We are all designers. Whether you’re writing a report, designing a website, or just making a cake for a friend, the end result is a reflection of how much thought and time you put into your project — and how much you care about your audience.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine I’m making a birthday cake for my friend.

I’ll keep it simple by limiting it to two possible choices: chocolate and vanilla for both the cake and the icing. There are four possibilities.

Would she prefer …

  1. chocolate cake with chocolate icing?
  2. chocolate cake with vanilla icing?
  3. vanilla cake with chocolate icing (my favorite), or
  4. vanilla cake with vanilla icing?

Number three feels right to me … she’ll love it. I mean … she usually likes what I like. And I feel like I’m pretty good at figuring out what people want.

In User Experience (UX), my friend is the “user” and I have to consider what her “requirements” are to ensure she has the best experience.

So based on my point of view, I’m choosing number three.

But … what if I’m wrong?

Am I the best person to decide what my friend wants?

Step 1: You have to care

There are several methodologies that can be used to understand your users’ requirements. In a recent UX study performed for (TBTG), several activities were conducted to determine user preferences.

But first things first. Getting to know your users is easier when you take the time to understand the product. The image below gives an overview of the company, their competitors, potential audiences, and the benefits of a web redesign.

Now we can get to know our users a little better.

When considering your audience, it’s a lot easier to brainstorm design ideas by creating personas.

“Personas are fictional characters, which you create based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way” (Dam & Teo, 2020).

Let me introduce you to TBTG’s potential customers. Click on their names to see the full persona details!

  • Angela Gonzalez, age 49, a local rental equipment company owner.
  • Joe Manzini, age 40, a backyard enthusiast who loves to entertain.
  • Kai Wong, age 28, a pot event planner who could be a potential salesman for TBTG.

They each live in different states and cover the typical age range of TBTG’s customers.

And besides being a valuable design tool, personas are just a lot of fun to create.

Step 2: You have to listen

Now that we know who TBTG’s target audiences are, we can dive deeper. To get the information we need we can use interviews, which are a great choice because they are easy to conduct and can be performed at a reasonable cost (Courage et al., 2015).

Here’s a copy of the ten questions created for TBTG interviewees.

If you have the ability to record the interview, take advantage of it. Just make sure you have your participants sign a release form ahead of time.

Another way to actively listen is through the use of surveys. Listed below are five of the twenty-one questions used for TBTG. Surveys offer a great low-cost method for those companies with smaller budgets, and can be easily distributed via email, online applications, or social media.

Compared to interviews, surveys are easier to distribute to a wide audience, and have the potential to provide a greater amount of information in a shorter period of time.

The full TBTG survey included twenty-one questions. If you can, try to keep your question count to twenty or less — shorter is better when possible. You’re much more likely to get participants to finish the entire survey if you have fewer questions.

And most importantly, be sure your questions are worded carefully so they’re easy to understand.

To round out the research, two other studies were conducted: a card sort and a usability test. Both require a lot of planning up front, but they’re easy to administer if you use online tools.

In a card sort, participants are provided with a set of cards containing site topics and instructed to group them in a way that makes sense to them. TBTG opted for an open sort, which requires participants to also assign names to the groups they create.

Here’s an overview of the procedure.

  • Cards containing current and potential future website topics were created using the free OptimalSort website (you’ll have to create an account, but it’s easy and no credit card information is required).
  • Fifteen (15) people were invited to participate via email.
  • Eleven (11) people responded.
  • The average time for completion was short — only 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Upon completion, the data was standardized by grouping the cards based on the choices made by the participants.
  • The new categories were chosen based on the popularity of the aggregate group choices.

Based on the results, TBTG should include six main navigational categories on their redesigned site:

  1. Buy a Bar
  2. Rent a Bar
  3. Set up & Support
  4. Who Uses Our Bars?
  5. Our Story
  6. FAQs

Now that the previous tests are complete, it’s time for our participants to visit the site and perform usability testing.

Usability testing is a way to see how easy to use something is by testing it with real users. Users are asked to complete tasks … to see where they encounter problems and experience confusion. If more people encounter similar problems, recommendations will be made to overcome these usability issues” (Young, n.d.).

Five participants (three male, two female) completed five tasks on the TBTG website. These were their instructions:

  1. Determine how many tiki bar packages are available and which packages include wheels.
  2. Find the cost of a tiki bar rental and how you would reserve a bar for your backyard event.
  3. Assuming you already own a bar, determine how much it would cost to replace your roof.
  4. Find out what tools are recommended to assemble your bar when it arrives.
  5. What are the dimensions of a tiki bar, assembled and unassembled?

For those who like numbers, here are the task results:

Three key pieces of information surfaced as a result of the exercise:

  • 80% of participants were able to successfully complete all the tasks.
  • 80% of those renting a bar would prefer a contact form rather than calling the toll-free number or emailing.
  • The new design should make it easier to find unassembled and assembled dimensions for the bars.

Step 3: Be willing to change

Other key findings from the activities conducted were as follows:

  1. Navigation categories need to be realigned for optimal search functionality.
  2. More information about the ease of portability should be featured on the homepage.
  3. Participants prefer to use contact forms when requesting bar rentals.
  4. The site is too “text-heavy.” Information should be broken down into smaller “bite-size” chunks.
  5. Feature the fact that the bars are made in the USA (New Jersey, in fact) prominently on the home page.

Wrap up

According to usability expert Steve Krug, usability studies work because:

  1. All sites have problems.
  2. Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find.
  3. Watching users makes you a better designer (Krug, 2010).

Bottom line … it’s all about your users. If they’re not happy with their experience, you’ve failed as a designer — and they’ll take their business elsewhere.

Usability is like love. You have to care, you have to listen, and you have to be willing to change. You’ll make mistakes along the way, but that’s where growth and forgiveness come in.”

Jeffrey Zeldman — entrepreneur, web designer, author, podcaster and speaker on web design. 

It sounds a little extreme, but it’s a great analogy for designers to remember.

And by the way, I was wrong about the cake.

She prefers chocolate cake and chocolate icing.

I know … I should have asked.

until nxt time …


Courage, C., Baxter, K., & Caine, K. (2015). Understanding your users: A practical guide to user research methods (Second edition). Elsevier, Morgan Kaufmann.

Dam, R. F., & Teo, Y. S. (2020, April 26). Personas – A Simple Introduction. The Interaction Design Foundation.

Foster, H. (2020, April 26). Usability: What it is and why it works.

Young, N. (n.d.). What is usability testing? Experience UX. Retrieved from:

Header image by profivideos from Pixabay

Chocolate cake image by Varintorn Kantawong from Pixabay


“Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process” (Nielsen, 2012).

For those of you who know me, you’ll remember that I spent a period of years performing web-based work. It’s not my main gig anymore, but I still believe it’s a fascinating career and I enjoy watching it evolve exponentially.

These days I’m focusing more on user experience, or UX, which allows me to get more involved with the human aspect of web design. To that end, I recently had the opportunity to conduct a usability test on a site that’s near and dear to my heart:

Website usability studies involve recruiting participants to perform specific tasks on a site, allowing them to provide observations and feedback on their experience. (TBTG) has been in business since 2003. They’re the original portable tiki bar company, and they’re still the best. They also have a solid website.

So if their site is good, why do a study?

Why Usability Works

In his book Rocket surgery made easy: The do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems, usability expert Steve Krug gives three primary reasons usability studies work:

  1. All sites have problems.
  2. Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find.
  3. Watching users makes you a better designer (Krug, 2010).

The concept is simple; if you give your users the chance to provide feedback, you can see your website through their eyes. Long story short, I was able to see things my “trained eye” would have missed.

A Little Help From My Participants

To conduct my study I recruited five friends to help me analyze the TBTG site. They were required to attempt five tasks, and also asked to provide feedback on their experience, both pros and cons. Here’s a list of their basic demographics.

TBTG Usability Participant List

Here’s Some Things We Discovered

  1. Everyone loved the logo!
  2. The photos were also well received, but we definitely need to add some more diversity (people as well as how many ways the bar can be used).
  3. Navigation categories need to be realigned for optimal search functionality.
  4. Several broken images were identified in the add-on section.
  5. Users requested that more information about portability should be featured on the homepage; ideally in photographic form.
  6. For tiki bar rentals, the majority of my participants said they would prefer a fill-in contact form; that way they could make a rental request without invoking their email application.
  7. The site is too “text-heavy.” Participants believed the information to be important but would like it to be broken down into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
  8. The fact that the bars are built in the USA (New Jersey) should be more prominently featured on the home page as that is highly important to a variety of potential buyers.
  9. The set-up video was also a winner, but adding some music would make the experience more engaging.
  10. Overall, kicking up the fun tiki vibe would be beneficial for the site and for the social media presence as well.

A Positive Experience

Usability studies do require significant planning, and you really have to put some thought into crafting your questions carefully. Your work will pay off, however, because the rewards are great. You’ll also find that some of the issues are relatively easy to fix.

Sound like too much work? I disagree. And most of my participants said they actually enjoyed the experience. That’s good, because I think I owe them all a pizza and beer night when this pandemic is over!

It’s definitely a worthwhile experience; and don’t forget — “rocket surgery made easy” can be a springboard to making a good website more enjoyable and easier to use. (Krug, 2010).

until nxt time …

A special thanks to all my participants (you know who you are). You rock!


Krug, S. (2010). Rocket surgery made easy: The do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems. New Riders.

Nielsen, J. (2012, January 3). Usability 101: Introduction to Usability. Nielsen Norman Group.

Header image by Maike und Björn Bröskamp from Pixabay


In 1932, Rensis Likert was pursuing his Ph.D. in Psychology at Columbia University. His dissertation research was part of a larger study, aimed at evaluating the technical problems involved with studying social attitudes.

Likert was seeking a better way to measure human attitudes (qualitative data) using statistical (quantitative) methods.

Although Likert was a pioneer, he was not the first to study attitude measurement.

Four years prior in 1928, a method of measuring attitudes had been developed by Louis Thurstone. His Thurstone scale was considered reliable and valid, but the procedure was time consuming and expensive (Prochaska, n.d.).

Measurements Require the Use of a Scale

The Thurstone scale requires gathering consensus from eleven outside people, known as “judges,” who determine the scale (range of intensity) of the survey questions to be used.

Although Thurstone’s method was highly-regarded, it was labor intensive. Could there be a better way?

Using questions from similar studies on attitudinal differences, Likert created the Survey of Opinions, which used three different question formats covering three public issues: internationalism, racism, and imperialism.

Three issues, three measurement scales.

“A measurement scale is used to qualify or quantify data variables in statistics. It determines the kind of techniques to be used for statistical analysis” (7 Types of Data Measurement Scales in Research, 2019).

Survey Question Types

The survey was administered to approximately 2,000 undergraduates (mostly males), with the final data culled from 650 randomly chosen surveys. Example questions from the survey are shown below (Likert, 1932).

TYPE 1 – Three-Point Statements

A statement followed by three choices:

Do you favor the early entrance of the United States into the League of Nations?

TYPE 2 – Five-Point Statements

A statement followed by five possible answers:

Using the term “armaments” to mean equipment devised for war rather than for police purposes, our policy should be to favor

TYPE 3 – Five-Point Continuum

A statement followed by a continuum of five attitudinal options:

All men who have the opportunity should enlist in the Citizens Military Training Camps.

As he studied the data, Likert noticed the answers to each of the five-point questions (both the statement type and the continuum type) “yielded a distribution resembling a normal distribution” (Likert, 1932), or bell curve. Based on his observation, and for the purposes of the study, he made the assumption that attitudes themselves, too, are distributed normally.

The Calculations

After the questions were sorted by issue, the question types had to be made comparable to one another for computation.

Likert converted each question type (the three-point, and each of the five-point types) using a normal distribution based on a sample of 100 responses. Without getting too deeply into statistics, he used sigma units, which helped to prove his calculations to be as reliable as those using the Thurstone scale.

” … statistical significance is usually expressed in units of the standard deviation, or σ (sigma), from the average value” (What Is a Sigma? | Perimeter Institute, n.d.). 

Going one step further, he tried an even simpler technique.

“The simpler technique involved the assigning of values from 1 to 5 to each of the five different positions on the five-point statements. The ONE end was always assigned to the negative end of the sigma scale, and the FIVE end to the positive end of the sigma scale” (Likert, 1932).

That left the three-point questions. Three different methods were applied to test consistency, each of which yielded similar results to those of the successful sigma method.

The Results

Likert was successful in discovering two additional methods of measuring attitudes:

  • the sigma method
  • assigning consecutive numerical values to different alternatives, known today as the Likert scale.

“The first published examination of Likert-type scales involved items written to address racist, internationalistic, and imperialistic attitudes. The scores had high reliability and correlated with scores from other measures, supporting the use of Likert-scaled items” (Horst & Pyburn, 2018). 

I believe Likert summed his results up best when he said:

“In this study, however, each statement becomes a scale in itself and a person’s reaction to each statement is given a score. These scores are then combined by using a median or mean” (Likert, 1932).

Likert’s simple, yet accurate approach has been widely used ever since.

” … it yields reliabilities as high as those obtained by other techniques, with fewer items” (Likert, 1932).”

Full details of the study can be found here.

“The use of Likert scaling is widespread throughout education, psychology, business, and other disciplines involving research examining people’s attitudes, values, beliefs, dispositions, or psychological states and traits” (Horst & Pyburn, 2018).

Four Tips

Looking to get feedback on your website? Interested in people’s opinions on something? The Likert Scale is a great way to get answers. Here are some tips on how to create questions that will provide valuable insight.

  1. Keep your questions focused on one topic only.
  2. Use an odd number of responses with “neutral” in the middle. Five is the most common number, but seven can also be used if you wish to granulate your choices.
  3. Use a consistent scale to make reporting and analysis easier.
  4. Keep the word count of each question to twenty or less. Make sure the questions you ask are easy to understand. Avoid jargon.
  5. Limit the number of questions. Less is more. Twenty is acceptable, but if you can get the information you need with fewer, do so. If your survey is too long people will avoid taking it.

What Do You Think?

I found this blog informative.

Use the comments section to let me know what you think!

until nxt time …

Many studies use the Likert scale based on it’s simplicity and accuracy. Here are a couple of examples if you would like to check them out:

Sauro, J., & Dumas, J. S. (2009). Comparison of three one-question, post-task usability questionnaires | Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 1599–1608.

Wetzlinger, W., Auinger, A., & Dörflinger, M. (2014). Comparing Effectiveness, Efficiency, Ease of Use, Usability and User Experience When Using Tablets and Laptops. In A. Marcus (Ed.), Design, User Experience, and Usability. Theories, Methods, and Tools for Designing the User Experience (pp. 402–412). Springer International Publishing.


7 Types of Data Measurement Scales in Research. (2019, December 28). Formplus. https//

Boslaugh, S. (2008). Statistics in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference O’Reilly Media.

Crossman, A. (n.d.). Normal Distribution and Why It Matters. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from

Edwards, A. L., & Kenney, K. C. (1946). A comparison of the Thurstone and Likert techniques of attitude scale construction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 30(1), 72–83. Retrieved from:

Glen, S. (2015, August 16). Likert Scale Definition and Examples. Statistics How To. Retrieved from:

Glen, S. (2016, June 29). Thurstone Scale: Definition, Examples—Statistics How To. Retrieved from:

Horst, P. (1955). L. L. Thurstone and the Science of Human Behavior. Science, 122(3183), 1259-1260. Retrieved from:

Horst, S. & Pyburn, E. (2018). Likert scaling. In B. Frey (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation (Vol. 1, pp. 975-977). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781506326139.n396

L. L. Thurstone | American psychologist | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Likert, R. (1932). A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes. Archives of Psychology, 140, 1–55.

Prochaska, F. (n.d.). Thurston, Guttman, and Likert Scales. Retrieved from:

Rensis Likert | American social scientist | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Sinaian, P. (2020, February 20). SurveyLegend ® | What are Likert-Type Scale Responses. SurveyLegend. Retrieved from:

The Bell Curve (Normal/Gaussian Distribution) Explained in One Minute: From Definition to Examples. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

What Is a Sigma? | Perimeter Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from:


Imagine you’re working on the early stages of a project. Things are going well, and you feel good about what you’ve accomplished so far. It makes sense to keep moving forward, right?

But then you consider the value of gathering opinions from outside sources. It sounds like a good idea, but it just doesn’t seem efficient and may result in an idea that’s in direct conflict with your plan of action. Besides, conducting user experience (UX) tests can be complicated.

You’re not alone. It’s human nature to resist gathering feedback. Is it worth it?

“… asking for input is a way of engaging other people and getting them involved. On the other hand, asking for input means that we might have to change plans or do something differently. Change can be difficult and takes time, so we often resist it” (Ashkenas, 2012).

But what if there was a method that wasn’t complicated? If you could gain insight from other people’s feedback in a simple, positive, and constructive way, would you be more inclined to take the time to ask?

Keep it Positive

According to Stanford University’s famous d-school, feedback “is best given in I-statements” (Method: I Like, I Wish, What If, n.d.). “I wish there was an easier way to search” is better than “You didn’t include an easy-to-use search function.” In this way a participant can voice their opinions without having the designer feel like they are being chastised.

I Like, I Wish, What If (IL/IW/WI) is a simple method UX designers can employ to encourage constructive feedback from users. The three questions are posed to each participant, providing the designer with valuable information they might have otherwise missed.

The Process

  1. Choose your “activity.” For example, if you’re looking for feedback on a proposed web design, provide wireframes or devices your participants can use to view the site.
  1. You’ll need some basic tools. Designer Kimberly Crawford suggests using a whiteboard and markers to record the verbal feedback you’ll receive from your users. Post-it notes and markers also work well.
  1. Reserve a space that’s large enough to accommodate your participants. The number can be as small as two or as large as 100; just make sure you’re comfortable facilitating a large group if you go big.
  1. Ask your participants to perform the required activity and then answer three questions … “I Like, I Wish, and What If?”
  1. Working remotely? No problem. You can download Brian Tarallo’s template if you prefer to have your participants write down their responses and email them back to you.
(Tarallo, 2016)
  1. Process the Feedback. In her Design Thinking Toolkit article, Kimberly Crawford suggests tracking any patterns that might “identify higher-level themes or ideas” (2018). If your feedback session is live, be sure to take advantage of the time with your participants by brainstorming ideas that can make your project better.

Equal Amounts of Critical and Non-Critical Feedback

According to a conference paper presented at the Creativity & Cognition conference in June 2019, “Receiving early-stage feedback often leads to higher quality results by increasing iteration.” If that is accurate, why is it that designers tend to seek feedback late in the design process rather than earlier? Researchers Kotturi and Kingston conducted a study of Etsy sellers to try and find out (2019).

Each member of the group of twenty-one participants were required to provide the following information:

  • An idea or prototype for something they were thinking about making to sell (for early-stage feedback)
  • their overall Etsy shop message (for late-stage feedback).

The feedback delivered was in the “I Like, I Wish, What If” format. According to the researchers,

“While simple, this feedback mechanic ensures participants receive equal amounts of critical and non-critical feedback while simultaneously separating the two, both attributes of a successful feedback exchange” (Kotturi & Kingston, 2019).

This simple yet effective method provided the groundwork for their study, which revealed that the early-stage variety of feedback is often avoided because “participants were less clear on what to expect from an early stage feedback exchange” (Kotturi & Kingston, 2019).

Get in the Game Early

According to Kim, Agrawala, and Bernstein, seeking feedback early in the design process for open-ended creative work results in higher quality work (2017).

Early feedback can be daunting, but not soliciting it because you don’t know what to expect is a bad move. It’s OK to be unsure. Concentrate on asking three simple questions; you’ll be surprised how much you can learn.

until nxt time …


Ashkenas, R. (2012, November 13). Don’t Ask for Feedback Unless You Want It. Harvard Business Review.

Crawford, K. (2018, September 12). Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 14—I Like, I Wish, What If. Atomic Spin.

Interaction Design Foundation. (n.d.). I-Like-I-Wish-What-If. Interaction-Design.Org/.

Kim, J., Agrawala, M., Bernstein, M.S. (2017). Mosaic: Designing Online Creative Communities for Sharing Works-in-Progress. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 246-258.

Kotturi, Y., & Kingston, M. (2019). Why do Designers in the “Wild” Wait  to Seek Feedback until Later  in their Design Process? C&C ’19: Proceedings of the 2019 on Creativity and Cognition, 541–546. Retrieved from:

Method: I Like, I Wish, What if. (n.d.). Stanford d.School. Retrieved from:

Tarallo, B. (2016, April 7). Refiner: I Like, I Wish, What If? Lizard Brain Solutions. Retrieved from:


Many years ago, my mother asked my father to build a closet in their bedroom. Now that might sound like a strange request, but our house was built during the 1920s — a time when closet space was not a priority because people didn’t have a lot of clothes.

Enter the designer (also my dad).

My mom, the primary user, had a mental model of what her new closet would be.

“A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works (i.e., a person’s understanding of the surrounding world)” (Weinschenk, 2011).

A few days later after a considerable amount of discussion between my parents, my brothers and I heard the hammering sounds floating out of the second floor window. My dad was a master carpenter, so it didn’t take him very long to finish the job.

I remember how pleased my father was with his handiwork. That old tudor house had wide chair rails in every room, and I was really impressed with how dad had managed to create a closet that looked like it had been there since the day the house was built. It was beautiful. But when my mom saw it for the first time, she just stood there silently. Clearly she wasn’t pleased.

What had gone wrong?

There had been a mismatch. Mom’s mental model didn’t match dad’s conceptual model.

“A conceptual model is the actual model that is given to the user through the interface of the product” (Weinschenk, 2011).

My father had listened patiently, but ultimately failed. Why? He hadn’t asked the right questions. He had listened with the ears of a carpenter rather than a designer.

He forgot to put down his hammer.

He had also neglected to show my mom his progress along the way. Continued collaboration beyond their initial discussion would have spared him the task he ultimately ending up doing — ripping the closet out and starting again from scratch.

Keep the User Involved

Iterative design is repetitious. It’s a cyclical process, and requires keeping the end user involved through all stages of the design life cycle.

Jacob Nielson, co-founder of the user experience consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group, believes iterative design is critical to producing a successful end product.

” … user interfaces should be designed iteratively in almost all cases because it is virtually impossible to design a user interface that has no usability problems from the start” (Nielsen, 1993). 

Iterative design helps you discover problems earlier.

Lest you think I’m beating up on my dad, let me clear that up right now. My dad’s desire to surprise my mom with the gift of a beautiful closet was his goal. But goals alone are not enough; methodology is important.

His methodology was sound, but incomplete.

“If the system can be changed, the solution is simple: make sure it conforms to users’ mental models” (Vinney, 2019).

Users don’t always know how to express their wants and needs; it’s up to the designer to make sure they ask the right questions and, periodically, take the time to put down the hammer.

until nxt time …


Design iteration brings powerful results. So, do it again designer! | Interaction Design Foundation. (2020, March 2). Retrieved from:

Law of the instrument. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

Mahmood, H. (2019, September 16). Uncovering design problems by asking the right questions. Retrieved from:

Nielsen, J. (1993, November 1). Iterative Design of User Interfaces. Retrieved from:

Vinney, C. (2019, August 19). What are mental models in UX design? The ultimate guide. Retrieved from:

Weinschenck, S. (2011, October 8). The Secret to Designing an Intuitive UX : Match the Mental Model to the Conceptual Model | UX Magazine. Retrieved from: