As a technical communicator, it’s your job to provide end users with all the information they need to safely, efficiently, and effectively use a product. To achieve this, your technical documentation not only needs to be correct and complete but it also needs to offer good usability. Let us see how a good usability test can help you.

What is Usability?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO 9241-11) defines usability as the “extent to which a system, product or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use”.

So how can you tell if your target audience will be able to confidently achieve a goal with the help of your instructions? Will they be able to easily and quickly find information without getting frustrated? Does your website offer good accessibility? And does the design of your technical documentation offer a good overall user experience (UX)?

The best way to answer these questions is to conduct usability testing.

What is Usability Testing?

According to Usability.gov, “usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users”.

Leading usability expert Carol M. Barnum defines usability testing as “…the activity that focuses on observing users working with a product, performing tasks that are real and meaningful to them”.

In short, it is important to always test your technical documentation with ‘real users’ and ‘real tasks’.

Before the Usability Test

Getting the most out of the limited time you will have with your test subjects requires good planning:

  • What are your test objectives, i.e. what do you want to learn from the usability test?
  • Select suitable test subjects based on your target audience analysis. How many users you need to recruit depends on the study, but according to UX expert Jakob Nielsen, 5 is a good number.
  • Think about the tasks you want your users to attempt. Then create realistic task-based scenarios.
  • What are your evaluation methods?
  • Do you need any test equipment? Any access to products?
  • Book a meeting room or other quiet location — you don’t need access to a high-tech usability lab.
  • Make sure you carefully prepare all documentation, including scripts and questionnaires.

Conducting the Usability Test

Once you have finalised your test plan, and you have taken care of all organisational matters, it’s time to get started:

  • Are there any step-by-step procedures or key tasks users struggled with?
  • Is there any information users could not locate? 
  • Did they get ‘lost’ in your technical documentation?
  • Did anyone have any major comprehensibility problems?

Based on your findings, you can now re-write, re-structure, and re-design your draft and eliminate any usability issues. Further usability testing can be very helpful to show how your changes have improved the overall user experience of your technical documentation.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to find out more about usability testing, here are some useful links:

Also, if you are interested in further study in the fields of technical communication and localisation, make sure you take a look at the TCLoc Master’s degree at the University of Strasbourg.

It’s no secret that TCLoc students are an international group of professionals that have diverse backgrounds and expertise. Thanks to TCLoc instructor Kirk St.Amant, a small group of alumni were able to share their skills and knowledge with his usability and user experience students at Louisiana Tech University in the United States. In this interview, Kirk explains why he invited TCLoc alumni specifically to give guest lectures in his course, what insight they were able to share with his students, and why he plans to do it again in the future.

Meeting Kirk St.Amant

Hi, Kirk! To start, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Kirk St.Amant, and I am a Professor and the Eunice C. Williamson Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University and I serve as the Director of Louisiana Tech’s Center for Health and Medical Communication (CHMC). I am also a Research Fellow in User Experience Design with the University of Strasbourg and an Adjunct Professor of Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick. I have a background in technical communication, international studies, and anthropology, and I research how psychological factors affect usability and design — particularly in medical settings.

Wow! That’s quite an impressive list. How long have you been with TCLoc and what course do you teach for the program?

I have been with the TCLoc Program since the spring of 2018, and I teach the class “TU Visual Communication Part 2 — “Usability and User Experience Design”

The Usability and User Experience Design Course

Well, we’re certainly lucky to have you as part of the program. I see that you asked TCLoc alumni to be guest speakers in one of your courses in the United States. Could you tell us which course that was for why you chose them specifically?

I asked TCLoc alumni who completed my TCLoc Usability and User Experience Design class and who had done dissertations on usability to share their dissertation research projects — how they approached usability for the project, the research and related design methods they used, and the challenges they encountered (as well as steps to doing usability research for clients in the future) — with graduate and undergraduate students in my usability and user experience class at Louisiana Tech University (fall 2020).

And what were some of the major takeaways from what they said?

The major takeaways from these lectures were:

  • Approaches to applying ideas from class to do usability research in the field
  • The challenges of doing usability research in the field — what they can be, how to plan for them, and how to address them
  • The benefits gained from doing such research — both for the clients for which TCLoc students did projects AND what the students themselves learned in terms of how to apply, revise, build upon, and add to concepts and practices they learned in their usability class
  • The contributions usability research can make to different organizations (companies or government agencies) and how to share such contributions with others via written reports, presentations, and other formats
  •   Suggestions for how to plan and engage in effective usability-related research in the future

The overall objective was for students in the LA Tech class to learn from the experiences of TCLoc alumni and understand different ways to apply, revise, or build upon concepts covered in the class to do effective usability research and related design work in the field/outside of the classroom.

A Successful Collaboration

That must have been incredibly insightful for your LA Tech students! What was their overall reaction to the TCLoc alumni’s input?

They thought it was excellent!  Not only did they learned a great deal from the TCLoc alumni experiences in terms of how to approach usability work and/or apply ideas from class to real-world contexts, but they also learned how usability is international in scope, how it is/can be approached across nations and cultures, and how it can contribute to successful communication in international contexts.  Since the class, I’ve actually had several students ask to do international usability projects, and I’m currently working with these students and international partners on such projects.

That’s amazing to see how what the TCLoc alumni said inspired some of your students to pursue more internationally-focused projects. So, do you plan on doing this again in the future?

Definitely! I’d like to use this approach again both in the usability classes I teach at Louisiana Tech University and in future usability classes I teach with the TCLoc program — having alumni of the program share their stories, experiences, and suggestions with individuals currently in the program.   I’m also happy to chat more with interested persons about these projects as well as the chance to collaborate on classes in the future (e.g., serve as guest lecturers or clients for student projects).

It sounds like it was a great experience for everyone involved! Thank you for inviting the alumni to participate in your course and also for the expertise you bring to the TCLoc program. We look forward to future collaborations between TCLoc alumni and your students!

The diverse skills and expertise of not only our students but also our instructors is what makes the TCLoc master’s degree great. Alumni have the opportunity to participate in TCLoc-related activities even after they graduate, whether it be through guest lectures or other forms of involvement, such as our mentoring program. To keep up to date with the latest news, make sure to follow us on social media!

Your approach in optimizing your website or application has to be based on a set of objective tools that allow you to observe, measure, evaluate, and eventually make well-informed decisions for your next web project. This can be successfully achieved in two main directions. Firstly, you need to have a usability testing strategy in order to test your digital product before it is launched on a wide scale. Secondly, you need to be able to collect UX behavioral data, which is quantitative data to measure and analyze users’ interactions with your website or application.

Why do you need UX behavioral data?

UX behavioral data will help you to find answers to some of the most important questions: how users are interacting with your website and why they are interacting the way they do.

Here are some of the main tools to help you retrieve UX behavioral data:

  • The website’s built-in tools found in several content management systems such as WordPress, Moodle, Magento, Drupal, etc.
  • Website analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, LuckyOrange, etc.
  • Online ads analyses provided by social media analytics and ads manager, Google Ads, etc.

How to organize UX behavioral data?

After you collect all the data you may need, you will have to make sense of it. It is highly recommended that you organize them in the following four online behavioral data types:

  1. Acquisition Data: acquiring or winning over new visitors and analyzing where they come from, such as search engines, ad campaigns, partner websites, social media, etc.
  2. Engagement Data: the visitors’ actions on your website, such as behavior flow, click heatmaps, session duration, bounce rate, landing pages versus exit pages, page views, etc.
  3. Conversion Data: the percentage of website visitors who end up taking the desired action, such as purchasing a product, downloading a file, signing up, etc.
  4. Technical Data: data from the users’ devices, browsers, operating systems, screen resolution as well as analysis of your website’s speed and performance.

Integrate UX behavioral data with usability testing

Data without deeper analysis and action is just empty numbers. So, put these behavioral UX data to good use by integrating them in a strategy of usability testing.

Usability testing is a set of qualitative methods to observe and evaluate the users’ online behavior while they are interacting with your website or application. These methods are commonly used in UX research for different types of web projects depending on your needs.

A hand takes a sticky note with "Run a usability test" written on it

Usability Testing Methods

We will look more in-depth into the following six usability testing methods, which are especially important for website optimization:

Moderated Usability Testing

A testing method that can be conducted in person or remotely. It involves two main actors: a moderator who gives specific tasks and a participant who interacts with the website or application while giving his feedback out loud. The moderator can also observe as the participant completes the tasks and records the session. This method gives important qualitative information about the usability of the product, but it is costly and time-consuming with a limited number of participants.

Unmoderated Usability Testing

This testing method doesn’t require the presence of a moderator as the participant completes the tasks. However, the session is recorded and the participant is encouraged to give his feedback out loud as they go through each specific task. In contrast to the moderated usability testing, the unmoderated usability testing costs less time and resources and can include a bigger number of participants.

Five-Second Testing

This method tests the efficiency of a web page in conveying information. The participants are asked to view a single web page for five seconds. Afterwards, the moderator asks them questions about what they have seen. The web page is considered efficient if it successfully conveys the brand identity of the website, easy-to-digest information about the service or product presented on the page, and the reasons why these services or products are useful for the visitors. But if the participants in this test show difficulty in remembering any of this key information, it means the website needs to improve how it presents its brand identity and products.

Card Sorting Testing

This testing method helps us evaluate how well information architecture and navigation structure are and whether they make sense for users. It consists of asking the participants to arrange different, unorganized items under predefined labels or categories. This allows us to compare the existing website’s information architecture and navigation structure with the users’ answers on how they think it should have been structured. This is especially useful when redesigning a website and its hierarchical, tree-like structure.

First-Click Testing

It helps us measure how user-friendly a website or an application is when it comes to specific tasks. The participants are given a task to complete while the moderator observes their first click and evaluates how easy and clear it was for the participants to find their way. The position where the participants’ click is recorded and presented in the form of a heat map that shows where the highest and lowest number of clicks took place. This helps identify navigation problems and better position the most important links and buttons on a page, such as sign-up, add to cart, or purchase buttons.

Preference Testing

This method involves participants right from the beginning of a web project when several design proposals are still being examined. The moderator shows participants a number of different designs and asks them to choose their favorite one. The participants are then asked to give feedback on why they chose a specific design, what they liked and disliked.

These six methods present some of the most important tools for website optimization and they can be conducted online with participants from different parts of the world, which makes them rather feasible, cost-effective, and time-saving.

Sources:

  • W. Craig Tomlin – UX Optimization: Combining Behavioral UX and Usability Testing Data to Optimize Websites – Apress (2018)
  • Usabilityhub.com

Interested in reading more about technical communication? We have plenty more articles!

Would you like to improve your user experience and as a bonus turn internal costs into revenue? Then keep on reading!

What Is Digital Adoption?

First off, let’s define what digital adoption is. If you ask Forbes, they define it as “achieving a state within your company where all of your digital tools and assets are leveraged to the fullest extent”. In plain terms, we can say that it is all about getting your employees as well as your customers to use all your software tools and get the most out of your investment.

How Can You Use Digital Adoption to Improve the User Experience of Your Software?

A few years back, we at TimeLog decided to change our market-oriented focus. We wanted to have a more customer-oriented approach in contrast to the product focus we have had from the beginning. In addition, we wanted to find out how we could best help our users. Part of the new strategy was to look at the technical documentation in our online Help Center. We wanted to discover new ways to make it easier for users to find and read the material we had invested so much time in to produce for them.

That’s how we found WalkMe. Deciding to implement this software was the first step in improving our user experience, because it helps users immediately whilst using  the product.

And what is WalkMe, you might ask? For us a real game changer! It is a tool that can help you through your digital adoption processes. Besides, we use it to improve the user experience in our professional services automation software.

How Does WalkMe Improve the User Experience of TimeLog?

We use WalkMe to educate our users in the use of specific features in our software. We have introduced interactive guides that take the user by the hand and, step by step, show how the system works. It allows us to teach our users best practices, and it minimizes complexity, which in turn improves the ordinary users’ understanding of the system.


It is important to help all users no matter what their technical competence level and understanding of the system is. They can get the help they need here and now, and they do not need to contact our support first to learn more or navigate to a different page.

We not only produce the step by step guides, we can now produce step by step guides. We have several options to communicate important messages, we can point out important features and greet new users. When new users log into the system for the first time, they receive a welcome message, which offers guidance on how to get started in the system. It also introduces the onboarding guides, which helps the users to go through and learn the basics of the system.

TimeLog Welcome Message

How Did We Turn Software Costs Into Revenue?

We had not considered this option ourselves, until we had a few large customers requesting specific guides to explain their own processes. They saw a unique opportunity to guide their employees through their internal processes without creating Word documents and videos themselves.

In our user database, we already sorted our customers by specific companies and user IDs. This enables us to make guides visible only  to specific customers. When we received the first request for specific content, we identified our options, tested it in our own environment, and then realized we could apply this to our customers at an extra cost. The demand is surprisingly high, and we not alone cover the software costs, we are now slowly beginning to generate revenue from this area. We are now making money from helping our customers guiding their users in the way they want. They get the high data quality they need, and we both have happy people using TimeLog in the easiest and most efficient way. Win-win!

WalkMe Has Changed Our Business in Many Ways

Improved technical documentation and unexpected revenue are not the only benefits we have seen. We have seen numerous, and I list five of them here:

1. Less How To? Support and Improved Implementation Processes

After introducing the guides, the number of support tickets starting with “how can I…” has decreased. The more and the faster the users are educated in using the system, the more time is saved, and the more they can get out of it.

Our implementation consultants now use WalkMe for basic learning in the system. Customers can focus on the deeper functionality and processes in the system much faster, and in this way gain more from their investment in an implementation. At the same time, our consultants get more time to cover the more complex parts of the system and the customers’ internal processes and strategy during the workshops.

2. Improved Customer Communication

If you look in your own inbox, you probably have a number of unread newsletters, right? What do you do with them? If you are like most other people, you delete them. We simply do not have the time to take in all the information.

WalkMe allows us to communicate directly with all our users, and we can quickly inform about, e.g., new functionalities and guide them through new processes and features. In this way, we ensure knowledge sharing across the company, which eases the job for the customers’ super users in the system.

With a wide range of variables/settings, WalkMe enables us to communicate to different users at different times. We can e.g. differentiate on user rights, browser selection and specific areas within the system.

3. A Dedicated Team Takes Care of Everything

We have a specialized team, which is responsible for creating both the free standard guides for about 1,000 customers and the customer specific requests we receive. Our team continuously works on optimizing the way we use all the features with great help from the business developers at WalkMe. The team moreover improves the quality of existing guides and tests new features to see if they are beneficial to us and our customers.

4. Increased Customer Satisfaction

After introducing WalkMe, we have seen a rise in our customer satisfaction measured through NPS. The free and easy help has improved the use of the system for many customers, which provides them with happier employees and more reliable data. High data quality equals happy customers. Happy customers equal longer relationships. Longer relationships secure monthly recurring revenue. What’s not to like?

5. A Differentiator in Our Sales Process

Our business consultants use the guides in the sales processes to show how easy our system is. They get really good feedback, as the potential customers see that it can be easily implemented into their system and that it teaches all their employees the new processes without them needing to put extra energy and money into it.

Curious to Know More?

Feel free to reach out to me to learn more about our use of WalkMe, our implementation process and how we use it on a daily basis. Connect with me on LinkedIn or feel free to reach out to me via e-mail.

Would You Like to Know More About TimeLog?

TimeLog is a medium-sized software company based in Copenhagen, Denmark. We offer a software for time tracking, project management and invoicing, which allows you to get the overall overview of your resources and financial progress on projects. In short, we offer a professional services automation software. We have been in the business since 2001, and today we have 40+ employees in three countries. Feel free to visit our website to learn more about us.

We talk a lot about UX best practices in web design and a lot about which software to use to improve UX in web design… But what about software design? It is clear, websites and software have different user interfaces for different target groups. Besides, the software is not online, though this doesn’t mean user experience is not an important thing here as well. That being said, it is time to see the best practices to implement UX in software design.

What exactly is UX and UI?

User Interface

UI (User Interface) is a place where interaction between human and machine occurs. It can be material like the buttons of a machine or graphical, like a website, an application, but also a computer screen. In this article, we are going to talk about software, meaning a graphical user interface that is downloaded (usually on a computer) and that allows a group of people to improve their productivity (save time, avoid errors, make work easier and more efficient…). For instance, SDL Trados is a software that helps translators, Adobe Photoshop is for graphic designers.

UX (User eXperience) considers all the practices that make a user interface (UI) easier and more pleasant to use, including the design but also the way the software or interface is organized.

Why is UX so Important in Software Design?

UX is designed by software developers and is appreciated by users. Basically, the main goal of UX is to satisfy the user: developing functional software is no longer enough. Moreover, a UI can (and must) be continuously improved by its designers.

Nowadays, software developers, just as web developers, always have to think “user first”. In fact, UX is now part of common practices for the proper use of interfaces. It is not just a “bonus” anymore. Therefore, a whole strategy around the user must be implemented even before the start of the software development, because the way a project is planned, will define the designers’ and developers’ work.

What Are the Best UX Practices for Software Design?

The Basic Rules

In UX software design, it is always good to apply the basic UX practices. Setting up intuitive menus and organizing the interface in a logical way are part of it. This requires above all a good upstream work on the software architecture. Make sure that the software is a useful tool that helps to increase a company’s productivity and its employees to reduce errors, without having to spend time on troubleshooting make it understandable for all. Take that in mind while designing software. The keyword here is: intuitive. Nobody reads the documentation about how to use the product since it is way too much time consuming and boring.

To do so, think about the way the users will make use of it. For example, the users might have many screens and want to organize the panels in their own way. Therefore, they should be able to arrange their work surface as they wish by arranging the sizes of the different panels and being able to move them. Nowadays, many software programs allow users to set and save their own configurations. Furthermore, it should always be possible to easily reset these settings.

Ux designer working on UX design

Basic UX design practices also include the visual aspect such as readability, the contrast between background and font color, and the choice of character size and font. As for websites, prefer a non-serif, simple font and either a black font color on a white background or the other way round. Spending hours at the desk working with software can be very tiring for the eyes, therefore it is also part of the designers’ job to reduce the optical strain that screens require.

Functional Software

Of course, another fundamental thing is the proper functioning of the software. Well developed, thoughtfully coded software is the key to a fast, functional and bug-free final product. Of course, there will always be things to improve, new features to develop, bugs to fix. Released software is never a final version. That’s why you need to continuously interact with your users, which brings us to the next point.

Feedback in Both Ways

Another important thing in UX software design is to get feedback. In order to adapt the software to the needs of the majority, you need to know the issues and questions that have arisen when using the software. Surveys are a good way to get feedback from the users.

Also, you could be surprised by the way some of the users will interact with the interface. Indeed, they can cause errors, misunderstand, forget… This is why you should not forget to show clear error messages everywhere where there are input possibilities or where direct interaction between human and software takes place. The users should not only be aware of what they can do, what they should and should not do, but they should also get warning messages and explanations when they do something wrong.

Don’t Translate, Localize

If you decide to extend your software to different countries, it is not enough to just translate it into different languages: it has to be localized. Otherwise, it won’t meet UX criterias. This decision should be taken from the very beginning, well before the development phase. Localization is a whole process considering cultures, laws, ethnicities, technical constraints, and finally languages (locales). And there are some tips on how to improve UX and UI when making a product globally accessible.

The Right Words

Easy to use software is not always achieved through design. Words are just as important. As basic as it may sound, you have to be careful in choosing the terms for each feature, making sure that the term will be understood by everyone. For general terms, it’s not that complicated: just follow the same instructions as for most software: file, edit, view, help… But for the more specific functionalities, make sure you use the right terms in your software’s domain and that these terms are understandable for anyone using the software.

Sources :

https://uxplanet.org/how-user-experience-shapes-custom-software-development-78490943b0fc

https://uxdesign.cc/about-ux-in-software-design-aa2254287bac

https://techbeacon.com/app-dev-testing/9-ux-tips-strategies-developers

https://pixabay.com/fr/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=849804

As an English literature graduate who developed a rather unimaginable passion for technical writing many years ago, I was thrilled when I came across the Persona Method in Alan Cooper’s book “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy And How to Restore The Sanity” (1999).

The idea of combining fiction with product design instantly appealed to me. After all, technical communicators create information products, therefore applying this technique to that domain seemed like a good idea. However, I was really uncertain about the possibility to implement it in the business setting I found myself in. Would a small team of no-nonsense “technicians-assigned-to-act-as-tech-writers” be willing to adopt it?

Persona Method Yes or No

But before I delve into my own experiences, let me first answer the question you might have in mind now:

What Exactly Is the Persona Method?

Actually, although my introductory sentence may have implied it, the Personas that this technique refers to are not quite as fictional as The Great Gatsby or Oliver Twist.

For the most part, their personal details are based on hard facts: Marketing questionnaires, business survey, or similar means helped to establish demographic characteristics such as age, educational background, financial situation, and geographic location to identify the target group(s) for a product or service

The author mentioned above, Alan Cooper, generally credited with inventing the Persona Technique, first applied it to an IT setting.

His impetus was his increasing frustration with hard- and software that was not user-friendly at all, coupled with his observation that the software developers surrounding him did not consider users’ needs at all when coding and designing applications and interfaces.

As a consequence, he decided to confront these programmers with some characters that incorporated all the attributes of “average” users using the data collected in available customer surveys and marketing analyses. Cooper argued that if programmers were faced with individual “persons” rather than abstract data and were told to design for them, it would enable them to take user needs and user experience into account. Indeed, it is usually easier to relate to a human being (albeit a fictional one) than to statistics.

How to Create Personas?

In order to create a Persona, the statistical data described above has to be “personified” to define the target group(s) of a product or service.

Let me use an example to illustrate this: If the majority of users of a new hairdryer are female teenage high school students that live in Spain, a user persona might be 15-year-old Isabella from Barcelona. Fictional details are then added to this “average user” to make the Persona more complex and thus more credible as a “fellow human”: For instance, Isabella could be the member of a swimming team in her free time, and an avid watcher of YouTube videos and Netflix shows.

What Are the Benefits of Applying the Persona Method to Technical Writing?

At the moment, except for software development, where Alan Cooper first introduced it, the Persona Method is mainly used in marketing. However, the statistical data it is based on is also very valuable to technical communication (TC), as it reveals who we should be writing for. Furthermore, converting abstract information into concrete personas can also improve the quality of technical documents.

The field of technical writing is similar to software development and marketing in that the material – created by technical communicators (such as manuals and catalogs) – is also closely related to the user experience and mainly is to fulfill the needs and expectations of a certain target group.

Having a particular person(a) in mind makes it much easier to find the right tone and terminology. We can put ourselves in the readers’ shoes when instructing them how to use a product or service, addressing them in a way they understand.

For more information on Personas in UX design, visit https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/personas-why-and-how-you-should-use-them, for instance.

What Are the Challenges of Using the Persona Method in a Conventional TC Setting?

That said, motivating a team made up of innovative, open-minded “nerdy” programmers in charge of writing the code for a hip new application to attempt applying this technique should not be too difficult. Given the high percentage of “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” fans among them, it is safe to assume they are willing to relate to fictional characters anyway.

But What if the Business Setting and the Industry Are Not Quite as Hip & Cool and the Staff Not as Nerdy as Expected?

Back to my own situation at the time when I discovered the Persona Technique: My work environment was arguably as far removed from the (admittedly fairly stereotypical) image evoked above as one can imagine: A medium-sized company in the domain of mechanical engineering, with 99% of the staff made up of predominantly male, purely technically minded, down-to-earth employees.

My immediate enthusiasm in sharing the idea of applying the technique in this setting was severely curbed. But then I remembered what one of the two technicians (let us call him Simon) assigned to the technical documentation team had told me earlier during our lunch break when I had naively asked him what his favorite novel was:
“Are you kidding me??? What’s the point in dealing with stories that weirdos with too much time on their hands felt the urge to write down, about strange characters they made up in their twisted minds?!”
In the end, however, my curiosity won over.

First, I started looking for success stories of the use of the Persona Technique outside of agile work environments and marketing for encouragement. I actually came up with some results, such as a library that used the Persona Technique.

However, in this particular case, it depends on the willingness of the staff to account for a certain amount of fiction in their daily surroundings is still rather apparent…

Then, since the tech writing team was to be my target group now, I started to consider their needs.

I came up with the following guidelines for my hands-on experiment:

  1. Do not overwhelm the staff
  2. Give them something they can relate to
  3. Suggest, but do not impose

…and this is how I approached the challenge:

  1. Although Alan Cooper suggests using more than one persona to cover a range of user needs, I decided to use only one. One reason for this was that the data I had unearthed about the users of the said machines revealed that the target group was pretty uniform. It was mostly made up of middle-aged men without higher education – and by “mostly”, I mean that there was almost no exception. Besides, I wanted to keep the introduction of this new method as low key as possible, so as not to upset the team members by putting several exotic characters on display which would soon get on their nerves.
  2. It was clear that the “prototypical user” had to be someone the team could relate to, that is, preferably a local person with a plausible background. So, I came up with “Matze” (a common nickname for the German first name “Matthias”), a 43-year-old married man, father of two children who grew up and still lived about 60 miles from the company headquarters. Aside from his job as machine operator, he also loved soccer. A life-size photograph of a guy who matched this description had easily been found and a mini bio had been added to it, along with some of his quotes and his expectations regarding user manuals for the machines he worked with.
  3. I turned this information into a huge poster that I put up on one of the office walls I shared with Simon and the other two tech writers. I did this in late December when my coworkers had already left for their holiday. On their return after New-Year’s day, they were slightly surprised and amused but studied the poster with interest – even if only as an excuse for a coffee break at first. There were no discussions about taking “Matze” off the wall again, and after a while, whenever one of them was handed product information by the product developers, comments such as “Hey, Matze would not understand this!” – “Matze wouldn’t be able to use this info, let’s leave it out” became commonplace in the office. Even though it was more of a tongue-in-cheek attitude at the beginning, we (above all Simon) kept referring to “Matze” in similar cases.

I leave it to you to decide whether my story is a “success story” or not, but I would like to encourage you to share your own experiences with me, either with the Persona Technique or with other approaches that, for some of us, might be just as exciting as the Persona Technique was to me.

As for myself, I was satisfied with the outcome, and I would be even more satisfied if I knew that one or two of the product developers read “Matze’s” comments as well, maybe getting a better idea of what technical documentation really aims at.

And what about you? Feel free to share your experience below with the Persona Method.

Machine learning (ML) is a subset of artificial intelligence that uses computer algorithms to improve automatically through experience. What if a program could adapt a graphical interface to your liking by using machine-learning technology? Well, this is what some companies are already doing. If a machine-learning program can learn from user behaviors, that is precisely why combining UX and machine learning makes sense. But it’s not as simple as it might sound. In this article, we will try to understand the challenges of machine-learning product design and how to overcome them.

The Challenge of Pairing UX with Machine Learning

One of the main challenges is that cooperation between UX designers (UXers) and engineers, such as data scientists and developers, should always be a part of any web project’s workflow. Therefore, while a significant part of a UXer’s job is to make an interface ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing, they should also be required to understand the technical basics of development as well. This will enable them to collaborate better with developers in order to understand the role machine learning can play. 

Designers know broadly what machine learning is but often can’t identify where it is needed and what it is capable of doing in a specific context. If UXers design an interface without any knowledge of how it can be developed later on and what tools are available, they won’t take advantage of the full potential of the product team. Sharing skills and understanding the basics of what our colleagues do is a necessity, especially in tech companies where many digital projects are conducted. It is essential to continuously improve as a team.

In the case of designing machine-learning-driven products, UXers should spend enough time with ML engineers in order to fully understand what ML models can do. This may seem like a waste of time but think of it as an investment. If enough time is taken during the early stages of a project, it is more likely to run smoothly and misunderstandings are less likely to occur. In the end, UXers will be able to work more efficiently and design interfaces that fully embrace ML-enhanced interactions. Continuous communication throughout the project is key.

Machine Learning as a Design Material

Let’s look more closely at the designing phase. Adding machine learning to the design process does not automatically mean that the resulting product will be better or that users will start using it more. UX designers need to look at machine learning as a design material in order to take advantage of its capabilities and apply them effectively to the project. However, Machine Learning should not be considered as just any other traditional design material. A good method to explore would be the research-through-design approach

In general, research is conducted early on to understand what needs to be improved or implemented through UX design. It’s a separate step from the actual design process, which, when designing ML-enhanced products, often leaves UXers with a unclear idea of what needs to be done and how to achieve it. With the research-through-design approach however, research and design become an inseparable cycle: design, research, repeat. This approach allows UX experts to better understand the issues and how the technology might help, and maybe reinvent the technology’s purposes.

A Successful UX and ML Collaboration

Google’s PAIR Bungee program was created to see how UXers could effectively work alongside ML experts in order to improve the resulting product: a generative machine-learning interface to assist music composition. For this experiment, three UX designers were put into an ML research host team for three months. 

The program started with a course about machine learning basics and practices at Google. That way, the designers could begin the project with a better idea of what they would be working with. From there, the UXers implemented a user-centric approach throughout the project, which is always more likely to result in a product that resonates with the target audience. During the preparation phase, the participants defined a target audience and organized a design sprint session with the help of user interviews. Then, they picked key concepts to pursue and further explored them with users.

This experiment confirmed how relevant and efficient it is to integrate UX earlier and more fully in the ML development processes.  In the end, UXers learned more about algorithms and their capabilities while data scientists gained more insight into user-centered practices and what is worth pursuing in the first place. Organizing workshops inspired by this program could help many tech companies working with AI to take their products to the next level.

What do you think about UXers and ML engineers cooperating to develop better user-centric products? Do you think artificial intelligence algorithms will end up replacing UX designers? Let us know in the comments!

If you want to read more about UX, check out these articles.

Search experience optimization (SXO) is a popular topic that has emerged as a necessary consequence of our surfing habits. It merges two disciplines that we don’t necessarily associate, user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO). Although SEO is as old as the first website, search engines are constantly evolving, and SXO is the next step in that evolution. However, people may still have a hard time figuring out what SXO is really about. Let’s discover more about this practice.

What is SXO? 

Search experience optimization, as the name suggests, optimizes the search experience by making it easy for a search engine to understand the content of a web page so that it will be well and appropriately ranked. Unlike this “classic” definition of SEO, the priority now is no longer the search engine but the user. This is where UX comes in. All users want is to find quick and relevant answers to their queries. And all businesses want is to create a conversion. SXO is where these two goals coincide.

Reminder: what are SEO and UX? 

So, what does SEO have to do with the user experience? As a reminder, search engine optimization includes all the practices that aim to improve a website’s ranking  on search engines. It gives visibility to a website and its activity. 

UX refers to the user experience and the goal to make the user’s journey across an interface as pleasant and efficient as possible. This way, it’s easier to build customer loyalty and users are more likely to make a purchase, subscribe, share, etc.—with help from the famous Call to Action button.  UX is often associated with design

How to combine SEO and UX?

By combining these two disciplines, the basic principles of SEO are used to improve the user’s experience, making navigation across the website as intuitive as possible and leading to the desired conversion. That way, your site is both well ranked and effective. So, how do we do it?

It all starts with keyword optimization. Standard SEO principles apply, so specific, relevant words are used in strategic places (such as the meta description), which facilitates the search. In terms of UX, however, keywords should also flow seamlessly with the rest of the content and not sound robotic when you read the content out loud. Furthermore, keywords must reflect the target audience, not just in relevance but in relatability, using language that is familiar to them and that corresponds to the intent behind their search.

Next, let’s think about the link building strategy, which aims to acquire more  backlinks. Links are one of the pillars of effective SEO. But their logic and quality also play a role in creating a good user experience. We have to think about their placement and appearance as well. If a link is strategically placed so that it’s visible and attractive, users are more likely to click on it. 

While there are many other ways to achieve efficient SXO, such as a website’s responsive aspect, as a general rule, websites should always be designed from the perspective of the user. Google is constantly refining its algorithms and tends to privilege user-oriented websites. “User-oriented websites” means quality content with quality SEO that is also mobile-friendly, easy to navigate, and fast (as explained in an article on the CAWEB master’s blog). 

Well-known sites, such as Rankwatch, agree with the importance of UX for effective SEO. However, the idea of SXO sometimes incites criticism.

Why is SXO debated?

Since its arrival, SXO has been criticized for several reasons, but one of the main debates is about the relationship between search engine optimization and search experience optimization: is SXO the new SEO or just a component of it? Opinions differ. Some people believe that search experience optimization is already a part of basic SEO principles and has been for a long time. In that case, SXO is nothing more than a specificity of SEO and not a revolutionary idea some claim it to be. 

Whether it’s SEO’s successor or just a colleague, search experience optimization is a very valuable practice for a business’ digital strategy. Satisfying users will encourage them to come back as well as share, thus generating more traffic and improving your website’s ranking.  So, whether you’ve already adopted it or not, search experience optimization should definitely be a priority! 

What do you think about SXO? Is it a new revolutionary idea or just SEO with a different name? Let us know in the comments! Looking for more information about SEO or the web in general? You can check out the other articles on our blog. Also, if you liked this article, don’t forget to share it! 

According to the Web Accessibility Initiative’s website, “Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” Through this article, you will find some tips and tricks in order to make your interface more accessible! 

Why is Web accessibility important?  

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” We owe these words to Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and Inventor of the World Wide Web itself. 

Indeed, the Web is an incredible tool which was initially designed to bring people together, regardless of location or language. It allows us to communicate and access a tremendous amount of data and information, and modern societies highly rely on its numerous benefits. With universality at its core, it’s only natural for the Web to become more inclusive of people with disabilities, the elderly, people living in rural areas or in developing countries, and people using small devices (smart watches or smartphones). 

Of course, creating a website implies an understanding of its objectives and goals as well as an analysis of the targeted and expected audience. So it may not be necessary for you to adapt your website for people with every kind of disability. However, you should be aware that 15% of the world’s population suffers from various disabilities, which is why it’s important to make your website more inclusive. You can conduct usability testing in order to determine how people navigate your website and where the navigation difficulties are so that you can correct them later on.

There are still many websites which are not fully accessible, hence why the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides comprehensive explanations, standards and guidelines to help developers and organizations produce high-quality interfaces. 

Tips and tricks to make your website more accessible 

Now that you have understood what Web accessibility means, let’s have a look at how to make your website more accessible. In order to have a fully optimized and accessible interface, Web accessibility should be taken into account at the earliest stages of your project. However, these simple steps can be easily put in place at any point in the process.

Make sure your images have alt text tags 

You might have heard of alt text tags, but do you really know what they are for? Since search engines cannot interpret images the same way they interpret text, you can add alternative text to an image to describe what it represents in order to help search engines understand your content better. Therefore, alt tags are a great way to improve a website’s ranking, especially e-commerce websites which present pictures of various products. 

Furthermore, these tags are extremely useful for people with visual impairments using screen readers because the device reads the tags, thus allowing the user to understand what the image is about. Images play an important role in how people interpret the content of a web page, which is why this step shouldn’t be neglected. 

In short, adding good-quality alt text to images is a very simple step which can impact both people and businesses positively. 

Structure your content 

Well-structured content not only makes navigation easier, it’s also a key SEO element that helps users find your content and navigate through it more effectively. To achieve this, here is a short list of the things you should consider: 

  • Include clear titles and section headings in your pages
  • Include breadcrumb trails to inform users about their current location within a set of related pages
  • Have more than one way to find content on a website (for instance, through menu bars or search functions)
  • Ask yourself whether people with hearing or visual impairments can easily navigate through your content

Increase the size of clickable elements 

For people with mobility impairments, it can sometimes be difficult to click on an item if it is too small. To prevent that, the WAI recommends increasing the size of the clickable elements of a website to make them more accessible.

In 2018, there were 4 billion internet users around the world. As of October 2019, that number increased by almostbout half a billion. As more and more people gain access to the internet every year, make sure you are updating your website to make it more accessible and navigable. There are many more ways to allow users easier access to your sites; these are just a few, basic ideas to help get you started. For more information, check out the WAI website!

What are your thoughts on Web accessibility? How and for whom can websites become more accessible? Let us know in the comments! 

Regardless of the level at which you work in your company, you can take certain steps to improve your company’s ergonomic awareness. Whether you are a developer, a designer, or an executive, your actions and behaviour can turn the tides in favour of user experience (UX).

Jakob Nielsen, a human-computer interaction expert, defines five goals when creating content with a UX-centered approach. These goals are learnability, efficiency, memorability, low-error rate, and satisfaction. According to Mr. Nielsen, it’s first necessary to find out how the company views ergonomics. This view is defined on an 8-level scale.

Mr. Nielsen says that it takes about 2 years to move from one level to the next and that it’s impossible to skip levels. Once you have found where your company is situated on his scale, you can begin working towards the next level by applying these good practices:

1. Leading by example

Participate in a project while keeping UX and ergonomics at the center of it. Stress this rigour to  yourself and try to convince others to work in this way. If the project is a success, it will serve as a reference for the future.

2. Developing a common basis

Whether you choose to write an ergonomic charter, guidelines, or a website template, the aim is to create your own knowledge base around ergonomics and to share it. The short-term goal is to make it operational so you can homogenize the production and spare yourself the pain of redeveloping the same process over and over.

3. Relying on a strictly rigorous and valid method

Making changes and shaking up habits often raise misgivings among the target group, which is why you need to be extremely precise regarding everything concerning ergonomics. From user interface design to practical tests, your method must be thorough and well documented.

4. Raising team awareness

Ergonomics and UX are everyone’s business. You need to communicate on these topics in internal publications. You need to get people to think about their needs or their potential contributions to UX.

5. Educating managers

This could be the biggest challenge as they may not have the time or desire to work on this topic. To reach them you’ll need to be concise, factual and in sync with their information needs.

6. Studying customers

Observe and analyze the activity, study their feedback, archive test results, and build a knowledge base composed of these items. Always try to increase your knowledge of end users.

7. Making your own test lab

No need for fancy and sophisticated installations here. The requirements are a calm room, a good camera, a computer, and the features you want to test. (You might also consider adding a chair… You know, for ergonomic purposes).

8. Building a dedicated team

Get people who are involved in the user experience to work together and in the same place. This will greatly improve communication and synergy. It will also make it easier to manage and allocate resources for different tasks, according to the progress and requirements of the project. 

9. Making the community grow

It’s interesting to develop a community that does not involve only team members. This may bring fresh perspectives and help resolve some challenges.

10. Developing a training plan

There is nothing better than acting directly at the source. To sustain your efforts in the long run, it’s necessary to bring ergonomics to the heart of the design process by training the staff.

Changing things for the better takes time. We may not agree with Jakob Nielsen when he says it takes about 2 years between each step of the process, but it is obviously a long-term mission. It’s an endurance run that begins with small steps. 

Thank you for reading, we hope you found this article insightful.

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Thanks from the TCLoc web team.