Episode 28: How to approach usability on digital products

Episode 28: How to approach usability on digital products

In episode 28, Cathi, Jackie & Monique talk about how you can approach usability on digital products in a systematic way. We also introduce and explain our usability model, a pyramid that is based on the foundation of performance, accessibility and security. Listen now or read the transcript in the show notes to learn more.

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Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode


Jackie Hey everybody, it's Jackie with rethink.fm and I am here with my co-hosts, Cathi Bosco and Monique Dubbelman. And today we're going to be talking about how we approach usability on digital products, digital websites, anything digital and how we approach that. We were talking earlier this week about how could we define a method of evaluating whether something is usable? And we came up with a pyramid approach. And I'll let Cathi just kind of briefly explain the overall pyramid approach that we've got. And we're all going to just chime in and share our thoughts on it.

Cathi Right, so we're inspired by Maslow's, how do you say Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Yeah, and that's a five step pyramid, but we have like a three step pyramid that we're working with. So the foundation or base requirement for usability would be, well, the three pillars of design success, which would be -should be- secure. It should be performant. And it should be accessible. So that's the base layer. The second layer in the pyramid we're thinking is heuristic experience. How frustrating it is to use can people do things on their own without support through your interfaces and through your software? So we can talk about the Nielsen group list of heuristics. We'll link to that in our notes. And then the top level that pyramid that "Yay, the top of the mountain here is total total success" is, you know, is it compelling to use? Do people like it? Is it delightful does it promote your tone of voice in your mission? As a business or as an organization? Does it make a difference in someone's life? Does it make it better? I mean, he get really higher level on that. I think that sums up the three levels of our usability pyramid. Yeah, we usually start we start our work with the heuristic evaluation. I love thinking about the different ones, like, let's do a tear down. And we'll go through a software system. And we'll find all those frustrating experiences. That can be like a really casual way to describe a heuristic evaluation. And we really care about, you know, the work people have put into a product before it gets to us. And so we don't really support like those tear down negative practices in our professional work with clients. So we do a specific heuristic evaluation, and we we point out all the validation that they can get from our evaluation as well as, hey, this needs to be improved or why is this like this or, you know, people don't know where they're at on this page. You need to give them a sense of their state of what's the term I'm looking for? They need to be aware of, at all times. Yeah,

Monique some confirmation. Yeah, I think that there's many systems you could use. Or you could do it randomly. You know, when you look at a website, I think everyone who's been on the web or been using an app, or any digital products or service can always name all the things they don't think are working well for them. And the idea about heuristics or other evaluation systems, if you want to call them is that you've got a method which makes it easier and more tangible to improve things, right. Because if you could go randomly through a website, or an app or on a digital project, it's like, oh, yeah, look at this login, and oh, there's a cross there and Oh, so and then in the end, I think when you're a product owner or a company, who wants to improve and cares about your users, or maybe about your own support team to give them less of a burden of people calling in, if you don't care about your users, and I can imagine that and then the 10 heuristics that Norman Nielsen describes are a very tangible and actionable way to find what could be improved.

Cathi Yeah, and to empower users with the ability to do things on their own. And that's ultimately what you want. I mean, who wants a support job where you get the same questions every day, like, let's address these things. Let's get those fixed and unlock some budget from security for new features or a marketing campaign or something like that. So,

Jackie So one of the things we talked about earlier in the week two was that pillar, right? So that the three, the three things that make it really essential at the bottom of your pyramid, so accessibility, security and performance, right? So I think our approach is that before you even take a look at the heuristics, right? And you start to look to see Are you are you fulfilling all of those and in your work, whatever it is, if you're evaluating a project that you're currently working on, is, first, make sure that you have built a solid foundation at the bottom of your pyramid so that your site is accessible, your app is accessible, your services accessible, and it's performant. Right? And performance is going to help you with a lot of things including SEO and search and and then making sure that it's secure so people feel comfortable using it. That's kind of the base level. So you want to make sure that you have those things there. And then you can dive in and take a look at it heuristic evaluation, which, if you're not familiar with the term heuristic, it just in a really short easy way is just enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves. All right. So think of an iPhone, you get an iPhone. For most people, it's pretty intuitive when you start it up and go through the setup process, how to do it without having to get a manual out. And if you recall, you know, years and years ago, you would buy something, and you would have to get a manual out to figure out how to use it because it wasn't just following a predictable pattern. Today, I think things have really improved a lot. And so you have good examples of things where it's very intuitive for somebody. So that means that they've really worked through those 10 heuristics.

Monique Sorry, yes. No, I'm just I'd like to add one thing, and I'd like to hear from you where you would think that would fit in the pyramid, and which is findability. Because people need to find something first before they can use it. Right.

Cathi Yeah, that's a really good point. And I think it is you're right, Monique, it's often overlooked. You know, I think that fits into accessibility and access to the internet and access to, you know, because some countries have censorship or poor connection fits into performance, but being able to find or discover something, I definitely think it's part of the lowest level, what do you guys think?

Jackie Yeah, I mean, there's definitely I don't see anything in the heuristics that take into account finding your product or service from an outside source. And certainly it wouldn't be the top of the pyramid. So I would say would have to be incorporated in the base of your pyramid. Right. So and probably accessibility, you know, you could define it in such a way that yes, it would, it would enable somebody to find that service.

Monique I don't think it's only outside. It's also inside I mean, if you've got a lot of quality content, but you don't have your structure well organized or your navigation or your search, how are people going to find that quality content? As of the outside, I think a clear example. And I mean, people always want to be the number one search result, or I think the number zero search result these days is more important, right? Where you don't even leave the search engine. But Google's actually handing out penalties if you're not performant, if you don't have a good mobile version. If your website is not secure, it's not opening in browsers. So then you're not findable, or at least, you know, you're finable, but these little sort of, you know, get a big lock on doors go like, Thou shall not pass. And yeah, Google is giving you penalties in their search results. If you're not sure. But also accessibility definitely is a big thing there. Because if you don't do semantic HTML, Google needs to look for that h1 heading that gives you the best insights. They work with structured data. So that's all part of usability. It's maybe a bit invisible. But that's the foundation, right? And I had a client who wanted to score better on Google. But he had a WordPress website, which in the basis is good, but he had such a poor and old theme that scored very, very bad in performance. It was not workable on mobile and he wasn't ready to put money and effort into abandoning that so but he wanted to improve his content. Well, that's that's never a waste of time. But if you want to get a good result, you have to look at all the things right. So I think that's where we're at. Sometimes clients can sort of get overwhelmed as well.

Cathi Yeah, when we do a heuristic evaluation, if if, if people don't know that that's definitely part of what we look at, we look at their semantic markup. And we look at their performance scores and how things are on mobile. And so I was thinking of a heuristic evaluation that incorporates that. At XWP, like, they can also just do a specific, like, really intense performance evaluation of a site separate from some of the usability heuristics that we're looking at. So those are accessibility that meets accessibility standards, you know, is it all of those are part of our heuristic evaluation, but I think it's important to say, as much as that's one of the first steps in evaluating a product or site or service. Before we can do that, we have to know who we're looking at that for, right? We have to know, what are the user groups and user groups, main user groups? And what scenarios are they working in? Are they working in a high stress environment? Like what's their environment and what's their user group like, and we look at it through those eyes. So you're not just getting Cathi, Jackie and Monique's like expert opinion, although we always are happy to share our informed opinions! But you're getting that experience with empathy for the users who are really trying to use your, your product. So I think I feel like that comes first before the heuristic evaluation. But sometimes, it just gets rolled into the same exercise for clients because it can be overwhelming to go through all of that at the same time for them sometimes

Jackie Into the findability that you were just mentioning does weave its way up into the heuristic evaluation if you start looking at some of the specific items on there. You have like flexibility and efficiency of use, right? So there, there are several different ways that you can communicate information that can make it easy for people to find. You've got number nine, which is help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors, right. So that is another way that you can make it easy for people to find information and to help them. And then you've also got number 10, which is helping documentation which provide the information that is needed at the time the user actually needs it. So those are some things that kind of weave their way up into making things findable and again, more accessible for everybody to use a service or product or whatever it is, you're you're doing.

Monique Yeah, yeah. And and also in context, right? How often do you see sort of help button or a link or get started and then you click on it and you end up in this total overwhelm all the knowledge base with all these links and texts. We've seen quite a few examples and sharing too much information at the same time. It's not helping users at all, you know, it's just overwhelming for them. And you get a sort of brain freeze when you look at all these links and all these tags. So a few contextual bullets or a bit of information that is in the right place would definitely, yeah, go through that experience. Right. Yeah. Yeah

Cathi The right help in the right place at the right time. Right, exactly.

Jackie Monique. So where do you think UX writing fits into the pyramid because that's a cornerstone for you. You're, you're really very talented in that area. And so you can bring a lot of insights for how does UX writing affect usability?

Monique Um, that's a good question. I learned to say that that's a good question. Because you gives us some time to think about your answer.

Jackie Take all the time you need.

Cathi I have I have I have a quick response. And they'll give you a second to think Just a minute. Okay? Yeah, it helps the tool get out of the way of the task. Right? So when you're trying to do something with good UX writing, you just go through using the tool without any thinking about the tool and you just stay on task. And that's just a side note for me and I that's one thing I like about great UX writing but there's so much more.

Jackie And one of the things you've said Monique was you know, be more direct with your language and make it clearer and easier for people to digest.

Monique Thanks for reminding me all the things I said! A lot of people think UX writing is very easy because you just remove some words and then you're there right but there's, there's actually a few steps you take like first you did you reduce you text and you you make it more concise. But in the end, you don't want it all to sound the same, right? You want to give your own voice and tone to your UX writing. If you look at clear and concise writing from a bank website or a bank app, even though different banks like I don't know, is JP Morgan, a big US bank? Is that Did I get that right? Yes, it is. I don't know. So they may be one of the more traditional ones. In Europe, we now get Bunq with a 'Q' and they're a new FinTech company. Their UX writing is totally different because they have different customers. So it's it's still bank, it's still financial. And they still make sure you get the job done. But they use their own wording which meets their whole tone of voice how does this make things more use things more usable. People need to understand that that's the wording within the contents of the app. If you go all funny in a banking account, you know, when people I don't know, have to perform a transaction, you can go "twidelidy click this button, yoho!" something like that. I don't know. And that's not going to help people if maybe that you want to be quirky or funny or whatever. But yeah, especially if you're spending a lot of money, you need to make sure like, what is gonna happen if I click this button within the tone and voice? So...

Jackie That's actually a number two on the heuristics, right? So match between the system and the real world, like match your words. So you were just saying don't use these fancier quirky things that there was an example I saw on one of the videos on Nielsen group's website that we're talking about. They were designing a, an intranet, and they were creating a directory of everybody that worked there. And they were thinking of they were evaluating what to name that section on the intranet that you would click on. And they went through a couple of different terms. And one of them was meet and greet. And the other was staff directory. And they ended up choosing staff directory, even though meet and greet sounded more trendy, and kind of, you know, interesting. It wasn't clear what it was. It was just we're trendy. So staff directory actually told people, this is where you go to get a list of everybody that's here on the internet, that's part of the organization. And that was really eye opening. You know, you look at that you go, Wow, actually, that is a really solid approach to doing that. So they were able to provide a clear and concise definition for an area that everybody would understand what it meant.

Monique Yeah, and also Definitely the way what it means for the users because I recently worked on a project for a university. And they had two sections called faculty. But the one faculty was sort of information for their faculty, staff, but staff was something else than faculty because, you know, there was a difference between staff from the university and faculty members, so no, so they wanted to have that separation. But there was also a section called faculty, which gave information to the students who were the main visitors of the university and like, getting all these things, right for university websites. I mean, that's a big challenge. They're like big organizations with a lot of stakeholders who all want to have their own say, right. But the problem usually with these things is that people tend to think in how is our organization built, how do we call it internally, and that doesn't always reflect how people perceive it on the outside.

Cathi I would add that I think it's a big deal for university websites and inter inter internets. But it's it's a big deal on everything on the web right now. I think the demand for improved UX writing is probably I tend to break things down into UX writing, UX visual design, and UX research. So those are like the three categories our teams sort of collaborate under. And I think the impact and the demand for you Good UX writing is like so high. If you want to expand your career, maybe you're a UI designer. You want to add a skill set beef up on UX writing.

Monique Yeah, or you're a copywriter, right?

Cathi Yeah, learn the difference because UX writers start at the beginning of the design process. The content is a separate the content and copywriting is a separate thing. We're talking about interactions.

Monique I don't agree on that. But I mean,

Cathi Okay, good, good. Good.

Monique I think you should design with real content.

Cathi Yeah, that's what I mean. If you that happens before you start building the interface, you have to have that content.

Monique Yeah. Okay.

Cathi I didn't speak correctly.

Jackie thought they were gonna really disagree, but they didn't.

Monique It's good. It will make it nicer for our audience to listen to us if we have a fight online.

Jackie We are so boring. We agree on so many things. We do have different perspectives. So that is always that's always really useful.

Monique Yeah, I'm always also interested. I mean, if you talk about UX writing, I think it's quote us designers like we're gonna do a, I think a podcast on designerism as well. We tend to use so much jargon and even within the tech industry, and you really need to be explicit with your clients like are talking about the same thing like we recently had it with some research we were going to do like is the client expecting the same thing as what we're thinking, confirm, confirm, confirm. Right. And yeah, that's communication is a good thing too. Can we also communicate?

Jackie Yeah, evaluation where we were actually looking at the terminology that was being used on a page, right to set up something. And we found some, you know, inconsistencies there where somebody who's not familiar with the product might get confused and kind of lose their way, just based on the way that you've worded things. And that can really make a difference. And that's where UX writing just kind of filters right into the usability of something right? So you have your audience to consider who's actually going to use it, but you also have to take into account their level of knowledge about the product that they're going to be using. You use this product every day, if you're the creator, or you're involved in it every day you're supporting it. But you might have a user that may use it just once or twice a year. So you have to approach it from that perspective that you know, is this clear to them? What it is? And how should they use it? Does it make sense for them and their language?

Monique Yeah. And when you're so like, entangled with your products that you work in it every day, like, even for us from an expert perspective, you can never look at a product with the same eyes as an end user. They always surprise you with the things they come up with. You're like, oh, wow, I never looked at it that way. That's always happening. So usability testing. Even if you do it with one person, right, it's giving so much insight. And I actually did a usability test for a project I've been working on years, but I sort of stepped into the role of an end user. And even by doing that, it still gives me a different perspective, just looking at all the screens like, clearly like, thinking about what questions do I have here? It gives me some insights. And I've been working on this for seven years. Oh, that's all we'd be giving them so much information. And we forgot to mention the location of the course. It's a course website. So yeah, there's no way you can find out where it's held.

Jackie The email chain that's going out, right. So you have all of these emails that go out when somebody purchases a product, and you haven't looked at those in a year or 18 months. And you're, you're wondering why people are struggling or people or you're having churn or you're having something else. And it could just be as easy as just auditing and really taking a look at go and sign up for your product and see exactly what your users are receiving and make improvements. They are easily as well.

Monique And revisit. I mean, automation is great, but you have to schedule revisits and check and validate if it's still saying the things you want to say that's Yeah,

Cathi Or have us check it! We'll check it for you, we'll go through and screenshot the experience and document your customer journey and create a map for you. So that you can keep running your business and then your whole team can use it as a single source of truth.

Jackie Good point, Cathi, because you a lot of times people aren't even aware of all the points of communication that are going on with their product and forget. So when they do make some kind of change that is going to filter through everything that they need to have something to reference, okay, so if we change this, what is good, what needs to be changed along with it? Like, where does this all flow through what emails do we need to change? You know, what messaging needs to be changed in the product? Where does it need to how many times is it mentioned? Where is that? Yeah. Something that will help you go through an update that so you don't miss things. And again, frustrating for users if they they go somewhere and they're on a path and then all of a sudden they get a hiccup that they weren't expecting.

Monique And not everyone is going to send you an email or give you a call to let you know. Right. So and yeah, that a pair of fresh eyes again is I think one of the big advantages to have someone else like do it and to have a design company do it. Obviously it should be us, but okay, it could be someone else as well. Right?

Cathi Fresh eyes, get some fresh eyes!

Monique Some fresh eyes, someone who's never looked at it before, screenshot it, annotate, make notes, make improvements and test if you have the budget like test and see what improvements you get. And also if you really want to make sure what outcome you get. Set yourself a measurable goal like look at your numbers, look at what you want to improve and look at what you want to improve with and by when. So so you can sort of measure your, your actions against the results.

Cathi I really like that you use the word discoverability earlier Jackie, like, I think what's discoverable by your users is not always what you think it is. And creating compelling experiences is really like a success metric, right? Is this compelling? Do people want to use your stuff? Right? I think those are compelling and discoverability. I'm gonna walk away from this conversation with those words.

Jackie All right. Anything else that you want to finally share on the usability topic before we wrap up,

Monique Have we mentioned friction free already?

Jackie No,

Monique We did not mention friction-free?

Cathi We love that term!

Monique Is thatdesignerism, is that a designerism?

Cathi Um, I think it might be but well,

Jackie I don't consider it. I mean, I know when I'm experiencing friction with something. So I would assume, you know, most other users feel the same way when something Yeah. When they reach a point where they're not sure where to go what to do, or they reach a point where they realize they have to reach out for help, but they don't have time. And it's or it's inconvenient. Those those are areas where, you know, you could look at and when we do our work, Cathi's really good at this, she will go go through and give us all the screenshots and we'll go through and see where there's pain points. And if you have the ability in the budget, and you have some users who will volunteer to walk through using your product and let you record their actions and expressions and how they feel as they go through it. You can really identify the pain points that you have and the touch points that you have. So where where somebody is having pain and where are you reaching out and touching them either in the app in the in the product or via email or however you're doing it so you can map all of that out. And that helps you identify where the friction is so that you can work on improving that to reduce friction.

Monique Yeah, and I think there's, there's, there may be a difference when as a customer or user you have a choice. Right this week. I I bought myself a new MacBook Pro and thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped me choose because it's, it's not easy, it's a lot of money. And, and obviously, I waited a bit too long before buying one. So I wanted one now sort of, so I was one to 12 at night in bed, and I was looking at the local Apple Store and we have this chain called Amac and see and the Apple Store wouldn't open until 11 in the morning ,I thought gosh, laze sods, why don't you let me in until 11. Right, I have to work, come on! And then the other was not opening until 10 and then it say there how much they had in their magazines there was nothing there. It's like oh, delivery in one week is ehm no. And then I found another shop and they didn't exactly have the specs I needed and there's this one really big company who was praised for their UX work in the Netherlands is Coolblue and I looked at their website and they had the exact specifications I wanted I could have it delivered at my house the next day or pick it up the next morning at nine at their shop in Amsterdam I just go like and I'm gonna do that it's one as well. I'm gonna hit that button and like all the things with their at and I didn't have to pay I could pay into shop all their messaging was clear. I went to the shop, there was someone at the door. What are you coming for? Welcome to pick up. Well let me walk you so they walked me through shop to the woman who was going to help me. Do you want to drink? Let us review your order. Is there anything else you'd like what you didn't think about yet, well sit there have some coffee, we're going to pick up your stuff and they were all the way through they were just sort of nurturing me right they were like, I was just and I I spend a lot of money just you know, by flipping the watch is going Oomph and my bank account said kaching. And, but still, I felt really happy after I left the shop. It was good. I, oh, that was such a great experience. And, but then you get to choose right, I got like four options, first thoughts and I pick the one with the less friction. When I have to renew my drivers license. When you've got stuff to do with governments or councils. You got I can't really go to another council to get my license. So I have to deal with them. And if they like it, they're not reachable by phone or if I don't get proper emails, it gives me friction, right? But I don't have choice. So I'm going to get that license from there anyway. But then maybe you could consider like, the client or the customer, or whatever you call it with a government or Council is not going to walk away, but I'm going to be bombard them with emails, I'm gonna give negative tweets on the internet. I'm gonna yell at their, I don't know, I'm gonna throw paintballs at their windows or whatever, which is going to give them cleaning costs or support problems. And so, you know, they're the people working for them. They get a lot of workload from me not being happy. So at least if you don't consider your end user, or at least consider the people working for you, like we said before, so I think in any way whether you're, because that's sometimes what people say like I'm not a webshop, right. I don't really have clients like that or I don't really have uses like that. It's, you do. It's just that they don't have an alternative, but it's still worth making an effort. I think

Cathi Having empathy, not driving empathy.

Jackie Yeah, empathy. I think that's a good closing note.

Cathi Well, it's always great to chat and I look forward to our next conversation.

Jackie Thank you, Monique and Cathi and if you're interested in checking out the show notes and stuff on the podcast, just head over to rethink.fm. If you need some help from our team, head over to uxatt.com And you can find this out there. Thanks. See you next time.

Monique Bye. Bye.

[birds chirping]

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