Looking Back, Again: 10 More Key Usability Concepts: Part 2

You’ve just landed yourself in the middle of a list article! Today we’re counting down the Top 5 key usability concepts that we’ve learned in the last four and a half months.

If you’re curious about numbers 10-6 you can read all about that here. If you have more time, you can check out our podcast on all 10 items. Oh, and weirdly enough, if you have next to no time you can also check out the podcast. Just read the post. We summarized all this jazz – all 10 items in that post.

But for everybody else who just wants the top 5 morsels of usability goodness, well, grab a codpiece and follow me.

5. A UX key: Reduce the Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is the canary in the UX coal mine. It will tell you when you’re suffocating your users on your webpage.

Must be one of those Steampunk coal mines.

What does that mean?

It’s easy. The bounce rate tells you the percentage of people that go to a page on the website as the first page and then leave your website without going to another page. It’s essentially a one-and-done situation.

There are some situations where this is acceptable. But for the majority of pages, you want your bounce rate to be as low as possible.

In general, people leave a website when they’re confused. If they’re confused or think they’re in the wrong place, they leave. It stands to reason then that there’s a correlation between user confusion and a page’s bounce rate.

This is why the bounce rate provides the way to improve your website. If you focus on fixing the pages with a high bounce rate, particularly pages that exist within your critical path(s), you’re just about guaranteed to see an improvement in your conversion rate.

4. Iteration vs. Innovation

I can’t help but think about iteration vs. innovation in terms distance. Iteration is an incremental thing. It means making a series of small changes over time, producing many different versions which culminate in a version that has achieved the desired results.

Innovation is something totally different. Its definition carries with it this idea of a visionary leap.

Mr. Innovation

When the first iPhone came out, people lost their minds. It was this crazy innovative product. Or… it was a phone with gestures, a large screen, a computer, and a digital store attached to it. Yes, it’s the total package and how it was put together that made it innovative, but it’s not like the constituent parts were unknown to the rest of humanity. What Apple did was take the raw ingredients of technology that already existed and they repackaged them in a new way that truly was innovative and transformative to how we communicate.

So yes, vision is a part of innovation.

Why does any of this matter? What’s my point?

User testing is fundamentally about iteration. It stands to reason that before you start user testing that you know what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to make your current website better? Or are you trying to make the best website possible?

If the answer is better, then you’re iterating. You clearly need to leverage user testing in your task. But what if your bounce rates are over 50% on several pages, including the front page? Can you iterate that into an effective website? Or do you need to start over? If you said “start over” then you just decided to innovate. To take a leap. The act of starting over is by its nature innovative. The leap between designs is so great that you never would have massaged one into the other.

One is little steps, the other big steps.

Know which one you’re doing and it will improve how you go about making your website more effective.

3. Personas: Know When to Use Them

I’ll admit, I had an axe to grind with personas. I think I was bothered by the fact that most UX people use that word like they’re ass-deep in personas every day in their job.

They are not.

I decided to take a 4,000 word long look at personas and made my case for when and where they’re valuable.

I started out with the proposition that they’re stupid and I hate them. I still think that’s a fair assessment of them but Newman has told me to settle down about the whole thing so I’m trying my best.

The deal with personas is that they’re misapplied a lot of the time. They’re talked about during the web design phase instead of the product development stage. Proper product diversification prevents message fracturing due to improper use of personas. Improper use of personas leads to my biggest problem with them: message fracturing.

I believe you’re trying to let one main signal fly. Breaking that into smaller targeted messages without just cause is risky. Some would argue that personas are that just cause, but I defer to the products. Market the products to the target market.

When personas are applied at the website level rather than the product level, we end up talking to the right market with an inferior product. This sham is visible from 100 miles away. It feels bad, doesn’t work, and isn’t profitable. Don’t do it.

Learn when to use personas and then stay the hell away from them. In the wrong hands, they can wreak havoc on your messaging.

2. Writing Good Questions is Hard

Like everybody else who Googles the phrase “survey tool” and finds that there are a bunch of options, I was excited as hell to see that a bunch of companies have gone to the trouble to make it easy to ask my users questions about my website.

But once I dug into the tools I realized one big problem: I’m a dumbass.

They wanted me to ask all of the questions and frankly, I didn’t know where to start.

What makes a good question?

This is not an easy answer. There are just so many pitfalls. It’s easy to write a leading question or a question that doesn’t give you the feedback you want. So where to start?

Demographics: Right off the bat you need to qualify your audience. If these folks aren’t in your target demo, their answers are going to be of limited value. So ask the demographic questions you need to know. I personally appreciate keeping this section brief. You don’t want survey participants to get worn out just on the opening section.

From there, you have one job:

Test your assumptions: What is it that you’re assuming about your website? Are you assuming that people understand your headlines? Are you assuming that people can navigate your website? Are you assuming that everything is clear and makes sense? Are you assuming that it’s easy to find your contact information?

Think about the website and what it presumes. And then carve off a manageable bit and ask questions about it. Remember, you can’t test for everything at once.

In the post on the Nuts & Bolts of How to Create a User Survey I walked through creating a survey for the online bookkeeping app LessAccounting. I asked myself these questions to get at my assumptions about what people wanted from their product:

1. People use online bookkeeping software because….
2. As a business tool, business owners want…
3. Things people must feel about this website (generically)…
4. Things the app must do…

The website already assumes these things. So once you have an idea of your assumptions, you can write questions to test them.

By testing your assumptions you’re giving yourself actionable data. The data you get back will show the way towards a better iteration.

1. Listening to Others in the Community is Key

We are amazed and delighted at the UX professional community we have found.  Fun, engaging and on the cutting edge of business and design – we feel inspired and energized listening in on the conversation.

We are grateful to be able to talk with Clark Valberg and Ryan Duffy of InVision, Alfonzo de la Nuez of UserZoom, Jim ‘Big Tiger’ Remsik of UXmad, Rafael Mizrahi from Feng-GUI, Dan Brown from EightShapes, Paul and Marc from Usabilla and Rachit Gupta from Inspectlet and all the guys who did our wrap up at LessConf.  And, we are proud for giving their ideas the chance to be heard by a wider audience. We look forward to talking with many more of you in the future. 🙂

I read long ago that “Markets are conversations”.  We are very happy to be in conversation with the UX community here at BUX – on the blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Diigo.  It’s an exciting time for designers and innovators and everyone pay attention to our conversation.  We look forward to participating more and sharing more as we continue digging deeper in ux and web usability.

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