Thursday, August 13, 2015


"If Content is king, then context is queen."
These sayings are extremely common in the web content and user experience worlds. I find them infuriating, because they sounds impressive but they are fairly opaque and don't really say anything. After all, what kind of context? What does it even mean?
At An Event Apart, they dissected this phrase a little bit.
Image you are planning a conference. You create a website to tell people things they need to know - the twitter hashtag, the address, the registration page, etc. So there's a lot of information here, and you can split it up under tabs or navigation items.
But what if you didn't have to? If you look at the customer journey regarding the conference, there are many phases to attending a conference: the registering, the traveling, arriving and orienting, and then attending sessions. So what if that context - what people were doing at that time - determined what they saw on the website. A schedule of events would be front and center before the conference, but it's much less important afterwards. So the context could be time-based.

By looking at the specific parts of the event, and the time relevance of each, you could shift content based on what priority made most sense during that time.
In addition, you could also alter events based on location. If a person was 50 miles away, geolocation on their phones would give them directions. When they were within the building, it could shift to the wifi password.
The possibilities for events and orientation are limitless.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Accessibility: That high peak

Building any digital product is hard. You need what you THINK is a good idea, the understanding about your customers whether it's a good idea or not, a solid team, resources, timing, and managerial support.
You can do all these things. You can have designs that sparkle. You can user test the hell out of it. You can have a simplified User Interface and a sensible amount of self-promotion. But while you shoot for the 80%, there are always people who fall off the list. And people with disabilities are usually on that list.
It's easy to try not to think about it. Because it's already so hard to do anyway, why add an extra level of complexity? Why pull in another team of experts? Why introduce flaws into something you are so proud of?
There are three reasons:
  1. Legal - If you're the government, making things accessible is the law. Period. I'm still trying to figure out to what extent (if any) this applies to other companies. For us, it's a big deal.
  2. Money - This one should be enough for a lot of businesses, especially e-commerce sites. Disabilities is an incredibly wide term, which covers everything from people with arthritis, to those who can see, sorta, but with terrible eyesight (a.k.a. "low vision") to more debilitating  situations like paralysis. But these folks buy things too. They won't hesitate to go elsewhere, possibly after seconds, if your site isn't accessible.
  3. Public relations - Certainly if you're a government agency and you get sued by a special interest group, that's something you won't to avoid. But those groups can be very vocal towards private companies that exclude them as well. And the converse is true too - to be able to tout your accessibility credentials can have lots of benefits as well.
For most of my career I've focused on the accessibility of desktop websites. And now there is mobile, and responsive design. People with disabilities love mobile devices. They literally can help them navigate the word, or leave the house, or read a cereal box label, or a million others things. But how do you design something on a mobile device for a person who is blind? Or has low-vision? Or can't move their arms? Or who has hands that shake? I'm looking into that right now.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

For a while: Shifting to User Experience

I've written this blog for many years, though not recently. "Blogging is dead," they say. Most people seem to think microblogging and image-based networks have killed long-form blogs. They are right.

At this week's An Event Apart conference, the keynote speaker talked about "blogging like no one is reading" about a field you are interested in. I've got the blog already set up, so I'm going to try blogging about things in the realm of User-Centered Design that are interesting to me.

This blog will be a way to get these ideas down, explore them, and get back into the writing gig. I won't be writing for anyone else. And since all seven(ish) of my readers expected my old amusing banter on random things, this blog will probably not be interesting to you anymore. But if it is, power to you.

Behavioral Science vs. UX

Nothing is more impenetrable to me, and impenetrably boring, than statistics. I'm fairly good at math, but an avalanche of numbers and tables is usually boring unless I'm interested in the subject. I like data in a similar way. But I prefer people to numbers. I prefer to hear their stories, rather than looking at numbers and distilling stories from reams of data. So I've been a qualitative person, and I've left the quantitative to the bean counters, number crunchers and lab coaters.

But sometimes, what repulses is is also alluring. In grad school our Economics specification ("Econ") was said to have the power to transfer the most anti-number, anti-business person into an economics nerd. It usually succeeded to my surprise, but I never gave it a chance.

But perhaps there was something in this world after all for me. As I've learned more about Behavioral Science, I realize it's very similar to the world of User Experience. It's using data to understand human behavior. Often, it looks at hard data - web analytics, email open rates, the number of responses to a question or mail piece. Data, not people.

But there's more than that. They will look at the data - where people are dropping off from a registration process, how much electricity they use, how they respond to a survey - and they identify a "psychology." This is an explanation behind an action, and often fitting into a nice category of human behavior like being exhausted from having too many choices, or not wanting to deal with a difficulty problem. With this data, they propose a technique to change this behavior. And then the measure to see if the behavior was changed. Very interesting, and very similar to the goal-based UX field.

The "it's the same but different" nature of this really set a fire under me. Looking into it more.