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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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Getting Started with Journey Mapping: 27 Tips from Practitioners

Summary: Set yourself up for journey-mapping success by educating yourself on the basics, defining objectives, building a crossfunctional team, collaborating on the map, and optimizing your presentation.

Journey maps visualize the process that a user goes through to accomplish a goal. They provide a holistic view of the customer experience, highlighting both positive and negative moments from the user’s point-of-view.

Leading a journey-mapping initiative is no small challenge. It takes product knowledge and research savvy, along with project- and stakeholder-management skills. To learn about journey mapping in practice, we surveyed more than 300 UX professionals on their journey-mapping experiences. Within that group, 206 respondents shared advice for people creating a journey map for the first time. In this article, we’ve consolidated the advice into 27 tips relevant not only to those getting started with journey mapping, but to all practitioners who want to learn from their peers’ knowledge. We grouped these into 6 categories: learning about journey mapping, defining goals, gathering and conducting research, collaborating on the map, visualizing and communicating the journey, and bonus words of encouragement.

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Why Does a Design Look Good?

Summary: Visually aesthetic designs use consistent typography, establish a clear hierarchy, utilize a refined color palette, and align to a grid.

Visual details like fonts, colors, and alignment create a usable experience and express brand traits (such as friendliness or reliability).

It’s easy to look at a design and notice it looks good. It’s often much harder to pinpoint why it looks good. In this article we analyze three user-interface designs and discuss the visual-design principles that make them attractive. 

Example 1: Typography and Spacing

Our first example is from Medium.com. This design utilizes a grid, white space, and a typographic system to create a comfortable, yet beautiful reading experience.

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Writing an Effective Guide for a UX Interview

Summary: Preparing a guide for a user interview ensures that topics relevant to your research questions are covered, and that the interview captures in-depth information about people’s lives and needs.

In the discovery phase of product development, user interviews are often used to capture important information about users: their backgrounds, beliefs, motivations, desires, or needs. Typically, the interviews carried out at this stage are semistructured (referred to as “depth interviews” by market researchers) — they generally have a predefined structure, but also allow the interviewer the flexibility to follow up on significant statements made by participants.

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Livestream Ecommerce: What We Can Learn from China

Summary: Livestreams allow users to see products in detail and get their questions answered in real time. They can be integrated in ecommerce websites and on social-networking apps.

Livestream ecommerce is a business model in which retailers, influencers, or celebrities sell products and services via online video streaming where the presenter demonstrates and discusses the offering and answers audience questions in real-time. A livestream session could take place on an ecommerce website or on a social media platform. It can be store or brand-specific; influencers can also host livestream events promoting items from various vendors.

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How to Handle Dominating Participants in UX Workshops: 3 Tactics

Summary: Facilitators can use 3 ascending levels of intervention tactics to maintain positive momentum in groups with participants who monopolize activities and limit diversity of perspectives.

Dominating workshop participants are those who, for a variety of reasons, seek to take control of the workshop by monopolizing conversations or activities, so that their own ideas are at the center of the group’s focus. (This behavior can be deliberate or unintentional, well-meaning or malicious.) Unchecked, the dominating participant’s ideas, opinions, or contributions become the main source of input into a conversation, drowning out valuable differing perspectives and thus limiting the diversity and richness of group discussion.

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Triangulation: Get Better Research Results by Using Multiple UX Methods

Summary: Diversifying user research methods ensures more reliable, valid results by considering multiple ways of collecting and interpreting data.

A big hurdle to doing user research is convincing stakeholders that it’s necessary. Aside from concerns that it will cost too much (it doesn’t have to!) or take too long (it can be quick!), people who haven’t experienced the benefits of doing research often raise concerns about how much it will help and whether the results can be trusted.

This last concern is especially common with small studies, where people rightfully point out that the conclusions can’t be statistically ‘proven.’ This argument can be hard to overcome because the truth is: they’re right. A small sample size is a limitation of many qualitative usability studies. Conversely, a lack of context and meaning is a big limitation of quantitative methods like analyzing analytics data.

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Internal vs. External Validity of UX Studies

Summary: Poorly designed qualitative or quantitative research may produce invalid results. Avoid encouraging certain responses or behaviors and make sure that your study conditions and participants are representative.

Any UX-research study aims to answer general questions about our design or about our users. What percentage of our user population will be able to subscribe to our newsletter? What major usability issues will people encounter on our site? Is design A more usable than design B for our target audience? But any time we set up a UX-research study, whether quantitative or qualitative, there is danger that it will not reflect the reality we want to capture because the study is poorly designed.

There are two big types of study-design errors:

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Dangerous UX: Consequential Options Close to Benign Options

Summary: Confirmatory and destructive actions should be far apart from each other; use additional redundant visual signals to differentiate between them and avoid user errors.

Preventing errors is better than helping users recover from them. That’s an important principle in UX. When users must recover from an error (whether a mistake or a slip), they must interrupt their task to devote precious cognitive (and working memory) resources to fixing the problem, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Regardless of how easy it is to access your Undo function (and we hope you do have one!), it’s better to not have to use it at all. 

Just the other day, as I was typing something in a browser, I got the following spellcheck option:

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How to Test Content with Users

Summary: When evaluating content, pay extra attention to whom you recruit. Closely tailor tasks to your participants and get comfortable with silence.

Writing good digital content requires a deep understanding of who your users are, how they think, and what they know. Testing your product’s content with users can help you to determine whether:

  • Your users can easily understand and process the information
  • The content has the tone of voice you predefined
  • There are jargon terms that need to be explained

You can evaluate your content using a variety of methods (including eyetracking and cloze tests), but our favorite way is through usability testing. A content-focused usability test can work much like any other such test, but there are some nuances to consider when the primary goal is evaluating digital copy.

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Remote Design Work: Top Challenges

Summary: Communication is the top challenge when designing remotely, according to 213 UX professionals. Receiving feedback, replicating informal conversations, and maintaining a clear direction on projects were the biggest communication concerns.

Remote work is becoming the new normal thanks to increasing network speeds, a variety of video conferencing tools, and a pandemic that forces workers to remain in isolation. While many practitioners and companies have been working remotely for quite some time (including us at NN/g), for many people 2020 marked their first exposure to remote work.

We wanted to understand how the transition to remote work has affected UX designers, the challenges they faced, and how they remained productive in a new environment.

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Quantifying UX Improvements: A Case Study

Summary: A research-driven overhaul of a metal and woodworking machinery B2B site’s information architecture resulted in an 85% improvement of findability.

Quantitative UX metrics allow us to track the quality of experiences over time, and see how they improve. They help UX professionals gauge the quality and impact of their work, and communicate that impact to others.

The process of UX benchmarking involves choosing one or more metrics that represent important aspects of the experience and then tracking those metrics to see how design interventions impact them.

The following case study illustrates how one team used a UX metric to evaluate the impact of its work and to demonstrate it to their client.

In an interview, I spoke with four members of the Marketade team:

  • John Nicholson, principal
  • Sonya Badigian, UX researcher
  • Nora Fiore, UX writer
  • Emily Williams, UX researcher
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Companies on Social Media: 6 Types of User Interactions with Business

Summary: Users rely on social media to find out about new products or companies, conduct research, engage with content, make purchases, and seek customer support.

For many companies, social media is a key component in the omnichannel user experience. Customers often use social media either as a main channel for an interaction or as an entry point to other channels. For example, users might browse social media for new recipes and, if they find a post they like, they could visit the company’s website to get the full recipe. Users tend to rely on social media as their channel of choice if they find it to be more efficient or easier to use than the alternatives.

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Mapping User Stories in Agile

Summary: User-story maps help Agile teams define what to build and maintain visibility for how it all fits together. They enable user-centered conversations, collaboration, and feature prioritization to align and guide iterative product development.

In traditional product-development processes, teams often rely on wasteful and lengthy business requirements documents and functional design specifications to move from a vison for a digital product to outlining what it should include and how it should work. Instead of having an ongoing conversation about users, problems, ideas, and solutions, teams expect distributed documentation to suffice.

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Aesthetic and Minimalist Design (Usability Heuristic #8)

Summary: Aesthetically pleasing designs can provide memorable experiences that differentiate a brand. However, interfaces should only include necessary elements, with high informational value. Clarity will always win over visual flourish.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Don Norman cited this famous William Morris quote at the beginning of his book Emotional Design1 and it captures the essence of the 8th usability heuristic: aesthetic and minimalist design:

Interfaces should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in an interface competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

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Using “How Might We” Questions to Ideate on the Right Problems

Summary: Constructing How might we questions generates creative solutions while keeping teams focused on the right problems to solve.

In our course on discoveries at our UX Conference, we talk about the importance of solving the right problem. Discovery research commonly results in learning about the problem space. This knowledge should be used to generate solutions that solve real user problems.

At the end of a discovery, the team should come together, agree on the top things it found out, and use this knowledge to frame design challenges. To prevent individuals from suggesting their pet solutions, which might have little resemblance to the problems found, construct How might we questions that frame the problem(s) for ideation.

A How might we (HMW) question can generate lots of creative ideas. Here are some examples of How might we questions:

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Visual Hierarchy in UX: Definition

Summary: A clear visual hierarchy guides the eye to the most important elements on the page. It can be created through variations in color and contrast, scale, and grouping.

Have you ever encountered a webpage that was so busy with various design elements that you had no idea where to even begin to look? If you struggle to find focus on a screen, it’s likely that the layout is missing a clear visual hierarchy. 

The page’s visual hierarchy controls the delivery of information from the system to the end user — it lets users know where to focus their attention.

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Maintain Consistency and Adhere to Standards (Usability Heuristic #4)

Summary: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform and industry conventions.

Download a free poster of Jakob’s Usability Heuristic #4 at the bottom of this article.

The fourth of Jakob Nielsen’s ten heuristics — consistency and standards — is key to creating applications that make sense for users. Think about the websites and applications you use: they all rely on well-established conventions. Blue underlined text is clickable, the shopping-cart icon shows the items you plan to purchase, the site logo is in the top left corner, a magnifier-glass icon stands for search — these are all examples of conventions that are used all the time in digital products and that make users’ lives easier.

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Design Thinking: The Learner’s Journey

Summary: As an individual learns design thinking, they go through 4 learning phases: newcomer, adopter, leader, and grandmaster.

Two years ago, we began a long-term research project to better understand design thinking: how practitioners incorporate it into everyday work and its effects on project outcomes.

In setting out to define a design-thinking maturity model, we realized that the maturity of the individual team members and their experience, exposure, and mastery of design thinking were essential to the overall team’s (or organization’s) ability to effectively utilize design-thinking methodologies. To better understand this relationship between individual abilities and team performance, we identified catalysts—individual practitioners whose design-thinking mastery positively influenced design-thinking practices in their teams or organizations. Based on our conversations with these catalysts about their experience (and the experience of those they teach and guide), we hypothesized that design-thinking practitioners share roughly the same learning journey, despite different backgrounds and contexts. 

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