Improving UX – what the experts say

Getting into the subtleties and real meat of assessing and improving User Experience notes from a NN/g training conference

By Cathy Dew

Longtime fans but first-time attendees, 2Plus2 Creative Director Sally Dew and I attended UX Conference Training by Norman Nielsen Group (NN/g) this week in Los Angeles California. A leading voice in the user experience field since 1998, I can how happily report that their training is as stellar as their research. Each course is a full-day of knowledge sharing, case studies and interactive exercises led by an NN/g expert. Here is a short recap of the two sessions I attended.

Usability Testing

Hoa Loranger, VP at NN/g kicked off Usability Testing course with this quote from Margaret Meade “What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are entirely different things.” What a great way to set the stage for a day of learning about Usability Testing, the qualitative UX method of identifying UX problems and solutions. A big theme of the day that was a refreshing reminder is how usability testing, when done in a collaborative fashion, can really bring a team together. Feedback is no longer an opinion or even debatable. It just is. As the day progressed we learned about techniques and tools, practical tips and research-backed truths leaving the group with renewed passion and skills for our own user testing efforts.

Analytics and User Experience

Analytics provide a quantitative way to assess usability. But you have to understand how to interpret the raw data. Statistics can be misleading, especially given the plethora of devices and ways (entry points) that visitors enter your web property. Analytics can tell you what happens in terms of interaction on your website and they can do a reasonable job of telling you who – BUT analytics will never tell you why. For that you need other usability techniques for that (see discussion above on Usability Testing). The course was jam-packed with tips, tools, guidelines and again, real-life examples of projects and research efforts help ground principles for attendees.

Mobile UX

This session focused on essential usability principles for mobile websites and apps with invaluable examples in the form of video clips illustrating common usability problems users face every day. The discussion centered on the most effective techniques used to improve comprehension on mobile devices which is inherently worse than comprehension on our desktops. One of the reasons our comprehension is worse on mobile devices stems from a limited amount of information that is available on our screens and the constant need to scroll to get the whole picture. Another issue is hidden content like that menu beneath the hamburger icon which suffers from the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. The day was packed with the issues and solutions we tackle daily and filled me with empathy for mobile device users trying to make sense of the tsunami of data they are barraged with every day.

Scaling User Interfaces

Presenter Raluca Budiu did a great job of differentiating design approaches to scaling interfaces for our myriad of devices as well as scaling for different interaction methods. Gone are the days of optimizing for one device and ignoring others. Today, we are on the hook for creating a rich experience on every device. And that’s where adaptive design – not just responsive design – comes into play. Responsive design simply means the interface adapts to the screen size. Adaptive design means we can optimize content for a specific device and also make use of specific device features, like GPS and touch capability. So our websites have to be on message but they also have to have the right interaction; one without the other leaves users wanting.

Jakob Nielsen selfie NN/g UX week LA

And we got a selfie

There was a rumor that THE Jakob Nielsen was in attendance AND that he was us up for selfies. Gracious and charming, the rumors were true.

So now what?

In all sessions, audience members covered the gamut of proficiency in User Experience – from newbies to established practitioners. For Sally and me, seasoned UX professionals, the courses were the perfect blend of reinforcement of what I know, real-life examples to augment understanding, and new data (tools, techniques and principles) gleaned from NN/g’s ongoing research. The world is moving past and we need to constantly build and adapt our skills and thinking. The courses were well worth the investment – we look forward to more.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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