Dark Patterns Revisited

Posted on February 9, 2012 by - Success Metrics, Usability, User Experience, User Hostile

I ran across another great post on dark patterns by Harry Brignull on A List Apart a few days ago.  I first learned about dark patterns back in December 2010, and I was immediately intrigued by the concept of consciously using psychology & UX methodology to mislead the user.

Mr. Brignull not only provides clear illustrations and real-world examples of how dark-patterns like hidden costs, trick questions, and forced continuity are utilized but, more compellingly I think, he explains that despite whether dark patterns are implemented intentionally or via misadventure they are often hard to eliminate.  Dark patterns often perform well in A/B and multivariate test because their subterfuge frequently results in more conversions; eliminating the dark patterns usually means at least a temporary decrease in conversions and/or revenue.

It’s a great read, and don’t just take my word for it, head over to A List Apart so you learn more about dark patterns, and possibly find out where you and/or your organization falls on the “honest interface to dark patterns continuum” scale!

The continuum from honest interfaces to dark patterns.


The IPad’s disruption of PC & DRAM chip sales, and what it means for UX practice

Posted on December 5, 2011 by - Mobile, Mobile First, Usability, User Experience

The movement towards mobile and tablet technology is moving along much more quickly than I, (and most PC and DRAM manufacturers) imagined.  I saw this on the Apple Insider blog and it blew my mind:

In the last calendar quarter, Apple shipped 11.1 million iPads, which not only expanded the computing market with less need for DRAM, but also held back sales of conventional PCs. Apple actually sold more iPads than rival Dell sold in all its PCs together (10.6 million).

That statistic is staggering, and further proof that those of us in the UX universe need to be prepared for this shift in how users are getting their information.  Obviously Luke Wroblewski, Brad Frost and others have been beating the “mobile first / future friendly” mantra for awhile now, but every day it’s becoming clearer just how prescient they were about this sea change. (more…)

Future Friendly

Posted on October 24, 2011 by - Mobile, Mobile First, Usability, User Experience

Luke W, Brad Frost and several other developers have tackled the problem of how to maintain sanity and clarity while trying to design for compatibility on the dizzying array of connected devices. They’ve written a Future Friendly “manifesto” of sorts and it’s nothing short of awesome. After describing the problem with maintaining standards across an ever-growing number of devices they offer hope, and not just any hope, but hope in an easily digestible form. The future-friendly designer can:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
  2. Think and behave in a future-friendly way.
  3. Help others do the same.

They also offer more in-depth explanation of future friendly thinking and provide  several links to outside resources to help you become a more future friendly developer/designer.  I sat here for a minute or two trying to decide how to wrap this up, but there was no need to because this little gem was right there on the first page:

The future is ours to make—friendly.


Bigger is not always better

Posted on October 7, 2011 by - Mobile, Usability, User Experience

iPhone 4's 3.5" screen vs. Galaxy S II's 4.21" screen

Dustin Curtis makes an interesting observation about the screen sizes of the iPhone and some of its competitors. Newer  Android and Windows7 models have larger screens which look more inviting, and some would assume that the extra real-estate would improve the user-experience (by either allowing more context to the data on the screen, or allowing more white-space around individual objects on the screen for easier visibility, larger movies, etc) .

Mr. Curtis started using a new Samsung Galaxy S II phone, which has a 4.2″ screen as compared to the iPhone 4‘s 3.5″ inch screen. After using the Galaxy S II for a few weeks he noticed that, when holding the phone with one hand he couldn’t reach the other side of the phone.  When using the phone with one hand (which is relatively common given that the device is meant to be used “on the go”) the “extra real estate” provided by the wider screen was impossible, or at the very least quite frustrating, to access much less use.

Mr. Curtis summed it up nicely:

“This is an example of one of those design decisions that you don’t usually notice until you see someone doing it wrong. It’s one of the things that makes Apple products Apple products.”

I haven’t done the research on “median thumb length” or anything yet, and while I realize that Mr. Curtis could have unusually sort digits this is an interesting issue to consider in regards to mobile usability.


mobile moment, mobile first

Posted on May 16, 2011 by - Content Strategy, Mobile, Mobile First, Usability, User Experience

Not that “mobile” was in any danger of fading away, but I’m excited that the next two CHI Atlanta events are mobile focused, first with Coleen Jones’ “Mobile Moment” this Thursday May 19th,  and then Luke Wrobeleski’s “Mobile First” on Monday June 13th.

Coleen Jones,  author of Clout:The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, will be discussing the “mobile moment”, which she describes as:

Whether you’re trying to market a product or change the world, you can no longer ignore mobile as a medium for influence. Of particular power is the mobile moment–the instant a user connects with the right content at the right time. Though this moment seems magical to a user, it doesn’t happen by magic. It takes knowledge of principles. It takes detailed planning. It takes hard work. This interactive session will help you assess a mobile context, generate ideas for mobile persuasion, and plan the right content to turn your mobile moment into a magical one.

Then Luke Wrobeleski, author of Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, who will be in Atlanta speaking at the An Event Apart conference, is also paying CHI Atlanta a visit to discuss “mobile first” development.  Luke argues that the current model,  where the mobile experience for a web application or site is designed and built after the PC version is complete, is flawed and needs to be reversed with “mobile first”.


Easy fix for HTTPS error message

Posted on March 14, 2011 by - ROI, Usability, User Experience, User Hostile

Just saw a post on Paul Irish’s Blog explaining the “protocol relative URL”, which appears to be a great way to eliminate this confusing (or possibly even scary for some) error message in IE: “This Page Contains Both Secure and Non-Secure Items”.

Microsoft IE Error Message "This page contains both secure and nonsecure items"

Who wants to deal with this dialog box? No one.

The code is a relatively simple change and there are very few caveats, so this seems like a fix that could significantly increase user confidence when browsing in environments that move from HTTP to HTTPS .

HTTPS Goes Mainstream

HTTPS usage has recently moved beyond the e-commerce and banking/financial sectors:

Given the ridiculously heavy traffic on those two sites, it’s pretty obvious that the issue of moving back and forth between secure and unsecured websites, and even between secured/non-secured sections of the same website, will be a much more common activity.

And although IE has been losing market share of late, it is still too much of a force to be ignored.  Today’s release of the (allegedly) HTML5 friendly IE9 today at SXSW seems to indicate IE isn’t going away anytime soon.

Big Return on User Experience (and Investment)

I plan on investigating this seemingly simple fix, as the words NON-SECURE ITEMS create uncertainty, and are likely to give pause to many users.

The results of that “pause” or “uncertainty” ranges from simply slowing the user down and “making them think”, to eroding trust in your brand, to the worst-case-scenario of causing a previously happy consumer to abandon his or her shopping cart due to security concerns.  And no one wants that to happen.


Avoid Cargo Cult Usability Testing

Posted on March 7, 2011 by - Usability, Usability Testing

Cargo Cult PlaneWhen I was 15 or so I bought an album by the band Cargo Culton the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t know what the band name meant, and since this was assuredly pre-Google, I had to go to the library to find out that cargo cults were the result of contact between indigenous tribes and technologically advanced cultures.

In an article about the John Frum Cargo Cult in Smithsonian Magazine,  anthropologist Kirk Huffman explains:

You get cargo cults when the outside world, with all its material wealth, suddenly descends on remote, indigenous tribes.” The locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy.

Interesting. But what do cargo cults have to do with usability testing?

David Travis, of London-based usability consulting firm UserFocus, brilliantly connects cargo cults and usability testing in his UXBooth article about losing sight of the basic fundamentals of usability testing:

The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote about cargo cult science, where researchers adopt the paraphernalia of doing scientific activity but forget its core principles of empiricism, integrity and avoidance of bias. In the same way, people sometimes adopt the paraphernalia of usability testing, such as the one-way mirror and the video cameras, but forget the core principles of doing user research. Get those core principles right and you can run a great usability test with just a pencil and paper.

Given that most of my UX  knowledge is theoretical, this article made it clear that I have to be diligent to not simply “adopt the paraphernalia of usability testing” without having a firm understanding of the basic fundamentals of user research.