Marketing Stategy and Innovation Blog

Researching Concepts with Comics According to Mark Wehner, Yahoo! Inc.

Two weeks ago, I attended a talk given by Mark Wehner of Yahoo! Inc. at a BayCHI event in Mountain View. At first glance many may balk at the idea of conducting research through mere drawings, but having heard and seen the impact this tool can make, I am now a huge enthusiast for this exploratory process. I am writing this article in the hopes that more companies and user experience designers investigate this technique to see how it can enhance their own product research.

This article summarizes the key concepts behind researching with comics as presented in the talk along with some other considerations around this technique.

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Google Web Optimizer Launches

On Wednesday Google unveiled a brilliant new tool, the Web Optimizer, at this year’s E-Metrics Summit. It puts the power of multivariate testing on an array of web metrics in an elegant and simple-to-use online tool. What was once a tedious process involving capturing web statistics, downloading log files, importing them in a statistics package, and performing complicated regression analysis has now been made simpler. Users will be able to more easily test multiple versions of a page and the effectiveness of individual elements on those pages to determine which combinations result in the highest conversions.

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What Is User Experience Design

User experience design can sometimes be a slippery term. With all the other often used terms that float around in its realm in the technology and web space: interaction design, information architecture, human computer interaction, human factors engineering, usability, and user interface design. People often end up asking “what is the difference between all these fields and which one do I need?” This article examines the term and field of user experience to plainly extrapolate its meaning and connect the dots with these other fields.

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Forget Minimalist Web Design: Cluttered Pages Aren’t that Bad

Some time ago iVillage commissioned Dynamic Logic to study the effect of page clutter on the effectiveness of advertising on the iVillage web site. The study strove to discern what effect, if any, ‘online clutter’ (defined as the number of text, image, and advertising elements on a page) had on the brand value score (aggregate of the purchase intent generated, brand favorability, brand awareness, message association, and brand attributes) of the actual on-page advertising.

The research was developed and carried out by Dynamic Logic, OgilvyOne, and Jupiter Media Metrix. While some of the results from the study were expected, many were astounding:

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Key Findings in Accessibility Law Infringements

An accessibility study conducted last month (via UK’s Webuser magazine) reveals that “not one of the UK’s top 30 retail websites meets the minimum requirements for website accessibility.” These retailers include the likes of Amazon, Dell, Expedia, Apple, PC World and British Airways. See the full list.

Some of the findings include:

  • 23 websites had search forms, navigational links or advertising banners that failed to work without Javascript;
  • Just two sites, Apple Computer and John Lewis, of the 30 tested, provided appropriate text descriptions for all images which helps people who are blind or partially sighted understand the purpose of visual content;
  • 29 websites did not use shortcut links to help people with serious physical impairments navigate through a page.

This finding follows a recent ruling on a lawsuit against, which has woken up American e-commerce sites. Perhaps we are beginning to take heed on a global scale. These findings, though seemingly discouraging, should provide renewed hope for the disabled community in that the matter is finally getting the attention that it deserves. This new revelation should provide some impetus for change toward greater equality on the web.

For more details on UK’s accessibility laws, visit the Disability Rights Commission website.

Aesthetic Web Design Hates Empirical Analysis

There seems to be a great riff these days between design and analysis. Usually the argument from the aestheticians seems to be self-preserving rather than logical. In many ill-conceived articles and posts, these authors even go so far as to question the scientific method and the unequivocally powerful field of statistical inference. To me, these arguments are plain provincial. On the other hand, the analytically inclined camp also fails to appreciate the potential and relevance of informed graphic design.

Most websites are meant to create revenue for the owner, whether directly through sales or indirectly through product promotion and brand building. It is difficult to find a web site that does not derive some kind of financial benefit for the owner. (There are of course some, but small by proportion.)

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The Contextual GUI published an article yesterday about the coming and recent changes in graphical user interfaces by Robert Mitchell. The article highlights advancements which are meant to simplify the user experience based on context, whether it be technological (device used) or operational (item selected). Such advancements include voice commands for mobile devices such as PDA’s, customized layouts for different screen sizes, and menus which change based on the item being edited. The latter, most notably comes from Microsoft’s own Office applications which are renown for their feature-richness and consequently overloaded menu items. As Mitchell reports, the traditional drop-down menus will be replaced by a contextual ribbon bar in Office 2007. Therefore, if you are editing the table of contents, the menu associated with this feature would appear. This echoes the manner in which the traditional ‘picture toolbar’ now appears when editting an image.

Beyond contextual menu items, the GUI will also begin to account for screen resolutions in an even more substantial way than we are currently familiar. For the web, the need to adjust layouts to match screen resolutions has been a fundamental principle which has been tackled with elastic and fluid layouts. The desktop GUI is now set to take this principle yet another step forward to accommodate even more real estate; Mitchell states:

Tomorrow’s GUIs will adapt to bigger screens and multiple displays by rearranging the desktop and relegating different content to primary and secondary displays. Larger display acreage could also push gesture-based input devices such as touch screens, digitizing pads and the stylus into the mainstream.

Although the idea is a simple one: to adjust to a user’s perspective and technology, with the variety of devices and plethora of features in modern-day applications, this small target is an ever-changing one. Mitchell’s article presents great promise for enhanced usability for our most pervasive devices as our GUIs begin to catch up with other advancements in the field.

Designing Web Sites for Market Segments

One of the most pervasive design shortcomings of web sites is neglecting entire market segments–a mistake that can have very costly consequences. This article provides the basis for an effective method to correct this and improve overall conversions.

Principal Market Segmentation for Web Sites

There are many different ways to divide a company’s market into segments; the most effective partitioning for web site design hinges on the conversion likelihood of the prospective customers. It is a matrix of a user’s commitment to buy a product or service and that user’s perception of the company selling that product or service.

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Accessibility on the Web Is the Law. Period.

Last Thursday, September 7th, a federal judge ruled that a class action lawsuit brought on by the National Federation of the Blind against Target Corporation could commence. (Additional coverage available here and here.) The lawsuit alleges that Target’s web site is inaccessible to people with impaired vision. Although the lawyers for Target tried to get the case dismissed arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act and state laws do not apply to its web site, the judge ruled that the laws protecting disabled persons not only apply to Target’s web site but also to all other services offered by the company.

This ruling is a clear wake-up call for all web and mobile-based services regardless of the outcome of the trial – just going to trial is a huge cost. New web design and development must take accessibility into account, and existing services should perform audits to identify and correct accessibility issues. The case against Target Corporation is not an isolated incident; it is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger industry-wide problem. (Similar lawsuits over web accessibility for the blind were filed against Southwest and American Airlines in 2002.) Undoubtedly, the company was the target (no pun intended) of this disability lawsuit due to its size and high profile, but this certainly does not rule out smaller internet and mobile-based services. Just as accessibility laws apply equally to large corporations and your local, tiny, family-owned restaurant, so too the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state, local, and federal disability laws apply to web properties of all sizes.

Alright, but where to start?

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Keeping It in Context – Part I: Categorical Search

Much has been written about the correct placement and style for effectively integrating search on a site, yet a fundamental issue with such search remains: the results are too broad and are difficult to sift through. Alleviating this problem is a simple case of letting the user put their search query into context. That is, if we provide a mechanism for letting the user search within specific categories, the probability of that user finding information pertaining to their interests is greatly increased. This mechanism is what I refer to as “categorical search.”

Categorical search is by no means a new idea; in fact, it has been around for hundreds of years. Can you imagine searching for a book in a library or a video in a video store without genres? What if you had to search through an Atlas for a city without being able to choose the country first? How useful would the yellow pages be if business types were not grouped together?

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