Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

Eventually, you see optimisation everywhere

We all end up being “damaged” in the end. Some might call it “Senior” or “Experienced”, but eventually most of us end up seeing work-related issues in everything around us.

I can’t use a website without noticing something that could be improved. Actually, it’s rare I use a website and don’t end up giving my poor wife a mini-lecture on UX or usability. Poor thing.


Spidey Sense

It doesn’t stop with websites. Most of us who work with producing or optimising digital products and services have a “spidey sense” that tingles constantly. Usually with websites, but just as often it could be a coffee machine, a sign, a door, an entire restaurant – any process or interaction is fair game for our enhanced senses.

We’re constantly optimising what we see.

Take a ticket

I went skiing recently at Kungsberget in Sweden. Nice resort that’s a convenient two hours drive or so from Stockholm.

As usual on arrival I needed to sort out ski-hire for the family. We hadn’t pre-booked (my irritation with the web-based booking system would be a blog post of its own) so we needed to queue.

Sweden is the motherland of queueing systems. Swedes are pretty much born with the instinct to look for a little machine in shops and service centres that dispense a little paper ticket with a number on.

Somewhere else in the store they’ll be a display showing a number (or several numbers…) indicating who’s next in line.

The ski-hire shop at Kungsberget, naturally, has a ticket-based queueing system.

But just where do I take a ticket from?

The thing is, it’s hidden. Or rather, it’s not optimised… Once I’d worked out where to get a queueing number from, I hung about for 20 minutes or so waiting for my turn. During that time, everyone – yes, pretty much everyone – did the same as I’d done when I’d arrived.

Walk in. Scan the entire building looking for the dispenser. Fail to find it. Walk up to the counter and ask someone working there where it is. Then they reeled off the same sentence that they’ve probably used thousands of times just this season.

“It’s on the wall outside”.

Ah, the ticket machine is before you even enter the ski-hire shop. Someone probably thought this was a smart way of keeping people outside and out of the way rather than clogging up the small space inside.

Out of sequence

There are several problems with this. The first issue was that when I was approaching the ski-hire shop, my goal was to locate the place for hiring skis. I was scanning and hunting for signs that confirmed that the building was the correct building.

The ski-hire shop was helpfully decorated by a large sign (the most prominent sign on the building) saying exactly what it was. There was then a large (attempting to be helpful) sign on the door saying “entrance”.

Banner blindness

It’s only once inside that my attention turned to finding a ticket dispenser. (Because I’m Swedish enough to know that’s how queueing works…). The process though has been designed to work the other way round.

Outside, above the hole in the wall where you could press a button to get a ticket, there was an A4 paper sign with a few words in a relatively small font-size and an arrow pointing downwards to the machine below.

All very low key and a few meters to the left of the nearest entrance. The machine was invisible to me – it suffered from banner blindness. There were other visual signals that were stronger, more relevant, and in the expected palaces.

If the machine is going to be placed outside (which knowing how crowded these places can get it was certainly an idea with good intentions) then we, as users, need to be more effectively marshaled into finding it and using it.

Helping people complete their tasks

The fun thing to do would be to work with them and do some A/B testing. To test different combinations of signage and positioning. Test moving the machine, test putting the “next number” display outside near the ticket machine, etc.

We can then evaluate it all by counting how many times the staff at the ski-hire have to explain to customers where to find the ticket dispenser.

Service design

Digital or otherwise, our job is to make sure people can do what they need to do to reach their goal. Digital, analogue, or cross channel. It’s still us, the humble human, that’s central to it all.

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist, UX-er and optimiser based in Stockholm Sweden.

How many Twitter users in Sweden 2013?

Almost half a million Swedish Twitter accounts is the quick answer. Twitter in Sweden has seen an strong period of growth during the past year.

Hampus Brynolf and Intellecta Corporate have released the results of their third Swedish Twitter census.


475474 Swedish Twitter accounts

The number of Twitter accounts that at some point during a 30 day period in February/March 2013 tweeted in Swedish was 475,474. This is an increase of 59% in the 10-11 months since Intellecta presented the 2012 results.

For each potential Swede found, the words from their latest 100 tweets are analised. If enough words are Swedish, then they are classed as Swedish and their follows/followers analyised.

Healthy growth

In April last year there were 290,000 Swedish accounts. The first Swedish Twittercensus In December 2010 found just over 90,000 accounts. This year’s growth rate of 59% is tiny in comparison to the growth by approximately 300% during 2011.

Not all of the 460,000 accounts are active. Quite the opposite. Around half of these accounts haven’t written a single Tweet during the month that was analysed.

A number of those accounts, although not actively writing, will be actively reading – but this is impossible to calculate.

This total also excludes protected accounts as it’s not possible to analyse the language of their private tweets.

Very active Swedes

The number of very active Swedes – where one or more tweet is written (on average) during the 30 day period – also rose. Up from 52,887 to 79,516. A rise of around 50%.

It would be interesting to see how many of those 50,000 who were tweeting daily in 2012 were still tweeting daily in 2013. Many of them will be, but far from all.

The number of active Swedes – that is those who wrote a tweet during the 30 days of the census – was 219,732.

Diversity

Twitter is no longer a niche network occupied by early adopters. It is now broadly established in Sweden. Analysis of the bios associated with the accounts shows a rich diversity of occupations, people, and interests on Twitter.

A fascinating fact thrown out by Hampus during the presentation was that the number of degrees of separation between Swedish Twitter users was usually 2 (sometimes 3).

Although everyone is relatively close on Twitter, the clusters found were very strong and certain clusters were very separated from others. There isn’t one Twitter, there are many.

An interactive visualisation of all the Swedish Twitter accounts found and their clustering according to analysis of their bio can be found here.

An established platform

The previous Twitter census was performed directly after a significant peak in number of new registrations. It was always going to be very difficult for the growth levels this year to match last year.

That said, with there being a Twitter account for every 1 in 20 Swedes and the rich diversity of people present on the platform, Twitter has established itself quite definitely In Sweden as a communication, broadcast and social platform.

Or perhaps, because of the clustering, we should say that it’s one platform but multiple channels. That’s tactically important for businesses to remember…

James Royal-Lawson+ is a freelance digital strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

UX is fundamentally technical

There is no universal definition of UX. Almost everyone has their own idea of what it means and what it encompasses.

A lot of the time we talk about UX as an umbrella term for a wide range of tasks and specialist areas.


Interaction design? Wireframes?

If you take a look at “UX” job postings, you’ll probably be led to believe that the role “UX Designer” is synonymous with “Interaction designer” or just a producer of wireframes.

There are some aspects of UX that everyone agrees on. At the very least, the (digital) user experience is everything you come into contact with on your screen and how it makes you feel.

UX Podcast

In episode 36 of UX Podcast, Per and I turn our attention to the term “UX” and it’s misconceptions. Can it be defined? Can you be a “UX-er”? Is the phrase “UX” needed or are we just unnecessarily complicating things?

I said during the show that User Experience isn’t, and can’t be, an occupation. It’s a topic rather than a task, but it’s a topic that many of us are passionate about.

We really do believe in making great user experiences (and happy companies as a consequence!)… and we all have our toolboxes of tools to help us achieve that.

Fundamentally technical

What we can’t get away from is that the user experience is fundamentally technical. You can’t craft a digital service to deliver a fantastic user experience without also scoring high on the technical side.

You can have a huge amount of insight into user behaviour. You can have walls filled with effect maps, wireframes and personas.

But unless you piece it all together with the right technical glue, you’re going to under-deliver and end up with an expensive and sub-optimal user experience.

Page speed/Performance, SEO, back-end, front-end, accessibility, usability, interaction, design, information architecture, content, branding… any of these and more can trip up your well considered UX in an instant.

A guiding hand

With the diversity (and multitude) of roles involved, plus the complexity of what we are producing, the UX-er – if it’s going to be an occupation – should be a silo-crossing hand holder.

A constant hand-holding role that remains present from start to finish (from research to deployment), making sure the pieces are all put together as expected and not just a a box that’s ticked when someone’s signed-off on a bunch of wireframes.

Grab my hand! It’s going to be a bumpy ride…


James Royal-Lawson+ is a freelance UX-er, hand-holder, and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

How can I improve my website?

No website is perfect. It’s not going to be. The pace of change within digital media is far too fast for us to reach perfection. We can though make them more effective.

People learn and adapt. We learn and adapt. We adjust and improve.

Testing and tweaking. That’s how you can improve your website. Adjusting and improving. Optimising what you’ve got.

A wise man said to me that you should aim to increase the conversion rate of your website every single month. A good goal to keep things moving.

4 areas of optimisation

The way in which you can improve your website is quite straightforward. There are four areas of website optimisation you should focus on.

All of them are interconnected and all of them affect your bottom line. They cost you money if you neglect them, they earn you money if you give them a little love and attention.

The four focus areas of optimisation are:

  • Web performance optimisation
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Usability optimisation
  • Conversion rate optimisation

Freeing up untapped potential

Everyone working with digital media and e-commerce is aware of Search Engine Optimisation. Often “optimisation” is taken to mean SEO and nothing else.

Many companies have spent a fair bit of cash over the years paying for SEO and SEM services to drive more traffic to their websites.

Increasing (relevant) traffic to your website is almost always a good thing. Unfortunately, if you’re site has poor usability or is sluggish due to poor web performance then you’ve got untapped potential.

The best way to free untapped potential is to turn your attention to your website. A good starting point is a website review.

Web performance optimisation

Start with web performance optimisation – in plain English, we’re talking about page speed. How fast the page loads and responds for your visitors in the context they use your site.

For some this context might be sat at a desktop computer connected to the internet via a high speed connections. For others it could be via a mobile telephone whilst in a moving vehicle.

For every second it takes for you pages to load, you could be losing you could be losing 7% of your online business. That’s expensive. Here are 5 practical tips from me to improve your page speed.

On-site SEO

After web performance, I’d tackle on-site search engine optimisation. This is where you make sure that your website is presenting the right content to search engines so that they in turn can present the right content to your potential visitors.

We need to help convince them that your page is the one they should click on amongst all the others.

Usability

Your website needs to be usable. Visitors need to be able to complete their tasks without falling over as if their shoes have been tied together. Optimising the usability of your site is your way of untying them.

The most basic (and critical) usability issues can be pinpointed quite easily. But you learn the most by testing and then analysing the behaviour of real visitors to your site. They are the ones trying to use it, not you. It’s their behaviour that counts.

Conversion optimisation

Once you’ve worked our way through these three areas of optimisation, it’s time to set your focus on CRO – Conversion rate optimisation.

This is where we look at the goals of your site and the steps a visitor goes through reach them and try to make sure the highest number of people possible make it all the way to the end.

Although usability and conversion optimisation are intrinsically related and overlapping, they are different.

You could say – Usability is making sure that it’s possible for visitors to complete their tasks. Conversion optimisation is giving them the right nudges to make sure they actually do.

User experience

I’ve laid out these four areas of optimisation for you in a specific order, but you can switch the order around or run the whole lot in parallel. It’s just a matter of resources and a bit of planning!

All-in-all we’re optimising the user experience. I could have sliced this up in a few difference ways, but all-in-all if we create high quality digital experiences, both the customer and your business will be as happy as the cat who got the cream.

Take the first step in optimising your digital business: check out my website review and audit service.

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist, web manager and optimiser based in Stockholm Sweden.

A digital life at 40

Today I turn 40. So far so good. I don’t seem to be any different. The main difference will probably be the age demographic I have to tick on the next survey I complete. Gone are the days of 35-39 or 30-39.


I’ve spent the majority of my life living with digital. Towards the end of the 70s I saw the consumer electronics revolution start to happen in our home.

Digital clocks started to appear. New TV’s were almost always colour. In 1980, as a 7 year old, I made the informed choice on behalf of my family that we should get a Betamax video recorder.

1981

In 1981 something life-changing happened. One of my best friends at the time, Peter Johnson, got a ZX81.

Sinclair ZX81. Photo by Steve Liley.

This tiny plastic thing was amazing. It wasn’t a room filled with cabinets plastered with flashing lights and buttons like we saw in films. This was a magical little device that sat on a table, could be connected up to a TV, and could be told what to doBy us.

Type-in

We used to sit together for hours and type in programs from the pages of computer magazines. Only to find they didn’t work when we ran them – being forced to go through the code and hunt down the typos we’d made.

In some cases, it wasn’t us that made the typo, it was the magazine. Forcing us to effectively fork the code and work out what changes we needed to make to get things working. Sometimes we manged it, sometimes it was a task beyond us.

I still remember the buzz of playing an ASCII car game we’d typed in. Mind-blowingly simple, not even as good as the Atari console games we had within arms reach – but this felt like it was ours. We were part of making it. Without realising it, the home computer was gamifying our lives.

1982

In October 1982 I was privileged enough to be part of another purchasing decision in our household. We got an Acorn BBC Model B – an early Christmas present we were told. I was 9 and a half.

Acorn BBC Model B. Photo by Barney Livingston.

There was a computer, cassette recorder, a welcome tape, a few cables and a manual. A BASIC manual. It was an A-Z of BASIC commands.

Given that we had pretty much no games, just a few demo programs on the welcome cassette. I set to work typing in lines of code from the examples in the manual. Jumping backwards and forwards through the pages to find out what the other commands in the examples did and how they worked.

“HELLO WORLD”

I taught myself the logic of computers. I learnt BASIC and importantly that these machines did what we programmed them to do – and they only did it as well as we had instructed them to.

I also started to pick develop an intuitive understanding of usability and human-computer interaction. Somethings were plain bloody awkward, other things pretty straight forward.

In many ways we’ve lost that raw enthusiasm to experiment with technology. Hopefully projects like the Raspberry Pi will give a new generation of 9 year-olds to be curious and creative in a way similar to that I experienced.

Like most of us that owned an Acorn computer in the early 80s, I vanished for a few years around 1984 playing Elite. I’m still amazed by that game. That it could be produced on an 8-bit machine with a 4Mhz processor and 32kB of RAM. It had 9 galaxies to travel and thousands of systems! Mind blown.

1986

Pace Nightingale modem.

June 1986 saw me buy a modem. I’d been working part-time and saving up for over a year. A Pace Nightingale. Being able to ring up and connect to other systems was just as big a buzz as playing that early car game on the ZX81.

Or rather, it wasn’t connecting to another system that was the most fun. It was connecting to other people. Chatting and messaging. This was a world-wide community; not just the kids from my school.

From 10,000 to 2.5 billion

We probably weren’t so many more than about 10,000 people in the UK online back in 1986 – but it felt like the entire planet was connected.

Now we’re more than 2.5 billion who are online. 87% of the world has a mobile phone. E-commerce has broken the 1 trillion barrier.

Feel the excitement

I love digital. I still get that excited feeling in my stomach when I get something to work; when I produce digital things that deliver.

In Episode 34 of UX Podcast, Per and I talked to a student of interactive communication at a collage here in Stockholm. He described that same excited feeling that I recognise and remember. My advice to him was – don’t let it go. Keep on being excited about digital.

Digital toddlers

Despite, at 40, having lived a digital life, we’re still relatively close to the beginning of this journey. The decades ahead are going to be more revolutionary and exciting.

I’m honoured to have been part of the journey so far, and i’m really looking forward to the digital decades ahead. Happy birthday to me!

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist, UX-er and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

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