“What are you working on?” It’s a question I hear fairly often these days.
In Tell Me Your Story I shared my fascination with finding out whether or not people believe they can find the perfect wedding outfit. Although wedding outfit research and history is available, there doesn’t seem to be much out there that gets to the heart of my question. So …
I decided to do a bit of my own research by posting my Wedding Outfit Survey. If you ever chose a wedding outfit for your own ceremony, I’d be appreciative if you would complete it. It only takes five minutes.
Thanks to some great friends who shared the survey link via word of mouth and their social media accounts, 150 people have completed the survey. That’s a great start, and I’m hoping people will continue to respond.
Statistics So Far
Here are a few of the survey statistics so far:
80% of the respondents are married
54% had a religious-based wedding ceremony
65% chose their wedding outfit in one month or less
34% of the respondents are in the 30 to 39 year old age range
almost 69% believe a bride/groom finds their “perfect” or “dream” wedding outfit
81% still have their wedding outfit
Interesting fact: Most people store theirs in a basement or attic, which is not recommended. And don’t use plastic to protect it (unless it’s acid-free). A clean linen sheet is preferable.
The statistics are interesting but definitely skewed in the relationship status category (married respondents totalled 80%). Where are my divorced people?
Hey, I’m in that category. I know you’re out there, so let me hear your voice! It’s always fun to find out whether or not we divorced folk still have our outfit.
98% of the responses are from North America, but we also have responses from Pakistan and Romania. I’d love to have more people from outside the U.S., so if you know anyone please share my story with them!
The survey also serves as a starting point for those who are interested in being interviewed on my upcoming podcast. Beautiful You is the working title but it may change in the near future.
So far I have twenty potential interviewees, and I’m thrilled. Here’s how the process works.
Survey respondents indicate their interest in being interviewed, along with their preferred method of contact (email or telephone).
A ZOOM session is scheduled to allow the interviewee and I to get to know each other. It also helps me structure the interview questions that will help the respondent tell their story in the best way possible, making sure they are comfortable, of course.
If the respondent agrees to do the interview an additional ZOOM session is scheduled.
The interview itself usually takes under an hour, and so far they’ve been great.
The overall process is very informal, and the sessions we’ve recorded to date have been informative, revealing, and a lot of fun. In my experience, almost everyone has an interesting story that somehow relates to choosing their wedding outfit.
In my next post I’ll share my experiences using a new online software application called Notion. And yes, like the caption below the cartoon says, these days I do spend most of my days in front of a computer.
“Notion is an enhanced online workspace that includes powerful tools for notes, tasks, wikis, and databases. The robust structure allows for great flexibility in creating and organizing content, work items, or database components. It works with browsers, as a desktop app, and on mobile devices with native apps. The built-in collaboration tools allow for easy work and information sharing. The comprehensive set of features in one tool can replace several disconnected apps for a more streamlined workflow, better overview, and increased productivity” (Santos, 2020).
It’s important to use a project manager tool to track the myriad tasks involved in creating a podcast, and I’m hoping Notion will help me accomplish my goals.
“What I love about a wedding gown is that it’s almost purely emotional and not at all practical.”
– Rebecca Schoneveld, wedding dress designer
At the tender age of twenty — back when that wasn’t considered too young to get married — I got engaged. Not surprisingly, I was anxious to begin looking for my wedding outfit.
Using the internet to search for a gown was not an available option then, so I made a trip to the store and bought a few bridal magazines so I could conjure up some ideas.
Many days and dog-eared pages later I found my inspiration, so my mom and I made plans to make our pilgrimage to the local bridal shops.
The hunt was on.
I knew exactly what I wanted, and it had to be perfect.
per·fect (adjective) having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
Fast forward thirty-six years. This time it’s my engaged daughter and I making the rounds of the bridal shops, once again looking for that elusive “perfect” dress.
What exactly is the mystique that revolves around finding the perfect wedding outfit?
Once my daughter found her outfit, I felt like there was something I needed to share about my experiences. I began writing what I thought would be a book, but between my work and graduate studies not much was getting accomplished.
But last week all that changed.
A New Plan
I came up with two strategies:
Conduct a survey to find out if people believe they can find the “perfect” or “dream” outfit.
Set up interviews so I could hear their stories directly.
If you’ve ever borrowed, bought, made, or purchased an outfit for your own wedding ceremony, I’d love to get feedback on your experience. It only takes five minutes to fill it out and don’t worry, there aren’t any questions about your income or education levels. The answers to the questions will help me learn more about your opinions regarding the “perfect dress” phenomenon.
But wait, there’s more!
A New Podcast
The most exciting part comes next. If you’re game, you could be selected to be a part of my upcoming podcast series called Beautiful You (find out more about it here).
When you fill out the survey, just indicate how you would like to be contacted (phone or email). Depending on the number of responses I receive it may take a while, but I’ll reach out to you to determine if your story gels with our theme.
I’m on the east coast in the U.S., but don’t worry if you’re far away; conducting an interview is very simple using ZOOM. I’ve been using it a lot lately to stay in touch with friends and relatives, especially while everyone is social distancing these days.
Everyone I know — and I mean everyone — has a story about choosing their wedding outfit.
This article in Philadelphia Magazine tells the story of how one women spent just $15 on her wedding gown. It includes pictures, and the outfit looks pretty great to me. Perfect doesn’t necessarily come with a price tag.
The survey is open to everyone: males, females, all ages! The only requirement — the outfit had to be for your wedding. Guest outfits don’t count.
What Can We Learn?
The two experiences I’ve had — choosing my own dress and helping my daughter choose hers — were very different (a story for another day). I wasn’t surprised that I learned a lot about myself the first time; as a matter of fact, I sort of expected it. But what I didn’t expect was that I would learn even more when I went shopping with my daughter.
Bottom line? There’s a lot of psychology behind this ritual of choosing a wedding outfit.
Who is that girl in the mirror? And more importantly, will her wedding outfit reflect who she chooses to be as she moves into the next phase of her life?
Share your story with me and let’s find out together.
More to Come
Over the next six weeks I’ll be reporting on the survey results and how the podcast is coming along, so check back if you’d like to hear about my progress. I’m doing some research on the history of weddings, so I’ll try to include a little bit of that as well.
I’m also interested in the different cultural traditions surrounding wedding attire. For some, tradition is a labor of love, yet others toss tradition aside to create their own definition of “perfect.”
What’s your definition of the perfect wedding outfit? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.
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!
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?
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.
“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: tikibartogo.com.
Website usability studies involve recruiting participants to perform specific tasks on a site, allowing them to provide observations and feedback on their experience.
TikiBarToGo.com (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.
Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find.
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.
Here’s Some Things We Discovered
Everyone loved the logo!
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).
Navigation categories need to be realigned for optimal search functionality.
Several broken images were identified in the add-on section.
Users requested that more information about portability should be featured on the homepage; ideally in photographic form.
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.
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.
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.
The set-up video was also a winner, but adding some music would make the experience more engaging.
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.
In 1932, Rensis Likertwas 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.
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.
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).”
“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).
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.
Keep your questions focused on one topiconly.
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.
Use a consistent scale to make reporting and analysis easier.
Keep the word count of each question to twenty or less. Make sure the questions you ask are easy to understand. Avoid jargon.
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:
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.
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: https://doi.org/10.1037/h0062418
Horst, P. (1955). L. L. Thurstone and the Science of Human Behavior. Science,122(3183), 1259-1260. Retrieved from: www.jstor.org/stable/1750776
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ask your participants to perform the required activity and then answer three questions … “I Like, I Wish, and What If?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Florence Nightingale spent two years during the Crimean war working at an Army hospital located in Scutari, Turkey. Despite her team’s efforts to keep their patients well fed and clean, thousands of soldiers died within months of their arrival. According to author Hugh Small, author of A Brief History of Florence Nightingale: and Her Real Legacy, a Revolution in Public Health, her work at Scutari was largely a failure (Small, 2010).
When she returned to England after the war, she was determined to address what had happened. She gathered statistics, wrote a report, and created a corresponding visual synopsis of what had happened there.
She used three colors to represent the deaths that occurred during that time:
red for deaths from battle wounds
blue for deaths caused by preventable or infectious diseases, and
black for deaths from all other causes
Her diagram clearly shows how more British soldiers died as a result of poor sanitation in hospitals than from battle wounds, evidenced by the greater amount of blue area versus red and black (Zymotic disease, 2019).
“She saw a clear relationship between the diseases killing her patients and the filth in which they lay, the air they breathed, the water they drank, and the food they ate. To Nightingale, the greatest tragedy of the Crimean War was the British Army’s failure, through bureaucratic inertia, to protect the soldiers’ health or to assist in their recovery” (Gill & Gill, 2005).
She used her powerful diagram as a weapon in a political battle to encourage funding to improve sanitation conditions in British cities during the late 1800s.
Nightingale played a pivotal role in the 1875 Public Health Act, which required landlords to connect their dwellings to public sewer mains. It is estimated that this improvement in housing conditions contributed to a rise in average life expectancy, which increased from 40 to 60 years (Small, 2019).
Infographics vs. Data Visualization
Is Florence Nightingale’s famous diagram an infographic or a data visualization? The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction. Let’s take a look at both.
In her article Getting it right: why infographics are not the same as data visualizations, user experience designer Valinda Chan provides the following definitions:
“Infographics are visual representations of facts, events or numbers that reflect patterns and align to a story” (2017).
“Data visualizations are visual representations of data abstracted into a schematic form so that the audience can more easily process the information and get a clear idea about the data at a glance” (2017).
The bolded text is mine. Still confused? Let’s boil it down a little further.
Infographics tell a story.
Data visualizations present the data for your processing.
As Ms. Chan points out, the difference is subjectivevs. objective.
“Infographics tell a premeditated story to guide the audience to conclusions (subjective). Data visualizations let the audience draw their own conclusions (objective)” (Chan, 2017).
That brings us back to my original question. Is Florence Nightingale’s graph an infographic or a data visualization?
Let’s look at some other inspiring examples that might help you decide.
“Without oxygen, brain damage can occur in as little as 4 to 6 minutes” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.).
In 1974, Dr. Henry Heimlich invented a procedure destined to save many lives. By using an abdominal thrust, a bystander can clear an object from a choking victim, allowing them to once again breathe freely. The procedure became widely known as the Heimlich maneuver.
In 1978, New York City Mayor Ed Koch signed into law a bill requiring restaurants to post “a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver or a comparable technique instructing how to dislodge food from a choking person” (Choking Victim; Poster—Social Design Notes, 2002).
As a result of this legislation, this poster was created and distributed to restaurateurs at the time they received their New York City restaurant license. A similar version is still available today from New York City’s website.
According to Dr. Heimlich, his invention (and the accompanying instructions) has saved the lives of more than 50,000 people (Croft, 2016).
Do you think the poster is an infographic or data visualization?
Taking Action to Stop Sexual Harassment
“The experience of harassment can feel like choking” – Karen Liebowitz (Pesce, 2018).
According to a 2018 article in MoneyWatch, as many as 90% of women and 70% of men in the service industry “experience some form of sexual harassment” (Pesce, 2018). Restaurateur Karen Leibowitz and graphic artist Kelli Anderson co-created this public service announcement that provides advice for service industry workers who may be victims of sexual harassment.
It lays out four points of action, accompanied by supporting text that provides specific advice on how to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. The message is clear: you are not powerless.
“They toyed with including more text, or running a longer list of anything that could be considered sexual harassment, but realized the most effective PSA would be short and to the point” (Pesce, 2018).
Look familiar? It’s fashioned after the Heimlich choking poster; same colors, same layout, and similar fonts.
“We want people to do a double-take and to read it, instead of tuning it out” (Kelli Anderson, quoted in Pesce, 2018).
The creators have made this effective PSA available as a free download in both English and Spanish versions.
Infographic or data visualization?
For the past six years, Bill Gates has used his blog GatesNotes to bring attention to malaria. His goal? To eradicate Malaria worldwide.
Each April during “Mosquito Week” Gates provides up-to-date information and visuals to heighten awareness of the dangers of this deadly disease.
Did the large block of red at the bottom capture your attention? The artists’ choice to use red to represent the number of deaths by mosquitos tugs at you emotionally. According to Ellen Lupton in her book Design is Storytelling, “research suggests that reds, yellows, and oranges tend to prompt an activated, energized state of mind in users” (2017).
This visual also uses the Gestalt principle of simplicity. “The law of simplicity indicates that our mind perceives everything in its simplest form” (Bushe, 2015). The visuals tell us mosquitos are killing people — a lot of people.
A smaller version, posted on Gates’ Twitter account, is shown below. It’s a condensed visual synopsis designed specifically for social media, linking the user back to Gates’ blog.
The artist’s use of the mosquito successfully delivers a triple play of emotion for the viewer (Norman & Ortony, 2003):
visceral (wow, that’s a big mosquito)
behavioral (this problem is bigger than I thought)
” … a massive shift has happened in the way we communicate online, especially with Social Media. We are now, in reality, using Visual Social Media to share our message” (Moritz, 2012).
What do you think? Infographic or data visualization?
Visuals in Academic Publications
Here’s another health-based example, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).
As I was researching infographics for this post, the following search result appeared:
Entry number one is the journal article, while entry number two is classified as an infographic. The goal of the review was to “scope the literature and present what is known, and highlight what is not known, about walking and mental health” (Kelly et al., 2019).
Beside writing about the good news that there is “strong evidence that walking can prevent and treat depression and anxiety,” the authors of Walking on sunshine chose to include a visual synopsis to summarize their findings (Kelly et al., 2019).
Look closely at the bottom left hand corner. It reads:
This infographic is based on a scoping review of walking and mental health. We looked at 13,014 studies and analysed 50 of them. This was published in June 2018 in BJSM.
It’s clearly labelled as an infographic, but does it meet the criteria? Does it align to a story?
Best in Show
Is your breed of dog:
an overlooked treasure, or a
Take a look and see where your dog ranks.
Here’s the criteria that was used to plot each breed that appears on the four part grid.
This one seems clear to me, but what do you think?
How Prepared Are They?
In this example, the artists used items commonly associated with college students to convey how well high schools had prepared college freshmen them for their college level studies.
This one’s a little trickier. Does it tell a specific story? Are they adequately prepared?
Visuals on a Smaller Scale
The Annals of Surgery is a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal of surgical science. In July 2016, the publication adopted the use of visual abstracts in an effort to improve dissemination of their publications (Ibrahim, Lillemoe, Klingensmith, & Dimick, 2017).
Visual abstracts are small scale graphics that provide a summary of the abstract portion of an article or professional journal. “Similar to the actual text abstract of a research article, it is meant to convey the key findings of the article in a shorter format” (Ibrahim, 2016).
Here’s an example based on a 2019 study that shows that women are more likely to be warned that they should avoid pursuing a career as a surgeon due to their gender.
Not surprisingly, visual abstracts are often used on social media. Here’s a screenshot of the Annals of Surgery’s Facebook page, which shows how visual abstracts are used to encourage their online community to keep abreast of current findings. A link to the journal article is, of course, included.
“To date, more than 75 journals and institutions have adopted the visual abstract in their dissemination strategy including the CDC, BMJ, JAMA and NEJM” (Ibrahim, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
British Medical Journal (BMJ)
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
“The visual representation of science can increase both the engagement of fellow researchers [and] the public” (Cressey, 2014).
Story or data?
Let’s do one more. This one’s personal.
Mobilized for Safety
Immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, the French government issued this visual on social media. My daughter was living in Paris at the time, considering whether or not it was safe to attend the Republican marches scheduled for January 11th. A Facebook group from her school shared this message, originally issued on Twitter by the French government. Translated to English, the title reads 2,200 security personnel mobilized for your safety.
You don’t need to know how to read French to figure this out. You can see there will be:
150 plain clothes policemen
24 mobile units
20 elite forces
56 motorcycle units
1350 military personnel
2000 police officers
When my daughter saw this, she said it made her feel safe.
On January 11, 2015 she marched with an estimated 1.5 million people who joined world leaders in the unity rally (CNN Library, 2018). You can check out a stunning photo essay of the march here.
Last one. What do you think?
Persuasion or Information?
“Infographics, even the ones that have cold, hard facts at their core, resemble marketing more closely than they do science, and depend more on classical techniques of rhetoric (the art of persuasion) than on more abstract appeals to reason” (Hart, 2013).
In short, Hart believes that infographics persuade.
Which visual examples were designed to persuade you? Here’s my list.
Florence Nightingale’sDiagram of the Causes of Mortality
New York City’s Choking Poster
Leibowitz and Anderson’s Sexual Harassment Poster
Bill Gates’ World’s Deadliest Animals
The French government’s Mobilized for Safetyannouncement
Nightingale’s diagram, along with Gates’ poster and the French Safety message may look like data visualizations, but I don’t believe they are. Based on their back stories, we know their visuals were designed to send a persuasive message.
Florence Nightingale created her diagram to fight a political battle.
Bill Gates aims to raise awareness about Malaria.
The French government sent a message of safety after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Ready or Not, Here I Amtells you college freshmens’ opinions on how well high school prepared them for college. It’s eye catching and interesting, but it’s data, pure and simple. No rhetoric.
The same applies to Barriers to Pursuing a Career in Surgery. It tells a story of how women in medicine struggle with stereotypes, but it’s not designed to make you take action.
The last two are head scratchers.
According to the written abstract, the objective of the review that resulted in the Walking for Mental Health visual was this:
“We aimed to scope the literature and present what is known, and highlight what is not known, about walking and mental health” (Kelly et al., 2019).
“The evidence base that suggests walking benefits mental health is growing, but remains fragmented and incomplete for some important outcomes. Policy and national guidelines should promote the known mental health benefits of increased walking and future research should directly address the gaps we have identified” (Kelly et al., 2019).
It hasn’t been distributed beyond publication in the BJSM, so it doesn’t appear that it was designed to be persuasive. I think it’s a data visualization, but it also sends a message that could be interpreted as persuasive.
That leaves Best in Show.
At face value, it does not appear to be persuasive. You might consult the visualization the next time you’re in the market, but its intent is not to make you run out and buy a dog.
The fact that it was sponsored by the American Kennel Club, however, implies they might like you to consider buying a purebred dog the next time you consider bringing a four-legged companion into your home. Hard to tell.
Catalysts for Change
We can argue about what category they fall into, but I think you’ll agree that infographics and data visualizations are powerful vehicles that can serve as catalysts for change.
Text and numbers “cannot convey information in as memorable or digestible form as that of successful visual-based storytelling” (Losowsky, 2011, as cited in Klanten, Ehmann, & Schulze, 2011).
The visual examples we explored effectively used design principles to captivate their viewer’s attention. Whether it’s intentional or not, they can inspire us to take action, take control of a difficult situation, or support an important cause.
Florence Nightingale’s Message
“There are some very important problems that don’t get worked on naturally. That is, the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the governments to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things, and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in can we make as much progress as we need to” (Gates, 2013).
Gates, B. (2017, August 17). Bill Gates on Instagram: “#TBT to the time I willingly let mosquitoes drink my blood. Visit the link in my bio to learn more about the progress we’re making against….” Retrieved from: https://www.instagram.com/p/BX5ca4olbho/
Giantini Larsen, A. M., Pories, S., Parangi, S., & Robertson, F. C. (2019). Barriers to Pursing a Career in Surgery: An Institutional Survey of Harvard Medical School Students. Annals of Surgery, Publish Ahead of Print. https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000003618
Gill, C. J., & Gill, G. C. (2005). Nightingale in Scutari: Her Legacy Reexamined. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 40(12), 1799–1805. https://doi.org/10.1086/430380
Ibrahim, A. M., Lillemoe, K. D., Klingensmith, M. E., & Dimick, J. B. M. (2017, December). Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Annals of Surgery, 266(6). https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000002277
Kelly, P., Williamson, C., Hunter, R., Niven, A. G., Mutrie, N., & Richards, J. (2019). [Infographic]. Walking on sunshine: Scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(14), 903. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-100289
Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten. (Module 3)
Lupton, E. (2017). Design is Storytelling. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. (Module 2)
It’s challenging to find good stock photos. I’ve noticed recently that they’re SLOWLY getting better, but most of them still don’t look authentic. And most of us continue to use them because we just don’t have the time or funds to procure something better.
Some images are easier to find than others.
Happy business person? Pretty easy.
Hard working team? Lots of those.
But did you ever notice how hard it is to find a realistic photo of a person with a surprised look on their face?
As you can see from the Google search captured in the photo above, there are a lot of choices — but I wouldn’t call any of them authentic.
What does “surprised” look like?
In the stock photography world, surprise usually looks like this.
Wide eyes and an open mouth, with fingertips lightly touching the lips.
Or like this.
Now I don’t know about you, but in my humble opinion, these photos aren’t exactly dripping with emotion.
And what about the open mouth thing? Is that real? According to Janine Drivers, president of the Body Language Institution in Washington, D.C., it is.
” … although the hand-over-mouth gesture isn’t a universal form of expression, opening our mouths in an oval shape and raising our eyebrows is something we can’t control” (Broderick, 2011).
So the search continues.
This one gives me some hope.
Although it’s clearly posed, she’s a bit more surprised than the models in the first two photographs.
How about this one?
I don’t know if she always looks this surprised when she gets out of the shower (and I don’t believe in vampires) but those lips are frightening. And that pointy tooth on the upper right hand side of her mouth scares me.
How about something more artistic?
Interesting, but it isn’t really appropriate for most work projects.
Capturing a Moment
The good news is that you CAN find good photos — it is possible. It just takes time, patience, and a little bit of judicial cropping. You have to look for photos that capture a moment.
Here are some great “surprised” photos I found using Unsplash and Pixabay, sources for free stock photos. They’re authentic because the photographer captured a moment, which reveals the subject’s personality (Gitner, 2016).
Sorry, I couldn’t resist including the monkey.
Embedded images from Getty
Getty has great photos which are, of course, expensive. After all, you get what you pay for.
But did you know that some of their photographs can be embedded at NO COST? You can use their embedded viewer on a website, blog or social media platform.
Check out Death to Stock. It’s an artist-owned co-op that promises its authentic photos will keep your brand intact.
“I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas … ” (BN Branding, 2017).
No kickbacks here — I just think it’s a great alternative, especially for small business owners.
“The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with” (BN Branding, 2017).
So the next time you need a good photo, take the time to dig deeper. You may just surprise yourself and find a hidden gem.
And so, I am preparing for a trip to a place about which I know very little. In anticipation of the trip (and in order to pack properly) I decided to learn a little bit about Pakistan’s geography and climate. If you’re interested, read on and I’ll share some interesting visuals that helped me learn more about this interesting country in South Asia.
Let’s start with a video from Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence organization based in Austin, Texas. The video begins with a fully-labelled map. The labels then disappear and single labels reappear as the video highlights each point of interest. This “decluttering” method helps convey the information and keep the audience fully engaged (Dennison, 2017).
The video also layers photographs of specific destinations, giving the viewer a more complete view of the landscapes described.
Pakistan is bordered by four countries, and is geographically diverse. Geographic areas include the:
Himalayan Mountains and Hindu Kush Range in the north
Balochistan Plateau in the southwest
Thar Desert in the south
650-mile coast line along the Arabian Sea
Speaking of borders, check out this photo of the boundary between India and Pakistan, taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station. To me, it’s a beautiful blend of science, technology and art, similar to the work performed at NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS).
“This photograph shows one of the few places on Earth where an international boundary can be seen at night. The winding border between Pakistan and India is lit by security lights that have a distinct orange tone” (NASA Earth Observatory, 2015).
This map from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies does a great job showing how Pakistan’s regions are configured. “The country is divided into four provinces, one territory, and one capital territory for local administration” (Briney, 2019).
Take note of the inset in the bottom right hand corner of the map. The red text beneath it, as well as the corresponding red text in the Jammu & Kashmir section at the top of the map, describe a dispute over ownership between India and Pakistan.
According to Wikipedia, “the Instrument of Accession is a legal document executed by Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, on 26 October 1947. … India claims that the accession is unconditional and final while Pakistan maintains that the accession is fraudulent” (n.d.).
“Red color, used sparingly, can serve to highlight or draw attention to certain components of a visual element” (Dennison, 2017).
The infographic below, by visual designer Asma Javeri, uses a green map and large icons to give his viewers some high-level information about the length of the coastline (1,046 km), types of terrain, climate, natural hazards, and natural resources. Green is used intentionally for the map and title, mimicking the color of the Pakistani flag.
Because Pakistan’s topography is diverse, climates vary across the country. The north has an arctic climate, it’s temperate in the northwest, but most of the country is hot and dry (Briney, 2019).
According to Sardar Sarfaraz from the University of Karachi, “Pakistan is the only country in the world to have a unique range of altitudes from sea level to the second highest mountain peak of the world. This distinct characteristic gives it large variation in climate across its different areas, like huge temperature differences and large spatial rainfall distribution” (Sarafaraz, Arsalan, & Fatima, 2014).
The color coded map below by Ali Zifan gives a more precise account of the variety of climates in Pakistan. Notice how the artist uses red for the warmest climate, evoking the emotion of being hot.
“Designers explore color’s cultural context, narrative content, and psychological effects in order to alter the meaning of an image, environment, or product — and change its impact on users” (Lupton, 2017).
“Colors can help tie different components together by grouping by color borders or having the color in a graph correspond to the color of a map location” (Dennison, 2017).
I am headed to the city of Lahore, which falls within the upper right hand side of the map to the far right of the orange band. Its climate is designated as warm semi-arid, or semi-dry.
Lahore Weather Forecast
Just below you’ll see a screenshot from the BBC’s website for today, December 8, 2019.
This interactive display allows you to click on a specific day and see the hour by hour forecast on the bottom half of the screen. The BBC uses brightly colored icons to give the viewer the daily forecast; a sun, clouds, rain, and a lightning bolt quickly convey the information — no narrative required.
The 14-day forecast calls for temperatures that range from as high as 22 degrees to as low as 6 degrees Celsius. For those of you who only speak Fahrenheit, that’s roughly 71 to 43 degrees — so I’m thinking spring-like weather, but without the rain.
I definitely need to pack a light jacket.
So far so good, right? Except for smog season, which runs from October to February.
” … poor fuel quality, uncontrolled emissions and crop burning worsens the quality of the already unhealthy air in eastern Punjab Province, where Lahore is the capital” (Babar & Ahmed, 2019).
In this visual story, photographer Arif Ali captured the gravity of the challenges Pakistan grapples with when it comes to air quality. These school children, some of them masked, walk through the smog that engulfed the city of Lahore in November of 2017.
Lahore’s challenges with air pollution continue to plague the city. A photo essay from November 22nd of this year visually documents the severity of the situation. It can be viewed here.
“Photo essays are often used to show how extensive an event is — how much damage was done, how much effort something takes, how people are coping” (Shurbaji, 2014).
The Bigger Story
When I began preparing for my trip, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about visuals. But as you can see, the video, maps, and photographs I found tell the bigger story of Pakistan. Some things are good, some are challenging.
” … visuals are more than just an aesthetic element. They help us tell better stories” (Dahmen, 2017).
The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’s website was created to promote the beauty of Pakistan and encourage tourism. They use strong visuals to do so, and I encourage you to take a look.
” … there are endless ways to create tourism offerings that both speak to the public and capitalize on the best of what a country has to offer” (Alton, 2018).
It’s true. But I believe visual storytelling is the best way.
And yes, despite the fact that it is “smog season,” I’m still going to Pakistan.