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Observing Usability Studies: A Guide for Stakeholders (7/10/14)
I love knowing that one or more stakeholders are going to observe a study live. By doing so, they will gain a better understanding of the issues and will more fully understand the associated recommendations…. I recently conducted two field studies in quick succession where there was no one-way viewing glass or other controlled observation experience for stakeholders. In both cases… stakeholders were actually present in the testing location, and I found myself giving them a quick primer on what they needed to know….
Nonsensical UX: The Strange Case of an Elevator Touch Screen (6/25/14)
My flight arrived into Boston right on time, and I smoothly made it to the hotel with plenty of time to spare before my first participant was to arrive for some conference usability test sessions….I went over to the elevators and quickly noticed that one bank of elevators were for guest rooms up to floor 26 and the second bank of elevators were for those guest rooms that were floor 27 and up. I walked over to the latter bank of elevators and stood there. Where was the call button? All that I could see was a light pink glass screen with an arrow pointing upward as well as a single button with a handicapped symbol on it….
How sophisticated should your usability test participants be? (6/16/14)
Recently I had the opportunity to do a usability test for a client that had previously used another vendor to conduct their research….They knew that while some of their users were expected to have limited computer experience, by and large, their typical users were likely to have a reasonable amount of comfort using web and mobile devices. Their prior vendor had recommended to them, in the name of “universal usability,” that they do not screen out those with limited computer experience in order to have a realistic sample. The outcome of this decision was that those with very limited experience failed most, if not all, of the tasks because they didn’t understand the web….
Everyone can use a mentor (6/9/14)
As a senior in college in 1994, I started my first job in my existing career pathway. I got an internship with a relatively new company, Man-Made Systems (later known as UserWorks), as a human factors engineer, doing today what would be termed user research and evaluation of websites and software applications. As soon as I graduated later that year, I got a full-time job with the company as employee number three. And along with that full-time job, I got a mentor….
Lessons learned from five weeks “on the bench” (3/20/14)
Since I left the W-2 world in 2008, my work flow has been pretty much non-stop… After all of these years, I became confident in… continual success… although I still routinely assessed upcoming known projects in the following months to assure myself that I would have a good workflow. In December 2013, it looked like this was continuing to be the case. Work-in-hand accounted for at least 60% of my time, and I knew from experience that small spontaneous projects were likely to pop up and fill in any gaps. However, I was caught off guard when each of the projects that I had thought were starting in early 2014 let me know that things were running very behind schedule and would be delayed….
Focus Groups are Useful for UX Research – to a Point (3/13/14)
Focus groups, often maligned within the field of user experience for not being able to get the “right” information, are actually a great way to collect information. But as a tool, the value of focus groups is limited to only certain types of information gathering. A problem I’ve seen is that the use of focus groups is sometimes abused, either because a manager insists that a focus group be the form of user research that is provided, or because of a lack of understanding on what value a focus group can bring to the table. So what are focus groups in user experience, and what should a stakeholder and moderator know about conducting focus groups in the user experience space?….
Get Out There to Advance Your Career + Real Networking: A Winning Combination (3/5/14)
In early November 2010, I was finishing up my first year as the president of the UXPA DC chapter and was in San Antonio on a separate user research project with the then UXPA DC VP, Jen Romano Bergstrom. One evening, after the research had ended, we were chatting and brainstorming about UXPA DC upcoming events and started talking about whether we could pull off a UX speed networking event for the DC chapter. We quickly refined the plan, pulled in a number of local “sister” organizations, including both those that were local chapters of larger organizations and those that were DC-local independent Meetups, and had our first speed networking event at the end of the month….
Tips & Techniques for UX Professionals: Introverts, Ambiverts and Shyness (1/22/14)
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard UX professionals say that they are introverts. Sometimes they tell me directly, and sometimes it just comes up in a group conversation. At other times, I’ve heard it from speakers at conferences. Is it true? Are introverts attracted to UX?….
Diversify Your User Experience Career (12/16/13)
Investors are advised to make sure that they have diversity in their portfolio. By diversifying into multiple types of investments and different kinds of industries, there is a safety in knowing that if one type of investment fails, there are other investments that will still succeed. The same is true for User Experience (UX) professionals….
The Mash-It-Up Expert Review: Training and Analysis Combined (12/3/13)
Up until recently, if a client wanted a heuristic or “expert” review, I would frequently offer a nicely formatted Word report, organized by general topic area, including a description of each issue, screen shots and recommendation call-outs. Simultaneously, I have also conducted many training sessions over the years, and I have amassed hundreds of PowerPoint slides covering a wide range of UX topics that I update frequently….
Assessing Mobile Accessibility for Screen Readers (10/28/13)
I’ve had several projects lately where I needed to check that a particular resource was accessible on a mobile device for people with disabilities, particularly those who use built-in screen reader software. Given that it has been possible to create accessible mobile-friendly webpages and apps for several years now, it’s surprising how little has been written about assessing mobile accessibility….
My Most Memorable Usability Test Participants (10/18/13)
I’ve been working with participants in usability studies and other research for nearly 20 years now….I have learned a great deal from these interactions, even beyond the project at hand. There have been a number of odd, amusing, interesting or frustrating participant situations, however. Some of these interactions have stood out over the years, and not necessarily for the substance of the actual research….
The Value of User Research for Accessibility Evaluations (10/15/13)
A few years after Section 508 (web accessibility of US Federal sites) became an enforceable law in 2001, government agencies were very interested in having blind users actually try out their web pages to see if the pages were accessible. I remember 2004 – 2005 as the peak time for these kinds of user research initiatives. Later, however, thing shifted. The standard for evaluation of accessibility became a code inspection, with the understanding that different technologies had different ways of compensating for coding errors…. Last month, however, I was approached by a client who wanted actual user research with visually impaired users who rely on screen readers….
Create Your UX News Feed (9/4/13)
I’ve been an avid reader of RSS feeds for many years and use a number of RSS feeds to stay on top of things in the UX world. If you’re not familiar with RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, it represents a data feed. With a single URL, you can subscribe to a news or other information source so whenever new stories are published, those stories will be immediately listed in your chosen RSS reader…If you are already using RSS feeds or are willing to use RSS feeds, consider creating your own custom UX news feed….
Adaptive Instruction: Tailoring a Usability Course on the Fly (8/1/13)
While I really enjoyed the Ignite presentation, I also had fun teaching a full-day tutorial: “Usability in a Day: Everything That You Need to Know to Jump Start Your Career.”…. The conference committee had made the reasonable request that given the topic, it should be focused on those new to the field…. I took a moment at the end of the lunch break to ask the class whether the level of the class seemed appropriate. The response I got from most of the class was that…. they wanted it to be a bit more advanced. What to do?…
Ignite Talks, Jello and Flexibility in User Research: UXPA 2013 (7/30/13)
At the UXPA 2013 conference that took place three weeks ago here in DC, I got to do my first Ignite talk…. For those not familiar with the Ignite format, presenters are expected to speak for 5 minutes using 20 slides that auto-advance at 15 second intervals. It was quite an interesting experience in and of itself, and one that I would certainly do again…. I decided to pitch what I called “free-form testing,” which was just my way of saying that user researchers should not obsess with following a script to the point that research findings can’t be fully uncovered….
User Experience Blogging Benefits: A retrospective (4/15/13)
It has been a little over two years since, on a whim, I started my DC Usability blog….Since starting, I’ve managed to generate 34 posts and have had nearly 10,000 total reads of my various blog entries. I’ve discovered that the value of these blog entries is more than just the reads that they garner. Rather, they can be repurposed and reused in a variety of contexts. Here is a summary… and also an index of which blog entries have been used….
Web content for Senior Disaster Survivors: Research Findings (4/9/13)
We recently had the opportunity to do a research study with survivors of large-scale flooding who were themselves above the age of 65 or else were children that provided care for elderly parents… on aggregate, this group painted a clearer picture about how seniors may be able to (or not be able to) use the web to get help and find resources from Federal, State and Local Governments before and after disasters….
Lebsontech LLC: Keeping it in the Family (4/7/13)
When I started Lebsontech in 1997, it was a frame for some side work that I was already doing. It was only set up for me, and I never intended it to be otherwise. By 2008, I had grown tired of being a W-2 employee and decided to take the plunge to exclusive independent consulting. Still I did not intend for Lebsontech to include anyone else. Rapidly, however, it became clear that I needed a little extra help to keep up with the work that quickly started flowing in….
Staying Under the Radar: A Business Strategy (2/25/13)
I met someone recently who is a consultant at a large organization…. I mentioned that I do a lot of work with government agencies. “Oh,” he said, “does that mean you are on the GSA schedule?” I explained that I am not. When I mentioned that I worked with my wife, he asked if she owns 51% of the business so that we can be a woman-owned business…No, again….
Come join me on a UX adventure in 2013! (11/26/12)
This is a request for you to join me on a UX adventure in the upcoming year. I’m ready for exciting people, places, projects and opportunities. I’m ready to give my time, whether paid or unpaid, to create adventure not only for us, but for others too. What is UX adventure? Read more to find out….
On Being a Local UX Leader: Lessons Learned (8/13/12)
….Now I see the end of my third year of UXPA-DC leadership in front of me….[and] if the successful continuity of UXPA-DC can be assured, I will retire from my role as a local UX leader in order to put more time and energy into being an international UX leader…. As UXPA-DC has continued to grow over the past few years, I have learned a lot about local UX leadership. I have tried to capture some of those points here in order to help other local UX leaders, as well as to let those that have attended our UXPA-DC events see some of the things from a leadership perspective.
Twitter for User Experience Professionals (7/5/12)
….[In 2010] I spoke at a conference about UX and disasters in San Diego. I noticed that a woman in the audience was on her laptop the whole time. Afterwards, she came up to talk about her own experiences with UX and disasters and she commented that she had tweeted the key points of my talk. As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I logged into Twitter to see what she had tweeted, and sure enough, she had done a great job capturing key points. I publicly thanked her on Twitter – the first time that I had @mentioned anyone, and from that point on, I started using the microblogging service….
LinkedIn for User Experience Professionals (6/18/12)
It was 2003 and a good friend from high school who had moved to Japan sent me a LinkedIn invitation. It said that he wanted me to connect on LinkedIn as a way to stay in touch. Phone calls were particularly expensive back then, not to mention the time difference, and while we corresponded via email from time to time, it was happening less and less. So although I was dubious about getting involved in this new platform, I decided to give it a try, and I created a LinkedIn account. I was member #46,886 (now there are over one-hundred million members!)….
User Experience as a moral imperative? We want you, we want UX, but we have priorities. (6/11/12)
A client hired Lebsontech for user experience related work, but partway through the process decided to use Lebsontech staff to address some other priorities that weren’t specifically UX related. Since I knew funds were limited, using the funds and my team for this alternate purpose would seriously limit the time and funding available to do user research within this contract. The client was going to update their site soon as well, and not only had the new site not been evaluated with user research, but I could see flaws in the site that jumped out at me like a stereogram image….
Translations and Transitions from English Web Content: Research Findings (4/3/12)
A US government agency hired Lebsontech to conduct a focus group to better understand how they should translate and post web content in non-English languages and how they should transition between languages. The focus group participants included people with a specific interest in the agency’s content, were bilingual, and were community leaders for US-based communities that spoke Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Hindu, French and Tagalog. This post details some of the findings from the focus group….
Integrated Networking: People come to events when they know people (2/27/12)
I have now entered my third year as the president of the Usability Professionals’ Association DC chapter. I joined the board in 2009 and in 2010 became chapter president, a role that I have held ever since. At the beginning of my first term as president, we would get 35 to 50 people, for the most part, at monthly events. Now, 50 is the general minimum we expect to see, and closer to 100 people at events occurs frequently….
Usability: What a Project Manager Needs to Know – Part 2 (2/21/12)
It’s been almost two weeks since my first post on project management and UX, and I’m excited to see all of the enthusiasm and positive feedback I’ve received from this blog post. I’ve also received additional suggestions from readers about other issues to include, so below is a second set of recommendations….
“But our job gives you benefits!” (How much are those benefits really worth?) (2/14/12)
I get at least one email message or phone call from a recruiter almost daily. They want to tell me about a great job opportunity. Would I be willing to become an employee of their company (or in many cases of their client)?…. Sometimes, I get the recruiter who tells me: “But we have a phenomenal benefits package for you.” Yes, it’s true, they might have a great benefits package, but one shouldn’t decide to take a W-2 employee position instead of being a 1099 contractor simply because of the benefits….
Usability: What a Project Manager Needs to Know – Part 1(2/8/12)
In many cases, user research is not a project unto itself. Rather, it is part of a larger web-centric project effort. These larger projects often have a project manager. This person has the task of coordinating the usability effort into the broader project schedule. Based on my experiences and lessons learned, here is a “cheat sheet” of things the project manager needs to be thinking about….
If I could just pick one usability participant for the client to observe, whom would I pick? (1/4/12)
In an ideal world, the stakeholder would be able to observe all of the usability test sessions live….Often, however, this doesn’t happen….I did a usability study recently, and the client only got to observe one participant. While most of the participants were able to use many features of the site, the one time slot that the client chose to observe ended up being with the participant who had the absolute most difficulty using the site….
On the Importance of a Good Logger in Qualitative Research (12/22/11)
A usability test, user interview, or any one-on-one qualitative research really isn’t entirely one-on-one, at least not in an ideal setup. Ideally, it involves two research staff members to do research with a single participant – a moderator and a logger. The moderator is certainly very important. The moderator needs to lead the study with a neutral perspective. The moderator needs to know when to speak, when to probe and when to stand back and let the participants move on. The logger simply listens to the conversation, watches the screen and documents what occurs. Or is it so simple?….
How do you convince them to see the world through a different lens? (12/12/11)
A friend asked me if I could take a quick look at a web interface that he was building. I reviewed the site and emailed him a few usability suggestions to consider. The suggestions basically focused on his approach to include a number of additional information points that would be useful to more sophisticated IT folks like him…. I got a return email back, thanking me for my suggestions and noting that I helped him to realize that “Just because *I* find something on the page useful doesn’t mean anyone else will.”….
How many trainers does it take to do UX training? (11/18/11)
I’ve been teaching usability training workshops for a number of years now, and I invariably prefer a team-teaching approach. However, I was challenged on that principle lately. A client asked why I would suggest two trainers, when I, as a single trainer, should be capable of teaching the entire course myself. Yes, I’m absolutely capable of doing this and yes, I certainly have done it when either the client is firm on a single trainer or when I simply don’t have a second trainer available on a particular day that the client needs training. This is definitively not my preference. Why?….
How well do they listen? Results of a meta-analysis of usability recommendations ? (11/9/11)
A long-term Lebsontech client asked me to report on how often my usability recommendations were followed. The truth is, I didn’t really know. I had done research on a number of different sub-sites for this client and produced a ton of reports. While I had certainly kept tabs on some of those sites, in other cases, after reporting out on the findings, I hadn’t spoken with those particular stakeholders again or gone back to their particular sub-site. In a few cases, the site required a password, and I was only given a temporary password for the duration of the test….
Should you keep asking the question after you know the answer? (9/15/11)
Classic usability studies involve a lot of hours to prepare, to conduct the research and to write up a robust report of findings. There is often a recruiting fee for someone to recruit the “right” participants, and participants often get paid, typically $75 to $100. In some cases, to get to the right audiences, travel is involved. Thus classic usability studies are often expensive. Because they are expensive, they don’t happen very regularly….
Usability as Sociology: How the Perspectives of Tornado Survivors Differ from those of Other Major Disasters (8/14/11)
My initial training in usability occurred during my undergraduate years, within the framework of my bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduating with my psychology degree, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in sociology, with one emphasis on the use of technology by different social groups. Although usability is still frequently framed with the rubric of psychology, I find that I rely heavily on my sociological training as I conduct user experience research. Nowhere has this been more apparent than with survivors of different disaster types….
How Much Should a Small Business Owner Pretend? (8/6/11)
I’m a small business owner. My office is in my basement. The basement was converted into a two-room “in-law suite” apartment by the prior owners…. I have had more than one conversation recently with colleagues who also run small businesses. They tell me that they want to look professional; they work out of their house too, but that is hush hush. Their website is engineered to make them appear bigger….
Critical Importance of Usability at FEMA: Before, During and After a Disaster (8/1/11)
In the last post, I talked about our user research training program at FEMA. In the past two years, I have also had the opportunity to lead a number of user research projects for FEMA as well. I have had the opportunity to conduct user research with disaster survivors in Galveston, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, and Raleigh. I’ve conducted user research with disaster managers at conferences in Orlando, San Antonio and Toronto, and I’ve conducted user research with those interested in disaster preparedness through multiple studies in the Washington DC area….
Evangelizing Usability at FEMA: Training Those Who Create Disaster-Related Websites (7/27/11)
Lebsontech has been doing usability work for FEMA since 2008. After having spent about a year focused mainly on user experience research, a FEMA stakeholder asked for a series of “lunch and learn” sessions for those who create disaster-related websites for survivors, disaster managers and the general public. She proposed that I and my team come up with a number of short usability-oriented topics, and perhaps offer one per month….
Is Qualitative User Research at Risk for International Outsourcing? (5/31/11)
From a purely technical perspective, some parts of user research could be outsourced and others could not. If someone is doing in-person usability testing or any other kind of in-person research, the research will occur in a place which has representative or actual users. If someone is doing in-depth telephone interviews or remote usability testing, however, conducting a usability test via phone and possibly a shared computer screen, the test administrator could technically be on the other side of the world. But it is critical that a test administrator, even a remote test administrator, fully understand
the cultural context of the participants, and that is much harder to outsource….
User Research and Emotional Awareness (5/15/11)
Although I interned in a usability lab while a psychology undergrad at University of Maryland, my undergraduate senior honors thesis was actually in the field of cognitive neuropsychology. Specifically, I conducted in-depth qualitative research on patients with frontal lobe damage, focusing on their ability (or in most cases, lack of ability) to perceive the emotional states of others. Emotional perception has thus been an interest of mine for a long time….
Professional History and Serendipity (4/4/11)
Last week I got to do something very cool. Wearing my hat as the Usability Professionals Association’s DC-chapter president, I got to introduce one of our speakers for the evening, Dr. Kent Norman, the professor at University of Maryland who first got me interested in usability almost 20 years ago. Further, the person that he had referred me to who gave me my first “real world” usability job, Dr. Dick Horst, attended the event, so I got to thank not only my professor, but my first employer as well….
On Heuristic Reviews & Checklists (3/28/11)
One of the most cost effective ways to evaluate a site is to do a heuristic review. A heuristic review is a systematic evaluation where the site is examined by one or more evaluators against a checklist of usability principles known as heuristics….In the past two years or so I’ve done perhaps 45 heuristic reviews, comprising perhaps 900 pages of prose and screenshots. But are these really heuristic reviews?…
Colleagues or Competitors? (3/24/11)
I spoke with a colleague on the phone last week. We hadn’t talked on the phone before but found that we had a lot in common. We both run small user research firms and both enjoy doing similar kinds of user research. There was a brief awkward moment when the person said that their company was interested in getting involved with one particular government agency, and I immediately responded that I, in fact, was doing a small project for that same government agency…
The Brand is You: Is that a good thing? (3/21/11)
Twice last year, I was asked by job assistance agencies – one here in the DC area and one up in Baltimore – if I would speak about how to use social networking to help get a job. I spoke at both with a presentation titled “The Brand is You: Marketing Yourself with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google.” I spoke positively about how I had worked to create my own personal “brand” centered on my user research skills, why I thought that I had been reasonably successful at doing it, and how others could do the same…
On the Importance of Body Language in User Research (2/14/11)
I love interacting with people but have never particularly enjoyed those interactions when over the telephone. No matter how clear the voice on the other end is, no matter how great it is to catch up with someone, I still have the vague impression of flatness, much like listening to music from really cheap speakers: you know the richness of the music is there, but you just can’t hear it…
Love Your Client, Like Yourself (2/4/11)
Recently, a client said to me of another consultant that this consultant did not exhibit a passion for the work or for the company. This consultant generally produced good quality work, but that lack of passion was a serious impediment to the company’s perception of his consulting skills…
Preparing a Home Office for Disaster (1/30/11)
Between working with FEMA for the past few years and subsequently joining the Montgomery County Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT), disaster preparedness has become very salient to me. I’ve updated our supplies, have appropriate food and water stocked and have done my best to follow all of the guidelines at Ready.gov. Ready.gov does a good job at inventorying what needs to be on-hand for use in the event of a disaster. There is also a section on Ready Business that is focused on preparing your business for disaster…
Experiential Usability Learning (1/19/11)
It was January of 1995 and I had just turned 21, graduated college, and pretty much immediately found a job as a “human factors consultant” (for “web usability consultants” would not exist for a few more years). I was content for about 6 months until someone informed me of a new NASA/Boeing Information Systems partnership called the GLOBE program. The GLOBE program was created by Al Gore to get science teachers using the (then spelled out) “World Wide Web” as a tool in their classrooms. (And if you’re wondering about the Al Gore/Internet thing, I am serious – somewhere I even have a signed certificate from the then VP to prove it!)…
DC Usability (1/18/11)
My earliest memories of loving to write were as a 6th grader, deciding one nice spring day to sit alone under a tree during recess and write a short story that I had been contemplating. I was so wrapped up in penning my story into my notebook that I recall looking up to see that my classmates were gone from the field, for recess had ended 30 minutes prior. I was seriously late for class…