We are extremely proud of our training academy and it is always exciting to bolster our existing programmes with new and relevant courses. Our latest courses have been developed to help businesses and individuals keep abreast of the latest trends in UX (user experience) and digital copywriting.
User experience courses
Our new user experience training courses include:
Lean UX – Learn how to embed lean and agile processes into your organisation and maximise the value of user-centred design projects
Advanced Axure – Take your knowledge of Axure to the next level and learn how to create wireframes to a professional level
We also have new online copywriting courses which supplement the web writing programme giving it a more complete look at how to plan, structure, write and edit your online content. The new courses include:
In my previous blog I explored the user experience of self-tracking, specifically looking at energy monitors. In this post I am continuing upon this theme but focusing on health and fitness self-tracking.
In recent years, medicine and health psychology have investigated interventions designed to help people check, manage and improve their health. Mobile self-monitoring apps and devices as well as internet-based interventions are amongst the most promising tools that endeavour to change behaviours and/or respond to medical conditions.
Wearable computing, including watches, wristbands and various mobile phone accessories are getting closer to turning our bodies into quantified selves, with minimal input. On the other hand, online services are harvesting and aggregating the medical data logged by their users and generating medical advice delivered as tailored diagnoses and therapies.
As a result, we can currently track our health in 4 different ways:
Logging progress related to behavioural change in an app (e.g. stop smoking)
Self-monitoring through a mobile device, usually heart rate or sleeping patterns
Logging personal medical history in a shared and anonymous database
Scanning vital signs through portable devices (currently under development)
However, for the following reasons turning feedback into meaningful and actionable knowledge is still one of the major obstacles in the user experience of health monitoring:
The way this technology connects to our bodies is not seamless and requires considerable user input
Data is extremely heterogeneous and hard to obtain – only specific aspects of our health can be monitored individually or together
Communicating medical data poses many challenges and requires some cognitive effort to understand
The (bad) habits health monitors target are often addictions (psychological or physical), and additional effort is required to keep people motivated
As a result, most solutions focus on heart monitoring, sleeping patterns and health behavioural change. These are usually delivered in one of 4 ways:
1. Apps that log progress
Recent research indicates mobile devices have potential to deliver feedback on matters of health and fitness. Mobile apps are the most common tool which allow the user to set goals and log progress manually. In the example below, the American Government created an app, QuitStart, which helps teenagers quit smoking:
Fitness and wellbeing apps use a mobile / wearable device (e.g. a mobile phone or a wristband) to record heart rate and sleeping patterns. They offer the most basic approach in terms of scope and support for motivation. However, they also come with additional information to help users compare their vital signs with the optimal readings for their profile or the values for the average population. An already engaged / concerned user is the most likely target audience for this type of tool
In order to understand how these 2 approaches work, it is beneficial to look at the COM-B model of behaviour (Michie et al., 2011, Implementation Science).
This model identifies 3 main areas of intervention to help people change their habits:
Capability (the physical and psychological resources a person has to address these changes, including knowledge)
Motivation (the propositions, beliefs and wants beyond our actions)
Opportunity (the actual support and prompts we receive from the environment)
The feedback provided by these apps is related to all 3 areas because the information they return to us can help:
Increase the knowledge about the effects (negative/positive) of our habits (capability)
Improve our skills to cope with those changes (motivation)
Relate to others in terms of goals to achieve (motivation)
Illicit an emotional response to stimulate a desired action (motivation)
Receive additional cues and prompts from the environment (opportunity)
As we can see, the principles illustrated in this model are very consistent with the ones I mentioned in the previous post on energy monitors and demonstrate how feedback and knowledge help us shape or change our behaviours.
The next 2 services provide the user with a more comprehensive approach to health monitoring, but only time will tell if they’ll be successful for the average consumer. In fact, both services are either new to the market or still in development. They aren’t goal oriented, and are designed to check the user’s health status and provide quick and accurate routes for a diagnosis / treatment.
3. Logging personal medical history
These services let users find the most appropriate treatments for their conditions by recording their symptoms and the associated degree of severity in a shared and anonymous database. However, the amount of user’s input required for logging a personal medical history requires time and knowledge, and the way the service is designed doesn’t facilitate this task at all. For example, the user is asked to answer yes or no for all symptoms, rather than having the ‘no’ answer already selected.
Currently under development, the Scanadu scanner may revolutionise healthcare as we know it. Its technology may save patients the need to visit their local surgeries to report symptoms or get a diagnosis. This device may also improve the way we communicate to doctors because its readings can be sent via email. The device can scan and analyse vital signs including body temperature, heart rate, oximetry, ECG, HRV, PWTT, level of stress and urine
Checks are performed by placing this scanner on the forehead for about 10 seconds. Data readings are then sent to a mobile device and managed from there.
Of all the above, the Scanadu looks like the most promising technology because of the minimal input required from the user and its huge scope in terms of medical readings. The device has been designed with the user experience in mind, and most readings are taken in one simple gesture without the need of clumsy procedures. Data is also analysed and displayed in a user friendly way that provides actionable knowledge. I can’t wait to get my hands on one!
Day after day, we are becoming more self-aware of our relationships with our bodies, spaces, resources and social connections.
Ubiquitous computing (including mobile and wearable devices, mesh wireless networks, etc.) is fuelling a self-tracking revolution by providing an ambient intelligence that can sense, anticipate and change the way we live and record our lives, perform our tasks or manage our resources.
However, and no matter how personal, data itself is not self-explanatory and compelling enough to motivate people and keep them committed to their resolutions such as saving energy, losing weight and so on. Additional support is needed to make sure these technologies are human friendly enough to engage their users and manage their expectations.
As a result, effective self-tracking solutions must address the following aspects:
Generate meaningful feedback users can relate to
Data should be translated in ways that can be measured in user’s goals
(e.g. energy savings should be translated in cost savings or reduction to personal carbon footprint).
Present feedback against achievable and customisable goals
Feedback itself should indicate the user’s distance from the set goal to encourage change or to help maintain current achievements (e.g. it’s not important how much I’m consuming, but how close my current consumption is to my goal or the optimal level for my circumstances). Users should also have the option to set their own goals and see them represented in the data they receive.
Provide comparative, contextual and practical information to facilitate the achievement of goals
User’s performance should be presented in order to show its relationship with the following aspects:
Progress / distance from the set goal
Contextual information on the user’s personal situation
Comparative information on other users with similar profiles or equivalent periods of time
Deliver timely but not intrusive feedback
Feedback should be always available without disrupting personal routines or generating a too high cognitive overload.
Notifications should be delivered only for goal related events and to flag when significant changes occur.
In this post, I’ll focus on energy monitors only as they’ve been around for quite a few years now and recent research confirmed their usefulness in promoting energy saving behaviours. Let’s look at 4 ways these principles have been applied to consumer’s electronic and digital monitoring services:
Feedback can be provided in £’s rather than KWh as the main user’s goal is saving money:
Feedback can be presented to show how current usage scores against a set or suggested goal:
Comparative information helps user understand how well they are performing against users in similar circumstances:
Deliver timely but not intrusive feedback:
Although data can be checked online, having a dedicated energy monitor spares customers the need to log in / log out their accounts to quickly check the costs of their consumption.
Energy monitors area only a small cross section on self-monitoring devices. In the next posts, I’ll illustrate how the above principles can be applied in other popular monitoring areas (e.g. health, nutrition and fitness or banking).
UX Strategy: “A formalised plan to ensure User Experience design work delivers maximum success in terms of meeting both user and business requirements”
The success of your designs rests not only on an ability to interpret user or customer requirements, but also the needs of your organisations. A large part of our role as a UX agency is to collaborate effectively with the people who are in charge of deploying and maintaining our designs. We find that our ability to communicate a clear ‘UX strategy’ to clients (e.g. how a good user centred design can be built, launched and maintained) is just as important as communicating what a good user centred design looks like, is laid out, or works.
Trusting a designer to reorganise your company
You have embarked on a user centred-design project – you’ve listened to and engaged your stakeholders and developers throughout the design discussions, performed round after round of user research to design and refine your wireframes, prototypes, and visual design to perfection. Tada, your designs are ready to be built and your future success is all but guaranteed, right?
Tactically yes, this will be necessary to get your work live, but strategically this does not guarantee the long-term ability of the designs to be maintained and adapted to continually meet the needs of the users you’ve built them for (as well as providing revenue or meeting KPIs). It’s essential to advise your clients on how to ensure the culture, processes and organisational structures are in place for the future success of the design concepts.
The responsibility of practitioners to influence how a company is structured to meet the needs of their users is currently a topic of heated debate, not just within the UX field but also the wider business world. There’s momentum growing behind the opinion that we (as responsible design practitioners) need to effectively communicate and help shape the way those who will implement and maintain our designs work together.
The user-centred organisation
In practice putting users first, creating a UX strategy and thus moving towards becoming a user-centred organisation can be difficult. Often there’s a desire to ‘do right’ by users or customers but owing to the nature of the rapidly maturing digital market, and how regularly people’s use of technology changes, putting users first can be hard. Teams or individuals in charge of digital often have enough on their plate, never mind trying to find ways to innovate or cut costs to meet changes in audience’s needs. This can be an indication that an organisation needs to consider the following for its digital teams:
More efficient workflows
Updated role definitions
New or easier processes
In my experience the best way to establish a coherent UX strategy is to begin by engaging key digital stakeholders, asking questions such as:
Who are your users or customers; what do you understand about their digital needs, and is it possible to prioritise their requirements?
Realistically what do you want to achieve from your digital presence, and is this in the short, mid, or long term?
Roles and responsibilities of those in charge of digital; is it clear who is doing what, and are they happy to do so or do they have the time to be doing it?
Simply listening to such discussions gives direction. Subsequently it’s important to collaborate closely with wider stakeholders to determine what it will take to ensure the success of future UX design work. In the process of developing a robust UX strategy and ensuring appropriate delivery and maintenance of the work you’ll typically discover ways to best advise clients on organisational matters.
Tips for harmonising organisational change with UX strategy
To build on the initial ‘listening phase’ there are a range of techniques that we often use at Webcredible to formally define how to deliver a UX strategy that also encourages organisational change. To give you a flavour, below is a sample of those which I have found to work well:
Stakeholder engagement activities: Hold private workshops, listen to individuals, gain an insight of the functionality and features deemed as necessary (and possible). Demonstrate back to wider audiences your understanding and agree (as a team) that something needs to be done together to move forward
User research analysis:If you haven’t truly listened or observed behaviours, and deeply understood the nature of your intended audience then you’re taking a risk. Take what is learned from stakeholders and match it to what is known about the audience. If there appears to be holes suggest user research techniques to gain a fuller picture. In true user-centred design fashion do this first
Define a vision statement to share internally: Develop a concise and effective statement of what forthcoming design work will hope to achieve. Tell a story of what this will mean for the both end users and the business. Back this up with mock ups of what greatness looks like, either through rough sketches of concepts, simple wireframes or visual designs.
Create a prioritised schedule of work: Identify the steps necessary to deliver (and continue to deliver) your UX work to the full. Liaise with key stakeholders to start thinking about time frames, identify some rough dates and stages of work to meet with anticipated budgets. This may be more detailed for what could take place in the near future (e.g. quick wins, or pre-launch), and slightly rougher for how it can be maintained (e.g. optimisation / larger updates post launch).
Communicate required organisational changes: Be sure to communicate the organisational changes that will be required (if any) to ensure the scheduled work can happen, and is delivered post-launch. To document these recommendations simply and effectively we often create:
Validated flow diagrams to suggest processes/workflows and individual responsibilities
Organisational charts to suggest team structures and roles
Training programmes for both teams and individuals to learn the necessary skills to maintain and develop good user and customer experiences in the mid to long term
A properly formulated user experience strategy can not only be an invaluable tool on a project level, ensuring your user-centred designs are properly looked after, but it can encourage positive organisational change. What is your opinion on UX strategy and organisational change? Please do share your thoughts!
Within the last few months at Webcredible I have conducted usability testing sessions for varying types of organisations, including charities, educational institutions, e-commerce stores and service providers. I am always fascinated by usability testing because even though as a UX professional you can, to an extent, foresee what works and what doesn’t, letting customers interact with a product or service always reveals detail that couldn’t have been discovered otherwise.
Interestingly, I found that there were some common behavioural patterns and attitudes towards certain common website features which have relevance across these sectors. I will try to outline some recommendations on these aspects as derived from customer feedback in usability testing sessions:
1. Response time
If your customers can get in touch with your organisation via an online ‘contact us’ form, make sure it’s easy to use and you provide detail on how long it will take you to respond. Highlighting the fact the message was successfully sent and clearly stating the time it will take to respond makes your form look more trustworthy. However, make sure you keep your promise, if customers send you an online enquiry and you don’t respond within the proposed time they will likely contact your call centre in a bad mood.
Bonus: In a few cases users told me that they didn’t expect a solution to their problem within the stated response time, but rather a non-automated reassurance that someone was dealing with their enquiry.
2. Live chat
Offer live chat as a means to reduce phone calls and deal with customer enquiries. Chat as a means of customer service is still not widely used, but it’s certainly a growing trend and a preferred means of contact for some customers. But beware, make sure that you manage user expectations – customers might expect a solution to their problem solely through a chat, but that’s not always possible.
Be transparent about donations. Try and explicitly highlight how a donors contribution will aid in a particular project or organisational goal. There are many organisations out there that accept donations, not necessarily charities, and users overwhelmed by choice carefully consider where to make their donation based on the apparent value of their contribution. Being transparent and creative illustrating where a donors money will go and how it will help is a competitive addition to your donation page.
One example of a good donations page is WaterAid’s.
4. Customer reviews
Customer reviews and domain expert testimonials have become extremely popular among a breadth of industries. It is no secret that users have come to rely on reviews in making a decision on a brand or product. However, in my experience despite their popularity testing participants have been aware that reviews can easily be falsified. Perhaps this is why academic research has shown that people tend to search for negative reviews first.
A solution? Try to present real and not exclusively positive reviews and testimonials. What is more, don’t ignore the negative reviews; where you can make sure you publicly respond and resolve any issues. Showcase an exemplary customer service.
Bonus: If you display testimonials from experts, ensure that they are recognisable as such, otherwise their words will go unnoticed.
5. Free trials
Offer a free trial of your service without asking for card details upfront. Asking for card details while potential users are subscribing for a free trial make people more likely to drop off. What is more various testing participants expressed annoyance at ‘dark patterns’. For example: “your subscription will be renewed automatically” in small type and selected by default, and more annoyingly, services which make it easy to sign up but inconceivably hard to cancel. These situations lead to a poor user experience. This chart lists some offenders and the issues a journalist had in cancelling their services after the free trial ended.
Consider PayPal as an alternative payment option. Many people see PayPal as a more secure way to pay online and they might be disappointed or sceptical when they don’t see it as an alternative payment option.
7. Confirmation emails
Make it clear that a confirmation email has been sent. A confirmation email is considered a convention nowadays but it’s not always clear if an email has been sent. State clearly that a confirmation has been sent to your customers’ email address and give them an option to resend the email if they haven’t received it. Don’t put your customers to the trouble of printing or capturing their screen. They will appreciate it.
The above recommendations do not have universal application but they are some interesting recurrent issues I have come across in my experience of user testing across a lot of different sectors. Have you come across any issues that you see all the time when user testing? Please share them!