Sandstorm Blog

Megan
Sandstorm Talks UX at Drupal MidCamp

Learn more about how to better the user experience on your Drupal website. Take some time this weekend and attend the Midwest Drupal Camp 2014 (or Drupal MidCamp). Michael Hartman, our Technology and Usability Director, is giving a presentation that highlights 4 of the best user research approaches. He will walk you through the practices that uncover what your users are looking for, their needs, and areas to improve.

The user experience research methods discussed include:

Michael’s talk is scheduled for Saturday, March 29 from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. in the River room at the University Center (525 S. State Street, Chicago).

Learn more about his talk or sign up for Drupal MidCamp.

This blog was posted by Megan on March 26, 2014.
Megan Culligan

About the Author

Megan Culligan

Megan knows the importance of picking a winner. With a background in politics and PR, she knows that a successful marketing campaign requires coordination of many moving pieces and a team focused on achieving a great goal. You’ll see her analytical point of view on the blog, providing insight and tactics for success.

Michael
4 Types of User Research and When to Use Them - Part 2: Card Sorting and Tree Testing

Card sorting and tree testing are the yin and yang of determining and testing your navigation and menu structure. Card sorting is helpful when creating a menu structure while tree testing is an effective way to test a menu structure.

Card sorting exercises consist of writing samples of your content on cards and having your users sort those cards into groups. Two varieties of card sorting can be used, an open card sort where you also have your users label each group and a closed card sort where the groups are predetermined.

Tree testing works in the other direction where you present the user with a navigation structure and ask them to find particular piece of content.

Both are quick and easy ways to arrive at an effective menu structure and there are several great online tools for conducting both of these exercises.

Why should I use this approach?

If you’re looking to solve any of the following, card sorting and/or tree testing will help:

  • You’ve heard feedback that your content is hard to find.
  • You’re not sure what to label a section or type of content.
  • Your navigation structure is overly complicated. (Hint: it shouldn’t be complicated at all.)

The benefits and results of card sorting include:

  • Creating a new user centered menu structure
  • Testing and improving an existing navigation and menu structure
  • Identifying user-centric labels for your navigation

When should I start?

Card sorting and tree testing is a versatile user research method. It’s great to do at the beginning of the design process to ensure structure simplicity and utility. Although, If your current navigation is giving your users trouble, you can conduct this research at any time.

Steps for conducting a card sort

Below is a six step approach for card sorting:

1. Identify your content.
For new sites, you will need to identify your content strategy first. For an existing site, audit your content to catalog and understand what you have and how it is currently organized.

2. Create your cards.
25–30 “cards” is a good amount. Any more and it becomes too cumbersome for your testers to complete. Make sure you have an accurate representation of your site’s content with enough cards from any category to allow for grouping.

3. Recruit users.
Have as many users as possible participate, at least 20. It’s crucial to test with real users, too. Involving stakeholders will likely skew results.

4. Conduct the study.
We like using an online tool so we can invite as many users as possible to participate and they can do so in their own environment and on their own time. A good ones is Optimal Workshop’s Optimal Sort.

5. Analyze your results.
With a closed card sort it’s mostly a matter of identifying how many times a card was placed into a particular group and identifying the trends. Open card sorts are a little more difficult to analyze. There is less consistency within the number and names of groups your users create. The online tools mentioned above will save you a lot of time here.

If online tools are not an option, use your favorite spreadsheet program and list your cards vertically down the first column.Then put the user created categories in a row across the top. Now, you can mark in the matrix how many times each card was put into each category.

It’s likely many of your users created similar category labels that can be combined (e.g. About, About us, About [name of organization]). At this point you should start to see groupings and trends. Major groupings will be obvious, but around the edges, groupings are not as clear and will require your judgment. (Tree testing will help confirm you’ve chosen the correct labels and groupings.)

6. Build or update your navigation. Take your findings and build a navigation that is easier and more intuitive for you and your users.

Following up with tree testing

Now that you have a workable navigation, some simple tree testing will help confirm your findings:

1. Build a menu for testing. This can be an html prototype or simply a list of your primary (top level) navigation items on a piece of paper.

2. Ask your users “Where would you go to find X?” Use the content from the cards you created for your sorting exercise.

3. Adjust your navigation as needed.

Getting the information to fulfill your goals

Card sorting and tree testing is an effective exercise for gathering insights from your users for organizing your content. Involving your users in the process will help ensure you’re speaking their language, after all they are the people using the site.

[Ed. - Check back for the next post of Michael’s series on user research with Usability Studies. If you missed it, be sure to read the first post on In-Depth User Interviews.]

This blog was posted by Michael on .
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

Michael
What are In-Depth User Interviews and when should you use them.

Whether you’re building a new website from the ground up or looking to improve your existing site, involving users in the design process is a crucial step to meeting both your users’ needs and your organization’s goals. There are 4 types of user research that all contribute to the success of your design process.

  1. In-depth user interviews
  2. Card sorting and tree testing
  3. Usability testing
  4. Heuristic analysis

Use these methods to gain insight on what your users want, what’s working well on your site and where you need to make improvements.

In a perfect world you’d employ all or most of these techniques in your design process, but if you have a limited budget (and who doesn’t) you’ll want to invest in the research method that provides the most benefit for your needs. Over the next few weeks I will be discussing each approach individually outlining their benefits and drawbacks. This week we have in-depth user research interviews.

In-Depth User Research Interviews

User interviews help you uncover what’s important to your users and what they want from your site. This helps you create user stories and determine content and functional requirements before you start your web development.

Going a step further, the results can be used to develop personas to guide you through the entire design process. We recommend one to one interviews (which can be done over the phone or in person) with 10–12 users from each of your user groups.

Why should I use this approach?

In-Depth Interviews answer the following questions:

  • How do I understand my users?
  • What features would bring the most benefit to my site and users?
  • What do users think about our brand compared to our competitors?
  • How should we be engaging our customers?

What do they achieve?

The benefits and results of user interviews include:

  • Developing user stories and requirements.
  • Ensuring you’re spending your budget on the content and functionality that will bring the most value to your users and your organization.
  • Aligning organizational goals with user goals

It’s always a good time to talk to your users.

This should be the first step if you are redesigning your site, converting to be a responsive website, or starting a new site from scratch. It’s also a good place to start if you are looking to make big changes to an existing site. Quite simply, if you’re not talking to your users, you’re missing opportunities. No matter where you are in the process if you haven’t spoken to your users, do it now.

I’m ready, where do I begin?

Depending on the number of user groups you select, the interview process takes two to four weeks to complete. Below is a six step outline based on how I (and Sandstorm) conducts user interviews:

  1. Identify your research goals. What questions are you trying to answer?
  2. Determine what types of users (user groups) will participate in the study. A user group is a set of users who have similar goals or use cases on your site or application. This is different from demographics.
  3. Write a protocol, that’s a fancy word for the list of questions you’re going to ask your users.
  4. Recruit and schedule the interviews. Interviews can be conducted over the phone to make it convenient for the participants. We recommend offering a gratuity or incentive to participate.
  5. Conduct the interviews, 30 to 45 minutes each should be good.
  6. Analyze the results and develop your user stories, requirements and/or personas. The results can also be helpful in making business decisions about the scope of your project.

Is there a way to simplify?

Here are a few hints to help your interviews and process go smoothly and give you better results:

  1. Ask a mix of open-ended and behavior based questions. For example, what’s the primary reason you visit website.com? Tell me about the last time you visited website.com, what did you visit for? Tell me 3 things you like about it? Tell me 3 things you would like to see improved?
  2. Allow space for follow up and probing questions like, can you tell me more about that? Can you give me an example?
  3. Be consistent, follow up questions may vary but be sure to follow your protocol with all participants. You’re looking to identify trends, so you’ll need to be consistent in your research methods.

You get results

The result of your In-Depth User Research Interviews is a user research report with user stories, content and functional requirements and personas. This can fuel your design and even reconsider your product and how you market it. Since you now have data on who your target is, you’re equipped with a powerful tool to serve them better than ever.

[Read the second post in Michael’s series on user research: Card Sorting and Testing Trees.]

This blog was posted by Michael on .
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

Michael
User goals come first in user experience

I recently conducted a usability study for a Fortune 50 company. It was for an internal portal for managing employee health benefits and programs. This included testing both the desktop and mobile experiences. Results of the study showed users were frustrated by irrelevant content or that they missed content important to them because it was buried in the experience.

Stakeholder goals came first

The project stakeholders built the portal around their needs and the users needs were secondary. Throughout the portal, surveys, promotions for internal programs were brought to the front instead of presenting the key health benefit information users wanted. Users found this particularly frustrating on their mobile devices, where they wanted to quickly access specific information on-the-go.

User goals should be priority

If the users had access to the information they wanted first, they would more likely take the time to read the promotions or surveys. Since it was in the way beforehand, users found it annoying. At best it was ignored.

A soapbox I often stand on when speaking with clients goes like this:

  • You have business or organizational goals
  • Your users have goals
  • Sometimes these are the same, sometimes they are not
  • Meeting your users goals first greatly increases your chances of meeting your business goals

Everyone wins when the user succeeds

Often, there are business goals your users don’t care about at all. If you prioritize your users’ goals, you’ll have the opportunity later to meet those business goals that aren’t important to your users. If you make it difficult for your users to meet their goals, it’s unlikely they’ll stick around to help you meet yours.

Each user has a goal in mind specific to their need and situation. By successfully meeting this need, they will return to your site, app, and even brick and mortar store again.

This blog was posted by Michael on January 2, 2014.
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

Laura
David Ogilvy was a UX Pioneer

I have been in the ad biz for about 20 years and never read Ogilvy on Advertising. I recently finished it, and it struck me how much of his approach is anchored in user experience design principles.

Ads should have a purpose.

David Ogilvy: UX from the Ad Age to the Digital Age

“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

David Ogilvy was passionate about having communication that provided real information to someone. From his famous Rolls Royce print ads to his campaign for Puerto Rico, he was adamant about providing something new and informative to the reader. (Click on the images to read their informative copy.)

Research is critical.

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

How can someone fully empathize with a user without research? Ogilvy was interested in pragmatic, actionable research. He wanted to know enough to garner a perspective for advertising that would successfully resonate with the consumer.

This approach was anchored in healthy skepticism for traditional researchers, as well as curiosity about what people really wanted and were thinking. He went so far as to outline nine things he did not like about the research community of his time.

  1. Take too long to answer a few simple questions: “they are natural slowpokes”
  2. Cannot agree on methodology
  3. Are too interested in sociology and economics, not advertising [Note: this is specific to Ogilvy's field]
  4. Have little or no system for retrieving research which has already been conducted
  5. Are too faddish; some techniques are useful, but still go out of fashion
  6. Use graphs that are incomprehensible to laymen
  7. Refuse to undertake projects which they consider imperfect, even when the project would produce actionable results. Quoting Winston Churchill; “PERFECTIONISM is spelled PARALYSIS”
  8. Lack initiative i.e. only do what they are asked for
  9. Use pretentious jargon

These principles can be and should be successfully applied to the agile technology world of today. Testing and learning and continuous improvement are the approaches to creating engaging user experiences that produce business results.

Readability cannot be compromised.

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or as an art form, but as a medium of information.”

A fanatic about details, everything was focused on the information. Ogilvy would not tolerate reversed out type. He felt that it was not legible and would lose the reader.

Back to 2013, legibility and organization of information can make or break conversion on a website. Unclear direction and cumbersome forms will cause high abandonment rates.

Uncompromising discipline to implement a thoughtful experience

“The best of all ways to beat P&G is, of course, to market a better product.”

An entire chapter is devoted to Procter & Gamble’s marketing discipline. His respect for their marketing acumen was anchored by their focus and commitment to creating a better product. The core of their marketing was the product itself. The times are long gone where great promotion can outsell a quality product. Quick access to information requires successful marketers to create great products to succeed.

I can’t help but think that if Ogilvy was around today he would have a chapter about Apple and their fanatical discipline. It starts with product design and resonates through the Apple experience, from iTunes to the Genius Bar. Everything consistently reinforces the brand.

Laura on Ogilvy on Advertising

What I am most amazed about is that we continue to create new business processes and vocabulary around “new” principles. These “new” concepts are attempts to reinvent the wheel. It would be most efficient to spend time being more disciplined about solving the challenges at hand. Answering tough questions accomplishes more than creating new names for existing tools.

Ogilvy’s approach to advertising and marketing with a user focus has stood the test of time. This approach can help you create something that can last, too.

There is no silver bullet, no social media magic, or algorithmic formula that will save your business, product or service. Time tested marketing discipline, when applied correctly will fuel, reinvigorate and grow your business but only when the appropriate level of time, money and thinking is applied.

[Editor's note: The images used in this post are owned by their respective company. Also, there is a great post by Fast Company that reviews Ogilvy's 11 principles for successful marketing campaigns through the lens of UX.]

This blog was posted by Laura on October 17, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Laura
Brand strategy - empathy

The importance of empathy in business cannot be denied. It will create efficiencies across the board. It provides a construct from which to accelerate the speed of solving business problems. Multi-functional collaborative teams are a given for today’s economy, and leveraging these teams to their full potential requires each individual to think about the other. How do they think? What is their situation? Why? These questions help to create an empathic solution.

This is more than active listening. This is tapping into imagination and fully embracing the challenge through another person’s point of view. Once this is accomplished, solutions can be more quickly implemented with less friction within an organization. This cuts down on rework and shortens timelines by leaping forward from the beginning.

For example, we currently have a global client who is outsourcing much of their tradeshow support to Sandstorm. This organization has been successful by embracing sophisticated processes for developing high-end mathematical software. They have a meticulous process for everything and trusting Sandstorm with this process will be critical to their continued business growth.

Sandstorm is filled with passionate, non-linear thinkers who are always looking for a better way. Sandstorm’s creative process and culture generally produces unorthodox solutions. This is why we are enlisted by our clients to assist them in building their businesses.

Bridging the above mentioned cultures and processes to create something larger and more effective for our client requires active empathy. I challenge our teams to actively empathize with this particular client in order to solve their problems more quickly. This quickly innovates in small and big ways to move their business forward.

Honing your empathy takes practice, particularly if you are driven. Reacting and pushing our agenda and/or ideas forward is the more reflexive mode for most successful business people. It will be scary at first, believe me, I am a control freak; but in the end, better results will abound with a more empathetic worldview.

This blog was posted by Laura on August 22, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Janna
Great User Experience

Imagine it is your first time. You are probably excited, anxious, hoping everything will go right and you don’t do anything too embarrassing.

Afterward, you may think “overall not bad,” but you should have tried a different technique, approach or way to make the experience better or maybe closer to what you expected.

Now, get your mind out of the gutter…

These same emotions and concerns can be said about the first time you visit a new web site. Users have high expectations and feel anxious, hoping they can find everything they need and will be able to perform all necessary tasks quickly and easily.

During the initial visit, users may try trusted approaches in using the site until they stumble upon or otherwise discover how to complete the task at hand. If the process takes longer than expected, users often berate themselves thinking they did something wrong or are not savvy enough to use the site. If they become frustrated enough, users lose their patience and leave.

I have seen this emotional rollercoaster first hand in usability studies. No matter how challenging the task, web site or overall experience was, the users usually blamed themselves for failing and expressed they “just need more time to learn how to use the site.”

In a recent blog post, Jakob Neilsen wrote, users invest a lot of time “learning” sites they often visit. That is, by spending time “mastering” the site, the user will be able to quickly and easily complete what they need to do each and every visit.

As UX experts, we strive to create user-centered web sites that are easy and intuitive the first time, no handbook required.

Knowing users are willing, and at times expect, to spend time learning a new site, adding teaching moments to key steps enables the first-time user to be guided, even taught how, to use the site immediately.

Here are some areas of your site’s experience that might need some first-time love:

Key Tasks: You don't need an instruction manual.

  • Break long, key tasks into stepped processes for quicker completion
  • Integrate a robust help and search functionality

New Elements: It's strange at first, talk them through it. 

  • Tutorial-style pop ups for new features
  • Microsites and/or videos to explain larger new features (FB on open graph)

Forms: Keep it simple and don't be afraid to give suggestions.

  • Indicate required fields clearly
  • Include inline tips and suggestions
  • Provide formatting prompts for dates, phone numbers and zip codes

By using these tactics along with other UX techniques, users will not have to learn the web site, instead they will be free to use it. Each and every web site encounter will be exciting, engaging, intuitive, informative… and, perhaps, earth-moving.

This blog was posted by Janna on June 13, 2013.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's Executive Creative Director, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

Karen

I’m not here to report how a particular ad campaign went. I want LinkedIn to view this as free user research – they need to improve the user experience and usability of LinkedIn Ads.

The ad campaign setup consists of what seems to be three simple steps. But as the user moves through the experience, what initially felt simple becomes rigid and constrictive when trying to make changes, update, or delete.

The top three key items LinkedIn Ads could fix to improve usability and the user experience:

  1. No delete? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard this complaint within other areas of LinkedIn before, so I wasn't surprised to find it in LinkedIn Ads. Once created, there is no way to delete an ad campaign or ad variation. You can hide them, but not delete them. Users should always be allowed to delete anything they create (just make them confirm it's really what they want to do).
  2. No “Save” option. If you leave the ad campaign setup process at any time, LinkedIn saves everything you started. This is great, except they don’t tell you they’re going to do that. So if you leave before finalizing a campaign, you would assume you're losing what you started. Upon coming back to find it's still there—you might be surprised, and also annoyed you didn't know it would be saved in the first place. If the functionality is there, tell the users upfront so they can plan for it.
  3. Cannot add new ad variations. I love that LinkedIn gives users 15 ad variations per campaign. But after you go through the initial three steps, there’s no way to come back and simply “Add a new variation.” You have to use a workaround where you duplicate an existing variation and just make changes to that. Users should never have to use a workaround for something that should be basic functionality. In fact, they should never have to use a workaround, period.

Despite my rant here, I love LinkedIn, and am very pleased to see it growing so much (100 million members as of March 2011!). As they grow, usability and the user experience is definitely something they'll want to put more focus on. For now though, these few items would make a nice improvement.

Don't forget to follow our usability and user experience design agency on LinkedIn!

This blog was posted by Karen on April 27, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Sandy
persona development - how much is too much information?

Part of our user-centered web design process includes the development of personas through research and analysis. Personas have a noticeable advantage over traditional demographics because we (you, me, clients, etc) can relate to a person far more naturally than a list of stats and demographics. It's human nature to bucket information into a way that you can remember, that you can relate to, that you can engage with - and a persona literally puts a name with a face on a fictional character that we can all discuss and create an amazing experience around.

So my big question is how far to go with the persona? How much detail is necessary to tell the story and paint the picture?

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 2, 2009.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the Founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a next-generation brand experience agency that turns customer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of strategy, UX design, user research, marketing technology and analytics.

Sandy

Ready to conduct some usability testing because you have no budget and something is better than nothing? Then read on my friend...

You only need 5-6 participants to catch 80% of your problems (Jakob Nielsen, March 19, 2000), so what are you waiting for? Assuming you don't have access to your end user, grab a coworker or two (who isn't on the project) and watch their expressions and their navigational habits complete a series of tasks that you have deemed most important. It's basic, and rudimentary, but it's a start. And you've just started the beginnings of a task analysis - which will be important when you start to implement your web analytics.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 6, 2009.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the Founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a next-generation brand experience agency that turns customer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of strategy, UX design, user research, marketing technology and analytics.

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