Articles & research papers

Usability Engineering

Checkout Usability- Helping International Users Checkout

Victoria’s Secret uses a checkout usability tactic that may improve the usability of your international checkout. VS asks its customers to indicate their billing address in the first step of the checkout form. (Even with geolocation tools, it’s good to ask as a user’s billing address may be different than their IP location).

Helping International Users Checkout

Usability Testing Metrics

Usability (Testing) Metrics. Tullis and Albert, the authors of the text, Measuring the User Experience, dedicate the majority of their book to metrics – from definition and types to use and measurement. A metric is commonly defined as “a way of measuring or evaluating a particular phenomenon or thing” (p. 7). Usability (testing) metrics involve (1) a user, (2) doing something, (3) with a product, system or other thing (p.4). Building on classmate Judith Stevenson’s 1 March 2010 Design + Research article on Usability Testing, metrics and their measurement provide tools and results for determining design and development effectiveness, tracking design progress, providing insights and influencing decision-makers. Metrics replace hunches and feelings with facts. Usability metrics and their measurement can show improvement, decline or indifference (i.e., no change) in a user’s experience with an updated, improved or changed product or process (p. 9).

Their text provides an excellent article (p. 10 – 13) debunking ten common myths about usability metrics including issues concerning time requirements, costs, ineffectiveness at determining causes, conflicts with gut feelings, misunderstandings by management and difficulties with small sample sizes. Usability metrics can:

  1. be cost and time effective,
  2. address a wide variety of issues and products of any size and
  3. be understood and appreciated by management

Usability Testing Metrics

Wherefore Art Thou O Usability? – Cognitive Lock-in to the Rescue

The author has enjoyed teaching HFI's series of CUA Certification Courses for many years now. Over 20 years of teaching, he got to meet a lot of people who were serious about usability – their organizations paid good money to get them trained. The organizations were "in love" with usability, so to speak. O usability, O usability.

But when he asked the class what their most serious issues were, their replies surprised him. The problem was more "political" than "operational". Their problem was convincing managers that usability offered true value – and should be incorporated into the design life cycle as a routine activity.

Yes, organizations send people to classes. Yes, organizations employ usability specialists. But NO, usability often has no priority and (surprisingly) remains ignored amidst the other pressures of business. Turns out some of these relationship prejudices can be overcome.

Wherefore Art Thou O Usability? – Cognitive Lock-in to the Rescue

Outliers and Luck in User Performance

Summary: 6% of task attempts are extremely slow and constitute outliers in measured user performance. These sad incidents are caused by bad luck that designers can — and should — eradicate.

Outliers and Luck in User Performance

Discount Usability: 20 Years

Simple user testing with 5 participants, paper prototyping, and heuristic evaluation offer a cheap, fast, and early focus on usability, as well as many rounds of iterative design.

Discount Usability: 20 Years

Education in HCI

The HCI Education page is a collection of resources for students and educators interested in Human-Computer Interaction. The following are key resources for HCI Education:

  1. Curriculum: The SIGCHI Curriculum Development Group report Curricula in Human-Computer Interaction.
  2. Affordable Textbook: Clayton Lewis and John Rieman's shareware book Task-Centered User Interface Development.
  3. Readings: Gary Perlman's Suggested Readings in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), User Interface (UI) Development & Human Factors (HF).
  4. Educator's Mailing List: The SIGCHI Mailing List: CHI-Educators ( CHI-Educators is archived on the Web
  5. Student's Mailing List: The SIGCHI Mailing List: CHI-Students ( CHI-Students is archived on the Web
  6. Program Ratings: Because it is so often asked, I have created: Gary Perlman's Ratings of HCI Education Programs

Education in HCI

Fill Your Portfolio With Stories

On the trail of exploring our next career move, it’s likely we’ll need to show the path we’ve been on. As part of a design team, that usually means displaying our work.

However, if we didn’t make proper arrangements before we took the job, it’s very likely we can’t show much of our work to anyone. Consultants, contractors, and full-time employees are usually covered (in the US at least, but most other places as well) by a "work for hire" agreement, which means that the people we work for own all the work product we produce.

Wireframes, sketches, and other deliverables are not ours to show. If the final design isn’t publicly visible, such as internal application, there might not be any evidence of what we’ve done.

This puts us in an uncomfortable position when it comes time to show our work to a prospective employer. How do we show what we’re capable of when we don’t have access to our work? What can you put into your portfolio when your work is all locked up? The simple answer: Fill your portfolio with stories.

Fill Your Portfolio With Stories

234 Tips and Tricks for Recruiting Users as Participants in Usability Studies

A well-managed recruiting program at an organization allows teams to quickly find quality participants for usability studies.

This free 190-page report from the Norman Nielsen group gives you 234 guidelines on how to set up and manage a recruiting program. It also presents advice on when to outsource to a recruiting agency and when to use in-house recruiting.

Topics covered

  • Learn how to set up and manage a recruiting program to get the right users for usability studies
  • Know when it’s appropriate to outsource to a recruiting agency or use in-house recruiting
  • Planning for recruiting
    • Recruiting criteria
    • Incentives
    • Going to participants vs. having them come to you
    • Screening script and questionnaire
  • Screening and scheduling participants
    • Recruiting on your own
    • Working with an outside recruiting agency
    • Reusing Participants
  • Running the test sessions
    • Ensuring participants’ safety, privacy, and physical comfort
    • Preparing session materials
    • Dealing with unqualified participants
  • Building and maintaining a participant database and recruiting staff
  • Sample scripts and forms

234 Tips and Tricks for Recruiting Users as Participants in Usability Studies (1.3 mb, PDF)

No More No Shows — How to Make Sure Your Research Participants Actually Show Up

“No shows” stink. A few startups recently complained to the author that after diligently planning UX studies and recruiting a great batch of customers, some of their participants just didn’t show up. That’s incredibly frustrating, can be embarrassing in front of the team, and wastes everyone’s time.

Here are a few habits that have dramatically reduced “no shows” at the author's studies:

  1. Avoid scheduling interviews on Mondays or immediately before or after holidays
  2. Offer an incentive that’s big enough to motivate people to show up
  3. Don’t start recruiting too far in advance
  4. Send recruits clearly written confirmation emails
  5. If parking is difficult in your neighborhood, give them specific instructions and assistance
  6. Ensure all communication (phone calls, emails, etc.) to your participants is respectful, professional, and organized
  7. Warn recruits ahead of time that the sessions will be 1-on-1 interviews
  8. Call participants to remind them about their appointments the day before
  9. Elicit several responses from your recruits in the days leading up to the study

No More “No Shows” — How to Make Sure Your Research Participants Actually Show Up

How to Measure Visual Appeal

Is a beautiful website more usable? Psychological literature has discussed, for some time, the "what is beautiful is good" phenomenon. That is, we ascribe positive attributes to things that are more attractive.

This applies to people and likely to products and websites, as well. But does that positive halo also carry over to our impressions of website usability? It's a bit of an open research question, but first, it needs to be considered: how reliable are impressions of website beauty?

In reviewing the literature on rating aesthetics, beauty and visual appeal, researchers often generate their own set of questions and scales to measure these somewhat fuzzy and overlapping constructs. There's nothing wrong with creating new scales, but without any validation, there's a risk that the way the items are worded may generate misleading or less accurate results than those from scales which have been subjected to psychometric validation.

How to Measure Visual Appeal