Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

UX

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.

UXLx 2012: Links to notes and podcasts

Between May 16-18 I attended UXLx User Experience Lisbon 2012. It was an intensive 3 days. I took part in 4 workshops, listened to 3 lightning talks, 10 conference talks, published 14 sets of notes, and recorded 6 podcasts. Phew!

And if that wasn’t enough, I met up with dozens of really interesting and clever people and (just like last year) almost talked and thought myself to exhaustion!

Unprecedented access to speakers

One of the excellent things about UXLx is the access you get to the speakers. The workshops
give you one opportunity, but most of them also attend the evening events and stay at the main conference hotel.

During the week I chatted with Dave Gray, Derek Featherstone, Rachel Hinman, Steve Portigal, Joshua Porter, Jesse James Garrett, Andrea Resmini, and Ginny Reddish (plus some of those who held lightning talks).

Notes and Podcasts

During each session I attended I took some notes. Straight after the talk or workshop finished I published them unedited on the unofficial uxlx participants blog so that I could share them with everyone both at the event and those who couldn’t make it.

Per Axbom and I also recorded six podcasts which we recorded live and published straight away, giving you an audio-peek into the events of the week.

In this blog post I’ve gathered together links to all the notes and podcasts I published during the conference.

Tuesday 15th May

Episode 12: James and Per conquer Garageband at UXLx

Our first episode came from our hotel room at the Trip Oriente. After a bit of a fight with our new microphones and Garageband we eventually got it together and kicked-off our series of on-site podcasts.

Wednesday 16th May

Sharpie, visual alphabet, drawing of a running man

Gamestorming workshop with David Gray

A proper workshop. Filled to the brim with practical, useful, go-home-and-try-them exercises. After hearing so many of last year’s presenters talk about gamestorming, it was great to complete the circle and get some hands-on coaching from Dave

Episode 13: James and Per cross channel gamestorm

In the day 1 post lunch podcast we talk about David Gray’s Gamestorming session and Peter Morville’s Cross-Channel Strategy workshop.

User Research Hacks with Gene Smith

Mental Models with Indi Young

A lecture at break-neck speed from Indi with 110 slides in the first 65 minutes. There was some excellent stuff in there, including sound advice on interview techniques. “”we are not the target audience”

Per and James recording UX Podcast at UXLx 2012

Episode 14: James and Per give a lecture

A run down of the afternoon of the first day of UXLx.

Thursday 17th May

Remote Research with Nate Bolt

A practical workshop session with Nate guiding us through how you can set up remote user research. Consider how can you be graceful and flexible when your technology breaks – as it will half of the time. Nate was as cool as a cucumber when the tech did break in our session.

Episode 15: James and Per talk to Dave

After lunch on day 2 we managed to grab Dave Gray for a few minutes to talk about his workshop yesterday and planning workshops in general.

Developing and Implementing Findability Standards with Ravi Mynampaty

Accessibility for UX Designers with Derek Featherstone

A long session with Derek, but some great accessibility stuff. I think it opened the eyes of a fair few in the audience. Derek described accessibility as extreme usability. If we look at the extreme cases and build to those extremes then everyone else will be somewhere in between.

Episode 16: James and Per have done all this research

Friday 18th May

Here are my notes from 8 of the 10 talks. My notes for Rachel Hinman and Kim Goodwin weren’t really up to scratch, so they are missing from the collection.

The Architecture of Understanding with Peter Morville

Opening talk of the day. “IAs are planners, organisers and bridge builders, But they are also architects of understanding.”

Discover and act on insights about people with Steve Portigal

Microcopy with Joshua Porter

One of my favourite talks of the conference day. “If your UI designer doesn’t sweat over every single word they add to a screen, you should probably fire them!”

Refined Design: Thinking Beyond the Device with Derek “Steve” Featherstone

Derek gave a great run through of a context aware conference website. UXLx take note!

Design for Engagement with Jesse James Garrett

“UX is design of anything used by people independent of medium or across media with human experience as an explicit outcome and human engagement as an explicit goal.”

The Long Neck Versus the Long Tail with Gerry McGovern

The tiny tasks go to bed and dream of being a top tasks. They then wake up and go down to the web team and demand to be on the start page.

Lean UX: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business with Jeff Gothelf

Lean UX: concept -> validate internally -> prototype -> test externally -> learn from user behaviour -> iterate.

Bill Buxton presenting at UXLx 2012

Ubiquitous Computing and the Emerging Digital Eco-System with Bill Buxton

The closing presentation from the legend that is Bill Buxton. Difficult to take good notes when you’ve got such a professional and entertaining speaker dancing about enthusiastically in front of you (or on top of you in Gerry McGovern’s case).

Saturday 19th May

Episode 17: James and Per wrap up #UXLx 2012

The Friday was too busy to fit in the recording of a podcast, so Per and I recorded our 6th and final UX Podcast of the conference from our hotel room on the Saturday morning. We gave a quick review of our 4 top talks from the Friday, chatted to Lynsey and Celine from Paddy Power, and finally a roundup of the entire conference.


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

UXPodcast at UXLx 2012

During the 16-18 May I’ll be at UXLx in Lisbon. Like last year I’ll be travelling there from Stockholm along with Per Axbom. And also like last year we’re planning to cover the event in a few different ways.


Picture of the welcome sign to UXLx 2011

One of the ways we will be covering the event is through a number of on the spot episodes of UX Podcast.

Optimise or die

UX Podcast is a regular podcast for web professionals hosted by myself and Per. If you haven’t listened to it before, give our latest episode a listen. We interviewed Craig Sullivan (Optimiseordie on Twitter) about mobile websites and got some hands on advice based on Craig’s experience with Belron.

Broadcasting from the event

If you are at UXLx you might spot us recording an episode. Keep a look out for the UX Podcast rollup. If you see it, come and join us for a chat!

We are also planning to publish some notes, pictures, mindmaps, perhaps even sketches, with the help of other delegates on uxlx.posterous.com. If you’d like to contribute, let us know

And of course, there’ll be endless amounts of twittering from me using the hashtag #uxlx.

Lokaltidningen mitt i: minimising the user experience

I think pretty much everyone has an opinion about how the news industry should adapt in order to survive in the digital age. Even I’ve turned out a few blog posts on the subject.

Middle of nowhere

Local newspaper company Mitt i Stockholm publishes 31 newspapers here in the Greater Stockholm area and they have a rather peculiar puzzling terrible digital strategy which manages to minimise the user experience for a huge section of their target audience.

In this blog post I’ll walk you through a few parts of their digital presence and highlight some of the problems. I’ll also, in the spirit of free local newspapers, offer Mitt i some free advice.

Mitt i advert for their app on the Stockholm metro

Download our app!

In recent weeks Mitt i Stockholm has been pushing their recently launched mobile app fairly hard. There have been adverts in every Metro train, full page adverts in their own publications, plus other places, all enticing people to install the Mitt i app. The app promises you “piping hot news about everything to do with the capital city”,

I don’t think they thought things through from a reader perspective at all. I’m also not convinced that this idea has been built on clear business goals either.

What’s in it for me?

The adverts on the Metro system, and the full page adverts in all the editions of the printed newspaper give very little information. The app for iPhone and Android (but not iPad) claims to deliver a “unique news service about Stockholm” but fails to give any specific details.

Searching for “mitt i” and installing the app was pretty painless. Although reading the poor reviews didn’t give me high expectations. On Android it would appear the app didn’t work at all with the latest version of the operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. It worked for me, usually. It did though crash and close itself on a number of occasions.

Everything needs to be tested and tested well. Use vistor data from your web site to help prioritise the devices and platforms you test. Make sure you keep an eye on reviews and comments to your newly launched app and make sure you’re ready to fix any bugs and quickly release an updated version.

Given that Mitt i is produced in 31 local variations, it was immediately puzzling that the app lacked any way of choosing my edition. You see news articles from all 31 editions of the newspaper. It may be harsh, but I don’t want local news from Lidingö, I want it from Enskede.

An article in the app comprises of a picture, a headline and body text. The only additional feature are buttons to increase and decrease the text size and next/previous article buttons. There are no links, and most significantly, no ability to share the article whatsoever.

The article is totally locked within the app. There’s no way of recommending it, or passing it on to a friend. Not even the familiar Android “share” menu appears. There’s no way an article could become viral, or be used in order to acquire more readers for the newspaper.

Make sure your content can be easily shared. Make use of standard share functions. Test sharing your content on relevant social networks to make sure it displays as you’d expect.

One of the features (not mentioned in the marketing for the app) is their restaurant guide with map and (editorial) reviews. There is, of course, no possibility to add your own comment or rating, or even to add a new review. Hardly a unique selling point for the app. Much better similar services exist.

Screenshot of the in-app map showing the locations of restaurants that have been reviewed

If the restaurant reviews are strategically important and must be included in the app, then why not enhance them with information and content from other services, such as Allakartor. Allakartor makes its data available via an API, making it relatively straight forward to include.

Website lacks content

The lack of any sharing in the app starts to become a little more understandable (but no more forgivable!) when you take a look at the Mitt i website. The content from the various newspapers is only available as e-zines. That is to say, a flash or image-based presentation of the content built from a PDF version of the newspaper.

It’s difficult to make content any less accessible then is achieved by publishing it in this way. Viewing this type of e-zine on tablets or mobile devices is hopeless. It also not very search engine friendly – and by that I mean not only unfriendly for Google but also for on-site search and the visitor. Searching the archive on Mitt i rarely gives a satisfactory result.

In addition, no article has its own URL. You can’t share a link to a particular story. The best you can do is link to a whole page from the paper . This is something I managed to do, but I suspect not something very many typical readers would achieve.

Avoid using ezine publications. They rarely deliver good user experiences. Make the PDF available as a download. Publish content in it’s own right on dedicated, shareable, pages.

What no start page?

As part of the campaign to promote the app, Mitt i has moved their normal start page and replaced it with a splash page. Splash pages are known to irritate users. A certain percentage will leave immediately on seeing a splash page.

Screenshot of a replacement start page for mitti.se advertising their app

Determined users will click on the “enter site” link as quick as possible in order to get on with the task they came to the site to complete. Trying to distracting visitors as soon as they arrive is rarely a good plan.

The splash page itself is poorly constructed, with almost the entire content of the page contained in an image with no textual alternative. The links to the Android and Apple apps are made created using an image map, something that most of us avoid like the plague these days.

If you do deploy a splash page (which I wouldn’t recommend) then place it on its own URL. Redirect your index page temporarily to your splash page with a http 302 temporary redirect code. You may also want to make it no index. Take care to code the page correctly, making it as accessible as possible.

Search Engines

Splash pages are not only terrible for visitors, but also for search engines. Removing almost all the text-based content from a web page results in a very poor quality snippet. The title of Mitt i in Google at the moment is “Mitt i app” with a description of “to the mitt i homepage”. Hardly enticing.

Screenshot of Google search results showing how badly mitti.se appears

The Mitt i web site fails to follow even the most basic SEO advice such as unique page titles and quality meta descriptions. Mitt i search results take a further hit due to the amount of content only available as PDFs or as images. As mentioned earlier, none of the articles from the newspapers are available as specific web pages.

Make sure articles are published as web pages with their own distinct URLs. Make sure page titles are descriptive, unique and contain relevant keywords. Make sure a well written meta description is included on every single page.

Frustratingly poor

There is demand and interest for local news, and thousands of people take the time to read the paper editions of Mitt i. It’s frustrating how poor the digital strategy is for this local newspaper – they have the content, it just needs to be better utilised.

Rival free local newspaper company Direct Press does a much better job with their web presence. It’s not perfect, but at least the content from their publications is available online in a way which is accessible, shareable and findable.

It’s important to think holistically. Consider how every thing you do (both online and offline) fits together; how it is seen, consumed and interacted with by your customers (readers, members, supporters, or whatever you’d like to label them as).

With the revenue obtained from advertising in (printed) free local papers such as Mitt i in terminal decline, minimising the user experience of their readers is hardly a strategy that will help them innovate and survive.


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

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