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An email to a market research client of mine.


“To my mind, a usability report is the beginning of a discussion between the business, technology and research. This discussion is an attempt to balance cost time and brand experience. In this case, it is not a score card or ranking, as most people would like it to be. Usability is subjective and difficult to measure. The art is is about making the best of all limitations and giving customers mostly what they want.”


Here’s a neat list of online mindmaps! I still use Mind Manager for Mac [daily] and love it.

I’m also trying out iThoughtsHD on my iPad, looks good and has rave reviews.

Here’s some of my previous posts on mind mapping:

Rapid Information Architecture production - I don’t know how anyone can use any other tool for this.

Mind map agenda template - take notes in a meeting, even on your iPad!

Mind mapping the UX presentation

It’s almost 4 years old and I stand by it as a method! View more of my presos here.

Mind Map template for a Usability Test Kick Off

Do you like mind maps?


I’ve been watching a recent Top Gear episode and learnt the reason behind a little usability rule about capital letters. Top Gear were interviewing Margaret Calvert who worked on the design of Britian’s road signs in the 50’s and she described a little about the typography used in signs.

On road signs you will rarely see words written in only CAPITAL letters. It is easier to recognise a complete word if it starts with a capital, followed by lowercase letters.  This is because lower case letters are significantly more different to each other than capitals.


As a UX consultant, I get frustrated by clients and designers who think that user-centred research, particularly senior executive stakeholder interviews, is done simply to tick the box of, “I did some research”.

What really pains me is the comment, “Don’t worry, we’ve already done interviews with stakeholders and you don’t need to do it again”.

I always retort:

  • why did you do it?
  • what were you looking for?
  • what did you learn?
  • is it documented?

People miss the point of doing research with senior staff members of the organisation.

Of course, it’s about getting stakeholder buy in, but any one can do that.  However, any new consulting project should have some forum where the team members hear the strategic issues, for themselves. Not just the biased version from the internal project team. Consultants need to build  a picture of the organisation and identify opportunities; so that every design decision that flows from there on in meets the strategic business and personal needs of the client and, more importantly, their customers.

Also, don’t forget, doing this research also allows the stakeholders need to voice their opinion, without biasing their view because their fellow staff member is in the room.

User centred design is not about hearding cats for the sake of it. There’s a reason for every step and if you don’t know why your doing something, ask.


Opportunity Analysis

For years I have been looking for a better name for the competitive review service we provide at Objective Digital. When doing this service, we generally ask the client for a list of sites they consider competitive to review.

Clients often say, “We’ve done that already.” However, my response is, “We need to look at them to familiarise ourselves with your market and also to find and borrow any good ideas they might have.” They usually let us do it.

The other day, I was listening to Stuart Edwards from Profero speaking at the AIMIA customer experience event at the Telstra Experience Labs. He was showing us how they borrowed the flexible one-page set up interface from World of Warcraft to innovate the redesign of the Pizza Hut online ordering system in Australia. This was a great example of thinking outside the box! Stuart made an important point. He said, “We don’t do competitive analysis at Profero, we do Opportunity Analysis!”.

The word opportunity completely changes the focus of the competitive review exercise! Instead of reviewing the other sites from an analytical frame of mind it requires a creative frame. It reminds clients and consultants that we are looking for design innovations in other websites, not just doing a standard site comparison.

Why should your site innovation be constrained by what your competitors are doing on their sites?

Posted via web from Objective Digital’s posterous


Recently, I conducted a project with a client in a particularly political environment.  This meant that every decision made during the redesign had to be well reasoned. The client needed to see exactly how each of the various features, functions and content items (FF&C) were understood during the research process.  In particular they wanted to know;

”How do you choose the right cards to do a card sort with?”

This made me realise that, in many user centred design projects, the research is simply used to educate the Information Architect (a person). Often the client doesn’t see an overt relationship between the research findings and the final design choices. They simply trust the IA.

User centred research

To show the relationship between each research exercise and each FF&C I created a simple Excel spread sheet like this (click to enlarge).

Across the top I used the following headings:

Research types

  • User focus groups suggestions
  • User Survey support
  • Online user forum support
  • Competitor analysis support
  • Stakeholder suggestions from Face to Face Research
  • External stakeholder suggestions
  • Recommended content & features (cards for sort shaded)

Strategic decisions

  • Priority (1, 2, 3)
  • Justification
  • Additional info
  • Phase
  • Responsible

Features, functions & content

Then I listed all the possible FF&C down the left, including:

  • everything on the existing site
  • all the stakeholders’ business requirements (preferences)
  • competitor ideas
  • requirements uncovered and tested, and
  • new ideas.

Next I simply went through each FF&C and checked whether it ‘passed’ each research ‘checkpoint’.

This can be done very quickly with a client in a workshop.  That way the client has full visibility of what is in or out in the design, and most importantly, why?

The last thing to be done is putting a priority on each FFC.

Just last week I used it for another client. We did less research therefore there were less columns. Here’s a partially completed example (click to enlarge):

Graph of content, features and funcitons in IA

Table of content, features and functions in IA

This method was incredibly successful!

It allowed us to generate valuable and insightful discussion with the client and their senior colleagues. In this case, the colours on the left were used to show the priority that people gave in the cards sorted in the face-to-face workshops.

By looking at the spreadsheet you can very easily see if each of the things that stakeholders thought they needed was also a requirement of users. And also what new ideas users had come up with, and whether they are in or out.  The list provides the information architect with a checklist, a heuristic framework, to ensure nothing is missed.  It also lets the client quickly see that everything is justified.

How do you choose cards for a card sort? Don’t just guess, make use of all of the research that you have completed.


Whitney Hess has hit the nail on the head with this presentation

View more presentations from Whitney Hess.

Just started OZCHI 08 in Cairns.  We are staying at Palm Cove and it is very very very hot and humid!

130 people and many from overseas! Bas and I are exhibiting the Tobii eye trackers. Looks like we might be able to eye track an interactive game with location based mobile photos, that way we can see which ones people like the most.

Here’s a taste of the view out the front of our hotel!


 Joshua Ledwell has it right with his short post on iterative user interface design

In my words:

Someone once said Fail early, fail often… Early means UX people should iterate wireframes over and over again!

It is very important to communicate this to partners and clients clearly at the start of a project. It can take a while for them to understand that your wireframes are not going to be perfect straight up! This is particularly true of rich applications - the possibilities of interface design are infinite!

At the early stages of the project the wireframes lead to innovation, they trigger ideas and requirements that were not previously considered. This is particularly for new products.

Iterated wireframes also allow each member of the project team to ’show’ us their perspective. You know, many minds are better than one (UX) person!


Patrick Kennedy has launched a survey recently on LinkedIn and his blog to help us learn about how agencies view IA and usability.

I liked his approach, it was easily readable and written in a  way that agency creatives will understand. I’m glad he put it out there!  The questions certainly point to some answers about IA and usability acceptance that I have always intrigued me.

From his LinkedIn Answers post:

“Best practice design of websites, and other digital media, involves a set of skills known broadly as Information Architecture (IA) which generally means making designs user friendly. IA is also known to people doing this work, by such terms as User Experience (UX), User Centred Design (UCD), Interaction Design (IxD) or simply “usability”.

A significant amount of this sort of work is performed by agencies—whether they be advertising agencies, digital agencies or communication agencies. As a practitioner and educator in the field of IA, I am interested in learning how people go about practicing it, in particular how agencies “do IA”. This is to both confirm and challenge my own understanding of the way agencies work and how IA fits into their processes, who it gets done by and how it might be possible to give agencies the skills they need to perform better in this regard.”


Please help by completing the survey on his site here. It will run for the rest of the September 08.

Thanks Pat.