Dilbert’s company needs some user research!

I wanted to share today’s Dilbert comic. It cracked me up. The first thing I thought was, “They need a UCD person to get the user’s requirements right!”


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Helping Remote Teams Visualize User Data

EarthHow do you communicate user data with teams that are not co-located?  This can be a common problem with larger companies. If you’re able to, you can travel to their location and run usability interviews with them as guests. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a team that will actually read your notes from individual interviews (yes, I have actually had teams read notes from EVERY participant – amazing! While this can mean a lot of time typing, it works well with some people. Just make sure they read more than one participant, so they do focus too much on one person’s needs/issues.).

I attended a UPA conference a few years ago. One of the more memorable presentations  (Usability Analysis Visualization to Improve Communication and Build Trust by Rally Pagulayan, Oracle) included a method of sharing data with teams: affinity diagrams. The method was labor intensive, but effective. Each piece of data was put on an individual post it note. Then, the notes were organized hierarchically on a wall in their lab. Any duplicate data grew into larger stacks. When other team members would come into the lab to see how the sessions were going, they could immediately see all of the important points. Also, for those team members that normally ignored feedback from the usability team (yes, you know they’re out there!), they were able to see all the data and had less inclination to argue.

I thought this method was interesting, but I tended to work with remote teams at the time. So, I came up with a similar method. Instead of using post it notes, I created PowerPoint and Visio presentations. Each page contained a grouping of data. The first page would contain information about the user group (age, computer experience, occupation, location, etc.). Other pages would cover a theme of user data (e.g. a specific portion of the website or task completed). Then, I would organize the data hierarchically. I wanted to convey the large amount of user data for certain points and make sure interesting, if not regularly brought up, data was easily found. I also wanted to put down some thoughts I had while looking at the data and watching sessions. A piece of sample data can be seen here:


I used a few visual differentiators:

  • Thick borders are used to point out repetitive data.
  • Dotted lines are used for comments from the UX tester.
  • Red borders are used for issues on the site, again using the thickness to illustrate highly repetitive issues. Other methods of differentiation may be needed if you work with someone who is color blind.
  • Participant numbers for each comment is listed to follow specific user needs. If one of the users was a manager and all other users are worker-bees, their approach to the website can be very different. Being able to track comments from both user types can be useful.

While I know this method requires a lot of work, it can be really useful for a couple situations. First of all, if you are new to a team and the team is unsure where you get your suggestions/designs from, creating these documents will help them see the huge quantity of data obtained via user sessions. They can also easily see where the repetitive data is. The data can be used for talking points to explain the design. After a while, hopefully you can earn the trust of the team and will no longer need to use these diagrams. Another time the diagrams can be handy is when you have an issue that is a “hot topic” for various members of the team. You can create a mini diagram for the area of interest. Seeing user data that is specific to the issue can help with discussions, although there are always people who will not change their minds, even with the data!

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Colors and Emotions

Colors can play a large roll in website design. I recently read an interesting blog about colors and a dentist’s website that illustrates how the wrong colors can affect a user:  http://tpgblog.com/2009/08/31/quickux-desirability-color-fair-dental/

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Eye Tracking

Harry Brignull, a classmate from my days at the University of Sussex had a fun little blog on eye tracking I thought I’d share with you all. Its about a demo put together by Bunnyfoot  at UX Brighton. Bunnyfoot is a great company that does a lot of work with eye tracking technology. I had the pleasure of meeting Jon and Maggie at a UPA conference a few years ago.

Some Fun Eye-Tracking Heatmaps

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Protoshare – How to use states sitewide

For those of you thinking about or using Protoshare, I just learned a little more about states. You can implement them across the entire site. How do you do that? Use them in a template that you use throughout the site. Any change in the state will also be remembered.

Why is this useful?

Now, I can quickly mock up what screens look like based on the user’s login status. I can hide/show sections of the screen easily and hide/show login prompts. I’m hoping this will save me a lot of work. Rather than mocking up 2 different screens for each state, I can now mock up just 1: less to create and less to update as changes are made.

A note about defaults….

The first value in the state box is the default. So, if you want to default to show a certain tab open, make sure you set that state accordingly in the state setting. But, if you already have your defaults set up and then you change the order, remember that you will have to change the order for all actions that interact with that state, otherwise, they will be set to the wrong choice. This is a little cumbersome but not awful. Setting the default correctly the first time will make it easier in the future!


One way to test your states is via the interactive mode. You can also quickly test using the “States” tab, where you can hide/show states. The “States” tab + the Widgets panel (click the “<<” button the left to open the list) really make debugging easier. Note that you can also hide/show individual Widgets from the list, without using the “States” tab.  Both areas are useful both for debugging and to access any Widgets that are not available based on the status a state.

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Working with Protoshare


I’ve been evaluating Protoshare to see if it’s a wothwhile addition to my toolset; it turns out some of the features in the tool were perfect for one of my projects. Therefore, I decided to use it for this contract. The tool is really good, for certain situations. It definitely has some issues, but its still a young product and has real promise.

The Good

  • The product is pretty fast to learn. It’s an online WYSIWYG web development tool, with a few limitations (mentioned later in this review). Overall, most experienced users should be able to jump right in and get something built quickly.
  • The product is still young and it seems to have a lot of potential. The team seems to be open to suggestions. If they continue to listen to customers, the product should evolve in a good way. There is a new release coming out today. And, I am excited to get my hands on the new features. A couple of them will be handy for my current project.
  • You do not have to host the project yourself! Because this is an online product, it is already up and ready to share and use for user testing. This is a nice little feature for teams that do not want to deal with hosting. Also, because its already online, any changes are immediately available without needing to update the hosted site.
  • Reviewers can post comments/questions directly onto the UI with a “bug tracking” – like tool. Any comments added will immediately be sent to everyone on the team, for review. When designing a UI remotely, as I am currently doing, this means the team can have one location to design and track issues. Also, if someone posts a question, as the designer, you will receive an email and immediately know that person is looking at the product. You can then call and chat with them about any issues/questions while it is still fresh in their mind.
  • They have an unusual payment plan for a prototyping tool. You pay monthly, depending on the number of projects and designers you will have. Also, if you are unhappy with the tool, you can cancel your membership without having too much money invested. Additionally, if you find you will not have a need for the tool for a few months, you can “park” your membership for a small fee (currently $5/month, I believe).
  • I love how the states work. They are still a bit young in development and have some growth to make them even more useful. However, they are very easy to pick up and use. It took me a lot less time to get comfortable using them, compared to the dynamic panels in Axure. Also, the product has an interactive mode. This mode allows you to click on your prototype as if it is live. While clicking on items, you will see a status of the states turning on/off slide across the bottom of the screen. This makes debugging a breeze.
  • Auto generated navigation (including breadcrumbs) really help the designer quickly get working pages together. If you design your site structure well, in a tree that makes sense, you can use their prebuilt navigation widgets. Vertical and horizontal buttons/tabs are quickly generated and customized (Note: Small usability bug: make sure you change the “Hide Starting Pages” field to “no” if you customize the items in your navigation). You can also set some pages to “hide” in the tree to keep them from appearing in the navigation. These items are not 100% customizeable, but you can usually manipulate it to simulate what you want.
  • Templates and reusable “clippings” save time recreating the same work on each page.  Plus, they’re really easy to set and update.

The Not So Good

  • Every now and then I find a little bug. For example, when I paste in text from another source (e.g. a Powerpoint), the Rich Text field will show style code that I didn’t intend to copy. This can easily be fixed by pasting in a generic Notepad file and then copying and pasting the text without any style added. I’m pretty forgiving with these little bugs since the company is new and they have a new release coming out soon!
  • You can only have so many active and archived projects at a time for the smaller membership fees. This may be rough over time for smaller groups (e.g. independent contractors). To be able to save more projects, you will need to go up on the membership payscale. This is only an issue for anyone who wants to keep and work on a large number of projects. Then again, if you have a ton of projects, you can probably afford the upgrade in fees!
  • You cannot easily host your own projects, or at least it seems as though this is only an option for larger companies. While not having to host is a plus for some teams, it may be a minus for others. Also, if you want to be able to access your prototype offline, on your own computer (e.g. for usability testing in an environment where you may not easily have internet access), there does not appear to be an easy way to export your project. There are discussions of adding the ability to import/export pages in their user forum, but this is not currently availble.
  • You do not “own” your projects. If you ever decide to cancel your membership, all of your projects are gone. Therefore, you are relying completely on Protoshare’s ability to keep your work safe. I am sure they have security and back ups in place to protect your content, but you do not have a copy of all your work within your control to protect and version.
  • If I want to organize user interviews in an environment without easy access to the internet, how will I access my prototype? Will saving the html be practical? Or will I have to go over mobile broadband?
  • If your company has large amounts of existing content in XML format that you want to show in your prototype, you cannot import it or use it in your prototype, yet. However, I was told they are discussing this… no promised deliver date yet.
  • If your internet connection is flaky, you may find a few glitches here and there. While your internet connection is not directly related to Protoshare.. it does mean down time from working with their product.
  • There are moments the product can be a bit slow. This can be a bit frustrating, but its definitely not a showstopper.
  • The main issue is that you cannot always do exactly what you want due to the infancy of the application.  This may be an issue if you want a complex site put together. However, I can see where they’re going, and its a good start!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with ProtoShare. In my opinion there are projects and situations where other tools such as Axure (or iRise, if you can afford the license) would be a better choice, and I will continue to choose the tools based on the contract requirements. At least the standard UCD answer won’t change… when someone asks me which tool we should use for a project, I can reply, “It depends.”

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One of my favorite usability cartoons

I ran across this while I was searching for an image for another blog. This is definitely an old example, but its still rings true. Enjoy!

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