Sketching makes it clear

Often when I’m stuck or reach a road block – during projects – I turn to pen and paper to form sketches. Sketching allows me to draw from my minds eye into a temporary holding area (paper). Then when I have enough information I can then translate that view back into the poject.

Nine Essential Characteristics of Good UX Designers (Fred Beecher)

Fred Beecher writes a great post covering what personally use as guiding principles of good user experience design. Fred's characterises nine essential elements a designer should posses to make a good user experience designer:

  1. Moderate Familiarity with Business, Deep Familiarity with Your Business
  2. A Deep Understanding of Human Psychology & Research Methods
  3. Competence in the Basics of Graphic Design
  4. An Awareness of and Interest in Technology
  5. Verbal & Visual Communication Skills
  6. The Ability to Quickly Learn a Subject Matter Area
  7. Mediation, Facilitation, & Translation Skills
  8. Creativity & Vision
  9. Passion

Read the full post: Nine Essential Characteristics of Good UX Designers

Newly released customisable theme feature from Posterous

Posterous is proud to announce the ability to change the look and feel of your Posterous blog! It’s been a long time coming, and are we ever excited about releasing this feature to you guys today.

With this recent announcement I believe Posterous will secure even more traction as a micro-blogging platform. Other than five off-the-shelf themes, Posterous also offers customisable headers and colours. And that’s not all. Posterous have also catered for the geeks out there. They’re given account holders the ability to customise further through access to HTML and CSS configs.

For more information on theming visit the ‘Custom Themes‘ page.

Google Fast Flip demonstration from the couch

If you wondered what all the hype is surrounding Google’s new web app, Google Fast Flip, then look no further. Here I run through the basics of this app and demonstrate how Google have managed to find middle ground between online news content and RSS. What’s noticeable is how any display advertorial content has been removed from the thumb views (small and large) yet they manage to keep their ads in tact (as you’d expect).

Personally, I like it and will start to use it more than my RSS reader… for now that is.

Google Fast Flip demonstration

Is Twitter just a marketing tool?

Guy Kawasaki and me

Guy Kawasaki and me

My world has just been shattered. Ok, perhaps that’s a little too dramatic, but today I experienced what it feels like to have my carpet pulled from under me (during the first-half that is). One of my long-time Twitter follows @GuyKawasaki had defied my laws of Twitter use without remorse, but made up for it later with useful tips for business use.

This morning I attended an event at Imperial College London, organised by MIT Enterprise Forum of the UK, Twitter – weapons of mass construction with Guy KawasakiAlltop, Nick Halstead – founder of Tweetmeme, Mario MentiTwitterfeed) to discuss Twitter and offer some tips and tricks. Whilst I was getting over Guy’s devastating and cold disregard for my Twitter beliefs, he surprised me with loads of extremely useful tips that can be applied at work – using Twitter purely as a Marketing tool.

AlltopGuy opened the conference with an assertion that nowadays there are no excuses for not being able to run affective Twitter campaigns. He argued that all elements (people, Twitter, Marketing) needed are FREE:

  • free tools (Twitter) – to publish the message
  • people are free – to consume and spread the message
  • marketing (Objective Marketer) is free – to reach people

… all to drive traffic to alltop.com.

TweetMeme buttonAlso, at the event was tweetmeme.com which allows you, as a publisher, to chose one of four buttons (via a plugin) on an article. The button allows visitors to tweet the story directly from the article page. Planned for release soon is Tweetmeme’s report and tracking suite. The suite of apps will allow the account holder to track clicks and RT’s and better manage activity.

The tools Guy suggested using to run an effective marketing campaign to drive traffic to alltop.com include:

With ~150,000 followers Guy strongly advocates automation. Automation of as many services as possible – especially useful when he travels. Part of the automation process includes auto sending of tweets and ghost tweeting – tweeting using a false name.

Using Objective Marketer, Guy is able to schedule tweets, track clicks and RT’s and RT effectiveness. Guy claims:

“There is no better way to create, test, and modify Twitter-based marketing than ObjectiveMarketer. If you’re going to take heat for using Twitter as tool, you might as well do it well.”

Finally, when Guy constructs a tweet manually (yes, he still tweets manually when at his desk) he includes two link portions to a tweet – one directly to the story and one to alltop.com’s channel/section page. When users click on the links from his tweet the target url is framed with an Alltop.com leader to help promote Alltop.com more. Guy assured us that website owners should not feel cheated, but rather pleased that a tweet of his has directed users to their website.

As the event drew to a close I couldn’t help but wonder how I might apply his useful steps to a work situation. Perhaps I might see if it works with some of our product teams.

[I have not mentioned Twitterfeed.com in this post as I lost track of what was being said other than it's a tool to auto send tweets out of your RSS fed blog posts]

Liferay 5 interface (Admin)

Our IT team are putting together a ‘cookie cutter’ solution for rapid website deployments. During this process they are moving to the latest version of Liferay (Liferay version 5). I was privy to be invited to join a introduction training session on how to add/edit pages and content.

For those who are unfamiliar with Liferay, the CMS is powered by Java and basis itself on editable java ‘portlets’ by drop-n-drag methodology.

I can’t say I’m a fan of drop-n-drag when it comes to managing the UI, especially for Marketers or anyone who has little knowledge about the importance of UI design and consistentcy. I see this approach as a somewhat irresponsibly provactive unless very tight portlet lock-down is enforced.

Digital Magazines UX: to switch or not to?

With spiraling print costs it seems a logical move to offer print readers with an alternative medium. Naturally, nothing quite replaces the real thing (the print copy) so it’s important to connect and empathise with these readers. Conversations while asking questions like: why we doing it, when and how we plan to do it and what you can expect from it are important to the readers. If, however, they are really precious about the printed magazine (the physical tactile, olfactory experience) then it’ll be hard to win them over.

Deciding to switch

When deciding to switch mediums careful planning and considerations must carried out. Communicating the change is important too. Considering how best to communicate the switch to our readers raises a few questions:

  1. How have the print subscribers been notified of the ‘change’ in medium?
  2. Is the switch in medium a cost saving measure for us, or a cost saving measure for us plus a bonus for the subscribers?
  3. What reactions have the print advertisers had towards the change in medium and how have been dealt with?
  4. What advantages (for the print subscriber) has/have been identified by the switch in medium and how have they been communicated to the readers? In other words, why would a subscriber want a copy of the digital edition over an existing online product?

One way to help your readers from resisting the change is to offer them a friendly how-to guide demonstrating how easy it is to use eliminating anxieties and barriers to use. The Boston Globe managed to create a short video to help its users: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/reader/demo/

Research and feedback

Interested by this topic I conducted research of my own from a users perspective – how do they find the experience? Also, I asked a professional user experience body whether any specific research had been conducted and soon discovered anecdotally that suggested no real positive experiences can be found – nothing noticeable anyway.

“interest in digital editions was limited at best proven by webstats”

“Ironically, the digital additions probably do better for those papers whose web additions have UI (user interface) problems or limit their online content: users may bypass the web to go to something more familiar and scannable.”

“there’s no evidence to suggest that anything beyond an article rendered in HTML provides any positive experience to the reader.”

Examples of digital/electronic editions

The best-of-class in online news these days are, New York Times, Financial Times, and the Guardian in my view. They use the web in ways to enhance the delivery of news, not detract from it.

What are the advantages?

What benefits do digital editions offer over print?

  • ability to view your ad (if you’ve placed one) in the print edition and all its stats
  • search – finding content: articles, photos, etc (using search)
  • being able to quickly navigate to pages or sections readers become familiar with
  • cheaper production costs
  • personalisation
  • chronology – timeliness and updates, the “real time web”
  • richer experiences – potentially more visual information including extra pictures and video
  • a more familiar feel (e.g., bloggers you can identify and ‘get to know’) aligning to existing online products
  • hyper-linking for related content (on and off site)
  • environmentally friendly.

Any alternatives?

With any business decision it’s important to consider the alternatives. What options do we have.

  • improved website – ensure that your current model is working optimally. Back this up by stats, user testimonials, usability tests etc
  • mobile offering – if you want to offer your users alternative ways at accessing content have you considered what your site looks like on a handheld device?
  • video/audio podcasts – if it’s content you want to allow your users to take away why not offer them alternative formats?
  • e-newsletters – how well does your newsletter serve your readers? Is your newsletter a must-see content piece or is simply ok?
  • better quality content – bump up the quality, frequency and quantity of the current content you produce. Perhaps providing just another medium to deliver your exisiting content does not solve a content quality issue?
  • Social Media – have you covered all the corners of the web? Are there potential communities waiting to consume your content on other more social ways?

Finally, when switching over to an electronic version seems like the only option, be wary of visitor dilution (or visitor distraction) that might effect your current online offerings and ensure you plan and facilitate seamless transition.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with electronic versions, I think it’s good for business, but be sure all the options have been explored beforehand.

Amazon mobile shopping

Some online businesses just get it. Amazon, as usual, is one of those who do too. Whilst I’m sure Amazon has various business models, selling goods online (books in this case) is the obvious one.

Realising that shopping should not be restricted to the PC, Amazon built another bespoke, contextually relevant sales point – the ‘simple’ mobile device version. Building a shopping experience catering for shoppers on the go is ingenious. It seems so obvious. It’s only when you use it do you realise just how good it is. Or rather only once you use another online mobile shopping site do you realise how good Amazon’s mobile offering is.

Amazon could have (like many companies) sat back and insisted that their customers simply use their fully functioning PC version. But what kind of clunky experience would that present? Who would then want to trawl through all the page ‘noise’ while on the go? Not many I suspect.

From my mobile Amazon experience here are 5 good practices I’ve learnt:

  1. Know your users (customers)
  2. Only build what is needed
  3. Always give users alternatives
  4. Keep pages light (mobile environment)
  5. Make restarting (resetting) a session easy and available at any point.