Pressing issues: Using parking machines

14 Jul 2014

It’s easier for a municipality to have central machines that dispense tickets for parking than to have individual meters. But they’re not always designed well. Here are two examples, one easier than the other. Neither takes credit cards, which complicates the UI in other machines.

The first one is in Belmont, Mass. While the display is a bit dim, it’s very easy to use.

The next one is in the neighboring town of Arlington, Mass. They put all those stickers on the machine because it’s so hard to use otherwise. Even the coin slot is labeled! When I was at the farmers’ market last summer, I saw a town employee who took people’s money and ran the machine for them.

That’s an expensive side effect of poor design.

Parking machine in the town lots in Belmont, MA

Parking machine in the town lots in Belmont, MA. It’s a little hard to read, but easy enough to use.

Parking machine in the town lots in Arlington, MA

Parking machine in the town lots in Arlington, MA. All those stickers are supposed to help with the UI. What do you think?


Pressing issues: using a public bathroom

7 Jul 2014

Soap on the right, water on the left. How do you use them?

After pressing the top of the soap dispenser, I pressed the top of the faucet. Nothing.

I see now that the three little openings at the bottom of the faucet stem indicate a sensor, but I was going to wash my face and didn’t have my glasses on. It’s a lovely design, but the inconsistency confused me. Each time I visited the Museum of Fine Arts and used this bathroom! I think now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember!

MFA bathroom sink fixtures

How do you get soap? How do you get water?


Pressing issues: How do you use an elevator?

1 Jul 2014

I rode in this elevator multiple times recently, and each time pressed the numbers instead of the buttons. It’s not an unusual design, but to me, the floor numbers always stand out much more than the buttons. Have you ever had that problem?

MIT Stata Center elevator

Quick: What do you press?

At the time, I didn’t even notice that there’s no second floor!


What do they do when they can’t do what they want to do?

5 May 2014

I watched people create forms in a study and saw a creative workaround for an unclear feature.

The model that the participants were copying had a Submit button, and the program automatically inserted one in the form. That seemed like a convenience, but there was no way for users to know that would happen.

There was no way to insert the button because it was automatic. One creative person inserted a text box and made the default value be “Submit”:

One form with a text box that says "Submit" and one with a Submit buttonIt looked like a Submit button, sort of. And it made the participant feel like he accomplished the task, but it was confusing and stressful to figure out.

The lesson is that people often do things we don’t expect. Sometimes customer research like this usability study is the only way to find that out and prepare for it.


News: in print, on the Web, on a mobile device

12 Mar 2014

I’ve been thinking about how we read the news, and how the “device” we use affects how much we read. And that affects how much we learn about the world.

Here are some examples from a recent day’s news. Click an image to blow it up, but look from this bird’s-eye view first and get an idea of how much information each medium initially provides. I think that’s important.

This is not meant to be exhaustive, nor scientific. But you have to start somewhere. What  do you think about reading online vs reading print, especially for news?

The New York Times. Available in these formats: A new Web app. The Web site offers two versions: one is current news, I believe, while the other is the day’s print paper online. The Times Reader app may no longer be supported, but it was when I captured these images.

New York Times Web app

New York Times Web app

New York Times.com Web site- iPhone

New York Times.com Web site- iPhone

New York Times.com - Today's paper - iPhone

New York Times.com – Today’s paper – iPhone

New York Times Reader

New York Times Reader

New York Times front page - print

New York Times front page – print

New York Times daily email

New York Times daily email



The Boston Globe. At the time of these screen captures, there was a Web site, an app and the print version.

Boston Globe.com - iPhone

Boston Globe.com – iPhone

Boston Globe.com

Boston Globe.com

Boston Globe front page

Boston Globe front page in print

Boston Globe app

Boston Globe app



The Boston Herald. This is unique because readers see more information with the online front pages than in print.

Boston Herald front page, print

Boston Herald front page, print

Boston Herald app, iPhone

Boston Herald app, iPhone

Boston Herald.com

Boston Herald.com


Assistive devices for low-vision and hearing-impaired people

23 Jan 2014

I was visiting someone recently who has severe vision and hearing problems. The number and types of assistive devices that he has is amazing. Most of them came from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Memory takes the place of vision with some of these devices: each has its own controls and layout to remember. It’s quite amazing to watch someone use them all. Click the images to see them larger.

Prescription-label readerThe ScripTalk Station reads prescription labels aloud. It gets information from an RFID chip in the label, so the medication has to come from a pharmacy that uses these labels (like the VA).

An occupational therapist provided some interesting tips: put a rubber band at the top of a bottle for morning doses, and at the bottom for evening. Turn the bottle over after taking the meds, then reset it the next day.


High-volume phoneAs it says on the handset, this is a LOUD telephone. I had to turn it way down to use it. The buttons are large enough for many low-vision people (and I blurred out the names on the top of the phone).

People with severe vision problems can contact the phone company to get an exemption from directory assistance charges. AT&T offers services through its Accessibility & Disability Services and The National Center for Customers with Disabilities.



TV listening deviceWilliams Sound makes SoundPlus TV listening devices like this. The base connects to the television, and sends the sound via infrared signals to the receiver, which the listener wears.

Sound on the television can be at a regular level for people without hearing problems, and the wearer can adjust the volume on the receiver.



Magnifier and text reader Two reading devices: On the left, is a magnifier. You can see the corner of a yellow page under the screen. This is good for simple documents.

On the right is the Extreme Reader by Second Vision. It does text-to-speech conversion and reads documents out loud. You can see a newspaper in the device, and the simple control panel with four big buttons. It’s obviously slower than reading on your own, but it’s an amazing thing to have when you can’t.


Talking blood pressure cuffThis HealthSmart blood pressure cuff speaks instructions, measures blood pressure and then speaks the results. It provides a general diagnosis (“According to World Health Organization recommendations…”)

I saw a similar device for measuring blood glucose levels.



Very large-type calendar Not everything is electronic. Large-print calendars like this are very helpful. One source for them is LS&S, “the catalog of products for the visually impaired and hard of hearing”. Other simple accommodations include small velcro strips on washing machines and dishwashers to help get oriented on the control panels.



Color and light meterThis one is my favorite: Press the red button to hear what color an item is, which can help vision-impaired people pick coordinating clothing (or carpets, for that matter).

Press the yellow button to get an audible signal that indicates the light level of the room. You don’t want to invite friends over for coffee if they can’t see the cake!


How do you know if your customers want that feature you’re planning?

23 Dec 2013

I took a client out to talk with customers about a big new feature they were planning. After just a couple of interviews, it became clear that customers didn’t want the feature. A couple of interviews saved a lot of time and expense.

It’s amazing what you learn by watching and listening. My favorite work these days is customer research. I love learning how people work, and how they think about what they do.

Here’s an overview of customer research along with some favorite methods and examples of important things we’ve learned by listening to customers over the years.

You might see it called different things, like customer research, design research, user experience research and user research. But it’s all about listening and learning.

Why we do customer research

There’s no point in just guessing how people work or think or use your product. As Jakob Nielsen said back in 2004:

“User research is a reality check. It tells you what really happens when people use computers. You can speculate on what customers want, or you can find out. The latter is the more fruitful approach.”

Methods

Here are some of the research methods that I’ve used over the years:

  • Customer interviews. Conversations with individual users about an aspect of their work. We might look at the product that we’re interested in, but the main goal is to talk about tasks and needs.
  • Usability studies. A more-structured observation of an individual user working with a product or a prototype. We learn about user behavior, and have a chance to observe actual work, and ask questions while the user is working.
  • Design Workshops. My Design Workshop starts as a brainstorming session, but I ask participants to sketch out their ideas, which makes them think a little harder. It’s a great way to explore concepts or start a new design project.
  • Surveys. This is a way to get data from a lot of people. Followups by phone or email allow some deeper discussion. A survey might be based on what we learn in customer interviews.
  • Card sorting. This is a great way to find out if an existing or proposed information architecture matches the way real users think about the data.

Team members observing

I always want client team members to participate or observe. They may be in the next room watching a video monitor, or observing via GoToMeeting, or going out to visit customers with me. I ask them to take notes and we have debriefing sessions to share our observations.

They learn a lot, too. Here are some examples of what team members have said:

“I never believed it would be so hard. I never thought people would have used it this way.”

“What we saw him do wasn’t what we expected.”

Observation leads to product improvement because the more observers there are, the harder it is to ignore problems that turn up.

Things we’ve learned

In all cases, the goal in customer research is to find out what people think and how they work. Research results lead to design changes in the short term, and to better UX strategy in the longer term.

We use data from customer research to build and refine our personas, too.

These are some of the things I’ve learned by listening to customers:

  • Web tools for the construction industry. We stopped development on a new feature because the target audience didn’t want it. This saved a lot of development time.
  • Dictation tool for physicians. “Physicians don’t do that.” A doctor made it clear that office staffers are the ones to enter demographic information, so we changed the workflow.
  • Business reporting site. Customer visits turned up a need for business owners to delegate certain tasks to employees. They wouldn’t have been able to use the tool if we hadn’t learned about this.
  • Consumer software. Even though customer surveys showed great satisfaction, when I ran this client’s first usability study, it turned out that no one could actually use an important part of it.
  • Online magazines, online courses & business sites. People have told us over the years that they’re a bit shy about commenting on what someone else has written online.
  • Sales productivity tool. Observers saw problems they had not seen in the lab. They started a fix right away.

Is it time for you to start doing customer research?

Have you talked with your customers recently? Let’s talk about ways to improve your products through customer research.


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