Tag: user_research


Presenting "A Taxonomy of Enterprise Search" at EUROHCIR

June 6th, 2011 — 8:13am

I’m pleased to be pre­sent­ing ‘A Tax­on­omy of Enter­prise Search’ at the upcom­ing Euro­HCIR work­shop, part of the 2011 HCI con­fer­ence in the UK.  Co-authored with Tony Russell-Rose of UXLabs, and Mark Bur­rell here at Endeca, this is our first pub­li­ca­tion of some of the very excit­ing work we’re doing to under­stand and describe dis­cov­ery activ­i­ties in enter­prise set­tings, and do so within a changed and broader fram­ing than tra­di­tional infor­ma­tion retrieval.  The paper builds on work I’ve done pre­vi­ously on under­stand­ing and defin­ing infor­ma­tion needs and pat­terns of infor­ma­tion retrieval activ­ity, while work­ing on search and dis­cov­ery prob­lems as part of larger user expe­ri­ence archi­tec­ture efforts.

Here’s the abstract of the paper:

Clas­sic IR (infor­ma­tion retrieval) is pred­i­cated on the notion of users search­ing for infor­ma­tion in order to sat­isfy a par­tic­u­lar “infor­ma­tion need”. How­ever, it is now accepted that much of what we rec­og­nize as search behav­iour is often not infor­ma­tional per se. For exam­ple, Broder (2002) has shown that the need under­ly­ing a given web search could in fact be nav­i­ga­tional (e.g. to find a par­tic­u­lar site or known item) or trans­ac­tional (e.g. to find a sites through which the user can trans­act, e.g. through online shop­ping, social media, etc.). Sim­i­larly, Rose & Levin­son (2004) have iden­ti­fied con­sump­tion of online resources as a fur­ther cat­e­gory of search behav­iour and query intent.

In this paper, we extend this work to the enter­prise con­text, exam­in­ing the needs and behav­iours of indi­vid­u­als across a range of search and dis­cov­ery sce­nar­ios within var­i­ous types of enter­prise. We present an ini­tial tax­on­omy of “dis­cov­ery modes”, and dis­cuss some ini­tial impli­ca­tions for the design of more effec­tive search and dis­cov­ery plat­forms and tools.

There’s a con­sid­er­able amount of research avail­able on infor­ma­tion retrieval — even within a com­par­a­tively new dis­ci­pline like HCIR, focused on the human to sys­tem inter­ac­tion aspects of IR — but I think it’s the attempt to define an activ­ity cen­tered gram­mar for inter­act­ing with infor­ma­tion that makes our approach worth exam­in­ing.  The HCIR events in the U.S. (and now Europe) blend aca­d­e­mic and prac­ti­tioner per­spec­tives, so are an appro­pri­ate audi­ence for our pro­posed vocab­u­lary of dis­cov­ery activ­ity ‘modes’ that’s based on a sub­stan­tial body of data col­lected and ana­lyzed dur­ing solu­tion design and deploy­ment engagements.

I’ll post the paper itself once the pro­ceed­ings are available.

 

 

 

Comment » | Language of Discovery, User Experience (UX), User Research

Discount Code for Indi Young's 'Mental Models' Webinar

December 10th, 2008 — 6:04am

Design­ers, prod­uct man­agers, and any­one who aims to cre­ate rel­e­vant and beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ences would be wise to check out Indi Young’s upcom­ing webi­nar, Using Men­tal Mod­els for Tac­tics and Strat­egy, on Decem­ber 11th. Indi lit­er­ally wrote the book on men­tal mod­els for user expe­ri­ence — read it, if you haven’t yet — and this webi­nar is part of the Future Prac­tice series pro­duced by Smart Expe­ri­ence and Rosen­feld Media, so expect good things for your mod­est invest­ment.
Even bet­ter, our friends at Smart Expe­ri­ence and Rosen­feld Media are offer­ing a 25% dis­count on reg­is­tra­tions, which is good for these tough times.
Use this dis­count code when reg­is­ter­ing: LAMANTIAWBNR
Enjoy!

Comments Off | Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Discovering User Goals / IR Goal Definitions

June 24th, 2006 — 12:22am

In an ear­lier post on cre­at­ing Goal Based Infor­ma­tion Retrieval Expe­ri­ences, I offered a list of fun­da­men­tal user goals that under­lays needs and usage of four sug­gested infor­ma­tion retrieval modes. In this post, I’ll share the approach employed to dis­cover the fun­da­men­tal goals of the users in our envi­ron­ment, with the aim of offer­ing it as one way of under­stand­ing goals rel­e­vant for other types of envi­ron­ments and user expe­ri­ence archi­tec­tures.
Since the root user goals we iden­ti­fied are poten­tially applic­a­ble to other envi­ron­ments and con­texts, I’ll share the def­i­n­i­tions behind the full set of root goals we dis­cov­ered. Together, the approach and def­i­n­i­tions should help demon­strate how cap­ture a sys­tem­atic and also holis­tic view of what users have need to accom­plish when under­tak­ing infor­ma­tion retrieval tasks more com­plex than search­ing.
Finally, address­ing the per­spec­tive of strate­gic design and user expe­ri­ence method­ol­ogy, fram­ing broad user goals well offers strong foot­ing for address­ing busi­ness per­spec­tives, and engag­ing busi­ness audi­ences in pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions on the pri­or­ity of capa­bil­i­ties and the func­tion­al­ity of the user expe­ri­ence.
Dis­cov­er­ing Root Goals
Begin­ning with raw goals gath­ered via a mixed palette of dis­cov­ery and user research (inter­views, task analy­sis, con­tex­tual inquiry, or other qual­i­ta­tive insight meth­ods) incor­po­rated into the project, we first called out the dif­fer­ent types or objects of infor­ma­tion users iden­ti­fied.
Our start­ing lists of raw user goals or needs looked some­thing like this (though it was con­sid­er­ably larger, and more varied):

  • Read oper­at­ing guidelines
  • Review instal­la­tion instructions
  • Scan tech­ni­cal sup­port requests
  • Review tech­ni­cal specifications

Iden­ti­fy­ing the objects in this set is not dif­fi­cult: tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions, oper­at­ing guide­lines, instal­la­tion instruc­tions, and sup­port requests. The activ­ity verbs are also easy to spot:

  • read
  • scan
  • review

We then com­pared the activ­ity verbs for sim­i­lar­ity and dif­fer­ences, and refined these raw goals into a root goal of “review” that could apply to any of the objects users named.
Recom­bin­ing the root goal with var­i­ous objects yields a set of con­crete goals:

  • Review oper­at­ing guidelines
  • Review instal­la­tion instructions
  • Review tech­ni­cal specifications
  • Review tech­ni­cal sup­port requests

This approach is more art than sci­ence, but is sys­tem­atic, and is inde­pen­dent of con­text and for­mat.
Here’s an illus­tra­tion of the process.
Dis­cov­er­ing Root Goals

Final Root Goals For Our Envi­ron­ment
These are the def­i­n­i­tions we estab­lished for the root goals we found for all our dif­fer­ent types of users. [I haven’t included the objects of the goals, or the con­crete goals.]

  • To Assess means to make a judge­ment or deci­sion about, con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vant factors
  • To Com­pare means to review the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences of two or more exam­ples of the same type of thing by look­ing at them in detail
  • To Find means to learn the loca­tion and sta­tus of
  • To Iden­tify means to dis­tin­guish by the use of spe­cific criteria
  • To Locate means to become aware of where and how a thing may be found, and / or con­tacted. Locate and find are sim­i­lar, so likely reflect dif­fer­ing but sim­i­lar usages and con­texts in the minds of users
  • To Mon­i­tor means to track the sta­tus and loca­tion of
  • To Obtain means to acquire and retain for other purposes
  • To Par­tic­i­pate means to be present and recognized
  • To Review means to exam­ine in detail
  • To Save means to store and keep
  • To See means to be pre­sented with in a man­ner that makes assumed rela­tion­ships or char­ac­ter­is­tics apparent
  • To Under­stand means to con­sider all avail­able points of view or sources of infor­ma­tion on a topic / item / sit­u­a­tion, and for­mu­late an opin­ion and frame of ref­er­ence for one’s own purposes.

Some exam­ple con­crete goals for an user expe­ri­ence that addresses travel plan­ning could include:

  • Find hotels
  • Review hotel accommodations
  • Save travel itineraries
  • Com­pare vaca­tion packages
  • See optional excur­sions offered by a hotel
  • Iden­tify full-service or all-inclusive resorts
  • Locate the oper­a­tors of scuba div­ing excursions
  • Mon­i­tor the price of air­line tick­ets to Sardinia
  • Under­stand how to plan and pur­chase vacations
  • Assess the cost and value of a vaca­tion package

Sym­me­try and Men­tal Mod­els
We found the con­cept of a root goal insight­ful for help­ing to design user expe­ri­ence archi­tec­tures because it is inde­pen­dent of par­tic­u­lar user roles, infor­ma­tion types, and usage con­texts. Being root ele­ments, they point at com­mon­al­i­ties rather than dif­fer­ences, and so can help guide the def­i­n­i­tion of men­tal mod­els that span user groups, or allow the reuse of an infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture ele­ment such as a nav­i­ga­tion com­po­nent, task flow, or screen lay­out.
Build­ing numer­ous con­crete goals that are vari­a­tions on a smaller set of com­mon root goals allows the men­tal model for the envi­ron­ment to achieve a greater degree of con­sis­tency and pre­dictabil­ity (we hope — we’ll see what the usabil­ity and eval­u­a­tions bring back). This con­sis­tency helps fur­ther efforts toward sym­me­try through­out the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. While most infor­ma­tion archi­tects uncon­sciously reach for sym­me­try in user expe­ri­ences by design­ing repeated ele­ments such as com­mon label­ing, rules for lay­out, and com­po­nent sys­tems of fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity — sym­me­try is some­thing we should make more con­scious efforts to encour­age both within envi­ron­ments and across envi­ron­ments.
Speak­ing To the Busi­ness: Goal-based Pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of Capa­bil­i­ties and Func­tion­al­ity
With solid root goals and com­mon infor­ma­tion objects, it’s pos­si­ble to build up a sim­ple and con­sis­tent gram­mar that out­lines the set of pos­si­ble con­crete goals across user types. This set of goals is a good basis for engag­ing busi­ness stake­hold­ers in choos­ing the right set of pri­or­i­ties to guide design and build efforts. Sys­tem­at­i­cally artic­u­lated goals allow busi­ness audi­ences a com­fort­able and neu­tral basis for pri­or­i­tiz­ing the capa­bil­i­ties the envi­ron­ment will offer users. Of course, choices of capa­bil­ity directly affect costs, effort lev­els, design and build time­lines, and all the other tan­gi­ble aspects of a user expe­ri­ence. Ref­er­ence pri­or­i­ties can also help guide longer-term invest­ment and strat­egy decisions.

1 comment » | Information Architecture, User Experience (UX), User Research

Goal Based Information Retrieval Experiences

June 20th, 2006 — 8:07pm

Though it’s com­mon prac­tice, think­ing of infor­ma­tion retrieval exclu­sively as ‘search’ is an arbi­trar­ily nar­row way of fram­ing an area of capa­bil­ity with strong impact on over­all per­cep­tions of user expe­ri­ence qual­ity and effec­tive­ness. In the long term, it lim­its oppor­tu­ni­ties to offer cus­tomers more effec­tive solu­tions to broader and more fully under­stood needs that involve infor­ma­tion retrieval, but are moti­vated by other goals. This nar­row view is espe­cially lim­it­ing for the user expe­ri­ence archi­tect, as it implies an imme­di­ate focus on the search aspects of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments.
A bet­ter way of fram­ing infor­ma­tion retrieval is in terms of oppor­tu­ni­ties to meet gen­uine user goals and objec­tives by sup­port­ing more var­ied modes of activ­ity. Users often have broad goals in mind while they pur­sue infor­ma­tion retrieval activ­i­ties; buy­ing a car, mak­ing a good invest­ment deci­sion, or learn­ing how to man­age their health care plans. And yet the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture of many envi­ron­ments still overem­pha­sizes search­ing as a way of accom­plish­ing goals.
Address­ing broader goals with an effec­tive infor­ma­tion retrieval expe­ri­ence will likely mean sup­port­ing modes of inter­ac­tion beyond just search­ing. But pro­vid­ing these addi­tional modes and user expe­ri­ence capa­bil­i­ties can open new oppor­tu­ni­ties for ser­vices, fea­tures, rev­enue, improv­ing rela­tion­ships, etc.
Even in sit­u­a­tions where a wide range of users need to select very spe­cific mate­ri­als from a large archive or pool of con­tent (the tra­di­tional library model), a search-centric infor­ma­tion retrieval model that offers no/few other capa­bil­i­ties is reduc­tive and overly sim­plis­tic.
Instead of imme­di­ately focus­ing on the scope or func­tion­al­ity of a search expe­ri­ence and sys­tem instal­la­tion, look for the pat­terns in user goals and needs that imply com­mon modes of inter­ac­tion with infor­ma­tion, and use them as a basis for defin­ing capa­bil­i­ties the envi­ron­ment must offer.
Here’s a list of com­mon types of user goals that involve infor­ma­tion retrieval — think of them as root goals that take on dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ized forms in dif­fer­ing environments:

  • review­ing sum­maries of items
  • exam­in­ing details
  • com­par­ing multiples
  • under­stand­ing con­texts and situations
  • learn­ing about peo­ple in the environment
  • per­ceiv­ing trends
  • pre­dict­ing implications
  • mon­i­tor­ing sta­tus or activity
  • iden­ti­fy­ing by criteria
  • estab­lish­ing similarity
  • obtain­ing infor­ma­tion for reuse

None of these explic­itly includes the activ­ity of search­ing, though many do imply some level of find­ing.
For a recent project, we defined four infor­ma­tion retrieval or inter­ac­tion modes that would meet the goals of our expected users:

  • seek­ing information
  • vis­it­ing sta­ble destinations
  • mon­i­tor­ing notifications
  • receiv­ing deliv­ered assets

These modes range from more active seek­ing, to less active receiv­ing deliv­ery, and per­sis­tent set­tings (sta­ble des­ti­na­tions) to fluid set­tings — mon­i­tor­ing or seek­ing. Together, they define pos­si­ble kinds of infor­ma­tion retrieval expe­ri­ences and capa­bil­i­ties that will meet the vary­ing needs and goals of users when prop­erly com­bined.
Infor­ma­tion Retrieval Modes

Seek­ing
The seek­ing mode focuses on tra­di­tional search­ing, but includes other activ­i­ties such as nar­row­ing sets using cumu­la­tive para­me­ters, find­ing with/in faceted sys­tems, and . A clas­sic exam­ple of seek­ing mode is a user who poses an ad-hoc query via a search inter­face, and sorts through the list of search results returned in response. This list may incor­po­rate many dif­fer­ent kinds of items from many dif­fer­ent sources, a com­bi­na­tion that no other user ever encoun­ters again.
From an infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture per­spec­tive, the key char­ac­ter­is­tic of seek­ing mode is that, users bring the sit­u­a­tions and con­texts (like search results) they encounter into exis­tence by seek­ing them out. When seek­ing, users encounter fluid des­ti­na­tions within the larger infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment based on what they are look­ing for, and how they are look­ing for it.
Another char­ac­ter­is­tic of the seek­ing mode is that users will not know in advance what they will encounter, even though they may have a very good idea of what they need to meet their goal. When seek­ing, users might be pre­sented with a mixed set of con­cep­tu­ally related items of many dif­fer­ent types, from unknown sources, with diverse con­tents / struc­ture / com­po­si­tion.
Of course, users may not know what they need, or how to ask for it, as Donna Maurer’s 4 Modes of Seek­ing Infor­ma­tion and How to Design for Them points out, but this was a less impor­tant fac­tor in the way we framed seek­ing within our envi­ron­ment than whether users would know what to expect as a result of their seek­ing activ­i­ties, and whether they could retrace their path to a par­tic­u­lar step of their jour­ney.
Vis­it­ing Sta­ble Des­ti­na­tions
When vis­it­ing sta­ble des­ti­na­tions, users encounter sta­ble places within the infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment that exist regard­less of the user’s activ­i­ties. Where seek­ing invokes tem­po­rary con­texts do not per­sist, a sta­ble des­ti­na­tion is per­sis­tent. Per­sis­tence could be con­cep­tual only, reflected in nav­i­ga­tion ele­ments, or made part of the user expe­ri­ence via any num­ber of mech­a­nisms. All des­ti­na­tions have a focus of some kind, such as a topic, or prod­uct, or event, and may be defined by the inter­sec­tion of sev­eral focuses, such as prod­ucts or doc­u­ments cre­ated by one per­son that are related to a topic or event.
Des­ti­na­tions could take the form of many kinds of pages — includ­ing the A-Z indexes Donna men­tions — but could also con­sist of pre­de­ter­mined com­bi­na­tions of con­di­tions and con­text that users can revisit with­out choos­ing them again. In an envi­ron­ment of known con­tents, des­ti­na­tions offer users a set of things they under­stand in advance and expect (after ade­quate oppor­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing). Des­ti­na­tions will likely change based on busi­ness rules and user con­text, as well as changes in the items avail­able within the envi­ron­ment.
A good exam­ple of a sta­ble des­ti­na­tion is the Arts page of the New York Time online; the arti­cles and the art they con­cern change con­stantly, yet users know what to expect when they visit. The page is a vis­i­ble part of the envi­ron­ment con­cep­tu­ally (as a cat­e­gory) and in terms of nav­i­ga­tion, and is eas­ily acces­si­ble directly from out­side the envi­ron­ment.
Mon­i­tor­ing
The mon­i­tor­ing mode is a more fluid and less active infor­ma­tion retrieval mode wherein the envi­ron­ment sends users noti­fi­ca­tions of events, activ­ity, sta­tus, or changes tak­ing place within it’s bound­aries. The key char­ac­ter­is­tic of mon­i­tor­ing is that users can accom­plish goals with­out enter­ing the envi­ron­ment, or with only lim­ited entry that takes them to a known set­ting.
Mon­i­tor­ing effec­tively extends the user expe­ri­ence and infor­ma­tion retrieval capa­bil­i­ties beyond the bound­aries of the orig­i­nat­ing envi­ron­ment, and allows users to know in advance what they will find or encounter when they enter the envi­ron­ment.
Mon­i­tor­ing nat­u­rally requires mes­sages or com­mu­ni­ca­tion tokens, com­monly email, RSS, or SMS, but could take many other forms as well. A good exam­ple of mon­i­tor­ing is the con­fig­urable alerts that many travel ser­vices pro­vide to indi­cate when prices for air­line tick­ets to spe­cific cities change, or match a price point.
Receiv­ing Items via Deliv­ery
Receiv­ing deliv­ered items is the least active mode we defined for users, allow­ing them to retrieve infor­ma­tion with­out actively seek­ing, vis­it­ing a des­ti­na­tion, or mon­i­tor­ing the envi­ron­ment. In this mode, users do not have to enter the envi­ron­ment at all to retrieve infor­ma­tion, enabling them to fur­ther goals with­out increas­ing acqui­si­tion costs or effort.
Deliv­ery implies mech­a­nisms to man­age the nature, rate, and for­mat of the infor­ma­tion to deliver, as well as the chan­nel: email, attach­ments, RSS, pod­casts, vlogs, etc.
Good exam­ples of deliv­ered infor­ma­tion are the iconic stock ticker, RSS feeds for blog post­ings, and email pub­li­ca­tions.
Com­bin­ing Modes: User Goals and Cus­tomer Life­cy­cles
It’s nat­ural that user goals will span modes, and that the pre­ferred mode for accom­plish­ing a goal may change over time to reflect shift­ing usage pat­terns and needs.
As an exam­ple, a sin­gle user might shift among dif­fer­ent modes that reflect learn­ing more about the struc­ture and con­tent of the envi­ron­ment. From ini­tial seek­ing activ­ity focused on search­ing for infor­ma­tion related to a topic, a user may switch to vis­it­ing a known sta­ble des­ti­na­tion that addresses that topic, enter­ing the envi­ron­ment from the out­side with­out ini­tial seek­ing.
This des­ti­na­tion may include tools to estab­lish mon­i­tor­ing for a spe­cific type of item, which a user who under­stands the domain will appre­ci­ate and take advan­tage of as a way to reduce the num­ber of required vis­its while remain­ing aware of activ­ity or sta­tus. Even­tu­ally, this user might shift from mon­i­tor­ing to direct deliv­ery of a few spe­cific and very valu­able infor­ma­tion assets, through a chan­nel and in a for­mat of their choos­ing.
IR Mode Life­cy­cle

In the same way that pat­terns in goals allow expe­ri­ence archi­tects to iden­tify com­mon modes of infor­ma­tion retrieval, pat­terns of cross-mode usage will emerge in pop­u­la­tions of users or cus­tomers. Once under­stood, these kinds of flows present oppor­tu­ni­ties on many lev­els; user expe­ri­ence, busi­ness model or process, and tech­ni­cal architecture.

4 comments » | Information Architecture

Intranet Review Toolkit Version 1.1

April 1st, 2006 — 7:48pm

Con­grat­u­la­tions to James Robert­son and StepTwo Designs for releas­ing an updated ver­sion of the Intranet Review Toolkit, just before this year’s IA sum­mit in lovely Van­cou­ver (oblig­a­tory flickr link).
Ver­sion 1.1 of the Intranet Review Toolkit includes a heuris­tics sum­mary designed for quick use; it’s based on a con­densed ver­sion of the com­plete set of heuris­tics you may remem­ber I offered a while back. StepTwo was kind enough to credit my mod­est con­tri­bu­tion to the over­all effort.
Other addi­tions include a col­lab­o­ra­tion / com­mu­nity of use des­ti­na­tion site http://www.intranetreviewtoolkit.org.

Comment » | Tools

Scatterplots As Page Shapes?

March 1st, 2006 — 4:25pm

The Feb­ru­ary edi­tion of Usabil­ity News reports on a usabil­ity study (Where’s the Search? Re-examining User Expec­ta­tions of Web Objects) of user expec­ta­tions for Web page lay­outs that con­tains a sur­pris­ing but inter­est­ing visu­al­iza­tion of page shapes, based on quan­ti­ta­tive user research. (Note: I found the study via the UI Design Newslet­ter, from HFI.)
The study looks at users” expec­ta­tions for the loca­tion of com­mon web page com­po­nents, such as site search and adver­tis­ing. The authors find that expec­ta­tions for page lay­outs are largely the same now, as com­pared to those found in an ear­lier study, Devel­op­ing Schemas for the Loca­tion of Com­mon Web Objects, con­ducted in 2001.
More inter­est­ing is the way the researchers report their results; visu­al­iz­ing them as heat map style grid plots for the expected loca­tion of each ele­ment vs. a blank grid. Here’s two exam­ples, the first show­ing expected loca­tions for ‘back to home’ links, the sec­ond for the ‘site search engine’.
Fig­ure 1: Back to Home Link Loca­tion
backtohome.gif
Fig­ure 2: Site Search Engine Loca­tion
sitesearch.gif
These heat maps look a lot like page shapes, expressed as scat­ter­plots.
I like the com­bi­na­tion of quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive per­spec­tives at work in these page shapes ren­dered as scat­ter­plots. I think it could allow for grounded dis­cus­sion and inter­pre­ta­tion of user feed­back on design options, within a clear and sim­ple struc­ture that doesn’t require an HCI degree to appre­ci­ate. If I try it out, I’ll share the out­comes.
In a more tra­di­tional style of visu­al­iza­tion, Eric Scheid found another another good exam­ple of page shapes a while back in Jonathon Boutelle’s post­ing on blog lay­outs called “Mullet”-style blog lay­out. Jonathon was advo­cat­ing for a new default blog page shape that increases infor­ma­tion den­sity and scent, but hews closely to pre-existing expec­ta­tions.
Fig­ure 3: Typ­i­cal Blog Page Shape
typical_small-thumb.jpg
Fig­ure 4: Sug­gested Blog Page Shape
mullet_small.jpg
And that’s the last time I’m men­tion­ing m.u.l.l.e.t.s this year, lest Google get the wrong idea about the sub­ject mat­ter of this blog :)

2 comments » | Information Architecture, User Research

User Research = R&D

February 14th, 2006 — 10:58pm

This week­end, some of my ear­lier posts dis­cussing the user expe­ri­ence of Lotus Notes sur­faced in the Notes com­mu­nity. Ed Brill — in a post­ing titled Mary Beth has been tak­ing on the crit­ics — ref­er­enced my men­tion of how the head of the Notes UI team was employ­ing user research as a bridge to cus­tomers. Ed com­pli­mented the design team for reach­ing out to crit­ics in pub­lic. This is a well-deserved pat on the back. Yet it falls short of rec­og­niz­ing the more impor­tant point that direct user research should be a basic com­po­nent of any company’s over­all strat­egy and plan­ning for long term suc­cess (or sur­vival).
Why? User research helps build cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, fur­ther design efforts, and iden­tify new busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties when applied across audi­ences (inter­nal and exter­nal con­stituen­cies) and per­spec­tives (mar­ket­ing, sales, prod­uct devel­op­ment), and with an eye for needs beyond imme­di­ate feed­back. This sort of engage­ment with cus­tomers of a soft­ware prod­uct (or any kind of prod­uct) should *not* be spe­cial or note­wor­thy — it should hap­pen all the time. Con­tin­u­ously. I’m think­ing of Jared Spool’s remarks dur­ing his keynote at UI10, to the effect that the user expe­ri­ence per­spec­tive is most suc­cess­ful when it it is a basic com­po­nent of a company’s cul­ture, and thus an assumed aspect of every ini­tia­tive.
In fact, in a socially trans­par­ent, net­worked, and aware envi­ron­ment like the cur­rent FutureP­re­sent, user research serves as a fun­da­men­tal, indis­pens­able form of research and devel­op­ment that com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions must sup­port as part of their port­fo­lio of meth­ods for seek­ing broad based envi­ron­men­tal feed­back (also here). I’ll go so far as to say that user research may move beyond the realm of essen­tial cor­po­rate R&D, and qual­ify as gen­uine basic research.
BTW: maybe it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit omi­nous that the tag line for Notes 7 is “Inno­vate. Col­lab­o­rate. Dom­i­nate.” ? Sounds like some­thing the Borg might say if you asked them how to make breakfast…

Comment » | User Research

Building Channels To Customers With User Research

December 26th, 2005 — 12:26am

Prov­ing that a well-developed sense of humor is required for suc­cess in prod­uct design — espe­cially for Lotus Notes — Mary Beth Raven, who leads the design team for the next ver­sion of Lotus Notes, recently posted a rather funny com­ment in reply to my sug­ges­tion that the Notes Design team offer cus­tomers a choice of unpleas­ant but related user expe­ri­ence themes. She used this as the occa­sion to invite all mem­bers of the com­mu­nity of Notes to users to reg­is­ter as vol­un­teers for usabil­ity test­ing.
I’ve made three post­ings to date specif­i­cally dis­cussing the Notes user expe­ri­ence: Lotus Notes User Expe­ri­ence = Dis­ease, Men­tal Mod­els, Resilience, and Lotus Notes, and Bet­ter UI Tops Notes Users’ Wish Lists. I’m not sure which of these prompted Mary Beth to reach out, but I’m glad she did, because doing so is smart busi­ness on two lev­els. At the first level, Mary Beth plainly under­stands that while vocal crit­ics may seem daunt­ing to user expe­ri­ence design­ers, prod­uct man­agers, and busi­ness own­ers, engag­ing these crit­ics in fact presents design teams with oppor­tu­ni­ties to build strong con­nec­tions to users and gather valu­able feed­back at the same time. What bet­ter way is there to show the strate­gic value of user research?
I learned this at first hand while work­ing on a redesign of the flag­ship web pres­ence of a large soft­ware firm sev­eral years ago. Some of the most insight­ful and use­ful feed­back on the strengths and weak­nesses of the user expe­ri­ences I was respon­si­ble for came from ‘dis­grun­tled’ cus­tomers. The user research I was doing on site struc­tures, nav­i­ga­tion paths, and user goals estab­lished a chan­nel that allowed unhappy (and happy) cus­tomers to com­mu­ni­cate about a broad range of their expe­ri­ences with PTC prod­ucts and ser­vices in a more com­plete way than by sim­ply buy­ing a com­pet­ing prod­uct, or renew­ing an exist­ing soft­ware license.
Based on these and other expe­ri­ences build­ing user research pro­grams, I sug­gest that prod­uct man­agers, user research leads, and user expe­ri­ence design­ers first col­lab­o­rate to define a user research strat­egy, and then define and cre­ate a sim­ple but effec­tive user research infra­struc­ture (like reg­is­tra­tion gate­ways to vol­un­teer data­bases, com­mu­nity / pro­gram iden­ti­fiers and incen­tives, con­tact man­age­ment tools, spe­cific per­sonas that tech­ni­cal and cus­tomer sup­port teams can learn to rec­og­nize and recruit at all stages of the cus­tomer life­cy­cle, etc.) that will sup­port the cre­ation of chan­nels to users through­out the design cycle.
At the sec­ond level, it allows the Notes team to directly explore col­lab­o­ra­tion meth­ods, prod­ucts, and tech­nolo­gies related to the very com­pet­i­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion suite / inte­grated elec­tronic work­space / office pro­duc­tiv­ity mar­kets in which IBM, Microsoft, and sev­eral other giant firms are look­ing to secure dom­i­nant posi­tions in the new cul­ture of col­lab­o­ra­tion. [Note: I’ve posted a few times on Microsoft prod­ucts as well — Back­wards Goals: MS Office Results Ori­ented UI, and Microsoft’s Phi­los­o­phy On Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture.]
Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity of Lotus Notes users can reg­is­ter as vol­un­teers for usabil­ity tests dur­ing the design of the next ver­sion of Notes at this URL: https://www-10.lotus.com/ldd/usentry.nsf/register?openform.

1 comment » | User Experience (UX), User Research

Intranet Review Toolkit: Quick Heuristics Spreadsheet

December 2nd, 2005 — 12:30am

Update: Version 1.1 of the Intranet Review Toolkit is avail­able as of 03/20/2006, and now includes a sum­mary spread­sheet.
Thanks go to James Robert­son for very gen­tly remind­ing me that the licens­ing arrange­ments for the Intranet Review Toolkit pre­clude repub­lish­ing it as a sum­ma­rized form, such as the spread­sheet I posted ear­lier today. In my enthu­si­asm to share a tool with the rest of the com­mu­nity, I didn’t work through the full licens­ing impli­ca­tions…
Accord­ingly, I’ll be remov­ing the spread­sheet from harms way imme­di­ately, while hop­ing it’s pos­si­ble to make it avail­able in a more legally accept­able form.
Apolo­gies to James and the rest of the Toolkit team for any unin­tended harm from my oversight.

Comment » | Information Architecture, Intranets, Tools

Backwards Goals: MS Office Results Oriented UI

November 18th, 2005 — 4:51pm

In the overview of the new “results ori­ented” UI planned for MS Office 12, our friends in Red­mond offer:
“The over­rid­ing design goal for the new UI is to deliver a user inter­face that enables users to be more suc­cess­ful find­ing and using the advanced fea­tures of Microsoft Office. An addi­tional impor­tant design goal was to pre­serve an unclut­tered work­space that reduces dis­trac­tion for users so that they can spend more time and energy focused on their work.“
Let me get that straight. Your first goal is to make it eas­ier for me to find and use advanced fea­tures that the vast major­ity of peo­ple employ rarely if ever, and didn’t need in the first place?
And some­thing else that was also impor­tant — but not as impor­tant as access to all those shiny advanced fea­tures — was to make the work­space unclut­tered and allow me to focus on my work?
Isn’t that… backwards?

2 comments » | User Experience (UX)

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