So Take A Look At Me Now

Here at Emerald we pride ourselves on our ‘Customer First’ approach when creating new and developing existing products. What does that mean? In short this means gathering insights from our users to further develop our offerings. Insights from users are often invaluable, as internal members of the business can fall into the trap of presuming they’re the end user and assuming that the customer will interact with products and services in the same way they do.

This is where gathering insights from our users can be like a breath of fresh air!
Getting the end user perspective can give us an idea as to what features users want from our products, what currently frustrates them, their usage behaviour and much more. This in turn reduces the risk element of any new or existing product development.

Now you have a bit of a background, we can begin to focus on the main topic: What to look for whilst observing a usability session.

Inviting colleagues who are not part of the user research team to attend usability sessions is not a new concept. This is something that is happening more frequently across different businesses. However, as a colleague with limited research exposure what exactly are you supposed to look for in these sessions? This blog aims to give an insight into observation techniques and other tips which will help you get the most out of your experience.

 

1.     It’s not always what the users say, but more what they do.

This is the golden rule of observation. However, don’t take it from me, this is also mentioned by Jakob Nielson who is a pioneer within the User Experience (UX) industry. His three basic rules of usability are:

  1. Watch what people actually do

  2. Don’t believe what people say they do

  3. Definitely don’t believe what people say that they may do in the future

There is arguably much more to be gained from the actual observation of user interaction, rather than their verbal interpretation of what they have done.

 

2.     Have an open mind…

This is important if you’re in the same room when observing the session!
It is human nature to feel passionate about things that you have been working on, and completely natural to take it personal when someone dislikes it. However, just as we can pick up on user behaviour, users can also pick up on our behaviour. If a user dislikes an element of the product that you are invested in, try to avoid making this known. Although this is mainly the responsibility of the moderator, it is also your responsibility as an observer to control as much as your personal bias as possible as this may deter the user from providing further feedback. After all, all feedback is valuable!

 

3.     Body language

When the user is interacting with the product, do they look confused? Disinterested? Enthusiastic? You should be vigilant in listening to the participant, but you should also focus on the nonverbal behaviours such as posture or facial expressions.
This non-verbal data can be tied in to the other qualitative feedback you observe to give a more well-rounded view of how exactly the user was feeling during the test.

4.     Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important elements for us as researchers and particularly for design thinkers because it allows us to truly understand and uncover the latent needs and emotions of the people we are designing for.

Empathy is a social process by which a person has an understanding and awareness of another’s emotions and/or behaviour and can often lead to a person experiencing the same emotions.

On this definition alone experiencing a product through the eyes of the user should add further context to the conclusions you draw from the session.  At the bottom of this blog is a link to a short video from Brené Brown who discusses the importance of empathy. I suggest you check it out!

 

5.     Note taking

Lastly, to get the most out of your session you’ll also need to know how to take effective notes. I won’t go in to the ins and outs of note taking as it could be blog in its self, however below I’ve listed the do’s and don’ts when capturing insights from usability sessions.

Do’s
– Record as many key observations/findings as possible.
– Group your notes based on the scenario / web page / section being tested.
– Write down key quotes from participants to illustrate key issues.
– Note timings alongside each finding (so you can go back through the recordings).
– Write a quick summary of observations / findings between each session.

Dont’s
– Take more notes than you need to – focus on the research objectives.
– Take notes copiously if you are running the session.

 

So, there you have it! I hope this blog has given you a better understanding of observational techniques, and don’t forget to check out the Brené Brown on Empathy clip I mentioned earlier.

 

 

Author: Milan Patel

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


UX Roadtrip!

A mistake commonly made by website designers is to consider browsing to be merely a form of transportation; simply taking users from one location to another. As a result, a user’s commute between webpages has often only been assigned an instrumental value. That is to say, it is not seen as having value in itself. Instead, it is only considered valuable because it assists in achieving something valuable; getting users to where they wanted to go. A user’s browsing then has traditionally been seen as a journey akin to a commute, a type of activity which reduces the amount of time users are able to spend at their desired destination.

The aim of UX-focused design is to create websites which transform these commutes to into pleasurable experiences. In other words, UX aims to transform the humdrum commute to work into a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive.

To do this, good UX designs the architecture of websites and the layout of pages to suit not only the needs of its users but also their understanding of how pieces of content organically fit together in the minds of users. The often rigid divisions between one web page and another or one piece of content from the other is dissolved in good UX design. Content and the pages in which that content is hosted becomes seamless. There are no boundaries, everything is integrated.

Good UX design is not a matter of opposing traditional website design. It should not ignore the learned habits and behaviours they have developed in users. However, it should not be beholden to what has gone before. Good UX design should constantly look to improve what already exists. It should map itself closer to user needs and, thereby, provide the user with a more satisfying and authentic browsing experience.

 

Author: Adrian Paylor

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


How to Tap into the Constellation of Assumptions

In the quest to provide users with the best possible experience, a key priority for all UX designers is to make their products as ‘intuitive’ as possible.

The term ‘intuitive’ has been adopted by UX designers to refer to products which require little mental exertion from users and, thereby, are easy to use, navigate and understand. However, using ‘intuitive’ in this way can be problematic. It can mask the real reason for why such designs require little cognitive effort from their users.

The term ‘intuitive’ may conger up the notion that a design is able to tap in to the natural instincts of its users. However, this is misleading. For instance, no one is born with the knowledge or expectation that the search bar of a webpage will appear towards the top of the screen.

Instead, ‘intuitive’ design taps into the constellation of assumptions, preferences, habits, learned behaviours, prejudgements, actions and expectations which have developed both consciously and unconsciously from their past experiences as a user. Indeed, this has led UX designers to call for ‘intuitive’ design to be relabelled ‘recognizable’ design. Yet, to abandon the term ‘intuitive’ in favour ‘recognizable’ would downplay the importance of cognitive ease which is crucial to the user experience.

However, does this then mean that ‘intuitive’ design is inevitably just the perpetuation of design details familiar to the user? No.

Whilst is it true that many ‘intuitive’ UX designs do just simply reflect the learned habits, assumption and expectations of users, good ‘intuitive’ UX design does much more.

Good ‘intuitive’ UX design is innovated albeit in a very particular way. It takes users existing constellation of assumptions, preferences, habits, etc., and détournes them. That is to say, it reroutes them, it hijacks them. It attempts to arrange them in new and novel ways. It uses them as the foundations for integrating innovative elements into a design. If successful, over time these innovations themselves come to inform what is considered ‘intuitive’. Consequently, ‘intuitive’ design is continually evolving; taking familiar design elements and blending them with fresh approaches.

 

Author: Adrian Paylor

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Let me tell you a story

As we have been getting to grips with Agile ways of working we have been evolving the way we communicate within the team, the way we approach planning and refinement as well as the ceremonies. One of the most important things that we have found is the need to ensure our user stories are focussed on valuable end user outcomes.

We use the ‘As A, When, Then’ method which is a pretty standard way of articulating stories, but fully understanding what the value of the stories are has been the real challenge. Almost anyone can write a story which outlines the needs for a particular function, but are they able to write stories outlining how the end user, the most important person, really benefits from the creation of said function? This is the challenge that we have been stepping up to, and continue to learn and work on.

During the refinement of stories and acceptance criteria, we are starting to really dig deep into the user stories and asking ‘why are we doing this’. If the stories do not have a real end user benefit, why are we doing it? Ultimately we should be working on tasks that have a real benefit to our users, rather than something that we think should be done because we a) already do it, b) think it sounds like a good idea, or c) because we can. It is this mindset to writing stories that will help everyone, from Dev to Stakeholder, really understand how we are making a worthwhile product for the people that keep the business a success.

This is an ever-evolving process and it is great to have an open minded team to bounce the stories off for clarity, or to challenge the reasons for having them in the first place.

There is also the minefield of Business Requirements vs End User Requirements which can greatly assist in confusing the user stories. But that is a whole other story to tell…

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Nuestra CASA es vuestra CASA

Record cards in wooden drawerOur recent user research has revealed that one of the biggest bugbears for our customers is getting hold of content when they’re not at their home institution.

A number of technologies aim to solve this problem, including VPNs, proxy servers and federated access. While all of these systems work, they also put extra actions between the user and the content they’re looking for. User research indicates that the more steps there are between intent & fulfillment, the less likely it is that the user will persist to the fulfillment stage. As a result of this, we’re always looking for ways to make the user journey smoother, and the CASA initiative recently launched by Google Scholar promises to help do just that.

Campus-activated Subscriber Access (CASA) builds on the existing Subscriber Links program, adding seamless authentication and content access to Google Scholar links to Emerald content. When readers use GS on-campus, CASA notes their institution and associates that with their device or Google account for 30 days. When they later use Google Scholar off-campus with the same device or user account, CASA will send confirmation of their affiliation to Emerald, and we will use that to verify their access to the content they wish to read. No passwords, no virtual networks – if you have a subscription, we’ll take you straight to the paper.

As this builds on Subscriber Links, CASA will automatically work if you have that set up for your institution – you don’t need to do a thing. The process is seamless for the end-user as well, and requires no actions on their part.

 

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Gotta Be Starting Something

Hello, world! My name is Asad, and I joined Emerald around seven weeks ago as a user experience (UX) Developer. First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone at Emerald. It is not always easy to transition into a new career, meeting new people and learning the ins-and-outs of a business, but the people at Emerald made me feel welcome and made the transition a seamless experience.

To be clear, I have never held the role of a user experience designer before my current position at Emerald. Sure, I had created wireframes, prototypes and assumption based personas, but I had never really delved into UX. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was only skimming the surface. There’s so much more in UX than meets the eye. To be completely honest, I thought UX was wireframing, designing and creating interactive prototypes. Sure, that’s a part of it, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. To get to the wireframing and designing stage, you need to know what you want to improve; you need to plan and conduct research sessions and come up with innovative solutions to problems that don’t just imitate other solutions but improve on them.

 

I think it is fantastic how the team is very well organised, and how we have a set UX process. That does not mean that we do not look for new solutions and software that may make our jobs easier. We have the freedom to look at new software, techniques, process changes and are actively encouraged to share these findings with the team

 

It was up to me whether I wanted to undertake a project myself so I chose to get cracking straight away and began to lead my first project. I was tasked with seeing if we could improve the way our customers consume content from Emerald. To find out what we can do as a business to help our customers find the content they’re looking for faster with as little effort as possible. The research began!

 

I began gathering data on existing methods of content consumption by conducting a competitor analysis with both direct and indirect competitors. I analysed the data that was accumulated to see what the best approach for Emerald would be and used all of that collective information to come up with a potential solution. Finally, I began to create a complete roadmap for tasks (with timeframes) of ways in which we can take the data gathered to create the potential solution I devised and showed key stakeholders to get their feedback.

 

Currently, we’re in the process of conducting further research, which may include wireframes and prototypes (the part I love) to get a better understanding of user requirements and to determine if the solution works for our audiences. To be honest, leading this project was daunting. I have never lead a project before, and I had never done any of the tasks that I was given previously. It was a learning experience, which was frustrating at times, but overall it was a worthwhile endeavour that I have learnt a great deal from. If everything was perfect and people knew every task that they started, the UX role would not exist. I am now at a stage where I am taking on multiple projects simultaneously, and completing tasks that I have also never done before. That is something that I am very proud of. Just remember, experiment, fail, learn, grow, prosper and repeat!

 

I would like to finish off this blog post by providing some resources for UX designers, especially if you are new to the whole UX role (like me), but also for UX pros. You can learn about the different processes that businesses go through, all the different terminology and current best practices (which are always changing). I wish you all the best of luck in everything that you do, whether that is UX or something else.

 

  1. https://uxmastery.com/archives/
  2. https://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/
  3. https://www.invisionapp.com/blog

 

I have already learnt a great deal, and I am incredibly excited to learn more in the future with Emerald.

 

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Moving on up

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, so when we learned that publishers were required to update their article pages to keep in line with revised search engine specifications, we took the opportunity for a little reinvention.

We were informed that we needed to move the abstract further up the article page, to aid search engine crawlers to index pages as efficiently as possible. Coincidently, this was something that we had already been thinking about as you would have seen in our previous blog post. We wanted our users to get to the content (the thing that they are interested in) as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

We listen to every bit of feedback that we receive from our users, and hoard these little nuggets of insight to ensure that when we make changes, we deliver things that are both relevant and useful. As we were having to make some changes, we decided to go back through everything we had related to the article page, and incorporate some of these suggestions and fix any problems that our users face.

Pre re-design

In a happy coincidence, the overwhelming theme in the feedback, was that the position of the original header box containing the journal information was forcing the content too far down the page. Meaning that it was hidden from view. Our users wanted the content in plain sight, they wanted it above the fold so that they could see it without having to scroll down.

So, at the risk of using too many sayings, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and move the journal information section to the right-hand column of the page. This then meant that the content was immediately accessible, and naturally created a section of tools and information relating to the article, to the right of the page.

 

This is not just an issue on Emerald Insight, even some of the biggest sites in the world experience this same problem due to different browser sizes and windows restricting visibility. Here are a couple of blog posts from staff at Google discussing the problem:

http://googlecode.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/introducing-google-browser-size.html

https://search.googleblog.com/2012/01/page-layout-algorithm-improvement.html

 

 

 

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited

 


Better clarity on article pages in academic publishing

Hypothesis and goals

Recently one of the tasks for UX at Emerald has been to look into improving the article pages. The hypothesis and guiding goals behind this project were to improve layout to aid simplification in consuming and reading articles. The existing layout provided a cluttered experience for the user with elements competing for space, and a mixture of legacy features and displaced features competing for visual attention.

original article page

Discovery workshop

Our aim of initial research was to understand the functionality and features our users would expect as a minimum, and if there are any improvements we could implement.  To start with we held a discovery workshop with subject matter experts to explore the hypothesis and provide some initial pathways to research.

Personas

Starting out with our key personas identified from the discovery, we looked at Students due to being heavy consumers of our research. Our secondary personas were editors who would have great ideas on how to make improvements to support further research creation. we also considered authors, who both create and consume our articles.

Student persona

Analysing analytics and benchmarking

We carried out some benchmarking based on heuristic analysis on sites to explore how other similar sectors approached the hypothesis, what was working and what wasn’t.

Also, this was a good time to grab the analytics to reflect a variety of sections which were relevant to the research. This allowed us to gain data insights and patterns that may point towards sections that were working, and not. This combination allowed to formulate some initial paths to take in discovery.

Usability testing

We found a quick set of usability tests on how students used our article pages really helped us here. All remote with students, the insights we got here were useful and sometimes surprising!

Out of this early discovery we then had a priority list of improvements on which to explore within sketching exercises.

Collaborative design and wireframes

One of the great things about collaborative design is that it can involve a variety of people (Users, Subject matter experts, Developers, Product Owners & Stakeholders) and this approach means it’s a more open and broader creative thinking process which gives a perspective one group of participants just might not think of.

We sat down with pens, paper whiteboards and post-its, working together & talking through the scenario. Quickly producing (and binning) ideas that cumulated in a set of wireframe sketches ready to test.

A few key areas of the page were focused on, one of the existing issues was that the journal and article information, plus the article tools were all mixed in together visually. We took the tools and gave them their own panel in the sidebar, and made primary actions a focus, while pulling back the lesser used actions into a dropdown to create space.

Also, we took the journal information and gave this its own panel, again in the right sidebar. This had two positive outcomes. it brought the abstract further up the page, and vastly simplified the article reading flow by stripping the article flow down to basic essentials, thereby giving the article & journal information a separation and more defined sections on the page.

Other simplifications explored were moving citations and downloads to the foot of the article, and providing a dedicated section in the sidebar for citations and references.

Article page wireframes

Hi-fidelity prototypes and testing

Usually in a research and design scenarios our process would now move onto digital wireframes which we would prototype and test.

On this occasion, we took our first iteration of paper sketched wireframes and built a quick high-fidelity prototype to show some simple interactions in Invision. We could then take this prototype & test remotely with users and share out the initial idea with stakeholders.

From these results, we iterated feedback back into the prototype, adjusting and refining until such a point we had an initial release we could develop into a working mvp.

Hi fidelity prototype for article page

Reflection

The outcome was an evolved and improved user experience with defined sections for reading, tools and overarching journal information. The article is now simplified, with less visual noise cluttering up the natural article reading flow. Secondary tasking & information such as Journal information & article tools were placed in panels to create defined sections, making the article the primary focus.

Going forward over time we would take a further look at heat mapping and analytics to measure the outcome, and if there is any way in which we can further refine this area.

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Agile ways of working for the win

This week we launched our new open access (OA) programme, Emerald Reach, to the world. This is the result of months of iterative webpage designs and builds, with lots of cross departmental collaboration to bring Emerald Reach to life.

We have created a portal within Emerald Insight with direct access to specifically browse OA content, and links through to the corporate website, containing the new OA policy information. What looks like a simple, yet sleek set of web pages actually has a lot of experimentation bubbling under the surface. This is the first time our users have been able to browse only open access content through emeraldinsight.com, marking an important shift in the discoverability of accessible content from Emerald Publishing.

Our developers spent a lot of time looking into ways of injecting CSS into our website to really highlight the OA content and improve the user’s experience site wide, not just on the new Emerald Reach pages. With quick turnarounds needed on design changes based on stakeholder feedback, the product team evolved its working in the most agile way yet.

The page is live and the Emerald Reach programme has been communicated to the world, but the story does not end there. There will be continuous user testing and iterative improvements on the pages using Scrum methodology as the offering develops and grows, so please check it out HERE and let us know your thoughts.

 

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Explore Emerald Insight on the move

This week sees the launch of our new ‘responsive’ version of Emerald Insight, so grab your mobile and take a look.

I say ‘responsive’ because it won’t completely expand and contract fluidly regardless of the display size, it will snap into place because the page is serving something different depending on the device it is viewed on.

So what? you may think. It’s all just semantics. Well, we want you to know that this is a long-term project and the first in a long line of releases. We may be constrained a little by some platform issues, but we will continue to iterate and improve the site regardless, with future enhancements based on the feedback from our users – i.e. you.

Now that we can offer a tailored mobile experience, we feel we’ve made a big step forward, but we don’t want to stop there. Currently every piece of functionality that exists on the desktop site, is also visible in the mobile experience. Does it all need to be there? Could we strip some of it out? Can we hide elements and present a lighter and more streamlined user experience?

Over the coming months, we will be embarking on rounds of user testing across the globe. Tapping into the expertise of those who interact with our site and products, in order to truly hone the mobile experience and provide our users with all that they need to get the most from Emerald Insight on the move.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your mobile and have a flick through the site. If you have any comments, thoughts or ideas, please get in touch. Any and all feedback is useful, we would love to hear from you.

 

 

© 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited