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Jan 18 12

UX design principles in UIT (at Tufts?)

by Melanie St. James


Gone are the days when we built everything from scratch. We are in an era of Software as Service, 3rd-party product implementation, open source… More than ever, it is important to integrate core UX principles in IT projects.

Need: A definition of UX

  1. Consider the complex eco-system in which this new project (tool or service) will live in.
    • How can a new project help simplify the “technology landscape” at Tufts?
    • Will this new project involve asking users to learn one more destination, one more system name, one more url? (can it be avoided?)
    • Can this project be integrated with other related tools or services? (or make it look like it’s integrated)
    • Is it a hermetic 3rd party product, or can we link to specific pages inside the new system from other websites? (you’d be surprised…)
  2. Get end-users involved.
    • Talk to real end-users, early and often.
    • Do not create user requirements based on business requirements
    • You are not the end user (in most cases)
  3. Each project requires its own UX approach
    • UX work is not one-size fits all

I am keeping a list of resources to consult in this post:

IBM’s User-Centered Design principles

For each principle, the goal is to involve users — to ask the right people the right questions.

Set business goals. Determining the target market, intended users, and primary competition is central to all design and user participation.

Understand users. A commitment to understand and involve the intended user is essential to the design process. If you want a user to understand your product, you must first understand the user.

Assess competitiveness. Superior design requires ongoing awareness of the competition and its customers. When you understand your users’ tasks, you must test those same tasks against competitive alternatives and compare their results with yours.

Design the total user experience. Everything a user sees and touches is designed together by a multidisciplinary team. This includes the way a product is advertised, ordered, bought, packaged, maintained, installed, administered, documented, upgraded, and supported.

Evaluate designs. User feedback is gathered early and often, using prototypes of widely ranging fidelity, and this feedback drives product design and development.

Manage by continual user observation. Throughout the life of the product, continue to monitor and listen to your users, and let their feedback inform your responses to market changes and competitive activity.

Jan 18 12

UX guiding principles

by Melanie St. James

Over the next months, I want to distill UX guiding principles we can use on most projects.

Here is a bookmark to an article.

Here’s an important one:

  • Acknowledge that the user is not like you

UX: UCD Principles
Design: Design Basics

The Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines

Jan 10 12

Forms: Usability Checklist

by Melanie St. James

Here’s a nice resource from A List Apart on Usability of Forms:

Sections in the article cover:

  • Use the right field for the task
  • Give them room to type
  • Shorten your forms and question “mandatory” fields
  • Mark mandatory fields clearly
  • Provide descriptive labels for all of your fields
  • Let the computer, not the user, handle information formatting
  • Use informative error messages
  • Don’t return users to an altered form

Also: care should be taken to design forms for a logical path when tabbing from field to field. I thought this practice was gone, until I requested an account on the Trek to Talloire site yesterday. The fields took me from “Home Address” to “Email Address” to “Town/City” to “Confirm Email Address”.

Dec 19 11

Mobile pattern resources

by Melanie St. James

There’s a couple of really good mobile pattern resources on the web:

- Thanks to IXDA for this thread -

Dec 5 11

Push mobile site for 7inch tablet (Kindle)

by Melanie St. James

I have no idea if Kindles are part of the Tufts landscape, but as we think of mobile, this column offers an interesting insight.

Nielsen’s recommendation: Serve the mobile version for kindles (7-inch) instead of the standard website version.

Sounds like iPad (10-inch) and up get the website version.

Dec 2 11

Card Sorting presentation from Tisch Library

by Melanie St. James

At our last meeting, Thom Cox, and Kate Bronstad from the Tisch library and Heather Klish from University Library Technology Services (ULTS), shared insights using card sorting to get user feedback on the redesign of the Tisch library website.


  • 1hr sessions with individual participants (so far: 5 students, 3 faculty)
  • 1 session leader, 1 note taker
  • They used 35 cards, which seemed to be a good amount. Participants didn’t feel overwhelmed, and good information came out of each session
  • For their purpose, they found “open card sort” worked better than a “closed card sort”.
  • Participants could rename labels / annotate. Cards could also be left out.
  • Warm up exercise to help them to think about it

Some of the take-aways of card sort:

  • Helps rethink “content strategy”
  • The value of card sort is to derive “User Stories”, to help discover paths through information based on different types of users.
  • Current site reflects organizational structure. Not helpful to users.
  • Users want to access resources, not a gateway to resources
  • Assumption that the search box on the site can search all content/resources

Findings we can apply to other sites. (I might be going out on a limb here, but this is in line with other studies I did)

  • Keep language simple, conversational.
  • Specialized terms don’t always resonate with users (ex: “collections”)
  • Make content scannable.
  • Simplicity, white space
  • Don’t seek full consensus. Lose being effective.

The team also conducted Ethnographic studies:

See a description of card sort here.

Dec 2 11

Card Sorting

by Melanie St. James

Card sorting is a user-centered design method for increasing a system’s findability. The process involves sorting a series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or functionality, into groups that make sense to users or participants.

Read more:

Sep 22 11

Sample Size

by Melanie St. James

From Jakob’s Neilsen’s Alerbox, March 19, 2000

Some people think that usability is very costly and complex and that user tests should be reserved for the rare web design project with a huge budget and a lavish time schedule. Not true. Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.

Sep 22 11

Launching the UIT UCD Affinity Group

by Melanie St. James

Thank you to all who participated in the kick off meeting for the UIT UCD affinity group.

If you would like to be invited to future meetings, please let me know!

Best, Mélanie St.James