‘User Interface Design’ In 25 Hottest Skills List for 2016

‘User Interface Design’ made it to the 10th place on LinkedIn’s ‘Hottest Skills of 2015’ Global list — jumping 4 places. It puts ‘User Interface Design’ in the 11th place for Canada. LinkedIn analyzed the hiring and recruiting activity on its website in 2015, and uncovered the 25 hottest skills, and it believes that these skills will stay in demand in the early part of 2016. You can also view the presentation on SlideShare.

LinkedIn - User Interface Design in The Hottest Skills of 2015 - Global

Source: The 25 Skills That Can Get You Hired in 2016 | Official LinkedIn Blog

Time For a Fresh WordPress Theme?

I have mulled to change the current WordPress theme, and it’s not an easy task. In 2014, I chose this design for its RWD capabilities and simply loved it. Almost 2 years later, and after many design analysis, I have realised the flaws which are crucial, not just for the visitors but for me as a designer. Here’s what I have found with my review and why I need changes in the theme desperately.

Search
The all-important search functionality lies buried under a cryptic ‘folder’ icon and glancing at my analytics, not many users have ‘cracked the code’. It’s a worrisome situation if users have to first find the search function, before looking for information.

Font Customization
Despite the Easy Google Fonts plugin, I find it hard to change the font for the H1 tag unless if I edit the stylesheet within the WordPress system (which is very meh!). The one way I can bring subtle changes to the theme and effect a better user-experience is by toying with the typography. I quite frankly want to move away from the current typeface used for H1. I even started a thread on WordPress Support forums for help which is lying ‘dead’.

Featured Image
I think a large featured image is an absolute overkill for a write-up. Unfortunately, for my limited coding skills, I would rather change the theme. Besides, I really don’t need large images to convey meanings.

Blockquotes
Simply large and bloated, and I would appreciate a more subtle approach.

Challenges with New Theme
I’m looking for a new minimalist theme and this is taking time. A changed theme means a new experience for the user, a fresh learning curve. I also have no idea what happens to the design of the posts (i.e. the large featured images) when the new theme takes over. Hopefully, we will know soon.

Lastly, Designing from Scratch
My first priority is to design an original theme. Considering the challenges and limitations, I’m keeping all fingers crossed for now.

The Best UX Design Articles of January 2016

A catalogue of some of my favourite and insightful UX articles published in January 2016.

Usability Of Beacon Technology At Conferences
Codal’s Creative Strategist Jenna Erickson looks at the various factors involved in integrating beacon technology at conferences to deliver content on your mobile devices.

7 User Interface Guidelines For Designing Watch Apps
Neha Modgil shares her views on designing for this newest wearable device keeping the user needs into perspective. She’s the Global Design Head and Owner at Techved Consulting.

Guidelines For Designing And Building A Multilingual Website
In this insightful article, Alan Smith speaks about how multilingual websites have become common today and describes ways to meet the challenges.

The Crucial Role Deep Linking Should Play in Your Mobile App
Bobby Emamian expresses his concerns while describing the advantages of deep-linking processes for mobile apps.

Innovation with Intention: The Next Evolution for the Experience Designer
As consumers demand more value, meaning and positive experiences in their lives, organizations are looking for experience designers who want to lead the change through creative new approaches. Senior User Experience Strategist and Director of Experience Design at SiteMinder, Meg Barbic, shares feedback from her interactions at the UXSTRAT 2015 conference in Athens, Georgia.

UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want, Part 2
This is a sample chapter from the book UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want, by Jaime Levy, published by O’Reilly Media. It speaks about UX strategy as a way of thinking, and not a means of executing a plan. Part 1 of this article was published in December 2015. Jaime is a UX Consultant at JLR Interactive based in Los Angeles, CA.

UX Performance Metrics: How to Measure Change
How can we really tell if we’ve made anything better, less frustrating, cheaper, or hassle-free for the people we serve? In this insightful article, Dana Botka draws from her experience using some project case-studies, on measuring change on content design.

UX vs CX: Which is more important?
If you are still thinking about UX versus CX, this article by Netania Engelbrecht should help you get around the concepts easily. Netania is Content Marketing Specialist at Usabilla.

Using Proto-content for a Better User Experience
Content Strategist Robert Mills describes his ‘content-first’ approach through this insightful article.

How to Determine the Right Number of Participants for Usability Studies
Unlocking the fear of UX researchers on the number of participants to find the best possible outcome, authors Janet M. Six and Ritch Macefield uncover some research findings in this article to answer your question.

Refreshed Love for Mint

Mint is a super awesome web analytics tool for bloggers. For those who are unaware, Shaun Inman created Mint and you can find more details here. I have been intermittently using Mint since 2006 glancing into the web stats once in a while, but this weekend I updated the platform and the installed ‘peppers’. It’s not the usual ‘click-and-update’ update process for Mint which can seem bit challenging. After downloading the Pepper from the website, one has to upload using FTP and use the preferences to update the software. Apart from the beauty of the analytics what I also love about Mint is its branding — it’s range of associated and third-party plugins aptly called Peppers, while the place to find them ‘fresh’ is the Peppermill. This past weekend has seen a refreshed perspective and affinity towards Mint. Now, I am ‘Minted’ too.

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Towards An Effective Information Architecture Design

Imagine a scenario, in which you had a meeting at this elegant downtown office building and you were desperately seeking the washroom before the meeting started. You scampered looking for washroom signs but couldn’t find it. Finally you gave up and humbly approached the reception for directions, and felt like a jerk! Because the washroom was right next to an area you passed moments ago. So what went wrong then and why couldn’t you find the washroom if it was that easy? The answer is the architecture design didn’t reveal itself completely and left you confused. The sign for the men’s loo was visible but you missed it in your focussed approach towards reaching your goal, that is quite common. You were very confident in reaching your goal but your search ended miserably and you felt embarrassed. The task of finding information online can look even more daunting without a soul to ask for ‘directions’ and customers surrender to their frustration turning away from that “annoying” website forever.

Content is often ignored at the cost of graphics, and while effective presentation techniques are imperative in today’s digitized world leading websites skillfully engineer information through a maze of pictures and graphics to bring the user to their logical destination. In the noise around designing successful UX we sometimes overlook the importance of content. And the success of a successful content strategy, be it a website or Intranet, depends strongly on the robustness of its information architecture (IA). The goal for content strategists is not just to create meaningful content but to also lead the users to it. If you’re designing for online applications, you live by the mantra ‘if it’s not seen, it doesn’t exist’!

The Definition of Information Architecture
User-interfaces have the obligation to lead users to their goals and make that (sometimes arduous) task worthwhile. One of the design criterions for outstanding UIs is not how flashy it appears or if the microinteractions have been duly exercised, but how the relevant ‘hooks’ and labels have been drawn to prevent distracting the users from achieving their goals. When you reach a milestone in your journey for finding information (hopefully without bumps), the information architecture design registers a big win! To put matters into perspective, the purpose of an information architecture is to inform and lead users towards their goal, give clues about their location on the site, give indications about the site’s content and what they should expect, and empower users to navigate and commit actions without fear of losing track of their goals. The implementation of UI trends or techniques is beyond the purview of this article.

The Components of Information Architecture
For a rewarding experience it’s critical to understand the user group needs while associating their objectives to create a meaningful content strategy. In their book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville categorize information architecture into 4 major components:

  • Organization systems – presenting the site’s information in a variety of ways, such as content categories, etc.
  • Navigation systems – Helping users to move through the information maze.
  • Search systems – Allowing users to search the content of the website. This is especially useful when the user is lost.
  • Labeling systems – Describing the categories, options, and links in a language that is meaningful to the users and helps them in decision making.

Let’s look at the organization of content on the Government of Canada site. For our discussion, I have marked some areas yellow for better representation.

Government of Canada website

The ‘Persistent Top Navbar’ has demarcated categories of content areas appropriately labeled to give readers a sense of the imminent content (provide ‘information scent’). It also depicts the nature of the business to the newcomer who may have wandered unknowingly. The ‘Search Function’ helps the users connect logically with information when they are lost on the site. The logo or branding component acts as an exit to the home page when the interaction has failed to address users needs and the user wants to restart his/her search afresh.

Due to its inherent value for the website and indeed the users, the logo, the ‘Persistent Top Navbar’ and the ‘Search Function’ remain static on all the pages and are always placed on the top. The ‘Breadcrumb’ navigation provides an indication on the user’s location (and the current page too) in relation to the site hierarchy. The descriptive ‘Page Title’ is a confirmation of the visible information or the ‘primary content’ on the page even before the user dives deeper into the detail. The primary content is further categorized into smaller bits in the ‘Persistent Left Navbar’. Beyond this, as we continue to scroll downwards the criticality of the content in context with user needs begins to diminish. The footer (not seen in the pic) typically contains information that is more likely discounted by the user in favour of achieving the immediate goals. The most important portions of the content are thus organized at the top, or the first fold of the page template.

The organization of the Government of Canada website content with the information architecture serves as a direct response to questions related to cognitive load, such as, where am I? (location), how do I navigate to other links? (interaction), what’s happening here? (content, information), etc. The information architecture in this case has helped in reducing cognitive load thus making the website ‘user friendly’.

Content which is categorized on a page also makes it meaningful. The BBC’s ‘On This Day’ website is beautifully divided into main content and sub-content areas. In my review of the page which speaks about the launch of the Soviet space station ‘Mir’, I categorized the page content into 4 parts. This is also how I perceived my own eye movement on the page while foraging for content.

bbc-on-this-day-PNG

  1. The primary content area speaks about the happenings of February 20. This article in particular happens to be on the launch of the Soviet space station ‘Mir’ on February 20, 1986. A hook had already been provided on the home page for me to visit this area.
  2. Secondary content – still on the topic of ‘Mir’, how about giving out details on what else happened with it later. What happened after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 90s? What was the role of the US? This is mainly to create enough interest for the reader to stay on the page. Notice the hooks.
  3. Tertiary content – content that’s associated with the secondary content and creates interest about the post-90s era prominence for ‘Mir’. The ‘hooks’ in this case are in the form of synopsis on ‘Mir’. Since enough curiosity has been generated in the previous 2 stages the reader will be inclined to move to other parts of the website.
  4. Related links – subsequently on the topic of February 20, how about providing the user more relevant ‘hooks’ on February 20 during that era. Wouldn’t you want to know what happened on this day in 1993? The interesting bits and pieces of information from the previous stages and the synopsis are enough for the reader to take this virtual ‘bait’.

Bottomline, it’s not merely about creating meaningful content but organizing it as well. In fact it’s the organization which brings purpose to the content and makes it meaningful for its readers.

The Constituents of Information Architecture

Users, context and content are the 3 major constituents of an information architecture design and the co-relation between them can be seen in the Venn diagram here:

IA_comps

Having a deeper sense of the business context of the application (website or Intranet) to be designed, and co-relate with the content which either exists or needs to be generated. Subsequently it’s highly conducive for studying the demographics by working alongside the users to draw mental models which helps in designing a content strategy for your application or site. A ‘mental model’ is how users individually perceive the world around them.

  • Users – There are marked differences in customer preferences and behaviours when moving from the physical world to digital (mental model). Hence when users are willing to spend time (visits) or money (purchase), knowing about their preferences becomes crucial in structuring the content according to their needs and desires. On the BBC website the user (or reader) would be a knowledge seeker and the interaction confirms that belief. The preferable ‘need’ was to get answers about February 20 but in the journey the ‘desired’ outcome was more than what the readers had bargained for.
  • Content – “Content” is broadly defined as documents, applications, services, schema, and metadata that people need to use or find on your site. I consider “content” as only textual information, since text drives the meaning for the rest of the online communication, through graphics, visuals, or other media elements. Each site or application throws a blend of content, that which is unique to the organization and defines the nature of its relationship with its audience.
  • Context – Each individual application – be it a website or an Intranet, reflects the culture of the organization and exists within the organizational context of a particular business. Information Architects need to capture the unique qualities of the institutions to design a unique design language. The context makes the application stand apart from the competition. The context is an important facet of information architecture in defining the size and organization (structure) of the content as well.

Conclusion
An effective information architecture design shouldn’t be considered as an alternative. The costs of not having a desirable experience for the user could be devastating for the business in current times. Invariably information architecture should not be misconstrued as just structuring of the content. It’s about designing spaces that connects the audience with the philosophy of the business, rather it’s also about the individuality of that space itself. Data should be structured and designed cohesively by gaining insights into user preferences, connecting it with the context of the business, and driving a wholesome experience to retain the interest of the audience.


Further Reading & Acknowledgements:

  • Featured Image – courtesy of Gary Barber (Flickr/Some Rights Reserved) Link: Flickr Photo Page
  • Information Architecture Basics – Usability.gov. Link: Information Architecture Basics
  • Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3rd Edition: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld. Link: Shop O’reilly Media