Category Archives: Uncategorized

Get a Starbucks, notice a new website (oprah.com)

This morning I opened up the pocketbook, dusted off the cobwebs, and purchased a Starbucks coffee. Coffee being served hot, the barista placed a “hope you do not burn yourself” piece of cardboard around the biodegradable paper cup. I was delighted to see Chicago’s favorite talk show host had a quote on the side of the cardboard wrapper that directed me to steepyoursoul.com.

Now steepyoursoul.com is not that interesting a site; by all appearances its sole purpose is slinging Oprah’s special, only available in Starbucks, tea. What was interesting is that steepyoursoul.com is a single site in the larger Oprah.com ecosystem. Oprah.com was redesigned and launched at the end of March 2014. The redesign is heavily influenced by mobile/tablet design patterns. This is due to Oprah.com receiving more traffic via mobile than desktop computers according to quantcast’s metrics. Unique in their implementation is the use of a scrolling wayfinding right rail (a bit to small to be noticed without readers) and application icons in the left rail as a way to navigate between sub-sites. It will be fun to watch if the approach of focusing primarily on the mobile/tablet interface dominates web design or if brands continue to create separate desktop vs. mobile experiences.

Clearly Oprah is all in on tablet/mobile.

steepyoursoul.com

Nothing says easy to use like instructions upon first reaching a site.

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Testing PDFs

Test-SEO-DOC-Save-Name (pdf format)

This is a simple post for a testing PDFs in social media. The goal is to see how metadata created within an word document is transferred to a PDF and ultimately displayed within LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. Let’s see how this works and feel free to use it for your own testing purposes.

SEO Personas – Adobe Illustrator Template

Trying to explain the nuances of a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) personas to clients can be challenging.  Often a persona can be loaded up with data and text, making it difficult to differentiate one persona from another.  Following a best practice within user experience (UX), we have begun using simple icons within our SEO personas to help convey the differences to clients.  Attached is an Adobe Illustrator template that you can utilize or use as a launching point to create your own SEO Personas icons.

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iOS7 Turn Off Parallax Effect – no more motion sickness

Do you get motion sickness?  The kind of motion sickness one gets from the spinning teacups at Disney World.  Some people will not experience the effects of motion sickness, while others will be green for hours afterwards.  Well, with Apple’s recent release of iOS7 some people are experiencing these same motion sickness effects.

In the User Experience community, we refer to the effect that is to blame as parallax and while it might make a cool geewiz moment, for some, like me, it wil just makes them ill.  Therefore, we are providing the steps to turn off this effect and go back to a nice non-movement Home screen on your iOS7 device, be it an iPad or iPhone.

I have provided step-by-step screenshots on how to enabled the ‘Reduce Motion’ functionality within iOS7.  If you already are familiar with iOS7 then the short version is provided below.

The short version of the instructions.

  1. Tap into ‘General
  2. Tap into ‘Accessibility
  3. Tap into ‘Reduce Motion
  4. Slide ‘Reduce Motion’ toggle to the right
  5. Done

Disabled Parallax effect iOS7

1. Go into your settings and select General.

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2. Within the General view, Select Accessibility by tapping on it.

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3. Select Reduce Motion.  It is a bit counterintuitive at first to think that Reduce Motion is set to off.  When Reduce Motion is set to Off, then iOS7 is displaying the parallax effect that is making you ill.  We will want to toggle Reduce Motion to on.

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4. Within the Reduce Motion screen, slide the toggle to the right.

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5. The reduce motion toggle will turn green letting you know that the Reduce Motion is enabled.  Afterwards you will want to tap the Accessibility to visually confirm your change.  At this point you could also press your physical home button and begin using your iPhone, but I am the type of person who needs a visual confirmation.

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6.  You will notice that reduce Motion is now set to On.  This confirms that the parallax effect will no longer be shown on your home screen.  Your motion sickness will subside.  Enjoy. 

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iPhone’s iOS7 Shortened Battery Life – Disable App Refresh

OK, so iOS7 was released and yes the battery life was affected in the new operating system release.  Luckily you can largely remedy the situation by disabling your Application refreshes.  Application Refresh allows a subset of applications to be automatically updated by iOS7.  This is a new features and since it periodically must check if there are any new updates to the applications it creates the negative effect of shortening battery life.

Below are some screenshots on how to ‘Disable App Refresh’ for those that are new to the Settings section of iOS7.  For those that are familiar with settings the high-level steps are the following:

  1. Tap into ‘General
  2. Tap into ‘Background App Refresh
  3. Slide ‘Background App Refresh’ toggle to the left
  4. Confirm ‘Disabled Background App Refresh
  5. Done

1. Go Into the iOS7 Settings and tap General. 

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2. Within the General section, select Background App Refresh.

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3. On the Background App Refresh view you will notice that the toggle switch is slid to the right and is presently green.  You will want to slide the toggle to the left.

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4. Upon sliding the toggle to the left you will be prompted within a modal overlay.  At this point you will want to confirm your action by tapping on Disable Background App Refresh.  

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5.  After tapping the Disable Background App Refresh button, the modal overlay will go away and you will once again shown the Background App Refresh view.  Notice that the toggle is now slid to the left and is no longer green.  At this point you have properly disabled the applications from running in the background of iOS7 and saved yourself a bit of battery life.  You can click on the home button (the big round physical button on the bottom of the iPhone) and go back to using your phone.

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UX Week 2013 – Recap

In early August, I attended UX Week 2013 which was hosted by Adaptive Path in San Francisco California.  I attended the event with a number of colleagues including: Louisa ButlerCharles CrawfordMario GonzalezBill Welense and myself.  As a nice debrief we crafted a blog for Roundarch Isobar’s blog with an emphasis on a top ten list with one exception.  We decided that this top ten list about UX Week 2013 would be capped not at 10 but proceed to 11.  Following the lessons of Nigel Tufnel from the band Spinal Tap, we needed that extra push to take us over the cliff, hence this one goes to 11.

You can read the complete blog posting at Roundarch Isobar’s blog – UX Week 2013, The Top Ten Lessons Learned (This One Goes Up to 11!)

Enjoy

Dan Nehring at UX Week.

Daniel Nehring at UX Week.

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PayPal, worth the risk?

Think about PayPal for a moment.  This is an online entity that process payments between two people, usually a buyer and a seller.  What is the level of information that you give PayPal.  Outside of our first-born child, you give PayPal with cherished data, namely our bank account and/or credit card information.  What then do you get out of this level of sharing?  What is the reciprocity of this relationship?  Is there value in giving up sensitive information to engage in simplified online purchasing?  The answer is no.

 

Have you ever had an issue where a fraudulent claim was hit against your PayPal account?  If not, count yourself lucky because to reverse that claim the user of PayPal must jump through a number of hoops.  First you must be made aware of the fraudulent claim.  The onus is placed upon the user to notice the fraudulent claim and then start action to reclaim the funds.  The action to reverse the claim is initiated online; if you actually want to talk to a human being then you must jump through another hoop.  You have to call PayPal and be placed on hold.  Upon talking to an account rep with very limited access to view any action on your account you are then transferred to the fraud department, this is where the customer experience of PayPal fails.  The transfer places you on hold with a repeating, “Your call is very important to us.”  Then after waiting for 30+ minutes you hang up out of frustration or just a desire to move on with your other daily tasks, having never talked to an real live person.  You decide to call back when PayPal is less busy.  You call again later in the day, another 20 minutes on hold with no actual fraud representative picking up.  You call again, same result.  You call for at least a couple of days and then finally get through.  Now you are certain that talking to an actual human will get your fraudulently withdrawn funds returned.

 

You are again mistaken.  Because PayPal only handles the transfer of funds between two entities, legal or fraudulent, they must go through their dispute resolution process before returning your funds.  The fraud representative tells you to be patient and wait ten days.  Then at the end of that time, PayPal will make a determination if fraud was indeed involved and if your funds should be returned.  You are in essence, guilty until proven innocent.  PayPal is worried that perhaps you are the one trying to be fraudulent and is protecting the fake seller.

 

Contrast that experience with a traditional credit card company.  Over the years, the credit card company may have proactively called you when they noticed suspicious activity.  The credit card company assumes your innocence.  They let know you will not be held responsible for the charges and they will remove the charges from your statement.  In essence the credit card company treats you as a valued client.  Quite the contrast to how PayPal treats their customers.

 

The World Wide Web as used by the casual consumer is still in its adolescence.  Web services such as PayPal make slight variations to their product offerings and levels of service on a manic pace.  PayPal focus increasingly on online customer experience, even recently rolling out an updated user interface.  Unfortunately, they still have not extended their customer experience beyond the online interactions and fail to iterate customer friendly business processes.

 

In short, don’t expect professional levels of service from the pubescent online financial services such as PayPal.  Protect yourself and use the adults of the financial world, credit card companies.

 

Top Ten Off-Shore Usability Testing Tips

One of the user experience community’s goals is to share lessons learned; tips to make our professional lives easier.  Recently we were asked to conduct some usability testing for a company that has offices and offers services throughout the world.  This is the sort of business that is increasingly becoming the norm as markets in countries outside the United States continue to mature and rival those in the United States.  For example an estimate published by the Economist last year predicted China to surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2019 (http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2010/12/save_date). So when it became time for your client to test their new corporate website, we did phone interviews with participants from Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Philippines, Columbia, Australia, Mexico, U.K and the U.S.

Today, I want to share some of the top lessons learned for that testing.

Top ten lessons learned from off shore testing.

  1. Today is Actually Tomorrow
  2. Gotta Get Down on Friday
  3. There are different depths to communicating in English
  4. Make a Phone Call, Confirm the level of Communication Clarity
  5. Protect Yourself, Leave time between sessions and overnight
  6. Record. Record. Record.
  7. Create a Checklist
  8. The US is Eurocentric, users struggle to locate countries by map view
  9. Always bring a co-pilot
  10. Country of Origin, include countries in your findings

1. Today is Actually Tomorrow.
It is important to keep in the mind the time difference when attending interviews or scheduling them for other people on our team.  The biggest difference that we witnessed was with Asia Pacific which is about 13 hours ahead of us here in Chicago, IL.  We would perform some calls late in the evening, which turned out to be the following morning for the participants on the call.

2. Gotta Get Down on Friday.
Watch out for Fridays.  Friday afternoon meetings in the US are Saturday morning meetings in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, etc.

So, if you are not using a meeting scheduling application (Outlook), hence tracking your interviews in Excel, you will want to make sure you are aware of the date change. After all, no one appreciates a Saturday morning meeting.

3. There are different depths to communicating in English
Just because you asked the participants in a questionnaire if they understand a language, doesn’t mean they speak it fluently.  In the United States, we take for granted that English is spoken and taught throughout the world.  Trying to understand a participant who speaks English as a second or third language, over a speakerphone is difficult for both people involved in the conversation.  It is difficult for the participant trying to understand your instructions and it is difficult for you, as the receiver, trying to understand their answers.

4. Make a Phone Call, Confirm the level of Communication Clarity
This is an easy problem to alleviate early in the recruiting process. Insist on whomever is setting up the interviews that they make a phone call prior to scheduling a participant.  Ask them to rate participants’ English skills on a 5-point scale and don’t accept anyone who scores lower than a 4.

Even a proper Englishman can be difficult to understand.  Just try to understand a Geordie accent straight from a Manchester United football match where multiple beers were consumed. (http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-do-a-geordie-accent)

5. Protect Yourself, Leave time between sessions and overnight.
It is important to take an active role in the planning time of your sessions.  Do not blindly leave the planning to another teammate or the client.  You will want at minimum 1 hour between session, in case the previous sessions runs long or to take follow-up notes.

As well as between days, do not schedule a late sessions one night and then an early sessions the following day.  What happened to us is that we had a 9:00 pm call with a participant, only to be followed up with a 5:00 am call the next morning.  That is an 8-hour difference between sessions; once you include commuting and morning shower time it only leaves about 5 hours for sleep.

6. Record. Record. Record.
Recording your sessions is your friend. Every time you conduct an interview record the session.  If the session is in person, ask permission to record the screen with a digital camera recorder.  If it is a call, ask permission to record the conversation.  If you have access to a usability tool such as Morae use it to record the user’s screen.  If you are worried about not getting permission, ask for forgiveness after the fact.

No matter how good a note taker you or a colleague is, you will find it invaluable to go back and listen to the interview a second time.  You will either learn new issues that you missed the first time or you can use the recording to get clarification on a note you previous took.  You can also use the recording to pull direct quotes from your participants and for a highlight reels of your findings.

7. Create a Checklist.
It is eventually going to happen.  You walk through a great sessions with a participant only to discover that you did not start the screen recording.  As Steve Krug recommends in Rocket Surgery Made Easy, a checklist is a great way to assure that your environment is set-up and ready.  Be sure to run through the checklist prior to the start of every session.

8. The US is Eurocentric, users struggle to locate countries by map view.
Our North American history gives us a close tie to Europe.  Our assumption is that everyone knows where Italy is; after all it looks like a boot.  During testing when asked to locate Italy using a map interface, users in the Asia Pacific region struggled.

The lesson learned? Participants tend to know their regional geography and not world geography.  Ask yourself could you locate “Cape Verde” Or “Sri Lanka” On a map?  When then shown a list of countries in an A-Z index, users could quickly find Italy.

9. Always bring a co-pilot.
This is an old standby of usability testing, but when possible have a second colleague with you to scribe notes.  This accomplishes two things. One it helps to capture feedback and notes.  Second it provides a second set of ears and eyes, which will undoubtedly notice flaws in the design that the primary interviewer overlooks.

10. Country of Origin, include countries in your findings.
Your final usability report should include the countries that your different participants resided from.  While it is important both to protect your participants’ identities and that listing their country of origin will help shine some light on any geographic bias that may come out of testing.

The link below provides a power point presentation with notes if you want to use some of this content and brief your team.
Off-Shore Usability Testing Tips

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Google and Facebook and Apple, Oh My

Since 1998 no company has came to dominate the World Wide Web to the degree as Google.  The act of seeking information online using Google’s search engine has become so synonymous with the web that the word “Google” was added as a verb to both the Oxford and Webster dictionaries.  Through the use of selling advertising with AdWords, Google was able to successfully monetize its search engine.  This has made Google a wealthy and powerful company that has branched out beyond its humble beginnings as a research project and gained a number of competitors.

As I see it, Google has three main competitors is today’s marketplace: Microsoft, Apple and Facebook.  Each of these companies competes with Google in a different part of its business.  Microsoft competes with Google in applications, Apple competes within the mobile arena, while Facebook competes with Google in the realm of information gathering.

From a Wall Street market cap perspective, Microsoft is the competitor that is the easiest to connect to Google (Market Close – July 1, 2011: MSFT 219B / GOOG 167B).  These are two giant companies, one of which dominates the desktop environment while the other dominates the cloud.  It is in the area of cloud applications where Google has the potential to strike the biggest blow to Microsoft.  Take this blog post for example.  In the past, a student would utilize Microsoft Word to craft a class assignment, yet I am using Google docs to write this analysis.  A standard desktop application forces a student to write the whole paper on one PC, or at best use Dropbox, which synchronizes a document between two machines both of which would need to have a word processing application installed.  Google docs only requirement is an Internet connect.  I can begin my paper at work over my lunch hour, pick up later using my wife’s Powerbook and finish it on a desktop at home.  While it could be argued that it is Microsoft’s operating system Windows that is fundamental to their market strength, it is applications like Google docs that introduce consumer and businesses alike to the benefits of being hardware and OS agnostic.

Just a few years ago, Google and Apple were thought to be allies.  Two small user focused companies competing for market share against Microsoft.  Steve Jobs even proclaimed at MacWorld 2007 that the first iPhone used “the best version of Google Maps on the planet”.  That was before Google began directly competing with Apple with their Android operating system: a touch based, open source, mobile device operating system, which attempts to compete feature for feature with Apple’s iOS.  Google’s open system approach stands in sharp contrast with Apple’s locked down software and hardware strategy. Now Apple and Google routinely try to one up each other for market share in the smart phone market; Apple with its iPhone product line and Google with Android running on multiple devices from Motorola, Samsung, and HTC to name a few.

In addition to the smart phone market, Google is also competing with Apple in the tablet market.  As successful as touch based smart phones have been in the consumer market, tablets have a chance to mimic that success with business applications. Already businesses are adopting tablets for assistance with medical records, instructional aides and sales tools.  Apple is presently dominating the tablet space with 83.9 percent of the market share according a recent Computer World article (Android vs. iPhone and iPad by the numbers, June 9 2011).  However, that same article references Gartner as predicting that by 2015, Google’s Android operating system will close the gap to a less than 10% difference.

Of all Google’s competitors, there is one which looms larger than the rest: Facebook.  Facebook and Google?  Clearly I must be referring to Google +, Google’s latest foray into social networking.  Actually where Facebook possess the biggest threat is in the realm of information gathering.  Prior to the birth of the World Wide Web with search engines and listing services, consumer and business alike had to ask their peer groups for recommendations for products, restaurants, employers and opinions on where to vacation.  Search engines allowed consumers and business to have open discussions through online chat, search for forums and get recommendations on every topic imaginable.  The issue is that search engine results are crafted by strangers.  Individuals without a face, story or shared childhood life experience.  This is where Facebook holds the upper hand.  By leveraging their social graph, users can ask friends for information on the best day cares, local eateries, movies, books and more.  Business colleagues can chat in real time, collaborating on IT projects, sales proposals, and recommendations for a local watering hole.  Of all the competitors, Facebook is Google’s biggest.

Google possess great human capital in terms of engineering talent and multiple consumer products outside of their core search offering, such as Blogger, YouTube, Gmail and Google Docs. This provides Google with the opportunity to offer seamless experiences across product lines, meaning that a user of one of Google’s services can easily create an account on another service and expect those products to work in conjunction with another.  In the future, this could mean digital documents that have YouTube clips embedded within them or being able to write a Google Doc that posts directly to Blogger.

With Google’s focus on multiple products lines its engineering talent will be spread thin.  The very best engineers at Google will rarely be able to all focus on a single product at one time.  It also means billions of lines of code to be cultivated and maintained.  Increasing the amount of staff inevitable brings human resource issues and bureaucracy that slow a company down.  Indeed Google needs only look at the struggles of one of their key competitors, Microsoft, to get a glimpse of how difficult it can be competitive at multiple channels.

Does this mean that Google is doomed to follow in Microsoft’s footsteps, to eventually be chasing the market rather than defining it? Google certainly has a number of challenges ahead as they compete with Microsoft, Apple and Facebook.  One positive is that both Microsoft and Apple are also competing in multiple digital spaces, operating systems, browsers and mobile.  Thus far Facebook has been content to mainly focus on social networking, though it is branching out and already the largest online photo storage site.  Another positive is that better than any of its competitors, Google has been able to successfully incorporate advertising into the user experience, be it search, Gmail, Google maps or YouTube clips.  This will assure Google a steady stream of revenue to continue to grow as a business and to compete in the next decade.

HDTV & Zenith DTT901 a great combination (Review)

This is an older article that I wrote and only got around to posting now.  If you need a converter box, I highly recommend the Zenith901 – is a great little box.

I am officially a believer.  HDTV is the best thing to happen to TV since the cable box.  I am not talking about the type of HDTV you can get get through your satellite dish or even the offerings coming out of the cable companies.  The type of HDTV I am talking about is the stuff that was going to come in February 09 (strike that) make that June 09 that vastly improved the picture for million of Americans.

My belief started the day we received our Zenith DTT901 in the mail (for those wanting to order one check out sears.com).  This is a converter box that takes over the air digital signals and converters it into an analog signal that can be displayed by those of you with an older set; like the ones with the rabbit ears.

The Zentih DTT901, or as I like to call it a “little miracle in a box”, took an worn out 9 inch RCA TV and added years to its life.  Instead of the frustration of only getting a handful of channels in “so-so” reception, we were now getting bright, beautiful, crisp channels with more choices then ever before.  Instead of one PBS, we know had four of them.  There is a full time dedicated weather channel along with multiple version of NBC, CBS and ABC.  In total there is a solid 20 channels to pick from and best of all each one has perfect reception.

Now a couple words of warning.  First you will only need a converter box if you plan to use an older TV with an antenna.  If you have cable or satellite then you are set and do not need a converter box.  If there is a weather storm, your reception could suffer just like it did with the previous analog signals.  You will also need to live in an area where there is a High Definition signal strong enough for you to receive (those of you in mountainous regions or far away from cities may not get a signal).  Finally, while the picture is crisper, an older TV will not be displaying the true 720p that only a High Definition TV can deliver.

So, does that mean you should not get a converter box? Absolutely not.  If you have an old TV in a spare room of the house without cable and have been putting off upgrading it with a converter box, don’t hesitate a day longer.  Take the plunge and try out a Zenith DTT901, I think you will be presently surprised by the quality of signal you can receive over the air.