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Archive for April, 2005

Writing memorable scenarios for usability testing

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Scenarios in usability testing

One of the most important aspects of running a successful usability test is getting the scenarios right. Making a mess of scenarios will, more than anything else, result in a usability test that is worthless or highly biased.

Good usability test scenarios can be hard to write – they have to be realistic, have enough detail to be complete, be jargon-free and should not bias towards a particular action.

Most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, they have to motivate the participant to work as they would in a normal situation. I have seen and read results from tests where I could tell that the participants were just following the script – picking up a couple of words out of the scenario and looking for those in the interface, or worse, typing them straight into the search engines. These aren’t bad behaviours in themselves but in a usability test they indicate to me that the participant has not connected with the scenario enough for it to be representative of their normal situation. It is like painting by numbers. In order to replicate a real-life situation, the participant has to make a connection with the scenario and be motivated to complete it.


I’ve been doing a lot of reading into memory lately. One interesting aspect (amongst many) is that stories that contain content that triggers an emotional response, or that contain very vivid details, are remembered and recalled better than those that aren’t. Details are often not recalled well, but the essence of the situation is recalled well. This occurs even for stories that are unrelated to our personal experiences.

Linking the two

I’ve been leveraging this aspect of memory in usability tests recently. Instead of minimising the amount of information in a scenario, I’ve been enriching them with vivid detail and emotional aspects. I include a real names, products and places and describe a situation in a lot of detail. The scenarios may be long, but the richness of detail means that the test participant visualises and connects to the entire scenario. When they approach the task, they aren’t trying to recall the detail, they are feeling the situation. They remember the essence of the scenario and work through that rather than hunting for keywords to put into a search box. This means that they are working more realistically and we can put more trust in the outcome of the test.

This method works best for usability tests that contain a small number of scenarios. In order for it to work effectively, the participant must be given enough time to read slowly through the scenario and think on it a little before starting.

Try it. I promise you more realistic test results.

A site redesign

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

I’ve been working hard over the past few weekends to redesign the main part of our website. If you ever looked beyond DonnaM, it was pretty awful – not a good example of my design skills.

So I’ve done a complete visual redesign, a bit of change to the IA rebuilt the site to valid xhtml/css and rewritten a lot of content (including my CV). I still have to pull DonnaM and Maadbooks into the new brand, which will take some work, so will come in the next couple of weeks. Gosh it’s been fun to get back into it!

Importantly, the new site contains information on our recently-produced Verjuice (appropriately named MaadJuice). It is ready for sale and we’ll be arranging distribution very soon. Yes I know that it is something completely unrelated to my regular work, but who says you have to work in one industry at a time ;)

Go have a look (and let me know if you find anything buggy).

Knowspam is shutting down

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Oh no! I just found out that my email spam service – knowspam – is shutting down at the end of June. I love this service – it has been fabulous at keeping my email spam under control. I even forked out for it for more than one email address!

Now I need suggestions for another – something that can handle well over 2000 spams per month. What do you use?

apologetic spam

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

I just found an unapproved spam comment that started ‘sorry about my links’ and listed a whole bunch of sites that I really don’t care to repeat.

How’s that – a spammer with a conscience.

A taxonomy of frienships

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

I was talking today with some fabulous clients I’m working with. I was telling them about my theory that there aren’t enough words for ‘friend’. You know, I have friends who live near me, friends who live in the nearby city, IA friends internationally, friends who I knew from school, friends who I worked with then lost contact with, favourite friends, friends I adore, people who I think are fabulous, and many others. To some extent, all of these people have been ‘friends’ but there are quite different types of friendships within that term.

It was when I said that I had a bunch of different categories of friends, and that there really is a friendship hierarchy within all this that they started to look a bit strangely at me. ‘You really are an IA, aren’t you?’

I guess I am…

A persona crisis

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

I’m having a personal crisis about the use of personas. Here’s how it goes.

I believe in following techniques in the way they were originally intended – it helps us to communicate well, ensures that we are using techniques appropriately in our work and ensures that good techniques do not get watered down until they resemble nothing more than a proforma. Accordingly, I believe that personas are part of goal-directed design and that their strength is in being able to identify underlying goals, not in writing up a cutesy story about our users.

I also don’t believe that the core persona technique is particularly useful in information-rich environments (I do believe that it is highly applicable in interaction-rich environments). I just can’t come up with a useful set of personas for a 20,000 page website. Personal goals may describe the high level interaction with the site and its overall brand, but do little to inform content choices, groupings or navigation.

But I would like to write a short desciption of the type of people who visit a site I’m redesigning (my own!). I’d like it to describe their previous experience, their tasks and the type of information they may need for their task (more scenario-based than goal-based). I only want it to be based on my personal experiences – I’m not going to do formal user research. I just want to do this as part of a reminder to myself about why people are at the site. It sounds just like a lazy application of personas and I guess that’s why people are using them so widely.

Maybe I’ll call it ‘lazy stereotypical visitor description’. No, it needs something more catchy than that. What shall I call it?

Fun reading on April 4

Monday, April 4th, 2005

I didn’t read through my RSS feeds on Friday and am now doing catchup on Monday. Problem is, I can’t figure out what I’m meant to believe – in quickly reading the posts I’m having some difficulty figuring out which are April Fools jokes and which are true!

For example, Clay Shirky reports that WordPress has been pimping out it�s highly home page to an SEO and Digital Web wrote about a new service called Jobster (there is a lot of work in this for a joke, but it does look odd).

My absolute favourite (that I have been able to detect) was OK-Cancel’s redesign.