Before I was on the professional side of the user experience “glass,” I offered my expertise to the field in a different way: as a participant in a fairly large number of usability and market research studies.
It started when I was a college student, looking for a quick way to make some extra pocket change. Friends told me about various survey bureaus and testing companies where I could submit a profile and get contacted about research opportunities. If I qualified for a study, I could earn cash or other perks — and sometimes even get to keep the products (a pair of socks here, a bottled milkshake there). I happened to fall into a demographic researchers wanted to tap, so I had my pick of studies for a while. I never made any significant cash, but it was nice to get a check for $10 or $20 every month or so — or convert a pile of fake-money “points” into Target gift cards or magazine subscriptions. And given my current career, I suppose those hours spent clicking “strongly agree” bubbles or returning taste-test notes paid off in other ways, too.
Now that I’m on the other side, I think there’s a tendency to be skeptical of research participants. “People will do anything for the money” — right? Don’t get me wrong: Usability and user experience researchers are deeply appreciative of the people who take a bit of time out of their day to try out a new website, test a router set-up, or talk candidly about their personal experiences. But as a researcher, there’s a fear of being taken advantage of: Is this person really an IT specialist? Does this other one really bank online three or more times a week? Or are they just trying to slip through the screener, fool me, do the minimum required, mess up all my data, and walk out with a nice, fat check?
I’m not going to claim money wasn’t my prime motivation, especially when I started participating in research. And as the paydays for studies get bigger — beyond just a $5 check or a couple of free lattes — I’m sure the temptation to twist key facts just enough to squeak into a study intensifies.
But there are lots of reasons to participate in research beyond just the money at the end. In fact, the longer I spent as a research panel member, the more I saw the rewards shrink (from $10 to $5 to $2 to some points I could maybe redeem for something down the line) — and yet, I still kept clicking on the link that said “Take me to the Survey!”
So why do it, if not for (or at least in addition to) the money?
The major reasons I kept participating:
I like seeing new products first. Always have, always will. I got a weird little thrill from seeing a particular body wash scent that I (and certainly hundreds of others) had recommended show up on drugstore shelves. I got to taste snacks that never went to market — some for good reason! And I got to see previews of what some of my favorite websites would look like after a redesign. Just knowing something that not everyone knew was a huge motivator for me.
I like making things better. As a participant, you never really know how seriously your feedback will be taken or how much of a difference you’ll make — but I always wanted to try. If I really thought a product should be priced at $3 rather than $2 or $4, I had the chance to say so. If I thought a login screen was confusing or couldn’t find the right option for shipping an online purchase, maybe someone would fix it. And since most of my research opportunities were about products or services I actually used or would want to if they existed, there was a good chance those changes would directly benefit me.
I was curious about the research process. This grew as I got more and more sucked into participating. Where did my feedback go? How did it mesh with what others thought? Why did some people just get an online survey link while others got invited in for a focus group? Could something I said actually make a product end up on (or not on) the shelves? What did the researchers do with all this data? (Fast-forward a few years, and I’d be in grad school, finding out.)
I asked around the EchoUser research department, and my colleagues mentioned a few other reasons they’d seen participants come to studies:
- A feeling of importance: “Someone’s listening to my opinion!”
- An opportunity to air complaints.
- The desire to know what’s coming up in a given industry.
- An interest in “giving back” or doing something productive with free time.
- A chance to try something before committing to a purchase.
- An interest in learning something new.
- A curiosity about getting a job in research. (Hey, worked for me!)
Yeah, the money’s great. It probably is what gets people in the door, most of the time. But there are other motivations for the people who might walk into your lab or click on your survey. And that’s something I try to keep in mind every time I catch myself rolling my eyes and saying, “Eh, they’re just here for the $100.”
It’s that time of year again when tech’s best put their ideas forward for next spring’s SXSW Interactive conference — and this year, EchoUser is among them. We’ve got not one, not two, but three great panels currently up for vote at the SXSW Panel Picker, and we could use your thumbs-up to help us represent in Austin. What ideas would we bring to the SXSW community? Below, check out the panel pitches from our own Mick McGee, Boaz Gurdin, and Garrett Godsey.
How can UX professionals truly lead in the companies they work for and the products they work on? How big a role can they really play when engineers have the power of code and business executives make the final call.
Companies are flocking to User Experience methodologies as a way to improve their business and are staffing up their internal UX teams along the way—but are the voices of UX professionals getting heard early enough— or taken seriously enough—to influence decisions at the highest level? Or will UX architects, designers and researchers always be making incremental improvements?
False dichotomy? Sure. Important discussion topic? We think so.
This session will tackle questions of leadership, ownership, organizational structure and the impact that UX professionals can have in their organizations, as well as discussing trends which may pose challenges.
The discussion will be led by Mick McGee and Dan Rosenberg, who both have decades of experience in UX leadership.
Vote for UX Leadership: Is It Dead?
From EchoUser’s Boaz Gurdin:
As interaction designers, we design how people spend their time. Judging by the amount of distracted multi-tasking, stress from information overload, and struggle for work-life balance, we’re doing a pretty bad job of keeping people in control of their time.
One reason that we suck at designing how people spend their time is that our core ways of representing how people interact with technology, such as user journey maps and flow models, fail to represent how people multi-task. We ignore the context of how people spend their time outside of our user journey and flows. By ignoring the possibility that people have anything better to do than engage with our products and services, we often distract people instead of focusing their time on the people and interests that matter to them most. As interaction designers, we need to recognize that our medium is time, and we need to become masters of our medium. We have the power and responsibility to redesign how people spend their time.
Vote for Time: The Invisible Design Medium
For designers of complex user interfaces, the prospect of designing experiences for virtual reality is a challenge we’ve been longing for. But where do we start and when should we be ready?
Recently, companies like Oculus and Zeiss have built the next revolution of consumer priced virtual reality headsets. These devices provide high definition first person views of an immersive virtual world, plugging directly in to computers and gaming consoles. Mainstream virtual experiences are here.
The implications are impressive: movies, gaming, immersive learning, CAD visualization, and first person views of remote controlled equipment. All of these areas will need beautiful and usable design.
How can we prepare to design for these new immersive experiences? What design strategies could we lean on? How would the process differ from the one we apply to today’s UI, UX, and usability challenges?
Here, our Garrett Godsey pitches it to you:
Vote for To Virtual and Beyond!
Community voting is open now through September 6, so click over and let us know what you think!
When Google announced yesterday that it will shut down its RSS reader, Google Reader, in July, three of us in the EchoUser office were particularly distraught. Why did the Google Reader experience of accessing the Internet mean so much to us? Here, EchoUsers Kimra McPherson, Joanne Wong, and Boaz Gurdin explore that question.
Kimra: I’m Losing My Internet DVR
I found out about Google Reader’s demise not via Google Reader — though that would have been poetic — but through Twitter. Twitter, not Reader, is where I tend to see and discuss most breaking news these days; it’s where I connected with other equally distraught Reader fans yesterday evening, and it’s where I first tried out my theory that Google Reader is my Internet DVR. (But more on that later.)
Given that, I suppose it’s natural that a few people suggested via Twitter that I wouldn’t need an RSS-reader replacement once Reader shuts down in July. Those folks argued that RSS technology as a whole is now a mere fossil, that I could fill all my blog-reading needs in other ways: page change notifications via browser extension, or email subscriptions, or Twitter coupled with a read-later solution like Instapaper.
I use (some of) those solutions right now. In particular, I use the Twitter + Instapaper combo a fair amount. But use it for everything? My reaction to that was strong and negative. No way could that work!
And why not? In interrogating that question, I realized that Twitter and RSS serve fundamentally different media needs for me. I use them in completely different contexts (hey, there’s that word again!). Twitter is immediate: What are the people I care about personally or professionally talking about right now? What should I be reading right now? What’s the conversation I care about right now? Even if I Instapaper or otherwise save a link from Twitter to read later, my awareness and capture of that content is time-sensitive. If I don’t happen to be looking at Twitter right when that discussion is happening, I miss it – potentially for good. It’s active, even urgent consumption.
RSS — via Reader or whatever solution I’ll turn to next — operates at a different pace from the frenetic “read this now-now-NOW!” of Twitter. It’s calmer, almost passive. It’s not completely passive — obviously, I chose what sites I wanted to follow — but from the moment I hit “subscribe,” the collection and capture process is out of my hands. The content just appears, and I read it when I’m good and ready. That may be the second I see the little (1) pop up — say, when it’s next to the blog hosting pictures of my niece and nephew — or it may be days later, as when I scan through a week’s worth of Slate headlines, open three, and mark the rest as read.
That’s why I think of Reader as my Internet DVR: I subscribe to something — I “season-pass” it, as it were — and then I can take in its specific content anytime, whether that’s two minutes or two months after it first appears. Twitter, meanwhile, is a little more like channel surfing — surfing through only my favorite channels, granted, but I’m still just catching snippets of what they’re broadcasting and hoping I have the mental bandwidth and lucky timing to absorb the best stuff. Reader fills my need to read my pre-selected slice of the Internet whenever I please. Just as the DVR took away the pressure to be home right at 9 p.m. to catch the start of Grey’s Anatomy (hush now), Reader absolves me of needing to be fully alert to the Internet at all times. It’s not either/or for me; I need both.
I don’t know where I’ll be taking my blog-reading-via-feed business next, but I know I’ll be taking it somewhere. My desires for a more relaxing internet-consumption experience are alive and well, even if Reader is not.
Joanne: 5 Stages of Grief…With Google Reader
I was happily enjoying my sunny afternoon yesterday in this gorgeous new city that I just moved to recently. Suddenly, I had one of my close (and über nerdy) friends message me exactly at 4:14 PM PST with 5 words that I thought I would never have to hear:
“Google is retiring Google Reader.”
Believe it or not, I went through Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief in the last 24 hours.
1. Shock & Denial
My heart stopped. My body went numb with disbelief. Suddenly my world came crashing down. “No way! There is no way! You’re lying!” I quickly ran to my two fastest sources of information: Google & Twitter. Surprisingly, there weren’t any news articles popping up just yet on Google, and there was nothing on Twitter… Until a second later. Suddenly there were non-stop tweets from everybody going through the same emotions as I was. It was getting real.
I sat there in front of my laptop at work thinking to myself, “What am I going to do?” I was devastated. I started to message and rant to my friends, coworkers, etc. about how I felt. I was ready to flip a table and storm off in a tantrum. The guilt started to pour in. I thought about all the good times we had, like how we shared many hours together every day while it provided to me great news from my beloved blogs and sites. I just wanted to read it every day. Then I felt bad about the times that I didn’t give it the attention it needed, and it had 1000+ unread items. Life just suddenly felt scary and chaotic.
Then the bargaining sunk in: “I’ll read you more, Google Reader! It’s okay, Google! Take away the sharing features of Google Reader! Take away iGoogle! Take away Google Buzz! But not Google Reader! NOT GOOGLE READER!” I just wanted it to stay for a little bit more. Many people online felt the same way too — to the point that an onlne petition started less than half an hour after Google released the news. I signed, shared, and crossed my fingers.
I walked home with my head down while listening to Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” (Okay, maybe that’s a stretch). The worst feeling was going into my Google Reader, and a pop-up showed up saying “Google Reader will not be available after July 1, 2013.” However, my friends and I tried to help each other through this. We were already looking through a variety of alternatives to see what we could do. It’s nice to have a support group sometimes.
I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “It’s going to be okay.” Luckily enough, great sites like Lifehacker and Mashable provided some Google Reader alternatives. Initially, I wasn’t very fond of the idea of using something else — I felt like I was cheating on Google Reader. I tried out NewsBlur initially, but the UI seemed a bit too old-school for my liking.
Then came Feedly. Pretty on the eyes — similar to that of Google Reader, with a hint of the new grid-like interfaces that most websites have nowadays. Furthermore, there’s an iOS version of it for it as well — that works similarly to Flipboard. Feedly is currently promising a smooth transition on the backend for those who are Google Reader advocates. So far, so good. However, I’m going to have to back up my Google Reader before fully transitioning.
I think I’m going to keep to Google Reader until July 1st before fully moving on. My heart just still lies there.
Boaz: Google Reader Had Great Emotional Design
Unlike Joanne, I’m still somewhere around the first or second stage of grief regarding the demise of Google Reader. Google Reader is probably my most visited site on the Internet. It’s how I start my day, how I connect to the world, and as Kimra says, it’s how I read the Internet.
As a news junkie, Google Reader is my drug delivery mechanism of choice. Addiction is an apt description of my experience with Google Reader, and withdrawal my reaction to its pending shutdown. These reactions are indicative of good emotional design. As a tribute to Google Reader, I want to reflect on some of the design patterns that have made it such a compelling experience.
List view with infinite scroll and keyboard-operable cursor
Google Reader is fast. Not just in loading but also in time to task completion, which in this case is selecting interesting news stories from a stream of hundreds of unread articles. List view gives the eyes a clear path to scan headlines. Infinite scroll keeps the list going through hundreds of headlines. Using ‘n’ to move the selection down to the next item provides a visual cursor to guide the eyes. For an expert system that’s used repetitively, these microinteraction ergonomics make a difference.
Finding gems is one of the emotional design patterns exemplified by Google Reader. Each interesting article you discover from among hundreds of headlines is a reward. I’m convinced that this is the same addictive mechanism behind a lot of games and what drives people who love rummaging through clothing racks or music shops. The discovery moment is rewarding in itself, and those moments accumulate to a larger benefit of heightening your awareness about what’s going on in the world by spotting emerging trends from granular early indicator stories.
Mark All As Read is another emotionally satisfying interaction in Google Reader. Like marking a task complete, there is a sense of accomplishment, of staying organized and on top of things. Google Reader shows every story, so it gives you a sense of completeness about being on top of things, then it dials down what could easily become overwhelming with a single click that sweeps it all away. As an Inbox Zero kind of guy, this pleases me immensely, and it’s a design decision that I miss in my other media.
So what’s my solution? For the moment I’m trying out old-fashioned bookmark folders for my main news sources and Twitter for the rest. It’s not as fast as going through a list view newsfeed, but it’s somewhat refreshing to see news websites as their designers intended them to be consumed, starting from the homepages. I hope to see some of the engaging functional and emotional design patterns of Google Reader in the next generation of news reader apps. Now excuse me while I relearn how to read the Internet.