10 Must-Read Articles on Web Usability

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the last post of 2011 and we couldn’t be more excited about what 2012 has on the horizon. Now that Christmas is over, we’re back hard at work and have a big announcement to make…

We’re building a new website!

It’s cool if that doesn’t seem all that special to you. After all, we are web designers. It’s what we do.

But this time, it’s different.

We started the Better User Experience website with one goal in mind: to learn more about web usability and user testing. The technology was always a secondary consideration. What was most important to us were the hours of time that Newman and I spent talking, reading, debating, and rambling (oh my god, the rambling…) on about these issues. What came out of it were the articles and podcasts you’ve seen on this site.

Now, more than 4 months into our learning experiment, we feel an evolution happening. We’ve seen enough of the UX landscape to be able to more strongly report on it. And we want to tackle issues that are interesting to us, but also are interesting to the wider UX community. Or to say it more cutesy, “It’s not about me, it’s about we.”

That’s just a hard thing to do in this restricted format. And by ‘restricted format’ I mean a free WordPress blog that’s hosted on wordpress.com. It worked out perfectly for us at the beginning but now we’re feeling some growing pains without FTP access, access to Google Analytics, plugins, and so forth. So, we’re moving.

Yep! Today’s the last new post you’ll see on betteruserexperience.wordpress.com. As of tomorrow night (12/31) we’ll be moving to abetteruserexperience.com.

Now, as you can see, it’s all hyper-linked up there and stuff and you can totally click that and you’ll totally see the new website. It exists right now!

But be warned: it’s not done. We’re getting there. But we’re working on it live. Maybe it’s because we like to live dangerous or maybe it’s because I saw a NatGeo documentary about the honey badger this morning but I ain’t skurred to work live! Honey badger don’t care!

What will happen in this space tomorrow night is that magically, a 301 redirect will be put here and from then on, BAM! right to the new website. (Those of you who are also web professionals can vouch for the fact that it takes Emeril Legasse to do one properly.)

Kicking 301 redirects up a notch.

And the new website is more than an upgrade. It’s not like going from a mid-90s Geo Metro to a 2012 Nissan Leaf. No! It’s like going from a mid-90s Hyundai Sonata to a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. Sure, it doesn’t sound as cool (Better User Experience vs. A Better User Experience or BUX vs aBUX) but wait until we get this baby up to 88 mph!

Cue the Huey Lewis! (Kids, ask your parents.)

Trust me, it’ll make sense when you see it. (The website, not the video.)

So on this last day of posting as betteruserexperience.wordpress.com I wanted to take a moment to look at 10 Must Read Articles about Web Usability. These articles are a small sample of the brilliant things people in the UX community are writing about and are ones that have pushed us to think in new ways about how we build websites.

The List

1. Jakob Nielsen – 10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities

2. Jakob Nielsen – Inverted Pyramids in Cyberspace

3. Jakob Nielsen –Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users

4. Smashing Magazine – 12 Tips for Designing an Excellent Checkout Process

5. Smashing Magazine – Optimizing Conversion Rates: It’s All About Usability

6. Smashing Magazine – 5 Universal Principles For Successful eCommerce-Sites

7. Usability Counts – How to Get Started in User Experience for People I Want to Hire

8. A List Apart – Usability Testing Demystified

9. A List Apart – The UX of Learning

10. 37 Signals – Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a web application (book, read online for free)

Categories: articles Tags: ,

Interview with Rachit Gupta of Inspectlet

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve been compiling a list of the tools that we want to have in our User Testing Toolbox. After an initial look and then a more in-depth look, we really like Inspectlet and believe it’s worth using in your user testing process.

We reached out to Inspectlet’s founder, Rachit Gupta, with a few questions and he was nice enough to reply to us via email.

What’s your story? How did you get into User Testing?

I’ve always been fascinated by how important design is to the experience of using a product. I think there’s a fundamental difference in perspective between the designer and a visitor that makes it difficult to intuitively understand a visitor’s experience. I wanted to improve the process of understanding your visitor’s perspective so you can iterate more effectively. There are tools out there that do this but I wanted to create a full user experience suite that’s affordable to everyone, because I think everyone should care about user experience the same way they care about traffic numbers.

What’s the elevator pitch?

Inspectlet helps you gain a deeper understanding what your visitors are thinking by observing their actions naturally.

How did it start up?

About 8 months ago, I started building a team and we planned a roadmap for the product taking into account what was lacking from existing tools out there. We launched in June as a fully bootstrapped startup and it’s been an amazing ride ever since.

What’s up coming?

Some big changes are coming up! We’ve been working closely with users to create a stronger product. We’re looking into new ways of visualizing the mounds of data we gather, and possibly introducing a free plan as well to encourage people to understand their visitors better.

Do you have any partner companies? What’s your ideal tool set?

We’ve been in talks with some companies but there’s nothing to announce yet. 🙂 We like to use Google Analytics for traffic analysis, Inspectlet for understanding our visitors, Optimizely for split testing iterations, and GetSatisfaction for gathering feedback.

Categories: articles, interviews Tags:

Better User Experience Podcast #20: A Test-Case of Drive-By User Testing

December 26, 2011 2 comments

It’s the day after Christmas and boy am I fat and happy. Great time and good food with the family.

Last week, before all the holiday cheer broke out, Newman and I did our first drive-by user test.

You might have seen it.

On today’s podcast we have a little before and after action going on. This podcast was actually shot before and after the video above. We captured our thoughts on what we thought would happen and then take a look back at what happened and what we learned from the experience. It’s a good one!

Listen Now


5 Things We Learned From Our First User Test

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Do you remember what a mystery sex used to be? (Don’t worry Mom, it still is, I swear. ) You’d talk about it endlessly with your friends just telling and halfway believing each others lies. And because you didn’t know what you were talking about, you boned up on your reading. [Boned up?  good grief – ed] All of the sudden, Cosmo – either your sister’s, your Mom’s with their “100 ways to spice up your sex life” was interesting reading.

You mean they just make lists of this stuff and print it for you to read?

At some point, the reading up becomes boring. The boundaries are well known and what used to be exciting is now just another list of stuff that other people are doing right.

That’s when you know it’s time to get down to business.


That’s basically where Ben and I have been with this user testing stuff for the past few weeks. You can hear it in the podcasts. Enough with the reading! Let’s make with the fu…n user tests!

And so we did.

On Wednesday, we showed you the video of how it all went down. If you missed that post, we’ll save you the trouble. Here ya go.

Could you tell how vulnerable I was in that clip? You just wait Kate, let’s do it again in a few years. I’ll be way better.

Coming out of that experience, we learned a lot. Here’s a list of the Top 5 takeaways.

5. Be prepared

I suppose that we were preparing the whole 4 months leading up to this first user test.  We had practiced on ourselves and friends, but this was the first ‘real’ test with a stranger in a strange place.   The rehearsals were key in getting ready the mechanics and hardware.  But there is no way to prepare completely. There’s no way around sucking the first time and being un-smooth.

Smoothness didn’t seem to matter, luckily.  Perhaps authenticity trumps smoothness.  If you’re genuine and honest, people may overlook a herky-jerky delivery.

4. Getting permission is the hardest part

Getting the permission to record and use the coffee shop was tough.  We had to explain who we are and what we are doing.  If you’re not used to doing that, it can seem really awkward. But you have to do it.

It’s true that you really only need to get permission one per place and that it’s not really necessary to do a user test. I mean, you can do one at home or in your office just the same. But doing it this way, it was much more of a challenge than actually conducting the test.

This is an example of activation energy. The hard part is starting and now it’s much easier to keep it going.

3. It Gets a Reaction

While we were at the coffee shop we ran into four folks who work at a hotel on the island. It was a manager and her sales team. The minute they found out that we were doing website user testing, their body language became more guarded and the manager slowly made her way towards the door. We had nothing to sell and weren’t even interested in getting them to sit down for a test but just the words were enough to cause them discomfort!

Equally interesting, after their initial reaction, they warmed up to it.  They talked about how they user tested the items that go into each hotel room. The manager told a story about having to get new alarm clocks for the rooms and that she wanted to test it before they used them. In her words, “if I can’t work it in two minutes then it’s not going in the hotel rooms”.  She found a way to apply user testing to her own field.

We’ve speculated that the strong reaction is because small business owners have their personal identity wrapped up in their business. It’s hard to willingly submit to judgment.  But, once they realize that it’s a way to improve their bottom line and that people are ALREADY judging them, they tend to get on board.

2. Good Things Come Available in Bite Size

We wanted to see if it was true that you could get value out of asking a stranger what they think of a website. Is it valuable or is it just a stunt? It turns out that we got some good data that we can give to the website owner. The moral of the story is to get out there and ask people their opinion about your website. You will learn something. Simple as that.

1. People Are Cool

Meeting people is always a highlight.  Humans are social animals.  We need to communicate and interact.  That’s a big part of what this blog is about.  The folks we met at the Daily Grind helped us dive deeper into what User Testing is all about.  We are thankful for that.  It didn’t have to go that way – we could have been chased out of there. Instead, it went really well.

It’s important to say that too. If you read most media, it’s mostly one group of people complaining about another group of people. You’d think that we are all angry people but that’s just not the case. People are cool.

Bonus: What we learned about the website in the user test

  1. Better and more headlines – People skim websites. It’s an issue of cognitive load. Successful user testing, as a rule, reduces the cognitive load a website imposes on its viewers. Better headlines would help the user quickly scan the page and drill down to the relevant content and would reduce cognitive load.   At 3:10 our user-tester, Kate, responded to a question about services with, “I probably gotta read about it first, right?”.  She was under a higher cognitive load because of the camera and the test, but that helped to reveal that one couldn’t skim the headlines for meaning. They weren’t there.
  2. Include pricing info (5:50) – As a professional we all get used to not seeing prices on a website that sell a service. “If they want to know, they’ll call” is a common thought. Be that as it may be, it’s also true that most people would prefer to at least know the general pricing structure. If you choose to not have prices on the site, you should at least address it.  “Prices range from”, “Free Consultation” or, as our user suggested “10% off” are examples.  You could also explain how your prices are structured – by the hour, by site, do you have packages of services, etc.
  3. Improve some of the photos (1:20 and 4:10) – The compass image could be replaced.  Kate mentioned the color balance being ‘off’.  We feel it draws attention without leading to the critical path of the site.  It’s not imediately clear why the compass is there.  Suggest: Either create a new photography or create a headline that explains the compass.

Implementing these suggestions would significant improve the user experience of your site.

Enjoy the holidays and be on the lookout for day-after-Christmas podcast!

Categories: articles Tags: , ,

We Did a Drive-By User Test and Lived to Tell About It

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

How do you follow up a week full of looking back? By pushing forwards!

This week we finally put down the books, stopped all the chitter-chatter and went out and did a user test.

I know. We were excited too.

If you’re anything like us, you read a lot about user testing online. Five reasons you should do this or 10 ways to improve that. It’s not that those are bad articles, it’s just that they’re not touching what happens in a real test.

Last Friday, Newman and I went down to the local coffee shop in Wrightsville Beach, NC. It’s called The Daily Grind. We walked in to an empty house, except for Kate, the lovely barista on staff. We chatted with her and her boss, Tony, for a few minutes to explain what we were up to and before you know it Kate had volunteered to take a user test.

Our goal was to do what we’re calling a “drive-by” user test. Basically, it means you can just roll up on somebody – ask them a question about a website – and see what you get back. It’s not meant to be scientific. Just more of a survey. It’s our belief that even this quick method will yield valuable insights.

We could tell you all about what we did but we shot a video of it instead.

Way better.

In the video you’ll see the entire user test (roughly 6 minutes) and Newman’s thoughts afterward.  All-in-all, I have to say, it was a pretty good first attempt.

Thanks again to Kate – your pictures rawk! – for being our user tester and for Tony and the gang allowing us to bother their shop. As you’ll hear in my voice on Monday’s podcast where we did a whole before and after thing, their coffee will put a motor in you. No doubt.

Join us on Friday when we talk about what we learned from the user test – both about user testing and about the website we tested – and then on Monday  – the day after Christmas – for your aural pleasure, we have a podcast lined up and ready to go about the whole event.

Categories: articles Tags: ,

Better User Experience Podcast #19 – The Top 10 Key UX Concepts We’ve Learned in the Past 4 Months

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve been doing this learning-about-UX thing for a little over 4 months now. On today’s podcast we take a look back at the Top 10 things we learned in that time. If you’ve been following the site over the past week you know that we’ve already covered this material in two posts. But like any good discussion, we dig a bit further into each topic on the podcast.

Top 10 Key UX Concepts We’ve Learned (So Far)

10. Proactive vs. Reactive
9. UX Testing Resistance
8. The Power of Process
7. The Difference Between User Experience and Usability
6. The Critical Path
4. Prove vs. Improve
3. Signal vs. Noise / Information Theory / Entropy
2. Quick Tests Can Be Valuable
1. There’s a Great UX Community

Remember you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes – new episodes each week!

Follow us on Twitter: @BUXofficial

Friend us on Facebook: facebook.com/BetterUserExperience

View us on Youtube: youtube.com/user/BetterUserExperience

Looking Back: 10 Key Usability Concepts: Part 2

December 16, 2011 4 comments

When Ben and I started learning about UX back in August, we committed to a period of learning that ended on December 15th. That doesn’t mean we’re going away, but it does mean that we’re at the end of the time we set aside to get our feet wet in the discipline. As a result, we’ve been doing some reflecting on what we’ve learned and what the most valuable take-aways are from the past 4 months.

On Wednesday, Ben covered the first 5 key UX concepts and today we polish off the list with numbers 5 through 1.


They say CRAP. I say CARP. Whatever... it's all good.

When you don’t know what you’re doing, watching experts is like watching magic happen. How in the world does somebody know how to do that? I mean, how did he know how to do that!?

For visual design and page layout, the saving grace for me was CARP.

  • Content
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • Proximity

We talk most about CARP during the Feng-GUI vs… posts.  In those posts we would evaluate a page using the principles of CARP and then run it through the Feng-GUI tool.  This gave us a way to reflect on the visual elements on the page and a way for active testing those reflections. CARP is important for UX’ers because it allows for a way to communicate design decisions to stakeholders who don’t have a visual eye.  You can tell them “This is not ‘Nam.  There are rules!” to quote the Big Lewbowski.  It gave form to the void – a method to the magic. When looking at a design, it gave me a way of looking at it to know not just if it was any good but why it was the way it was. It gave me a system for thinking about design.

4. Prove vs. Improve

Improve is easy. Prove? somewhat harder.

In the beginning of learning about user testing, we thought user testing was essentially a scientific endeavor. And by that I mean that we thought that you had to have strict controls and that it really mattered how the tests were conducted. We felt a strong need to make sure that no bad data tainted the testing process.

But thanks to the Wisdom of Steve Krug and the idea that user testing doesn’t have to be about proving an idea, it’s about improving the website. And because all websites can be improved, in a sense it’s fish in a barrel.

There’s more to that concept: we are all experts at filtering and grouping, it’s about getting points of view not about error bars, and that a majority of the improvements on the website are going to be able to be discovered by out-of-context users.

This means that quick, down-and-dirty testing can be effective because to a certain extent, it’s all about just measuring stimulus response. It’s a freeing concept.

3. Signal vs. Noise / Information Theory / Entropy

See? Easy. I see signal v noise everywhere now.

It’s important to remember that websites are at heart, a communication medium. The computer is a communication device. The Internet connects us. But your web presence is responsible for communicating the message.

The ability to effectively communicate online is essentially what it’s all about.

There are two parts to communication: the communication channel and the message itself.

Information theory is concerned with the communication channel. The message is for all intents is irrelevant. The reason the message doesn’t matter is because it’s generic. Web content is text, video, and audio. The specifics of those content types don’t have any bearing on how the Internet works.

The channel itself has a maximum capacity (or maximum bandwidth). In that channel, there are three possible states:

  1. the amount of the channel used by the signal
  2. the amount of the channel used by noise
  3. the remaining unused channel capacity

If you assume that channel capacity is 100%, all you’re left with is signal and noise. Or, more abstractly, order and disorder.

That’s why we dragged the concept of entropy into the discussion in the first place (Ben’s awesome entropy in UX podcast). At a real level, defining a website’s critical path is the same thing as creating order from disorder.

We know that entropy is the tendency of things to go from order to disorder. But it’s also a measure of the system’s inability to do work.

A web site’s job is to do work. “Work” in this case is defined as “the process of accomplishing the website’s goals”. If you lay out your critical path, you should be able to generate a number for each page in the process that is probability that somebody will leave that page and not continue any farther on the critical path.

Lower that number and you will have reduced the entropy on the website. You will also have strengthened the website’s signal and lowered its noise.  You will have strengthened your critical path and will have additional leads or revenue to show for it.

2. Quick Tests Can Be Valuable

the Flash

Usering testing in a Flash? User testing BY THE FLASH! Ben, I think we found our gimmick.

As we talked a bit #7 Prove vs. Improve, the real shocker for user testing is that it can be done really quickly and with all kinds of leading questions. Essentially, think of a professional yet scientifically invalid test and it’s probably good enough for a basic user test.

The take away is another Krug-ism: “Test early and test often”.

1. There’s a Great UX Community

When we started this site it was a selfish endeavor to learn about web usability. I only use the word ‘selfish’ to mean that we did all of this for our own gratification.  Yes, we hoped that what we put together would resonate with others. Yes, we hoped we’d find a cool existing community of people who are into UX which we could become part of and could learn from and contribute to. And yes, we hoped to reach out to a web ux company here and there.

What we found exceeded our best expectations. Universally, the UX community seems to be made up of good folks who love to learn, are striving to get better, and who generally have a groovy outlook on things.

We’ve been lucky enough to talk to Rafael from Feng-GUI, Paul from Usabilla, and Rachit from Inspectlet. They were very generous with their time and their wisdom and we appreciate them taking the time to talk with us.  Check out our Blogroll and Twitter … followees to find out our community.

In the coming weeks and months we hope to talk to loads more. We want to talk to people passionate about building a better user experience. Learning how to build sites that give users a better experience is what motivates us to do this website, to write these posts and to do the podcasts that we do. We’re fighting entropy and we’ve learned that we’re not alone.

There’s a whole wonderful community of developers, designers, interface experts and ux tool makers who are all fighting the good fight. We’re honored to be a part of it.

Snoopy and Woodstock