DonnaM » User experience

User experience

Dear retailers…

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I’ve been recently looking for new suppliers for products (lanyards, badge holders, pens etc etc). No matter what I’m looking for, I start my search on the web.

Now I don’t usually write black and white rules for things, but today I’m going to.

If you are a supplier of a product, and that product can be purchased elsewhere, you must, on your website:

  • Include prices
  • Not make me register to see prices
  • Not make me wait for my registration to be approved to see prices
  • If your product is out of stock, tell me when it will be in stock
  • Make it easy for me to order online
  • Be credible
  • Help me feel confident that my order will turn up

Because, duh, if you don’t, I’m going somewhere that does.

UX Australia: August 2009

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I’ve been annoying my friends by hinting at a secret project underway. Sorry guys, but I’m glad I’m finally able to tell you.

The big secret is that we (me, Andrew Boyd, Steve & Danielle Baty) have been doing the initial planning for a user experience conference, to be held in late August in Canberra (Australia).

I think it goes without saying that I’m really excited. I’m excited to be involved in conference planning again, and excited to be able to arrange a conference for my community.

One of the things I’m happiest about is that it will be a proposal-based community conference (ie one where anyone can submit a proposal, and the community reviews to help select the program). Don’t get me wrong, I love conferences with professional, high profile speakers; but I also love the homey feeling of a community conference where you get to contribute to who presents what.

The other thing that we are going to be doing, and this will get started later in the year, is running workshops. I haven’t been able to run my own workshops as often as I’d like in Australia, so hope to do that more. And we’ll be inviting other folks to teach practical full-day workshops. If there’s someone you’d like to see, or a topic you’d like to see covered, let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

Anyway, that’s the news. I hope you’re almost as excited as I am!

Conference season

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

For me, the next few months are full of conferences and workshops. My calendar is so packed I don’t know where the work will fit. You can catch me at:

I hope I see you at one or more of these.

And remember, I can teach any of these workshops in-house to your team (see my list of IA, interaction design, usability & content workshops).

Making decisions about user research

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Note: I’m going to polish this later, but wanted to get the basics down quickly.

We know that we should do user research for projects. All the user-centred design material says so, we talk about it at conferences, we put it in proposals. We just know that it is a good thing to do.

But when I talk to people about their actual projects, I find that very few people actually do user research. There are many many reasons (no time, no money, already know what users need etc etc etc).

I think that part of the reason it doesn’t happen is also that we don’t have good tools to tell us just how much research to do, and even when it isn’t necessary at all to do research.

In preparing for my Edge of the Web talk, I spent time thinking about that issue, reflecting on some of the projects I’ve worked on in the past and thinking about the factors that led me to push to do research, or to go ahead without.

The factors I came up with are:

  • Importance to the business: Just how important is the project/application in meeting organisational/business goals?
  • Importance to users: What will happen to users if you mess up. Will they be harmed, or will they just go elsewhere?
  • $$: How much is the project going to cost? (i.e. how much will be wasted if you mess up)
  • Profile/politics: What sort of profile does your project have? Is there a political implication? (e.g. is the Minister going to get hauled up in Parliament if you mess up. Will your work reflect badly on your industry?)
  • Convincing others: How much work will you need to do to convince other people that your ideas are good?
  • Existing knowledge: How much (real) knowledge do you have about your users?
  • Ability to iterate: Can you make changes quickly if you make a mistake, or is it a one-shot deal?
  • Feedback: How easy is it to collect feedback from your users?

Given each of these is a continuum, we can do this:

Each of the above factors, plotted with low and high ends

And then we can think about our projects, and plot where we fall on the dimensions…

Example 1: A personal blog

Example 2: A conference website

Example 3: An e-commerce shopping cart

Example 4: An enterprise-wide core business application

Vodafone iPhone FAIL

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Yes, another slightly ranty story just like the Peugeot rant…

I had a goal for today: To buy an iPhone from vodafone. I’m in Sydney with some spare time between conferences and I wanted to walk into a store, buy an iPhone and walk out.

I’m with Vodafone already for my mobile phone and have been quite happy with them.

So they were the obvious choice.Before I went in, I wanted to have a quick check of pricing and check that stores in Sydney had stock. I think that’s a pretty reasonable information-seeking goal…

Step 1 – Home page

So I started at the home page. Apart from a lot of stuff competing for my attention, it was easy to find the little iPhone link. And it is first in the list, so I assume it is somewhat important to them:

Vodafone home page

Step 2: Check pricing

Cool, there’s a link called ‘pricing’ – just what I need:

The main iphone page on vodafone

So, remember, I clicked on ‘pricing’ (from the iPhone page). Where is the iPhone pricing?

(the URL still read ‘ so I was in the right place)

Step 3: Try again

So I go back, and this time click on the ‘buy’ navigation item.

And here’s what I get:

The vodafone iphone 'buy' page, which has NO information about buying an iphone

Step 4: Stop

I have exhausted all options. I’ve clicked on the completely obvious, clearly-labelled links. I cannot find out how much an iPhone is, nor can I buy one from vodafone.

Look, this is not a hard problem to solve by any stretch of the imagination. Information architects, web designers know that the destination of a link should match what the user expects to see. It is easy to keep an eye on this – the website is small enough that someone should have spotted it. This is just a silly failure.

But this silly failure just cost them a long term customer. I cannot buy the thing I intended to spend a lot of money on. Done. Customer loyalty only extends so far.

The competition

Just to show how easy this problem is, look at the first two screens I saw on virgin:

Virgin home page, with a fairly clear link to the iphone section

The virgin iphone page. Simple to read and pricing info smack bang in the middle of the page

So guess where I’m headed soon…

IA & collaborative design – workshop

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Yet another workshop announcement…

On 7&8 August, I will be teaching a 2-day master class on information architecture and collaborative design, run via Ark Group. The thing that is slightly different about this workshop compared to my IA workshop is that, duh, it includes a lot of collaborative design.

I’m adding more material on user research, design games, usability testing and designing in teams – I don’t usually get to teach these in a one-day workshop. And 2 days allows more hands-on, practical stuff than one, and that is always good.

So if you know someone who may be interested, and can get to Sydney, please pass on the details: Information architecture and collaborative design workshop.

Reducing the learning curve

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

In my last post, one of the things I most criticised Peugeot for was providing navigation based on a series of numbers, and making me decipher the numbering system before I could start to learn about their cars.

This numbering system (or strange names) problem exists throughout the car industry. It is just one of the things that a consumer needs to learn before starting to navigate the car world. It has been around for a long time, is fairly embedded, and there are plenty of people who know the system. Just not everyone.

The thing that we can do, as user experience designers, is to make sure things work on both levels – to provide ease of access to those who know the system, and help people who don’t know the system to learn it quickly – to lower the barrier to entry.

So given I’ve been spending too much time on car websites recently, I thought it would be worth looking at some examples of how some brands are managing this.

High learning curves

First, here’s the some bad examples.

Peugeot’s model range page is based on numbers and provides no further information:

The model range page, showing an image and larger numbers

Alfa Romeo doesn’t have a ‘models’ landing page so the only entry is through the navigation in the middle of the page. A simple addition would be to add the model name to the scrolling banner image – at least I could then watch the image and get an idea:

Alfa Romeo home page - model numbers in navigation

Citroen are the same – no ‘model’ landing page, so all entry is through the number-based navigation at the top of the page:

Citroen home page - navigation via the numbers in top navigation

Low learning curve: At a glance

Renault and Volkswagen both show names and thumbnails at a glance. Nicely done and easy to understand.

Renault passenger cars page - thumbnails of each car with their model names

VW model page - thumbnails of each car and their names

Audi have a go at it, but the thumnails are a bit small to tell the cars apart (I do like that they show starting price here – that’s handy too):

Audi model page - thumbnail image of each car and its model name

BMW tries as well, but the images are too busy to see detail of the car:

BMW automobiles page showing thumbnail and models
This is the most common approach with other manufacturers doing it with varying levels of usefulness

Low learning curve: Easy to reach

Fiat has a ‘Model range’ widget on the home page that lets you scroll through the range, so you can visually connect the picture to the name:

Fiat thumbnail and name

Fiat thumbnail and name

Low learning curve: details on hover

Saab have thumbnails of the models on the home page, with good detail on hover (and consistent navigation options for each):

Saab home page showing details for one model

Holden too have a ‘more details on hover’, interestingly attached to flyout navigation (I did nearly miss this though):

Holden navigation showing thumbnail

Just goes to show, it is possible to do better…

And now I should get back to work and stop thinking about cars (though ping me if you love/hate your recent-model Peugeot, Alfa or Fiat).

Peugeot’s website made me want to buy …

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

… any car other than a Peugeot.

The back story …

I’ve recently started to think about buying a new car. I don’t mind my current one (it’s a Nissan X-trail) but it is a bit bigger than I need and sort of just not me. I’ve been thinking about buying a Peugeot for well over a year – they’re terribly green (very low fuel use, low emissions, and supposedly would run on biofuel if it ever turns up) terribly sexy and quite well-priced. Every time one goes by me I notice it and think about buying one. I hadn’t even considered buying anything else.

Until I visited their website.

I’m a girl – you probably know that. For me buying a car is a bit of a scary idea – every car purchase I’ve previously been involved in had a boy part to it. That shouldn’t be so scary, but there are still great big blocks of the consumer world where girls are treated differently (wine stores and wineries are the other, but I’ll whine about that later).

And I’m sort of organised, which is why I’m a decent information architect. You’d hardly expect me to do something so important without research. And I’m a web chick so the website was the natural place to start.

When I approached the website, I had three goals in mind – to find out about the new model that I had seen advertised, figure out which model was good for me, and learn enough to sound sensible when I went to the dealer. Sounds like a decent, straightforward research task.

Problem #1 – The home page:

Peugeot home page - one car image and little buttons with model numbers

Not much help there – a big picture and a bunch of numbers.

Problem #2: The ‘Model range’ page

Peugeot home page - one car image and lots of big buttons with model numbers

Another big picture and a bunch of numbers. This number problem is consistent in the whole car industry – you have to decipher the numbering system before doing anything.

Problem #3: The ‘Build your own car’ page

A filtering system, with yet another set of model numbers

No image this time, but still the numbers.

So I just dug around for a while (like, an hour) to figure out the numbering system and to vaguely figure out what I might want. I narrowed it down to a 207 (small hatchback), 307 (medium hatchback) and 308 (new, medium hatchback) with 5 doors and diesel. My main criteria are a hatch so I can drop the seats and put stuff in the back, low fuel use and low emissions.

Guess what I might want to do next? I might want to compare the specs for these three narrowed-down options side-by-side. Compare dimensions, options, fuel use, emissions and price. I’d sort of like a neat table that lets me scan and compare each.

Let’s give that a go – the ‘Build your own car’ so doesn’t build a car, but does let me filter into all the possible cars and display results.

Problem #4: The comparison results

After choosing 5-door hatch, diesel, it told me there were three models and 8 versions, so I thought that was enough. Here are the results:

Compare three families of car

I can choose each of these, but not compare. My only choice now is to open up each ‘family site’ and dig through it. No side-by-side comparison. Nothing but sending me into three different organisational silos (oh, and the links don’t work anyway, so I can’t go anywhere; and what the * does ‘visual no contractual’ mean).

Problem 5: No consistency

You know what makes this all worse. I could just cope with having to dig into three different ‘family sites’. If they were consistently done, I could find the specifications part for each and flick between browser tabs. But no, each family site is structured differently.

The page for the peugeot 207 series - one look and nav options

The page for the peugeot 307 series - another look and nav options

The page for the peugeot 308 series - another look and nav options

Different visual approach, different navigation options, different styles of content. I still can’t compare. I’d be better driving to the dealer, getting brochures and putting them side-by-side on my kitchen table. And what’s the point of having a website?

The conclusion…

You know, I only tolerated this because I really, really, really wanted to buy a Peugeot. But every minute and every further moment frustration decreased my love.

I started by being totally convinced a Peugeot was the car for me. I finished by making a stop this morning at the Alfa dealer.

And just as a last image, do you think they talking about the car, or bandwidth:

Do you want the 'high speed version' or the 'low speed version'

Changing my name online – easy or impossible

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

As I mentioned recently, I am changing my name back to Donna Spencer.

Last time I changed my name was pre-internet and it wasn’t terribly hard. But now I have identity spread out all over the web, and am wondering just how easy it will be to change my name, and how important name is to identity.

I anticipate one thing will work in my favour. In the main, my name isn’t necessarily tied directly to my username. My main usernames are maadmob, maadonna & donnam. I don’t need to change them at all, but it certainly would be interesting to know what would happen if someone did need to do that.

So I’m keeping a running post of progress as I go – both to highlight the identity issues and good/bad examples of user experience.


First stop (for no other reason than convenience) was Facebook. On my account page was a clear option to change my name (image below taken after I had done it), followed by a big warning about the types of names they won’t accept, and that all name changes are checked.

Screen shot from Facebook showing the 'change name' option


I was wondering what would happen with WordPress. Ideally I’d be able to change an author’s name, have old posts under the old name, and new posts under the new. After all, the author doesn’t change, just the name.

Turned out I can change the nickname, but not the name. So I think I’ll probably set up a new author with a new name, rather than risk uncertainty of just changing a nickname.


This was dead easy & only needed a minor edit in one field:

More to come…

Website user experience & CSS workshop

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I’m very excited to announce that I’m teaching a new workshop with Russ Weakley. It’s called “Website user experience & CSS workshop: Designing for usability, building for the future“. It will be run in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, in late March and April.
I’m teaching the day on user experience, and Russ is teaching on CSS, which is lucky for you as I’m pretty good at ux and Russ is awesomely good at teaching CSS.

I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve wanted to go to one of Russ’ tutorials for a couple of years. And I love teaching user experience design for the web – I’ve spent a lot of time doing it, and a lot of time thinking about what I’ve learned and how to best share it.

I hope to see you, or your colleagues, there. Please pass details on to anyone you think may benefit.

Workshop description

A hands-on workshop with user experience expert, Donna Maurer, and CSS
expert, Russ Weakley.

Over two full days you will build detailed websites layouts from the ground up – starting with page layout, navigation and form design; and ending with clean markup and elegant styling using XHTML/CSS.

Day 1: Planning and designing the user experience – Donna Maurer

On day one you will plan and design a website – focusing on the user experience: designing the navigation, page layout and forms.

You will:

  • learn techniques to understand your users, and prepare user scenarios
  • understand your content with content analysis methods
  • create an effective and usable site structure (information architecture)
  • design a range of navigation methods
  • create page layouts for content, home, index and special pages
  • design simple forms

For each step, Donna will outline the fundamentals and show examples from small and large website projects. But most of the time will be hands-on -you work on your own project, ask questions and discuss with the group.

Day 2: Building beautiful sites using CSS – Russ Weakley

On day two you will build your website from the ground up – starting with structural markup, adding accessible markup and then styling your layout using CSS.

You will learn:

  • how to create well structured, accessible markup
  • the basics of CSS including rule sets, selectors, shorthand rules, inheritance and the cascade.
  • how to structure efficient CSS files
  • how to create a full CSS layout from a flat graphic mockup
  • how to deal with browser issues including specific browsers such as IE5,IE6 and IE7.
  • how to create a resolution dependent layout
  • how to create CSS for printing and hand held devices


Canberra – Monday 31 March and Tuesday 1 April

Melbourne – Thursday 3 April and Friday 4 April

Sydney – Monday 28 April and Tuesday 29 April

Brisbane – Thursday 1 May and Friday 2 May


More information and registration here:

It’s not about you

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

In the last few weeks I’ve been in different situations that all reminded me of a key principle in any persuasive communication – no matter whether it be writing, designing, pitching or delivering a report. It is a principle that is absolutely key, and all so easy to forget…

The situations I found myself in were something like this:

  • I was writing my new ‘Why choose me‘ page. I started out writing about how fabulous I am and why you should hire me (yes, that’s crude, but go see what most consultants do). Even to me it was boring and dumb and flat and I hated it. So I thought about why I hated it and what I needed to write instead.
  • I was helping someone interview candidates for a website manager job. One person really got up my nose – when asked ‘Why do you want this job’ he explained how he wanted to work in a new domain, how he needed a change and how interesting it would be. I spent some time thinking about why he annoyed me so much.
  • I was struggling with a content rewrite for a client. It was hard to understand, dense overly-complex and really dull. It was potentially an incredibly interesting topic turned deadly.

On reflection on the similarities between these situations, I realised the problem – in each situation the writer/interviewee talked about themselves and how great they were, instead of talking about the person they were talking to. And I remembered something that I already knew:

Nothing is about you. Everything is about the reader/listener.

I think it was Kathy Sierra who really nailed this a few years ago (and who I would like to thank for her many ideas and insights). She put it so eloquently:

who kick's ass

This is the key to every single piece of communication. No-one cares about you, but they do care about what you can do for them.

Remember it, embed it, do everything you can to make other people shine; and good things will come your way automatically.

An end-to-end good user experience

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

We hear so many bad stories about overall user experiences, but I wanted to tell you about one that was perfect from start to finish.

The story starts with a recent house move. For one reason or another my washing machine stayed at my old house, so I needed to buy a new one.

The things that I knew were important to me were, in order:

  • Front loader
  • Would fit in the space in my laundry
  • Washes well
  • As water-efficient as possible
  • As energy efficient as possible
  • Under $1000 (I had a small amount of money set aside from my grandfather)

I’ve been a subscriber to CHOICE magazine for about 18 years (and my mother subscribed since I was a kid, so I’ve practically always subscribed). I never make a big purchase without researching, and my main research is via CHOICE. Washing machines are one of their most demanded tests and they test regularly – the latest a few months ago. Their test had collected everything I needed – washing performance, size, energy- and water-efficiency, price. The washing machine information was easy to find on the website and it was dead easy to find a washing machine that matched all my criteria. So I picked the washing machine for me – without leaving home.

CHOICE also have a service called CHOICE shopper. This service helps you to get the best price for a product. I phoned them up, talked to a fantastic lady who ran me through the process, collected all the details and promised to phone back by the next morning. She didn’t even get cross with me when I told her I hadn’t actually been out looking, which is what I was meant to do.

Well, talk about good service. She phoned me back later that afternoon. She had found a price $209 cheaper than the RRP, and with delivery was $179 cheaper. I confirmed that I was happy to go ahead with the purchase. She said the retailer would phone me in the next day or so and arrange delivery.

It is the edges where things can fall apart, and I wondered when it would happen. But the retailer phoned me that same day (I won’t plug them, because I don’t know if that is OK for the CHOICE shopper folks, but they are real good guys). Another friendly lady confirmed the washing machine and price, took my credit card details, arranged for the best delivery day, told me how warranty worked and that they would send an invoice. She said the delivery person would phone me the night before when he had figured out his route.

So, still waiting for things to crack at the edges, I checked messages when I got home from IA cocktail hour. And there it was, a promise to deliver between 1&3pm Friday. Cool.

So Friday rolls around and I’m working at home, still wondering if something was going to go wrong. At 1.05pm the doorbell rang and there was my washing machine and two friendly fellows. So I thought they’d bring it in and leave it in the laundry and I’d have to figure out how to install it. Not likely – they pulled it out of the box, removed the holding bolts, brought it inside and installed it. All I needed to do was sign the paperwork. (they even took away the rubbish)

And nothing went wrong. Every person through the whole process was friendly and met their commitments. 4 companies were involved and all were amazing. How good is that!

[Follow up: not only did all that good stuff happen - the retailer phoned me to make sure it was all OK]