Two weeks ago, I attended User Experience Immersion Mobile(UXIM) for the first time in Denver, CO. This is a conference organized by UIE (User Interface Engineering). Unlike other popular UX conferences, for example IxDA and UX week, UXIM has a strong and practical focus on tools and techniques to create great mobile experience, which I found to be quite useful and relevant to my daily practice.
My colleague Ian Barlow has put together a well summarized note of a majority of the talks. In this post, I will focus on a few that he has not covered.
Cyd Harrell, Conducting Usability Research for Mobile Apps
In this full-day workshop, Cyd Harrell introduced many latest mobile research techniques for intreviewing, gathering data, and involving the entire team.
Mobile Research Tools
- Prototyping: POP, Flinto, Solidify, Proto.io, Justinmind, Fluid, InVision, Marvel
- Mobile app gesture tracking: Lookback + TestFlight
- Mobile client website testing: Ghostlab
- Task-driven experience sampling: dscout
- Storytelling: Blurb Mobile
And more importantly: Remember be graceful when all your technology breaks.
Designing a mobile-specific research plan
- Come up with a script that is flexible for customization, for example “Please look for a gift you would like to buy for one of your family member”
- New recruiting channel: Use Twitter and edit your profile to mention “UX Researcher” and “Current study: ______”
- Use SMS to send out a mobile surveys. Keep it short(5 questions). Ask a pithy open-ended question.
- Filling in the gaps: Test on mob4hire.com, mobtest, usertesting.com
Collecting user data with mobile devices
To gather user data, usually there are two approaches: use a lab device, or use the user’s own device. Using the user’s mobile device can provide a better context and make the user feel comfortable. In comparison, use a lab device will lose the personal context, but it will reduce installation time and enable more control for the researcher.
Tips for working with users’ own mobile devices:
- Have a backup iPhone and Android device on hand
- Make a power strip part of your testing station
- Have chargers for all the phones you are expecting
- Instruct participants to install necessary apps in advance, but leave time in case they don’t
- Adjust the screen brightness before you start each session
Tips for offering lab devices:
- Have a backup iPhone and Android device on hand
- Charge devices between every session
- Remove passwords, lock screens, etc
- Dry-run every aspect of the test
For physical lab setup, Cyd mentioned this “Hug your laptop” approach for remote mobile testing. This was first adopted by firstly Mailchimp UX and then Mozilla UX team. I’ve personally participated in the testing session by our former researcher Diane, and it worked extremely smoothly.
Cyd also mentioned using Sleds to help observe and gather testing data. One example product is Mr. Tappy.
- Screensharing tools: Reflector(iOS), Optia(Android), AirDroid(Android), Blackberry 10 native, GoToMeeting (tablet), LiveStream, UStream
- Mobile screen recording tools: Recorder(iOS), Magitest
Cyd also mentioned a great community movement Open Device Lab, which is created to establish shared community pools of digital devices for testing products. Besides, she also mentioned some in-house practice on building a device lab, for example Etsy’s case study.
Conducting user interviews on-the-go
Through an interactive activity, Cyd demonstrated reaching to your participants via mobile can help you collect in-context and real-time results. She mentioned a great mobile case study: Trackyourhappiness.org. The study is completely conducted on the go via SMS and mobile survey forms. Besides, Blurb, dscout, and Usabilia are also effective tools to gain a contextual understanding without shadowing the users in person. This contextual technique could be particularly helpful in settings like public transit, food habits, shopping, exercise, etc.
As a designer who has experiences on usability study and research on mobile, I found Cyd’s workshop extremely informative and practical. I’m looking forward to exploring these tools and applying the techniques to my next research practice.
Jason Grigsby, Adapting to Different Types of Input
Nowadays people have touch screens, cameras, voice control, and sensors on their digital devices. How do we design for the explosion of these dynamic inputs? Jason Grigsby shared some interesting facts about input and his forward-thinking strategies.
The Web never had a fixed canvas. Knowing the screen sizes doesn’t matter as much, since lines are blurred in between phones, tablets, and laptops. Resolution doesn’t define the optimal experience.
How to handle this challenge? Jason showed us several futuristic input technology and products that could potentially change the game.
Circling back, Jason dived deep into explaining what this input challenge means for the Web:
- For TV remote controls, input patterns are difficult to detect.
- There is still a gap in between touch input and desktop input(mouse and keyboard).
- For many people in the emerging countries, mobile is their first smart device, not desktop.
- People use laptops with mouse, keyboard, touch all together. Switching modes won’t solve the problem
What if the product has lots of legacy and the users won’t let go? Some example Jason listed below demonstrated good product strategies in giving the users a choice.
The key benefit of giving this approach is: You are designing for user need not for a specific form factor or input.
Having been working on design UI for hybrid and convertible devices, I found Jason’s viewpoints about dynamic inputs quite valuable and relevant. The web is a continuous canvas, adaptive interface should not just belong to website. It’s time to break the boundaries in between desktop, mobile, and web, and rethink about the experience as a union.
As I mentioned, these two above are the talks that my colleague didn’t cover. I’ve also enjoyed brilliant talks by Ben Callahan, Brad Frost, and learned a lot from a hands-on jQuery workshop by Nate Schutta.
Overall UXIM 2014 was a delightful experience. It was eye-opening to share thoughts about mobile with people who do design in various industries, such as healthcare, energy, retail, etc. Thanks Jared Spool and the rest of the team putting together a wonderful conference.