Between May 15th and 17th, UXLx 2013 takes center stage for me. This will be the third consecutive User Experience Lisbon conference that I’ve attended. The first 2 were increadibly inspiring, tiring, and great fun. I’ve obviously got similar expectations for this year too.
In recent years I’ve talked a lot about the importance of measuring the browser viewport (it’s not as big as you think).
The rapid adoption of responsive web design and the launch of devices with high definition screens where a pixel is no longer a pixel have made measuring and understanding the visible real estate available in the web browser crucial.
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.
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”.
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.
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 (@beantin) March 22, 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…