Why User Research Matters
In this episode, I am chatting with Melissa Eggleston about UX, what it is and why it is a crucial component in creating a successful web project. I first met Melissa at WordCamp, Asheville in 2015 and had a chance to visit with her at the happiness bar and see her presentation Website Design with UX in Mind.
Melissa Eggleston is a User Experience Specialist and Content Strategist based in Raleigh / Durham, North Carolina. She helps businesses, non-profits, and universities find, attract, and help their target audiences. She often works for agencies and design/development teams. She’s able to see the big picture while also digging into the details. She’s worked on projects for both tiny tech startups and big organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melissa’s is the co-author of The Zombie Business Cure – How to refocus your company’s identity for more authentic communication.
Listen to Episode 19
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Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode
Jackie Hey everybody it's Jackie D'Elia with rethink.fm. This is episode 19 and I have a very special guest, Melissa Eggleston from Durham, North Carolina and she is a UX specialist and content strategist. Hi Melissa.
Melissa Hi, thanks for having me.
Jackie Oh thanks for being on the show. I was really looking forward to chatting with you. I met you two years ago at WordCamp, Asheville, and listened to a talk that you did on UX strategy and design. And was really looking forward to following up and having some more conversations with you.
Melissa That's great. Yes, I love Word Camps. I find that the people there are always wonderful and engaged. Fun to talk to. Happy to be here and chat.
Jackie Awesome. What do you do on a daily basis?
Melissa So, I've been doing consulting for the last five years. I spend time, about 60% of my time doing user experience work. So that is user research as well as design. And then I spend the other time, typically quote dealing with content. So that's often what people come for so I'm often spending time doing communication planning. I do a lot less time now actually writing. I might edit, but usually a content writer will come in for that and I'll do more the strategy and what kinds of content we're gonna be putting on a website or some kind of system.
And recently, I took a contract with Lenovo so three days a week I spend doing user research for Lenovo, the computer company.
Jackie What type of research do you have to do for them?
Melissa I do research on the global websites they have. So they have about 25 different websites in different languages around the world. And we're mostly testing different situations on the US and Canada websites that then filter to the other languages and that sort of thing. So I could be testing how a product page is performing, I could be testing a new design versus an old design and do a comparative usability test to see which one is easier to use. Or are there aspects of both that we need to combine into one page? Things like that. That's the kind of stuff I do for them.
Jackie Okay so just to get a 30,000 foot overview of this, what is UX design or UX strategy and content strategy? How do those fit together in an overall web development project?
Melissa Sure. Let me talk a little bit about ... Let's just give a really broad definition of user experience. So we could take a simple definition, say that user experience is the way a person feels about using a website, software system, app, whatever it might be. Right? So then the discipline of user experience is the craft of trying to really control that experience for the person and make it a really great one. Right? Really making very specific informed choices to color that experience for them.
So this plays in with any technology we have. Be it, an app we're working on, a WordPress website, virtual reality that's coming down the pipe to more of us. Because no matter what, people are gonna have an experience. And so you can either craft for that, and make mindful choices, or you can just see how it goes. And then that could be good or bad.
So I spend a lot of time, I like to say I teach intro to UX classes for Girl Develop It, which is a great organization for any female developers. And they also have classes that all genders are very welcome as well. So when I teach classes for that, we really talk about how it's not user experience if user research is not involved. So that is what differentiates user experience from web design stand alone. Right? Because user research actually means you've put this in front of users and gotten some feedback.
It could be first hand research like that. When you're literally putting your design in front of users. Or it could be secondary research that another group has done. For instance, the Nielson Norman group or Baymard puts out a lot of UX commerce research where they have put designs in front of people and gotten real feedback on what works for users and what doesn't work for users.
Jackie Do you find that most, I guess, people who build websites and do web development projects, don't really know what happens to them very much afterwards and how well they do from a user experience perspective?
Melissa Yes. I would say that's certainly the case when you are an entrepreneur and you're building sites for different people and you don't get to keep iterating on that site. And the clients tend to say build me a site and I'm not gonna think about it for three years. I'm just gonna move on. So the client doesn't actually measure the impact of your changes and that sort of thing.
It's changing in the corporate world as data measurement is such a hot topic right now. So I'm not sure if that's gonna filter ... I feel like it's filtering into non-profits because I'm hearing more about measuring success, which is good. And there's metrics, of course. You know, we've got Google analytics on our websites, there' ways to measure success in driving traffic to a certain page, whether people are converting, that sort of thing.
But unfortunately, I think a lot of ... Certainly entrepreneurs and small shops don't get to see the results. They have to kind of guess and that's hard. So sometimes, you know, when I'm working on a project, we'll try to do something like a survey that will go out so they have some kind of base line on the current website. Then they can do that same survey a year later. Even if ... For instance, I'm not involved anymore, and they can see if there's been a difference, if things seem to be improving.
We also sometimes will do usability tests on the current site to see what are the problems and what are the things we should not change? There's a trend now, which I think is a really positive trend in web design, to not do the full website redesign and instead try to iterate on what's currently there. And I think that's a smart move. It's a more inexpensive move, it's less jarring for current users. Unless the website's a disaster, which there certainly are disasters out there. If you can start iterating towards a better design, that tends to make more sense and be more measurable. You can check the changes more easily than just throw the whole thing out and start from scratch. Because there's probably some things that are being done correctly and usability testing can uncover those things. Customer feedback and other ways uncover those sorts of things. You don't want to break something that's not broken.
Jackie Okay and then where does content strategy fit into all of this?
Melissa Yeah, so content strategy, I think is the sexy new work for content planning and communication planning that has been going on for a century. It's become more relevant since tech is such a big part of our lives. And content strategy is really, typically applied to web based things. Especially since the iPhone, it's about the web and different things like that. So content strategy is planning for getting the right content to the right people at the right time on the right device, in the way they want to get it. So that takes a lot of planning.
And it is considered a sub field of UX. Because nobody comes to websites for the interaction design. Nobody says wow, did you see that little animation? I came for that animation. No, people come for the content. They come to finish a task, to start a task, to do something, to look for some information, to be entertained, they come for content. So the content people have to work really closely with the UX designers and the web designers to make sure that it's all cohesive and together.
Jackie How has mobile changed things as far as ... And I'm saying this from a development perspective where ... And I wrote a little post last year about this. Letting go of the desktop mindset in that you ... We all develop on desktops. So the people who are building the websites, the tools that we use are all desktop tools. The images that we're working with, we're working with them on a desktop and we typically make things work on mobile after the design is done.
It's like you do a desktop design, and in many projects I've seen, there's never even a mobile design considered at all. It's basically you just try to squeeze everything down, format it the best you can so it looks good on mobile, but it's not actually creating a really good user experience for people. That's not taking into consideration, is the user experience gonna change for them on mobile versus the beautiful, gorgeous desktop view that you just designed? So how has this been changing things for everyone?
Melissa Well I think you're right. There's not enough attention paid to mobile. Especially for those of us who tend to be in front of a screen all day long, a bigger screen. And it's changed a lot, right? So you remember the days, pre-mobile when you had, you're looking at a desktop size screen and you say, well, we've got some content here, here's this third column, it looks really blank. Let's throw a picture in there. Let's just chuck a picture in there. I totally remember doing this. This looks too blank ...
And we could do that more frequently. I'm not saying that was great practice, but I can say that we were doing that more frequently when it wasn't on mobile. Now on mobile we know that images can be hard to come through, they can slow down a site tremendously, it really affects performance and that sort of thing. So that's a terrible thing to do. I would much prefer a client to keep some blank space versus throw an image up that isn't really meaningful. We know people ignore stock photos. I'm very anti stock photos in general. Because I think they are more problematic than they're worth.
Mobile is really interesting. I think it's about figuring out your target users. So part of content strategy is that we're not gonna actually build a website until we're really clear who are we building it for and where are they gonna be using it and what are their five main needs? What are the main things we need to do there? And so thinking about context becomes critical.
So I'm working right now with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence about trying to make some small design changes that are gonna make their website a little bit more trauma informed, which is a whole nother discussion. But we've been thinking a lot about mobile because mobile offers privacy to somebody who might be in a domestic violent situation and a personal violent situation and it's gonna be much easier for them to be in the bathroom on their phone, versus a desktop that might be in the middle of the house. And that sort of thing.
So when we're thinking about the design changes that we're making there, we're thinking, okay, mobile's really important. We know mobile's really important for this particular group. And if I look at their analytics, I can see that mobile has increased by 200% in the last year or two. I think if we looked at most people's websites, unless you're talking about some kind of software system where people are using it at work on their work computers, that sort of thing, mobile is blowing up. So it becomes more and more relevant that we design for mobile.
Especially that first touch. That first experience that somebody has with your brand that might be because they saw it on a poster and they're just gonna hit it really quickly while they're waiting in line at the store. And if they can't even get the site to come up because the content hasn't been planned well, there's some image that's taking up three fourths of the screen real estate on mobile and you can't even understand what the site's about, they may never come back. Mobile is gonna be more and more likely to be the first touch somebody might have with your company or organization. So, it's super important.
Jackie Okay. Just speaking in terms of WordPress and you're building a site, there's responsive design and that is, okay we can eliminate some things that we're not gonna show. And typically this is how that workflow goes. It's like, okay what are we gonna start taking away on mobile to try and improve the experience? Instead of saying what can we design for mobile?
It's like, years ago you used to have two websites. You had a mobile website and a desktop website. And then things got combined with responsive. But I often think that we've reached the point now where one website that serves all purposes is not really serving anybody really well. I think it's ... There's so many different considerations on mobile that just hiding elements or removing elements or even deciding what to display ... And typically you just start stacking things.
So you, as you reduce it, you've gone to one column and you're stacking everything. Now you've got this gigantic long set of content that somebody has to scroll through on a phone and you're thinking, that's not really creating a great experience because number one, they don't even know it's down there. That's one of the big issues I think with sidebars. It's great on a desktop view because you can see it. It's like additional information about the page topic that you're on. Related information. But on a mobile device, I don't think it really has any value.
Melissa Yeah. Definitely mobile ... The whole stacking situation knocks things way down on mobile. I think you reminded me when you were talking about mobile of what we learned in journalism school. Which is, when you're writing an article, you use an inverted triangle. So you put the most important information at the top and then as you move down in an article, if you're reading something in the New York Times, for example, you're gonna get into more details, but it's less important if somebody actually sees it. And when you're planning for mobile you have to think like that.
One thing, there was this movement called Mobile First for a while. And Mobile First was basically just put some things on mobile and put everything else on desktop. And what we learned is that's not actually correct. People actually look for mobile to have the same things as desktop. So throwing out a bunch of features that people want to have both on desktop and mobile is problematic.
I would say in general, we need to whittle down our responsive websites to just be more concise. To really make sure that it's covering the audience needs and not the extra things that the company thinks it needs to say about itself. And you don't get that without putting it in front of users and getting their feedback and understand what are their top tasks and that sort of thing. Otherwise, there's just way too much content out there.
I mean, the ideal world for the user is that there's a specifically designed site for every device. There's a specific one for an iPhone 7, there's a specific one for this tablet, and that's not realistic for organizations. So responsive web design has it's really important role. But I would agree with you that too often, mobile becomes second tier and I think it needs to be first tier.
And I also find that many, many organization, their website becomes this catch all place where they just want to put tons of information, some of which should be internal. Should be after somebody's become a customer. It should be moved over to a different site. I spend a lot of time as a content strategist with people saying, that doesn't belong here. That does not belong on the public facing website where people are just trying to figure out what you do. Your staff needs to have their own area, right? Not the public facing website.
Jackie Exactly. And that comes to another point about just how homepages are built. And you get a lot of push back from clients. They want everything on their home page. They want giant logo, they want lots of images, they want a beautiful presentation, which they believe reflects who they are in their brand. But for most people, it's overwhelming, there's an awful lot of information. And you know, you know how the whole paralex design and all of those features where you just continually are scrolling and getting more and more information. And you end up getting the entire website on the home page, for the most part. So you're getting that whole experience all in one place. And it can be very distracting and make it difficult to focus on what it is you want me to pay attention to.
When we met two years ago, you were at the happiness bar and I came over and we chatted about my website at the time. And we were just kind of going through some things on the homepage. And you pointed out some really important things for me to consider about, what is it that you want me to see here? Do you want me to see this image changing? Or do you want me to read the text? And that really kind of inspired my own thinking about what's really necessary? What am I trying to accomplish? And am I creating obstacles for people to get that information? And dressing it up as a design element but it's actually an obstacle.
Melissa Yes. I think that happens a lot. And I think the quick feedback to get on home pages and that sort of thing is the five second test. So, there's this concept that Steve Krug talks about in his book Don't Make Me Think, and that a number of other user experience people talk about that within five seconds, somebody should get who you are and what you do. They should at least have the jist of, oh this is a shopping site where I can buy coffee makers or whatever it happens to be.
And that task can be run through something like usabilityhub.com where you can run it really cheap. And you can throw your website out there and you can see if people get what you are. You can also just literally walk around with your laptop, in a public area and just flash it for five seconds, turn it away from somebody. You know, you open the laptop, flash the site, after five seconds turn away and say, what was that site about? And see if they can figure it out.
And this becomes really important. Let me give you a quick example. So Command C is this interesting agency I talked about in my book. They're out of Brooklyn. They moved out of North Carolina recently, have worked for big names like Starbucks. They do WordPress websites, they are focused on ecommerce now. Done Budweiser, different big names but their sweet spot's smaller places actually. They want to be known as an ecommerce shop.
So we were working some of their marketing messaging and that sort of thing. And we had come up with this marketing tagline of sell more and stress less. Like these are your benefits of working with Command C. But the way we had the message going on the homepage, we did five second testing to see, are people getting that this is an ecommerce site? And blah, blah, blah.
So when we tested it, people were getting that they could sell more and stress less and that was the benefit, but they actually thought that we were a marketing agency. Like because the text was smaller emphasizing ecommerce, they could walk away and be like oh they do marketing. And that's not what the company does at all. They're hard core devs.
So you know, we adjusted that. And we just made it super obvious, this is an ecommerce development agency. And that's something that you could say, do I really need to test that? Yeah, you kind of do. Because it's obvious to you when you're designing it, but it's not always obvious to other people. And I run into this a lot. Both at Lenovo and other places where you think it's obvious and it's not obvious.
Jackie You just mentioned your book, so I'd like to loop around and talk about that. You co-authored a book and it's called the ...
Melissa The Zombie Business Cure.
Jackie The Zombie Business Cure. That is a really cool name.
Melissa Thank you. Thank you. I actually spoke about it at a couple of different Word Camps. Spoke out some of the ideas. And it's very much about businesses being really clear on who they are, what their values are, and putting out there very clearly, on their website and in other communications. So that's not easy to do.
Jackie So how did Zombie come into that then? What's the whole catch of the message?
Melissa Well, it was interesting. I was sitting down with my co-author who's a professor at Elon University and she kept talking about the organizations and people need to fully embody themselves. They need to fully be them. They don't want to be somebody else, they don't want to be a copy cat, they want to fully be them. And I kept saying, gosh, you keep saying the word embody, you're making me think of Zombies.
And we started to realize that some of the characteristics of zombies actually match the characteristics of bad websites. Right? Zombies tend to be disheveled, and so do bad websites. They tend to be ... Bad websites tend to be indistinguishable from others. And you know, if you have ever seen a zombie lurch parade or anything like that, zombies tend to look very similar.
If everybody listening started acting like a zombie, they'd all probably be kind of groaning and lurching with their head tilted and that sort of thing. And so some of these characteristics that we thought were common to poor communication, fit really well with zombie. So we're trying to get businesses who are zombies to be more human. Be more real, be more accurate about who you are, be more authentic. We don't want to be surprised. We don't want to work with companies who aren't up front about who they are and what they're about.
It's kind of like a big dating game. I think of the internet, it's this big dating pool and you're trying to find the companies and services that resonate with you. And so if you're on my website, if you're not a good match for me, you should be able to figure that out very quickly and go somewhere else. And that is in both of our interests for that to happen.
But when I'm worried about standing out ... I'm thinking about a dentist I talked to in Arizona who I worked for. He was a holistic dentist but he didn't want to turn other people off so he was becoming really generic because he didn't want to be fully him. And I was like, are you a holistic dentist? Or are you not a holistic dentist? What do you want to be? Who do you want to attract? What is your target audience? What do you want to do? And I think it's about being authentic and true to you.
Jackie Okay. That sounds really interesting. Going back to building websites, you mentioned in the book, like you were just talking about, bad websites. What makes a bad website?
Melissa It's a website that doesn't meet the needs of the audience. The audience it's intended to be. So I can go to a website and go, this website sucks. But if that website is intended for my mom, it could be a fantastic website. It just doesn't fit me, right? So a great website is one that's matching the needs of the audience. So we have needs of the business, or the organization, right? And then we have the needs of the audience. And it's that overlap where your website needs to live. All your communication needs to live there, right? So what are the needs people have? What are the things that I can help with, our business or our organization? And let's find that overlap.
Let's not just talk about ourselves the whole time, even though it's not what the audience wants. We can't cater to everything the audience wants because we're not a billion dollar company that can just do everything. We've got to find the sweet overlap between the two.
And you get that by building a website and putting it in front of people. Or putting mock ups in front of people and seeing what resonates, what doesn't resonate, what's unclear, that sort of thing.
Jackie Do you find, sometimes clients choose websites that resonate with them but may not resonate with their target audience? Like who they're trying to attract? Where they end up building a website for themselves and it doesn't serve the needs of the people that they're trying to serve with the website?
Melissa Yeah. I think I see a difference in clients who interact really frequently with the people who come to their website. Because maybe they have some kind of in person component. They hold conferences, or something like that. Versus clients who don't actually interact very much with their audiences. Because the ones who don't interact as much, just don't have a good pulse, it seems, of what's going on with those groups at times. And tend to build their preferences into the website.
Often times I'll get a question both at Word Camps and other things where they'll go, what do you think about tabs? You know? Are tabs good? Are tabs bad? And I'll go, my opinion doesn't even matter. For your audience, are tabs good or bad? And I look at CEOs and marketing people and that sort of thing will look to me for that too. I can speak from a usability perspective, but I don't know. We can test that with your audience.
But what your grandmother thinks or what your son thinks is not something that should be coming into this conversation. And unfortunately it does come in these conversations at times, where an executive will say I showed it to my husband, or I showed it to my son and he said blah, blah, blah. And I go, that's not your target audience. It doesn't matter.
So target audiences are really important. We get information about our audiences certain through website analytics. It's always the first thing when I'm asked to be on a new website project. I go, do you have analytics so I can at least see where people are traveling through this site? Where are they spending time and that sort of thing. And then we can do some usability testing to get into the why. So analytics alone aren't gonna explain to me why, or somebody's experience of a page.
They're, for instance, on a page and they're spending a lot of time, that could be because the page is super engaging in the content and design and it's just wonderful, or it could be they're totally confused, can't find what they need, so they're spending an extra 30 seconds trying to sort something out. So that's something I can't figure out through analytics. And you can't figure it out by guessing. Or by somebody's son saying, the text is too long. It's from putting it in front of somebody. A user, a target audience user.
Jackie Okay. What are some design elements that you think just need to go away? Regardless of the site. That just aren't serving anyone.
Melissa So, I think carousels need to go away. And I dream of the year when I don't have to talk about carousels. Carousels, you know what I'm talking about? The sliders on the home page, where they most frequently are. So, carousels that rotate drive me bonkers. Because you can't control them. And so that automatically makes for a poor user experience because what are the chances that you're going to guess the timing of the person who's actually visiting the site? Not everybody's gonna have the same timing.
They are problematic from an accessibility perspective. They can be hard for screen readers to handle. So that then is isolating from another part of the organization. And I get why they're popular. I was working at Duke University when carousels were all the rage in 2008 and 2009. And it met a great need for me. So I had people all the time who would come into my office and say, we're doing some very important research and we need to be on the homepage. And I would say, you can be on the home page. I'm gonna put you in the carousel. And then somebody else would come in and say, our group is really doing important work, we should be on the home page. And I would say, sure thing, you're going in the carousel.
And so it meets this political need for different business divisions in a company, different opinions, different departments if you're in a university, that sort of thing. But it doesn't actually meet the needs of the user very well at all. And it also is confusing in terms of ... Ideally, every page on your website has one call to action. You are guiding your user. If you're on this page, this is the next place you need to go from here. And if you're on this other page, this is another smart place to go from here. And when you have a carousel, you've generally got multiple calls to action going on. And you have this thing that flies away when somebody just actually starts looking at it.
Jackie Okay, I also wanted to ask you about menus. Are there any things with menus that you should be avoiding from a user experience perspective?
Melissa About menus from a user experience perspective. So menus, the main thing is to be consistent. So menus need to be consistent from page to page, right? So things shouldn't be moving around on your menu. Your menu itself should not be jumping you and down the page, that sort of thing. Because we have to plan for mobile, typically we've got menus at the top now versus menus down the left hand side. Which makes logical sense, that sort of thing. Often times the issues that we're seeing is that there's just too many menu choices. So people tend to be overwhelmed with choices. There are many sites I'll go to and I'll go man, I have like 20 choices above the fold of this page. And that's too many choices.
So there was a rule in web design, do you remember seven plus or minus two. So you could have up to nine menu choices or down to five. So somebody finally started to explore where did this come from and is this actually legitimate? And it was actually not based on research, it was based on speculation by a researcher but it wasn't actually verified. And when you listen to people who do do brain research and that sort of thing, the number is more like four or five. So the clients I'm working with now, we're trying to whittle down and use a progressive disclosure of information approach of let's offer a few choices and we'll let people dig down and go a little farther away.
There used to be rules also like you have to be able to get anything in two clicks. And research is actually supporting that people will actually click as many times as they need to click. As long as they are gathering more information and the information sent is very clear.
Having a search box is essential on most websites because there's a group of people who immediately go straight for the search box when they hit a website. To me this is crazy. I would never do such a thing. I will only end up in the search box if I am desperately lost. But there are people like my husband and that is exactly what he does, would never even look at the navigation. And there's more and more people like that, thanks to Google and other services like Amazon where they're diverse search centric. So we need to accommodate for those types of people who don't even like menus.
Jackie Yeah I've seen clients where they're in love with the whole mega menu. And it is very difficult to navigate with a mouse even. So if you're dealing with now how are you going to put all of this on a mobile device, it becomes really challenging where you've got opening and closing accordions to reach specific areas. And the menu gets so large that it takes up the entire screen. You're not even seeing any more of the content. You end up having to scroll up or scroll further to actually see what page you just landed on.
Melissa Yes. It's really ... Menus are really hard on mobile. So whittling them down is critical. And they also just aren't ... Because mobile devices change so often, it's hard to keep any kind of Word Press theme and that sort of thing up to date every moment. So the more you can make sure that on any main top menu item, that people can reach the sub pages without having to go though the menu, that's really important for use.
Jackie Okay. How about video backgrounds? I've seen that a lot on websites now and I know it's a resource hog. Morton Rend Hendrickson was on the podcast a few episodes ago and had said it's such a bad idea to do, it's a bandwidth hog. You're not gonna offer it on mobile anyway. Most of them won't even start a video to download it. And you don't have any controls, which is just what you were saying about a carousel. It's the same thing. If you don't have the ability to start or stop the video background with some buttons that are clearly there, it seems like it's more of a decorative thing. But there's a very high cost to that decorative element. And I'm wondering have you seen any studies that show whether or not that is really adding any value?
Melissa I have not seen any studies about that. I think that's an important thing. And I'm assuming that there are some that are happening. I was actually looking this up just recently because one I'm working for is considering video on a home page. I am very concerned about how it affects performance. Absolutely. The times it seems to be invoked with at least good reasoning when somebody's really going for branding purposes and some kind of image. Like they work with children and they want to show the action and that sort of thing. But yeah, it's problematic to not be able to control it. And if it's a background thing I think why is it distracting from the background anyway? Why isn't it a featured video? If you really want to feature it, feature it. And if it's just background then don't you want me to actually look at the call to action button and the text related to that versus people talking in an office in the background?
Jackie Yeah, I find it distracting if you have a video background moving in the background and you've got text over it. And you're wanting somebody, like you were saying to me two years ago, what is the goal here? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to read the text? Do you want me to try to watch the images moving? What is the purpose here? And that adds to the problem.
Melissa Yeah. I did some usability testing not that long ago, I just realized, where they were testing a prototype with ... It had this really subtle, it was a nature website. And so it had this really subtle background going on with wheat waving and grass waving and that sort of thing. Which was cool at first to the users. They were like, oh I really like that touch. But as we got farther along into tasks and things they wanted to do on the website, they were like, that's kind of annoying. And I was like, yeah, it's annoying.
So maybe the solution is the first five seconds it moves and then it stops or something like that. You know? But you bring about an important point though, about performance. So, sometimes we put UX in different buckets, but developers have huge impact on the performance of a website. I've never tested a website where speed didn't tend to come up. Either somebody goes wow this is sluggish. Or wow that was fast. Speed impacts our user experience tremendously. So developers have an important role to play in UX for sure.
Jackie What do you see being done very well? We've talked about problems so I'd really like to just ask you, what do you see being done very well now from a user experience perspective on websites and you're thinking, this is good. This is good.
Melissa So, I think I've been seeing in general the reduction of the number of choices on the home page, which is really great. I also feel like the user experience industry and companies who really lead it, like for example, MailChimp. MailChimp spends a lot of time and money on researchers exploring and understanding what's gonna make it well. They're putting out information on blogs that's accessible to everybody to help everybody make smarter choices around their websites. And that sort of thing.
What do I like? I like simplicity. I like white space. I had a developer I was working with recently talk about dead space. Well, there's a lot of dead space here. And I said, no wait a minute, white space is not dead space. We know from research, that white space actually makes things more readable. So white space is a design element that we want to appreciate. Simple is good, less is more, let go of the words. Do we really need this image?
One thing that I love is I think I'm seeing less stock photos and more real photos. And we know that users scrutinize real photos. And that people are interested in that sort of thing. So letting go of the stock images, making sure you spend some money on a good photographer to actually capture some interesting images that people will engage with on your website, I think trends like that are really positive.
I do like the visuals. I feel like we're in a visual trend right now that's good. Infographics are good. People like infographics. People tend to like video. It's all about what's gonna resonate with your target audience. But it is nice that we have different forms of content now and we're not just stuck with text.
Jackie Okay. Speaking of text, I had seen that you'd mentioned a Hemingway app on your website. And I've been using Grammarly to help with writing content and I was just curious, what are you using right now and which apps are you recommending to help people write better content, more readable, more understandable?
Melissa Well, I also use Grammarly. I like that a lot. And I always am recommending Hemingway app. I don't know the people who run it but they should really pay me because I have turned so many people onto it, I can't even tell you. The thing I like about Hemingway Editor, and you can just Google Hemingway Editor, and you will find this online. Is that there's a free version. That you can just use it online anytime you want. And you can take, for instance, your blog post, and you can pop it into there and it will show you the sentences that are hard to read. And it'll guide you to start to break it up and make it a little bit better. They'll suggest words that are ... Did I lose you? Hang on. Sorry, my screen went dim. Sorry about that. Let me start that again.
Hemingway app will help you create words and sentences that are simpler. So they will offer alternative choices for more complex words. Because we know that simpler is better online. Even if you're working or writing for an audience that's very educated. Nobody wants to have to work to be reading things online. So I recommend that a lot and I often have clients who are gonna take care of the content, because I'm not writing it. So I say, before you give me anything, I want you to run it through Hemingway Editor. And they go okay. And they do that. And I get a lot better text as a result. And then over time, they start to write better. Because you just learn that what you learned in high school or college about these compound, compound sentences, is terrible for writing for the web. It is absolutely opposite of what you want to do. Hands down my worst content manager was somebody from Stanford who had been going for a PhD. We don't write like that for the web. We write choppy. Choppy and short and sweet.
Jackie Okay. Final question for you. What have you been rethinking in your business and how are you examining that?
Melissa Well I've been thinking a lot about two things. So one, I've been thinking a lot about user experience and I've been thinking about how one day we might not even have that term. And it may just be wrapped into other's jobs. So I was at a conference and I met somebody from Google and she said, I'm UX writer. And I was like, oh cool. And then I was thinking to myself, do they have writers who don't understand UX? Do they have writers who don't get how people read online who are running around at Google? Or what? It's just a natural thing. If you're writing for digital content, you need to understand the user experience and how people read online. If you're designing for a website, you need to understand the mental models people are gonna approach with. They're gonna approach with, the search box is probably gonna be in the upper right hand corner, not bottom left, right?
You need to know as a developer, how much performance is gonna impact user experience, that sort of thing. So there may be a day where we don't actually have somebody called a user experience person so I've been thinking a lot about that.
And the other thing I've been thinking a lot about is how do we get more diverse in the tech world? How do we better serve people of different income levels, people of different races and ethnicities, and how do we get different folks involved in the design so we're not just designing for ourselves? You know? White people designing for white people and leaving out people of color. You know, male developers who do a great job but sometimes aren't maybe considering what somebody might be going through who's a 25 year old young mom. And the issues she might have with using a website. And certainly then keeping in mind people with disabilities, being inclusive with people of different genders, how are we doing as the tech industry? How are we doing on all of that stuff? And I think we're kind of sucking at it right now. And I think we're aware of the problem, but struggling to how do we affect change and that sort of thing.
I see some good things happening out of the American Underground at Durham, which is really cool.
Jackie I think getting involved is one way to help move that along. That if you have an interest in something, get involved in it and don't let obstacles, perceived obstacles stand in your way. If you are a 25 year old mom and you want to be a web developer, do it.
Melissa I agree with you. And I think those of us who are in the industry owe it with the privilege we've had of being in the industry and the privilege we're accorded because of our race or whatever, to help those folks who are new. To be welcoming when they come to the WordPress meet up. And encouraging of them and point them to different resources. And you know, I mentor different people. I mentor younger women, I mentor young men, people of color. Really being encouraging to people who haven't had some of the advantages that I've had from a young age.
Jackie Absolutely. The other thing too is continuous education. You know, find a way to spend a little bit of time every week to learn something new that you haven't learned yet. And make that your lifelong learning mission.
Melissa Absolutely. I mean, I think the people who really thrive in the web development, design, user experience world are the people who are really dedicated to continuous education. And have the humility of I don't know it all and I don't know what's best. And so I'm gonna keep learning and learning from other folks. And I'm gonna consider and think hard about this stuff. There's great resources out there. Jared's school has the all you can learn library. It's fantastic. It costs way less than going to a lot of conferences. And you get to hear from all kinds of experts from different conferences that cost $3,000 to go to that you don't have to go to. You can just watch it online. Books like Don't Make Me Think, books like Just Enough Research by Erica Hall. There's so many different resources available to us because of the internet now.
Jackie Great. I will include all of these links in the show notes for everybody who wants to follow up with that. If folks want to reach out to you and get in touch with you, how can they reach you?
Melissa So the easiest way is through my website. So if you pop in Melissa Eckleston, into Google, I should come up. I'm in North Carolina and through my website there's a contact form and always replying to whoever reaches me that way.
Jackie Alright, well thank you everybody for listening to the show and thank you Melissa for being my guest on the show. Hope you have a great week.
Melissa Thanks. Thanks for having me.