Examples of surprises discovered during UX
November 18, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Looking for (well-known) examples of non-obvious discoveries made by user experience studies.

I'm trying to convince my friends to do some informal UX on his new website. Can you think of examples where user experience discovered surprises in how a user might use a site?
posted by maulik to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This might be a little too big-picture for your friend's website, but Danah Boyd did some interesting research on how teens use Facebook. The findings would be pretty surprising and telling to anyone who doesn't use Facebook in these ways.

posted by joan_holloway at 12:33 PM on November 18, 2010

In the library world we've been getting more into UX lately and two big discoveries [to my mind] have been

- people don't know what a database is, literally what the word means. They also rarely know whatever locally branded name we have for hte catalog and prefer/understand "catalog" [cite]
- almost no one uses the "previous record" link in a catalog search [cite]
posted by jessamyn at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2010

The 'classic' example is The $300 Million Dollar Button.
posted by Kololo at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, Jakob Nielsen's site (which itself has sort of terrible user experience) is chockablock with examples of poor UI and the impact of changing it.
posted by Kololo at 1:03 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is not a web design issue, but I hope it is still interesting.

When Apple was developing the Mac II, they did an out-of-the-box usability study code-named Pandora. They gave a bunch of naive users the Mac II, all boxed up, and told them to set it up, add some ram, and use it.

The most immediate finding was that a lot of people cut themselves opening up the case of the Mac II, and a lot of people thought they had broken the case. I remember that case. It was filled with thin, sharp pieces of steel and it made this awful cracking sound when you opened it up.

But the most interesting finding was related to the mouse. Remember, this was in the early days of GUI computer, so most of these people had never used a computer with a mouse before. A lot of these new users said they liked it, but they didn't understand why the mouse worked backwards. When they moved the mouse to the left, the arrow on the screen moved to the right. When they moved the mouse up, the arrow on the screen moved down. These people suggested that Apple should change the way the mouse worked, so that the arrow on the screen moved the same direction as the mouse.

In follow up interviews, it turned out of course that the people were holding the mouse backwards. They figured, "It's a mouse. It's head should point forward toward the screen and it's tail should point backwards." The "tail" was the cord that came out of the mouse.

As a result of this study Apple updated the tutorials that came with all Macs to emphasize the right way to hold the mouse and where the cord should come out.
posted by alms at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

AB Tests has a lot of case studies. This recent one, about a prominent Security badge being placed on the site that ended up decreasing conversions was surprising to me.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2010

THe 3-click rule is bunk
posted by bricoleur at 1:31 PM on November 18, 2010

Response by poster: perfect! thanks guys! this is super useful for me, but I suppose if we want to make this a repository of more resources it only become more useful :-)
posted by maulik at 2:23 PM on November 18, 2010

I have no cite for this, but apparently when Excel was first released, it was expected that people would use it for financial, scientific, statistical, and actuarial functions, and so it was heavily weighted in the UI and the help with those uses in mind. But when they did the user experience surveys, they discovered that the single most common reason why people opened Excel was to make lists.

After a lot of internal team fighting, Microsoft decided to embrace this use, and the next release of Excel had a lot more text-based functions, sorting, organizational stuff, things like that which would support list-making. It was bandied about the halls of Microsoft that this sort of user responsiveness was the reason that Excel predominated over Quattro Pro. Whether that's actually true or not, I have no idea.
posted by KathrynT at 4:45 PM on November 18, 2010

UX Myths is worth looking at.
posted by quadog at 6:41 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a thing which comes up in "Don't Make Me Think" about someone looking for contractors to work on their house or garden. It turned out that "fixed price" not only didn't mean what the user thought it meant, it meant the exact opposite.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:40 PM on November 18, 2010

Usefulness of testing variable amounts of text (longer isn't necessarily worse, depending on your goals):

Another key point of this article - remember what the goal of the website is. If one design results in increased traffic but decreased sales, that's something to take note of. Even in that case, it might turn out that the traffic-increasing site is great for branding, and should be separate in some way form the sales site.

Of course, there are tons of strategies and variations to consider, and thinking about multiple sites for multiple goals may be more long term minor tweaking; investigating word counts and page counts is much more basic.
posted by lesli212 at 3:57 AM on November 19, 2010

Oh, and I also wanted to suggest amazon's mechanical turk. It's great for finding random strangers to review a website and provide amateur usability feedback for a cheap.

Doesn't tell you if they'd purchase a product, but it may help you understand why the numbers look like they do. (For example, you might have data on a high number of abandoned shopping carts, but you don't know why. What if it turns out that it was as simple as a hard to find "check out now" button? A stranger might point this out whereas a group of people deeply familiar with the website might not even notice.)

mTurk looks kind of intimidating at first, but it's really simple to use, and as secure as using anything else on Amazon (ie, you don't pay for substandard work).
posted by lesli212 at 4:07 AM on November 19, 2010

We’ve done a cool $50 million of R & D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts:

The truth is somewhere in between, sadly. Shortcuts probably aren't faster than mousing for cutting and pasting. But if you are filling out a form, using the tab button is a million times faster than making the typist go grabbing for the mouse. It's not as simple as A>B.

It turned out that "fixed price" not only didn't mean what the user thought it meant, it meant the exact opposite.

OK, what does it mean? Fixed price means one thing, fixed rate means another.

And are we talking about contractors lying, or misunderstanding of language?
posted by gjc at 8:12 AM on November 19, 2010

I have the book in front of me now, sorry for the delay:
USER: I have to click on either "RFPs" or "Fixed-Price." But I don't know what the difference is.

Fixed price I sort of understand; they'll give me a quote, and then they have to stick to it.

KRUG: As it turns out, she's mistaken. Fixed-price (in this case) means services available for a fixed hourly rate, while an RFP (or Request for Proposal is actually the choice that will elicit quotes.
p155 of the Second Edition.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:07 PM on November 22, 2010

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