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.

How to Champion Web Standards And Other Unsexy Ideas

You might work in a small team managing your website or you may be flying solo as a freelancer. Either way, it adhering to web standards and accessibility standards can be a tough sell with either your client or your manager. So how do you go about selling the super sexy idea of web standards?

Connect Standards to Other Goals

Web standards are amazing things – coding with good web standards looks eerily similar to coding with good accessibility standards, so you’re already solving two challenges in one. But to make your client or boss care about them, you need to find a problem they are having that will be solved by web standard coding. Coincidentally, this is also a great approach when you’re writing cover letters. Think about job postings as a list of problems the hiring manager is having – how can the skills you have make their lives easier?

Web standards can help in a number of ways, but a few heavy-hitting reasons you can use are:

  • Allowing users of all sight and motor control abilities to read your content.
  • Allowing users on any platform or device to use your site.
  • Allowing users on any internet connection speed to see your products.

Remember to pitch your standards project as future-proofing – clearly coded content will be much easier to integrate onto other platforms in the future. Think about digital signage or audio-based platforms like Google Glass, and likely platforms we haven’t even dreamed of yet. The cost of letting your code stay as is will just get higher the longer you wait.

Start Small

Once you learn about web and accessibility standards, the task at hand can seem daunting. But the truth is, you can start small. Make a checklist of everything you want to do with every new piece of content you build and, if time allows, apply the same list to every older piece you go in and modify. Set a goal of a small section per day or per week and track your overall progress to see how far you’ve come. This is also a great method for selling your boss or client; the project doesn’t have to come with a big upfront cost if you stretch it out over time.

Come Armed with Data

This could be audience analysis data (how many users aren’t able to get to your content because of accessibility concerns or an older device?) or a demonstration of how your small changes are making a big difference. Bringing data to the table is like having an impartial, third-party judge; it can help keep egos out of the conversation.

Don’t give up – even if you’re a one-person team, your work can make a world of difference to your users.

3 Things I Learned from An Event Apart Orlando

A white samoyed dog wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

I just got back from An Event Apart Orlando: Special Edition 2014. It was my first AEA and it definitely won’t be my last. But as my new friend Jessica neatly summarized, the “conference bubble will only last so long. I have pages and pages of notes, but here’s what my experience at An Event Apart Orlando taught me:

  1. Design for everyone.
    Between the global lens Ethan Marcotte drew to our attention to the accessibility angle hinted at by Derek Featherstone (full disclosure, I saw his Web Accessibility talk at #RGDaccess), we can’t continue to design for English-speaking, desktop users using a single browser with broadband internet connections and no challenges with sight or fine motor control.Here’s where I can dump a lot of web design’s favourite buzzwords: responsive design, device agnosticism, progressive enhancement, elegant degradation and fallback. All of these terms are exceptionally valuable (and they let me sound extra smart when telling my clients or bosses what we’re working on), but I’m finding it easier to concentrate their goal into this one concept: design for everyone. We can build sites so that while the experience may differ by browser, connection speed, device and physical abilities, the content can still be delivered effectively. Websites don’t have to look the same in every browser, but every browser should have access to your content.
  1. Simplify.
    A text-only screen of an older model Nokia cell phone.
    How would your website look on a phone like this? Image courtesy of:

    Ethan Marcotte pointed out that an average size for a webpage in 2009 was 320mb; in 2014, that number has doubled to 1.8mb. Well, so what? That’s not surprising given the trend of full bleed images and active scripts, animation and video. But what are the implications for the users in developing countries and cities? Ethan pointed out that in Africa, mobile penetration is now 60%; that’s 700 million users, most of whom are using basic devices that render only in text.

    Simplification also means enhanced performance. Users expect a page to load in two seconds or faster; anything longer and the perception is that the page is broken – 40% of users will leave. Streamlining is also the key for mobile-first development; if you take the time to organize the content and user experience and optimize it for the mobile experience, you can build out to the larger screen. And speaking of users…

  1. Put the user first.
    As Jeffery Zeldman said as he kicked off day one, “we don’t design for browsers; we design for people.” Who is using your site? And what is the job your site should do? A powerful talk by Eric Meyer put this in sharp perspective – we design for a relaxed, savvy user seeing our site in an optimal viewing environment, but we must consider how our site is used by everyone, especially those in crisis. And these considerations are not static; content priority changes over time and with location, and Kate Kiefer Lee reminded us that voice and tone must change based on content type but also user mood.

It has taken me a week to distill my notes into these points and, believe me, I know it doesn’t do the conference justice. But if this summary at least peaks your interest in the topics, that will be enough. I can’t wait for An Event Apart 2015!