UX, UI, Web Design and a Toaster Oven

Toaster oven

If you look around, you’ll find web design inspiration everywhere. Last week, I was inspired by the toaster oven, but not in a good way.

Imagine you’re hired to develop a website for a client. The first thing you must determine is the goal of the website, which will drive the key performance indicators (KPIs). Typically, we’ll want to develop the website to drive to most qualified users to the appropriate KPIs.

Don’t worry, I am getting to the toaster oven soon. I know you can’t wait.

Before the site is launched, it must be designed. Often designers will perform some level of usability testing, which may include internal and external user testing. This is done to ensure that the target user (who may or may not have good web skills) can actually find the KPIs. If people can’t find what you’re selling, then you’re probably not going to sell a lot of stuff.

Now, back to the toaster oven, which we purchased based largely on the reputation of the brand. Remember, “reputation” is often due to good marketing.
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Apple TV vs Roku – UX + UI For Senior Citizens

Apple TV streaming device.

I have a Roku and I love it. But for my father, the only web-enabled device he needed was the the Apple TV.

Here’s why.

Several years ago, my dad (a senior citizen) wanted a computer. I knew I should get him a Mac, but he became convinced that he needed a PC. A trusted family member  (an IT professional) stressed that a Windows PC was the best option. Plus, it was cheaper than the iMac I was hawking. So we bought an IBM-brand PC (before it became Lenovo), loaded it with RAM, and connected him to the Internet.

For about a year, it was a great little machine. And then it started being a PC. It got fussy and occasionally crashed. It would do odd, PC-type things. I’d come over every couple of weeks to fix it up with new patches, defrag, and perform other minor maintenance. It was a lousy user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

After a few years of frustrations, my dad broke down and bought a new computer. This time, a shiny new iMac. Two years later, I’ve only had to go to his house to download a few patches and install some games. That’s it. No crashing, no quirky personality traits. Just a computer that he uses to connect to the Internet and play his games. Nice UX and UI.

Apple TV vs. Roku
Flash forward to now. I’ve had my Roku for a month or more. My father is impressed and wants one. I show him how easy it is to use. He nods and says, “I heard that Apple makes one.”

I tell him that in my online research, Roku is getting better reviews. It is more flexible and open and may eventually be one of the online leaders.

And although the Roku has a USB port for pictures and videos, he wants something easier. The Apple TV does something that the others currently do not, which is connect with his iMac.

Yes there’s WiFi and of course he can use NetFlix on both of them, but my father wanted something much more utilitarian. He wants to show photos from his iMac on his television. He wants it to be easy and instant. No USB keys, no file transfers, and no wires. And if you’re already a Mac user, you want Apple’s ease-of-use. It’s all about UX.

Roku views pictures, but only if you tap into streaming Facebook. That Roku Facebook channel is fine for the pictures that you’ve uploaded, but we have too many family photos to upload for that to be practical.

Tapping directly into iPhoto is something that only Apple TV can do right out of the box. There’s no need to run cables or copy files to a USB. Apple’s closed ecosystem makes a lot of sense, particularly when the user is a senior citizen who just wants to use his stuff. Apple’s walled-garden approach offers a level of comfort, consistency, and compatibility that you cannot always achieve buying components.

For me, the flexibility and scalability of the Roku is perfect. It’s exactly what I need, since my primary interest is NetFlix and web-video streaming. I am a digital power user who blogs, tweets, uses TV apps, and reads ebooks.

For my father, the Apple TV is ideal because it becomes part of a series of networked devices that work well for people who want it to work with the minimum of technical experience.

If you’re in the market, I hope this little story-based scenario was helpful to you. Good luck and drop me a line if you have any specific questions about what you should buy.

Blog Traffic Tip #2: Know Your Stats

Blog-Traffic-TipsToday’s tip is about knowing your site statistics. But don’t panic, you don’t need to be good with numbers to understand this blog post.

Many people blog for professional reasons. Maybe they want to be considered a thought leader in their field. This kind of self-marketing, personal branding effort is sometimes referred to as Brand You.

If you’re blogging to build a base for Brand You, then you’re going to want to drive enough traffic to make it worth your time and energy. And how can you tell this? Site stats, of course.

Most blog platforms (I use WordPress) come with some sort of free analytics package that allows you to get basic information on visitors to your blog. Click a few buttons, and software will immediately start to track what people are doing on your blog. Neat and easy.

Here are a few things you should be looking for:

  • How are people getting to your blog? Is it search engine traffic? Other blogs?
  • If you are posting your blog and then tweeting it on Twitter, are people clicking that link?
  • What words are people typing into Google and Yahoo to get to your blog?
  • What day of the week are they visiting your blog? Time of day?

All of this is accessible in your stats. And — trust me here — it’s not that hard to understand.

If you really start to get into it, you can use a free software package for even more information. I recommend Google’s free Google Analytics software. It’s a bit more challenging to install, but the amount of information you can get is amazing.

Spend a little time looking at your stats. You’d be amazed at what you can learn about your readership and the basic usability of your website and/or blog. Keyword analysis may help you figure out better ways to search engine optimize your site.

Serious websites need professional analysts to understand site statistics. At work, we study the site stats to better understand what content, tools, and resources people use on our websites. This helps us build out future content and plan other digital media initiatives.

You may never want to get to that level of analysis, of course. But just having a basic grasp of your site stats will help you create a better blog experience for your readers.

Now get started. Your stats are waiting for you.

See also: Blog Traffic Tip #1 Be Controversial

Google’s Usability – Only 76%?

At first, this may seem like a criticism of web usability legend Jakob Nielsen, but it’s really not. When it comes to web interface, Nielsen was a true pioneer and continues to be a voice within a world that he undeniably influenced.

No, this is a different take on the same data that he uses to inform his clients. And the industry at large, hence, probably even my clients.

A new article in SEORoundtable.com referenced a study conducted by Nielsen that “One-Fourth of All Internet Users Cannot Perform a Simple Google Search.” The lead noted that “usability expert Jakob Nielsen blogged about how difficult it is to perform a Google search

Now, considering what I know of Google, I wondered how “difficult” it can be to perform a Google search.

Anyway, according to Nielsen’s research, there is evidence that suggests that nearly 1/4 of Internet users cannot actually use Google. Now, he readily admits that 76% of the people he surveyed CAN use Google, but he’s more interested in the 24% who CANNOT.

Well, this glass-half-empty perspective is the part the grabs headlines. Listen, Nielsen is a web usability pioneer, so I am not surprised that when he talks, people listen. But this is sort of the opposite of what the headline should have been.

The headline should have read “76% of Internet Users Leverage Google.”

Consider for a moment what Google does. Based on a few words (aka keywords), Google gives you a list of websites that you might want to “visit.” Despite the fact that these are only digital destinations, we’re asking people to consider at least two abstract concepts:

  1. The idea that there are networked computers that lead to an online destination that doesn’t really exist in the real world and…
  2. There’s some kind of engine (another real world object) that helps you find this non-existent destination.

Even if people don’t need to wrap their hands around the abstractness of it all, they do learn pretty quickly how to use Google to find what they want. If 76% of people have learned how to use Google, that is a testament to the usability of the site. Heck, that’s probably significantly higher percentage of people than learned how to set the clock on their VCR.

Nielsen’s research is probably well designed and would likely stand up to research scrutiny, so it’s doubtful that it’s somehow loaded (to get a specific result). But if you look at the “task” they asked people to perform, then it’s even more impressive that they got a 76% success rate. In Nielsen’s own words, “in one of our test tasks, to find “a strong vacuum cleaner that is easy to use, can pick up pet hair, and costs under $300”)”.

Well, Google would only be one starting point in your web search. If you were a user, you might be looking to buy something, so you’d focus on shopping sites right? But if you were in a research mode, you might also try a review-oriented website.

But if you really wanted to know if it was “easy to use” you would have to look past the marketing copy. Because every vacuum cleaner will claim that it is “easy to use.”

So how do people find out if it’s easy to use? Reviews! Professional reviews, social network reviews, and user-generated reviews will tell you if something is “easy to use” which is a highly subjective qualification. Google is designed to find word matches on facts, not offer a subjective opinion on quality.

Now, back to our 76% success rate….considering the test question, Nielsen should be amazed at how many people were able to use Google to actually find information that helped them find a vacuum cleaner. What other tool has this kind of usability success rate?

Consider the huge differences in education, experience, and attitude of Internet users. Yet, Google created something simple, yet incredibly powerful, that bridges the gap between the gap of human diversity. Let’s face it, Google’s success is due in part to it’s ease of use. People like powerful tools that are simple and pleasurable to use.

Finally, this study wasn’t just about Google, it was about searching on the Internet using a search engine. Google may be the biggest player in search, but Google isn’t the whole Internet. It’s just one corporate brand that happens to dominate their category. Would those people tested know how to use Yahoo? Ask? MSN?

Also, if Nielsen polled those same people in a week, would they have still been unable to use Google? It is an exceptionally easy tool that actually fosters learning.

I deal with clients every day. Most of them do their own research, and I wonder how they will respond when they see a headline like this from an industry legend like Jakob Nielsen. Will they wonder if Google is “easy” enough to use? Will they feel that Google may not be the right channel for communicating their brand message to their target audience?

Of all people, Nielsen should have been headlining the fact that 76% of people can actually use a common tool like Google to make use of the increasingly complex Internet. Not the opposite way around.