Craig Morrison—10 fixes for improving your product’s UX (webinar)

UserTesting.com hosted a free seminar featuring usability consultant Craig Morrison of Usability Hour. Morrison began as a web designer, focusing on visual design, but he soon discovered that aesthetics alone aren’t enough to ensure a good user experience. Freelancers often get into the habit of satisfying only their clients’ demands and, once they finish one project, they move on to the next, which means that they don’t get a chance to refine user experience. But positive user experiences translate into user recommendations and business growth, so it’s a good idea to help clients see the importance of placing user needs ahead of their own.

Morrison outlined ten of the most common UX mistakes and how to fix them:

1. Focusing on impressive design instead of usable architecture

It’s tempting to want to make a site that will wow people with its visuals, but aesthetics alone don’t provide value. Morrison offered Craigslist as an example of how a plain-looking site can be popular because it has great functionality. He recommends that you consult a UX consultant first to plan a usable content structure, then focus on visual design.

2. Not removing unvalidated features

If your site has features that nobody is using, all it’s doing is cluttering up the site and making it harder for users to find what they really want from you.

3. Listening to user ideas

This is not to say that you shouldn’t listen to your users at all; listening to their problems is valuable, but often what users suggest as solutions wouldn’t work well. Morrison suggests that you start user testing and watch how people use the product. Seeing where they falter will highlight what you need to work on.

Polling your audience is also a good way to get feedback, particularly for new features, but phrase your questions carefully. You’re looking more for users’ motivations for using a particular feature, as opposed to their opinions about which option they’d prefer.

4. Forcing people to sign up without offering any value

Your landing page can’t be just a logo and a sign-up form. People aren’t willing to exchange their information for nothing. Instead, show why your product is valuable before they sign up. This also goes for credit card numbers: asking for that information during a free trial will turn people off before they’ve even tried your product.

5. Taking user feedback personally

If your dismiss negative feedback by saying “they just don’t get it” or “users are dumb,” you’re sabotaging your business. Complaints are opportunities to improve UX.

6. Poorly designed search function

Half of web users are search oriented and won’t browse. Morrison admits that this bit of advice may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but “follow proper guidelines for designing a usable search function.” There are best practices out there, and he’s written about some of them on his blog.

7. Not optimizing for mobile

“Mobile traffic on the web is 20% and rising,” said Morrison, and you’re driving that traffic away if your site isn’t optimized. People aren’t going to voluntarily spend the time to zoom and navigate through a website meant for larger screens. Invest time and money into a simple mobile site. Morrison says that whatever solution you choose is up to you, but he’s found CSS media queries to be a simple way to ensure your content displays how you want it to, and he prefers it over responsive design.

8. Not offering users help

Despite your best efforts to designing a user-friendly site, inevitably some people will get lost or confused and then won’t come back, out of frustration. Morrison suggests buttressing good content architecture with a searchable wiki and an FAQ page. How-to videos are great, as is live support, if you can offer it.

9. No emotional connection between brand and users

People who feel emotionally connected to your brand will have a better experience. If your users aren’t familiar and comfortable with your brand, they’ll be quick to dislike you for even the smallest flaws. Focus on building your brand early, and get buy-in from all of your employees. For example, if part of what you offer is excellent customer service, ensure that all of your employees live up to that expectation.

10. Not including user onboarding

A user’s first impression is key, and if they get frustrated with using your product, they’ll quit and never come back. You’ve sunk a lot of effort into attracting a new user but you’ll lose it all by not being able to activate them into a long-term user. User onboarding is a way of teaching users how to use your product while demonstrating its value.

At the same time, Morrison recognizes that not everybody loves onboarding. Always offer users the ability to skip it if they’re confident in using your product. At the same time, make sure they can go back whenever they want to do the onboarding if they need to brush up.

According to Morrison, real business growth through UX comes from

  1. getting traffic to the landing page
  2. converting that traffic
  3. activating new users to become long-lasting users

Morrison will be offering an online course through his website to teach people how to meet those goals using great UX. He’s also written an ebook, 5-minute UX Quick Fixes, available free on his site. The webinar I attended will be posted in a couple of weeks at UserTesting.com.

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I liked that although Morrison’s advice is obviously more geared toward websites or apps, a lot of it applies to other kinds of documents as well. I saw the following parallel mistakes for plain language documents (numbering corresponds to list above):

1. Focusing on aesthetics over functionality. Aesthetic design is important, but usability is paramount: do your choices regarding type, graphics, headings, and white space make the document easier to read and understand?

2. Including too much “nice to know” information. In most plain language documents, you should give readers what they need to know.

3. Listening to users? This point of Morrison’s gave me pause, but his advice of paying attention to the users’ problems rather than their suggested solutions makes sense. For instance, users that consistently fill in a part of a form wrong may not pinpoint poor layout as the reason, but a plain language expert might.

5. Taking user feedback personally. This problem probably applies to the client more than the plain language writer or editor, but the editor may have to go to bat for a user and convince a reluctant client that you have to make certain changes.

6. Poorly designed search function. A good search function is a must-have for websites and apps. The print analogue is an excellent table of contents, descriptive and logical headings and subheadings, and a thorough index.

Have I’ve missed other parallels? Let me know in the comments.

Publishers: Are you maximizing the marketing capacity of your freelancers?

As I put together my post last week on the care and feeding of freelancers, I began to wonder why gestures like inviting freelancers to events and sending them awards news weren’t standard in the industry, and it struck me that most editorial and marketing departments tend to operate independently and too often don’t communicate with one another to refine their strategies. Although this division has its advantages—most editors and authors would be loath to have marketing weigh in on every aspect of a book’s content—it can also mean that publishers may be missing out on an easy way to get the word out about their lists.

In addition to pursuing traditional marketing channels, publishers should also consider taking some simple steps to fold their freelancers into their marketing plans. Why is this a good idea?

1) The editor of a book (or its designer or indexer) can be its most enthusiastic champion

In some ways, an endorsement carries more credibility coming from a freelancer, because, unlike the author or publisher, she has no vested interest in book sales and would be unlikely to go out of her way to promote a book she doesn’t believe in.

2) Everyone has a network*

Freelancers—introversion notwithstanding—are no different. Through social media they can effortlessly reach their contacts with news about their projects, and we’ve all seen how quickly and widely news can spread with social networks serving as a multiplier. Imagine a designer tweeting “Got my comp copy of History of Canadian Photography today. Printer did a beautiful job with the colours!” or an editor posting “Looking forward to next week’s launch of The Backcountry Cookbook at the Outdoor Store. I finally get to meet the author in person! The event starts at 7pm. Hope to see some of you there” and the early buzz that could generate.

What’s more, a freelancer’s likely to have likeminded contacts—people who enjoy the same types of activities, share the same interests, and read the same kinds of books—exactly the audience you want to reach.

3) Reaching out to freelancers helps foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty

And giving them a sense of ownership over their projects from beginning to end helps to encourage high standards and excellent work. Nurturing goodwill will help with freelancer retention, which will cut down on training and recruitment costs.

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So how do you get started?

1) Develop a system to feed freelancer contact information to marketing

The in-house contact for freelancers—whether that person’s called the managing editor, production editor, or production manager—will have a record of who worked on each stage of a book, maybe even in a convenient format like a spreadsheet. Simply make sure that this information is passed along to the person coordinating event, award, and review notices, whose only added task is adding three or four email addresses to a contact list.

2) Develop a concrete policy informing freelancers about what information they can share and when

The term “policy” may be overly formal here—a simple FAQ on an editorial information site (like a wiki) would do. Freelancers—particularly if they’ve never worked in house—may be reluctant to share news about their work on a project because they don’t know if the publisher or author would approve. Letting them know in general terms what you’d encourage them to share will not only free them to publicize the book, but it will also tacitly help them understand the bounds of confidentiality in the author–freelancer–publisher relationship.

You may also want to list some important dates before which information must be held back—for example, the manuscript delivery date, catalogue date, or the pub date. For example, specify when it’s okay for a freelance designer to post a cover image on his blog.

All this said, it may not be wise to expect your freelancers to do any marketing for you. The reason some freelancers work on contract is so that they don’t have to be involved in all aspects of a book’s production and promotion. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe from notifications or newsletters, and consider any free publicity you do get from them gravy.

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Ultimately, publishers have very little control over what their freelancers say or do; we can only hope that they will use good professional judgment and not post or tweet anything that will hurt the book, the author, or the publisher. Setting out these guidelines and improving communication with freelancers about marketing issues can only help your cause as publisher, though, and it carries a low risk with the potential for a high reward.

*Some of you will (rightly) point out the irony of my having neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, but if you’re reading this, you’re part of my network!