A gentle introduction to UX & usability

This is the first of a series of posts which will cover topics from my UX & Usability session at LIANZA Conference 2010. I'm hoping these will be a little tidier than the session, which was rewritten continuously as I listened to the other presentations! I'll also include some links to blogs, meetups and other conferences which may be useful to anyone new to the UX community.

UX translates as "user experience" and has a somewhat fluid meaning. It may be seen to encompass activities such as user research, design, and ongoing customer support. It overlaps with marketing and market research, and with much of the day to day work librarians do with customers. Use of social media to connect with customers might also be seen as a form of user research, with a continuous feedback loop in action.

User research has two important outcomes:

  1. It enables the people who design, build and operate a service to step away from their vantage point and see the service from their customers' point of view.
    At the Wellington UX Barcamp last month, Nick Bowmast gave presentations about the role of the user researcher in enabling a design team to empathise with the users of a product, and, how he's been presenting the research in a visual format rather than as written reports, with great results (example at the end of this post).
  2. It produces and/or analyses data about usage of the service and the outcomes of this usage, which can be used to support decision making (e.g. new features or content to be added, budget allocations, support requirements).
    If you missed it, Carol Tenopir's LIANZA keynote "Sharpening the Value Edge of Academic Libraries" took us through measuring usage, outcomes (for example the effect reading articles provided by a library has on research output), and ROI. Watch the presentation on the LIANZA website, or see LIBvalue for further information.

The next posts in this series will cover exploratory user research such as interviews and surveys, usability testing, and using web statistics, all in relation to peoples' experience of searching and browsing library collections online.

For more on UX and user research check out Patrick Kennedy's 'Five user research methods you've probably never seen'.

Finally, below is one of Nick Bowmast's graphical presentations of user research. This is from a 2008 study looking at how early adopters of technology were finding, viewing, storing and sharing digital media content. Presenting this visually allowed complex information to become digestible and approachable as a basis for discussion with stakeholders.

Illustration indicating many of the elements involved in user experience work, and the connections between them.

By Rebecca Cox

Rebecca was the National Library's usability expert.

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