Does Your User Testing Include Technology Profiles?

As I went through user testing for my first app build, one of the fundamental questions I asked (and you should too) was “is an app the right thing for our users?”

There are generally two sides to this debate: everyone needs an app vs. UGH, stop building useless apps. During the discovery process and in the months since our deployment, I’ve solidly been on Team No App for my current clients. I believe our energy is better spent adding functionality and useability to our sites when accessed via mobile devices. Anecdotally, the web professionals in my network are generally against apps in our personal use as well. Yet Yahoo’s Flurry reports that 90% of mobile media time is spent using apps vs. browsers.

This got me thinking about the different user profiles we can consider when it comes to use and comfort with technology. Consider these personas the next time you’re doing user testing.

Child of the ’90s 

This person places a high value on bandwith and storage because they lived in the time where there was a huge cost to both. They tend to be a bit more forgiving of slow load speeds and functionality as a tradeoff to downloading your app, but give them a smart, bare bones mobile site version and they will be exceptionally loyal.

This person has automatic updates turned off, which means they will wait two or three versions by the time they jump onto the wifi and update the 56 pending updates. Okay fine, this person is me.

Screen capture of Google Play updates screen.
Not even close to the total number of pending updates on my mobile device.

True Millennial

Tech-savvy and impatient, this person wants the easiest, fastest experience. They update apps automatically, and they always have the latest mobile device so storage is never an issue. Apps are easier, so as long as that user experience does what it should, they are on board.

This person never cleans out old apps, and will have no tolerance for how slow your mobile site loads, or if the functionality is not as robust as your app or desktop version.

Won’t Be Left Behind

Your parents or even grandparents might belong to this user testing group. They are not even close to as tech-ignorant as they were even five years ago. Now, they Tweet, Facebook and maybe even Snap alongside you, as long as none of the buttons move in your layout. This group has no problem with using apps (they are easier) and will wait for wifi to use them.

Hopefully you are already doing accessibility testing, but this user group is a great example of how good accessibility makes for better design for all of your users. Consider your design from the point of view of that grandparent holding their iPad two feet out from their face while trying to single-finger type on the virtual keyboard and the changes you make will no doubt help everyone.

Guest Lecture Alert – Digital Voice and Tone at George Brown College

King Street entrance of George Brown College in Toronto where I'll be lecturing about digital voice and tone.I’ll be guest-lecturing at George Brown College this week as part of their Entrepreneurship course in their Continuing Education program.

I’ll be covering how to create a digital voice including:

  • What the heck is a digital voice and why do you need one?
  • How do you create a digital voice?
  • How do you maintain a digital voice?

I will post my notes after the lecture. Hope to see you there!

Simple and Searchable: Improve Your Page Titles

Stick figure making a confused face.

I was going about my regular morning on the internet, as you do, and I found this example of a constant problem I see – the difference between how a content creator (company or organization) will name something, vs. how a user will search for it. What comes to your mind when you see:

Availability Guide

If you’re like me, you probably make this face:

Stick figure making a confused face.


To be fair, in search results the full page title is: Availability guide | Foodland Ontario

Screen capture of the Google search result showing the Availability Guide from Foodland Ontario.

But on the page itself, while the logo informs that name, the page title is divorced from that sole indicator as to what this page is about.

Screen capture of Foodland Ontario's Availablity Guide page.


Here’s my point. I actually really like this page overall. It is slick, appropriately uses a hero image (what a wonder!), minimal text and an appropriate graphic to easily show what foods are in season when (which is what “Availability Guide” apparently means). And this page does appear readily in Google results even though I search something completely different each time I want to get to this page. But why make it more difficult than it needs to be?

This title reeks of multiple approval levels. I would love to see what search results actually drive people to the page, but I suspect it would be something like “What foods are in season” or “is X in season”. Changing the page title to “What Foods Are In Season In Ontario” or even “What’s In Season: Ontario Food Availability Guide” something similar that was (and this is the crucial part) informed by the search queries people are using, it would simply this page and drive additional search results with minimal effort.

Keep it simple – if you can’t tell what the page is about from your page title, your page title needs work. If your page title doesn’t consider how the user will be looking for this information, your page title needs work.

Now back to my grocery planning!

Microcopy: My New Obsession Contact Us page.

For the past eight months I’ve been involved in developing an app for my day job, and it has created a new obsession with microcopy. Microcopy is all of the little text most people don’t give a second thought – it’s the error messages, form copy, headers, completion messages and more.

So why is microcopy even important? Let’s take a look at some examples by looking at something almost every site has – a Contact Us page. Contact Us Page screenshot. Accessed 01/05/2015.

This is‘s Contact Us page. I do like the multiple options for contacting and the fact that the form is brought up front and centre – no need to scroll to eternity to find it. However, let’s think about the users coming to this page; they are likely frustrated – maybe something has gone wrong with their order or they can’t find the information they want. Now they are faced with a page full of text with few indicators as to where to look.

First, the text formatted as headings is all over the place. The options for how to contact, arguably the reason you are on a Contact Us page, are buried in the first paragraph text. But wait! There’s also a live chat option, which oddly appears directly over the form. Is that form for email or to enter the live chat? It’s very unclear.

And I won’t even mention the bold heading since I’m allergic to the words “Click here” as well as unnecessarily long link text.

If you do read to the bottom of the left column, you’re greeted with an asterisk marked warning paragraph:

**Please be sure your email pertains to the subject specified. Emails which do not pertain to the subject cannot be answered. You may send email regarding other matters to Customer Service. **

Yikes. Not really the tone I want to hear in the microcopy if I’m already annoyed and trying to reach out. Even stranger, when you go to select an email subject in the form dropdown, two of the options have a single asterisk – does that mean this message pertains only to them? Or not since the message has a double asterisk? Contact Us Email Form dropdown menu.

There’s also an inconsistency with the spelling of “email/e-mail”. BUT back to the topic at hand! Here’s what happens when you submit via the email form. Email form submitted.

The one thing this page has going for it is the thank you. Here’s what I think could really improve it:

  1. Give a concrete time frame (and commit to it). We’ll get back to you in two business days is much better than the wishy washy “try to get back as soon as possible.”
  2. The entire body content of this page is one line – why not use this valuable space? Offering upfront links to your social channels might be a start, especially if you monitor those channels for customer service (although in that case, they should have been presented as an option on the Contact Us page itself).

Next, an automated email is sent. Email Auto Response

Here’s the timeline I was hoping for on the confirmation screen. The same problem of wasted real estate applies here, with the addition of a terrible email name (General Email Response) – it’s robotic enough to get an auto response without this reinforcement.

So let’s take a look at a company that’s doing a better job with this same process. Contact Us page. Accessed 01/05/2015.

The overall look is much cleaner, and I love that first line of copy – the tone is helpful, cheerful and human. The links below points clearly to three frequently sought after options: Track My Order, Returns and International Shipping. Next, the Frequently Asked Questions are clearly marked and what are likely the most frequently asked ones are highlighted below that heading. Rather than clutter the entire page, further help is offered by a link to their help section. I still find the use of heading formats on the right slightly confusing; I’d rather see it be a bit clearer to show the two options of Email or Phone, with the corresponding information under each. I find that bolding the Hours headings confuses matters. Overall though, this is a much clearer page to navigate. Further down, you’ll find less frequent options like press inquiries, business development and large volume orders.

Clicking the Email button takes you to the Zazzle Support Portal – a name can mean so much, can’t it? The alternate title on a smaller screen shows as Community Portal – I don’t love the inconsistency, but both names imply good feelings of support and help, the very thing your user wants most at this stage. From this clean interface, you can submit your concern, browse support articles or search for an answer in the top right search bar.

The words we choose for every bit of our sites make a big difference about the sentiment your user experiences. Especially on pages your users might come to in an emotionally charged state, you want to make the process as painless and friendly as you can – and it starts with your microcopy.