Being out on your own can really contribute to learning behaviours by observation
A case of bad IP detect and an even worse Quebec market strategy
Here is the scenario:
I saw a sweater I wanted to buy at a retail location of Urban Outfitters in Toronto (where I live), however I didn’t want to buy it at the time, and don’t feel like visiting the store again.
Today I am thinking about it and decide “Oh I’ll just look it up online - I am sure I can order it from their website”.
So I do a Google search….
Great! Cheap shipping, start shopping, women’s apparel - bingo. So I click on the link.
Right…I am on a Quebec (Montreal) IP address currently.
So where is my option to change province/language? The assumption has been made that any Quebec IP will always be a user currently living IN Quebec.
Outside of IP detect not being fail safe, there are also scenarios that require consideration for your online strategy. What if I was visiting a friend in Montreal but wanted to order something to be shipped to my home in Ontario?
Further to the IP detect issue, what about the poor Quebec market? So no one in Quebec can browse Urban Outfitter products online, even though there are physical locations in their city? Ideally I should be able to see the current product lines so I can do some research before I head out to the store. Maybe I want to see if the spring collection has come in yet, or if there are sales going on in-store.
Well needless to say, Urban Outfitters should be looking at these issues and find opportunities to increase in-store/online sales.
I want that sweater!
The Site Map Dilemma
Do we need site maps? I’m not talking about those ones for spiders, but the ones created by UX professionals for illustrating content pages and hierarchy for a website. This question plagues me. I had a discussion with a creative technologist friend of mine not too long ago, and decided it was something I needed to explore.
- Define the audiences and intended uses for a site map (use cases)
- Research definitions, references, and context
- Search for alternatives and evaluate against use cases
- Solution? Defeat?
Who typically uses a site map?
- project manager – provides insight into project scope
- ux/graphic/interaction designer – provides a “map” of pages, insights into potential navigation structure, can help identify missing content items, understanding of domain and development of nomenclature
- writer/copywriter/editor – illustrates content requirements, helps to structure content plans and copy decks
- developer/system architect – provides insight into data structure and number of pages/page elements
- client – provides high level information about site content, early identification of gaps or redundancy in content prior to design phase, nomenclature verification
It’s clear site maps serve an important role to many stakeholders to communicate design, content, structure and organization of ideas - but is it the right format?
In Dan Brown’s book Communicating Design – Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning, he defines a site map as follows:
“A visual representation of the relationships between different pages on a web site. Also known as a structural model, taxonomy, hierarchy, navigation model or site structure.”
Let’s break this down:
- Relationship between pages
- Navigation or structural model
Wikipedia defines the word “map” as:
“A map is a visual representation of an area – a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes.”
I’ve seen site maps delivered as an excel document with a matrix of pages and dependencies, but based on the above definitions, a key qualifier for communicating the structure of a site/application is largely visual.
Here is the problem I see with site maps in today’s world: they tend to visualize the structure and content in a very linear and rigid format. But as our products make use of more dynamic content, the representation of the content should be more circular, connected, and illustrate the varying “states” of content. We now have the ability to identify individual users (via IP detect, tracking pixels, cookies, authenticated vs non-authenticated users, etc.), and serve them relevant and unique content based on who they are. How could you possibly show all these scenarios in the form of a site map?
So this got me thinking of alternatives that could still provide value to all stakeholders and address their needs. As it turns out, a few people have already explored this in the past couple of years. One of the best articles I came across was in UX Magazine from about 2 years ago, where the idea of using a node based structure (concept map) was presented.
Image credit: UXMagazine
Similar to what I was envisioning, it shows dynamic relationships, is not linear and still identifies the content requirements. The drawback is that it can become too abstract for stakeholders to understand depending on the complexity. But I do think this is a good direction to go.
I started searching around on some other potential diagram types that could work, and for the sake of keeping this relatively short and focusing on some main players, have included a few below for consideration (of course, there are multiple other data visualization techniques and diagrams out there).
Image credit: Paula Wood
Affinity diagrams are used in brainstorming exercises to help organize ideas. These often look like a descendant or close relative of a site map. The one above, however, takes a bit of a different approach by using venn diagrams. The issue here, is that the information presented does not contain a lot of low level detail.
Image credit: Greensphere Wellness Center
A bubble diagram is like a concept map without connecting lines (although some will employ the use of connecting lines). It can show groupings and priority of information in a non-linear fashion. As above, there is still a lack of low level detail.
Image credit: Wikipedia
Henry Beck developed the first subway map of its kind in 1931 when he created the London Underground Tube map. Today, we all know this to be the standard visual representation of most major subway systems. I know this is a bit surreal, but I think that in theory it could work to represent content and content intersections. However, this would likely be far too confusing to stakeholders (but may be an idea to try just for fun!).
One other thing to chew on…where does Lean UX fit into this quandary - where decreasing deliverables is sometimes part of the theory? Would this be one of the artifacts cut out of the process? Or would this become a more cooperative team approach where the ideas are sketched out in an undefined diagram type and perhaps not finalized in a standard ‘deliverable’ document such as a formal site map?
As you can see I have mostly questions, the start of ideas, and no answers at this point. In writing this, I have realized that it’s ok not to have a solution…YET. Getting my thoughts on paper and hopefully opening up the subject to collaborative discussion, however, would be a great start…
Opening image credit: Royal CSS
Cambria is hard to read.
Desert Island UX toolkit
We’ve all been part of those desert island conversations where you
have to decide on the limited items you would take should you be exiled to an isolated location, but lately as I think about the “UX Toolbox”, I decided to think about the top 5 items that I would take to my island (pictured above is my usual arsenal + multiple monitors and a laptop).
As a User Experience designer, I sometimes feel a little OCD as I skip from paper, to digital sketches, to research, to post-its, to a spreadsheet …(desktop/laptop, tablet, mobile…). I realize that I use a lot of different tools throughout my day, and figuring out which ones I could leave behind is a task in itself. Not only are there tools to help me do my job, but also elements of my environment that need to be present for me to be productive.
All right, so I need requirements/guidelines for my 5 “things”. Can each thing be a collection? Is one type of software program a thing? To make it more challenging for myself, I’ve decided to go quite granular to see where I net out.
- A piece of software that has to be installed is an item
- A distinct piece of hardware is an item
- The internet is not a consideration (that would be too easy!)
Item #1: MacBook Pro
I’ve chosen this as opposed to a tablet, due to the fact that a laptop has a built in keyboard and ability to save and organize files. It will also be needed to run various programs like item #2 and #4.
Item #2: Balsamiq
I’ve worked with Visio, Omnigraffle, Axure and Balsamiq in the past and have spent most of my time designing in Omnigraffle and Visio. I chose Balsamiq as I have always been partial to it. I really like the sketch style (which does not go over well for all clients I know), and the flexibility of the widgets. You can easily adapt pre-built widgets and add styles, links, images, etc AND can easily adjust pixel dimensions of your elements (not so in Visio). There is an extensive library of assets available within the software as well as from the community, and you can easily create your own. Exporting a low fidelity working prototype in PDF form is also a selling point for me, as it has been really useful when walking clients through a flow (without them having to know much about how to open an html file). But we aren’t here to talk about UX software….for the record, I’m keen to explore UXPin a bit further…
Item #3: Mouse
No explanation required.
Item #4: iTunes
I focus best when I am listening to music devoid of vocals. My playlist would contain the following (in no particular order - and is what I have been gravitating to lately):
Explosions in the Sky
The Album Leaf
Various IA Summit, UIE, London IA, Boxes and Arrows podcasts
Item #5: Headphones
No explanation required.
What about pencil and paper? A crucial tool for me. We did say island right? I would find a good stick and use the sand as my giant sketchpad to work out ideas.
I anticipate if I come back to revisit this post in a year or even a few months, my 5 things would drastically change – so this may serve as some form of time capsule in a way.
Let’s see how item #4 and #2 change over the next few years…
On a non-desert island tangent…take a look at this toolbox idea - I just love it!
Why you need a UX Toolbox