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Dear Diary: Using Diaries to Study User Experience

Keeping a diary is not just a hobby undertaken by teenage girls trying to make sense of life and love. Diary methods have been widely used in medical research where patients are asked to keep a diary during a clinical trial or disease treatment. In Human-Computer Interaction, a diary study is a qualitative technique for collecting data on what users have done or experienced. Much like a travel journal contains descriptions of the traveler’s…

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Dear Diary: Getting the Most from Respondent Journals and Diaries

During a recent study, I asked respondents about their snacking: when and why. You would have thought that these respondents were among the healthiest on the planet. Why, the apples they consumed could have denuded an entire orchard! Luckily, though, I had asked the respondents to keep a mobile diary of their snacking behavior for the week prior to the focus group. How quickly these respondents had forgotten the chips, Twinkies and, yes, even…

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Little Red Sprite Learns Finance: An Exploration of Mobile Diary Studies Using Avatars and Chat Apps

In this article, we share considerations and lessons learned from using WeChat as a mobile diary that can be applied to future studies using chat apps. Figure1. WeChat as a mobile diary. The mobile diary is a great remote research tool to help uncover the daily lives of consumers and gather field-based consumer insights, especially as naturalistic data can be difficult to obtain through focus groups, interviews, or observations. This is…

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Conducting Field Studies with Older Adults Lessons for Recruiting and Testing Older Users

Last winter, we ran a usability study in our lab with adults aged 75 and above. This age group is often classified as the “older-old” population, as opposed to the “younger-old” population of 60-75. We had done considerable research with this older-old population before, and we knew to expect higher-than-average cancellation rates because of participants’ health and transportation issues. But when a light snow…

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Positioning Field Studies for Company and Customers

Getting Started Within Your Company The mantra for usability practitioners is “know your users”. Similarly, when proposing field study research, it is important to understand who you are “selling” field study research to—who are the people holding the key to unlocking the resources, schedules, and budget required for the research activity to occur. Understanding this audience allows you to create persuasive arguments to gain their support and…

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Cultural Probes: Understanding Users in Context

One of the latest techniques in the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) community is a data collection mechanism called cultural probes. These were introduced in 1999 by William Gaver, an academic based at the London Royal College of Art, in the publication Interactions. Since then, cultural probes have been discussed, developed, and used extensively in academic HCI research. Although industry practitioners are starting to adopt cultural probes,…

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COMMUNICATION GAP: Designing an Interface for Chinese Migrant Workers

While there are many problems to be solved in China, we chose to address the need for communication between migrant workers and their children left behind at home. Although these workers lack exposure to computer-based tools, they welcome changes to better their lives and thus, they make willing subjects. Their weaknesses—including a low rate of literacy—amplify their detachment from Western design issues and make them interesting subjects….

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Looking Closely at e-Learning: Vision Research Reveals Ways to Improve Children’s Experiences

I’m fascinated by the educational opportunities e-learning is bringing into our homes and classrooms. I’m thrilled when I see how engaged and motivated my own five-year-old daughter is when she’s working on a computer designed for kids. But, as a parent, I’ve had my concerns, too. Will staring closely at the computer screen harm her eyes? Is it better for children to read on paper than on screen? E-learning is still relatively new; when I…

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Book Review: Of Testing and Techniques

A review of Beyond the Usability Lab: Conducting Large-Scale Online User Experience Studies By Bill Albert, Tom Tullis, Donna Tedesco. Morgan Kaufmann, 2010 In 2008, UXMagazine devoted an issue to remote usability testing guest edited by Tomer Sharon. As managing editor at the time, I confess to having had a rather skeptical view of the value of remote testing. One of the articles that made me re-think my attitude was a case study comparing…

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Mechanical Turk: Quickly Scale Research Without Breaking the Bank

In 2017, design cycles move faster, and target audiences are more diverse and widespread than ever before. At the same time, we have an ever-increasing need for research. While this is great for job security, it also presents some challenges. For instance, budget and recruiting speeds don’t always improve at the same pace as our design cycles or our need for research. We’ve heard the following problem discussed several times: A…

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What Shall We Watch Tonight? Using Mobile Devices to Plan TV Viewing

Interactive Television (iTV) offers an exciting future full of dynamic viewer-channel interactions. However, while increasing numbers of consumers purchase iTV capable devices ,and channel providers experiment with services, a range of usability challenges remain. One problem that warrants investigation is that of planning what to watch on television. With an increasing number of available channels, each offering many different programs, it is…

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Automated Usability Testing: A Case Study

In our user experience team at Fidelity Investments, we’ve conducted over forty unmoderated remote usability tests over the past five years. We use them as an adjunct to traditional lab tests and remote, moderated usability tests. We’ve found that unmoderated remote tests reveal usability variations between different design solutions that typical lab tests generally don’t detect. The advantage of the unmoderated remote tests lies in the sheer…

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User Research for Non-Researchers: How to Get User Feedback Without a Dedicated Researcher

We’ve all been there. The product team needs data to make a decision, the user research team is fully engaged on other projects, and there’s no budget or time to hire a consultant. So, the product team has to decide between no research or doing user research themselves. Everyone on the product team should know the basics of research for two reasons. First, if others on the product team can conduct basic research sessions themselves, then the…

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Designing Credible Studies: A Research Framework

Generally speaking, nobody wants to be an enabler of bad behavior. To enable bad behavior means we are consciously aware of the reality that surrounds us and the impact that the negative has, but be unconsciously accepting of that reality as well. But why are we talking about bad behaviors? Ironically, we as researchers allow bad behaviors to dictate our work all the time. As industry-embedded researchers, we are often compelled to make…

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Redesigning Centrelink Forms: A Case Study of Government Forms

From time to time, organizations need to review all their forms, a task often performed by inexperienced staff with limited resources. This article is based on the author’s recent experience in assisting with such a review for Centrelink, an agency of the Australian Department of Human Services that handles social security, veterans’, and similar types of payments. Numerous studies of both government and non-government forms have shown typical…

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Collaborating Across Cultures: Designing UX Studies for Japan

Years ago, when I came to Japan to teach English, it was the first time I had ever left the United States. I was on my own and I didn’t really know anything about the local culture or language. In my head I thought itcouldn’t be much different than America; after all, Japan was the third largest economy in the world, and surely a very international place. I was aware, almost immediately, of how wrong I had been. Even so, it took me a long time…

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Ethnographic Research: Business Value

Ethnography has become the new marketing buzzword, a must-have in a designer toolkit, and a simple shorthand for qualitative research. Doing “ethnography” usually means using people-studying tools as part of a mixed bag of observation and interviews for data collection. If design is social, and we all seem to agree that it is, then ethnography is the means to access this sociality. What is often not audible above the industry buzz is just how…

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UX Increases Revenue: Two Case Studies

What do you do when you need to show someone in your organization, perhaps a skeptic in upper management, that the user experience of your website directly impacts the bottom line? While an eight to ten person lab-based usability study or focus group can yield a list of key usability defects or areas for improvement, neither truly demonstrates the business impact of user experience improvements. In order to persuade the skeptics, one generally…

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More than Just Eye Candy: Top Ten Misconceptions about Eye Tracking

Figure 1. Heatmap representing the aggregate number of fixations across eighteen participants looking for movies they would be interested in renting (red = 10+ fixations). Eye tracking is no longer a novel addition to the user experience (UX) research toolbox, used by only a few specialists. As more UX professionals incorporate eye tracking into their studies, many misconceptions are being created and perpetuated. These false beliefs and…

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The Truth is Out There: Using Mobile Technology for Experience Sampling

As practitioners, we spend much effort designing and testing products and services within the confines of our offices and labs when we know that a rich user experience lies outside. We need more research “in the wild,” where peo­ple use the very interfaces we take so much time to design, test, iterate, and develop. Now, what if we could conduct studies “in the wild” using a robust platform that collects data from the…

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Getting Your Money Back: The ROI of remote unmoderated user research

Remote unmoderated user experience research is a valu­able methodology to include in any consultant’s toolkit. The ability to conduct task-based research that collects both qualitative and quantitative data enhances return on investment (ROI) significantly. This approach can also be used to augment other research methodologies. This methodology synthesizes clickstream data with attitudinal and task success data, all taken from the same…

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Older Users Online: WAI Guidelines Address the Web Experiences of Older Users

Age matters with wine and cheese, and also with the user experience of older people on the Web. As we age, we experience increasing impairments that impact how we interact with computers and websites. This article provides a peek into some of these issues, and points to existing solutions for making websites accessible to older people, along with people with disabilities. The Web Accessibility Initiative: Ageing Education and Harmonisation…

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What’s So Hard About Enterprise UX?: ERP Software Revisited

During the last twenty years, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has become a standard fixture of the daily work environment of many professionals who work in large companies. While there are other types of “enterprise” software, this article will focus on ERP systems, a $6 billion a year industry. Many Fortune 1,000 companies have deployed ERP systems to support all types of transaction-oriented work, from accounting to sales…

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Engaging Teams with Rich Reporting: Recipe for a Research Findings Expo

Does this sound familiar? You plan and execute the perfect research study. You gain insights that have huge impact for the product. The research findings touch not only workflow and design but suggest major business implications addressing questions your product manager has been asking for months—and some that she hasn’t even thought to ask. You craft a detailed, voluminous report that will most likely end up in the Smithsonian as an…

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Measuring Emotions: Self Report as an Alternative to Biometrics

“Yes, but I want to know if users are delighted,” our client said after reviewing the metrics we suggested for a study to evaluate new gesture-based gaming concepts. After creating a research plan with traditional usability metrics (for example, ease of use and satisfaction), we realized we weren’t hitting the mark. We knew that there’s more to delight than ease of use. Ultimately, stakeholders want to understand the entire emotional journey of…

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Total Recall: The Consequence of Ignoring Medical Device Usability

A nervous thirteen-year-old girl sat in a pre-operative room. As she spoke with the anesthesiologist about the impending knee surgery, a nurse came by with a clipboard, requiring that the eighth grader confirm she needed surgery on her left knee. She checked the box “Left,” and signed her name. Then the nurse handed her a giant permanent marker and asked the young patient to label her “good” leg, “NOT THIS ONE” and “NO SURGERY HERE.” Her…

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Usability Practice in China: An Update

About three years ago, I wrote an article for User Experience (Spring/Summer 2003) entitled “East Meets West,” on usability in China. In the intervening years, usability has become a popular topic in Chinese industry. The Sino-European Usability Center that I founded has now been involved in many usability projects. The experiences have deepened our organization’s understanding of the usability process and corroborated the essential views in…

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How Do Other People Do It? A Comparative Review of Usability Study Reports

In the most recent of Rolf Molich’s Comparative Usability Evaluation studies (CUE-10), 16 participants conducted an exercise intended to “gather real-world data about usability test moderation from experienced UX professionals.” Each team conducted three sessions of the same usability study (same site, same tasks) and recorded the sessions so other teams could examine each other’s moderation practices. While there were many insights on…

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Getting Better Design Feedback: Anonymized User Research

The early 2010s will not be remembered as good years for internet anonymity. From news outlets likethe CBC, ESPN, and Huffington Post, to social media sites YouTube and Facebook, many leading organizations have at least dabbled in the prohibition of anonymous comments from its users (even sometimes backpedaling in the face of criticism after implementation). In the user experience (UX) design field, the candid, unadulterated comments and…

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Designing for Vulnerable Users: Illustrations (May) Help Understand Complex Health Websites

The Internet offers a useful way to share and consume complex health information. Not only can health information be found through popular search engines, such as Google, but hospitals and doctors can also provide their patients with specific health information through the Web via patient portals and hospital websites. However, information is not always shared in such a way that is useful for the end user. Websites often include complex health…

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Engaging Study Observers: An Overlooked Step in User Research

At AutoTrader.com, we have learned the value of actively involving observers when conducting usability studies. We have always invited stakeholders, such as product and project managers, visual designers, and interaction designers, as well as individuals with periphery interests such as marketing researchers and QA analysts to observe usability studies. However, our practice has evolved to improve our approach and provide a more valuable…

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A Moderated Debate: Comparing Lab and Remote Testing

Remote unmoderated testing provides statistically significant results, which executives often say they require to make informed decisions about their web­sites. However, usability practitioners may question whether the large numbers, although seductive, really tell them what’s wrong and what’s right with a site. Also, you can tell whether an observation is important or not by the number of people from a group of 200 to 1,000…

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Engaging with Mental Health: Opportunity for Collaboration

With several notable exceptions, much of the early research on the use of technology was justified on the basis of increased access, such as electronic contact for a natural extension of face-to-face dialogue, and the computerization of self-help materials. Increased engagement and improvements in the effectiveness of treatment have received less attention. Collaboration between human-computer interaction (HCI) and mental health professionals…

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Scarcity: Focusing on Limitations to Explore Design Opportunities

As UX professionals, one of the things that draws us to this work is a keen focus on people. To understand who they are and what makes them tick, we use a range of methods, including ethnography, interviews, and usability studies. But when we focus solely on people’s tasks and actions, we may be missing something. When designing for social impact spaces, whether the project is for government or for a nonprofit, the people we are designing for…

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Finding Uses For New Technology: Moving with a Magic Thing

Even if we user experience professionals would like to think that new product development is always user-pushed, we have to admit that technology can sometimes be the main driver. Some of the greatest innovations have been technology-pushed. For example, Gore-Tex, the basis of dozens of products, including fabric for outerwear and dental floss, was a technology-pushed innovation. Another is the short text messaging system (SMS) used widely in…

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US Government UX Work: Challenges, Strategies, and Good News

The US Federal Government creates and supports a vast number of websites, electronic systems, and other types of products. Many of these are complex and often serve a wide variety of uses and users. All this development provides a lot of opportunity for user experience work (Figure 1). Figure 1. DigitalGov is just one of the sites and programs for UX practitioners in government agencies, with monthly themes on topics from data to mobile….

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Auditory Displays in Healthcare

Anyone who has spent any time in a critical care area of a hospital is aware how noisy it can be. There is noise from telephones, pagers, and equipment, as well as conversations. In the operating room, there is also noise from electrical surgical instruments such as scalpels and drills, suctioning, ventilation machines, and so on. There is so much noise that one group of researchers went so far as to suggest there should be a department of…

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Understanding User Motivation: Creating Compelling IoT Experiences

It’s New Year’s Eve and friends are at my apartment celebrating the ball drop on television. Streamers are flying, and people are getting ready to clink champagne glasses. Suddenly, all the lights dim, leaving the apartment 50% darker than it was before, and everybody gasps. “Sorry,” I explain. “They’re smart lights that dim at midnight.” I quickly wrestle with various menus on my phone to turn off the automated schedules. These lights…

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Illuminating the Journey: Improving Public Transit Rider Experience

If you find yourself in Seattle in the near future and are looking for a way to start a conversation with a local, just mention how bad the traffic is and stand back. The subject of congestion and how horribly long it took for you to go from point A to point B has replaced rainy weather as the grievance of choice. The complaints are legitimate, as within the span of a decade Seattle now finds itself mentioned in the same category as other…

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The Cost of Bad Design (Book Review)

A review of Tragic Design: The Impact of Bad Design and How to Fix It by Jonathan Shariat and Cynthia Savard Saucier Book Website About this book A good reference for Methods/How-To, UX Theory, and Case Studies Primary audience: Researchers and designers who are new to the topic or have some or significant experience with the topic. Writing style: Matter of fact Publisher: O’Reilly Media Text density: Mostly text 206 pages, 9 chapters Learn…

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Creating Usability Maturity Models for Large-Scale Projects

About a year into a very complex, long-term project, we were sitting in a design meeting when our project manager turned to us and asked, “How are we doing with usability? How will we know that we found all the usability issues and we are ready to ship?” If you were in the room with us, you should have seen our reaction! We were surprised to say the least. We had been reporting on the usability testing outcomes on this project all along; how…

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Adapting to Change: UX Research in an Ever-Changing Business Environment

If you’ve worked in the professional world for any amount of time, you’ve likely learned that change is the only certain thing in business—from product changes to website redesigns to large-scale organizational changes. The UX research process can evolve and adapt to change, however doing so often requires UX professionals to think outside of the box to make or keep UX relevant and valuable in a constantly changing business landscape. Since my…

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UX Research in the Top 3 Economies in Latin America: What You Should Know

Over the last five years, I have led Key Lime Interactive in conducting user research in the U.S. and abroad. In Latin America, we have conducted user research in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. I can tell you that moderating UX studies in these countries is not an apples-to-apples comparison to our U.S.-oriented approach. However, don’t despair; by following a few of my quick tips, you can account for some cultural idiosyncrasies to get the…

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More than Mere Transcription: Closed Captioning as an Artful Practice

It’s tempting to think of closed captioning as a rote, strictly objective task. Captioners copy down what people are saying, a task so easy, even a computer can do it. For example, Google uses speech recognition technology to fully automate the captioning of YouTube videos. The results of autocaptioning are far from perfect, but the basic assumption behind this effort is that automation is possible because captioning is nothing more than…

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Land Your Dream UX Research Role: Take Your Career to the Next Level

Figure 1. Some of the books on my UX “bookshelf.” See the list of books. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many eager-to-get-into-the-field UX enthusiasts throughout my career. One of the first questions they often ask is, “How do I get started in user experience research?” It’s a hard question to answer because our field is relatively new and constantly evolving. Some researchers, including myself, fall into the career when working on a…

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Follow the Flow: Using Mind-Mapping to Capture User Feedback


Figure 1. An example of a mind-map illustrating the planning of a usability test. Imagine you are taking notes in a usability session. Sarah, the participant, is providing great feedback, while Tom, the moderator, listens intently. As the session progresses, Sarah’s feedback addresses questions that apply to the task at hand and to questions that relate to tasks located in other parts of the script. As she follows her train of thought, Tom…

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Seeing is Believing (Book Review)

A review of Eye Tracking the User Experience – A Practical Guide to Research By Aga Bojko Rosenfeld Media, 2013 I used to consider eye tracking a bit of magic and hearing the term conjured up images of heatmaps and gaze plots. Recently, I have learned more about the method by working with teams who run user experience studies involving eye tracking. While I frequently conduct or oversee user testing sessions, I have not had to plan and…

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Understanding User Adaptation to New Technology in the Manufacturing Industry

The manufacturing industry has existed for more than a century and has time-tested processes. Today, this industry is officially in the age of Internet of Things (IoT) adoption. As discussed in a white paper by Schneider Electric, this change should be seen as an evolution, not a revolution. Companies have invested hundreds of millions in industrial automation and control systems and are often unwilling to invest hundreds of millions more…

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The UX of AR: Toward a Human-Centered Definition of Augmented Reality

Augmented reality, or AR, is becoming mainstream. Sources from TechCrunch and ABI Research to Business Insider state that the industry of AR and VR (virtual reality) combined will reach more than $100 billion by 2020. Key players like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are making major investments in AR technology. Earlier this year, Apple introduced an iOS Dev toolkit called ARKit at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Just one year earlier,…

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Editor’s Note: Coming Soon to a Screen Near You

This issue’s theme focuses on usability and user-experience issues of interactive and mobile video, informing us about many new technology developments that make headlines in our daily news media. We all have our childhood experiences of viewing television and of using the phone. What happens when these two media are combined, and the experience becomes a mobile one? We’re talking about not only the sedentary experience of watching network…

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