Freedom to choose, something good or a burden?

freetochooseIn the media industry we talk a lot about freedom of choice and that this is something that our customers are asking for. They want the freedom – we say.

There is one problem with this freedom. If we give it to them we also ask them to do something at the same time. CHOOSE! If you ask our clients if they want to make choices the answer is less likely to be yes. We spend a lot of brain capacity on making choices every day. The choice not to do, listen to, eat, see, talk to etc. is using up our brain capacity, without thinking of them. To choose whom to pay for access to 4G or Electricity is something we do not have to do that often but when it comes to media consumption it is a different story that we need to do and redo much more often.

By giving our users freedom we also need to give them tools to minimise the effort needed to make those choices. It is not strange that Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist has been used billions of times. It makes listening to new music easier for the Spotify user and it renews itself weekly. A few months after releasing this functionality Spotify passed Pandora as largest online music service.

We cannot believe what the users say they want, not blindly at least. We can listen to what they consider is problematic, tiresome, boring, hard and so on and we can create solutions to this. So we (the UX people) need to bring the solutions to the problems that the freedom of choice creates rather than more freedom.

So, what can we do to help the user? How can we create the optimal recommendation so that the user finds what he/she wants to look at any given time, on the device of choice, with the time frame available and the is according to the mood. The answer I believe,  – a lot!

Are your users finding the needle?

needleinhayLet’s buy a Search engine and let it do the job! I guess you are aware of the integration needed as well but I would not be surprised if you did not think of the work needed after acceptance testing is done and Search Engine paid for.

To make the search engine work well in your environment it takes some effort even after installation. You need to dedicate someone to check on your search engine at least weekly. What are your users searching for, do they get results on their searches and if they get results do they use the results.

A weekly check-up should at least consist of the following tasks:

  • Top search phrases
    Once a week check the top 10 or 50 search phrases. Do the same searches and check the results. Are you (who is familiar with the content) satisfied with the top hits in the result? If not see if you need to add synonyms, change ranking of results or use other feature in your search engine to get the correct search result.
  • Top search phrases, missing hits?
    Are your users searching on your domain for content that is not there? Should it be? If it should add it if it should not be there why not create a page telling the users that this info is not available on your site but help them with hints, links or similar on how to find it. It cannot hurt to be loved and remembered by your users.
  • Searches with hits where no one uses the search results
    Often the search engine can tell you what search phrases use resulted in no click through. By just looking at the phrases and the result you can often understand why the results are of no interest to the user and often this can be amended by changing the ranking or adding synonyms.
  • The list is longer on what you should do … but start with this!

Don’t ask your users what they want!

dontasktheusersYou might think you should hear the opposite from me. Isn’t the user King and aren’t they always right?


The customer might always be right, as the customer might take his business elsewhere. However the User is usually much more prone to say: Yes I want that, Yes I would use that, if you ask them about a feature.

Too many times I have found companies asking users to answer questions if they would like to have a feature that helps them with X or Y. Very few users can answer the question in a way that would be beneficiary to the company. -Will you as a user use this feature?

By asking the users about features you will most likely end up with a very long back-log that is hard to prioritise.

So what should you ask your users?

I believe it is much easier for a user to give you better information about what problems they have while fulfilling a task. They are more likely able to tell you what tasks they think takes too long time or which ones are tedious. By moving focus from feature to problem areas you will get a better grip of what you can help your users with.

Next step is to find solutions to the most prioritised problems and when you find the answers it may be a new feature. This feature you should test as early as possible, with prototypes or on paper that is not the most important but get early feedback from your users on the feature and work in an agile manner to improve it in cycles.

But remember, the users are often customers and they have the power to choose where to buy from!

User Experience rules!

ux-rulesOf course you would not be surprised by me saying this. Also a lot of companies would agree on this statement. But then something happens. Somewhere during the projects time lines User Experience is neglected, not always but often.

We, the UX-people are often missing one task and that is to prove that our ideas are  not only necessary for a product to be popular but our requirements should not be treated as an extra cost. Our ideas of a user flow that is easier to use might require more database integrations and only using that word integration usually makes project managers quiver. But! By reducing work on the user side we usually minimize erroneous user input, we use already existing data, we might save on testing. Yes there are often many aspects of our ideas that saves time and money but this is seldom seen.

We have to constantly fight (more or less depending on colleagues and management) to make our requirements a reality when it should be the red carpet!

Running a business? Stop measuring projects on delivery times and budget and start measuring if projects are delivering value. You did not start your project to spend money in a certain time (this is what you measure if you check budget and timeline) but to deliver value!

Only when value is measured the red carpet will be there for the UX requirements!

Forms should be fun and quick

Dog with glasses and a pen in his mouthHave you got those e-mails asking for 3 minutes of your time? Probably from a company that you made some kind of business with. Have you then thought that “Sure I can do that” only to regret that 4 or 5 minutes later realizing that it did not take three minutes if you wanted to answer the form truthfully.

Many forms are asking questions that will never be used. I have heard representatives from Marketing say on a number of occasions -well let´s just add that question about gender, you never know we might need it at some point and it is easy to respond to.

The thing is for every added question no matter how simple, you will loose som respondents. But far worse, for every added question the truthfulness of reminding questions will also go down.

The worst trap to fall into is to have to many nested questions, meaning where a certain reply from you trigger follow up questions. -you answered you like apples, describe to us what make you love apples so much… If you ad this type of questions be sure that only very few people will tell you in the step after that, that they like oranges.

It is hard to create god questionnaires but if the technic use to fill the form is easier, smarter, sleaker och prettier you can make more people answer and do it with honesty and still not feel exhausted by doing so.

I want to give you a tip, use Typeform. A form created with this tool look great, is easy and quick to fill out and it works cross-devices! WOW! I do not want to fill another non-typeform ever agin. Well done you Barcelona people.

Typeform examples to look at

If you take results seriously I know you work a lot with your questions, you check them, double check them, you do a pilot with only a few respondents. But then, do you think about if the tool you use is appropriate? Does it let your respondents use the phone efficiently on the commute to respond? The less you intrude on their daily lives and let them use lower quality time and less time to respond the better result you will give.

Some think that an incentive (the usual, respond to our survey and be one lucky winner of an iPad) might make users more willing to struggle through a long survey. Some might others might look for the shortcut to the last question just to be able to add the e-mail address and take part of the price-draw.

And to all those people from Marketing out there, if you do not know how you gonna use a question in a questionnaire, DO NOT ASK IT!