User Experience

CloudMobeel – Can safe driving and mobile technology coexist?

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board advised against the use of cell phones while driving. While the NTSB was deciding what recommendation to follow, my teammates and I were researching alternative uses of technology that could aid in making driving safer while still allowing for the use of Mobile Technology. We came up with a concept called CloudMobeel

CloudMobeel Heads Up Display

CloudMobeel Heads Up Display

which would allow for a minimal interaction with mobile technology features without ever having to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes of the road. We aimed to accomplish this by creating a voice based user interface, with minimal visual aids that would be displayed on the windshield.Voice control + mobile tech together.

Here is a great quote we found from Ross Dawson during our research:

We’re on the verge of a significant transition to better human-machine
interaction…voice is one of the most important [parts], as
it’s generally the most efficient and is the least effort for
communication.” – Ross Dawson, Futurist

For the driver to have access to CloudMobeel, his phone would also need to be docked in a docking station, only allowing the user to use the touch screen of the mobile phone when in park mode. Curious? Check out our presentation by clicking here. Still curious? You can read our full paper with rich research, a historical review of our design iterations and the fine details here.

Hoping to make the world a better place through great and safe user experiences,

Diego

Dr. Jan Borchers – Making Things Usable

Dr. Borchers speaks about the “revolution of usability”, when consumers will have an everyday knowledge that will allow them to know whether a product is or isn’t usable naturally. This is a great video advocating nine usability rules that will become common knowledge to consumers and will drive future product consumption.

 

The User Experience of Religion: User Centered Research and Design for Religious Leaders

Religious experience is affected by the design of humans, namely religious leaders. Religious leaders (both in literature and in my case study) understand the importance of the user experience, even though they do not have a formal process for focusing on the user experience. They already recommend and follow some user centered design principles informally. If religious leaders take a formal approach for the experience design of their religious teachings and gatherings, such as the steps recommended in this paper, they will significantly improve the user experience of the participants in their religious gatherings.

This is one of the papers that I wrote for my Masters in Human Factors in Design in my Ethnography for Design class. I was running an ethnography study at a religious setting which prompted me to view it as a product, designed by the religious leader and consumed by the religious people.

You can download the full paper in PDF by clicking here. Alternatively you can click on the picture below to see the presentation. Have fun reading and improving the UX of your religious setting!

 

 

User Experience of Interactive Educational Systems: An iPad study

We are getting there. My research with Amanda Davis and Vignesh Krubai is moving. We first presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and last night we presented at the Microsoft NERD Center, at the World Usability Day event.

You can see the presentations slides by clicking on the picture below or you can read the blog post written by Amanda about the beginning of our qualitative findings. I can’t wait to be able to share some of our quantitative findings as well. We are currently in the process of analyzing eye-tracking data and electro dermal conductance data to pinpoint emotional user engagement. Once we have it ready, I will be glad to share it here.

 

Slides From Presentation at Microsoft NERD Center

Slides From Presentation at Microsoft NERD Center

 

WUD Blog Topic: Student Preferences for Digital vs. Paper Textbooks


By: Amanda Davis. First Published on The World Usability Day Website

Students use a variety of technologies to learn and complete assignments. In some cases, the form of technology is imposed by the schools. At other times, students can select their own interactions to engage in their studies.

Three student researchers – Diego Mendes, Amanda Davis, and Vignesh Krubai of Bentley University recently conducted an engagement comparison study between traditional paper textbooks and digital textbooks found on an iPad. All ten of the participants were students who owned iPads and use the internet for at least ten hours per week. This article will focus on the qualitative findings from their tests. Additional information about the research methods and support, provided by SMI and Affectiva, can be found at affectiva.com and www.eyetracking-glasses.com.

Among these students, common activities on their iPads include accessing the web, checking email, gaming and social networking. Some students additionally mentioned using eBooks, music application, course maintenance, movies and looking at powerpoints during class.

Each of the students were asked to do a series of tasks on the iPad version of the textbook, followed by the paper version of the textbook. When questioned about their preference between the digital and paper version of the textbook, half of the students preferred the iPad and the other half preferred paper textbook. Despite owning an iPad, half of the students preferred the traditional methods for studying.

The students liked the digital textbook for several reasons. A commonly cited advantage for the iPad version of the textbook was easier searching for content and easier navigation. One student liked the easy access to the internet for supplemental research. Several participants thought the structure was easier to understand on the iPad, but were worried about getting tired at looking at the screen and swipping to flip pages more frequently due to the small screen size.

On the other hand, students cited several reasons for using the paper version of the textbook. This included that pictures were clear and did not require enlarging to see them better. They also said paper versions of the textbook allowed for reselling, were cheaper to purchase, allowed for more freedom and were more comfortable. They also said they were able to view more information at one time and that the paper textbook was more reliable because the batteries would not die.

While all of our participants had invested in an iPad, this qualitative analysis gives insight into the reasons these same students choose traditional methods of engaging in the classrooms. Despite their access to the digital interaction, students do not have a market place for reselling their digital textbooks and end up spending more on digital texts book than on their paper equivalents. The challenge for wider adoption is to lower the costs of entry into digital textbooks, create a marketplace for reselling textbooks, and improve the reliability of e-readers.

iOS Apps Help Children with Special Needs Communicate and Learn

This was an interview that Melissa and I did with Jeffrey, a fellow Bentley alum and founder of Grembe which makes mobile applications to help children with special needs. Great read and Great company! First Published on The World Usability Day Website

*written by  Diego Mendes – UX Researcher and Melissa Leach – Research Associate at the User Experience Center


 Grembe is a small mobile application developer that builds applications for children with special needs for iPhone, iPad, iOS and Android. They currently offer two applications: iCommunicate which allows parents and educators to design visual schedules, storyboards, communication boards, routines, flash cards, choice boards, speech cards among other things; and iReward, which is a positive reinforcement chart for the iPhone/iPod.

Grembe was founded by a husband and wife team after facing challenges in behavior management with their own child with special communication needs. They had the idea of creating an innovative application to help families in behavior management, allowing for more accessible communication and understanding between children and their parents, educators and caregivers.

We recently had the opportunity to interview Jeffery Johnson, co-founder and software engineer at Grembe Apps.

How did the business grow and who benefits from Grembe’s applications?

When we originally put it out it was something that helped our son. Then a lot of people reached out to us. They’d say “This app is great!” and people started spreading the word. Suddenly we were hearing from professors in speech and language, medical specialists etc… saying “I’ve been using it for speech, echoing a word or phrases they have trouble with.” This was not our original intention, but we realized it could be used by children who had trouble understanding transitions. If you add a visual or audio element to the transition, that helps a lot. Grembe’s applications benefits anyone who need visual support to help with language, transitions, and communication.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for children with special needs and their parents as it relates to education and technology?

Parents will always be their child’s best advocate. To make choices in technology they rely on professionals to evaluate and trial devices. With the iPad exploding onto the scene, it is hard for professionals and parents to keep up with the hottest thing. There has also been an exponential growth in the number of special needs apps, so making choices on apps is also difficult. Another challenge is the relationship with health insurance companies which currently won’t cover the cost of an application. They may cover really expensive, traditional devices, but not an application. There is a push for this to change from parents and professionals, and we believe it will change. It is just a matter of time.

How can technology/design be used to help children with special needs? How far are we from an ideal point? Are you optimistic about the changes you are seeing?

It is very complicated to say one technology helps one need, as there is never one solution to any given problem. This also means there is no “ideal point” possible, as a child’s need is a moving target that changes almost hourly. What we like about the changes we are seeing is that game changers like the iPad force innovation and changes in the traditional special needs marketplace.

Can you speak more about the fact that a person’s need is a moving target that changes constantly and how that impacts your work as a UX designer?

It doesn’t impact me as much as it impacts the caregiver. The iPad may work for something on Thursday but not on Friday. One technique may not work every time. We never say our app solves anything. It is really a tool to help at a certain time. It will never solve one need all the time.

Are there principles of Design and Usability that you have learned/employed at Grembe that you think should be applied to design and usability in other areas?

What we have learned about design and usability is that it is important to listen to those who use your product. They are used to thinking outside the box, and have provided us with suggestions and feedback that has led to our products becoming more robust. And learning how something works well in one app, leads you to think how can it can be used somewhere else.

And how do you listen to your user? How do you do user testing with the population you are designing for?

The population is so diverse and different that it becomes too much of a challenge to do use cases and studies. It is a huge challenge to get feedback from a development and a usability standpoint. Our user population is comprised of professional speech therapists, teachers, and parents and the children. They are very different and use our tools differently. I am a software engineer so I am used to the development process It is the age old development challenge: we can’t solve everyone’s problem or issue with one feature. We try to keep it simple, to stick to the core of what it can do. It is easier to split and say “make a different app to serve that need.” We first got the core done and we received so much great feedback in the app online or at conferences that we developed it further. That led into tracking improvements and prioritizing them for future implementations.

Want to learn more about Grembe apps?

Visit their website, www.grembe.com.

Diego Mendes at Onward Search

I was featured on Onward Search Career Blog!

Click HERE to see the full interview

Before Steve Jobs, there was Dieter Rams: 10 Principles for Good Design

Before there was Steve Jobs, there was Dieter Rams. Today during my Advanced User Interface Design class my classmate Deb Edinger reminded us of Mr. Rams’ always important ten principles for design:

Good design:[1]

  1. Is innovative- The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Is honest – It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Mr. Rams laid out principles that are followed to date by thousands of industrial, visual and user experience designers. Here is a video about one of my favorite designs by Mr. Ram: The 606 Universal Shelving System, 1960, by Dieter Rams. Enjoy it!

Finding Your Dream Job in User Experience

I have done quite a bit of research this past year on how different UX roles, different UX teams and their cultures. Overall I have done about 30 interviews with UXers from different industries and companies, including big, small, consulting, in-house and independent folks. All of these conversations happened thanks to the wonderful alumni of Bentley’s Human Factors in Information Design Program, my fantastic professors and my generous friends from the Usability Professionals Association.

It has been a fascinating journey to learn how vast the field of User Experience is. I learned about similarities and differences too. UX can comprise teams of hundreds of professionals or teams of one. Projects can be in the medical industry, interior design, hard core software or game design. The differences in team structure, company culture and different roles is just as rich. This experience has certainly allowed me to see how UX moves with innovation, hence UX roles always having to be redefined and rebuilt.

Finding your dream job in UX

Tonight I led a panel of hiring managers, industry recruiters, and Bentley’s HFID alumni in a discussion about UX job roles, what they mean, and who does what in our industry. The Human Factors and Information Design Organization hosted the event.

It was a fun lively discussion that included an overview of team structures, roles, job search strategies and open questions to the panel. A fantastic panel by the way, and I would like to publicly say thank you to all of the participants and their companies.

Panel members included:

If you are curious and want to download the presentation, click here. Alternatively  you can view it on Behance.

Hope it is helpful for you!

Cheers, Diego

Top 10 Lessons about UX Design Research from my week in the San Francisco Bay area

I recently went to San Francisco to do some research on the job market for UX. I was lucky enough to acquire many contacts from Bentley University’s HFID alumni, contacts from Bentley professors and contacts from UPA members, hence my gratitude to these folks for their willingness to help me.

I met with UX managers, Directors of Design Research and VPs of User Experience in some of the top companies in the area. I had the opportunity of really learning about how research is done, how teams are built, the challenges they face and what they look for when recruiting team members.

I will not mention which companies I met with due to privacy concerns, but all companies were leaders in the UX and Design fields. Some were very large, with thousands of employees and global in reach. Others were smaller start-ups with few employees and still experiencing growth pains. As you can imagine, it was a great experience. During one of the interviews, a Director of Design Research  asked me for the top lessons from the trip and I promised her I would write about it on my blog and submit the entry to her.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Hence, here are the top 10 lessons I gathered from my time in the bay area. (Please note these are generic lessons, and I am sure all of them have exceptions – feel free to leave your comments below to stir up a healthy discussion).

1. Companies want to hear your educational perspective – As a student, I think I always assumed the folks who were hiring were the ones that knew everything. I was impressed by their curiosity about the classes I was taking, the books I was reading and what my professors were mentioning about the field. They were very impressed with some of the research methods I was employing in my academic and professional research, as well as the classes I was taking and the professors I had.

2. Be creative in designing research – Directors and Managers were very interested in learning ways in which traditional research methods can be adapted to fit current needs. They were also interested in new tools and methods that could enhance their research. They look for folks who are able to be flexible and creative with research methods, adapting them to each situation according to deadlines for product launch.

3. Too much analysis may not be the best – Although folks were interested in methods that would allow for deep analysis and scientific data backing, the need for quick analytical methods was paramount in software companies. If you are too meticulous in having to stick with CHI methods for professional research, you probably won’t be able to meet those deadlines. The need to adapt, be creative, and still get reliable data to support decisions is paramount.

4. UX Research Managers differ in research involvement – Some companies have a more structured and hierarchical approach to employee interaction. Managers do not get involved in research, but rather take care of all the background work (paperwork, contracts, documents, authorizations, finances etc…). These managers make sure their research team does not have any worries while running the projects. In other companies, although managers have the title, their involvement in research is as much as anyone else on the team.  They still design studies, run sessions, do analysis work and write reports and other deliverables.

5. Mentoring – “Researchers managing researchers” is a characteristic that very few companies have. The needs of a UX researcher are better understood by another researcher, rather than by a marketer or an engineer. The same applies for Interaction Designers. This type of mutual understanding builds trust faster amongst the UX team.  In addition, this mutual understanding, trust and support has significant impact on an employee’s career development and job satisfaction.

6. Show me the money! What is the deal with salary? – I will not attempt to get into numbers. The most known research for UX salaries is the UPA salary survey, and given how many years it has been around, it is a better source of hard facts than my personal blog. However, I did learn a few things that the UPA salary survey does not mention:

  1. The closer to the product launch you work in, the higher the yearly salary. Perhaps this is due to research instincts being more needed since recommendations and tweaks need to be made in a shorter research time than at the beginning of the product development.
  2. The farther from product launch, the higher a chance of developing something that will grant you a patent. You may be handsomely paid for a successful patent for a long time.
  3. Some start-ups actually pay pretty well. Obviously it depends on what kind of start up it is. If it is a software development/application creation type of start up, salaries tend to be lower. But if the start up is providing services or selling some type of goods, the salaries are higher than expected, although still below some of the big tech companies.

7. Size matters when it comes to types and methods of research – Smaller companies are nimble and allow for research to be done in a more unstructured manner. Researchers in these companies typically have to innovate in all aspects. Their budgets and teams are smaller, so they have to be creative to not sacrifice the quality and accuracy of the research. Creative thinking and problem solving is a must have for these positions. On larger companies, due to a larger budget and larger teams, folks tend to become more specialized, hence improvising less, and going more in depth in certain types of research methods. They can also employ outside research consultancies to do the type of work they cannot do, giving them experienced researchers working with methods that the in-house team would usually not employ themselves.

8. What is the level of impact you will have in the company? – In smaller companies you can make a bigger difference in a shorter amount of time. Your team is much closer, and conversations and opinions tend to have much bigger impact immediately. The less people you have, usually the less hardship in change of behavior or culture. In a bigger company, your impact may be limited to your team or product division. You may not be able to rally the whole company behind the change/improvement you are trying to implement.

San Francisco, CA

9. Consulting v. In-House  – Consulting allows for more breadth of research, meaning different research projects and research methods with different clients. However, it also may mean you won’t have a chance to see your recommendations being implemented or to see the continuation of your design ideas into future products.

In house research typically means you will be doing similar kind of research for the same product. Although you won’t be seeing different products every week, you will work on one product from beginning to end. In addition, you will become much more familiar with the user of the product. This can translate in deeper understanding of the user’s needs, goals and mental model, fundamentally impacting in your research and improving the design of the product you are working on.

Lastly, there is the difference of flexibility and time commitment. In Consulting you do have to be on call, available at all times and flexible with your schedule to be able to accommodate clients. In House work lightens the burden on “off-line” requests, since you have more of a “set schedule”, say 9 to 5. You can usually plan your day to day life better since you do not depend on a client’s schedule.

10. The job decision is not your life – People change within the UX field in the bay area quite a lot. Most of the folks I talked to had changed companies or moved to different teams with the same company. There were many reasons for these moves – promotion, change of scenery, different type of design and research etc… – but all of them had to do with professional growth. The UX folks that I met with were very driven and were always looking for development, growth and exciting professional opportunities.

These thoughts are a bit of what I processed after about a week in the valley. If you disagree, or want to add, please do leave your comments below (or shoot me a message). I hope reading the blog post brought some value to you.

Cheers, Diego

User Centered Design, be introduced to your new best friend: Affectiva

While taking a class in Design and Prototyping, I wrote a paper in Emotional Design, looking at different practices and theories about emotional design. When researching for the paper, I learned about the Affective Computing Group at MIT and consequently about Affectiva and the technology they were using to measure user engagement.

Affectiva’s Q-Sensor was developed at MIT’s Media Lab where Dr. Rosalind Picard and fellow Media Labers created a sensor that measures emotional engagement through a galvanic response system. It is simply a bracelet that the user wears while interacting with the product and therefore not interfering in the user experience. This is a fantastic tool in assisting User Experience Researchers and Designers to look into different emotional engagement periods of the user and the product. This special attention to user engagement allows for the creation of a much more user centric product. Dr. Picard gives a great presentation of the Q sensor on the video at the bottom of this post.

Affectiva's Q-Sensor Bracelet

Affectiva’s Q-Sensor Bracelet

Later in the year I had the pleasure of working with Affectiva’s folks on a User Experience project at the Design and Usability Center. This was an eye-opening and inspiring experience. Seeing the Q-Sensor in action just gets your ideas flowing as you foresee the many ways in which it can be used to measure the User Experience.

I am very excited about a piece of research we will be doing, using the Q-Sensor to measure the User Experience of certain products later in the fall. Affectiva graciously paired up with us for the research and I can’t wait to publish the results once we are finished.

A toast to Affectiva and User-Centered Design!