In this introduction to user experience design, Hamilton Jones, Digital Editor at Macmillan, explains what UX is, why it’s important and how it works.
Digital Editor Hamilton Jones unravels the mystery of what user testing involves, and how Macmillan uses it to improve experiences of our products and services.
If you follow any of our social media channels at Macmillan, you may have noticed that we’re often looking for people to come and take part in user testing. We think of user testing as a great way to help us to improve the experience of our products and services, but what does it really mean? This piece aims to unravel the mystery of what user testing involves, what it can and can’t test and why we do it.
What does user testing involve?
User testing (often referred to as usability testing) refers to evaluating the effectiveness of a product or service through observation. In order for us to carry out user testing, we must engage with participants that represent our user base, plan tasks that will effectively test our products, and analyse our findings.
In practice, this involves participants trying to complete specific tasks, under controlled conditions, while we watch, listen and record qualitative and quantitative data about their experience. During the session, users are encouraged to think aloud by talking through their thought processes and decisions. This enables us to make notes on and discuss the user’s journey more clearly, helping to identify any usability issues raised.
After user testing is carried out, we are able to collate the data and work out what changes we need to make to improve future users’ experiences.
What can and can’t it test?
User testing can test how well people are able use our products or services for their intended purpose. This could include websites, micro-sites and apps, and can test interface and content. User testing is just one of the ways that helps us to understand our user’s needs and create holistic user-focused products and services. At Macmillan we also carry out surveys, monitor analytics, gather feedback, visit users in their environments and much more.
User testing does not focus on the user’s opinion, instead it tests their ability to complete a set task and whether this journey is good. Importantly this does not reflect the user’s abilities with digital platforms, but whether or not our products and services are user friendly enough for them to be able to complete the tasks.
Why do we do it?
User testing offers us direct input on how real people use our digital platforms, the issues they face and the changes we can make to ensure they have the best possible journey. It is vital in helping us to understand how people use and interact with our digital products and services. This is predominantly interactions with our website, but user testing can help us understand users’ interactions with any of our digital touchpoints.
We rely on all of these approaches to try to constantly improve our services for people affected by cancer. We often ask for people affected by cancer to get involved, to tell us what’s important to them, what challenges they might have and how we can improve their experience. Ultimately, it’s to make our digital products and services as helpful and supportive as possible for everyone who needs them.
You often hear creative directors say that the work can only be as good as the brief, and while I’m a stickler for a well thought out and enlightening brief, I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that. I’ve seen good creative transcend a poor brief and I’ve also seen a great brief go to waste with safe or bland creative. Even strategists will sometimes work backwards from a great idea and write their brief to fit, which goes to show that it can be an evolving document.
But in the day to day workings of a creative studio, good briefs generally result in good work. And it’s easy to understand why. A brief is like a treasure map – you want to make it clear that there’s gold in them thar hills but you also want the treasure hunter to work hard to find it.
When it comes to being in the right space to think up the best ideas, trust plays a huge role in creative thinking. Clients put their trust into the team to read, understand and take on board their requests, and creatives work best when they’re given space to interpret the information and develop ideas based on their understanding of the problem.
This means giving the team a clear and thorough explanation of the challenge you face or the problem you need to solve and a detailed description of the audience you’re trying to reach. What makes your product or service unique and why should anyone care? Tell us something interesting about the audience. What makes them tick? What gets them excited? What makes them mad? Great creative ideas spring from human truths and it’s these nuggets of insight that really get the creative cogs whirring.
As an example, when developing the Old Spice campaign, research into the body wash category showed that a lot of women buy body wash for the men in their lives, which meant there were far more women buying men’s body wash than men. The audience for men’s body wash, funnily, wasn’t men at all – it was women. Women who wanted their men smelling good. That was the audience insight, the human truth that led to this:
In their 2014 short film on briefs, Basset asked creative directors of the world’s most prestigious agencies to describe what a good brief is:
‘A thought starter…’
‘the shorter the better’
‘a clarity of purpose’
‘an open statement of ambition’
‘most importantly, it has to inspire the people who are given the task of solving the problem’
This last one really stuck with me. When you’re reading a brief and you feel the client’s excitement and enthusiasm for the project leaping off the page, it makes you want to get to work immediately. It makes you want to create something brilliant, something that will do justice to their passion. So write your briefs with passion – let your enthusiasm for the project shine through the words. The work will be all the better for it.
Is it okay to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’? The answer is very simple – yes.
The idea that it’s grammatically incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’ is just a myth.
I know, I know. It’s probably not what you were taught at school. But the fact is – wait for it – your teachers were wrong.
And don’t just take my word for it.
The Chicago Manual of Style, an authority on all things grammar, says rather emphatically:
‘There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction.
‘In fact, a substantial percentage of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions.
‘It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.’
But this debate is nothing new.
For years, people have been standing up for their right to start sentences with a conjunction.
All the way back in 1953, Sir Ernest Gowers wrote in a book called The Complete Plain Words that:
‘There used to be an idea that it was inelegant to begin a sentence with “and”. That idea is now as good as dead.’
Ernest may have jumped the gun a bit there. But who can fault his optimism? He couldn’t have known that this myth would still be flying around 60 plus years later.
So where has this myth come from?
In the book The Story of English in 100 Words, grammarian David Crystal gives us some answers. He blames those uptight Victorians. It reads:
‘During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like ‘but’ or ‘and’, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing.
‘But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should ‘never’ begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.’
So there you have it.
For over a hundred years, people have been debating (read: arguing) about this issue, all because of some overzealous schoolteachers.
But there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with words like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ or ‘or’. And it’s never been any other way.
If you have a television you can’t possibly have avoided the barrage of Christmas adverts that have been hitting our screens in the last few weeks. There have been the good, the bad and the exceedingly twee.
The ones that caught my eye were by Tesco and Sainsbury’s - probably because both are startling similar. Both focus on that key idea that Christmas is a time to be with your family and all the memories and nostalgia that come with that.
Sainsbury’s was the better ad for me. As the strapline says it’s all about the moments that make Christmas special. There were some great observations in it, ones that people can really relate to and it felt genuine, believable and moving.
And that’s because it IS genuine. Apparently it’s all authentic footage from last Christmas. And you can really tell. That’s what sets it apart from Tesco’s ad (it probably doesn’t help that I’ve never liked Rod Stewart’s voice either).
And in a way, though what we’re doing is so different to Sainsbury’s, it’s reinforced in my mind what we do at Macmillan. We’re about being personal in every way and helping make sure that people affected by cancer have the chance to be heard. It’s about showing the real experiences that people are going through. And whenever you do that you create something so much more tangible and moving than you could ever do if you tried to artificially recreate it.
So we all know Macmillan is the nation’s favourite charity brand this year, but in the youth sector things are very different. The Youth 100 reveals the most loved brands of 2013 based on a survey of thousands of young people. The top three brands in this age group are You Tube, Wikipedia and Cadbury. CRUK are the first charity coming in at a respectable 11th place. The next seven charity brands are Comic Relief, Oxfam, Movember, Talk to Frank, Greenpeace, Amnesty and [Red].
You’ll notice that Macmillan don’t feature in the top 100. What are your thoughts about this? How can we make Macmillan better known and loved by Britain’s young people?
A fun infographic allegedly featuring ‘all the sci-fi spaceships known to man‘. Quite a claim which immediately had me browsing through to find what I could spot that wasn’t included.