The Future: Gmail, Social Media, and You

The Future: Gmail, Social Media, and You

gmail_logo_stylized_thumb35555It’s been many weeks since my conversion has been wholly complete, many months since it became my primary means of email communication, when I was converted by an Android, and years since I first started using…. Gmail.

Over the past many weeks I have explored, elaborated, and exhausted the exercising of my resistance. Now, with such resistance both worn down and overcome, drawn out through my conversion by an Android, let’s explore what improvements remain undone, those of the ‘Should Do’ variety that would directly facilitate the conversions of many, many more to the ways of Gmail.

what brought about this conversion, (1) (2)
why it took so long, and (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
what should be done to encourage greater Gmail adoption. (8) (9)

Should Do

00_gmail-all Perhaps the greatest challenge to Gmail is Information Overload and the ability to zero in on both what is desired and what is most important.

  • Gmail can often feel like a very, very long list of information with few visual cues assisting in the efficient user parsing of the data. Many things can be done to assist in this readability challenge.
    • Support grouping of emails / discussion threads, by tags, from, to, substrings, age, size, frequency of receipt as well as frequency of reply (or even average delay before reply to), etc.
    • The introduction of the concepts of hierarchy would allow users to zoom in on what is important, becoming less dependent on knowing the precise search, becoming less likely to miss the ever critical email buried in a long list or discussion thread. Beyond the custom coloring of tags (a labs feature) tags should be able to be grouped as well as support hierarchical concepts, sub-tags. This would allow for a bridging of the folder and tag paradigms within the Gmail experience. Of course, having the choice to use tags, tag groups, and sub-tags and their groups, together with folders would provide for even more flexibility of these means of thinking and empower the users to choose the paths best suited for them. Most importantly, these concepts, when implemented, should facilitate finding information without knowing the exact details incumbent to initiate a search, i.e. browsing, possessing the characteristic of easy historical reference of read and unread content within an organizational superstructure that can cut through the overwhelming list of lists experience of today’s Gmail.
    • Sorting and filters, dynamic, inline, and customizable, as well as saved filter rules, another concept that Outlook implemented very well by way of their Search Folders (the name itself almost necessitates a Google equivalent), would also help cut through the clutter.
    • Provide the option to display either the total number (read + unread) or total unread tagged items alongside the tags. In turn, this would provide the ability to immediately archive communications, while maintaining a visual cue of their existence. In this approach, tags could function as more than mere labels, but become more action oriented keeping track of such things as to-do items or other rapidly evolving and critical communication (that would benefit from being separated from the clutter of the Inbox).
  • Discussion threads for tracking communication evidently work well for some people. For others, the thread is a sure fire way to misplace an important subset of the conversation.
    • Enable the ability to disable threads altogether, establish new threads and sub-threads, remove components / emails / sub-threads from a thread.
    • Allow for archiving of selective portions of a discussion thread.
    • Permit discussion threads that consist of multiple modes of communication; a single discussion thread could consist of Google Talk, Twitter, and Email communications centered around a single topic.

Google has many products that have official, open API’s and hooks for cross-product integration; lacking in the case of Gmail . Open source and APIs play very google_apisimportant roles at Google. They …

  • accelerate idea creation — inspire and build upon,
  • leverage the power of the community — improving and extending the product through community ideas, learning and need discovery,
  • facilitate testing (and bug fixing) on greater scale,
  • increase the stickiness of Google products,
  • .. among many other value-added benefits.

And, greater attention to Integration and Consistency within Gmail would also greatly benefit its current and potential users by…

  • Enabling better cross-linking between Google products (e.g. between Google Calendar and Gmail) as well as amongst external properties (e.g. Gmail and OneNote). For example, including the Gmail live discussion thread from which the Google Calendar event was created would be a step in the right direction. In addition, Gmail and Google Docs could be more tightly integrated, with document revisions coordinated and displayed and accessible, alongside the messages within the discussion thread making use of the underlying document(s). Even integrating, to various degrees, with Google Analytics can provide greater understanding of effective communications, best times to reach out to people, best ways to get desired responses, etc.
  • Creating an open Gmail Labs, or Gmail App Store, for third party development of plugins and enhancements for Gmail.
  • Increasing openness, modularity and portability of Gmail and its parts by establishing an Open Development Platform to provide for the rapid evolution of the features and ideas of Gmail; leverage the strategy that has proven so successful in other Google products.
  • Blending the social media stream, from Picasa, YouTube, Facebook, and Orkut to micro-blogging, blog posts, and comments, building upon the current integration of Google Talk and Google Voice to further become the centralized, single place for all an individuals web communication.
  • Supplying a framework for the robust flexibility and customization of the UX and UI. For example, let users create their own buttons, button containers, and both custom and common actions.
  • Integrating more easily and seamlessly with the OS. Microsoft Windows allows the user to right-click ‘send to mail recipient’ on files.’ When Gmail is the primary email client of choice, performing such action should direct the straight to a newly composing Gmail message.
  • Experience and information management should be consistent from one Google product to another, most especially products like Gmail (tag-based organization) and Google Calendar (calendar-based organization) and Google Docs (folder-based organization).

Now

htc-hero-pictures-15 Now that I have switched to Gmail from Outlook, I couldn’t be happier that I was so coaxed into this long resisted position. But, the conversion could have been better facilitated, and more can be done to accelerate others still resisting. I only hope that this journey, together shared, was more than fun, but also illustrative and educational for those that use, may some day use, or are in positions of power and influence to improve the web-based email / communication platform, Gmail.

First converted to a fan of Android, the platform, then converted to a fan of Gmail, too. I resisted the Android, and succumbed. I, for much longer, both longed for and resisted the conversion to Gmail. Through all of this, despite the long path already journeyed, there remain many more steps to walk, specific steps that those overseers of Gmail can take to further enlighten the experience of ones as of now converted as well as those yet to be.

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Jeremy Horn 
The Product Guy

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Inconsistent ActiveState

user-useitQuick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Consistency often does not get the attention it deserves, in turn leading to more confusing, more frustrating, less Usable products.

Evaluation of Consistency covers the assessment of recurrent expectations as they are impacted and shaped by the product’s content (or wording), interfaces, and layout. Expectations that result from the type of web product and its market (inter-product, rather than intra-product) have greater impact on the Recognition variable.

Today, we will look at 2 examples of an Internet product with Minor Inconsistencies, representing a Consistency value of 0.5.

Example 1: Minor Inconsistencies (value = 0.5)

00_activestate_homepage

Order. Buy. Purchase. These are words to ActiveState with very similar, identical meaning, and are used throughout their website earning them the distinction of being a very good example of a web product with Minor Inconsistencies, and a Consistency value of 0.5.

Minor, non-intrusive, inconsistencies can be found causing minor confusion throughout the website. One such example is the mixed usage of language regarding the acquiring of a product. Starting on the homepage, the user is prompted to download, upgrade, or "Buy" the displayed products. Here, clicking on "Buy" will bring the user to the details page of that product.

04_activestate_buy

Elsewhere, on the Products page, the user is prompted to carry out one of the following actions, displayed alongside each of the listed products, to "Order" or try. Here, too, clicking on "Order" will bring the user to the details page of the corresponding product.

03_activestate_order

Interestingly, a page demonstrating many of these Minor Inconsistencies, is the Login / Register page. The language at the top of the page, encouraging and guiding the new or existing user to login or register, repeatedly refers to the product acquisition process, that the user is about to (or as ActiveState most probably hopes) interact with the shopping and buying sections of the website, refers to the processes of "purchasing," not "buying" nor "ordering" nor "adding to (ones) cart."

01_activestate_register_sig

Another inconsistency that can be easily spotted on the Login / Register page is in the usage of the ‘Sign in,’ Register,’ and ‘Sign up.’ It can be debated as to whether or not the usage of ‘Sign in’ alongside ‘Register’ would be inconsistent – perhaps, using ‘Sign up’ instead of ‘Register’ would be more inline. However, in describing the new account creation process, the word ‘Register’ is used throughout the entire site, except at the exact moment of action, of actually ‘Register’ing. At the moment, in that one location, ‘Register’ is not used. In place of the expected ‘Register’ button, the user finds the button labeled ‘Sign up.’

Example 2: Minor Inconsistencies (value = 0.5)

00_artbreak_home

Artbreak is a web product that helps artists share and sell their artwork online. Artbreak is also another good, clear example a web product with Minor Inconsistencies.

The first of these inconsistencies can be seen on the homepage. To log into the product, the user is provided with dual prompts for carrying out exactly the same action, to either ‘Log in’ or to ‘Sign in.’

01_artbreak_sigin_login

Another of the inconsistencies of Artbreak can also be seen on the homepage. Perhaps more minor than the first, still it is an apparent inconsistency. The homepage provides for the user to ‘upload my work.’ In both locations, different punctuation of the phrase is quite apparent.

02_artbreak_upload_my_work

An important observation of Minor Inconsistencies in online web products, and products like ActiveState and Artbreak, is that these consistencies do not occur on major website elements and are non-disruptive to the final goals of the user and the web product, overall.

Over the next several weeks I will be providing real-world examples of Consistency values…

No Apparent Inconsistencies (value 1)

Minor Inconsistencies (value 0.5)

Significant Inconsistencies (value 0)

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Consistency of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Constant Gateway

user-useitQuick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Consistency often does not get the attention it deserves, in turn leading to more confusing, more frustrating, less Usable products.

Evaluation of Consistency covers the assessment of recurrent expectations as they are impacted and shaped by the product’s content (or wording), interfaces, and layout. Expectations that result from the type of web product and its market (inter-product, rather than intra-product) have greater impact on the Recognition variable.

Today, we will look at an example of an Internet product with No Apparent Inconsistencies, representing a Consistency value of 1.

Example: No Apparent Inconsistencies (value = 1)

00_gateway_home

Gateway provides a cohesive computer shopping / browsing web experience, with No Apparent Inconsistencies. When navigating from page to page, perhaps the most notably consistent feature is the header and header behavior. This element is present no matter where the user navigates to at Gateway.com. Furthermore, the header provides a consistent interaction experience and uniform rules for expanding and growing as the user goes from section to section, or digs down for more details.

04_gateway_headers

There are also No Apparent Inconsistencies with the language usage or capitalization. The page elements remain in-place, aligned, and consistent from page to page.

01_gateway_notebooks

02_gateway_product

Gateway‘s presentation of consistent interface, navigation, and language, with consistent responses to user actions throughout the entire site do not stop at the Support page – a page often found to have a greater occurrence of variance and inconsistency on other websites, at large.

03_gateway_support

Over the next several weeks I will be providing real-world examples of Consistency values…

No Apparent Inconsistencies (value 1)

Minor Inconsistencies (value 0.5)

Significant Inconsistencies (value 0)

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Consistency of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

On the Consistency of Quick-UX

user-useitMany websites can be seen to interchangeably, simultaneously, and (seemingly) randomly, use ‘signin’ and ‘sign-in’, ‘log in’ and ‘login’, along with various combinations of ‘signout’, ‘sign-out’, ‘logout’, and ‘log out’, sometimes with these variants all on the exact same page! Maybe the language and position vary depending on visual representation (textual or graphical), or maybe it just varies. This is inconsistency and is very confusing to the user.

Inconsistency, or poor consistency, damages the basic Usability of the product. Consistency, when done well, bolsters the User Experience, and reduces the learning overhead of terminology and interface elements. If something is always presented the same way, expressed the same way, then the user only has to learn it once; rather than learn all the useless variants it may have. Sound Consistency of language and interaction lowers the bar to responding affirmatively to the question…

Can I use it?

Quick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Consistency often does not get the attention it deserves, in turn leading to more confusing, more frustrating, less Usable products.

Evaluation of Consistency covers the assessment of recurrent expectations as they are impacted and shaped by the product’s content (or wording), interfaces, and layout. Expectations that result from the type of web product and its market (inter-product, rather than intra-product) have greater impact on the Recognition variable.

The Consistency variable’s rubric is:

The determining of the value for the Consistency variable is done through the brief surveying of the product, and assigning a…

  • 1 if there are no apparent inconsistencies,
  • 0.5 if only minor, non-intrusive inconsistencies are found,
  • 0 if there exist inconsistencies on major element(s) or a majority of minor elements. Inconsistencies on major elements lead to immediate confusion and second guessing information being conveyed.

Over the next several weeks I will be providing real-world examples of Consistency values…

No Apparent Inconsistencies (value 1)

Minor Inconsistencies (value 0.5)

Significant Inconsistencies (value 0)

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Consistency of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Mystical Presdo

user-useitIntra-product-type consistency, the Recognition and intuitiveness present within a product, is a key component in determining the overall Usability of a product. For an air travel website to be usable, it should have some basic, recognizable, consistency with other airline products. For example, on the top-left region of most every air travel website you will find a form to enter starting and destination locations, departure and return dates, as well as the number of passengers traveling on the given trip.

Quick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Recognition is one of frequent discussion, especially in the latest wave of online products and how they handle content presentation and interaction.

Today, we will look at 2 examples of Internet products with Poor Recognition, representing a Recognition value of 0.

Example 1: Poor Recognition (value = 0)

Presdo is a beautifully simple and unique event planner. Unlike all other event planners, there is neither a ‘create event’ nor ‘create’ button on the homepage. There is, however, a single text field prompting for an event description alongside a ‘do’ button.

00_presdo_homepage

It is not until the initial stage is grasped and acted upon, by the user, that any Recognizable elements, from ‘create event’ to ‘when’ and ‘where’ become evident.

01_do_pressed

Presdo is a wonderful example of product with Poor Recognition. A product does not have to be an ugly website or present a horrible idea to get a poor rating. Sometimes the most unique concepts are least easy to recognize. And, Presdo is just such a product.

Example 2: Poor Recognition (value = 0)

Perhaps the easiest example that exemplifies Poor Recognition is Ai Interactive Media’s website – with confusion all around.

00_aiinteractivemedia_homepage

While this product is clearly aiming to present a unique and fun experience, it should be obvious to all that the method of using and interacting with the product, as well as merely understanding what the product is trying to communicate, is difficult, and only achievable after spending a good deal of time with it. There are no recognizable elements, links, buttons, instructions, etc., that guide the user into making any decision.

Some recognizable clues become obvious after guessing to click on the moving, spiraling, zooming discs (perhaps CDs?). After clicking on one of these discs, another, uniquely distinct, interface is presented. On this screen, incomparable to any industry norms and unrecognizable to the average user, the user is presented with many more new concepts with very few being Recognizable actions (seemingly clickable), e.g. ‘Launch Work.’

01_aiinteractivemedia_clicked_thing

To help everyone gain a deeper understanding of Quick-UX and how to benefit from performing quick, quantitative analyses of User Experience, I am, over the course of this series providing real-world examples of Recognition values…

Broad Recognition (value 1)

Fair Recognition (value 0.5)

Poor Recognition (value 0)

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Recognition of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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A Spot on myPunchbowl

user-useitIntra-product-type consistency, the Recognition and intuitiveness present within a product, is a key component in determining the overall Usability of a product. For an air travel website to be usable, it should have some basic, recognizable, consistency with other airline products. For example, on the top-left region of most every air travel website you will find a form to enter starting and destination locations, departure and return dates, as well as the number of passengers traveling on the given trip.

Quick-UX provides for the rapid, simple and quantifiable assessment of a product’s User Experience (UX). In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Recognition is one of frequent discussion, especially in the latest wave of online products and how they handle content presentation and interaction.

Today, we will look at 2 examples of Internet products with Fair Recognition, representing a Recognition value of 0.5.

Example 1: Fair Recognition (value = 0.5)

Starting on the homepage, a feature commonly expected and observed on almost every event planning website, is the ‘create event’ button (or ability), and this is noticeably absent on this website.

00_mypunchbowl_homepage

myPunchbowl is a sound online event planner achieving Fair Recognition, a Recognition value of 0.5. The product presents minor changes in how it approaches the event creation process, from modified grouping of information to the sequence of steps that must be traversed.

The beginning of the event creation process provides no guidance as to what the subsequent steps will require or where / when the user will be prompted for the basic event information (the "when" and the "where").

01_top_step1

In this first stage, when the user is just trying to orient him/herself, and accomplish the common task of defining an event, they are presented with four choices of how one may like to proceed, instead of just being taken to the next logical, expected, stage of the event process.

02_bottom_step1

It isn’t until the user gets to the ‘Your Design’ stage that they are presented with a very recognizable interface for guiding them through the remainder of the event creation process.

03_yourdesign

There are basic elements that a user expects when creating an online event, from understanding the sequence of events to knowing how to enter the minimal information to get the event set up and completed. myPunchbowl forces the user to jump through the hoops of ‘event type’ and ‘initiation design’ before having the opportunity to enter information into the most expected features of online event planning, Title, Date, Time, Address, etc.

04_details

Altogether, it will not take the typical myPunchbowl user, or for that matter, an online event planner user, too long to orient themselves (through some poking, clicking, interacting), adapt and learn how to use the fairly Recognizable myPunchbowl event creation process.

Example 2: Fair Recognition (value = 0.5)

Sometimes the things that set you apart, those things that contribute to providing a unique experience can also lead to some unexpected results for the average user.

00_vayama_homepage

The typical travel website presents the user with a request for the basic information on the homepage, for example, start and end date, origin, destination, and number of passengers. Here too is where the Vayama, a travel website, begins the travel planning process.

After defining the basic parameters for a trip, a search is typically initiated. It is at this stage that Vayama‘s unique approach to simplifying the process results in a less Recognizable experience. On the generic travel website, the user, upon initiating the search, is brought to a specific webpage for browsing, and filtering the results.

Many websites also allow for the modification of the search parameters from the search page, while others require the user to return to the location from whence the search was initiated.

Vayama has combined all of these commonly separate pages into a single user interface that adapts as the user interacts with it. It isn’t until the user has to specify the travelers, select the seats, and pay for the tickets, that they even have to leave the homepage of the site.

01_page2

The combining of commonly separate steps presents its own set of Recognition challenges for the product’s users.

The initial search form alongside the search results makes one think that they can change anything on the page and alter the results. However, this is not the case. Search results pages typically present all of the controls that will filter and impact those results. The unique presentation and process at Vayama, result in different behaviors and set of expectations, requiring some finesse, poking, and interaction to adjust to this paradigm shift in travel planning.

This page requires some clicking and then paying close attention to see if there has been either no discernible reaction or, in other instances, an actual change. Expanding on this example, modifying information within the filter section has immediate impact on the search results, while modifying information within the top half of the form, the basic parameters, has no observable impact on the results, until the ‘search’ button is re-clicked (and all settings with ‘search section’ are reset and results erased).

02_search_and_filter

Another section of the website that results in achieving the Fairly Recognizable rating is the seat selection interface. The seat selection is very cool, but different. After a few seconds the user can orient to the 3D presentation — which is both unexpected and an unusual presentation within the travel industry. Most users won’t have an issue with the format, but the seat selection can be tricky and will require minor adaptation.

03_3dseats

Nothing at Vayama is overwhelmingly unrecognizable (much of the overall experience is fun) and, being Fairly Recognizable, can, with some finesse, be figured out and used by the average user.

* * *

To help everyone gain a deeper understanding of Quick-UX and how to benefit from performing quick, quantitative analyses of User Experience, I am, over the course of this series providing real-world examples of Recognition values…

Broad Recognition (value 1)

Fair Recognition (value 0.5)

Poor Recognition (value 0)

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the Usability and Recognition of Quick-UX, the quick and easy method of generating quantifiable and comparable metrics representing the understanding of the overall User Experience of a product, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Do I want to use it? Evaluating Desirability through Quick-UX.

desirability Desirability is a very real component of a product’s User eXperience. The feelings that a product invokes in an individual are often difficult for that individual to elaborate upon, beyond such feelings like those of a sense of pleasantness, happiness, awkwardness, or one of frustration.

While quantifying Desirability can, in many cases, prove to be quite challenging, those emotions that relate to the Desirability of a product can be quantified via Quick-UX as one of its three core categories (the other two core categories being Usability and Usefulness).

The minimal representative subset of variables for Desirability that adhere to the primary goals of Quick-UX (quick assessment for summary, direction guidance, and quantitative comparison) are…

  • Aesthetics (and minimal design),
  • Layout (including the visual hierarchy, flow and grouping of elements of the product)
  • Color Scheme (and Contrast), and
  • Typography.

Aesthetics

Information overload negatively impacts, hence the word ‘overload,’ the actual Desirability of a product. Any more, or supplemental, information and functionality than is needed contributes to the erosion of a pleasing and enjoyable experience.

Content, mouse-interactions, and transitional animations should be kept short and to the point. Do not explain a feature with a paragraph of information where a brief 3 word phrase would do, nor use a 3 word phrase when a clearly identifiable button can, itself, clearly convey the underlying message or functionality.

I have found that the product’s Aesthetics contribute most significantly to its overall Desirability. For this reason, unlike the other variables that make up Quick-UX, the Aesthetics variable can be assigned a value from 0 through 2 (as opposed to the typical maximum value of 1).

The value assigned to the Aesthetics variable in determining Desirability within Quick-UX is…

  • 2 if the product presents a clean, sharp, pleasing and enjoyable product environment where interaction is a pleasure. In addition, the product consistently makes good use of mouse-overs and animated transitions.
  • 1 if the product presents generally “OK” Aesthetics. The product may have some mouse-over states and other beneficial transitions, but these states and transitions are found to be incomplete and would benefit from a more comprehensive and consistent implementation.
  • 0 if the product suffers from information and graphical (transitions, interactions, etc.) overload. In this case, the content and graphical aspects of the site continually get in the way of getting the desired task completed quickly, efficiently, and enjoyably.

Layout

The Layout of a page is about more than just Usability. The Layout of a page, the visual hierarchy, its flow, as well as grouping and alignment of its elements, is the environment within which the user works and interacts with the product — it sets the tone and, in turn, shapes the product’s Desirability.

The value of the Layout variable is the sum of the decisions…

…regarding the product’s visual hierarchy…

If the most important content of the page

  • Stands out clearly (the user’s eyes are instantly drawn to these elements), add 0.4, or
  • Takes at least a few seconds to become apparent, add 0.2, or
  • Takes more than a few seconds to become apparent, don’t add anything.

…regarding the interface’s visual flow…

The visual flow can be described as the interface/page forces that guide the users’ eyes about the page. If a page has a negative visual flow, then it contributes to guiding the eyes away from the critical sections that need to be looked at and used to take primary actions and make decisions.

If the overall visual flow provides a non-negative impact on the page hierarchy,

then add 0.3,
otherwise do not add anything.

Furthermore, if the interfaces of the product require / recommend a specific sequence of steps be taken to accomplish a task, and the visual flow has a negative impact, guiding the user in the non-desired order, then subtract 0.15 from the Layout variable.

…regarding the grouping and alignment of the page / product elements…

A good product has clearly defined ‘regions’ within its interface. For example, a search engine may have one region for entering the search parameters, and another region for viewing the search results.

If the interfaces of the product present UI elements that appear to be scattered, placed without association or relevance to neighboring or distant elements that possess similar or different functionality, then no additional value is added to the Layout variable.

Otherwise, if most page elements appear to form logical, related groups or clusters, where perhaps not all of the clusters are neighboring or some of the clusters have redundant logic and functionality, then add 0.15 to the Layout variable.

However, if the relationships between like and dissimilar elements and groups are clearly presented, with no apparent inconsistencies, then the Layout variable is, instead, incremented by 0.3.

Color Scheme / Contrast

The Color Scheme of a product sets the mood and appeal. Color schemes can be simple, with only one or two colors, to very complex, with many complementary and varying levels of contrasting colors.

For example, red’s, yellow’s and orange’s are warm colors and, as a Color Scheme, could, very appropriately, be paired with products that wish to intuitively convey concepts or themes of warming or heating, like FeedBurner (as a theme derived from the name) or portable space heaters (products that keep you warm in the cold of winter).

The Color Scheme variable is assigned the value of…

  • 1 if approximately one to three primary hues are present within the product and those selected hues accurately reflect the message and theme of the product (some examples: warm colors = energy, cool colors = respectable, etc.).
  • 0.5 if the color palette is cluttered, there are some extraneous color selections or a mismatch of color temperature, Contrast, or saturation with respect to the messaging and tone. For example, an air conditioning website would probably want to stay away from the warm colors (red, yellow, orange), even if aesthetically pleasing.
  • 0 if the Contrast and color selections that comprise the product’s Color Scheme make some or all of the product’s information and/or functionality difficult or impossible to read or understand.

Typography

Some people do not fully appreciate the degree of impact that Typography can have on a product’s overall User eXperience, and especially its Desirability. Different fonts, different font sizes, and how they are arranged and laid out to interact with one another and other product elements, do more than present readable, or unreadable, content, but frame many of the emotional aspects of the product.

Typography decisions control the ranges of voice from loud and shouting to gentle and whispering, from serious to comical. When products are presented with too many fonts, they increase the likelihood of conveying the information with too many, and inconsistent, voices; as opposed to a pleasing, guiding conversation about the product.

  • If the Typography from page to page, interface to interface, functionality type to functionality type, is clean, readable, and consistent in usage then the Typography variable is assigned a value of 1.
  • Otherwise, if minor to major inconsistencies are apparent, or an overloading of Typography ‘voices’ are present, but all remain readable, the Typography variable becomes 0.5.
  • However, if the inconsistencies are tremendous, and make understanding the content difficult or bewildering, or even if only some of the content is unreadable, the Typography variable equals 0.

So… Do I want to use it?

While this question within the Quick-UX framework provides for the rapid assessment of Desirability, it represents only one of the three ‘questions’ that, when combined with…

Can I use it? (Usability)

Should I use it? (Usefulness)

…provide for an easy, consistent, and expeditious means by which to determine a product’s overall User eXperience.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Can I use it? Evaluating Usability through Quick-UX.

user-useit The first of the 3 primary components of Quick-UX, of which I will be discussing in greater depth, is the one of Usability. Put simply, Usability is a measure of how easy something is to use.

In sticking with the primary goals of Quick-UX (quick assessment for summary, directional guidance, and quantitative comparison) the variables constituting the minimal representative subset for Usability are…

  • Accessibility,
  • Consistency,
  • Recognition,
  • Navigation, and
  • Page Load Time.

Accessibility

Accessibility is the measure of how many differently skilled/abled types of people (including individuals with disabilities) in varying locations (e.g. mobile web) can make use of a given product. There exist many, very thorough, guidelines for determining the degree to which a product adheres to accepted accessibility standards. However, many can be very complex and time-consuming, also requiring the study of a good deal of the underlying code — much of which goes against the goals of the ‘quick’ part of Quick-UX.

I use a robust (and free) proxy for quickly assessing a product’s Accessibility through the use of the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (fae) link. The fae’s resultant scores are averages which, in turn, are normalized to a range from zero to one to represent the value for Quick-UX‘s Accessibility variable.

Consistency

Consistency is a fundamental component of Usability. The less learning a new user has to do to use a product the more usable is that product. Products should not have multiple interface elements, page layouts, or content that are used for the same purposes, but vary depending on how the user got their or where they are currently looking.

For example, if the product/site is in the travel industry and the site often references ‘travel search engines,’ a consistency that can grow confusing (inconsistent) is when the language that describes the same engines varies from instance to instance, from ‘engines’ to ‘tse’s,’ to ‘search travel engines,’ etc.

The determining of the value for the Consistency variable is done through the brief surveying of the product, and assigning a…

  • 1 if there are no apparent inconsistencies,
  • 0.5 if only minor, non-intrusive inconsistencies are found,
  • 0 if there exist inconsistencies on major element(s) or a majority of minor elements. Inconsistencies on major elements lead to immediate confusion and second guessing information being conveyed.

Recognition

The measure of the Recognition and intuitiveness of a product conveys how easily an average user of a product can immediately grasp how to use it. When evaluating this Usability variable remember… YOU are NOT an AVERAGE user. The Recognition variable is assessed from the perspective of an average user and is assigned a value of…

  • 1 if the interface and product, in general, feels familiar and is easy to use,
  • 0.5 if some poking, finesse, and interaction are required before the user will be able to gather his or her bearings in the use of the product,
  • 0 if the average user will have clear difficulty understanding (1) how to use the product and (2) what the product is trying to communicate.

Navigation

Evaluating the Navigation variable as it relates to Usability (and Quick-UX) also includes, in addition to site navigation, the review of the site’s flow, transitions, interactivity, and clear communication of progress. If a user can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, or is not presented with clear information as to how he or she got to point C or that there remain points D through Z to still travel, the overall Usability of the product can be sorely damaged.

The Navigation variable is assigned the value of…

  • 1 if the product presents a straightforward decision process, leveraging animated transitions when appropriate, providing clear feedback, and communicating progress within each multi-stage task,
  • 0.5 if the two following conditions are met:
  1. occasional, but easily correctable, mis-steps in accomplishing tasks and/or completing processes occur, and
  2. there exists a visible current progress indicator for all multi-step tasks,
  • 0 if any of the following scenarios occurs with frequency:
    • resultant Interaction or other resultant event occurs contrary to the desired decision path,
    • surprised by result of interaction, or
    • no communication of progress, flow, or navigation.

Page Load Time

There are some products out there (Twitter comes to mind) that could not possibly have an easier to use interface coupled with a simpler purpose (to say what you are doing) that are frequently rendered barely, or completely, unusable due to entirely unacceptable product responsiveness.

A company can have the best product around, but if the pages are too sluggish, they can achieve a real pain-point in the overall user experience, rendering a product unusable.

Assessing the Page Load Time variable requires very little of your time. However, I do recommend you average at least a few data points over the course of a day, or days, to make sure you have an accurate sense of the normal product responsiveness.

  • If the product typically loads the information promptly (within acceptable expectations) then the Page Load Time variable is assigned the value of 1.
  • If the product exhibits the occasional, inconsistent delay, use 0.5.
  • And, if the product (like Twitter, at the current moment) has frequent and long delays (including outages) the value for Page Load Time variable is 0.

Usability. Quickly. Done.

The quantitative assessment of these variables are structured to provide a quick and painless method of evaluation to form a summary, directional guidance, and/or values that facilitate inter-product comparisons through the answering of the basic question…

Can I use it?

When answers to the above question of Usability is combined with…

Should I use it? (Usefulness)

Do I want it? (Desirability)

… the result is a product’s overall, repeatable, quantitative assessment of User eXperience.

Enjoy! (and discuss)

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Quick-UX. Quick Heuristics for User eXperience.

heuristic Introducing… Quick-UX

There are many procedures, rubrics, methods, analyses and theories with respect to assessing the overall User eXperience of a product. Most User eXperience assessment approaches require a heavy investment of time, analysis and effort.

Often, a quick assessment of User eXperience is more aptly called for. A quick assessment allows for rapid compilation of simple heuristics that can be very handy in providing…

  • a summarized view of a product’s overall User eXperience,
  • directional guidance for a product’s future development, and/or
  • metrics for comparison with other products.

More detailed and extensive heuristics (many with hundreds of variables to evaluate) exist that delve into the finer details that lead to more directly actionable steps, but they are neither cheap in time nor money.

Quick-UX is a method that I have developed and refined over time and frequently utilize when quick assessments are best suited to the task. The method that I describe below is a great way to build a summary description with quantifiable and comparable metrics, representing the understanding of the overall User eXperience of a product.

The Quick-UX evaluates the degree to which a product successfully addresses the following 3 questions:

The elements evaluated in response to each question constitute a minimal representative subset that accurately addresses the question posed while adhering to the goals of Quick-UX.

Evaluating Usability

Whether or not something can actually be used is critical to a product. Quickly evaluating the ease with which the typical consumer can use a product consists of looking at the following variables:

  • Accessibility,
  • Consistency,
  • Recognition (also including Intuitiveness),
  • Navigation (also including site-flow, transitions, and interactions), and
  • Page Load Time.

Each variable here, as well as those making up the other 2 evaluation categories (‘questions’), possess specific rubrics to generate repeatable and quantifiable values (each normalized to be of the range from 0 through 1 or 2) that can consistency be understood and compared to like evaluations. For the Quick-UX, each category can, through the summing-up of each of its values, achieve a maximum category score of 5 (minimum being 0).

Evaluating Usefulness

What good is a product if it isn’t useful? Does the product solve a new problem, or an existing problem? Does it do so in an innovative and creative way? The quick evaluation of Usefulness is constituted by an assessment of these variables:

  • Functional Expectations (expectations are created via marketing, content, branding, etc.; put another way, ‘were the functional expectations of the product, from the perspective of the consumer, achieved?’),
  • Errors (including handling, recovery, and prevention),
  • Product Differentiation (including memorability),
  • Findability (i.e. search engine friendliness), and
  • Credibility.

Evaluating Desirability

The Desirability of the product, its appearance and the feelings it can stir in the user through the methods of presentation, can often be a good proxy for the organic word-of-mouth campaigns and buzz that spring up around it. Desirability taps into the emotions of the product’s users through:

  • Aesthetics (and Minimal Design),
  • Page Layout,
  • Color Scheme (including Contrast), and
  • Typography.

Desirability consists of only 4 variables. Aesthetics, unlike all of the other variables in the Quick-UX, is normalized to a range from 0 through 2, due to its greater impact on the overall desirability of a given product.

Try it. Use it. Tune it.

All of the values, when summed up (max. value of 15), form the UX (User eXperience) Rating for the evaluated product. The higher the rating, the better the product’s overall User eXperience. My favorite use for this evaluation is to quickly compare the User eXperience of multiple products with one another.

As the Internet and online products evolve I update and adapt my approach to quick evaluations. Let me know how the Quick-UX works for you. Tweak it, adjust it to suit your particular goals. Please share your findings.

What sort of quick User eXperience evaluation methods do you use?

More Information

You can read more about alternate User eXperience evaluation heuristics and theories at these websites…

  • Ten Usability Heuristics (link)
  • Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility (link)
  • The User Experience Wheel (link)
  • Metrics for Heuristics: Quantifying User Experience (part 1 part 2)
  • User Experience Design (link)
  • User Experience Strategy (link)
  • How To Quantify the User Experience (link)
  • Designing Interfaces (link)

Enjoy & Post experiences with Quick-UX and other methodologies.

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy