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Toolkit for creating personas

George Olsen has developed a persona toolkit, which can help you build detailed profiles of users, their relations to a product (e.g. a website), and the context in which they use a product. The toolkit is pretty extensive, but intended to be based on a pick-and-choose approach.

George Olsen also gives advice on how to collect information. Ideally, personas should be based on interviewing and direct observation, but you can also get useful information from alternative sources, such as domain experts, research, and artefacts that reveal information about the users' context.


Henrik Olsen - April 04, 2004

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See also: Tools (51)  Personas (13) 



Use Cases and interaction design

Use cases are widely used in large projects to capture the functional requirements of software systems. The Q2 2004 issue of GUUUI looks at how uses cases can serve as a powerful tool for brainstorming workflows and bridging the gaps between design and development.


Henrik Olsen - April 01, 2004

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See also: GUUUI articles (8)  Use Cases (3)  Prototyping and wireframing (32) 



Bridging use cases and interaction design

Use cases are widely used during the analysis phase of a project to model user requirements. In the hands of interaction designers, use cases can be a powerful tool to guide interface design. But use cases was originally developed to support the design of software components, and are often used in a way that is not well suited for supporting interaction design.

In this reprint from the book Object-Modeling and User Interface Design, Larry L. Constantine and Lucy A. D. Lockwood suggest an approach to use cases, which forms a more solid bridge between requirements analysis and interaction design, and between design and implementation.


  • The book chapter Structure and Style in Use Cases for User Interface Design
  • The book at
  • The book at

Henrik Olsen - March 13, 2004

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See also: Use Cases (3)  Prototyping and wireframing (32) 



Field Studies: The Best Tool to Discover User Needs

"The most valuable asset of a successful design team is the information they have about their users. When teams have the right information, the job of designing a powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use interface becomes tremendously easier. When they don't, every little design decision becomes a struggle."

Techniques such as focus groups, usability tests, and surveys are valuable, but according to Jared M. Spool from UIE, the most powerful tool in the toolbox is field studies. While it might be the most expensive technique to use, it has contributed to some of the most innovative designs.

With field studies, the team gets immersed in the environment of their users and allows them to observe critical "unspeakable" details. It eliminates guesswork and opinion wars, by providing the designers with a deep understanding of the users context, terminology, and processes.


  • The article Field Studies: The Best Tool to Discover User Needs

Henrik Olsen - March 07, 2004

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See also: Requirement Analysis (12) 



How to measure a website's value

How does one measure how well a website communicates the value of its offerings? Jared M. Spool from UIE has come up with a variant of usability testing called Inherent Value Testing. It goes something like this:

1. Recruit a minimum of six loyal users and six inexperienced users, who meet the target profile.
2. Start with the experienced group and ask them to give you a tour of the site and share the features they use and like the best.
3. Bring in your new users and let them work through the same scenarios as the experienced users, find out which pages they visit, what they like and what the don't like about the site
4. Compare the results and find out whether the site revealed the same benefits for the new users as those you heard form the experienced users.

Observing experienced users will tell you which offerings people appreciate, while observing new users will tell you which precious offerings that people fail to spot.


  • The article Inherent Value Testing
  • The article Conducting Inherent Value Testing

Henrik Olsen - February 29, 2004

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See also: Usability testing (30) 



Navigation Stress Test

The idea behind Keith Instone's Navigation Stress Test is to ask about some basic concerns users often have upon arriving at web pages:

- Where am I?
- What's here?
- Where can I go?

Randomly pick out low-level pages from the site you want to test, pretend you are entering the site for the first time at this page, and try to answer the questions. In Keith's article you'll find detailed instructions on how to perform the test.


  • The article Navigation Stress Test

Henrik Olsen - November 22, 2003

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See also: Expert reviews (6) 



How people scan web pages

The usability consultancy UIE conducted an eye-tracking study to find out how people scan a typical three column web page layout.

Some major findings:
- The users usually scanned in the centre area first, then the left area and then the right column
- The users would only investigate the left and right column when looking for additional information
- The users quickly learned to look where they would expect to find relevant content and avoid areas which was unimportant to their current task, such as banner ads
- The users would only re-evaluate their scan strategies when they detected changes in the layout of pages
- The users where able to determine if surrounding content was relevant before looking directly at it, suggesting that peripheral vision plays a central role in the interaction with the web pages
- Ads attracted users only when they related to the current task – even if the content interested users


  • The article Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking

Henrik Olsen - October 21, 2003

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See also: Research (93)  Web page design (23)  Eye-tracking (7) 



Listening labs vs. think aloud tests

If you heard about Mark Hurst, you probably also heard about listening labs. In his October 1, 2003 newsletter, Mark explains the how and why of the method.

Listening labs is Mark's version of the traditional think-aloud test. But instead of predefining tasks for the users to conduct, you give them tasks on-the-fly based on what they want to do on the site. In this way your test will not only tell you if users can do what you want them to, but also if the product can do what the users want to do.


  • The article Four Words to Improve User Research

Henrik Olsen - October 01, 2003

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See also: Usability testing (30) 



First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users

In his August 5, 2001 Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen writes about an old rule of usability, which I of hear myself preaching:

"To design an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior."

Asking people about their opinion of a product – whether they are target users, clients or "usability experts" – without watching how people actually use it, won't help us design better products.

"Say, for example, that 50% of survey respondents claim they would buy more from e-commerce sites that offer 3D product views. Does this mean you should rush to implement 3D on your site? No. It means that 3D sounds cool."


  • The article First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users

Henrik Olsen - August 14, 2003

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See also: Requirement Analysis (12) 



Critique of Nielsen/Normann Group's report Usability Return on Investment

Peter Merholtz and Scott Hirsch take a closer look at Nielsen/Normann Group's report Usability Return on Investment. Though a number of the cases in the report are solid and the report provides some valuable usability metrics, Merholtz and Hirsch states that the methodologies used are so fundamentally flawed that "…any financial analyst worth her salt would immediately question its findings".

"…the report hints at linkages between usability metrics and financial returns without providing any real detailed analysis of how this was done in the individual cases or offering any guidelines for addressing, this challenge at your business".

Combining learnings from Nielsen/Normann report, Aaron Marcus' report Return on Investment for Usable User-Interface Design, and their own experience, Merholtz and Hirsch suggest how to better ascribe financial results to user experience design.


Henrik Olsen - August 03, 2003

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See also: Cost-justification and ROI (19) 

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