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Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Tog, and colleagues: usability advocates offering evidence-based user experience (UX) research, training, consulting.

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State-Switch Controls: The Infamous Case of the "Mute" Button

Summary: On–off controls that switch between two different system states need to clearly communicate to users both the current state and the state the system will move to, should the user press that control.

In a recent WebEx meeting with a client, I panicked thinking that I couldn’t turn my microphone on. I was supposed to give a 6-hour presentation — how was I going to do it if I couldn’t even unmute myself? I kept clicking the crossed-microphone icon, but the microphone stayed crossed whatever I did.

Here’s a screenshot:

Control bar for the WebEx app for desktop: (Top) Unmuted state; (bottom) Muted state
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Research Repositories for Tracking UX Research and Growing Your ResearchOps

Summary: Organize user research in a research repository to communicate and track insights across teams and over time for success and to grow ResearchOps.

Every UX team needs to organize its user research in a research repository. I first worked on a research repository in the early 1990s. The lessons I learned then still hold true today, as the UX community gets serious about managing and growing user- research programs. These efforts now fall under the umbrella term “Research Ops” (with “Ops” being short for “operations”).

What Is a Research Repository?

A research repository is a shared collection of UX-research-related elements that should support the following functions at the organization level:

  • grow UX awareness and participation in UX work among leadership, product owners, and the organization at large
  • support UX research work, so UX professionals may be more productive as they plan and track research
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Refine, Remodel, Rebuild: 3 Strategies for Experience Improvement

Summary: To improve customer experience, organizations can choose solutions ranging from low to high investment and impact, depending on their current state, budget, risk tolerance, transformation readiness, and unmet needs.

You’ve probably heard that “experience is business.” It means that your business is not based just on a product or service. People buy a product or service experience from you, so, whatever that experience is, it is what you are selling. For these reasons, experience has become one of the crucial differentiators among different organizations’ offerings. An excellent customer experience can bring substantial business value, in a way that’s difficult for competitors to duplicate.

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Spatial Memory: Why It Matters for UX Design

Summary: With repeated practice, users develop imprecise memory of objects and content in a UI, but still need additional visual and textual signals to help them find a specific item.

The ability to recall the location of things is an important aspect of human memory. In graphical user interfaces (GUIs), this capability is absolutely essential, as it allows users to quickly locate controls without undergoing laborious visual search each time. Searching an interface visually for specific objects is inherently a slow and effortful process, and reducing the need for it is a huge boon to user efficiency.

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Skill Mapping: A Digital Template for Remote Teams

Summary: A collaborative spreadsheet is an efficient tool for evaluating skills of UX team members and creating an overall team shape.

UX practitioners have a variety of skills and strengths. Similarly, UX teams are often built to have diverse capabilities in order to work on many projects at once. These skills can be visualized through a process known as skill mapping. While we discuss this process in the realm of UX, it can be applied to any team working within a given domain.

Skill mapping is a collaborative activity used to visualize strengths and weaknesses of UX professionals and UX teams in order to take inventory of the existing team’s composition.

The output of the activity is a collection of skill maps — one for each individual. Skill maps take the form of radar charts, with axes corresponding to possible UX skills. The value on each axis represents the competency in the corresponding skill.

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How and Why to Recruit Backup Participants (aka “Floaters”) in User Research

Summary: Sometimes you should intentionally overrecruit test participants for one-on-one user-research studies. Backup participants must be recruited according to the same screening criteria and paid at least as much as regular participants.

Effective user researchers balance project-schedule constraints with their research budget. Efficient researchers attempt to spend only as much as needed, so the remaining money can be used for more research.

When I run research projects, I try to spend enough money on recruiting and incentivizing participants, to ensure that (1) I find the right kind of users and (2) that they are motivated enough to show up for the sessions (and are also fairly compensated for it). “No-show” participants or last-minute cancelations can thwart the project schedule, make stakeholders lose interest in the research, and waste money.

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Content Inventory and Auditing 101

Summary: A content inventory and audit are two important activities to complete before developing a strategy to improve your digital content. Conduct them together to set your content up for success.

Before developing a content strategy or undertaking broad sweeping improvements to your existing digital content, two important activities should happen first: a content inventory and a content audit.

Definition: A content inventory is a list of every piece of digital content you currently have, captured at either the page or asset level. It includes specific characteristics about each piece.

Definition: A content audit examines, assesses, and evaluates the quality of the content listed in the inventory. Audits uncover content that needs updating, where gaps exist that new content could fill, and if certain pieces of content are ready for removal.

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Opening Links in New Browser Windows and Tabs

Summary: Carefully examine the user’s context, task at hand, and next steps when deciding whether to open links to documents and external sites in the same or a new browser tab.

Since 1999, it's been a firm web-usability guideline to refrain from opening new browser windows for several reasons. All of these also apply to opening new browser tabs and are still valid today:

  • More windows or tabs increase the clutter of the user’s information space and require more effort to manage.
  • New windows or tabs can cause disorientation, with users often not realizing that a new window or tab has opened. This problem is exacerbated on mobile, where the old window is never visible.
  • Less-technical users struggle to manage multiple windows and tabs, especially on mobile. (On tablets, where users can have both multiple windows and tabs for the browser, it’s even more confusing.)
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Task Analysis: Support Users in Achieving Their Goals

Summary: Task analysis is the systematic study of how users complete tasks to achieve their goals. This knowledge ensures products and services are designed to efficiently and appropriately support those goals.

Task analysis refers to the broad practice of learning about how users work (i.e., the tasks they perform) to achieve their goals. Task analysis emerged out of instructional design (the design of training) and human factors and ergonomics (understanding how people use systems in order to improve safety, comfort, and productivity). Task analysis is crucial for user experience, because a design that solves the wrong problem (i.e., doesn’t support users’ tasks) will fail, no matter how good its UI.

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A Guide to Service-Blueprinting Workshops

Summary: Service-blueprinting workshops require thoughtful planning and hands-on facilitation.

Service blueprints help organizations form a shared language and understanding of the experiences they provide. Additionally, these artifacts and the process to create them tend to force holistic thinking and inform project planning. For these reasons, service blueprints often have the greatest impact when they are created collaboratively. This article will focus on cocreating service blueprints in a workshop.

This article will touch on all aspects of the 5-step framework for service blueprinting, with focus on mapping and refining a service blueprint in a workshop. (Workshops can be virtual or in-person. Unless otherwise stated, the advice in this article applies to either format.)

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7 Steps to Benchmark Your Product’s UX

Summary: Benchmark your UX by first determining appropriate metrics and a study methodology. Then track these metrics across different releases of your product by running studies that follow the same established methodology.

UX benchmarking is the process of evaluating a product or service’s user experience by using metrics to gauge its relative performance against a meaningful standard. These metrics are usually collected using quantitative usability testing, analytics, or surveys.

Consider conducting a benchmarking study if you want to:

  • Track the overall progress of a product or service
  • Compare your UX against an earlier version, a competitor, an industry benchmark, or a stakeholder-determined goal
  • Demonstrate the value of UX efforts and your work
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When Remote Workshops Fail

Summary: For a successful remote workshop, pick the tools with low entry cost, plan timing carefully, and create the expectation for active participation.

Design thinking workshops can serve as great opportunities to engage your team, to learn and innovate on your products and service, and to democratize the design process. Conducting these remotely can reach participants you previously would not have involved, either due to geographic constraints or inconvenience. That said, the logistic challenges that come with conducting remote meetings can derail workshops, sometimes even before they’ve started.

Here are 3 common pitfalls to avoid when planning and running your next UX workshop.

Poor Choice (or Preparation) of Tools

DO NOT: Pick a digital collaborative tool because a famous design team uses it.

DO: Prepare files in advance with tools that your team is comfortable and able to use.

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Three Myths About Calculating the ROI of UX

Summary: Many teams overthink return-on-investment calculations for UX work. Treat these calculations as a way to estimate the strategic value of design.

Calculating the return on investment (ROI) of user experience work involves determining and demonstrating how design changes can impact business goals — revenue, cost savings, or other key performance indicators (KPIs). 

ROI Calculations Encourage Buy-In

Many UX teams complain that they aren’t brought into projects early enough, they don’t have enough funding, they don’t have enough UX professionals, and so on. Often, these kinds of problems come down to a lack of buy-in or support from leadership and a lack of UX maturity in the organization. Changing that kind of cultural perspective can take years.

Calculating ROI is a powerful tool for building buy-in, because it can demonstrate that UX isn’t just good for users — it’s also very good for the business. 

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Similarity Principle in Visual Design

Summary: Design elements that appear similar in some way — sharing the same color, shape, or size — are perceived as related, while elements that appear dissimilar are perceived as belonging to separate groups.

Objects with similar visual traits are most likely related — or at least they should be, when it comes to user-interface design. Clear, consistently applied visual rules for each type of UI element are critical to helping people understand and use the design easily. This is because each interaction develops users’ expectations for how other similar elements will function.

Definition: The principle of similarity states that items which share a visual characteristic are perceived as more related than items that are dissimilar.

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Virtual Tours: High Interaction Cost, Moderate Usefulness

Summary: Virtual tours are an occasionally useful secondary tool for checking on specific details, but most users find them to be high effort, slow, and of limited value.

While the world currently is locked down due to COVID-19, many businesses which rely on physical spaces have turned to virtual tours to provide a sense of the space for users who are currently unable to visit. Especially in real estate, there has been a lot of recent emphasis on virtual tours of homes. Many other types of business, such as cultural institutions, universities, wedding venues, and even outdoor attractions, have followed suit.

This technology has been slowly maturing in the background for years, and many users have been exposed to the basic interaction paradigm through popular examples such as the Street View feature within Google Maps.

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COVID-19 Has Changed Your Users

Summary: People’s behaviors and preferences have shifted. Research will help you figure out how your users have changed and how your designs need to adapt.

The spread of the new coronavirus is dramatically changing people’s lives across the globe and this in turn changes how they use your product. There are few — if any — industries that haven’t been impacted in some way. Your users’ preferences and behaviors have likely shifted, and may be very different now than they were in 2019.

Exactly how people’s daily lives and routines have changed depends on the individual, their job role, living situation, and location, but consider some of the common shifts in the table below.

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