Carmony’s current poster campaign shows just how ubiquitous UI is becoming. Selling gadgets like iPhones on sexy interface is easy work; online used car sales are a different matter.
The girls got some Playmobil as a present recently. On the back of the box, this icon indicates which ‘Product World’ the set belongs to. Baffled? Surely, it’s either Tramptown or Bad transvestite land.
Answer: A quick trip to the Playmobil website reveals that it’s actually Farm. Can you think of a better way of representing a farmer?
It combines brain scan technology and other scientific techniques with traditional economics, and some enthusiasts claim that it has the potential to transform social policy …
Never mind putting your money into gold to weather the financial crisis, according to the missus’ latest shopping bill, manuka honey is the place to stash your cash.
Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer is a wonderful video made by students at the Illinois Institute of Design. It’s also a great example of a Participatory Video approach as one of the creators, Gabriel Biller, notes on his blog:
… we hope that this will be just the first of many videos produced by ID students to help teach others about techniques, methods, and other aspects of design through the powerful and entertaining medium of video.
I won’t try and summarise the film here other than to say that it does an excellent job of demystifying ethnography and showing the benefits of getting in to the field.
There is a tremendous lack of political engagement that we now feel in our county. And conventional wisdom has it that this is to be laid at the door of politicians. We’re not attracted to politicians; we find them cavilling and tedious and lying and so we don’t like politics. But I think that view hugely lets off the hook a whole bunch of other people who are massively responsible, and that is the people who make and broadcast television news. Because television news has become so insulting to the intelligence that if you are not shouting at the television news I believe you should medically be declared dead! I genuinely think an official way of telling if you are alive or not should be turning the news on….
They just think we’re idiots… Tonight with Trevor Mcdonald … it’s got incedental music on it! You’re a current affairs programme! Incedental music is designed to tell us how to feel. So there’ll be a voiceover saying ‘… And at the age of twelve James contracted lukemia …’ And underneath there’ll be Albenoni going ‘nah nah nuh nere’. You think, ‘Oh that’s lucky because for a minute there I was wondering which way to go on little Jim’s lukemia; turns out it’s a bad thing.’
The news editors, on one hand they think we’re idiots and on the other hand they seem to be desperate to know what we think about things. Stop asking us to e-mail the news. I don’t give a shit what George from Grimsby thinks about the emerging Asian economies.
Spot on! The BBC’s coverage of the recently announced crime figures had me bellowing at the box. With absolutely no hint of self knowledge or even any further analysis George Alagiah asked why, when recorded crime has fallen by 10 percent this year, is there such a mismatch between the public’s perception (that it is rising) and the statistical reports? Hmmm. I wonder? If people’s direct experience of crime is that it’s falling where on earth could they be getting the idea that it’s on the increase? The only place where the BBC even alludes to this is in the third paragraph of an article on their website:
While we in the national media may have been highlighting brutal knife slayings, the reality for most parts of England and Wales is completely different.
That’s the real story; sloppy, sensationalist journalism, but for some reason the mainstream media aren’t shouting about it.
A few years ago I read an article that changed the way I do usability testing. In the June 2004 Gotoreport Erik Burns introduced café usability testing: recruiting and running usability tests with participants in local cafés. This was a revelation to me. Even though I was using ‘discount’ methods and didn’t maintain a formal lab, Erik’s method of selecting participants in situ offered the opportunity to streamline the whole recruitment process. I could evaluate designs more quickly and economically, and pass the savings on to colleagues and clients. I ran my first café usability session in 2005 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
If café usability’s new to you and it sounds like a useful technique, then here are a few tips to get you started and hopefully avoid some of the common pitfalls.
You can run café usability sessions anywhere. You don’t need to restrict yourself to cafés. Conferences, trade shows, events, museums, canteens, showrooms, student unions, user groups; wherever you think you’ll find people who match your target audience.
The bigger your recruitment sign, the better. In café evaluations you’re recruiting participants on the spot. If you’re on your own, your main tool is usually a sign offering an incentive. A4 desk signs are OK in public spaces where you need something inviting yet unobtrusive, but if you really want people’s attention you can’t beat a big poster. Position yourself next to a wall and stick the poster above your table (provided you’ve got permission, of course). Your sign does all the hard work and you can focus on the evaluations.
Get creative with your incentives. A big poster means you’ll get people’s attention, so now you need to concentrate on how you’re going to entice them to participate: the incentives. There’s less rigmarole for participants in café evaluations than in standard lab tests. You can be more adventurous and, um, budget conscious, in the kinds of incentives that you offer. The original article talked about free beer; I’ve offered chocolate, Gmail accounts, ice lollies, champagne and vouchers as well as the old workhorse hard cash. People tend to respond well to something a bit out of the ordinary, so go wild!
Position yourself where your participants are. This may seem obvious because you’re out in the field already, but your location in the chosen venue can really affect how many people you recruit. If possible try to visit the site beforehand to get a feel for busy times and places. Flexibility is the key; if you’re not seeing enough participants then it may be time to move.
If you’ve got help, recruit people away from your base. Take turns to go around the café/conference/canteen/hall/wherever and ask people if they’ve got a bit of spare time. Print some cards or simple paper leaflets with your company name, where you’re located in the venue and an outline of what you’re doing. Hand these out to people as you go around. At conferences, for example, there are often lulls early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Visiting other vendor’s stands and telling them about your evaluations can provide extra participants during these slow times.
Run your evaluations in public. I’ve seen some correspondence lately suggesting that you recruit people in public areas, but conduct the sessions somewhere private. Informality is the key to this technique. Running your sessions in public keeps it that way. Once you’ve withdrawn to another room you may as well be back in the lab. Nevermind that now you’ve got to manage participants in a separate room as well as maintaining your recruitment setup.
Bring spares of everything. In the lab all your supplies are usually to hand. In the field you’re dependent of what you (and any colleagues) can carry. You’d be surprised how easily simple things like mislaying pens or running out of paper can derail a session. So extra pens and paper are a must, but I’d also bring lots of consent and recording forms, copies of any paper prototypes (parts can easily get lost or damaged) and spare batteries for your laptop. And that’s just for starters. I’m sure there are lots of other things that you can think of for your specific situation.
Listen first, then ask. Café evaluations are conducted away from the lab, so this is a great opportunity to let your users lead and observe their behaviour. Try Mark Hurst’s listening lab approach rather than using pre-defined tasks. Talk to participants to discover what they would normally do on a website or application like yours. Note their answers and then ask them to try some of these tasks with whatever artefacts you’ve got (full site on a laptop, prototypes etc.). If there are specific areas that you want to test, throw in a few exercises of your own, but leave these until you’ve had a chance to see the participant’s usual behaviour.
Allow for more time, but don’t count on it. I usually ask for 20 minutes of people’s time, but the informality of cafe evaluations is infectious. Once participants have started they’ll often give you far longer. Have a few standby tasks or questions ready to make the most of each session. As with all research though, respect for the participants is paramount and that extends to their time. If you’ve asked for 20 minutes then that’s what you should aim for. (You’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve in just that short period.)
The 10th tip? Well that’s up to you. If you’re already running café usability sessions then I’d love to hear your favourite piece of advice. How do you do it? What do you do differently? If you’re just getting started with café evaluations then let me know how you get on. What did I overlook and what would you add? I’m sure that you’ll find the informality and freedom of café usability as stimulating as I do, even without the coffee.
Fantastic to see Mark Cavendish become the first Briton to win three stages of the Tour de France. (He even got a mention in the headlines on PM, a program that generally shuns sport in favour of lightweight political coverage.) Cav’s exploits have lifted a race that was always going to have difficulty competing with the drama and spectacle of last years event, but there’s one thing that stays the same no matter how the competition’s faring – you always ride that little bit faster when it’s on.