Usability Testing: Recap Webmontag Bonn

This post is a recap of Webmontag Bonn (October 21, 2019) that was dedicated to usability testing topics. The speaker explained Think Aloud method in detail. This presentation was followed by a discussion on website usability and accessibility.

This post is a recap of Webmontag Bonn (October 21, 2019) that was dedicated to usability testing topics.

It started with a talk by the organizer, Lina D., that introduced general concepts of usability testing. Normally, it includes figuring out how intuitive a UI is, how users handle their tasks within a UI and what improvements can be possibly made. Some common methods include prototyping, benchmarking, case studies with personas, interviews, eye-tracking, etc. The speaker went into detail regarding the Think Aloud method. This method has the following parts:

  • A prototype is built (can be also done on existing software or even on a paper prototype)
  • A use case is written (i.e. a task that a user has to fulfill);
  • Users are invited for a short interview;
  • During ice-breaker, the tester tries to define what customer type the user belongs to;
  • A task is presented to the user. They have to complete the task while commenting on their actions;
  • The test completes with a short feedback round;
  • The whole test lasts about 20 minutes

The talk was followed by a lively discussion about the presented method and also about general usability problems. One question was how to select test participants, especially in the case of a very narrow target group. For example, you can try to reach them in person through industry events, etc. My suggestion was to launch the software and get feedback by analyzing analytics data or making online surveys (though from my experience a lot of people use this survey instead of customer service chat). Somebody also suggested recruiting the participants for one-on-one tests by displaying banners within the software.

There was also a lengthy discussion on accessibility. In the public sector in Germany, there exist accessibility catalogs that constitute minimum requirements for the software to be accepted. However, without proper accessibility testing, such catalogs are only partially helpful. It was noted that a lot of times users with a disability have a completely different workflow interacting with a software or a website.

The last topic that was brought up in the large discussion round was about how to onboard users to new software. For example, through instructional videos, FAQs, pop-up windows within the user interface (UI), or an overlay with explanations of different elements on the first login.

After this, the discussions of the Webmontag continued in smaller groups accompanied by pizza and cold drinks.

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It Starts with a Z: Visual Hierarchy in Banner Design

Visual hierarchy defines the arrangement or presentation of elements on a screen by importance. More important elements are supposed to draw the attention of a website visitor first. UX designers use a variety of methods to assign visual hierarchy to design elements (also see my post on UX design principles). In this post, I will explain how UX design principle of visual hierarchy applies to designing website banners.

  • Color contrast
    • Light colors (less important elements) vs dark colors (more important elements)
    • Unsaturated colors (less important elements) to colors with high saturation (more important elements)
    • Use of complementary colors to highlight an important element (e.g. a red button on a blue background)
  • Shape (e.g. grouping important elements by placing them close to each other (proximity) or putting a boundary around them)
  • Size (more important elements are larger than less important ones)
  • Perspective (foreground vs background), also figure-ground relationship

For a banner, a common pattern for organizing content is called ‘Z-pattern’. It can be explained as follows: the eye movement starts in the upper left-hand corner, then the focus shifts to the right (where normally teaser text is placed), then moves to the left-hand side (e.g. with a visual) and then goes to the right-hand corner, mostly to a CTA.

Below we will look at how these principles are utilized in banners on websites of several skincare companies.

The first banner (LUSH) does not follow the Z-pattern, but arranges the information vertically and centered. This works for headlines, however, if the text was longer, aligning it to the left would achieve better readability. We also see that the color of the teaser text and the CTA are low contrast compared to the background, so they can barely be read. The navigation bar, however, achieves a high contrast compared to the banner. The text (especially the sub-headline and the CTA) is relatively small compared to the background elements, thus, there is no contrast by size.  Shape or perspective are also not used. When visiting the page, the user would notice the background and the navigation bar first.

banner lush

The next banner is by The Body Shop. We can see the Z-pattern being used in this banner, with the CTA placed in the bottom left corner. The teaser text has good contrast in color (white on a dark purple background) and in size. We can also see that the products’ visual and the text elements are arranged in groups that allows for better visual separation (proximity principle). However, the CTA has lower contrast in color and size than the headline, it is also not separated from the text by a boundary but only underlined (as with hyperlinks).

bodyshop banner

The next banner by Yves Rocher also incorporates the  Z-pattern. Red is used as complementary color to green to highlight more important elements on the screen. The visual hierarchy is supported by grouping the elements of the visual and the text against the background. The background is also less saturated than the visual and the text. Additionally, important parts are highlighted by a boundary (marketing claim: Limited Edition and the CTA)  by color contrast (CTA and price) and by size (price).  The text is also aligned to the left, which allows for better readability. However, the header is designed in pale yellow, the same as background elements, which makes it stand out less.

yvesrocher

The last banner I would like to have a look at is L’Occitaine, also with the Z-pattern. A good point in the design of this banner is that the text and the CTA are not only grouped together and surrounded by a boundary but are also put against a white background, different to that of the visual. CTA in yellow, however, has middle contrast to the background. The teaser text is rather long and is aligned to the center, which makes it more difficult to read. Although yellow is the main branding color of L’Occitaine, it is perceived by the brain as a signal color and its overuse in the design as well as in visuals causes the page to look a bit “busy”.

loccitaine banner

In this post, we have had a look at how visual hierarchy can be realized in banner design. We saw that not only corporate identity, design guidelines or aesthetics play a role, but also UX/UI factors, that is how users perceive the banner and get motivated to take a desired action.

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Six UX Design Principles in Action

This post outlines some important UX design principles and will provide some examples. The principles covered in this post are: affordance, continuation, consistency, figure-ground relationships, progressive disclosure and error avoidance.

Appropriate UX design should not only differentiate your brand but first and foremost be appropriate for your audience.  It should reflect their needs and expectations of the website and provide them with visual cues for interacting with the site.

Below I will outline some important UX design principles (based on UX & Web Design Masters Course) and will provide some examples using mymuesli site (mymuesli is a German provider of customized muesli mixes as well as other related products).

  1. Affordance in UX design means that all elements of a Web page should imply their intended functions (e.g. clickable- and non-clickable elements should be recognized as such).  It is important to remember that design elements such as buttons, arrows, etc. already have their established function and users instinctively interact with them in a certain way.
    In the muesli mixer below, ingredient choices are presented as buttons (clickable), additional filtering parameters as radio buttons (selectable), more Info as a down-arrow (expandable), whereas the introductory text is contains no links or highlighted elements and thus perceived as not clickable.muesli_mixer.PNG
  2. Continuation implies that elements grouped or aligned together should perform the same kind of function. In our example, top navigation has three levels, the first one being brands (top level), the second one is navigating by product (second level) and the third one is navigating within muesli mixer (third level). All these levels differ from each other in design and position. At the same time, buttons at each level are aligned and grouped together.
  3. Consistency is extremely important since it helps site users to recognize similar patterns and complete their intended task more quickly.  In mymuesli example, once you switch between different ingredient groups, the navigation buttons and the visual representation of ingredients remain the same.muesli_mixer_berries
  4. Figure-ground relationship means that there should be a clear distinction between the background and the actual objects on a page. The aim should be to focus users’ attention on the key actionable elements without distracting them with background color, design etc. This is also the reason why sites with dark or pattered background, as a rule, have worse usability.  In the example above, key elements, such as current process steps, are highlighted with color, whereas the background stays white all the time.
  5. Progressive disclosure is probably the most important principle of UX design. It states that only necessary or requested information should be displayed on a page at the same time. For example, if you navigate to muesli mixer from the top navigation, the mixer itself is displayed, and additional information, such as mixer tips, is shifted to another tab.  Also, CTAs such as Remove Ingredients or Finish are first shown after the ingredient is selected.
  6. Error avoidance means that good UX design should help users to avoid errors. In the muesli mixer, it is always possible to remove or double any ingredient in the muesli jar by clicking on it as well as to remove all ingredients by clicking the corresponding button. Furthermore, after the customer clicks on Finish, there is a very detailed confirmation screen with a product preview. Also here it is possible to go to the previous step and change the ingredients. Additional information, e.g. taste flower, ingredients list and nutritional value helps users to make a decision in the presence of multiple combination possibilities. Adding the product to cart and proceeding to the checkout are additional steps that help to prevent order errors.muesli_confirmation

 

To summarize, in this article we have looked at six common UX design principles and how they can be put into practice. Applying these principles will help you to avoid common design failures, improve the usability of your website and, ultimately, achieve your business goals.

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