UX Cambridge round up

When I first heard that UX Cambridge 2011 was being planned I was thrilled on two levels. Our city’s first dedicated UX conference offered a  great opportunity to learn new skills on home turf and meet up with fellow practitioners in the area.

I’m part of a group that organises UX talks in Cambridge and in the last year have noticed a steady growth in the local UX community. UX Cambridge was well attended by over 100 people and both days were jam packed with great sessions ranging from experience reports and case studies to tutorials, workshops and fishbowl discussions. The conference drew in some experienced practitioners from further afield and some new faces who hadn’t spoken in public before.

As with any conference, it’s impossible to get to all the sessions you want to. So here’s my summary of the talks I went to by Leisa ReicheltJeroen Van Geel and Alisan Atvur, for anyone that missed them.

Leisa Reichelt – Keynote on Strateic UX

Leisa’s keynote started with some reflection on her own experiences of consulting. She shared stories of big projects where the UX function has become marginalised rather than being aligned with, or driving, business strategy. Even the methods that UX practitioners use can be viewed with suspicion, for example working collaboratively and transparently and using wall space in an office to stick up post-its and sketches.

As a result of her experiences Leisa has developed a strategic framework (illustrated below) which she uses on all client projects, to ensure vision and customer experience in the most holistic sense is considered.

A framework for strategic UX by Leisa Reichelt

Leisa highlighted the similarities between the goals of UX and Customer Experience professionals. But she questioned why Customer Experience roles are often at executive manager levels in organisations, whereas UX roles often do not have a similar voice in key decisions about business direction, at a strategic level.

Leisa proposed that UX practitioners should take on the role of ‘facilitators’, assisting organisations to deliver a truly customer focused product. Her concluding advice was to say no often, but don’t get yourself fired!

I feel grateful that my own experiences have been more positive than Leisa’s. In my previous organisation I helped develop a customer experience strategy with my colleagues in customer service. We also worked collaboratively with our research team to mine customer data and develop customer personas. If you work client side it’s vital to reach out to any areas of the business that deal with customers, and work collaboratively to develop a shared vision and optimise customer experience. But it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re a UX team of one.

Leisa’s slides are available on Slideshare.

Here are my sketchnotes of Leisa’s talk:

Jeroen Van Geel – The Childish Washer and the Happy Website

Jeroen (aka “Chief Kahuna” at Johnny Holland Magazine) gave an insightful and amusing talk on personality in product design.

Jeroen showed a few examples of websites where the design conveys personality. He bemoaned how, as UX designers, we are often guilty of using design patterns too extensively, without considering how this impacts a website or web application’s personality. This was well illustrated with several screens of identical looking car websites!

Jeroen referred to the Media Equation – a theory of communication that claims people treat computers (and computer applications) as if they were other people. I’d not heard of the Media Equation before, but Jeroen explained how businesses use this to their advantage – by encouraging their customers to start a relationship with a brand.

He suggested that UX designers consider the following personality traits:

  • People prefer like-minded personalities;
  • Undiluted personalities are preferred over complicated ones;
  • Flaws add to the believability of the personality;
  • We judge in the first moment.
Jeroen used a simple example to illustrate how a website design can play to personality traits. He showed us the striking contrast between the White House home page in the last week of the Bush administration and the first day of the Obama administration:

The photo of Obama is deliberately personal – he looks straight out at the viewer.

The topics covered in Jeroen’s talk may sound very familiar to anyone with a background in brand management. However the point that Jeroen made, in conclusion, was that UX designers need to consider the impact of personality both in the research and design stages of projects, in order to design meaningful experiences for consumers.

Jeroen’s slides are available on Slideshare.

Here are my sketchnotes of Jeroen’s talk:

Alisan Atvur

Socrates, from Wikipedia

I love talks that draw inspiration from other disciplines to offer a different viewpoint and insights. Alisan’s talk did not disappoint. He focused on critical thinking in design, using inspiration from the Ancient Greek philopsopher Socrates. Alisan outlined how UX designers can apply Socratic reasoning within the design process to deliver better design solutions for users.

They key points in Alisan’s talk were:

Remove sophistry

In Ancient Greece, the Sophists were intellectuals who were held to use fallacious rhetoric, in order to demonstrate some power over their students. In other words the Sophists used

“a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone” .

The Sophists were also criticised by their peers (Plato in particular) for charging students. Socrates, by comparison, gave free tuition and proposed the use of a logical reasoning in order to remove assumptions about knowledge. In drawing this analogy, Alisan suggested that UX designers should be “authentic to a fault” and generative, not reactive.

Use The 6 Socratic Questions

Anyone who studied design at college will be used to the concept of design critique. There are several good articles about design critiques around, e.g.  CooperUIEThink Vitamin and A List Apart. Alisan proposed a slightly different critical thinking method. He explained how Socrates used 6 questions to encourage his students to question their logic. Alisan suggested UX Designers could make use of the Socratic questioning technique to improve their designs and demonstrated various techniques that could be used:

  1. Clarify concepts – Alisan said it was important to destroy buzzwords. He advised using ‘if’ and ‘then’ arguments in order to ensure concepts are well thought through.
  2. Challenge assumptions – Alisan suggested using a collaborative game to challenge assumptions about users and understand your target users better. The game involves creating three columns on a whiteboard as follows: 1. All people will…., 2. Some people will…,  3. A few people will… Using post-its everyone should stick up their assumptions about how users will interact with your product. Work together to move these around until you have consensus on what users will do. Alisan said that quite often you start by assuming all people will do something, but at the end of the game many of the post-its in the ‘all’ column will have moved to the ‘some’ or ‘few’ column.
  3. Use evidence as the basis of argument – Alisan referred to the ‘A-B-C’ method of analysing behaviour and belief systems which was developed by Albert Ellis, an American Psychologist who created the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy technique. Alisan suggested that UX designers should use the A-B-C model to analyse why users exhibit certain behaviours. This involves looking at the Consequences (C), the Behaviour (B) and tracking back to analyse the Antecedent or motivator (A).
  4. Examine different viewpoints – Alisan suggested designers use a technique called ‘WIR-E-S’ to examine where a design fails. This involves using three columns to analyse a design e.g. 1. why a design is ruined (WIR), 2. provide an explanation (E) and 3. suggestions for improvement (S).
  5. Assess consequences – Alisan suggested measuring improvement to design using a metric like ‘PRODI’ or ‘Predictive Return oDesign Investment’. The Design Council has a useful article about design return on investment.
  6. Ask questions about the questions – for the final Socratic question Alisan suggested using the ‘golden circle‘ technique discussed by Simon Sinek in his TED talk to analyse the how, what and why of what your organisation does.

 Be Social Gadflies

Socrates described himself as a social gadfly whose role it was

“to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth”.

Alisan proposed that at times it is the designer’s role to advance the user (human) condition and, like the Socratic social gadfly, whip the user into action and change the way people think.

Here are my sketchnotes of Alisan’s talk:


UX Cambridge wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent organisation by Mark and Jacqui from Software Acumenand the sponsors: Red GateTelerikLoop 11Bristol Focus and Songkick (who provided a generous bar tab on Thursday evening!). Other event supporters included Rosenfeld MediaInfoQ.comSoftware EastSkills Matter, the Cambridge Usability Group and Creative Front.


The opportunity in data

On Friday I attended a fascinating series of keynote talks, followed by a panel discussion, about the opportunities for entrepreneurs to use open data. The talk was part of a series of events organised by the group Silicon Valley comes to the UK (#svc2uk). The panel was moderated by local angel investor Sherry Coutu and included:

Overall it was a lively discussion which was attended by around 400 people and watched via a live stream by students in Universities all around the UK.
Big Data keynotes at #svc2uk

First up was Megan Smith from Google, who talked about the opportunities for Google to open up some of their (huge) data sets via APIs, adding “providing privacy is maintained”. One example Megan gave was how the Google Books API had been used by Harvard researchers to analyse the trends in language in literature from 1750 to the current day. The word ‘women’ was apparently not used in literature extensively until the 1970’s, when its frequency of use suddenly rocketed. Megan also highlighted the potential for crowdsourcing data through social applications and the benefits of using Google data to inform the bio and life sciences. The example of trends in flu outbreaks indicated through searches for flu related topics in Google sprung to my mind.

Out of all the speakers, Andrew McLaughlin really stood out for me. Andrew was an advisor to the US government when he worked at Google. He then progressed to deputy CTO at the White House and is now the Head of Code for America. Andrew reminded us that we live in phenomenal times where there have been profound changes in the economics of information. He referred to the impact of internet based information on the relations between states and citizens. This is all too true when you consider how the ready access of information via mobile devices has fuelled significant changes in world politics in recent times, particularly in African and Middle Eastern countries.

Andrew cited Moore’s law and the impact that computing power has had on what we can do with vast data sets, both in terms of storage and processing speed. Coupled with the explosion in cloud computing capability, Andrew advocated the power of data to improve public services and drive positive changes for civic life. He also highlighted some of the challenges, for example data sharing and privacy.

Most interestingly Andrew recalled his experiences when he first started working in government. He expected to be able to drive performance management improvements using available data sets, but quickly found that no agencies showed an interest in making changes to enable data sharing and mash ups. However Andrew found there was appetite to open up data at a City level.

When the panel was asked the question, “which government data sets are most useful?” Andrew was quick to state that all public data should be freely available, so that people can find out themselves which are the most useful data sets, rather than having the decision made by those who manage the data.

At the start of the panel I sent a question by Twitter which I see as one of the biggest issues for anyone working with open data:

My question wasn’t answered directly by the panel, but DJ Patil did cover the topic to some extent. He talked about the challenges of turning data into a meaningful product. In other words, how do you make data useful and usable by people in their every day lives. DJ advised that application developers need to make big data “small and actionable”. He also advised enabling data to facilitate conversations with users, in order to improve data products.

Reid Hoffman was the only one of the panel to talk about linked data. He also suggested that every organisation with more than 20 people should have a technology strategy. By this he didn’t mean which determines what skills are the most valuable for exploiting the potential of technology and data.

The questions from the audience to the panel  indicated a general concern about privacy issues. Although I can see that there are huge opportunities for young entrepreneurs, I also hope that they use public data wisely.

As a User Experience practitioner I believe there are considerable obstacles to overcome to ensure that real world problems and user needs can be identified and solved using data driven applications. There is already an overwhelming amount of data available these days via APIs. But there is far, far more data that still to be unlocked and provided via API. This is most definitely going to be a growing area for UX researchers and designers to be involved in. And events like hack days and design jams can facilitate learning about how to realise the opportunities in data.


UX adoption and maturity

In my current role I’ve spent the last 5 years getting usability and User Experience (UX) principles and methods embedded in the organisation. It’s been hard work and there have been lots of small victories and battles on the way. We’ve progressed from an annual usability survey to having a dedicated UX Architect role and standardised methods and tools. I spoke about our journey at a Software East event earlier this year.

I’ll soon be starting a new role as a UX specialist with a private sector company that has a strong committment to UX. So I’ve been reflecting a lot in the last few weeks about the process of getting UX adopted, and then embedding UX thinking and practise in an organisation.

Whilst we didn’t get as far as having a UX strategy, these are the main lessons I’ve learned in 5 years:

You’ll need a committed UX champion

For me personally it was really important to have a very strong interest and commitment to UX, in order to evangelise the benefits to the team and my manager every day. I was lucky to be well supported by my Manager and Director. The whole of our Web team are now committed to using UX methods and tools on all projects. Their interest and enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me!

However, it’s not always an easy sell. I work in a very large and complex, public sector organisation (local government). Even afer 5 years I regularly find myself having conversations with colleagues who don’t understand what UX or usability is and why it’s important to understand (and design for) customer needs and behaviour.

It’s all about the data

Using data to evidence and support design decisions has been crucial. I can think of many times when user data has helped support an argument. But make sure you present your data in a compelling way, using graphs, visualisations like word clouds (hat tip to Craig for showing us that one), screenshots and video/audio clips where possible.

Develop skills and create a UX toolkit

Mentoring team members and establishing a toolkit of standardised UX methods and tools has been important. We have very little budget, so we rely on low cost methods such as expert reviews, prototyping, and remote research tools and web analytics. When we managed to create a dedicated UX role, the first thing I asked the UX Architect we recruited internally to do was to research and create a UX toolkit. This was important not only to provide a re-usable set of tools and techniques, but also as a development exercise, to help the UX Architect get up to speed with what techniques to use and when and how to use them.

Although we can’t afford much training, books have been incredibly useful to us. They are relatively inexpensive and can go round the whole team. We have built up a useful library of UX books that inspire us and act as a good reference point.

Sketch and prototype, but keep it Agile and collaborative

I think we fell into the trap early on of trying to produce fancy looking wireframes and mockups. Prototypes were created in HTML/CSS to make them production ready. But given that we used the Scrum method, we could have produced a lot more design ideas and got solutions in place quicker during sprints by doing more sketching.

Measure and improve

Measurement of UX is probably the one thing we didn’t pay enough attention to initially. But measurement is extremely important if you are going to prove return on investment.

Process, tools and skills are all useful. But, they are really not that useful if you can”t demonstrate how you’ve improved a website or product. And Senior Managers don’t tend to be that bothered about the ‘how’, they’re more interested in the ‘what’. So make sure you have clear metrics defined to ensure UX improvements are tangible and measurable.

Aim to make small, iterative improvements

Ultimately we were never able to make many of the improvements to our website we wanted to, due to various constraints on resources. And being stuck with a legacy CMS system that was pretty inflexible.

There will always be many ideas and re-design work that customers never see and experience. So avoid too much wastage in the design process by concentrating on things you can realistically implement and use the evidence to make the business case for bigger improvements.

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to talk about embedding UX in a large organisation at UX Cambridge on 10 November. But I’d like to learn about other peoples’ experiences before my talk and gather some stories from out in the field.

I’m running a survey to find out more about UX adoption in large organisations until 28 October. By large I mean over 250 employees. But I’m keen to get responses from a variety of organisations, big or small, so don’t let that put you off completing it.

Please do take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey. I’ll publish the results here once I have done some data analysis. Thanks!

Complete my UX adoption survey

I’m very grateful to Human Factors International for letting me use their UX Maturity checklist for a number of the questions in the survey.


Make users happy by focusing on top tasks

Most local gov webbies will probably already be aware that the focus of Socitm’s 2012 Better Connected review will be on managing top tasks and improving the user experience of Council websites. As a dyed-in-the-wool user experience fanatic I fully support this direction.

Whether your web team takes the Better Connected report with a pinch of salt, or work painstakingly to address all the reviewers’ findings, is neither here nor there, in my opinion. What is important is that Better Connected is aiming to address fundamental problems with the user experience of Council websites.

Now as a local gov web manager, I am painfully aware of the constraints we all work under as Council web teams. Resources and budget can be limited and Council websites can be sprawling, monstrous beasts to control, maintain and improve. And then there’s the governance issues and organisational politics we all have to deal with. Politics with a small ‘p’ and a big ‘P’. But with a bit of determination and a focus on top tasks, I think we really can improve the experience of citizens who have no choice but to Council websites to access certain public services.

On 15 September I attended Socitm’s top task event in London. I was speaking alongside Conor Moody and Kevin Jump from Liverpool Direct and (what an act to follow) the hugely entertaining Gerry McGovern. In the afternoon there were a series of workshops by the Better Connected reviewers and an RNIB accessibility expert. The event was put together by Martin Greenwood and the rest of the Socitm team.

In this context a top task is deemed to be:

the things that users come to your site to do most frequently

On a Council website examples of top tasks are:

  • finding out when your rubbish/recycling bins will be collected
  • checking school term dates
  • renewing a library book
  • paying council tax
  • finding bus routes and times
Disclaimer: in this post I may use the terms ‘citizen’, ‘user’ and ‘customer’ interchangeably.

Although I’ve given a similar talk before, I’ve embedded my updated slides from my talk below to provide some context for those that didn’t attend the event.

Here’s a quick summary of the main points I will take away from the event.

1. Don’t believe what users say, observe what they do through regular, remote user testing sessions

Gerry McGovern used a great example in his talk to demonstrate how easy it is for web professionals to think they understand how users behave, rather than observing how users actually behave. The two are often poles apart. I always love usability testing sessions because they are so eye opening. User testing gives your real insights into your users / customers and confidence in how to improve your website and web content.

But whilst we already do user testing, we don’t do it often enough. Recruiting users has proved to be time consuming and difficult. Gerry advised that we would be better off doing shorter, more frequent remote testing sessions using something like Go To Meeting to connect remotely to participants. This is something I’m pretty sold on now, having recently read Steve  Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy. If you’re doing user testing on a budget I would highly recommend Steve’s book. He famously has ‘a common sense approach to web usability‘ and provides very clear instructions, tips, guidance and checklists for user testing, which are all incredibly useful.

2. Get control of your content

Getting a handle on content governance is probably second most important thing we need to do to improve our website. If you have no control over what content is being created customer experience can really suffer. Devolved web publishing seemed like a great idea a few years ago. Complex content workflows were created with hundreds (I’m not kidding) of content, or CMS, authors and publishers, who are trained and given permissions to use the CMS. But where are we now?

  • We have thousands of pages and documents, making it increasingly hard for users to come to our website and quickly and easily carry out a task. As Gerry said confusing menus and navigation are one of the prime reasons websites fail.
  • Navigation and content development are not driven by user needs, but rather by the organisation’s perception of what users need. Web content authors and publishers need to own customer journeys. They need access to web analytics and customer feedback. They should carry out or observe user testing sessions to truly understand what customers need, what terminology they use and how they behave.
  • We have noticed that often web pages appear to be submitted for approval then approved almost instantly, showing that our approval process is not really adding any value to the process of web content publishing.

Re-gaining control of your content is not as easy as it sounds. We’re tackling this by:

  • Asking CMS authors who manage sections of the website to carry out content audits and identify what content to delete and improve. I’ve created a spreadsheet to do this based on the method outlined in Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy book and I’ll write a separate blog post in due course on how we’re approaching this.
  • Re-defining what kind of content governance is needed e.g. greater control through centralisation and defining specific processes and skills that are required.

3. Re-design your information architecture so there is just one way to navigate to top tasks

I have to admit this can be a daunting task, but more and more Councils are ditching the Local Government Navigation List standard and designing a top task focused IA like Liverpool City Council’s website. There may be similarities between the navigation on your Council’s website and other Council websites (or if you don’t work in local gov, on a competitor website), but you must remember website IA must be based on what your users need. So be inspired by similar websites, but don’t copy them!

Some of the methods we are hoping to use to re-design are IA are:

4. Don’t let the tiny tasks get in the way of the top tasks

“At night the tiny tasks go to bed and dream about being top tasks”

Gerry McGovern

It’s easier said than done, but as Gerry pointed out in his talk, sometimes the tiny tasks can make a customer’s journey on your website really difficult. They can also result in your customers mistakenly thinking they have got the right information to answer their question, when in actual fact they’ve got the wrong information. This is a disaster and when the customer realises their mistake, they are unlikely to trust your website again.

Kevin Jump highlighted how Liverpool have separated Council policies and strategies from service delivery on the Liverpool City Council website. Policies have to be on the site, but are in the About the Council section and don’t clutter up the top tasks pages of their website.

One of our biggest challenges is how we make our website work for customers, when it is also being used by our customer service advisers in the call centre as a knowledge-base. There’s a real conflict between focusing on making top tasks easy to complete for customers and providing information that may be useful to someone, but is only needed infrequently (the tiny tasks). Similarly you may have information on your website which is more aimed at staff and customer service advisers than customers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve not got it in for tiny tasks! I don’t want to remove all tiny tasks from our website, because they have a use. But taking Gerry’s advice we are planning to use hidden pages to provide links to the information that doesn’t meet user’s top tasks (i.e. the tiny tasks). We’ll also aim to gather evidence through user testing our tasks on where the tiny tasks are harming top tasks. Along the way there will be compromises to be made, but hopefully over time we’ll achieve a solution that works for customers and customer service advisers.

Managing top tasks requires a lot of research and constant, iterative user testing and tweaking.

Top Task management - an iterative process

But the more you do it, the easier it gets.


The invisible website

The Invisible Computer by Don NormanRecently someone asked me what websites I like from a user experience design perspective. I couldn’t think. My mind went blank! Which struck me as weird, given that I use websites all the time and I’ve worked in web design and development for around 15 years. Surely some websites should stand out as being well designed, as being inspirational for having a great user experience?

Reflecting on why nothing stood out in my mind when I was put on the spot, I remembered a famous book by Don Norman. In ‘The Invisible Computer‘ Norman argues that good technology design should be invisible to the user:

The current infrastructure for personal computers has outlived its usefulness. Although it was well designed for the problems and technology of the 1980s, it no longer works when faced with the problems and technologies of the 21st century. Moreover, the technology of the personal computer gets ever more complex every year. There is no way out, for it is caught in the tyranny of its own success, of its own marketing, and its business model that demands ever more features every year, thereby ever more complexity.

The only way out is through a disruptive technology, through a break with tradition to a technology that becomes invisible, that starts off focusing upon simplicity, joy of ownership, joy of use: a human-centered development philosophy.

So rather than thinking about websites and web applications I admire for good design or inspiration, I reflected on five of the sites and applications I enjoy using and thought about what makes them a pleasure to use. Just as Norman proposed in ‘The Invisible Computer’, the fact that some websites are simple, and a joy to use, indicates they are well designed and a user centred design process is key to the success of the design.

Google Maps

Google Maps

I once thought “what’s not to like?” about Google Maps. It has some great features and a very clear interface. Street view is particularly cool and I can get lost for ages looking at random pictures. Using the ‘directions’ functionality is easy and flexible, suggesting the quickest route but allowing you to drag routes around on the map and choose other options or add additional places en-route. It’s easy to print add edit your maps. I also enjoy creating my own maps and using the API, Google Maps also integrates well with open source platforms such as WordPress. These days I tend to find myself using Bing Maps quite a bit, for the Ordnance Survey Maps and Birds Eye Views which are sadly not included in Google Maps.



In terms of house hunting Rightmove stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ok it has some quirks, but the home page is nice and clear, the search works well and the details and photos are laid out clearly. In terms of personalisation, I love the draw-a-search feature which combined with alerts and saved searches work brilliantly and makes house hunting a breeze. The mobile version of the site also works very well.

John Lewis

John Lewis

The John Lewis website is a stalwart of e-commerce sites. Faceted search that’s been configured to work well. Nice clean design. Good information. A bit like a visit to a physical store.

The Guardian

Guardian Data Store

I’ve always liked the current Guardian website. Especially the fonts. And the colours. I don’t know why, but I do. I also like the mouseovers on images, the ‘in pictures’ feature and the way that live news has been developed. The Guardian satellite sites have a good visual tie-in with the main site, so you never feel far away from the ‘mother brand’. I particularly the Guardian data store and some of the excellent data visualisations.

User Voice

User Voice

UserVoice is an ingenious social tool which has a variety of uses. Originally designed to enable a website or software user community to suggest changes or new features and vote for them, the tool has adapted well to being used for civic engagement or to generate ideas or concepts when collaborating with other people on projects.

So in summary, I found there are websites and web applications I admire from a user experience perspective, because as a user I enjoy using and interacting with them. They minimise frustration and maximise the experience of finding information, carrying out particular tasks or sharing and communicating with other people. Thanks to Don for that bit of much needed inspiration.


Personas for open data

I’ve often felt that there is a lack of focus on user needs in open data development. But recently I came across a really interesting post that demonstrates a more user-centred approach to open data development. Tim Davies has blogged about how personas are being used to help developers of open data applications understand the type of people who might use their applications and typical user scenarios. In Tim’s words:

We’re creating a set of ‘open personae’ – imaginary profiles of potential users of applications and resources built with IATI data, designed to help techies and developers gain insights into the people who might benefit from the data, and to help provide a clearer idea of some of the challenges applications need to meet.

IATI stands for the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the personas are being developed collaboratively by volunteers involved in AidInfoLabs in Google Docs. Data mash-ups and visualisations can throw new light on complex social problems, by making data more accessible and understandable. But as Tim outlines the design of an application can often focus on the data, rather than user needs:

When open data is the primary raw material for a project, that data can exert a powerful influence in shaping the design of the project and its outputs. The limitations of the data quickly become accepted as limitations of the application; the structure of the data is often presented to the user, regardless of whether this is the structure of information they need to be able to use the application effectively.

Storytelling through a fictional ‘persona’ is a very powerful way to build empathy with users. It would be great to see the IATI personas being fed by demographic and qualitative research data over time. And structured to show specific user goals and attributes.

For anyone interested in the creation and use of personas and storytelling techniques in user experience, there are a couple of great books I’d recommend:

The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, by Steve Mulder;


Storytelling for User Experience, by Whitney Quesenbury and Kevin Brooks.


Managing top tasks

Last week I was at the Building a Perfect Council Website 11 conference. When you manage a website with a wide range of content and services it’s crucial to focus on the main customer tasks and journeys. I did a workshop on ‘top tasks’ with my colleague Matt Godfrey and Conor Moody from Liverpool Direct. Conor shared some excellent insights on how Liverpool City Council’s website has been turned around by focusing on top tasks and content strategy. Our presentation focused on what data we have analysed to identify and improve our top tasks and UX techniques we have used.

Here are the slides from our talk:


Using domain models in IA

Last week the Cambridge Usability Group were lucky enough to have Mike Atherton come talk about information architecture (IA). As a freelance IA, Mike has been working with the BBC for some time to help them tame a huge amount of useful content.

This talk was of particular interest to me. I’ve always had a fascination with how IA’s make complex information structures understandable and easy to navigate. I oversee the management of a large and complex site (a County Council website) which has a lot of varied content. And we need to look at ways to streamline it and focus on user needs.

Mike’s talk was titled ‘Beyond the Polar Bear’. If you have an interest in IA, you might remember the renowned O’Reilly book on IA by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld that Mike was referring to. The main thrust of Mike’s talk was that IA has moved on and UX think needs to be applied all the way through a web project. Information just isn’t neat and we can’t easily categorise information using taxonomies.

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Cennydd Bowles – Designing the Wider Web

Cennydd BowlesThe Cambridge Usability Group was delighted to welcome Cennydd Bowles to talk on Monday 6 June. Cennydd is well known for his UX work at the agency Clearleft in Brighton, his involvement in organising events like dConstruct and UX London and his book Undercover User Experience Design, which he co-wrote with his colleague James Box.

The topic of Cennydd’s talk was ‘Designing for the wider web’. Cennydd felt that the focus on designing for mobile was a bit of a red herring and that the design community now have much more to think about when designing for the web. In Cennydd’s words:

“The wider web will enforce us to embrace diversity”

Cennydd stressed that we need to consider different use cases and whether a website or application will work on multiple devices and screens. He then talked us through some considerations when designing for the wider web including context, display, inputs, connectivity, eco-systems and finally summarised the impact this shifting landscape would have on UX design deliverables.

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Cambridge Usability Group

I’m one of those people who can’t sit twiddling my fingers for long. So when I finished my MSc last year, I jumped at the chance to get involved in organising some local UX events.

The Cambridge Usability Group has been around since 2005 and was set up as a regional off shoot of the UK UPA. Over the years the group has organised a variety of talks, featuring speakers from the local UX scene and further afield. One of the more notable talks in the last couple of years was Ben Scheniderman who spoke about Information Visualisation.

The next talk is on Monday 11 April and we’ve got Tony Russell Rose, from Endeca Technologies, coming along to talk about how search interfaces can support users in a process of exploration and discovery. Tony has a wealth of experience researching and designing search interfaces and search design patterns. This is an area I’m increasingly interested in. My team manages a large and complex website (for a local Council) which is made up of a thousands of pages of content and a multitude of applications using different technologies. This presents us with a number of UX challenges when it comes to customers and citizens finding information quickly and efficiently.

The abstract for Tony’s talk is as follows:

Tony Russell-RoseThe landscape of the search industry is undergoing fundamental change. In particular, there is a growing realisation that the true value of search is best realised by embedding it in a wider discovery context, so that in addition to facilitating basic lookup tasks such as known-item search and fact retrieval, support is also provided for more complex exploratory tasks such as comparison, aggregation, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and so on. Clearly, for these sorts of activity a much richer kind of interaction or dialogue between system and end user is required. This talk examines what forms this interactivity might take and discusses a number of principles and approaches for designing effective search and discovery experiences.

If you’re interested in attending the event, don’t forget to book your ticket on Eventbrite!