Archive for the 'Usability' Category

Are you Building the Right Thing?

It's Usable, but are we Building the Right Thing?I saw this paper from Dr. Eric Schaffer of Human Factors International entitled “UX Strategy: Let’s Stop Building Usable Wrong Things” and it got me thinking … so often we rush to start a new project and build something wonderful, but did we take a moment to stop and think before we rushed into development? Are we building the right thing? How will this new widget make the target users’ lives better? Will they even use it?

Usability is about more than just making sure that the buttons are in the right place and the language used is understandable to users. Making sure your product follows usability guidelines is good, yes, but it is even better if you take time to research and understand your target users. What are their lives like? What motivates them? Where are their pain points? What kind(s) of technology do they use, when do they use it, and why THAT technology for that thing? What’s really important to them? It’s not much use building a cooking app for smartphones, for example, if most of the people you are building it for don’t have smartphones. You have to address your target users’ deep needs, personally, professionally, emotionally.

All of this signals a need for a User Experience Strategy: not just a usability team or expert that knows which buttons to use and where to put them on the page that is thrown in to make the thing you have decided to build usable. User Experience Strategy is inherently difficult because companies are typically segmented into different functions: you might have a group that builds the web site and another that builds mobile apps and everyone is very protective of their own domain. It has to be driven from the very top level of the organization.

I found Eric’s paper very insightful and useful. I highly recommend it.

Download UX Strategy: Let’s Stop Building Usable Wrong Things from Human Factors International.


Can usability pay off your mortgage, part 3

house-smlMortgage-ometer report

Back in March I wrote about some usable software from United First Financial called the Money Merge Account that helps you pay off your mortgage faster. I started using this software in March and by the end of April, we’d made an extra payment of $13,994.08 on the mortgage. I’m amazed and excited. With a few tweaks in our monthly spend plan that haven’t really affected our cash flow or living style, the time to pay off the mortgage has gone from 14 years down to 3.17 years!

The software is overall very usable, as I thought it would be. The learning curve to use it is short, help is readily available and it’s straightforward to implement the action plan.

Ease of building your action plan

My one point of confusion was on the credit cards because I always pay my balance off each month. The system does not allow you an option to do that. If you put in a balance on your credit cards, it will include monthly credit card payments, even if the interest rate is high on your cards. If you want to pay off your credit cards, you have to enter in a balance of $0.00, then enter in a new action with the estimated monthly amount you normally spend. When you pay the bill, you simply replace your estimated amount with the real balance you’re paying.

It’s very easy to enter your budget items and action plan, but not so easy to know what changes would help you reach your goal faster. What I did was to play with different options to see how they affected the goal.

I tried adding a savings account with a higher interest rate, which I thought would make things go faster, but it actually lengthened the time to pay off the mortgage. It doesn’t make sense, so I’m not sure why that happened.

Implementing the action plan

Sometimes the action plan changes really fast and sometimes it retracts actions that it told you to do–the system can seem a little szichophrenic at times. After every action you take, the system recalculates the action plan. I wish it would be a little more stable–a couple times I was getting excited to make that big monthly payment and all of a sudden it had moved to two months out! Then when I came back later, that action had returned to the plan. It would be nice if the plan were a little more stable. 


Their support is awesome–they have an live chat button on the main page of the application labeled “Need help? Live chat” which I was reluctant to click on, but I did get stuck once and decided to give it a shot. They answered my question quickly and I was on my way again. They might want to change the wording on that button. Users are generally reluctant to admit they “need help”, and I was the same way. I had to really get stuck before I’d click. Once I’d tried it and found it a good experience, I was less reluctant to click on it again, but still hesitant.

All in all, though, I couldn’t be happier with my Money Merge Account from United First Financial. My hubby and I are dreaming about what we could do with our lives once our house is paid off.  

Previous articles on the Money Merge Account:

Measuring Readability of your Copy

One of the most important things in building web sites is content. How do you know how readable your content is? If you have Microsoft Word, you can measure it.

Active is better than passive

readingYour English teacher probably told you to avoid writing in the passive voice. Use the active voice–it’s more exciting to read. How well do you do at that? Use the  Passive Sentences Test to find out. For this test, the lower the score, the better.

Long sentences and words with lots of syllables are harder to read

To tell how easy your text is to read, you can use the Flesch Reading Ease score.  This test measures how long your sentences are and how many syllables are in the words you used. The higher the score, the better. Aim for something above 60.

Big words take more thought

Similar to the Flesch Reading Ease test, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test gives back something we can all relate to — a grade level, meaning the level of education needed to understand your text. Even if you’re writing for an educated audience, they appreciate having text that is easy to read. Face it; we’re all busy and swamped with so many things trying to grab our attention. We’re more likely to read things that we can easily read. Shoot for a grade level of 8 at the max.

So go find out how to measure your readability. If you’re writing for the web, just copy and paste your web copy into Word and check your readability scores.

Just for fun, here are the scores for this article:

  • Passive voice: 0%
  • F. Reading ease: 77.8
  • F.K. grade level: 5.3

A Wish list for Axure

wish-listI’m in the midst of prototyping a virtual credit card terminal in Axure and some of my most fervent wishes are resurfacing, so rather than sit here and stew about it, I am going to put my wishes out there so perhaps Axure will hear them and do something about it? Don’t get me wrong–I love Axure and am so thankful to have it. It makes life so much easier. But man, if it could only …

Some of this might already be done in a newer version (that I don’t have yet), but gosh I wish it would do the following:

  1. Allow me to select a word or two and make them a hyperlink like real web pages do. It’s such a pain to have to put a box over the text I want to hyperlink. (Take some lessons from WordPress!)
  2. Make mouseover effects easily–like change the color of a table cell or some text when moused over to indicate its clickability. Right now to change the color of a table cell, I’d have to overlay a dynamic panel and try to align it perfectly with the table cell and manage the states by going to separate windows. And then when the table cell changes size or shape, I’d have to realign everything and change all the states and … it’s just too much work. I have a lot of pages to do and I’m in a hurry to get this prototype done.
  3. Put controls such as radio buttons and images IN a table cell like you can on a real web page. So if the table cell moves (like it tends to do when you’re wireframing), the control or image moves with it and you don’t have to go realign everything.
  4. Change the look of the buttons–and allow for a few different types of buttons.
  5. Use real cascading style sheets (CSS) like real HTML pages do, so I could import my style sheet and use the styles from my own CSS–and have them in the resulting prototype as real CSS styles. Wow that would be nice.
  6. Make cleaner, more usable HTML, so we don’t have to have someone go back and recreate the HTML page from scratch and end up with a different look and feel than the wireframe. (Using real CSS would sure help.)
  7. Not make a new image if I copy and paste an image from one spot to another. It’s the same image, folks! Why have a billion different images that look exactly the same? In fact, why not use an image library in a common images folder shared across pages (like, um, WordPress allows you to do) so if you want to use the same images on several pages, you can.
  8. Allow me to set an action for several elements at once. Say I want the user to be able to select a row in a table, for example. Right now I have to go to every cell in the table and set the action for that individual cell. If the table has a lot of columns, it takes quite a while just to set the actions for one row.

If you use Axure and agree with my suggestions, let Axure know or leave a comment here so that they know that it’s more than just one user’s wishes.

Back to Usability — how about a checklist?

download checklistOkay, enough sidetracking to Facebook, time to get back to usability.

There’s a very good 25 point web site usability checklist on usereffect.

Checklists won’t make your site usable–it’s best to usability test your site with the target audience and really sit back and watch what they have trouble with–but a checklist will help you avoid the most obvious mistakes so when you sit down to a usability test you’re not completely embarrassed that they can’t even tell what your web site is for.

Trackthis integrates package tracking into social networking

If you twitter or facebook and you order things that you have shipped to you, you’re gonna love this: TrackThis figured out how to take those hard-to-crack shipping APIs and let you track your packages via facebook or twitter.

I was all excited to try it, until I went to Facebook and discovered:

This application cannot be added to your Pages. Facebook applications for Pages can be specialized for certain Page categories (e.g. Restaurants or Bands). Either you have no Pages that fit the category of this application, or you have already added this application to your eligible Pages.

What kind of Facebook page do I need to be able to add it? That’s really confusing and is not making for a very good user experience. (Um, well, it’s denying me from even having a user experience! Hate that!) 

Well, maybe I’ll try it on Twitter.

Hey, I wonder if TrackThis would like to share some of their shipping API expertise with our comment-ers who are having difficulty integrating the buggers? See the comments on my shipping API post.