UX tips mega post

Photo of a woman undergoing user testing and being recorded on a mobile phone

Previously scattered throughout our blog, we’ve pulled together 95 UX tips to help you design better customer experiences

#1 Take advantage of price bias

For many customers, price is one of the most important factors of the decision-making process when choosing a product or service. The first price that a customer sees on your website is the one that will affect his or her purchasing decisions in the future. As such, a product is never truly “cheap” or “expensive”, it’s all relative.

There are two simple design techniques to take advantage of this bias.

First, present your most popular/new items followed by discounted items. This will make the discounted items more appealing while avoiding ‘de-valuing’ the full-price items.

Second, present multiple price points in descending rather than ascending order. This will make the second most expensive product seem like a bargain!

#2 Take advantage of focus groups

Focus groups are often used for idea generation, brainstorming, and comparing alternative designs. This social interaction can at times elicit more information than if you interviewed each person individually. However, managing the group can be difficult and peer pressure can affect the answers given. For instance, people may go along with the same decision because it is easier or because they anchor on the same information source. There are 3 things you can do to ensure meaningful insights are gathered in focus groups.

First, when recruiting participants, select individuals from different teams or demographics to ensure diversity.

Second, when preparing for the workshop, create a seating plan that ensures participants are not sitting with people from the same teams or similar backgrounds.

Third, when discussing solutions, always probe for alternative ideas.

#3 Make the most of usability testing sessions

It is completely human for UX practitioners to subconsciously allow their own values, attitudes or even mood to creep into their work when conducting research, affecting their observations during usability testing sessions and influencing which data they place greater significance on. To reduce the impact of this effect, include more than one observer in the testing session and share/calibrate findings in the form of a mini-debrief once the participant has left. This increases the likelihood of capturing more data and mitigates the effects of the observers’ individual preconceptions. Training all observers prior to testing sessions and ensuring a common ground of specific behaviours to spot (e.g., by using an observation checklist) could also ensure that data collection is as accurate as possible.

#4 Define your social media strategy

The more people talk about your site in a positive way, the more likely they are to purchase from you. Social media is a key area to consider when it comes to online reputation management. There are 4 things you could do to optimise your business pages on social media sites. First, spend time posting content, keeping information up-to-date and interacting with customers. Second, make it easy for people to start a conversation by incorporating social buttons or offering content for a tweet like this [Tweet It!]. Third, ask your customers to leave reviews, the more reviews you have the better. Finally, respond to reviews and comments often. If you are neglecting to properly optimise and maintain your social media presence, then you may soon find yourself at a tangible disadvantage to your competitors.

#5 Research and performing analyses

When undertaking research and performing analyses we may unintentionally seek out information that confirms our preconceived hypothesis and alienate the outliers. There are 3 things we can do to acquire a more objective viewpoint. First, before you run a test, try to eliminate emotional attachment to a specific result. Reminding yourself that your opinion is, in fact, only an opinion can help. Second, proactively seek out and understand information that disagrees with your existing belief. Finally, use both quantitative and qualitative measures to help put findings into perspective. 

#6 User experience training

When asked a question, is it undeniably easier to agree rather than to be brutally honest. Participants of user testing may have a similar inclination to be agreeable, which may impact the accuracy and quality of feedback you receive.

There are several ways in which you can encourage your participant to tell you how it is. Invest time at the start of the session to build rapport with your participant, keeping the conversation light-hearted and friendly. This will help you to create a sense of trust and alleviate some of their reluctance in disagreeing to your questions where necessary.

Also, reassure them that you are seeking their honest opinion, and that it is completely constructive to the process of improving the product.

Finally, and more subtly, try to phrase questions in a neutral manner such as “how likely are you to use this website to place a bet?” and ask them to answer based on a 5-point Likert scale (i.e. 1 being ‘strongly disagree and 5 being strongly disagree’) to obtain both agreements and disagreements rather than asking forced-choice, agreement-eliciting questions such as “would you use this website to place a bet?”.

#7 Being watched in UX testing

When participating in user testing, people will often attempt to increase their effort to appear more skilled whilst knowingly under observation. The awareness that participants have of their actions being observed can be distracting for them and has the potential of providing us with inaccurate data.

To reduce the likelihood of this effect occurring, several actions should be considered. Where possible, observers should watch the session from a different room to the user and recording equipment should be subtle. This way, participants are less likely to focus on being watched (they will probably even forget that they have an audience!) and will therefore act more naturally.

Furthermore, reassuring participants at the beginning of the session that it is the product being tested, not their knowledge or ability should help them behave more naturally.

#8 UX design techniques

Selection tools, such as credit card selectors, help your customers select, compare, and find a product or service that satisfies their needs. However, providing only one recommendation may result in scepticism and your user may even do the exact opposite of what is suggested to them.

There are 2 things you could do to disarm users’ instinctive rejection of being told what to do. First, show more than 1, but no more than 3, options. This will reaffirm users’ ability to choose while not overloading them with irrelevant options.

Second, justify and contextualise each proposed option (based on the data collected from the tool) by using phrases such as “choose this…if…” or “because…therefore…” to rationalise the recommendations.

#9 Great user interface

Users tend to have preconceived understanding about where certain page elements are likely to be located. For instance, many users will look for a ‘Shopping Cart’ button in the upper right corner of page.

The use of this pattern by many websites including eBay and ASOS means users expect this as the norm, and violations of such norms are likely to result in frustration. Hence, before proposing a new design element, we should pause and consult existing standards or expectations, if any, and should avoid redesigning something simply for the sake of standing out from the crowd.

#10 The words you choose matter a lot

Wording on a donation campaign webpage has a huge impact on campaign effectiveness. We can make good use of word choice to enhance conversion rate and average order value.

For instance, for an online donations campaign, meaningful taglines such as “You can provide meals for one family, education for 5 children, and clothes for 10 people, by drinking one less coffee a day” emphasises gains rather than losses which is likely to result in more donations.

#11 Re-finding found things

People use the web to find information, but often have trouble organising and re-finding information they have found. To assist users and keep them engaged, many online shopping websites make finding and re-finding information effortless for users. For instance, including ‘Favourite’ button which helps users avoid spending extra time re-finding the items after browsing the catalogue, reducing the risk of users leaving the website and finding the same items from another website. Also, users who forget they ‘like’ some items on the website can go back to the cart and re-find the saved items easily.

#12 Customer journey

When recalling any given experience, like your last click-and-collect shopping experience, we tend remember only the most intense or memorable parts of the journey –the worst (the frustrations with the payment process) and the best (the customer service we received in person).

This snapshot captures at most 25% of an encounter and does not reflect the little hiccups (unable to find the catalogue item online), hassles (entered credit card information twice), and moments of enjoyment (unexpected loyalty rewards) along the way.

This is when more extensive user research techniques come in handy – a combination of user interviews, diary study and contextual enquiry. User interviews can help narrow the area of focus and provide us with high-level understand of their current and ideal experience. Then, conduct a diary study to capture the online shopping journey (research, purchase, confirmation), and finally a contextual enquiry to observe the offline interaction.

#13 Customer perception of value

Most people prefer cheaper products, and at the same time, want to get the most value for every dollar they spend. So how do you influence and maximise consumer perception of value?

Borrowing the Economist subscription as an example, you can maximise the perceived value of the more expensive subscription by introducing 3 options: an online subscription for $59, a print subscription for $125, or you could get both for $125. In this case, most people would go for the combo deal because it’s perceived as a much better deal than the print only subscription. That is, by including a no-one-wants option, people prefer the more expensive one than the cheaper one.

#14 Married at first sight

“You look smart today” – we think those who wear well-fitted suit or stylish dress as smarter. Similarly, customer perceive aesthetically pleasing websites to easier to use and more trustworthy.

Aesthetics clearly influence people, their perceptions and choices. During UI design, we must ensure the interface has a clean, simple and positive aesthetic. Further, we must cater for all critical entry points, including home and registration page.

A close working relationship between the UX team and the Creative is key to ensuring aesthetics and usability support each other – those can be the difference between a good website and a first-rate one.

#15 Be mindful of your users’ mindfulness

Mindfulness, which involves being in a non-judgemental, purposefully attending and present state of mind, is a great example of how positive psychology can create fruitful UX research environments.

Asides from being mindful practitioners, we should also aim to facilitate mindfulness in our users, increasing their focus during testing and thus allowing them to achieve their goals more quickly.

As mindfulness is about being in the present moment and performing actions deliberately, interfaces should avoid automatically triggered, and potentially distracting content. Although smart defaults (such as a 5 second video preview) can be beneficial, the user should ultimately be in control and decide which actions to take.

#16 Don’t start UX classes with a blank slate

It is hard enough to facilitate a group discussion. It’s even harder if the participants are not familiar with the subject matter, like identifying requirements and formulating information architecture, and don`t know where to start. You can run a smoother and more insightful information architecture workshop by doing a little preparation.

Prepare a list of I am I want statements to reflect user requirements (e.g., I am looking for a specific content, I want a better search function and capabilities across the site and want statements to reflect business requirements (e.g., we want to cater for beginners and experienced users).

Ask participants to review, modify, add, or remove any statements. This provides participants a cornerstone to start the conversation, readiness to take on another perspective, and can awaken their creativity.

#17 Keeping your participant motivated

Imagine you are a participant in a Usability Testing session. You are asked to complete several tasks on the prototype, but you miss most of them. Would you still try as hard as you did at the start of the session?

You may believe you are unlikely to achieve any of them and are probably unmotivated to complete the remaining tasks. However, we understand that the number of times an individual misses a task at the beginning of the session is completely independent of the how likely he or she will achieve the upcoming tasks.

Therefore, it is important for us as UX researchers to remind the participants that the focus of the session is to test the prototype itself, rather than their ability to complete the task. Also, building rapport with the participant throughout the sessions helps to keep them fully engaged.

#18 It’s either my way or the highway!

When collaborating with others, it is common to have differences in opinion, and for each party to devalue the opposing idea merely because it’s from the other side. To mediate this conflict and mitigate this effect, try the following strategies.

Get each party to explain the rationale behind their idea. You can further seek to understand the other parties rationale by asking questions, and using this as the basis to highlight the common ground between your two ideas. This can help create a shared view between yourself and others, and help identify an appropriate compromise.

You can also create low fidelity prototypes (e.g., sketches) of each idea. Illustrating the two ideas like can help distance both parties from their opinion and facilitate communication. This encourages viewing the solution from a more objective point of view.

#19 Over defending your deliverables may kill creativity

You can probably remember a time where you found yourself emotionally attached to a piece of work you created. After all, it would have taken you hours of carefully crafting it into perfection, and so its normal to be protective over your masterpiece. However, this can make receiving feedback difficult and cause you to defend your work irrationally, regardless of whether the feedback is valid.

As UX consultants, there are two things we can do to ensure we don`t over-protect our work. First, we should be objective and open-minded with client feedback, and determine the best solution based on the business requirements and the best practice. Second, it is always recommended to discuss the reasons for our design decisions to ensure we have a solid rationale for the proposed solutions, rather than being emotionally driven.

#20 Getting it right: live, in-person observation

Usability testing is one of most important aspects of user experience research. Inviting stakeholders to observe live testing sessions can increase credibility of the findings, gain buy-in, and build empathy towards the user. However, with this comes the risk of over-generalisation.

Have you ever come across a situation where your stakeholder only had time to watch one session and thought what they observed was applicable to the wider user group?

To avoid this potential risk of over-generalisation, UX consultants should manage stakeholders’ expectations by walking through the purpose of usability testings and letting them know upfront that feedback from participants need to be consolidated to generate useful insights.

You could also stick images of the product being tested on the wall of the observation room and invite stakeholders and other observers to put their comments on it throughout the entire testing period. This helps identify the true trends and patterns and prevents stakeholders from drawing premature conclusion from a partial sample.

#21 Exploratory usability testing

Usability testing on an existing website can be used as part of a discovery phase to inform the design direction, but it might be challenging to come with up realistic task scenarios without first speaking with a real-life user.

If your usability testing session is with existing customers, try starting the session with a mini-interview by exploring What do you typically use this website for and then asking them to perform these tasks.

If your usability testing is with prospective customers, you might need to do your best at creating realistic scenarios based on previous research, what the business wants users to do on the site, and support material such as google analytics.

#22 Unintentional hints

I would like you to place an order for these products from the homepage. Without meaning to, asking these types of questions in usability testing automatically informs participants that they must be able to perform an action, bypassing the need for them to consider for themselves whether it would be possible to do.

To reduce the number of unintentional prompts you give participants, try to incorporate user interview questions alongside the testing session an easy way to do this would be to ask about their expectations beforehand, using questions such as do you expect to be able to do from this page?

#23 Website first impressions

Making a good first impression is important in many areas of life, both personally and professionally, and this also holds true for websites.

Studies have shown that you have as little as 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression with users before they potentially decide to jump ship. Even if your site manages to impress at first glance, users shouldn’t have to work too hard at figuring out their next step. Microsoft says that some users’ transient attention span can be as short as 8.25 seconds and people tend to move on from a task they find cognitively taxing if there’s an easier alternative. This means there needs to be a clear next step to get them to spend some of their finite mental energy continuing down the path you’ve laid out for them, or they’ll be heading back to their search engine of choice and trying a different link.

Identify the points in your site where you expect users to be ready to decide and make the call-to-action in that location obvious by using size, colour and a clear label like “Sign Up”.

#24 Feature bloat

The temptation to add an extra feature or more options to your website is often hard to resist. How do we know the features and options we invest in are going to pay off? By asking the following questions we can ensure we are making good decisions for our users, whilst minimising the detrimental effects of feature bloat.

Think about whether it really makes sense to add the new feature you’re considering. How does it stack up against your business goals? Does it help the user make a key decision? Will it be a distraction? Would it be better placed somewhere else in the user’s journey?

Considering basic questions like these can help in making a quick initial assessment, however a more in-depth assessment is required to define the goals of the website, who the users are, and what their expectations may be.

A variety of research methods can be used to identify them, with some of the most common being interviews or workshops with stakeholders and users. Another great option is usability testing, which gives you the opportunity to explore things in far more depth and in several different ways.

#25 Don’t make me think!

Steve Krug’s first law of usability states the average website user’s perspective succinctly – “Don’t make me think!”. The key concept in question here is cognitive load, a term used to define the amount of mental energy required to do something. This can be further broken down into intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load – intrinsic referring to the effort of absorbing new information, and extraneous being the mental processing that doesn’t help with understanding the content.

People have a limited amount of mental energy available at any given time, so they naturally prefer the easier path, making it extremely important to minimise cognitive load as much as possible.

Review your site and consider whether it’s obvious what each element does – the clearer the purpose or function of each element, the less mental energy you’re asking a user to expend on your site and the more likely they are to continue using it.

#26 Usability sessions

Have you ever come across an aesthetically appealing website, which was so impressive that you were forgiving when the usability wasn’t all that great?

In usability sessions, it is possible that a user’s first overall impression of the product clouds their impression of other specific features or functions. How can we be sure whether the participants thoughts and feelings about the product are truly reflective of the functionality and flow, or if parts of their experience have been overlooked?

There are several things you can do to mitigate this halo effect. When discussing a product, ensure that each evaluative statement made by the user is explored in more depth in terms of what they specifically like or don’t like.

Using low fidelity prototypes (black & white wireframes) can also reduce the likelihood of participants becoming distracted by more subjective aspects of the product such as attractiveness and allow them to focus on usability.

You may therefore find value in gauging the opinion of participants while designs are still in the wireframe phase.

#27 Keep it fresh

The halo effect is a well-known cognitive bias where a user’s first impression of a product can cloud their impressions of other features or functions. Rotating the tasks which you give users is another approach that can be used. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the product/website for a prolonged period, this keeps the experience fresh, hopefully providing the user with a greater number of peaks and ends to recall back to you.

If possible, set up screen sharing or merely ask the user to walk you through their steps so you can follow along. When the data is process-driven, showing becomes more important than telling.

#28 Creating trust through your website

Making it difficult to find the right information needed to make critical decisions can be quite frustrating for the user and erode any trust you may have earned.

A study conducted on a health insurance comparison prototype determined that presenting all of the options in a complicated way, across multiple pages or hidden behind expandable sections and popups, can lead users to feel like your site is dishonest and doesn’t have their best interests at heart. In turn, this erosion of trust makes is less likely that users will complete the desired action, such as purchasing a health insurance policy via your comparison site.

Make sure the content you’re presenting is complete, clear and succinct, ideally broken into easily digestible portions of information – this approach tends to be much more trustworthy than huge blocks of text.

#29 Good website design

What’s good website design? According to a study conducted by Google, there are two key factors that play a major role in whether people like a website – visual complexity (how complex the visual design of a website looks) and prototypicality (how representative a design looks of a certain category).

People generally consider websites to have good design if they have low visual complexity and high prototypicality, i.e. designs that are both simple and familiar. Interestingly, the two factors are interrelated, so even if the design is familiar users will perceive it as less beautiful if its visually complex. More on familiarity in our next tip!

#30 UX Developer Jobs

People often transfer their own opinions to their users. If a stakeholder, UXer, developer or designer behaves a certain way, they often believe it is a common way for others to behave. This can result in project members being less receptive, dismissing or ignoring new or contradicting insights.

There are 3 things you can do to manage such situations. First, understand where project members are coming from to encourage awareness of these biases throughout the project. Ask how their beliefs were established? Was it through experience, testing, or second-hand knowledge?

Second, recruit a wide variety of people as participants in user research to ensure a variety of different responses.

Finally, invite stakeholders to observe the sessions to acquire first-hand knowledge about their customers.

#31 Don’t be afraid to break the rules

UX designers sometime get bogged down blindly following UX best practices and it`s important to adhere to guidelines at times, however, it`s equally important to critically evaluate whether following the guide will result in a more effective design. For instance, the UX best practice for online stores is to display 12-20 products per page, however, leading e-commerce brands like Amazon and eBay show 16-45 products per page. They seem to violate the guideline, but they`re extremely successful at selling online, suggesting the standard best practice isn`t always the best option.

Carefully evaluate whether the accepted best practice is right for your design, and make sure you run usability and A/B tests to validate the design.

#32 Observation is key

There’s no point asking people what they like or dislike, asking them to predict what they would do in the future, or asking them to tell you what other people might do – in many cases they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear.

Generally, people don’t have a reliable understanding into their mental processes, so the most valuable insights will come from observation of what they do rather than what they say.

A contextual enquiry is a semi-structured interview method that focuses on observing people in the context of their own environment, such as their place of work. The technique usually involves observing participants as they go about particular task, be it a trip to the shops or their normal workday, with the intent of understanding their mental model, routines, devices, distractions, etc. It tends to be quite time-consuming, but results in a rich set of information that can used to better inform a set of requirements, improve a process, or learn what is important to customers and users.

#33 Impatient web users

Research has shown that 40% of users will leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. There are a few methods we can employ to mitigate this issue.

Showing feedback while loading occurs is crucial as many people find it frustrating when they have no idea how much longer they need to wait. A simple progress bar that updates regularly can help manage user expectations.

Also, rendering the page in sections, rather than all at once after everything has downloaded can reduce users perceived wait time.

Finally, making the waiting fun and engaging can distract users from focusing on load times. For instance, the loading page of a tourism website for Bialystok (a city in Poland) illustrates a man cycling furiously and draws users attention to this man rather than staring at the loading page impatiently.

#34 Three-click rule

Research has challenged the three-click rule or two tap rule. We are now less concerned about the number of clicks involved to find the desired information, and more focused on the flow of the website and the user experience along the browsing journey.

What frustrates users the most is the difficulties in finding things they want, rather than the number of clicks involved. Therefore, we need to design websites that flow well and resonate with users’ mental model, by understanding the user’s goals and how they interact with the website.

#35 Task-based design

When users access a website or an app on a mobile device, they usually want to accomplish a task. This may be a broad task like browsing a news feed, or a specific task like checking train times.

Where possible, the interface of your product should be focused on helping users to identify and complete their task – everything else can be discarded.

Given the limited screen real estate of mobile devices and how quickly mobile users expect to be able to complete a task, it’s important to avoid wasting time and space.

Research in the form of user interviews and usability testing can help uncover a user’s intent and guide your design to ensure the most relevant options for the task at hand are available at each stage of the task. This will allow users to quickly move through to task completion.

In tip #33 we looked at the example from eBay which showed a case where UX best practice didn’t really make sense.

It’s impossible to have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to these types of standards as each project exists within its own unique context. This means it’s important to define the project context by identifying all the variables that could possibly apply before diving into the guidelines. These could include things like:

  • Age of the users.
  • Types of devices used.
  • How the users interact with the website.

User personas and journeys are often useful tools for organising all this information and producing meaningful insights. Once we are familiar with the context, start looking at existing best practices and decide whether any of them are a good match. Even then, it’s common to take the standard as a starting point from which you can design your own solutions.

#36 Business objectives vs. user experience

Balancing an organisation’s objectives while keeping user goals in mind requires more than building the best looking, fully featured website.

A good user experience design should bridge the gap between the business and user needs by identifying the objectives of both sides as early as possible and keeping an eye out for any areas of potential conflict while gathering requirements. For instance, the business may request to collect user’s demographic information by adding fields to an online form without considering how it could impact user behaviour and conversion rate.

User interviews can be used to find out what users think about the new fields and whether the additional required information would stop them from completing the form. If the data shows that users will still complete the form regardless, achieving the business objective, then the slight irritation along the way may be worthwhile.

#37 Designing a dashboard user interface

Big data has become the driving force behind many business decisions, so the implementation of a user-friendly dashboard interface is vital for success.

We ran an event in association with The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI) and Business Minds on UX for BI Dashboards, where we covered effective techniques for designing better BI Dashboard interfaces as well as how to perform User Research to inform these designs for maximum engagement. You can download a copy of the presentation here: TDWI UX for BI Dashboards Event.

Get rid of those pie charts

When designing a dashboard UI, make sure you choose the right type of chart to help reduce the user’s dependence on short-term memory. Pie charts are often used in dashboard, but studies have shown it’s hard for users to compare data on a pie chart.

Data that’s tracked over a period is best displayed on a line chart or area chart, while comparisons across categories are best visualised as column or bar charts.

It’s also important to provide an overview screen that allow users to take control and drill-down into the details they’re most interested in.

Finally, consider using a responsive design so the dashboard is device agnostic and the experience of interacting with it is consistent across different devices.

Perform user research

Trends for User Interface Design are always evolving: The tools we use to access them improve through added functionality, business requirements change, and user behaviour adapts. It’s important to properly research your audience and business needs before designing any user interface, to ensure that your experience is both useful and usable. Building a truly customer-centric organisation always starts with understanding your users!

#38 Overcoming aversion to change

Have you ever come across users complaining about recent interface changes on a website? Their complaints may be the result of a general aversion to change.

As UX consultants, it’s important to consider change management when implementing a new design. Set user’s expectations by outlining any upcoming major changes, and clearly explain the value of the change.

For internal projects, engage ‘change champions’ who thoroughly understand the changes and act as advocates to other stakeholders.

Where possible, give users some control over the change by allowing them to toggle between the new and old versions, and offer support and instructions during the transition period.

Finally, provide a channel to collect feedback from users and address any key issues they raise. Show that you’re making users your highest priority and you’ll earn their trust and respect, hopefully mitigating their aversion to change in the future.

#39 Increasing users’ trust and commitment

Although web designers are sometimes under pressure to collect user information as early as possible, asking for too much information too early can easily lead to users abandoning the site, as there has been no trust established.  

According to the the pyramid of trust , site-user relationships progress through a 5 experiential levels of commitments:

  1. Baseline relevance and trust that needs can be met
  2. Interest and preference over other options
  3. Trust with personal information
  4. Trust with sensitive/financial information
  5. Willingness to commit to an ongoing relationship

Your users will not be willing to commit to an ongoing relationship until you’ve addressed all trust needs at the previous levels. Therefore, start with demands that require a low level of commitment and move to higher levels once you have built up their trust. A small change like removing an upfront login on a shopping website will allow users to browse, and hopefully find something they like, before having to give out their personal information.

#40 Balancing ‘give and take’ for higher conversion rates

If you want to increase conversion rates in your site, you need to balance the site’s demands with user’s perceived value. Users will be less likely to create an account if the effort required from them (number of fields in the registration form) is much higher than the value they’ll get from using this account or their trust levels are low.

A clear explanation of your value proposition, a professional look (consistent typography, font size and layout) and direct contact information can help convince potential users that your product is relevant to them and trustworthy.

Additionally, genuine customer testimonials and reviews are a great way to enhance your credibility by providing social proof, an important factor in influencing user decisions.

#41 Design user experience

Colour plays an important role in user experience. Your choice of colour not only shapes your brand or product’s identity, it can also affect how users engage on a subconscious level, meaning you can use colour to inspire certain emotions in your users. 

For instance, red is associated with passion and intensity and orange is associated with warmth. Both Holiday Inn and Greenpeace use green as the primary brand colour, although their brand positioning is very different. This is because green colour is associated with growth, environment, relaxation.

Therefore, collaborate with the creative designers in determining the look and feel of your website to ensure the colours are in line with the user experience you want to deliver.

Finally, be careful when designing websites for different cultures since the meaning associated with colour can change across cultures.

#42 Use self-expression

A little while ago, Facebook launched a new feature on its page. Instead of a single ‘like’ button, users can now express emotion through five additional emoji icons. The invention of these buttons provides a pleasurable means for users to easily express themselves on social media.

Self-expression is an important element to consider in website design, as it can engage users naturally by providing a channel for users to ‘voice out’. Therefore, where appropriate, consider allowing users to express their emotions or opinion in a quick and easy way to facilitate interaction and engagement. Self-expression can also increase their level of emotional attachment with your site, and they value they see in it.

#43 Over-innovative design can harm UX

A real innovation is something new that provides greater value than the previous alternatives, not just changing things to make them look new or different.

usability study conducted from Nielsen Norman Group shows the negative impact of violating web design conventions without a good reason. First, the study shows hiding navigation in desktop decreases findability and increases users’ cognitive load, it is best to make navigation visible in desktop version. As we mentioned in UX Tips #9 “I know what it should look like”, we should consult existing standards and conventions before proposing a new design element.

Furthermore, in the same study users completely ignored other “innovative” tools on the site, showing the importance of user research to validate if there was really a need for such tools.

#44 Usability testing session

If possible, review your notes from each usability testing session immediately after you finish a session and before the next participant comes into the lab.

You can use screenshots of the website to quickly mark the elements of the interface that were problematic or highlighted positively. You can also use post-it notes to jot down the key usability issues/pain points and the positive experiences the user encountered.

This quick exercise helps us digesting the data we collected in each session individually when our memory is still fresh in mind and facilitates the analysis process later on.

Ideally, invite the developers to observe the usability testing sessions so they can see the problems first-hand and start solving some of the obvious issues before the written report is completed.

#45 UX designer developer pre-populating fields in forms

We all know forms are tedious to fill out. As UX designers, we want to make our forms as effortless as possible to help our users save time and maximise completion rates. However, we need to be careful when using defaults or pre-populating fields, to make sure we are helping our users and not creating more problems or facilitating mistakes.

For example, if users are purchasing an insurance, we could pre-populate the ‘start date’ with today’s day if we know this is the most likely starting date for that product. On the contrary, when users are filling out a claims form for the same insurance product, it might be better to leave the field ‘Date of the event’ blank, since it’s unlikely that most users fill out the claims form the same day of their accident. Furthermore, having a default option already selected might lead to some users providing wrong information (by skipping this field and just leaving the default option selected).

#46 Optimising navigation

Generally, users are quite impatient when they browse on the internet. If they are unsure whether they will find what they want on your website within seconds, they may leave and go to a competitor, leading to a lost sale.

The main navigation of your website should give users a good indication of what they can find on your website and how content and features are organised. It is therefore important to validate that your information architecture and menu labels makes sense for your target users and not just for your organisation

#47 User experience design process

The best way to create an IA that resonates with your target audience is to involve your users in the design process. A card-sorting activity can really help you understand users’ mental models and provide valuable insights to inform the creation of an effective Information Architecture.

To run a card sort you need to prepare 20-30 cards with one content item or topic written on each card. Then, organise one-on-one or group sessions with participants from your target audience. During the sessions ask participants to organise the cards into groups, adding a descriptive label to each group.

Once they finish the activity, ask them to walk you through how they organised the cards and why they did it this way. You don’t need to use the groupings or labels they suggested, but you need to understand their rationale for making those groups. This will form the basis for an IA that resonates with your users.

#48 Humanising your website

As explained in the MINDSPACE model, who the messenger is can have a great impact on the attention users pay to a specific message or the credibility they assign to it. If you have a section in your website explaining “who you are”, use real images or videos of the team and include your contact details (either generic or personal) so potential customers know if they had any problem, they will be able to contact you.

By humanising your website, users can see there are some real people behind the website, and they will be more inclined to trust you and your message.

#49 Small changes big impacts

In UX, every recommendation and design that is implemented is an experiment where we are testing a hypothesis. With that in mind, you don’t always need to do a big redesign to improve your website – you can start with small changes, see how they affect user behaviour (with usability testing, A/B testing and Analytics) and iterate.

Also, asking users to accept a small change is usually easier than changing everything at once, something Facebook is infamous for. Small changes are also less time and resource intensive, and something as simple as changing a menu label or moving a button can really help users complete the task they came to the site for.

#50 Ethics in user research

When conducting user research, it is your responsibility as the researcher to ensure participants are in no way harmed or stressed because of their involvement in the research. Here are 3 things you should consider when conduction user research:

  1. Explain to participants the purpose of the study and give them the opportunity to ask questions before they sign the consent form
  2. Clarify that you are not testing them or their ability to use the product but the product itself
  3. Remind them they have the right to leave the session at any time if they feel uncomfortable (even after signing the consent form).

If despite all this, their frustration levels get too high, it’s your responsibility to move the conversation on or finish the session early.

#51 Applying curiosity to interface design

It’s no secret that humans are captivated by unanswered questions and suspense. Behavioural economist George Loewenstein explains in his Information-Gap Theory that “curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.”

As UX designers we are trained to communicate information in the most efficient way, not withhold it. But in some situations, withholding certain information in our designs can help increase engagement. For example, LinkedIn used to show you a graph of your profile views that was greyed out with a dialog box prompting you to get a premium account to access this data. LinkedIn’s design was leveraging users’ curiosity quite effectively by showing them this graph was available and within their reach, they just needed to upgrade their account to get the graph, fill their information gap and satisfy their curiosity.

#52 Using personas when making design decisions

A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioural, attitudinal, and motivational patterns. Each persona normally outlines the needs, behaviours, challenges, and interests of one fictional character that represents one of your user groups.

A good persona should be based on user research, reflect general patterns within this user group and be realistic. In short, personas will help you understand who you are designing for and make informed decisions during the design process considering different types of users.

#53 Serving scaled images

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. Images should be served at their original image size where possible. For example, you should not resize your images using CSS unless you are serving several instances of the same image and that image matches at least one that is the original size. Otherwise, you should use something such as Photoshop to resize your image, saving file size.

#54 Optimised images

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. On average over 50% of a page’s download size is made up of images, so it makes sense that if the images have a large file size, it’ll take longer to load your page. This is especially obvious on mobiles, which are not as fast as downloading when on mobile networks. There are ways to get around this, such as optimising images.

This process results in smaller file sizes, and faster download speeds, without compromising quality. Depending upon the number of images being used and optimised, page load speed could easily be improved up to 70%. There are many tools that can perform image optimisation, such as https://kraken.io/web-interface.

#55 Page load standards

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. A web page should load before the user’s attention is broken from the task at hand, which is usually 1 second.

It is best to start painting the web page as early as possible to keep the connection between action and reaction from being broken – less than 100ms is best, more than 300ms is too long. To allow the web browser to paint the page, all critical rendering paths need to be loaded. Images are non-blocking; however CSS and JavaScript are. Minimize the number and size of CSS files by aggregating them and compressing them. Make sure the minimal JavaScript files are loaded synchronously, and non-critical JavaScript files loaded asynchronously. To further improve perceived performance lazy load images.

#56 Content delivery network (CDN)

 An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. Once you’ve taken the steps to maximise the speed of your site, it’s time to look at the server that is hosting it. Traditionally, a server will store a copy of your site and then serve it to whichever location the user is viewing it from.

The time it takes from the users’ first request to the time it takes for the server to respond can vary depending on where the user is in the world relative to the server. Content Delivery Networks work a little differently to this. Instead of hosting just one copy of your website they host multiple copies of it on various servers that are located around the world. So, they can serve the site from the geographically closest server, ultimately improving site load speed.

 #57 Use symbol fonts

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. Symbol fonts are a popular and easy way to add interest to your website. They can be used anywhere on your page, for instructional or decorative reasons. They replace graphical icons on your page, which may be prone to poor scaling and jagged edges when used across multiple device resolutions. Symbol fonts scale easily, so they look correct at many different sizes. This image represents a contrived example of the way a symbol font scales for multiple uses.

Twitter icon comparison, showing superiority of SVG over PNG for clarity

As you can see the bitmap image (on the right) does not scale that well at large magnifications, whereas the SVG (on which the font is based) still looks remarkably smooth.

Symbol fonts are generally limited to a single colour but they can easily complement or contrast with your normal text colours using simple CSS. With a little more effort you can create stackable icons that would allow multiple colours. Many libraries are available offering pre-built icons, or you can create your own icons using SVG. For most use cases a combination of pre-existing and custom fonts will give you the best balance.

Social icons, navigation aids and other common icons are likely already made for, so why reinvent the wheel?

Some resources to find out more about symbol fonts are available here, and here, and here

#58 Use icon font instead of images

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. One of the largest assets that browsers need to download are images, causing some pages to load slowly. Where possible generate custom font icons instead of images. Font icons scale and look great on any resolution.

#59 Caching assets that don’t change

40-60% of daily visitors to your site come in with an empty browser cache. Making your page fast for these first-time visitors is key to a better user experience. Both web browsers and web servers allow for caching. These caches store previous requests on the browser or server; requests such as images, web pages, CSS/JS files and other data such as cookies.

By storing these responses, bandwidth use is reduced, helping to improve a website’s performance. Caching is often best used on assets that seldom change, such as CSS and JavaScript files. You can set an expiry date for when an asset should change, effectively telling the browser or server to pull in a fresh copy of your assets.

#60 JS/CSS optimisation – minification

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience.

A way to optimise your JS & CSS assets is to minify them. This technique complements concatenation well and lets you further reduce your asset load times. The gist of this technique is that we strip out a lot of the cruft in your JS/CSS assets—such as comments and whitespace—to reduce asset footprints and thereby reduce load times.

Browsers are just machines, they don’t necessarily care what your asset files look like, only that they are syntactically valid. Minifying your files has the potential of tremendous gains, for example a typical library we use—Normalize.CSS—goes from 7.28KB to 2.16KB, results in a 70% reduction in file size!

#61 CSS sprites

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. 

A key factor to reduce page load time is to minimize the number of http requests to the server. Each image in the site requires a separate http request, and browsers can perform only a few simultaneous requests to the same domain. This can form request queues and essentially makes the page load slower. 

We can easily overcome this lagging by combining several images into a single big file called CSS sprite. Usually, the site logo and other static images are good candidates to be combined in a sprite. Creating sprites manually can be cumbersome but there are several online tools which can produce a CSS sprite from a collection of images in seconds. One such tool can be found at http://spritegen.website-performance.org/

Additionally, CSS sprite can be further optimized by arranging the images in a compact manner as opposed to placing them horizontally or vertically, as this usually results in a smaller file size. Also, reducing gaps between the images and combining similar colours in a sprite helps to keep file size low. All these settings can be applied to the generator tool while creating the sprite.

#62 JS/CSS optimisation – concatenation

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. Concatenating your JS or CSS files may not be a remedy to your performance problems. 

Here are a couple of reasons: Giant files are bad. Having a giant file means that your web page will not render until the entire file has loaded. If your site relies quite heavily on JS or CSS—which most sites do these days—it’s going to look bad or simply not work until your entire asset file gets pushed over the wire. Internet Explorer (9) is going to balk. IE9 has an unfortunate hardcoded limit to the CSS it can parse. It refuses to parse any more than the 4095 CSS rules per file. This limit is particularly easy to breach with a concatenated file, especially if you use a pre-processor such as SASS or LESS as they generate quite verbose CSS.

#63 JS/CSS optimisation – Concatenation

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. It may not seem like it, especially for static content such as JS/CSS, but server requests are costly. There is a fair bit of overhead in each server request, a traditional HTTP/1 page load looks like the following: DNS lookup Establish connection to the web server Send HTTP request Wait for response Receive response Steps 1-3, in an average page load, are generally small and are usually a few hundred milliseconds. However, if you have 30-40 JS/CSS files per page, those milliseconds can add up very quickly. 

So, it is a good idea to concatenate your JavaScript or CSS asset files is to reduce the number of server requests that a browser needs to do.

#64 JS/CSS optimisation – asset priority

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. One way of concatenating your JS/CSS to optimise their load times is to concatenate based on asset priority.

Some of your assets are going to be more important than others. Concatenate and load the more important ones before the others. For example, say you built out your site using several third-party libraries and frameworks and have a fair amount of custom-built code. All the third-party library/framework (vendor) code needs to be loaded prior to any of your custom code. What you can do in this case is concatenate all your vendor code into a single a file (e.g., `vendor.js`) and your app code into another file (`app.js`).

#65 JS/CSS optimisation – concatenation by categories

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. One way of concatenating your JS/CSS to optimise their load times is to categories your assets. You can split your combined JavaScript (or CSS) files up even further by categorising the contents of the file by its contribution to the page. For example, load all the assets that render content above-the-fold prior to other assets.

#66 JS/CSS optimisation – bless your CSS

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience. Older versions of IE had a limitation of the CSS file size it can parse. To avoid this issue while concatenating your CSS to optimise their load times is to Bless your CSS.

A simple solution to getting around the IE <9 selector problem mentioned previously is to use Bless. What this does is analyse your CSS and then split it up into a new file prior to the 4095 selector limit. It’s almost like magic and can either run as part of your build pipeline or on the server via Node.js. In certain systems, such as Drupal (which we use extensively), there are modules that automatically do this for you as part of the CSS aggregation step. Our personal favourite is the Advanced Aggregation module, which does it with a simple configuration setting.

#67 JS/CSS optimisation – using component

An optimised technical solution increases performance and enhances User Experience.

One especially clever way of concatenating your JS/CSS to optimise their load times is to put components everywhere!

Another, more complicated option is to go down the route of turning your pages into collections of ‘components’. You can then use something like Webpack to bundle these components up into discrete bundles, which you load as required.

#68 Pre-testing your surveys

In user research, how you ask a question is always important, but it is especially critical in surveys. Once you send a survey, you can’t clarify or explain further any of the questions. Furthermore, if the respondents misinterpret a question and answered something different, you might never know.

Here is our recommendation to avoid this: conduct a quick usability test (pre-test) on your survey before sending it out. Ask your pre-test participants to read each question out loud, try to answer it, and discuss any ambiguities with them. Alternatively, you can also send a pilot survey to a subset of your sample asking for feedback.

#69 Progress bars

Progress bars are a common UI design element to show users how far they are into completing a form or survey. They can help us meet one of Nielsen’s most common usability heuristics, “The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable time”.

Research shows progress bars are effective when used in short forms where users can see significant progress from one page to another. Nevertheless, we need to be careful when using them in long surveys or with skip logic, since not seeing substantial progress between pages might be discouraging and result in higher drop-off rates.

#70 Confirming your password

It has become relatively common to see online forms that ask you to write your password or email twice. The intention of double entry is to prevent errors. However, some users just simply copy and paste the password from the original field into the confirm field, which negates the benefit of double entry.

Other users may find double entry annoying as it suggests the users cannot be trusted to enter information accurately. This case study shows how removing the field “confirm password” can increase your form conversion rates. If you decide to remove the confirm password field, one way to minimise errors is to include a ‘show password’ option to unmask the password, so users can double check the input before hitting the submit button.

#71 Sketching and visual storytelling

Sketches are a great way to communicate abstract ideas. They can provide a ‘zoom out’ perspective of the entire user experience or show a specific moment in the user journey of a particular persona.

Sketching is also a powerful technique to engage audiences. We can ask research participants to sketch their ideas in workshops to further understand their thoughts or to represent the ideal user journey.

Drawing basic pictures is a lot easier than preparing a wireframe or clickable prototype and no specific skills are required.

#72 Designing with white space in mind

We have a natural tendency to fill interfaces with ‘stuff’, but empty (or white) space serves an important purpose in web design. White spaces help communicate the visual hierarchy of the elements in the page and improve readability and scan-ability, which ultimately facilitate reading comprehension.

For an optimised user experience, ensure key Call-To-Action buttons stand out and the number of elements on the page does not distract users from their primary goal.

#73 The art of walking through personas and user journeys

Personas and user journeys often excite stakeholders, as they are visually appealing and interesting to read. How can we ensure these important deliverables are presented in an efficient manner?

First, bring sufficient paper copies and print them in A3 size, so stakeholders can hold a copy and read the content properly.

Secondly, walk through the structure of the personas and journeys templates and the purpose of each section.

Thirdly, provide a high-level explanation of each persona and the differences between their journeys, instead of going through every detail during the meeting.

Finally, factor in time for Q&A and write down comments made during the meeting, but kindly ask the stakeholders to reserve their feedback until they have reviewed the deliverables in detail following the meeting.

#74 Empathy in design

Good design is an exercise in empathy with your users; only by understanding how they view and approach things, can you design products that make sense to them.

Achieving this level of empathy requires an understanding of your users that is only possible via research, whether that takes the form of interviews, workshops, or some other type of study.

Once you have done your research, you can use empathy maps to summarise what you have learned about each user group: how they think, how they feel, what they hear, say and do.

Empathy maps give you a solid foundation to put yourself in the shoes of your users and design a product or an interface that addresses their needs. 

#75 Crazy 8s: generating design ideas and alternatives

There is no one, correct, or definite solution to a problem. Therefore, when presenting your design solution to stakeholders, you need to be ready to answer this question: “Why is this design better than the alternative?”

You can use the Crazy 8s technique to help generate design ideas in the ideation phase and explore different alternatives. You can even bring a few alternative designs to the meeting and explain why they weren’t as effective as the design you are proposing. Find out more about the Crazy 8s technique here.

#76 Mobile ergonomics

Research shows that people generally hold their phone in one hand, using their thumb as the primary navigation tool. Therefore, it is essential to ensure your mobile design is catered, if not optimised, for thumb usage and ergonomics.

Ideally, you would want to test the ergonomics of a mobile design with a range of devices and screen sizes, but this is not always possible due to time and budget constraints.

#77 First impressions and perceived value

A website with good usability alone is not enough to drive user engagement. Among other things, it’s also important to consider the perceived value of the website to the user.

Perceived value is the subjective worth attributed to a product or service. The initial impression of the site should match the value the business wants to communicate. For instance, Target’s online store highlights sales events, offers and money savings on their products, which aligns with their value proposition as a budget department store. In contrary, the image and branding style of David Jones’ website creates a perception of sophistication which aligns with its business image. 

#78 Slider design

Sliders are a common UI design element that allow users to select a value or range from a fixed set of options.

Sliders look inviting and user-friendly, but in practice they are difficult to manipulate, especially on touchscreen devices.

Sliders should only be used for approximate, rather than precise, values or ranges. Further, limit the slider range, as the wider the range the harder it is to select the targeted value. In fact, if picking an exact value is critical to the goal of the interface, consider a different UI element that allows users to use a tap gesture, rather than relying on press-and-drag gestures (e.g., an input field).

#79 Reducing no-shows in your research

As simple as it may sound, sending a reminder to your research participants prior to the session with the objectives of the research, the exact location of the venue and your contact details (in case they have any problem finding the place), can reduce no-shows.

According to the theory of planned behaviour, having this information can maximise participants feeling of self-control (e.g., “I can drive there easily”, “I know who to contact if I got lost”) which will increase their likelihood to show up.

#80 Avoiding group think in focus groups

When asking participants for ideas or opinions in a group setting, like a workshop, it’s easy to get group thinking.

To avoid the first ideas or opinions voiced setting the direction of the brainstorming exercise, ask all participants to write down their ideas on post-its first. Then, go around the room and ask each participant to explain his or her post-its to the group.

Once the participants have written their ideas on post-its, they are more committed to them, and therefore more likely to share them even if they go against the group thinking.

#81 Happiness in the micro-interactions

While ensuring the information architecture, structure and other major building blocks of a website are optimised is extremely important, it’s also worthwhile to get the little details right as they have the potential to delight your users and leave a long-lasting impression. For example, Twitter has a hover state on their website’s “Tweet” button telling the user the keyboard shortcut for submitting a Tweet, potentially saving them time in the future. Google Hangouts offers fun little animations when you send certain messages, like a stream of ponies when you type “/ponystream” – not quite as useful, but something fun that adds to the experience of using the product.

So, when you think you’re done with your design, consider whether there are any little tweaks you can add that can brighten someone’s day (without being an obstacle to their task).

#82 Be proud and excited: turning negative feeling into productive energy

When you’re feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly fuel your anxiety. For example, did you ever tuck your chin to your chest and bury your head in your notes before presentation? Or try to calm yourself down by saying “you will be fine just calm down”? If so, that might be precisely the wrong thing to do. 

Instead of slumping and crossing your arms, adopt and hold an expansive posture for one minute before you step into the room can helps raise confidence and reduce stress. Also, tell yourself to get excited about the situation rather than focusing on how you’re feeling.

#83 Ethical user experience design and dark patterns

dark pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things they may not want to do, like signing up for recurring bills or purchasing accessories with digital products.

Recently WhatsApp updated its privacy policy to say they will share users’ data with Facebook for advertising purposes. Users needed to opt out to avoid this, but the opt out toggle was hidden in the fine print of a show / hide panel where most users would select ‘Agree’ without reading the terms and conditions.

This resulted in a bad user experience as users unintentionally gave permission to WhatsApp and Facebook to use their data for marketing purposes.

Mobile device showing the What'sApp privacy policy acceptance process

Although there is no standard code of ethics for UX practitioners at the moment, we should be careful not to design UI dark patterns that deceive users into doing something they would not want to do, as this can be very damaging to a brand or product’s reputation. Instead, look to produce interfaces that are intuitive and obvious, that follow established UX best practice and that delight, rather than disappoint, your users.

#84 Don’t let ‘impression management’ ruin your UX research

We all want to be nice, smart people.

As humans, we generally want to be perceived positively by others.

Woman holding a picture of a smile in front of her mouth while in reality she is unhappy.

We influence the perceptions of others about ourselves, objects or events by regulating the information we make available in social interactions, both consciously and subconsciously. As such, people often mask their true feelings and behaviour if they think it won’t make a good impression.

This impression management behaviour in User Experience Research can make it difficult for researchers to uncover users’ true needs, motivations, and their current pain points.

To reduce the effects of impression management, we recommend the following three techniques:

  • Assure participants that their responses will be recorded anonymously.
  • Explicitly encourage open and honest feedback.
  • Let participants know that critical feedback is very useful.

#85 Please, only one task at a time! Short-term memory in UX

People often refer to the magic number 7 when talking about short-term memory.

A simple illustration of a human brain.

Early research into short-term memory reported most adults can store 5 – 9 items. However, as soon as we need to do anything with the information, this reduces significantly to 4 – 5 items.

This reduction is because we are often storing and processing information simultaneously, leading to a higher cognitive load.

To compensate we tend to reduce our capacity to store information in short-term memory.

This is important to keep in mind when we facilitate user research and UX Testing.

Avoid asking participants to do several things at once.

Instead, break tasks into smaller steps, asking participants to do one step at a time. This will reduce the cognitive load on the participant, helping them to focus on the task at hand.

#86 Let go of your fear and unleash creativity

Creative people are often stereotyped as those who know how to draw, design, or use certain types of software like Adobe suite. However, the definition of creativity is much broader; it is defined as:

the ability to see and make a new pattern”.

Based on this definition, everyone can be creative, regardless of background, skills, or profession.

One of the main reasons we often find it difficult to perceive ourselves as being creative are our internal fears.

Many people say fear is the acronym of ‘False Evidence Appearing Real‘, which is true in a way.

We are afraid of many things, such as our ideas being judged as the ‘wrong’ idea. This mental framework blocks us from thinking outside of the box.

To mitigate these internal fears, we need to practise incubating and encouraging ideas rather than criticising them.

Practising an ‘experimentation mindset‘ rather than an ‘implementation mindset‘ will help allay our fears and unleash our creativity.

#87 How we use schemas to interpret and organise information

What do you think of when you see the Apple logo?

Does an iPhone, MacBook or iTunes come to mind?

The natural tendency to associate the “Apple” logo with its products demonstrates our schema – a mental framework for interpreting and organising information.

Schemas are mental shortcuts to help us focus on the most meaningful and relevant parts of our experiences. Once a schema is formed, it is hard to change, and people tend to ignore information that doesn’t match their existing framework. 

Therefore, when we are designing websites, it is important to understand users’ expectations and the schemas they have created in relation to the topic, brand or product. Otherwise, a higher level of attention will be required when using the website making it seem difficult to use.

Also, being aware of our own schemas when conducting user research is important as we may have a predefined opinion of participants and expect certain behaviour from them.

We need to be mindful to be as neutral as possible during the research to get the most authentic data from participants.

#88 Well-designed forms boost conversion rates

Research has shown that when using web forms that follow usability best practices, users are almost twice as likely to submit with no errors on the first try (78% of submissions are successful on the first try for forms that follow best practices, compared to only 42% for forms violating them).

Some best practice for web form design is easy to implement, but often forgotten.

For instance:

  • Present fields in a single-column layout to keep users in the flow, with separate rows for each field.
  • Clearly explain any input or formatting requirements especially for setting login ID or passwords, and entering phone or credit card numbers, so users don’t have to guess the required format.
  • Don’t rely on field placeholders instead of labels as they make it difficult for people to remember what information belongs in a field, and to check for and fix errors.
Animation of the float form label interaction by Matt D Smith
The float label form interaction by Matt D Smith 

If you’re looking to improve your online conversion rates, then you definitely need to consider form optimisation. A few small changes really can make a huge difference to your user experience, resulting in more successful customers.

#89 Design for cognitive styles

User experience design is often concerned with helping users make the right decisions, both for them and your business. Understanding the cognitive style, or thinking style, of users can give us insights into how they make decisions, allowing us to design better experiences.

Whole Brain Thinking

Herrmann Global - Whole Brain Model: Intellectual, Intuitive, Instinctive, Rational.
The Herrmann Four Quadrant Whole Brain model.

One model we can use to help us understand cognitive styles is the Herrmann Four Quadrant Whole Brain model.

According to this model there are four distinct thinking styles:

  1. Analytical (e.g., logical, fact based, quantitative).
  2. Practical (e.g., organized, sequential, detailed oriented).
  3. Relational (e.g., interpersonal, feeling-based, emotional).
  4. Experimental (e.g., holistic, intuitive, integrating).

Everyone has access to all four quadrants but to varying degrees. 5% of the population prefer one quadrant, 58% prefer two quadrants, 34% have a preference for three quadrants and 3% prefer all four equally. Applying Whole Brain Thinking means being able to fully leverage one’s own preferences, stretch to other quadrants when necessary, and adapt to and take advantage of the preferences of those around you to improve performance and results.

So how can we use this model?

Let’s use the example of purchasing a car.

  • Analytical users would put more emphasis on engine performance and specifications.
  • Practical users would consider the maintenance costs and depreciation rate.
  • Relational users would want to know the materials used to make the car and how comfortable they may feel in the driver’s seat.
  • Experimental users may simply base their decision on the look-and-feel of the car.

Knowing the different cognitive styles of our target user groups can help us design user experiences which make decision-making easier.

#90 Touchscreen devices and ergonomics

A good mobile design is not just about how easy tasks are to perform (i.e. usability), but also how comfortable it is to interact with (i.e. ergonomics).

This is of particular importance for touchscreen devices when the entire screen could be a touch-target.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your mobile design is ergonomic:

Place common controls together to avoid users having to reach all over the device

Place common controls together to avoid users having to reach all over the device.

Maximise tap targets to reduce accidental missed taps

Maximise tap targets to make it easier to tap and to reduce accidental missed taps.

Make text large and legible so users are not forced to rotate device or zoom while reading

Make the text bigger and legible so users are not forced to rotate the device or zoom in or out while reading.

#91 Increase user research participant attendance

User Testing sessions are only as good as the users you’re testing; if they don’t show up at the right time, or worse still, if they don’t show up at all, this can have real time and cost implications. While we don’t have a foolproof plan to guarantee your participants will show up, there are a few techniques you can use to reduce no-shows.

Add to calendar

On your registration confirmation page, include an add to calendar link. Participants can then add this event to their personal calendars so that they are alerted in advance of the session. Some recruitment software has this functionality built in, but if not, you can always do this manually via an add to calendar button, or with email using Google CalendarOutlook or a simple iCal creation app like this one.

A calendar displayed on a tablet device, placed on a desk next to a computer keyboard.

Send a reminder

As simple as it may sound, sending a reminder to your research participants prior to the session outlining the objectives of the research, the exact location of the venue, and your contact details can reduce no-shows.

The easiest way to do this is via email. You can include links back to any online documentation about the research and provide directions via Google Maps. You can even take photographs of the journey to the testing room if this makes it easier for your participants to find!

According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour, having this information can maximise participants’ feeling of self-control (e.g. “I can drive there easily“, “I know who to contact if I got lost“), which in turn increases their likelihood to show up.


The degree to which you can do this will vary depending on your circumstances but offering participants something in exchange for their time will often help improve attendance rates. Think about what would be valuable to your audience. Is it financial reward? Recognition for their participation? Or depending on your circumstances, perhaps taking part in user research can be built into a person’s job or study responsibilities, as is often the case at universities.

A $20 note

While this advice doesn’t guarantee that your participants will show up for a testing session, it should help to minimise the no-shows. Ultimately, the key take away is to make it as easy as possible for your participants to take part. Good luck!

#92 Reducing no-shows by boosting participants’ intrinsic motivation

What motivates us?

Generally speaking, there are two types of motivators: external and internal.

It is common practice to attract research participants through monetary reward. However, within the field of psychology, the consensus is that external motivators alone are not sufficient to drive behaviour. Therefore, it is important to induce and maximize participants’ intrinsic motivations.

Photo of a woman undergoing user testing and being recorded on a mobile phone

Capitalise on Intrinsic motivations

When shortlisting participants, we can highlight the personal, rather than organisational, benefits of participating in the research.

For example, on the information sheet provided to prospective participants, instead of saying “your feedback and participation will be valuable in improving the usability of the website and inform the company’s strategic directions moving forward”, we can instead say “by participating in the research, you will have the opportunity to contribute and help direct the design of the website”.

Framing the purpose of the research from the participants’ perspective can help increase intrinsic motivations, which in turn can help reduce no-show rates.

Just remember, each participant is giving up their time to help you conduct your research – even if they are being rewarded for it in some way – and you want them to give you honest and useful feedback, so try to ensure they are invested in the research too and you should have higher attendance rates as well as more reliable data.

#93 More happiness in the micro-interactions

While ensuring the information architecture, structure and other major building blocks of a website are optimised is extremely important, it’s also worthwhile to get the little details right as they have the potential to delight your users and leave a long-lasting impression.

What are Micro-interactions?

According to Dan Saffer, Micro-interactions are “contained product moments that revolve around a single use case—they have one main task. Every time you change a setting, sync your data or devices, set an alarm, pick a password, log in, set a status message, or favourite or ‘like’ something, you are engaging with a micro-interaction”.

For example, Twitter has a hover state on their website’s “Tweet” button telling the user the keyboard shortcut for submitting a Tweet, potentially saving them time in the future.

Google Hangouts offers fun little animations when you send certain messages, like a stream of ponies when you type “/ponystream” – not quite as useful, but something fun that adds to the experience of using the product.

So, when you think you’re done with your design, consider whether there are any little tweaks you can add that can brighten someone’s day (without being an obstacle to their task).

#94 Do you really need a mobile website?

I can imagine that if I were to ask you this in person, the conversation would go something like this:

Me: “Do you really need a mobile website?”

You: “YES! Of course, we do!”

Me: “Why?”

You: “Have you been living under a rock? As of June 2017, 51% of the world’s population has internet access. In fact, more people have cell phones than toilets!”

Well, actually, hold on there tiger. I can’t argue with the stats, but that doesn’t mean you need a mobile website. Let me explain…

Mobile wireframe comparison showing that it is best practice to use responsive web design

The trend these days is to make sure that your website is optimised for every device, every screen size, every pixel density. That’s great for flexibility, for the mobile web, and for your organic search results, but it’s worth stopping and asking whether this is really necessary, particularly if your website is an internal business tool.

Sometimes it’s an easy decision to make – you know that your staff will only have access to the site on their work computer, so you know exactly what devices you need to target. In fact, at the time of writing, many businesses in Australia are still stuck on Windows XP and even Vista, so responsive design is the least of their worries.

However, if you’re not sure, you don’t need to go all in just yet; develop for the most common use case that you’ve identified throughout your research (you did do some user researchright?) and tag your site with a tracking code from a service like Google Analytics.

After some time, you’ll be able to identify patterns in how your users engage with your site, including the types of devices they’re using.

Armed with this information you can make an informed decision about where to put your time, effort, and money – if nobody is trying to access your site on a mobile device then there’s no point optimising for mobile.


#95 Let users make mistakes during usability testing

Occasionally, things don’t go to plan. Often, they yield entirely unexpected results – and the world of UX is no different.

During usability testing, it is tempting to stop or alter the test when we see users have trouble. However, it is incredibly important that you resist this temptation!

We, as human beings, naturally want to help people when they’re in need, but since the goal of usability testing is to find and solve the difficulties that users experience, allowing these situations where the users fail to do what they want is actually really useful.

In these situations:

  • Avoid tipping the user off to their error.
  • Remember to keep your tone neutral.
  • Watch your body language and facial expressions.

If the user does stray off onto a different path than expected, instead of redirecting them to finish the task, ask them questions like,

“Why did you navigate to this page?”

“Did you anticipate that you would end up here?”

“What is it that you hoped to accomplish?”

Remember not to make the user feel uncomfortable about sharing their thoughts, otherwise they may limit the honesty in their answers, or attempt to tell you what they think you want to hear, and this impression management behaviour can ruin your research.

By allowing them to make mistakes, we are given the opportunity to ask them why they did what they did to understand their rationale. When we understand the motivation behind their actions, we can design to change it – so long as that is a business requirement!