early stage of a design process.

Whiteboard sketches. Image credits: Dribbble
Sketches bring ideas to life. Image credits:webdesignerdepot

Wireframing

Wireframes are the “blueprint for design.” A wireframe represents the page structure, as well as its hierarchy and key elements. Wireframes tie together the underlying conceptual structure (information architecture) with the visible part of design (visual design). The process of wireframing helps designers uncover different methods for representing content and information as well as prioritizing that content in according to the user’s goals.

Wireframes aren’t supposed to represent the visual design or contact graphic elements. They should be quick, cheap, and simple to create.

Wireframe can be a quick sketch on scratch paper. Image credits: UXPin

User Flow

User Flow is the path a user follows through an application. The flow doesn’t have to be linear, it can branch out in a non-linear path. User flows are helpful in hashing out complex flows before prototyping a product. Creating users flows will help the designer think about what happens to the user before & after they visit a particular page.

37 Signals created a helpful shorthand for User Flows which you might consider during crafting your own flow.

Shorthand for User flows

Prototyping

A prototype is a simulation of the final product. Basically, it’s a version of a product that takes designer as close as possible to a good representation of an app/website and its user interface before any coding has begun. Prototype makes it possible to test the product — see how the overall design works and fix any inconsistencies.

Prototypes can be either low-fidelity or high-fidelity. Lo-fi prototypes help you focus on creating the smoothest flows for users to accomplish their goals.

Low-fidelity prototyping a quick way to validate a product before fully developing it. Image credit: Smartlogic
The user flows are the heart of your prototype. Image credits: Flickr

While high-fidelity prototype can be a fully-interactive version of a product.

High-fidelity interactive prototype. Image credits: prototypr

An interactive prototype has functional animations and microinteractions which are used to build meaning behind about the spatial relationships, functionality, and intention of the system.

Animated feedback in high-fidelity interactive prototype. Image credit: Dribbble

Animation can contribute heavily to the user experience if used correctly. Both functional and delightful animations can be used to deliver a feedback:

Animated microinteraction (notification trigger). Image credits: Dribbble
Animated microinteraction (floating labels). Image credits: Matt D. Smith

Step 4: Testing

The premise of the Testing phase is to put ideas in front of users, get their feedback, and refine the design. It’s important to understand that the earlier you test, the easier it is to make changes and thus the greater impact the testing has on the eventual quality of the product.

Usability Testing

Usability testing is usually a one-to-one, moderated in-person usability session. The purpose of in-person usability testing is to identify problems or issues the user has while interacting with a product. Test participant performs tasks using a product while the UX designer observes and taking notes. When conducting usability testing it’s crucial you observe the actions the user takes without intruding on their actions or decisions.

Testing doesn’t need not be either time consuming or expensive. Jakob Nielsen’s research has found that testing with 5 users generally unveils 85% of usability problems.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing (also known as split testing) is a form of quantitative analysis comparing two different versions of a product (e.g. two different types of landing pages). A/B testing makes it easier for UX designer to test hypotheses about design. A/B testing helps if you already have a product/service and need to improve it.

A/B testing is comparing two versions of a web page to see which one performs better. Image credits: vwo

Accessibility Analysis

Accessibility enables people with disabilities to perceive and interact with a product. A well-designed product is accessible to users of all abilities, including those with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments or motor impairments.

Accessibility analysis checks that a product can be used by everyone, including users with special needs. W3C guidelines define a basic set of accessibility rules. By following these rules UX design increases changes that all users are satisfied. It’s possible to use an automated tool to regularly test your service’s accessibility. One of the popular automated tools is WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool)

Step 5: Measuring

Unlike any other discipline, UX designer’s work doesn’t stop with releasing a product. UX is an ongoing process that continues for as long as a product will be used by people. UX designers should continually measure product performance to see if it meets user satisfaction and if any improvements can be made.

Metrics Analysis

Numbers provided by an analytics tool tell designers about how the user interacts with a product: clicks, session time, search queries etc. Metrics analysis and usability testing work great together because metrics can “uncover the unexpected”, surfacing behaviours that are not explicit in user tests.

Analytics tools such as Google Analytics can offer quantitative results about what is happening on your site.

User Feedback

Metrics analysis helps UX designer to understand what is happening on a site/in an app. But when it comes to uncovering why, the true value lies in collecting qualitative data.

User feedback allows UX designer to discover the reasons behind the actions that analytics tools show. With an option to leave feedback, users can effortlessly report anything that’s causing the friction. This feedback item can then be labelled and filtered directly to UX designer’s mailbox.

With an option to leave feedback, users can effortlessly report anything that’s causing the friction.

Conclusion

While we’ve described the most common UX design methods and deliverables that can help the design process, it’s important to understand that each project is different and it’s often important to adapt the techniques to your own needs (in other words, you don’t need to follow them like textbook examples).

What You Should Know About Internet of Things

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The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the addition of internet connectivity and other sensors to physical objects. Broadband Internet becomes more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, and more devices are being created with built-in network adapters. This movement creates a “perfect storm” for the IoT. That’s why IoT begins to move from ‘next big thing’ to something more and more of us are living with and it’s going to grow even more in coming years and eventually, most of us will use IoT technologies.

Gartner forecasts 21 billion connected things by 2020. That’s approximately four devices for every human being on the planet.

By 2020, more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT. And we, as designers, should be ready for this moment. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about the increasingly connected world.

Where Can We Find IoT?

IoT isn’t just one group of devices, the term is used for a big range of connected tools, devices, and services. Technologies are infiltrating the everyday life and things around us are becoming smarter. Common categories of IoT today include:

  • Connected home technology (these are products and services that make home life easier or more pleasant, such as smart thermostats, lighting, and energy monitoring)
  • Nest smart thermostat
    Nest smart thermostat
  • Wearables (such as activity/fitness trackers and smartwatches)
  • Apple watch
    Apple Watch
  • Connected cars
  • Tesla Model S embedded system
    Tesla embedded system
  • Urban systems (such as city rental bikes and parking meters/sensors)
  • Citibike in New York
    Citibike in New York

On a broader scale, the IoT can be used to create “smart cities” which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for our environments (e.g. energy use). Take a look at the visual below to see what something like that can look like.
Smart cities

5 Principles To Remember When Designing for IoT

Design is the critical component that bridges IoT technology’s potential with meeting real human needs. And it’s not surprise that IoT is a hot topic for designers today – it opens the door to a lot of opportunities but also to many challenges. While there are a huge array of things to consider while developing a IoT product, you’ll be more likely to gain traction if you keep following 5 principles in mind:

1. Design IoT Only If It Enhance User Experience

Just because something can be connected to the internet doesn’t mean it should be. IoT design requires a sharp focus on user needs because IOT products succeed only when they solve real problems and make users’ lives easier. Thus, if you want to connect something to the internet, you should have a clear answer on the question “Why do I want to do it?” User research should be a critical early step in any solid IoT UX project. Using insights gained from your research can help you explore the interaction contexts well before your team is burning hours designing or developing.

Making the ‘thing’ an IoT make sense only if it solves a real problem for the user. If connecting a product to the internet doesn’t enhance the experience, then don’t do it.

2. Create Good Onboarding

In the world of IoT getting your users up and running isn’t as simple as in a world of web or mobile apps. In addition to account creation, IoT devices usually require a proper configuration. Without a good onboarding experience, the setup phase might be really hard for the first-time users and there is a great possibility of user frustration or failure. That’s successful IoT product (like Nest) have set a relatively high bar for onboarding.

3. Prevent Glitching

Everyone experience occasional glitches in digital products. One common example is slow loading time on websites. Of course, it’s definitely frustrating when loading takes ages, but we are used to this. By contrast, we won’t expect real-world objects respond to us with glitches. When we turn off the lights in our room, we expect an immediate response. However, when we interact with a physical device over the internet (e.g. smart lighting system), that interaction might have the same latency issues as the website. So there’s the potential for delays in response. This could make the real world start to feel broken. Just imagine if you turned your lights off and they took two minutes to respond or failed to come on at all. As a designer, you should prevent all possible situations that can lead to glitch.

4. Make Sure It Works Locally

When designing for IoT, don’t assume always-on internet connectivity. In real life, IoT devices are often intermittently connected. Thus, it’s good to design for no internet connectivity at first, and see how much functionality can be done locally. Also, UX designers have to ensure that important functions (e.g. home security alarms for IoT Smart home system) continue to work properly when some devices go offline.

5. Design For Security and Data Privacy From the Outset

Security is a big issue. Recent high-profile hacks have raised the spectre of IoT-related security risks. More and more users are examining IoT devices for information about security. These consumers may be increasingly cautious about exposing personal information, especially when it is connected to physical spaces (such a local Wifi network) in their homes. Users might have questions like “Will someone be able to hack into my fridge and thereby get access to my entire network?” It’s your job, as a designer, to alleviate such fears. Always help users understand the security of your service by providing this information upfront.

Conclusion

A new generation of IoT is going to enhance our lives dramatically. We will spend less time on monotonous, boring tasks and will have more time to do what’s really important – like spending more time with our family or friends. I really hope the principles mentioned above help get your IoT effort aimed in the right direction.

Things To Remember When Designing For Augmented Reality

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Augmented Reality (AR) is changing how we interact with the world around us. Over the past several years, AR technology established a strong foundation in media, marketing, education, games and many other industries. This happened because computing hardware has finally advanced to the point where it’s become capable for AR platform. Today, AR prompting many brands to explore this strange new world for the first time.

What is AR?

AR technology incorporates real-time inputs from the existing world to create an output that combines both real-world data and some computer-generated elements which are based on those real-world inputs.

The concept of AR is not a new one. The term was first introduced in 1992 by researcher Tom Caudell to describe a digital display used by aircraft electricians that blended virtual graphics onto a physical reality. And AR isn’t rare. A frequently overlooked, yet widespread example of AR is the automobile parking assistance system.

Rear parking assist with the rear-facing camera.
Rear parking assist with the rear-facing camera. The vehicle’s computer calculates the vehicle’s distance from surrounding obstacles, and, based on the steering wheel’s position, determines the vehicle’s trajectory.

However, only after popular apps PokemonGO and SnapChat were released and adopted by users the term “augmented reality” got into the spotlight.

PokemonGo.
PokemonGo

How AR Will Change Brand Experiences

There is a distinct advantage for AR to be accepted sooner and on a wider basis than VR, particularly in the commercial sector. While Virtual Reality (VR) gets a lot of talk because of how cool this technology for entertainment, AR is going to truly impact the way we work and live. AR forecasted to be a $150 billion dollar industry by 2020.

[Tweet “AR creates an opportunity for brands to build new digital pathways to tell stories and engage with users”] in a way that’s never before been possible. Here are 3 ways that businesses will be able exploit AR and its associated technologies in the near future.

Guidance

Even the most capable professional can run into situations where they need a helping hand from someone, and it’s here that AR technology could come in handy. For example, AR app makes it possible for doctors to navigate the innards of the patient to effectively and efficiently complete the surgery.

The surgeons used the augmented reality app through an iPad
The surgeons used the augmented reality app through an iPad

Design Visualization

In terms of design visualisation, AR is creating some breathtaking possibilities. It merges the virtual and the real world — adding virtual overlays directly into the view of headset-wearers, or inserting these digital add-ons into video captured on a phone screen. As AR technologies become more refined, users will be able to preview their designs and experiences in real-world spaces. One such example is this spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen, in which virtual layouts of a car interior are projected onto a full-size model of a car dashboard.

spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen
Spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen

Training and Education

When it comes to training and education, AR has a lot of promise. Unlike a real-world training scenario, a trainee can play through an AR situation as many times as they need to understand a concept or a procedure. This will create deeper learning opportunities where students are in the flow of learning.

Training using AR
Image credit: Columbia University

How to Design For AR?

Since there are no established UX best practices for AR yet, I’d like to share my own personal approach to UX in AR apps.

1. AR use-case needs to be evaluated

The concept of “measure twice, cut once” is especially important in building AR apps. Before diving in, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to pursue this type of medium and what outcome would you like to have. Keep in mind following moments:

  • AR experiences are powerful, but they should tie back to clear business objectives. AR shouldn’t be added on top of a planned app just because it’s trendy technology — that’s almost a sure way to create a poor UX. Rather, the desired functionality needs to be evaluated to fit with the experience that the AR display medium can offer.
  • If you’re going to design an AR experience, you should invest heavily in user research. Spend some time really getting your target audience and not just how that you would perform a specific task using a software, get to know how they’ll do something in real-world without any kind of devices.

2. Consider the environment in which the product will be used

Since AR apps are grounded in reality, the environment affects AR design significantly. For example, in private environment (home, work) you can count on long user sessions and complex interaction model – the whole body can be involved in the interaction, as well as specific devices (such as head mounted display) can be used for manipulation (see Microsoft Hololens example below).
Microsoft Hololens
But in public environments (e.g. outdoors), it’s important to focus on short user sessions. Because regardless of how much people might enjoy AR experience, they won’t want to walk around with their hands up, holding a device for an extended period of time.

AR using iPad
Thus, when designing augmented reality apps, you first need to research environmental conditions in which the service will be used and how it effects on the user:

  • Identify interaction scenarios upfront even before specifying technical requirements for the project.
  • Collect all the details of the physical environment to be augmented.The more environmental conditions you’ll test before building a product, the better.

3. Make the interaction with AR app simple

In order for AR to be usable, it must be quick and simple. AR is really about designing layers of added value that reduce the time to complete simple tasks. Keep in mind that people are seeking out experiences, not technologies and they’ll technology that isn’t friendly to use. No one will use AR apps or tools if they take just as long or longer than the conventional way of doing something. Thus, when design your AR solution I recommend the following approach:
Go to the context of the area that you’re going to be performing the task (e.g. a specific room, a real-world device, etc)
Think through the each step that you use to accomplish the task.
Record each of those steps down
This information will help you conduct a task analysis. This analysis will help you make things more natural for the users.

Google Translate and AR
Google Translate app uses the phone’s built-in camera to translates the captured text into another language. This example perfectly illustrates the value that AR technology can provide.

Conclusion

AR has seen massive success in recent years and as more technologies take advantage of this growing trend, AR will grow to encompass much more than it does now. The most important things to consider when designing AR experience is users’ goals and contexts of use. AR apps should be easy to use and shouldn’t hinder users.