Sunday, December 2, 2012

Device UX should define Web UX

For general parts like transitions, navigation menus, shopping carts and search, web experience should be defined by device OS, not web designers. This would give users better experiences and allow web designers to use their budgets more wisely.

Designing websites gets harder and harder

Problem 1: There's always more devices, operating systems, use contexts, browser versions etc.
Problem 2: For many designers, there is not enough budget or time to design and test websites properly with all those different devices in mind. 
Observation 1: We and our clients want web experiences to be perfect for any device.
Observation 2: In every project, designers redesign common elements like main navigation. Not enough attention is given to the actual meaningful thing – content.

We're stretching web designers and developers. They should support more devices than they know exist. Result is that nothing really get's tested properly and even worse: a huge number of devices people use every day haven't even been considered when designing web experiences. It's not "computer version and iPhone and you're done". Take a look at this post by Luke Wroblewski, not all devices are the same

Using web on mobile devices breaks the experience

"Oh great, swiping doesn't work." 

When users go from apps to web, why do we have to break the experience? Would anybody want this: when you drive a car, half-way to your destination the car starts functioning differently. Why then users would want to navigate in a certain way while using their device and then change how everything works because they opened just another app. The magical "doesn't work like my device" app is called browser and it breaks the experience. Let's face it: mobile web experiences are poor on most of the sites. If at all optimized for mobile use, they are an odd compromise and lack all the gestures that make using devices fun. Yet, the amount of people using mobile internet grows like crazy. These people deserve excellent web experiences. We're not delivering. – open for testing your site. It's not only iPhone you need to worry about. Photo by Viljami Salminen

Responsive web design is a good start. We're trying to tackle the issue but we need more. We need different content for different use contexts. We need lightweight versions. We need optimized design for every device that uses Internet. Also, anybody who has used web with a mobile device knows that opening navigation elements is slow. What if websites worked the same way on your device than apps do? This way the mobile web experience would require less waiting for web elements to load.

Device OS Designers should (help) define web experiences

The idea is plain and simple: Device designers spend so much time working on product design and OS design. Why don't they define the way to use the Internet for that device as well? I'm talking about shifting some work from web design people over to device design people. Let's think about this for a minute: 

What would happen to mobile online sales if somehow all the shopping carts were super easy and fast to use? How much sales is now lost because of shopping with mobile device is difficult, annoying and slow? 

If the device offers a search function, why on earth wouldn't we use that very same UI for searching on the site? 

I love interaction design work but I'd be very happy if I could just write a sitemap XML file and know that all devices will optimize main navigation flows for best possible way.

Currently we're reinventing the wheel every time when we design a new website! That's time wasted. Users want the content. Users don't need branded web navigations on their mobile phones that are less usable than the native device UI navigation. What I'm saying here is that if web people used their budget more on content and less on device specific tuning of general functions, the web would be a better place for everybody. We need to start focusing on the things that matter!

As we all know, mobile Internet usage is growing exponentially. Even though mobile web UX is mostly horrible. Web people need help from device UX designers or end-users will keeps suffering. I'm not saying we should prevent a way to build a web experience from scratch. And I'm definitely not saying web designers should ignore designing and testing for devices altogether. But if there was a chance the device could handle general parts of web experience, everybody would win and that would make a lot of sense.

So, Google, Apple, Samsung, Nokia, HTC and others. Can you create tools for giving users an awesome experience? What do you think? 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Web designers - remember the fold!

Summary: Apple hides the scrollbar in OS X Lion. If you want your mac users to see content below the fold, you must design for it.

Below the fold

One big web usability issue used to be - and still is - that people didn't know when there is content under the fold. In case somebody is unfamiliar with the saying "below the fold", it simply means everything that is under the visible content when you first enter a web page. So, that's all the content that require scrolling down. Web pages are long and there is always content.

Jakob Nielsen reports that web users spend 80% above fold and 20% below. The obvious conclusion here is that you should put your important content on the top so you don't lose business.

But why is that 80-20? Few things come to mind. In the early days of web, people didn't scroll at all. Designers learned to put the most important information is on the top of the page and for a critical piece of content, there's usually a dedicated page (also, it's a good idea SEO-wise). Then when people learned to scroll, of course there was nothing important anyways. Users spend very little of their time on one particular page, basically it's about enough to scan through titles and subtitles. If the top of the page suggests it's not worth the users' time, they'll move on.

Then there's the issue of users not knowing there's anything under the fold in the first place.

How to get people to scroll

Getting people to scroll is quite difficult.

First, you need to make people understand that there actually is content below the first screen. The content needs to be so magnetic that the user continues to follow it under the fold. An easy example: a user reads an interesting article which continues below the screen.

Second, you need to convince the user that it's worth their time even though the user knows that the most important content is usually on the top of the page.

Now, how do people know if there is any content below the fold?

There are two visual cues for users.

  • Cut-off content (images, text, graphical elements) on the bottom of the window, indicating that the page continues below. 
  • There's a visible scrollbar in the browser window 

Apple hides the scroll bar

Apple says bye bye to a visible scrollbar. Image is from Apple's website

Ok, while writing this, Apple is about to launch OS X Lion, the new version of their operating system. They're making Macs, iPads and iPhones perform more similarly. In near future, they want macs behave more like IOS devices. One thing among others you're going to notice is that the scroll bar is hidden. It only shows when you're scrolling, like in iPhones and iPads. The updates that come with Lion OS X clearly indicate that Apple wants to create one Apple experience that's similar, no matter be it a mobile device or desktop computer. This comes as no surprise if Apple wants to make touchscreen imacs in near future.

The only-visible-when-you-scroll type scroll bar works beautifully with iPhones because when you use web with such a small screen, it's always obvious that you need to scroll to see the whole thing. No article, for instance, will fit in a smartphone screen at once.

Designers, always think about the fold

Good for Apple, but bad for web users and designers. Now for Apple users, the only visual cue to know there's content below the fold is that the page is designed that way. Here are some ideas about how to let users know you have content below the fold.

Think about the typical browser window heights when you do design. In the area that browser windows usually end (around 600 pixels from the top):

  • No 100% wide horizontal lines
  • No 100% wide boxes that end (or can end) just at the fold line  
  • If you use multiple columns, don't make all columns to end in the exact same pixel 
  • Try to make the content, images and text, to cut off at the fold line
  • Use graphical elements that seem cut off if there's content below

The best piece of advice I have: Always test your visual designs! Use pc and mac, laptops and desktops of different sizes, resize the window. See how your content and page design feels. You don't know if the site users use full screen or a smaller window, a laptop, tablet or 27" iMac. The user may have tons of toolbars in a browser that take the first 200 pixels of your screen.

What makes it even harder is that you rarely know what kind of content the client will eventually use. Do not trust your lorem ipsum. This is one big mistake web designers do constantly. You can never assume that there's certain amount of content. If you specify in a style guide that "you need to use this element with two sentences of text" the client will probably put ten sentences there. If there's a minimum amount of content in another design element, probably somewhere on the website you'll find that element with no content at all. The page you designed with dummy content will often end up totally different once the content editors have done their part.

And one more thing. Do usability testing. It really opens your eyes when you see how people really behave with your designs. I mean, it really is different from what you think.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Registering user accounts: Do we really have to?

I have tens of user accounts. The number is probably much greater than I can think of. Most of them I really don't need and probably don't even remember having. There only few accounts that I really use, such as Facebook or Twitter. Unfortunately, most of the accounts I don't use at all - and didn't even want in the first place. This doesn't make any sense but I had no choice. And I'm certainly not alone with this annoying situation. Here's why.

Web terrorism: if you want to do something, you need to register. 

Does this look familiar? "if your comment is worth it, then you should do it"? Excuse me, but what the hell? If I feel kind enough to offer more user-generated content to your site, why do you bother me with this nonsense? Are you saying that my comment is not worth it anyways, if I don't want to give you my email address? I found this notice in the comments section for an article about user experience expectations. Ironically, this must-register-thingy ruined the user experience for me. I mean, come on. Who really wants to register to a random website in order to leave one comment?

Pointless registering makes web a total mess

Yes, I have registered to tons of websites just to be able to do one thing, say, buy something online or comment on an article. I usually use (an email generator to help activate registrations without using your real email address) to create a non-sense account for anything else than online buying. But the number of times I gave up and left never to return? Much greater.

Let's think for a minute about how absurd this is. Say, in real life, you go to a shop wanting to buy something and this dialogue happens:

Shop keeper: "Sure, after you register, you can buy whatever you want. But you need to fill this form first. You'll get these great membership benefits! (...And while you're on it, write down your email address so we can disturb you with our ads every now and then.)"

You: I don't care about the membership benefits. Can I just buy this thing now, please?

Shop keeper: "Sure, after you register, you can buy whatever you want..."

You: Thanks, I'll go some place else.

Simple math: Companies are losing money because of mandatory registering.

Registration is required almost every time you want to comment on a news or blog article, buy something online, interact on a website. Basically, you need to have a user account for every little thing you do online. That's web terrorism and it kills great benefits that Internet offers. If you want to do something that takes 10 seconds to do, are you going to waste 5 minutes to register, and give out your email for spam? Who wants those news letters or special offers anyway? And who can even remember all those user accounts and passwords (if not using the same one everywhere)?

There are websites like Facebook that need user accounts for a reason, but most websites really don't have any good reason to ask for your email.

Don't require registration

My advice to site owners is this: Don't require registration unless you absolutely have to. People hate it. Registering has never been a user goal and it will never be one. Registration is an obstacle to users. They only register if they really, really want to use your site. However, this "take-me-to-be-your-user-please-I-want-it-so-much!" group of people is a small one. There are always more of those who want to be convinced first that the website is worthy of their time and email address. 

But my site absolutely needs it

If your site's sole purpose depends on user accounts, try to come up with content and features that are available for everybody. This way you can get users to like your website. If they like something, there's a much better chance that they'll come back. And if you offer something really cool for members, many will gladly register.

When you offer the registration form, ask users only the most vital information. For many websites, two fields should be enough: email address and password. Make it easy to join in. Use a polite tone - make sure you're asking nicely, not demanding aggressively. When a user sees a registration form, it's decision time. If it looks nice, easy and quick, your conversion rate will be much higher.

After you get users to join in, you can ask (again, in a polite tone) for more details. But don't put anything irrelevant as mandatory. If you do, you'll have to deal with the user type that claims to be Elvis Presley, 120 years old, from the moon, with contact information

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The worst websites are ones with content issues, not necessarily the ugliest

Iltalehti, a Finnish tabloid and one of the most popular websites in Finland, published an online news story entitled "Is this the world's worst website?". They linked a Finnish camping site - and for a reason. Take a look: is this the content for a camping site? I mean come on. A Middle Eastern person with a rocket launcher? On a camping site? That site's even owned by the city of Hamina, not an individual or small company.

a screenshot from the news page. Nice camping times!

In the news story, the author also asked people to list bad websites in the comments section. As you can imagine, links to amazingly bad websites kept (and still keep) coming.

But that's not everything. Surprisingly many took the time to complain about sites that aren't that bad. People absolutely hated the sites that lacked the information they wanted. That's not so obvious to designers. The most important thing for web users is to be able to find the information they're looking for. The graphics aren't totally meaningless but the content is what got the user there in the first place.

Let's think about a car trip for a while. It's always great to be able to drive on nice, well-maintenanced highway. A bad road with bumps and cracks is literally a pain in the... you know. The condition of the road is only about convenience. The point is the destination. Think about what happens if you miss the turn you needed to take because the sign wasn't obvious enough. You end up some place far away from your destination. Then it doesn't really matter if the road was perfect to drive on. Everything was a big waste of time. On the other hand, the road to your summer house might not be in a perfect shape. Still, you enjoy the trip because you know you'll love it in the destination.

Websites are like roads. A good one guides you to your destination - gives you the information you want. A bad one wastes your time. Visual design is not the main concern.

As I mentioned early on in this post, people posted links to ugly, unusable websites. There are ugly websites and then there are amazingly ugly websites. Here are few links to some sites that might need a redesign. I guess it's safe to say that visual design does matter, too. Have fun. (made on purpose) (made on purpose) (made on purpose) (quite bad for a politician)

Feel free to link more, I'll add the most horrible ones to the list.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nokia looking for a new CEO?

Nokia is looking for a new CEO, according to Wall Street Journal. This is due to the facts that the stock price keeps going down and that there's no success in smartphones. This obviously fires up the discussion in Finland. It's about time, many say - even here in Finland where Nokia is considered our holy grail and not owning a Nokia is almost like a treachery. Okay, I'm joking of course but the respect for Nokia has been high, maybe a little too much. Years ago, way before iPhones, I used to joke about what's up with Nokia innovation - phones that can do SMS won't cut it.

Nokia already dominates everything else in mobile phone business than smartphones. So they still do well. Nokia just needs to polish it's image by showing they still are the leader in the mobile phone business. That's going to be done right by producing a couple of hit products in smartphones. That would easily put things back to track. But how can they do that since for so many years, they've been so incapable of doing anything consumers would love? The last time I heard somebody love a Nokia product, it was before the Symbian era. And it's a long time in tech business. Here's what Nokia should do in my opinion. I'm just a user experience guy but hey, no point for a blog without strong opinions, right? : )

1) Get a new leadership. A person with star power. They need somebody like Steve Jobs. Somebody who can make hard desicions. Somebody who can change the image of the company. Somebody who understands competition and when a great new product like iPhone comes up in the market, doesn't just foolishly ignore it and say things like "it's just one phone, who cares". People's faith in this one has gone, things won't recover if Nokia doesn't show it understands that they messed up. A new leader would be a clear sign for everybody that Nokia seriously wants to get back on the saddle.

2) Dump Symbian. Symbian is slow and it sucks life out of developers. Documentation is not there and creating great UI is close to impossible with Symbian. That's why usability sucks so bad in Nokia phones. Working with Symbian makes things so complex there's no room to really create great user experiences. And great user experiences are the only thing that sells in smartphones for consumers. Nokia tried to get people to develop apps but nobody was interested. Nokia needs something like Android.

3) Allow for innovation. People develop great new concepts at Nokia but somehow the innovative stuff never reaches market. You've gotta put great new things on the market or just give up with smartphones. Here's an example of a great, innovative Nokia product concept that hopefully some day will be available. I certainly would buy one even if it cost more than a computer.

4) Focus on user experience - this is absolutely the key point. This is what saved Apple from near death and helped it become the biggest tech firm. If you build things for consumers, the products need to work for them. No engineering skills should be needed. Make things simple, fast and easy. Example: try using a Nokia phone for web browsing. Then try an iPhone or Nexus one. See a difference? Cut down the features on cheap phones. Eliminate totally features that nobody uses. Go back to basics - what are the key features for a phone user? Do those extremely well. That's enough!

5) Trim the product line. Make it easier for customers to pick a phone. Concentrate on making fewer, better ones.

6) Don't change the things that work. Keep supporting the business sector. Others do terrible job with understanding companies' needs so that's why Nokia rules there.

I'm sounding like a broken record here linking this again but I so much love the concept! That concept is by the way already two years old. Still it looks so great that nobody would be interested in iPhones or other ancient tech anymore. And I'm pretty sure people would pay a lot for such a product. So here goes my request:

Please, Nokia. Do whatever it takes to get things like this one on the market.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Apple is not sorry for their epic antenna failure

Ok here's the background in short. Iphone 4 drops calls. People get pissed as their phones fail. I boldly argue -- and we probably have a firm grasp of the obvious here -- that making calls is pretty much a critical function for a phone. Apple says there's no problem but the media coverage around the problem gets so huge it's affecting Apple's stock price. Apple has to respond so they set up a press conference to respond and here's how it went.

Apple is not only the biggest but also the most fascinating tech company from UX point of view. Their products have been so great for consumers that as Mc Hammer would say, nobody can touch them. As many know, Apple hardware sucks in comparison to their competition but the experience of owning an Apple product has so far been pure magic. When owning a gadget is pure magic then nothing else matters. Now, for iPhone 4 owners, that magical Apple aura fades away with the famous antenna failure. Even if a phone looks, feels and performs wonderfully in overall, you've got to admit making calls (that do not drop out randomly) is the primary function of a phone. Even smartphones with all that "smart" extra stuff almost nobody cares about. Not so smart a phone anyway if one can't make a call.

Apple is the best when it comes to presentations and praising their own products (which is something other players should learn about). Even when they fail, they manage to turn things around so that somehow people end up feeling they need to buy 17 new call-dropping iPhones. That's all thanks to Steve Jobs' superior presentation skills. Knowing this, it didn't come as a surprise that Apple is not going to be sorry nor take in the phones for repair. Jobs is also very arrogant - he shamelessly bends things as much as he can to make everything seem ok. Somehow the major problem iPhones have is presented as everyone's problem. Apple puts the blame on the industry while it's clear that the problem is Apple's experimental antenna design. They could have absolutely nailed everything if they just made the antenna design different. They also could have bought the solutions from Nokia or any other player there who have way better understanding of mobile phone hardware solutions. But that's not how they want to do things. And business-wise, that's probably the right decision for them.

Innovation is not bad. People all around the world can thank Apple for raising the standards of user experience. Iphones are full of great innovations. Same with macs and iPods. To be innovative you have to take risks. And sometimes risks just don't pay off. If you're not innovative in tech business, there's no future for you.

On the other hand, if you think about it...

What would you do if you launched a product that has a big hardware issue in it? Do you take it back for redesign and lose your face (and a ridiculous amount of money in the process)? Or, do you try to handle the situation at the minimum cost but still try to keep your customers somewhat happy? Of course you go with the latter. And if you think about it for a while, what's there to do differently, (despite of the ridiculous self-praising, even at the very moment of an epic failure)? They promised a free case or full refund. Okay, that's gonna cost a lot of money but it's better than losing customers. Apple understands that their business depends solely on delivering great user experiences. They left people a bit cold but also saved a lot. I bet iPhone 4 is going to continue to be a superb sales hit. One thing is clear. Smart companies learn from their mistakes. The next time Apple launches a phone, they're surely gonna pay extra attention to the antenna design.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What's user experience (and this blog) all about?

Welcome to UX Buzz. This is blog is about user experience (UX). In case you're not familiar with the fancy term, this post tries to explain what's it about and why it matters. I hope you get something out of my thoughts. Conversation is always great so comments are very much appreciated. Let's get into it.

Another definition of user experience? Not again?

No, don't worry, I'm not falling for that. So many people have tried to box "user experience" into a couple of sentences that we could stick to. Not one of those definitions seems wrong but they all are different! The term user experience was coined by Don Norman in the 1990's but what's it all about has been around one.

I'm not going to go for a well-thought definition but still I think it's fair to use a couple of words to describe what this blog is all about.

In my humble opinion, all the definition you need is this.
User Experience is about how stuff works for you. 
A good user experience is that it works well for you, a bad one means it doesn't work for you. It's as simple as that. User Experience is what happens when you do something. You doing something includes you and something. A good user experience means you're happy with what happened. A bad user experience means something did not work for you. This experience thing can be extended to anything. A great movie. A car that breaks down. A thing that doesn't work and pisses you off. Your favourite artist's concert that you'll never forget. A mobile phone that you need to hold in a certain way that it even works... You experience something and then think how it was for you. That simple! All this hype and actually we're just talking about how we feel about things. It's nothing new. We just put a label on it. Industrial designers, artist and a whole bunch of other people have known about the importance of this stuff for ages. Talk about about a marketing trick!

Mostly things that involve software have been hard to use, ugly and boring. Big bosses only wanted to do things cheap. Well, now we have accomplished that it's pretty expensive and stupid to do something and have nobody buy the product. So things have changed. In IT business, now it's all about making great stuff that works for customers. Not because somehow companies started to care about people. It's because making things good for customers has become the critical driver for business. Customers buy what they like. They'll even pay more to get things that they want. You don't need to go far for an example. Apple almost died before Steve Jobs rescued the company. He did it by concentrating on design and user experience. Now Apple is the biggest tech firm in the world. People are obsessed over iPhones, MacBooks and iPods even though they cost so much more than their competition - and are technically worse than their competion.

So, making great experiences rules the world. This blog about user experience - mostly on websites, gadgets and other stuff that include software. There might be a sarcastic joke or two about things that could easily have been designed better but somewhere during the process, the ball was dropped. Hopefully posts in future, post won't be this long. Anyway, thanks for reading this far and see you later!