Why the humble main menu is important to UX

A main menu is not very interesting to look at artistically-speaking, indeed it probably shouldn’t be. It is, however, a really useful set of clues for a user as to the content contained behind it.

The top-level menu labels should appear to be a set and:

  • be descriptive of all the contents it leads to (providing good “information scent”).
  • be unambiguous
  • clearly different to the others in the same menu
  • of the same level of granularity as the other menu labels

You might have heard of the rule of 7+/- 2. A lot of people cast aspersions about that number, but I think it’s still reasonably stable in terms of a rule of thumb for the recommended number of menu items.
Basically, if you have got a menu that has more than 7 menu items, it shouldn’t grow much greater than 9, because it gets too much to read through, and if it’s a lot smaller than 5, perhaps the menu is not needed or is too deep and so not well-organised.
If you have just two items, you can use something like tabs or a different UI element, depending on what your content is.
If you’re a large store and you have two categories, then 7+/-2 is perhaps not going to be such a useful ballpark figure for you to think about in regards to types of item.

Ideally, all of the top menu labels will have roughly the same number of options taking the user deeper. For example, they could all have about seven suboptions, but if one of them had three, and two of them had fifteen, it would not be well-balanced.
However, each case is different.

In summary, the top-level menu is a quick overview for a user. It’s not very snazzy, but it is really important to have a good structure and one that communicates what your site is about.

For a little more on this topic and to hear about card sorting, have a listen to my latest podcast episode.

https://anchor.fm/liz-parham/episodes/Why-the-humble-menu-is-important-to-UX-eqg6ug

UX tips for start-ups

My latest article for the small business and start-up community, Know your customers and how to talk to them is now available on the Enterprise Nation website.

In this post, the second of a series of four, I cover:

  1. The biggest, and probably the most common mistake, I see when people engage with their customers,
  2. Why you should look at what people do and not what people say, and last but not least;
  3. Why the user’s context is so important.

If this is something you can relate to, or you are struggling to get started, do get in touch. You can drop me a line by clicking on the envelope above, or book a time to talk here.

A simple way to start user research

I wanted people to not fear user research as being too difficult, mysterious or time-consuming and present, in a nutshell, the practical steps necessary to go from start to finish. Of course, there are more details you can add in, but the important thing is to start somewhere!

I’ve listed 6 simple steps:

  1. Define the question
  2. Find participants
  3. Organise the materials
  4. The structure of a user research interview or test
  5. Tips for running the session
  6. What to do with the information you gather

This is aimed at small teams or microbusinesses; people who are wearing many hats and are not able to recruit a specialist at this time.

My aim is that people (businesses, product owners, developers) engage with people (potential or actual customers) to gain an understanding of their needs and so better products are built!

You can listen to my podcast episode on this topic at anchor.fm/liz-parham.

The slides showing the 6 steps to setting up a simple user research session.

Show notes follow

In this very first episode of the Let’s UX Podcast I hope to help you get your user research efforts off the ground and improve your user experience just one step at a time.
This one is for you if you’ve thought about research but haven’t quite taken the first step. I will take you through 6 simple steps to get you started today.

It’s brilliant that you’re here! Getting more people involved in the process of design and development will produce better products, and everybody’s going to be so much happier, let’s face it!

So let’s get stuck in.

If it’s a bit of a mystery as to when and why you might start doing user research, I think there are three main reasons:

  • The first: understand customers better. Their lives, their language, where they would use your solution, other solutions they’ve tried… all of this information will help you make design decisions further along because you won’t be projecting your own preferences and experiences and you’ll be thinking more about real customers.
  • Another could be to test out your website or your app. Don’t really know how well it’s performing? The best way is to put it in front of people and observe them use it.
  • Another reason could be to explore new ideas, new concepts and to iterate on those ideas with them and get feedback.


And that’s the only way to really evolve and iterate on your design before it’s developed, saving money down the line by getting clear: are these good solutions? How well would they work?

Listen to this episode here at anchor.fm/liz-parham.

How to improve your user experience

I was invited to be a guest speaker on Enterprise Nation‘s Lunch and Learn session on “How to improve your user experience”.  

These are on every weekday and cover a variety of topics to help UK start ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses, so this was very exciting.

You can listen to the recording, or read the show notes below.

A tonne of questions came in, which provide useful insights into the sort of information you need to progress, or even start with user experience and user research. I will try and tackle the questions we didn’t get to address over the coming weeks in this blog and on my mailing list.

There were technical gremlins, so the host’s audio is a bit fuzzy, but c’est la vie! Here’s the audio:
Lunch and Learn: How to improve your user experience

The session received some great feedback from the highly-engaged audience. “Very inspiring and super helpful!!”  😀

Below are the summary show notes.


What is UX?

Literally the experience of a user – your customer – when interacting with you, your digital products and services.

Why does UX matter?

It’s a customer’s perception and impression of you. It can affect your bottom line. Help your user access your products in a positive way. “Gosh, how simple!”, “Better than I expected!” would be nice things to hear, wouldn’t they? 

What sort of checks should you make before you send new content or features live?

Developers will be using automated testing tools, which is great, but it’s good for you to have a human review to make sure your requirements have gone through as you envisaged and it’s all working perfectly.

I’d encourage you to make a checklist from your own processes and tweak it as you go, but to get your started here is a short QA checklist for a flawless UX experience.

  • Content: Look at the holistic view in terms of where it sits and how people will find and engage with it. Does it make sense? Is it clear? Does it add value? Is it in the most appropriate format? Does it lead somewhere else?
  • Legibility: Is the text size and colour contrast with the background easy to read? Color Safe is one tool that will check this for you. A rule of thumb is there should be a 70% contrast between text and background.
  • Branding: Is it consistent across digital and non-digital touch points? (e.g. the brand colours and tone of voice).
  • Links: Do they all work okay? It’s really easy for a link to be broken and also really annoying! 
  • Media: Check videos play okay and images resize correctly.
  • Accessibility: check for minimum AA using a web tool. Wave and Jaws have been around a long time, you can google for some other options, it’s a good idea to use a couple in combination.
  • Test on different devices: Are all the essentials such as “pay now” and menu buttons still visible and usable?  

Create your own QA checklist for your own particular product and target device.

What tools assess if users are doing what you would hope they would do?

  • Analytics (e.g. Google, Piwik, Oribi, Matomo) will show which pages people have visited.
  • Heatmaps (Hotjar, Clarity, CrazyEgg) will show where they click and which parts of the screen they spend time on.
  • User research will show you what they thought, their interests and motivations. Reach out and schedule 3-4 users. Alternatively, many companies offer a quick turnaround using their own panels of users. Some examples are Userzoom, TryMyUI, UserTesting. Just be sure if the type of participant profile is representative of your business as recruits tend to be more “Joe Public” and not necessarily a match for your niche. 

Please look at each one carefully for your needs.

How can you assess UX?

Be proactive in knowing what level of user experience you are offering; don’t wait for the angry emails! 

An audit, using usability heuristics, is one way. Engaging with your customers is another.

Decide what level and type of UX you’re aiming for:

  • Consider expectations given how mature your product is and the company, the sector you’re in, and your competition.
  • Consider your brand and your offering.
  • How are you going to measure UX? What is an indicator of good or bad for your business? E.g. Number of positive or negative emails? Engagement? Time spent on the app? Sales? Something else?

Know where you are. Know what you want to achieve. Put all the things in place so you can gather that information. 

How can you improve your UX?

To begin with, you need to understand where things are going wrong and going well, and why (see the point above), by observing your users using your product in individual sessions.

Get users to show you how they use the website (don’t ask or demo, observe and listen). Identify the critical parts of the website and make sure they work well first.

Once you have found out the weak spots, you can focus your attention on them (as opposed to trying to improve everything at once with little impact).

When adding new sections, features or capabilities keep a holistic view in mind so adding in sections or features is not clunky, but rather smooth and flowing. Avoid building the first solutions that come to mind. Design thinking and iterating can help here.

How important is responsive design?

It is always a good idea to make sure your digital products work well across different devices with different screen sizes.

It’s worth considering the Mobile First approach, which has been around for about a decade, and that prioritises the mobile experience. 

The benefits include a clutter-free approach to screen content and content that will usually function satisfactorily on a large screen. 

Designing on a large screen can mean that when a user tries to access it from a mobile device, items such as menu options, important buttons, links, and images may not display well or at all.

Always test across screen sizes, unless you have a solid reason not to. Exceptions may be if you are designing for a very specific use case such as medical apps used in hospitals on fixed screen size, or accounting apps for large volumes of data.

This is a nice explainer if you want to know more on Mobile First https://medium.com/@Vincentxia77/what-is-mobile-first-design-why-its-important-how-to-make-it-7d3cf2e29d00

Is analysing UX useful on a website that is not e-commerce-based?

Yes! Whatever the goal is of your website, it is possible to assess the UX.

Examples may be: can the users find the information they need? Can they understand the data they need to? Do they understand what you do? Is it clear how and when to contact you?

Where to start with user research?

  • Decide if you want to evaluate what you have already.
    • Do this If you’re not sure how well your product is performing. This will provide clarity on what needs improving.
    • Observation of specific sections of your website, and usability tests are good here. 

OR

  • Discover new things
    • Do this if you don’t feel you know enough about your users or you want to get inspired as to what to do next. 
    • Interviews about what they are trying to do through your website, which other websites they may have used for similar purposes, where they are when they use your website and other contextual information is useful. 
  • Define 2-3 questions you want to ask thinking about what you will do with this information. 
  • Book some time with customers (usually one at a time). This can be a 30-minute call, so totally manageable. Aim for 3 – 5 users per focus. 
  • Make a regular habit; whether monthly or quarterly.

Jump right in and talk to users! Go for it, don’t hold back worrying what users will say. You will become more confident (and better at user research as you go). Take the constructive feedback with an open mind (without feeling you have to build everything they mention!).


My personal UX philosophy

Technology should work for people, people shouldn’t have to work hard to use technology!

I love to help businesses make sure their apps are frustration-free so their customers keep coming back.

Interested in my 5 week programme? This is ideal for businesses without UX support. You get to work on the UX of your product with my support. Sign up for my updates so you hear about it next time it runs.

Hello

I love helping technology work well for people and for businesses.

I am currently creating this website, which is why it’s a little spartan right now. …And as soon as I’ve figured out why the links are red, I’ll fix it, promise!

Take a look here for links to my UX programme and more.

Meanwhile, you can find my podcast below