Megan Leigh McDonald
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‘Don’t make me think.’ Steve Krug

Megan Leigh McDonald

Task apps, a brief rant

I’m looking specifically at the free version of GTasks which is rated at an average of 4.5 stars in the Google Play Store (26,812 reviews). I don’t mean to pick on GTasks, which has quite a nice, fluid interface. I’m focusing on it mostly because it seems to be one of the more often recommended, highly rated and it synchs with Google tasks. As time allows, I’ll try out and evaluate a few other task apps over the coming weeks.

At any rate, there are two things missing that would really improve my overall task management abilities.

1. No sense of “dependencies” or sequencing of tasks that relate. A task should either break down into sub-tasks or allow a way to link tasks together in either ordered or unordered. An ordered list allows for a parent to own a specific sequence of children or siblings, which allows the user to keep track of complexities. Ask any mother of 3 if her life is complex enough to need to do this and I’m betting her answer is a resounding “yes”. Although of course I defer to research over my gut instinct and personal experience (”I am not my users”).

An unordered bucket of related tasks allows for the fluidity to tackle tasks as they come up or to decide on importance of specific tasks at a later time.

2. Prioritization overload. Seems like one can prioritize tasks by dimensions of both date/time and urgency. The problem is those two are not very different. If assign dates to my tasks, then by default anything marked for “today” already is urgent. Looking at a long list of about twenty items for today and seeing 5 of them as urgent isn’t really helpful. I would want to know to what degree each is urgent relative to one another, not to mention the rank order of all other “non urgent” tasks.

A better interaction here would be to allow a drag/drop rank order so they can be put in order of importance within today’s (or tomorrow’s or next week’s) timeframe.

Pair the two solutions above and we have got my “nearly perfect” application for managing tasks.

Parlons-nous…what I learn from trying to speak French…

Last night I attended a French conversation group to get some practice and build some confidence in my speaking abilities. It’s interesting what came out of that for me and how that applies to my normal 9 to 5. Upon reflection afterward and during my long bike ride through the rain back home, I realized that learning another language builds some very important skills.

For example, it challenges one to think on one’s feet. There were a lot of people with different levels of knowledge. Choosing partners to talk with was somewhat challenging in that regard. On top of who looked interesting, I also wanted to choose someone who was at or around the same level as myself, but who would provide a slight challenge. For awhile I spoke to two very lovely ladies, a teacher/artist and an architect. We chatted away half the evening, talking about art and Paris.

Later in the evening, I found myself in a group with the ‘organitrice’ and some actual French people. I was a little surprised that French people would attend, but pleasantly so. At any rate, I found myself needing to strategize the way I phrased my thoughts in order to communicate clearly. Not having as many nouns and verbs in my repetoire meant that I needed to think creatively in order to describe at least the concept of what I was trying to say. I found that the more experienced speakers were more than happy to translate my attempts by reflecting back to me a better way to say it.

I have to say, I left feeling, well a little smarter and a little more practiced. If you’re at all interested in joining this group, here’s the information.

Agile User Experience Design Group - San Francisco - June Meetup

I recently attended the June meetup for the Agile UX Design Group here in SF at Pivotal Labs. It’s always really interesting to me to walk into someone else’s workplace. It’s always palpably different than every other place I’ve worked at or been to.

Flash Tag Cloud

Back in the day, I took a PhD class from an advertising exec who presented us with papers and testing results that suggested people value the concept of ‘gaming’ in their everyday experience. Certianly, Jesse Schell would agree with that premise given his dramatic and engaging speech “When games invade real life“.

Recently, a link to this cool looking interactive flash-based 3D tag cloud was passed my way and it turned out to be a great example that highlights the benefits of adding enjoyment. There was a short debate about its benefits and foibles. It was a bit glitchy when it comes to signaling relevancy by size (the relative size changes depending on user interaction instead of being set).

The thing that occurred to most of the participants in the discussion thread was that it needs to have a good foundation of meta data in the first place…which could be said of either a static or flash-based version. So, my follow on was that the real test here would be to test it for engagement and findability against its static counterpart. Now, that, I would like to see - I’m betting that given equal implementation, users will enjoy the flash-based tag cloud more.

I think it’s more than the fact that it’s fun. It’s also ’smooth’ or fluid. I couldn’t help but think of Prezi, the presentation software that allows for fluid motion and zoom controls, adding a kind of momentum and fluidity to the art of presentation. It gives the user a sense of velocity or a sense of ’speed’. If this is done correctly, it doesn’t leave the user feeling out of control. The 3D flash-based tag cloud shared this sense of speed with Prezi by giving me a feeling that I would find my results faster. Intuitively I know when I’m mousing over its topics that I won’t necessarily find what I’m looking for faster, but it felt like it would and the feeling was nice…perhaps something I don’t have an option to feel often throughout my dialy routines, certainly not in drive-time traffic!

So why, in the midst of release cycles and product requirements, do we forgo designing experiences that add these more abstract and nuanced feelings into the mix? It seems like, as UX professionals, we adhere so strictly to the fundamentals that if there’s even one minor problem, we discount it as a viable option. But, here’s the paradox: if we’ve learned anything in the past fifteen years, it’s that consumers are willing to put up with a few minor indiscretions if what they’re getting is better, more engaging or more fun than what they currently have. After all improving a user’s feeling about the product is also supposed to be at the core of what we do.

Usability Testing Tips

Want to learn some nice tricks to get your testing in DIY or guerilla style? Check this article on A List Apart out. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/quick-and-dirty-remote-user-testing/

Really informative with lots of juicy links to new and innovative web-ware. I especially liked the demo of Tree Jack, which is ‘like card sorting in reverse’. http://www.optimalworkshop.com/

Customer Service User Experience

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about what makes designing for customer service different than designing for conversion or other business needs. Clearly, most of the goals around customer service efforts relate to cost savings in terms of reducing contacts, handle time or user churn (repeat user contacts). In this area, businesses are more transparent about making changes that impact the bottom line,

Clean Forms = Better User Experience + Conversion

As a veteran web designer, I’ve created many a form in my day, but recently really took stock of what I’ve learned over the years.

A History of Problems

To start off, just want to explain why I haven’t been writing for the past few months. After relocating for a new job up in San Jose at PayPal (yay), I am starting to really feel at home and making some time to devote to my writing again. So on with the show…

Dreaming of Solving Problems
The other morning I struggled to wake up while listening to NPR (yes, I know…doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping but I like it).

A Limitation of Click Map

Today I learned something from my Product Manager. He had the look of a ‘bearer of bad news’ but he gave me the medicine anyways. I have heard in the past that ClickMap is not always reliable and noticed even that the data didn’t always match the next page reports I pulled.

But today, I understood at a new level of how this tool, as great as it seems to a designer, is sometimes wildly innaccurate. As you might have read on this blog before, I love this tool mainly because of its visual appeal and in some cases, when the link leads to a popup or a page that doesn’t have omniture tracking code, it can be really helpful.

However, when using templates, one must beware. It’s probably also a factor of not being coded correctly or with great care, but templates can give some very misleading numbers that represent the total clicks of all the links in a defined module. The module, such as a sidebar or navigation menu, might have more than one link but the flag will appear on only one of the links, leading one to misinterpret the data. Sigh. Well I hope that Omniture really looks at ways to improve the implementation of code for this tool or the tool itself because the visualization of clicks on live site pages seems like a really great idea.

Deluged by Waterfall…

So I feel as if I’ve just landed in my new job and I’m in a large waterfall of information. This is my first exposure to such a large set of cross-functional team members and, frankly, it’s a steep learning curve in terms of the process. I’ve often been in environments that were highly structured with XP, Agile or Scrum. I’ve really enjoyed those in the past and love co-location with my team and the efficiency of communication that those methodologies bring with them.

I’m beginning to see, as I read up on everything non-XP/Agile that basically all other ‘methodologies’ were sort of retroactively lumped together and placed under the label ‘waterfall’. This involves a large amount of information, not unlike the water from the snow caps of Yosemite, rushing downstream at so many ‘knots per minute’ only to be tumbled over and over at junctures called ‘handoffs’ from one support org to another. These ‘handoffs’ truly are like the mad rush of a waterfall as all that information gets dumped from one level to another on its trajectory toward the city water taps.

In some ways, it’s a giddy experience as it strains all my skills and challenges me to be a better designer and a better professional. My understanding and use of data was already strong but continues to grow daily after each meeting I have with my product brothern. My communications skills are also expanding as I review with my cross-functional teams across vast distances from India to London. I’m also honing my speaking skills by giving Design Reviews in front of all the executives of my org. My documentation skills are also becoming more detail oriented, which is an area I’ve needed work on since kindergarten. Yes, I do appreciate Mrs. Montalvo for pointing out that I draw outside the lines, but was the ‘frowny’ face really necessary?

At any rate, my ‘giddy’ experience is enriching and just the kind of challenge I wanted at this point in my career. I am absorbing it all as fast as I can, making mistakes and learning from them.

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