Resources for All Things Open Attendees

I’m speaking at the All Things Open Conference in Raleigh this year.

“Getting Started with UX Research” is scheduled for Monday, October 22nd at 2:15pm in Room 301A. Details are here.

Here are the slides. Thanks to everyone who attended!

Resources referenced in talk

10 Usability Heuristics from Jakob Nielsen

UI Tenets & Traps Cards from Microsoft

Google Analytics Academy

WordCamp Raleigh

Nielsen Norman Group newsletter

Invision’s “Inside Design” blog (you can also learn a lot from UX Pin’s ebooks)

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug - FREE downloads here of a usability test script and a recording consent form

Web Accessibility Initiative

Baymard Institute - a gold mind if you work in ecommerce

You Should Test That by Chris Goward - Covers conversion rate optimization, A/B testing and more

Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirkson

Local Resources (talk with UX professionals working in the field!)

Triangle UXPA - now hosting a new 1-day conference called UX Y’all

Ladies that UX Durham - events happen around the Triangle

Explore UX

Summer Musings on Websites

Ok, summer is halfway over! I hope you've had some vacation time to relax. Summer is also a great time to think big and muse on how you want to improve your website. Here are 5 important things to consider:

1) An easy to update website is essential. I like Wordpress, tolerate Drupal, and dislike Joomla. But really, I can't figure out why more non-profits and companies aren't on Squarespace. Its platform is so much easier, looks great, and saves money. Squarespace didn't pay me to say that. If your website isn't very complicated, I would move it to Squarespace or another similar platform. Save the development headache and focus on the content. 

2) Website accessibility better get prioritized. Winn Dixie was sued for not having an accessible website recently. The blind customer won the case in June. Some design/development firm sure blew it. Next time they'll think about the 19% of folks with a disability in the US. You should too. Start with this guide to learn how to make your site more accessible. I'm working on improving mine this summer. 

3) Values show up on your website. Whether you are aware of them or not, your values are reflected in your behavior, your communication, and your website. Do you value efficiency, honesty, relationships...or something else? What are your values anyway?  How are they showing up on your website? My co-author and I discuss values extensively in our book Don't Be a Zombie: How to Refocus your Company’s Identity for More Authentic Communication. Using your values is the key to authentic and consistent communication. 

Meme with a white cat and a stuffed animal cat that says "Oh look, we have a copy cat here"

4) Copying doesn't work. It makes for websites that look too similar. It's easy to look at competing companies or blogs and think, "Oooh, we should do that too." If you find yourself saying something like that, STOP. It's a terrible idea. Instead, you can see what the competition is doing so you can do something different. Seth Godin talks about this in probably half of his 25+  books.

5) The best website book still remains the same. If you haven't read Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug, you are probably violating basic UX rules with your website. This means losing customers and readers. And don't depend on expertise of others. I know many designers and developers who violate basic UX rules all the time. Don't make people leave your website in frustration.

So that's what's on my mind. Do you agree or disagree with me? And what are you thinking about this summer? 

Resources for NCCASA Conference Attendees

Please use and/or share any of the following items with others.

Great book for further learning about UX: Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug

The webinar on August 11 will be on NCCADV's webinar page soon. 

Let's make trauma-informed websites a trend so we can better help survivors!

Is Your Website Trauma-Informed?

In the field of user experience (UX), we often talk about designing for delight. We focus on how good we can help a person feel when interacting with a website or other technology. But in some cases, website design and content choices aren't about delight at all. They might be about relief. Or they could be as serious as life or death.

I'm studying how to improve websites serving domestic violence (DV)/interpersonal violence (IPV) survivors. How can these websites meet the complex needs of this group of people? There are neurological, social, and physiological effects of trauma and interpersonal violence. Plus, there are safety and privacy issues in these situations.

Looking at the websites of organizations that serve survivors has led me to these questions:

  • Are the websites helping survivors feel empowered to take the next step toward help?
  • Or are the websites aggravating the symptoms of trauma itself?
  • So...what would a trauma-informed website look like?
Here's a screenshot of the current North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence homepage. We are addressing the UX issues and also thinking about survivor-sensitive features. A grant from the staffing agency  Aquent  makes this possible!

Here's a screenshot of the current North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence homepage. We are addressing the UX issues and also thinking about survivor-sensitive features. A grant from the staffing agency Aquent makes this possible!

The US government offers some direction on being trauma-informed in general. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Government (SAMHSA) has Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer Support
  4. Collaboration and Mutuality
  5. Empowerment, Voice and Choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Some of these principles overlap with those of UX. For example, trust is often critical to share personal or financial information with a website. It's important to be trustworthy both to be trauma-informed AND to have great UX. Plus, a positive user experience can feel empowering. A poor one can feel overwhelming and disheartening.

I'm exploring how these SAMHSA principles combine with those I've learned in my UX career. I'm hoping to translate these principles into action items to make websites trauma-informed. There are also a number of survivor-sensitive features that are necessary for service agency websites. 

Becoming trauma-informed and user-friendly may not require a costly redesign. I suspect it's often about making smarter design and content choices. With a UX and trauma-informed lens, we can improve survivors' experience.

I'm speaking at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault conference in May. I'm not going there knowing all the answers. But I'll share what I've learned so far about making a website trauma-informed. This work is important for the safety of all people suffering within violent relationships. 

I'm all for designing for delight, but I'd love more people to help on this more serious issue too. Please get in touch if you want to join forces for good.

Resources for High Five Conference Attendees

Here is a PDF of slides from my talk Go Go Bananas with Research: How UX Research Can Better Your Marketing (and Even Change Your Business Model).  It's possibly the longest talk title ever!

Books recommended and referred to:

Other resources:

How Krav Maga Makes Me a Better UXer

His name was Molotov, and as you might imagine, he was intense.

Typically in my free time you’ll find me sweating at a yoga studio with people named Shanti. I quickly knew I was way out of my element when I noticed firearms mounted on the back wall of the Krav Maga studio. (They must be pretend. I’m pretty sure they are too expensive to be left out like this.)

If you don’t know what Krav Maga is, you aren’t alone. I didn’t have any idea what it was was until recently. I just kept seeing this unusual name above what looked like a store near my yoga studio. At some point I became curious enough to look it up online. I learned that Krav Maga is self-defense and physical training first. The Israeli army developed it in the 1940s, and it's still used around the world by law enforcement. Self-defense is good, I never learned it, and maybe I should, I thought.

"Department of Destruction - Triangle Krav Maga" says the skull logo.

"Department of Destruction - Triangle Krav Maga" says the skull logo.

So here I am in an exercise studio with Molotov. His manner is welcoming though he looks like he could break my neck in less than three seconds.

We start doing exercises, punching in the air, working on our form. Then we pair up and since there are only a few women, my partner is a man. 

For the first time in my life, I have a man punching, hard, at a pad I’m holding to my chest, pretty darn close to my face. I find my breath tightening up. I’m struggling to keep my balance when he hits. Then it was my turn. 

Punching feels weird. I guess some people know how to do this, but I don't. I’m hitting the pad as hard as I can which doesn't seem that hard. I’m getting corrections from Molotov. It seems I need to be putting my full body into it. My hand is starting to get red, and I’m breaking skin. It seems I’m hitting with the wrong part of my hand according to Molotov. So I adjust.

When I leave 45 minutes later, my head is spinning with new information. And as a user experience (UX) professional, I’m a sucker for new experiences and learning.

So go to another class run by a female instructor. We talk about  what to do in a multiple attack situation and what adjustments to make if a knife is pulled on us. As if she was speaking about Zumba, the teacher tells us about upcoming classes: Gun Disarmament and Knife Fighting. 

We spend a lot of time learning a move to get out of a choke hold. I can hardly keep the instructions straight. My mind is trying to process some kind of arm sweep then elbow blow with a simultaneous chop to the groin. Then I'm to throw a second elbow then prep for the next attacker. (I try to show this to my husband later but then have to tell him to pretend choke me from the side or I can't do it right.)

My thoughts are spinning. I'm learning new vocabulary and concepts. I suspect new brain pathways are forming. I’m having trouble even remembering all the instructions and it all feels totally unfamiliar. And that’s why I’m coming back. 

(And of course I’m so curious why the other people are in the class! I’d love to sit down in a circle at the beginning and discuss why we are all here. They don’t do this in Krav Maga.)

These are the two Krav Maga Teachers I know - Molotov and Jaimie. They are no joke! Both are demanding but caring.

These are the two Krav Maga Teachers I know - Molotov and Jaimie. They are no joke! Both are demanding but caring.

Why am I taking these classes? Well for one reason, they help me professionally as a UXer designing for other people.

If I’ve learned one thing in 2016, it’s that we often tend to run around within our bubbles of friends. We don’t meet different kinds of people. Our election showed us how divided we are.

Krav Maga classes bust my bubble. (Weapons on the wall?!?!) They show me how much I don’t know about people who have served in the military or carry guns. I also know little about people who worry frequency about safety. Clearly I don't even know how to throw a punch well. I have so much to learn about other people and myself. 

How does this Krav Maga experience help me be a better UXer?

  • It reminds me that there are many people who are unlike me.
  • It helps me learn about these people who are different than me.
  • It offers me humility, a key characteristic of a good UXer 
  • It changes my mental model of an workout, and UXers really need to understand the concept of mental models and the process of how they evolve
  • It prepares me for any crazy situations doing user research. Think I'm kidding? Check out Steve Portigal’s new book Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories. 

And in general, I’m likely to be better able to keep myself safe. (Well, at least if someone tries to choke me from the side). 

So one of the things I'm doing now is hanging out with teachers named Molotov instead of Shanti, at least sometimes. No matter what your job is, you will learn valuable information by getting out of your bubble. Who's your Molotov to learn from? 

8 Highlights from edUI Conf 2016

I have a new favorite conference called edUI! I attended it few weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA. Following are some highlights from it, including resources for you:

Steve Krug kindly plugged my usability workshop with Julie Grundy of Duke University. He then joined us as a helpful participant!

Steve Krug kindly plugged my usability workshop with Julie Grundy of Duke University. He then joined us as a helpful participant!

  1. Running with a keynote speaker is a unique experience. What a memorable jaunt planned by the conference organizers! It was worth getting out of bed early to hit the pavement with the inspiring Josh Clark. Wonder what the future of tech looks like? Watch Josh's fun talk Magical UX and the Internet of Things. 
  2. Steve Krug first sparked my interest in UX in 2007. His fantastic book was required reading in grad school. If you are a person making choices about a website, read Don't Make Me Think! Your website visitors will thank you. At edUI, Steve gave a keynote speech. But he also participated in workshops, including mine, and made them better just by his quiet presence and helpfulness. He offers a great example to follow.
  3. Charlottesville, Virginia, is a walkable, fun and friendly location. How did I not realize this before?
  4. Aussie Donna Spencer rocked her workshop on moving from research to design. She wants us to write down a coherent story before jumping to content and functions. UXers, see Donna's detailed slide deck here. 
  5. Getting fresh air between sessions = a better conference. Two thumbs up for having 3 interesting venues. How great not to feel stuck in a hotel with terrible carpet all day. 
  6. You can hike to beautiful Humpback Rocks in the morning and still make an 11am session!
  7. Analytics master Mitch Daniels of the interaction agency Viget wants you to stop wasting your analytics budget. So stop tracking everything and focus on the KPIs for your organization.  Learn from Mitch about analytics.  
  8. The edUI organizers know how to put on a conference. They also made themselves very accessible throughout the event. If you work in the higher ed, library or museum field, attending edUI should be a high priority. 

Learn more about the edUI conference here. Maybe I'll see you in Charlottesville next year! 

Write Like It’s 2016, not 1996

Where were you in 1996? I was in the picturesque town of  Davidson, North Carolina, typing away. As a senior in college, I interned at a small sports marketing firm. We produced the College Soccer Weekly website that was later bought by This was my first "office" job - until then I had mostly just coached soccer.

Logo for College Soccer Weekly, the website I wrote for in 1996

My main task was to develop website content. I conducted interviews with college soccer stars who were on the US National Teams. I interviewed legendary coaches who won often.  I wrote game notes before big contests and summaries afterwards. We had 1 million "hits" per month during the busy season of Fall soccer. And that was exciting!


But bless the dear soccer fans who visited our website. I often broke the rules we now know about writing for the web. Here’s an example from the article about game between top teams Notre Dame and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

"After equally good chances at both ends and some fine goalkeeping by Notre Dame's LaKeysia Beene and Carolina's Siri Mullinix, newcomer Anne Makinen of the Irish grabbed the attention 22 minutes into the game. A foul by Carolina 25 yards out gave the Irish a free kick which center midfielder Makinen perfectly placed into the lower left corner of the goal, avoiding the wall of Carolina players." 

I ran this passage through a free online resource, the Hemingway Editor app. It examines your text and lets you know how readable it is. Check out the result:

Screenshot of my sentences run through the Hemingway Editor app online. These sentences are at Grade 18 reading level and difficult to read.

Yikes! These are "very hard to read" sentences at a reading level of Grade 18! The recommended grade level for writing on the web for a U.S. audience is generally 8th grade. (Even first year college students often read at this level.) 

We’ve learned so much about how people read on the web in the last 20 years. But has that actually changed our writing? Looking at many websites out there, the answer is "no." 

Online Writing in 2016

In July I realized this problem with online writing was bigger than I thought. I read this article on "The Impact of Smart Analytics on Commerce" on a blog of tech giant IBM. Now certainly IBM has a batch of user experience professionals, marketers, and other employees who must understand how people read online. Right? Right?! So why can't someone edit the posts on the IBM Commerce Blog? 

Look at the mess when I run this article though the Hemingway Editor:

View of the IBM article text put through the Hemingway Editor. Most sentences are highlighted in red because they are considered "very hard to read"

The article's reading level is at Grade 18. There are 12 "very hard to read" sentences. This looks pretty darn similar to how I wrote in 1996.

Don't think I just cherry picked this article. I looked at a sample of 7 of them from the IBM blog. Here's that list along with the number of "very hard to read" sentences and the grade level of the writing.

Even highly educated IBM customers can experience cognitive overload when reading online. And our eyes get tired. We get distracted. We get lost in a long compound-complex sentence. Make it easier for everybody to read! IBM just needs one extra hour to change its articles for how people read online. Shorten sentences, find alternatives to complex words, break up lists of items. Kill the sentences that sound like a PhD student. 

If you write online, you must know how people read online. Otherwise it’s like being a fashion designer without a sense of how the human body moves. You wouldn't do silly stuff like design pants that people can’t walk in. Don't write articles that are hard to read either. Nobody ever says, "Jeez, that was too easy to understand!"

So...what should we do? 

Do at least one of of the following ASAP:

  1. Use Hemingway Editor and run all of your website text through it. There’s a free version. It’s awesome. The Internet could be a better place for all readers if we all used it. 
  2. Read Chapter 5 from Steve Krug’s Book “Don’t Make Me Think.”
  3. Read Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. You can snag a few sample chapters at Ginny’s website. 
  4. Have beta-readers who represent your target audience read your copy. Learn what confused them and which sentences they have to re-read to understand.

Join me in writing at least for 2016, if not for the future...

Join Me at the edUI Conference!

If you create or work with websites in any way, the upcoming edUI Conference is a great value for professional learning. It's happening next month in lovely Charlottesville, Virginia. A batch of terrific speakers will cover topics including UX, UI, social media and more. I'll be teaching a workshop on guerrilla usability testing with Julie Grundy of Duke University. We also teach the Intro to UX Class for Girl Develop It RDU. Join us! Register here.

4 Lessons from Yoga for UX Research

For three days after each yoga class, I was sore to the point of limping. It took me two years of classes to realize that’s not how I should feel afterwards. I finally learned that my classmates were not sharing my experience. They felt great the next day. I had applied my soccer training mentality to yoga. Push harder, go farther, do more. It worked for me in soccer. Not so much in yoga. I’m still learning through yoga 15 years later. Recently I’ve thought about how it has helped me become a better UX researcher.

This is what I’ve learned:

1. Embrace silence. It’s fun to be immersed in a yoga class with music. But there are some things I only get from holding a pose in silence. In that silence I can give my full attention to my body. I can also watch my thoughts. I'm 100% present and engaged.

When I’m conducing user research interviews, the silence before a vulnerable story is told is precious. If I break that silence, I may squelch a critical insight. I must give interviewees time to breathe and think. Silence is necessary in an interview just as white space is needed on a website. I keep my mouth shut, try to get my colleagues to shut theirs, and let interviewees do the talking.

Hotasana is a great place to take yoga classes, but I'm hoping they remove their auto-rotating carousel from their homepage soon. 

Hotasana is a great place to take yoga classes, but I'm hoping they remove their auto-rotating carousel from their homepage soon. 

2. Open your mind each day. My yoga teachers remind me that just because I could do a pose yesterday doesn’t mean I can do it today. And if I couldn’t do it yesterday, perhaps today I’ll have a breakthrough. I must drop my preconceived ideas of what yoga practice will look like on any given day. When I get on my mat, I approach the practice with a curious and open mind. I don’t know how body will feel and what I will learn that day.

Likewise, when I'm interviewing, I aim to drop my biases and assumptions as much as possible. Maybe this feature isn’t in fact the right one to build next. Perhaps the website doesn’t need a total reorganization. Maybe that obnoxious stakeholder does have an excellent point.

3. Care for yourself. It’s not anyone else’s job to take care of me. It’s my job. I’m 40, not 4. Yoga teachers remind students to listen to their body and modify poses when necessary. Yoga isn’t a “push through at all costs” type of activity, it’s mindfulness practice. I can apply this to my work.

If I’m overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or angry, I need to care for myself and stop working for a bit. The UX project isn’t going to improve by “powering through” it. If I step away from the project, the next indicated step may become clear.

I also need to be in good health, mentally and physically, when I am interviewing users in order to do my best work. Getting enough sleep, taking care of bodily needs and preparing ahead of time are all necessary to succeed.

4. Practice for progress, not perfection. Yoga isn’t about achieving the perfect pose. I don’t really believe there is a perfect pose anymore. Yoga is about practicing, growing, stretching, strengthening, caring, and calming. The goal is progress.

The same is true for UX. People and devices are dynamic—perfection will always be elusive. In my job, I focus on testing UX websites or apps so we can figure out what is and isn't working. We can then make informed design decisions. Hopefully with each new adjustment, we make progress toward improving the UX.

I have much more to learn, both about yoga and UX, so I’m going to keep practicing daily.

What are you practicing each day?

Usability Review of a Small Business Website (Video Included)

If you aren't paying attention to usability and user experience, your business may be doomed. Currently great UX is a competitive advantage in the small business world. This advantage will be lost as more business owners realize they must meet their customers' desires, needs and expectations of the company website.

Small business websites can benefit from a professional usability review to craft a better user experience for their potential customers. While nothing replaces actual user testing, usability professionals can point to problems with a website quickly and offer suggestions to improve UX.

What is a usability review?

A usability review is an evaluation of a website, app or other user interface by a usability professional to see whether common usability best practices are being followed. A usability review is thorough and evaluates more parts of a user interface than one usability test usually can. This may lead to finding a greater number of problems. However, because usability reviews are conducted by just one person, they cannot discover all the usability issues of a user interface.

What are the benefits of a usability review?

Usability reviews:

  • Offer quick feedback on an interface as they can be conducted in 1 - 2 days
  • Are often less expensive and time-consuming than user testing
  • Result in a prioritized list of usability problems as well as potential solutions

How much do they cost?

The cost for a usability review varies widely and certainly depends on the complexity of the website. I've seen some listed for $300 and others for $30,000. The less expensive ones are conducted by firms who would like your business, e.g. they want to do a website redesign. I suspect in most cases you'd be better off using an independent professional who just focuses on usability. However, many small business websites can spend $3,000 or less to get significant ROI. Usability issues are contributing factors in abandoned shopping carts and exit rates on websites.

How is a usability review done?

Here's a short example of the beginning of a usability review I recently conducted for a small business client recently. I'm talking aloud during this video so you can hear what I'm thinking. This is a small website so it only took me about an hour to review it and a couple of hours to write up a report with recommendations for the business owner.

What's next?

Next I'll be conducting usability tests with participants to explore what I saw as potential problems. However, I'll also be certain to bring an open mind because it's very typical to be surprised by users during testing. Sometimes what I you expect might be a problem isn't one, but another issue will pop up you hadn't considered. There is truly no substitute for testing users and watching what they do at your website. But a usability review is a good start for many small businesses who need to improve UX.

What can you do now to improve the user experience on your website?  What kind of help do you need?

UX Article Roundup

UX (short for user experience) is a common buzzword now— it's popping up in business magazines and newspapers regularly. Marketing and communications people* are paying attention to user experience as never before. This is great because your website users are going to have an experience at your site no matter what. Now you have two options: 1) Ignore your users and hope their experience at your website is a good one.

2) Make sure your users' experience is terrific by learning from and adjusting to them.

What do YOU think is the best thing to do? This doesn't require an MBA.

Screenshot of Command C websiteSince January, I've been writing articles on UX for a terrific web development company in New York City called Command C. I'm guessing one of the following articles probably has important information you need:

If you think you can know why your website users act as they do by just looking at at your website analytics, it's time to read this article on the importance of context.

If you think that all you must do is make your website good enough for the majority of your website users, consider designing for drunks instead. 

If you sell products online, don't miss this interview with a marketing ecommerce expert whose three websites bring in millions each year in part by focusing on user testing.

Next month I'll share with you what I learn at the Digital Marketing for Business Conference in Raleigh, where I'm speaking about Website Design with UX in Mind. Until then, I'm crossing my fingers that you choose option 2 above.

(*this group includes you if you own or manage a website)

Focus on Author Experience (AX) for Great User Experience (UX)

Author experience (AX) is a critical factor that affects user experiences on websites — particularly for decentralized organizations like universities. In case you aren’t familiar with AX in terms of websites, you could think of it like this: Author experience includes all aspects of content authors’ interactions both with the website and the managers at an organization.

AX is a priority for decentralized organizations such as universities that have many different groups publishing websites and content. And sometimes the content development landscape in higher ed looks like this:

Content Landscape in Higher Ed
Content Landscape in Higher Ed

Helping content authors get on the same page about goals, quality, and style is essential to avoid an inconsistent and confusing user experience.

Three things that can improve AX:

  1. Training on writing, photo, and video because nobody wants to feel over their head
  2. A style guide so that there is consistency on the website
  3. Page level content strategy, since having objectives and a goal for each page leads to smarter content decisions

All three are important, but I see page level content strategy as the key to helping content authors (I’m assuming there is already a communications plan in place for the organization). For example, in a decentralized environment, it’s much easier to fix formatting issues missed (ignored?) in the style guide than to get someone to remove poor content. Once content is up online, there is something sticky about it – it’s often hard to get rid of since people are now invested and accustomed to it.

More on page level content strategy in my next post coming in January!

If you are a content author in higher ed or another decentralized organization, how can you start a conversation about what you need? And if you are a manager, what could you do to improve AX (in order to improve UX) in 2015?