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 …
- chocolate cake with chocolate icing?
- chocolate cake with vanilla icing?
- vanilla cake with chocolate icing (my favorite), or
- 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 tikibartogo.com (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:
- Buy a Bar
- Rent a Bar
- Set up & Support
- Who Uses Our Bars?
- Our Story
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:
- Determine how many tiki bar packages are available and which packages include wheels.
- Find the cost of a tiki bar rental and how you would reserve a bar for your backyard event.
- Assuming you already own a bar, determine how much it would cost to replace your roof.
- Find out what tools are recommended to assemble your bar when it arrives.
- 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:
- Navigation categories need to be realigned for optimal search functionality.
- More information about the ease of portability should be featured on the homepage.
- Participants prefer to use contact forms when requesting bar rentals.
- The site is too “text-heavy.” Information should be broken down into smaller “bite-size” chunks.
- Feature the fact that the bars are made in the USA (New Jersey, in fact) prominently on the home page.
According to usability expert Steve Krug, usability studies work because:
- All sites have problems.
- Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find.
- 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. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/personas-why-and-how-you-should-use-them
Foster, H. (2020, April 26). Usability: What it is and why it works. untilnxttime.com. https://untilnxttime.com/2020/04/26/usability-what-it-is-and-why-it-works/
Young, N. (n.d.). What is usability testing? Experience UX. Retrieved from: https://www.experienceux.co.uk/faqs/what-is-usability-testing/