What a Difference a Lab Day Makes

Four years ago CauseLabs started setting aside one day every two months for our team to build projects of their own choosing. Little did we know the impact these lab days would have on our company’s internal motivation, our employees’ skillsets, and our ability to work collaboratively in innovative ways. Now, four years in, we’ve broken down our insights into best practices for other companies to follow, to help them achieve similar success. Innovation days go by many names, but the key elements are consistent: Bring together a few people, set up a basic process, and tackle acute problems. At its core, a “lab day” is any amount of time devoted to team collaboration on an agreed upon problem or project. Companies from Google to small start ups are finding that committing to lab days can make an immense impact on productivity and engagement in every other area of their business. Lab days engage our imaginations, address our restlessness, and allow us to tinker. During a lab day the blinders are on to other projects, email, and all other distractions. Teams of one to three people build for a set amount of time, then join with other teams at the end of the day to demo and get rapid feedback for next steps. Any organization with design thinkers and makers can use time like this to solve problems. Our path to lab days At CauseLabs, a software strategy firm, we began lab days a few years ago after one of our staff members came back from a conference with the idea of doing an internal day of innovation. Nonprofits...

The Ethics of UX Research

As a UX researcher for a social media operation, Ute considers different interface designs that might allow users to make more social contacts. Ute gets a radical idea to test her hunches: What if we manipulated some of our current users’ profile pictures and measured the impact of those changes on their friends list? If successful, her research would provide valuable insight into the social media design elements most likely to result in sociability online. Of course, a successful study would also diminish the experiences of thousands already using her company’s service. In Ute’s mind, this is a simple A/B test, yet in the wake of recent controversy surrounding social media research, she’s starting to wonder if she should be concerned about the ethics of her work. As a research scientist and professor at two different universities, I work to better understand the social and psychological impact of technology on human communication. Our experiments have tested the limits of accepted research design practice, with designs ranging from the manipulation of romantic jealousy using social networks to studying the impact of induced stress and boredom on video game experiences, and a host of other experiments and observations. Yet, these studies all share a common element: they were all subject to intensive internal and external ethical review practices to ensure that participants in these studies were both informed (either before or after the study concluded) and unharmed. On these two points, recent debates surrounding the recent Facebook “emotional contagion” study have centered on notions of informed consent (Did Facebook users know they were in a study?) and minimizing harm (Were any...

Designing Sites for Nonprofits

Search “nonprofits and website usability” and Google will spit out dozens of great posts on user experience. What it won’t give you, however, is something that many cash and resource-strapped nonprofits value even higher – advice on how to manage the site. Where well-off companies might leave site management to a content strategist or IT director, nonprofits rely on us—the UX professionals building their sites—to find alternative solutions. After many discussions with people in the nonprofit sector, I’ve learned that developers and consultants tend to focus on exciting features and intuitive user flows (as well they should), but neglect to discuss one key element with their clients: what will happen after the site launches? As a result, nonprofits waste valuable resources trying to work with sites their staff can’t manage to update or maintain. Their websites grow stagnant and unusable at a time when even the poorest of the people they serve are searching for online resources. Essentially, for small to medium-sized nonprofits (and even some small businesses), a great website is defined not by groundbreaking bells and whistles, but by the basic features many web companies overlook. In other words, in our efforts to provide an excellent end-user experience, we can’t neglect the site admin’s experience. Last August I combed through the 77 applications for Chicago Cause, a competition in which a nonprofit is chosen to receive a free new website. Flipping through the applications, I found myself getting frustrated for these organizations—many of which couldn’t do anything with their websites. Here’s a sampling of what these nonprofit directors said: “What I’d really like is to be able...

NUX Leeds, 28 August, Designing usable number entry interfaces

NUX Leeds returns with beer and pizza provided by our sponsors ebuyer and SimpleUsability from 6pm onwards and Sarah Wiseman’s talk at 6.30pm. For years research has been conducted in the field of text entry, and has led to some innovative designs for alphabetic text entry interfaces, but little attention has been paid to the way we enter numbers. Number entry is a highly pervasive task, whether it be entering our PIN at an ATM, or dialing a phone number to entering in financial data or medical information. Sarah Wiseman investigates number entry interfaces, and looks at the important aspects to consider when designing them. First, Sarah will cover the importance of getting number entry interfaces right, and will highlight examples of what happens when it goes wrong. Then she will talk about the aims of her research and what conclusions can be drawn from it. This will include design recommendations on implementing number entry interfaces with a UCD approach, including ways in which designers can reduce the number entry error rate for users. She will explain the cognitive theory behind number entry, and how this compares to what we know about text entry. Running order 6:00 – 6:30 Pizza & refreshments, provided by our sponsors ebuyer and SimpleUsability 6:30 – 7:30 Sarah Wiseman will talk about designing number entry interfaces 7:30 – 8:00 Open discussion and networking Free tickets Get free tickets here: Online event registration for NUX Leeds, 28 August, Designing usable number entry interfaces powered by Eventbrite Venue NUX Leeds will take place at the new SimpleUsability offices at Marshalls Mill. ebuyer are providing pizza for this event, while SimpleUsability are providing beer and...

UX IRL: Syncing the Online and Offline Experience

As technology and real-life interactions converge, the digital-physical blur is transforming how people experience the world. Wearable tech like Nike FuelBand is creating a stir in the consumer market, but embedding technology in everyday products is just one aspect of the increasingly thin line between the web and “IRL” or “In Real Life.” For UX professionals, this trend calls for a fresh look at ideas of trust and authenticity, human motivation, and community building. The digital-physical blur refers to any product or service that either embeds technology into a device beyond the “typical” use case of computers, smartphones, and tablets or that feeds data from real-life interactions back into technology, improving the quality of those interactions as more data enters the system. It’s the latter scenario that interests me most: how can we merge technology and real life to create the best experiences? Many companies are beginning to explore the digital-physical blur. Facebook, for example, now offers a Nearby Friends feature, which enables users to locate Facebook friends offline using geolocation data. In this instance, online “friends” become real-world connections. Such blurring of online and offline interaction hits at what HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah implied when he said, “humans crave a total experience.” Yet to provide a total experience, design and engineering teams must look for areas where technology frequently fails to account for real human interaction patterns. Among these are: Building trust Increasing motivation Creating a sense of camaraderie Luckily, “IRL” experiences excel at all three,which is why many companies are syncing digital tools with real world, offline experiences. Building trust Building trust and assessing personal compatibility are...