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Insight into a “reverse iconoclast” February 26, 2010

Posted by Megha Narayan in Uncategorized.
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[Posted on behalf of Rohan Thompson]

After the long slog of a day at Haas, a Wednesday speaker series sometimes presents itself more as a chore than the pleasure it really ought to be.  Unless of course the topic of discussion is sufficiently scintillating to eradicate thoughts of being home with a furry cat and glass of something boozy.  For me Web User Experience Design usually falls into that category.  And to serve it up we were graced with the presence of Elizabeth Windram, Senior User Experience Designer at Google.

I think Elizabeth was at something of a loss as to the prior level of UX understanding resident amongst the class.  A few of us have dabbled in the discipline before and many more were relatively new to the topic.  Working out where to pitch the presentation to a class of unknowns is never an easy thing, so Elizabeth went with the basics; start with typography.

Now I’m a bit of an armchair typography nut.  I possess absolutely no formal training in design, layout or typography specifically, but there’s an innate nerdiness about typography that appeals to me.  Clearly the same goes for Elizabeth.  She seemed to be holding back while she waxed on about kerning, leading and serifs.  Anyone who’s taken the time to watch the film Helvetica will know just how deeply the passion can run.  Typography is serious business.  The truth is that while I was familiar with much of what Elizabeth was covering, there was a lot that was new.  In particular I’d always been led to believe that serif typefaces were the more readable.  Well, they are, but sans serif typefaces are more legible.  I’d never considered that nuance but it makes sense.  Were it not, the world would not now be so dominated by the ubiquitous Helvetica. 

 Unfortunately typography puts some people to sleep.  I’m not one of them, but I’m sure there were at least one or two people in the class who were expecting a bit more razzle-dazzle.  The fact is that good UX design isn’t about razzle-dazzle; it’s about consistency and the practice of elegant simplicity.  Which is where the print world method of snap-to-grid enters the picture.  The print layout industry has used it since time immemorial.  The grid system brings order to a page and structures content in such a way that human cognition more readily accepts and process the data.  Elizabeth then shed light on her personal quest to import the grid approach to YouTube.  Pick a site, almost any site, and you’ll see how the little the grid system is used.  Flip through almost any print magazine and you’ll notice just how natural it seems in that context.  Why should web pages be any different?

Elizabeth is might be considered a reverse iconoclast of sorts.  She’s inserted herself into one of the new media’s great paradigm shifters (I use that term with due disrespect)—one of the companies most associated with the complete redefinition of video consumption—and her method of innovation is to reapply the tried and true lessons of the past.  I agree that consistency is indeed king, and Elizabeth is its champion.

User Experience Design @ Youtube February 26, 2010

Posted by Megha Narayan in Uncategorized.
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[Posted on behalf of John Park]

Last week, Haas students in the Design Innovation Speaker Series heard from Elizabeth Windram, Senior User Experience Designer at Google, on some basic principles of visual design and how they are applied to her work at Youtube.  Though the Google front page is definitely Spartan (by design, of course), other Google franchises such as Youtube require more visualization and concept illustration work. This was readily apparent as Elizabeth went through the many different ways that text, graphics, and rich media can be positioned on the webpage. For example, font sizes and types yield certain types of responses to the end user ie. Times New Roman is very formal while other fonts such as Verdana and Calibiri are softer and more pleasing to the eye. We also learned about spacing issues between text lines and paragraph shapes along with some concrete do’s and don’ts. Finally, we were taught how different grid organizations and formats are visualized in catalogs and websites – the most glaring example being the grid product ads in IKEA catalogs that conform to very structured 2 X 3 formats per page.

 After spending time on theory, Elizabeth shared how these concepts were used to design the Youtube frontpage and video search results layout. Again, grid structures dominated most of the conversation with concept illustrations done by hand capturing much of the prototyping.  The highlight of the talk was Elizabeth’s discussion on how advertisements and financial considerations can affect the visualization and concept illustrations of the final layout ie. Youtube’s prominent placement of rich media and banner ads at the top and right-hand side of the front page.

Overall, a fantastic informative session on theory and real life application of design concepts. Big thanks to Elizabeth and Google for an awesome presentation!

An Introduction to Ethnographic Research February 26, 2010

Posted by Megha Narayan in Uncategorized.
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[Posted on behalf of Ceinwyn Karne]

We were lucky to have Leah Hunter, Strategic Director at Cheskin, join our first class to talk about the process and products of ethnographic research. Leah led us through the basics of in-home ethnographic interviews, where she usually spends time with individual consumers learning about their habits and attitudes regarding different types of products. The job seems like a terrific fit for anyone with natural curiosity about others — probing into thoughts and homes (behind refrigerators, even!) comes with the territory.

Her top two recommendations for ethnographic research were: 1) to be as open as possible, and 2) to tell a good story. Leah stressed that the only way to get to the heart of consumer’s attitudes, behaviors, and needs is to keep asking probing questions. As an interviewer, you can’t assume that you know where an interviewee is going with a vague statement. Don’t let them stop with a general “It makes me happy.” Ask “Can you tell me more about that” or “How does that make you feel” to get at the ideas and feelings that aren’t top-of-mind. Only stop asking questions when the interviewee can’t think of another way to phrase what they meant or how they felt.

Just as openness is essential to understanding consumer behavior, telling a good story is key to persuading the ultimate consumer of your research (whether it’s a client or your boss). Relevant, attention-grabbing quotes and photos will increase viewers’ interest in your research and enhance the stickiness of your basic messages. If your end-result is a market segmentation, include a representative photo and summarize each segment in four words or less. The extra paragraphs of information are useful, but the photo and keywords ensure that the viewer “gets it” right away.

Fantastic advice from a seasoned pro — thanks to Leah for such a fascinating introduction to the world of user-centric research!