March 10, 2021No Comments

Notion Diary Study

Overview

This Study was done over the course of 4 weeks with the goal of learning and exploring new research gathering types, while it did not lead to further study or design, it helped gain understanding of user research techniques.

Alignment is one of the most critical and challenging tasks when it comes to building products. With COVID-19 forcing people to work from home, communication evolved to Zoom meetings and Slack messages. Keeping everyone aligned on deadlines, tasks, and the roadmap is key to moving forward. As technology progresses and companies continue to function remotely, we must find a solution that keeps us organized and collaborative.

The Challenge

Notion is quickly growing in popularity for teams who struggle to manage their products. One can write, plan, collaborate, and get organized. Although it strives to create a simple, beautiful, and easy-to-use product for its customers, sometimes Notion under-delivers in reliable, seamless, and easy use.

Our overarching goal was to understand Notion users' behaviors in planning and managing personal tasks and events, their needs, and where improvements may be necessary. As a primary method, we pored through Notion's subreddit to illuminate some of the high-level issues and pains before sending questions to our participants.

Process

Meeting to go over our goals, participant gathering, and application, we firmed up Notion due to our perception of its popularity and multi-use utility. Gleaning Notion’s subreddit gave us a more holistic idea of our user’s problems and some of the questions we want to ask.  Based on this research, we focused our questions on gaining context and experiences from users.

It was decided that using Notion to create our diary study form would be beneficial because we would know participants who actually used it. We would also gain our own personal insights through our personal use. Contextual questions were placed in the study form to evaluate participants' present level of savvy, environment, and motivations for using Notion. Our second grouping of questions was meant to gauge what participants experienced while using Notion.

A bit of foresight influenced our decision to have our six participants make entries a few times weekly for four weeks. We knew that some participants would probably wane before the study's conclusion and that some entries would not be as beefy as others. We were not immune to difficulties.  Monitoring and periodical encouragement was necessary to motivate some participants to keep up with their entries.  Even with gentle prodding, some did not see the study through.  We chalked this up to dissatisfaction with Notion for one reason or another. We decided to interview these participants further to understand if it was something we said, actually an issue with the app, or personal reasons that scared them off. We could still use this information to formulate the next steps and ideas for improvement or jobs-to-be-done.

Discovery Insights: Diary Study

Themes

At the entry phase's conclusion, all of the data collected was migrated into InVision Freehand for synthesis. Taking a user-centered approach to distilling patterns, an Affinity Map was created to help synthesize the data. Each participant, question, and entry were organized into a table grid. We categorized data by user profile, needs/goals, tasks, likes, pains/frustrations, and feature requests. Our group discussed each entry's patterns and outliers and cultivated ideas for jobs to be done and the next steps from this synthesis.

  • Onboarding - Participants struggled to figure out the controls and features, lots of trial and error. Not immediately apparent what is draggable more the features that are available to you. More advanced users noted they are still learning new features.
  • Formatting - Participants felt that Notion made it hard to get the formatting they desire and slow down their workflow.
  • Integrations - While users found some of the existing integrations helpful, they lacked some critical integrations to our user's workflow.

https://projects.invisionapp.com/freehand/document/26MappwyS

Next Steps & Conclusion

Notion is a robust data solution with free-form templates and prolific configuration and customization possibilities. It is simple to set up for projects, taking notes, and organizing tasks. Notion still needs to make onboarding easier. For first-timers, understanding which template to use can be difficult. Providing a guided experience that focuses on users’ goals, like creating a grocery list or taking notes for anatomy class, can help them decide which layout will work best for each use.

When students take notes, they want an efficient workflow that formats their notes and allows them to simultaneously follow along in class. Giving them more automation and added machine learning technology would help them gain efficiency and not feel left out of the lesson or conversation. 

Providing plugins or integration with third-party applications to consolidate workflows and cut down on the number of applications used to accomplish tasks. Adding Google Calendar, Grammarly, a drawing application, or Microsoft Office 365 would help organize work and increase fluidity in collaborations with others. 

With the four weeks of data we collected, we felt that the concentrated themes need to be explored. 

Future Research

Guided Set-up as a potential solution 

Finding product examples and talking with users to see if this hypothesis could be implemented into the Notion onboarding.

User Testing and Analysis

Run testing with participants to firsthand see their workflow through Notion.Since we have uncovered pain-points in the process through their self-reporting, it would provide more specific feedback on the current design.

Resources

Final Presentation link

November 24, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Essay on the Aesthetic Usability Effect

One of the most frustrating experiences on the internet I believe are government websites.  I applied to the Nexus travel pass recently and on their website I encountered once again the boring blue bar across the top, the seal of whatever government branch it is related to, blue highlighted lettering, and no photos.  Pretty much just the most plain bland website you ever did see.  And that is my experience with all government websites, it is not a fun experience, and any issues that come up with it just leads to more frustration.  One of the things that these websites do not take into account is the aesthetic usability effect which says that users are more tolerant to issues when it is visually appealing.  This principal has roots in our basic psychology and often creates unknown biases before we even know it, it can be used to mask issues, but it can also be used by designers to make their products even better.

Psychologically, the aesthetic usability effect starts way before humans were even interacting with computers and electronic interfaces, it can find its root in what is called “the halo effect”.  A summary of the halo effect from the Neilson Norman group says: The "halo effect" is when one trait of a person or thing is used to make an overall judgment of that person or thing. It supports rapid decisions, even if biased ones. This has been studied since the early twentieth century by psychologists and has led people to equate things like height or good looks with qualities like intelligence or honesty despite having no correlation.  This can have one of two effects on the perceived object or person: 1. A single positive aspect perceived can outweigh negative ones or 2. A single negative perceived aspect can outweigh other positives.  It is only hypothesized why humans would be prone to this, but theories suggest that it would be important for our ancestors to make snap decisions in order to survive.  However, it is very clear based on many psychological studies, that we humans are prone to make very quick interpretation on very little data.

As someone who has experience in the field architecture, I can say that the “halo effect” also applies to the physical environment.  In architecture one of the things, we talk about as designers is form verses function.  One of the clearest examples in which the halo effect is made evident is when function overtook form in the brutalist architecture style.  A style characterized by stripping the design of all adornments and creating the most basic, functional design, usually appearing like a giant monstrosity of concrete in which architects find the beauty in its functionality and impact on the occupants, while the general public expresses their extreme distaste of the structure.  Take Boston City Hall or Gould Hall, both are seen as eyesores, yet have their cult-like following of true enthusiasts.  On the opposite spectrum you have the works like the Space Needle in Seattle in which functionally its usability is very limited in that it is mostly used as a lookout tower in Seattle for visitors, despite not coming close to being one of the tallest buildings there, however its interesting/iconic form brings visitors from all over the nation.

            Seeing how the “halo effect” can impact the physical environment it is not a very large leap to perceive how humans take this same approach with the technology that we interact with however a different name has been applied to it as it has become a tool for designers, the aesthetic usability effect. According to the Neilsen Norman Group, the aesthetic usability effect was first studied in 1995 when the Hitachi Design Center analyzed human-computer interaction through ATM interfaces.  In testing several UI interfaces with participants, the concluded there was a correlation with how users perceive ease of use verses and how they rate aesthetic appeal.  The aesthetics had a strong influence on how the functionality of the product was ultimately perceived.  This would spark the next question: how much this effect is true in terms of continual use.  Once you use a product, wouldn’t you recognize its inferiority to another more efficient product?  A study by Andreas Sonderegger & Juergen Sauer tested this, framing two different use cases, “prolongation of joyful experience’’-effect vs. ‘‘increased motivation’’-effect.  They compared somebody using their product in a leisurely setting verses how they might perceive its effectiveness in a workplace setting where they have a more focused task.  However, what was interesting is that both came out relatively the same with the researcher’s concluding that aesthetics plays a role in the perceived performance of a product despite different use cases. 

            Based on these studies it is clear that the aesthetic usability effect provides an important role in a users’ perception of a product.  They are more willing to look past problems with efficiency or other errors due to how it is initially perceived as aesthetically pleasing and therefore good in the users’ mind.  It is a fair assumption to say that as long as the product does not have any major flaws, the aesthetic usability effect will lead a person to choose a good-looking product over a product that focus’s solely on the functionality of the product.

This design principal can be very clearly applied to the field of user experience design.  The aesthetic usability effect is evidence that as the internet gets bigger and different products compete in red ocean markets that include many competitors, aesthetics are a crucial part to a successful design.  However, as designers who design for humans, the aesthetic usability effect can come into opposition with UX design because it can really undercut the purpose of UX design which is to create designs more suited to how humans think and work.  I think this becomes very apparent in product design as you see how despite being aesthetically pleasing, the form verses function and lack of user testing ultimately leads to its’ failure. 

A good example of this is a product called the Juicero, imagine a Keurig for smoothies, you insert a packet into the machine, and it squeezes you out a nice fresh cup of cold-pressed juice.  It seems like a good idea, and the machine that does the work looks like apple started creating kitchen appliances, all white with a sleek simple LED minimalist display that connect to WIFI.  The founder talked about it saying, “For me as a consumer I want to know where my produce is coming from, I want to know when it’s packed, and I want to know when it’s expired,” he explained. “So inside of the Juicero press there’s a scanner and on every pack of produce there’s a QR code… it’s making sure the produce is not expired.”  All this came at the price tag of $700 per Juicero machine.  The problem was there was not really a market for casual juicers who didn’t want to spend the time to use a blender but could drop $700 on a juicing machine.  Then there was the problem that despite having this great looking juicer, users could still squeeze the contents out of the custom packets faster than the machine could with pretty minimal effort.  I bring up this example because it shows the aesthetic usability effect does not negate the need for user testing and validation. 

The fundamentals of UX design rely on user research and testing and so it is important to know where the aesthetic usability effect fits into our design process.  Going back to architecture I think a very good example of this is the world renowned architect Frank Gehry.  Frank Gehry’s work is very interesting because it is unlike any buildings you have ever seen.  His work includes buildings like the MOPOP in Seattle, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation.  These spectacular curvaceous structures covered with reflective metal have often been criticized for just trying to gain peoples attention through their vibrant forms, however an interview with the architect himself gives one a very different picture of how he designs.  In an interview with Steve Cohen of The Cultural Critic he said, “Everything I design is from the inside. All my projects started with the function. Disney (the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) started with the sound of the orchestra, and Bilbao started with the gallery.”  Frank Gehry started his designs with what the people intended to do in the space, if it was for music, it started with the acoustics, for museum galleries it started with light.  These design decisions he made regarding these aspects ultimately, he allowed to inform the exterior design. 

In the same way I think that the aesthetic usability effect can be used in design as something that is informed by the functionality of the design and ultimately used to enhance the user’s experience, not dictate it.  An example of this is a comparison between Craigslist and OfferUp.  Craigslist remains one of the most used sites in the United States, it boasts a basic interface that has not had a major update in years and most people will agree it is not pretty.  OfferUp, a recent competitor took a similar approach to Craigslist in their user experience, yet it was updated with modern interface and mobile design.  This in recent years had made OfferUp a major competitor to Craigslist especially among the younger generation just starting to use those sorts of shopping applications.  I think it is a good example of how building upon a solid user experience with good aesthetic design is the way in which designers should apply this principle.

The Aesthetic usability effect is a great tool that should be used by designers, but it should be used after doing the appropriate user research and design.  In todays markets, products mostly need to be visibly appealing to draw users however it should be used as a tool to enhance design rather than drive design.  As in all design the question comes back to form verses function and the balance in which they play with one another. 

Bibliography:

Moran, Kate. “The Aesthetic-Usability Effect.” Nielsen Norman Group, 29 Jan. 2017, www.nngroup.com/articles/aesthetic-usability-effect/.

Neilsen, Jakob. “Halo Effect: Definition and Impact on Web User Experience.” Nielsen Norman Group, 9 Nov. 2013, www.nngroup.com/articles/halo-effect/.

Sonderegger, Andreas, and Juergen Sauer. “The Influence of Design Aesthetics in Usability Testing: Effects on User Performance and Perceived Usability.” Applied Ergonomics, vol. 41, no. 3, 2010, pp. 403–410., doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2009.09.002.

Cohen, Steve. “The Cultural Critic Is Your Source for in-Depth Reviews on Theater, Music, Books, Art and Travel.” Reviews on Theater, Reviews on Music, Reviews on Books, Reviews on Art, Reviews on Travel, Reviews by Steve Cohen, the Cultural Critic, 2019, theculturalcritic.com/frank-gehrys-innovative-architecture/.

October 16, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Understanding the User Experience Field

I first came to hear about the UX industry in my Sophomore year of college through an older mentor who had transitioned into the field years before. I can't say it sounded very appealing to me as what it came across as was just creating websites which did not excite me very much. Gradually I learned more about it and by the end of my senior year of college I was seriously considering going into the field.

However I was heavily invested in architecture so I thought to give it a try. But after my first internship at an architecture firm I decided it wasn't for me (refer to a previous post about this), and so I started my abrupt turn into UX with many of my friends, family, and old classmates wondering what in the world UX was.

I realized just how difficult this was to explain, because it wasn't just "building websites" in my mind. I would refer them to the things that excited me like Don Norman's works or Ideo projects, but I couldn't put into peoples minds exactly what it was. I came from a discipline that made the connection simple: I studied Architecture, to become an architect, to design buildings.

Online didn't help either as there were so many different definitions:

"User experience (UX) is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system, or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership."

Wikipedia

“UX design is the process of making websites, apps, and other pieces of technology (plus physical products) as easy and delightful to use as possible.”

Springboard

“UX design focuses on the interaction between real human users (like you and me) and everyday products and services, such as websites, apps, and even coffee machines. It’s an extremely varied discipline, combining aspects of psychology, business, market research, design, and technology.”

Career Foundry

I felt like when I read these definitions I would second guess if I even knew what UX Design was. It just seemed so vague, however it was Don Normans thoughts on the subject that I think really but what I had in mind into words:

"Products that provide great user experience (e.g., the iPhone) are thus designed with not only the product’s consumption or use in mind but also the entire process of acquiring, owning and even troubleshooting it. Similarly, UX designers don’t just focus on creating products that are usable; we concentrate on other aspects of the user experience, such as pleasure, efficiency and fun, too. Consequently, there is no single definition of a good user experience. Instead, a good user experience is one that meets a particular user’s needs in the specific context where he or she uses the product."

Don Norman

In short I think Don Norman is saying you cannot put UX in a box like architecture, architecture will adapt to a persons context in terms of location, but it will always be designing some sort of structure. UX on the other hand, the context determines your response and what your job actually is. You are not designing the product but the system the product operates in, yet it might appear that your only visible outcome is something like the app or website that might come out of it.

But that is just what good UX should do, it should be the invisible force behind the product that people don't see. Dain Miller puts it like this:

“UI is the saddle, the stirrups, & the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse.”

Dain Miller

September 24, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Design of Everyday Things, Survivorship Bias, and Magical Sinks

I was recently listening to a podcast by a rapper I listen to named Ruslan KD talking about current hot topics. He at one point referenced survivorship bias and how oftentimes people arrive at wrong solutions because of it.

This caused me to go down the rabbit hole of what survivorship bias is and I quickly saw how it connected a-lot to the book I was currently reading, Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things.

In WWII the United States Military was trying to figure out where they should reinforce their planes to avoid more bomber losses. Planes would come in from a bombing run, riddled with bullet-holes and they initially would try and reinforce those areas they saw being shot the most.

Then enters the statistician Abraham Wald who contradicts the military's conclusions and recommends adding armor to the areas on the plane that was actually hit the least. This was where Abraham brought in the idea of survivorship bias; they had only been assessing the ships who had returned and so most likely the places that were shot were ones that actually proved they could take damage and still return home safely. Because of this the military started reinforcing the parts of the planes that came back least damaged and lost fewer because of it.

In the design of everyday things, Don Norman talks about how people are quick to connect two things. He says,

People try to find causes for events. They tend to assign a casual relation whenever two things occur in succession.

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

People very quickly jump to conclusions for this very reason and often miss the real problem due to this casualness about accessing the problem.

When I was in high school I had one of these moments where in our bathroom at home the water would run in the toilet filling up after use for an abnormal amount of time. I would wash my hands and then leave and it would still keep going. One day after washing my hands I turned off the sink, stood there for a second, and then turned it back on. The toilet stopped. And so instantly a connection was made in my mind, every time I would use that bathroom I would turn the sink back on after I washed my hands. After a few months I mentioned this to my Dad who was very perplexed because he built the house and he knew that those pipes were not connected. We ran some tests and found out the amount of time it took me to wash my hands and turn the water back on was the amount of time it took for the toilet to stop filling.

Why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with survivorship bias? I think what it shows is that like Don Norman points out, people are prone to creating incorrect mental models based on casually assessing the problem. The military had a mental model based on the holes they saw in the plane and the fact planes went down that led to the conclusion they need to reinforce those areas. I had a mental model that the toilet was somehow connected to the sink. Both these were biases based on my mental model from my experiences.

How does this relate to UX then? I think these mental models show how people easy jump to conclusions and how we need to be a-lot more intentional with our design. Sure we are not going to be able to avoid people jumping to conclusions, but in the experiences that we should try and mitigate that the best we can. We should do ample testing to perceive how people interact with our products, tweaking the product rather than having to instruct people how to use it.

July 28, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Design Sprints and Hot-Air Balloons

The town I grew up in, Snohomish, was a pretty beautiful rural area with a-lot of mountains, farmland, rivers and lakes. It was famous for being a great place for both skydiving and hot-air balloons and many of my friends during the summer would often work for several of the companies around the area that did this during the summer. As I have been recently reading Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products by: Todd Lombardo, Richard Banfield, and Trace Wax, in a way I started to see correlations between Design Sprints and the Balloons I used to see in Snohomish.

One of the things I have consistently noted in this book is how often the author exhorts the design teams to come back and re-examine the problem after each exercise to make sure that it is on track. It reminds me of the hot-air balloons I used to watch get set up as a kid in my hometown. By this I mean that these design teams are trying to get this idea off the ground, much like the people setting up the hot-air balloon. But much like the balloon, design sprints are constantly tethering back their ideas to the problem so that their ideas do not take off too early.

The authors start by establishing a set of guidelines that seem to encourage teamwork mentioning:

"Our goal with these guidelines is to get the team to fall in love with solving the problem and not one of their own subjective solutions.

They then run through the problem to get everyone on the same page and work together to establish goals and anti-goals, separate facts and assumptions. After all this they come back together to define the problem once more, reframing in other ways and running it through challenge maps. This seems to again be tethering/grounding everyone firmly to the problem at hand before ideas really start to take off.

Seeing how an entire day can be spent really just unpacking the problem before even ideating reminded of how as UX designers, our designs really need to be a result of the problem. If the problem assumed is not correct then the ideas that come from it will in all likelihood not be correct. I think it is very easy to go off and come up with a-lot of cool ideas, but often I find that unless I am constantly tethering my ideas to the problem statement I will end up getting further away from the problem and more tied to my own ideas.

Coming back to the quote "Our goal with these guidelines is to get the team to fall in love with solving the problem and not one of their own subjective solutions." I think one thing that can be dangerous for designers in particular is falling in love with their solutions rather than the problem statement. It seems that unless you spend almost as much time and energy into defining the problem, then you will again and again fall into the hole of being consumed by your solution rather than actually solving the problem.

In my mind it comes back to the hot-air balloon, our ideas really need to be tied and grounded to the problem before we allow them to really take off. Allow that to be the point of reference rather than being so attached to the idea itself.

June 25, 2019Comments are off for this post.

The Bathroom Guy, Architecture to UX

At my first job out of college at an architecture firm , I was known as the “bathroom guy”, which probably does not have a positive connotation in any other industry, but to me, designing bathrooms was fascinating. 

Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and the quote that always hits me is:

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself.” 

Nobody notices good bathroom designs, yet I have found it to be the most intimate space for humans. From the placing of towel racks for the person who does not quite get all the soap out of their eyes while washing their face, to the size of the bathroom that would allow the space to heat up from the shower steam on a chilly Seattle morning, the seemingly boring space relies on good design. 

Being the “bathroom guy” helped me discover that designing for the human experience was what had captivated me about architecture in the first place and what I actually enjoyed about designing.

I focused my undergrad studies in the architecture field.  I found the studio environment to be a place where I could experiment with many ideas to just see what works. 

Along the way, design changed in my mind.  As I worked on projects that intersected with actual human needs, it became clearer to me as a way of problem solving based on real -world issues. 

A project that particularly stood out to me was an apartment for community Foster Care.  As I researched inadequacies in the foster care system, I found that many foster families lack a supportive community and find themselves overwhelmed by the fostering process.  Elderly residents, at the same time, reported feeling a sense of loneliness and lack of purpose.  The unique problem allowed me to design with the intention of connecting these two groups such that they could help one another. 

Foster Housing Project Courtyard

Each wall and path were created in order to promote interaction between the two groups, creating a sort of neighborhood for the residents to thrive.  This was an eye-opening experience for me, because it showed me the very real impact that design can have on our communities and daily lives.

My experiences up until recently have largely been the fundamentals of design with a sharp focus on the built environment.  Through this, I realized that even small changes in environmental design, even in the design of a bathroom, can impact the way we experience and interact with the world around us. There is so much impact that design can have on the human experience as a whole to create products that are responsive to our everyday lives rather than just aesthetics. 

In the short time I have been in this field I have found that this "bathroom guy" mentality is extremely effective in the development of modern UX as the desire for simplicity and utility are balanced much like designing a bathroom is.