The Trax Experience

The sun was shining, yet barely through the partially but still mostly clouded sky. The entire ground was soaked with a recent shower of precipitation that fell from the sky. There was a slight brisk flow of wind nipping at my uncovered skin as I stepped out of our pearl white Mazda 5. We arrived at the Sandy Civic Center Trax station a tid bit confused. Initially we attempted to make uneducated guesses of where to go and what to do. One train was sitting on the tracks, the windows were tinted sufficiently that from our perspective and distance it was impossible to know if the train was full or empty. After a brief discussion with my wife I decided to just venture out in search of further light and knowledge in regards to how to use this train. A relatively short distance away stood a small octagon shaped building that appeared to be either where an individual much like myself might would purchase a ticket or perhaps a reliable place in which a person much like unto myself might per chance be comfortable to propose a question. I might even say that this octagon shaped building gave the perception that a person much like unto myself would have a sufficient amount of trust that their questions would most definitely be answered. Much to my shagrin as I made my way in haste to this building it was indeed EMPTY.

Several questions began racing through my mind. Was I supposed to sit and wait for the train to open it’s doors? When the trains doors were open would that reveal more obvious answers to my questions? Might there be a ticket scanner on the other side of those closed doors? Was there a ticket scanner on the  outside of the train doors? Where would a human similar to myself purchase a ticket? I anxiously cast my vision abroad looking for some type of signage that would provide me with the helpful information my heart yearned for. As confusion began to envelope me and frustration began to overtake my faculties further impeding my ability to make calm and sane decisions, I approach a man who was also standing near the train much like myself. However, this nice young individual was standing and gazing upon the vast lot of asphalted land which was generously filled with vehicles of travel. With a confused look on my face I muttered, “How does this work?”

The cleanly shaven young man stood with a square chin and sincere eyes that reflected a similar amount of confusion, mostly due to the poor choice of words that tripped its way off of my tongue. He stuttered a response, “The train? Have you ever used it before?”

I quickly and confidently responded, “No, I mean yes the train. Where do you buy tickets?”

The man was nice, eager, and willing to help. Patiently he began explaining where the different electronic ticket booths were located. As he spoke his arm was extended with his index finger firmly pressing forward as he circled round about. Then he even offered me the day pass that he purchased explaining that it was good until a specific time, and he was already through using it. I then explained in further detail, “Well, my work badge is supposed to allow me to use the train.”

The gentle man with a scruffy beard and dark brown eyes turned my attention to a small metal post protruding from the concreate that pathed the very ground in which we walked. It was skinny and rectangular in shape and had a yellow sign with large black san-serif letters that appeared to be in ITC Avant Garde reads, “TAP ON/TAP OFF” with a large black arrow pointing upward to a small yet sufficient sized digital screen. The burly bearded figure with long flowing hair, pointing to the object said, “Just tap your badge on that and it should work.”

We both walked over together and I pulled my work badge out of the inside pocket of my black polyester suit jacket. The flesh of the backside of my right hand brushed softly against my soft black cotton sweater as I slipped into the pocket to retrieve my work badge. I placed it on the sufficiently sized digital screen precisely where that large black arrow was directing me. Sure enough a digitally enhanced beep rang through the cool crisp February air and a green check instantaneously appeared on the sufficiently sized digital screen. Still confused I looked back and the strange old bearded man and said, “Now what?”

He softly explained through his bearded face that I just needed to walk up to the door, press the button on the outside of the door and carefully walk up the steps into the train.

I carefully followed his instructions, and to my amazement I successfully boarded the train and found a mostly empty train with ample blue clothed seats to rest my wearied yet eager to sieze the day soul.

A Terrible Beginner User Experience

This proved to be a terrible beginner user experience. The Trax works perfect for an experienced rider, in fact you only really need to ride the train once to become an expert. Yet there’s plenty of things wrong happening here. I’ve ridden the Trax a handful of times now, and each and every time I either heard someone asking similar questions I had, or they asked me those questions. You shouldn’t have to rely on nice young yet old bearded smooth faced strangers with a square jaw to offer up a ticket and solutions to be able figure out how to use the system.

I rode similar public transportation in the fruitful lands of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In this far far away land you have to actually purchase a ticket before even walking through a gate that swiveled around 360 degrees to where the public form of transportation resided. They also make it very painfully obvious when the public transportation device is ready for travelers to venture off onward in their pursuit of happiness. The doors all open.


Now, you can find me riding the rails with supreme confidence ready and willing to help the rest of the confused beginners. Let’s hope that this story reaches you before you anxiously strike off on your maiden voyage to set this world on fire (figuratively not literally).

"Don’t bother soliciting feedback unless you’re in a position to act on it. If you’re not ready to start coding or designing, then you’re not in a position to act. It might seem constructive to run surveys asking what your users want, but if their only purpose is to make you feel busy then you’re fooling everyone. Feedback has to result in action. That action is design, implementation, and communication back to the user. Turning the feedback into a to-do list with no one responsible, or a putting it on a whiteboard of “stuff to do someday, maybe” is the equivalent of saying “Yeah, whatever” to your users. They won’t be keen to talk you again."

Quote by Des Traynor

I’ve been working on our feedback experience lately, and I feel like the biggest part of the feedback experience is what happens to the feedback after someone gives it. Sure it should be simple and easy to be able to give feedback, but the real reason someone is leaving feedback is to be heard. So how do we make sure that this is happening? These are the aspects that I want to focus more on.


“Walmart didn’t pursue the question of what customers wanted. Instead, Walmart came up with the answer first, then asked customers to agree to it. [They] ignored customers while attempting to fool stakeholders into thinking that the strategy [was] customer-centered.”


I Love UX Design

Who doesn’t love a good UX design, and who doesn’t get totally frustrated with bad experience design. Hail to all the great UX designers of the world. Spread the love for UX design !!!


The User Experience of Life

In 2008, Christof van Nimwegen published a paper called The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective. The paper documents a study on user interfaces and pits two groups of interfaces against each other in order to see how their users perform.

Although I completely understand how the study can be applied as a learning tool on how to better develop user interfaces, I believe it helps us learn an even better lesson in life.

The study had a “friendly” or easy to use interface and a “unfriendly” or difficult to use interface competing against one another.

Nimwegen conducted experiments with 3 different applications. The first is a computerized take on the famous math puzzle Missionaries & Cannibals that was called Balls & Boxes. The other two tasks were called: Conference Planner and Ferry Planner.

The Balls & Boxes problem involved moving yellow and blue balls from one box to the other, whilst following a set of rules. On the screen users would see the balls in two boxes, together with a dish to transfer the balls between them. There was also a set of clickable arrows that let the users move balls and the dish around. Available arrows were highlighted and clickable, unavailable moves were greyed out and disabled. The “unfriendly” version was the same, except all arrows were “available”, giving the user no hint as to what moves they could actually perform in line with the rules of the task.

What Was Measured

Time to solve the puzzle, number of moves made (including number of superfluous moves), number of dead-end states reached, knowledge of the rules test conducted after the puzzle, as well as questions concerning perceived amount of planning and feeling lost during the puzzle. Additionally, a distraction was introduced after the participants solved a few puzzles, which involved a visual rotation task expected to erase Balls & Boxes related routines from working memory. This distraction task would go on for 10 minutes after which the participants would resume the Balls & Boxes puzzle.

The Results

Those on the Internalization interface solved more puzzles. They initially took more time to solve them, but closed the gap quickly as they spent more time on the problem. While they also made a little more superfluous moves the start, they quickly overtook the Externalization interface participants with each experiment phase, and were not beaten on the number of dead-end states. Internalization participants also performed better on the after puzzle questionnaires.

Lessons Learned

In one interface the user is unable to make bad decisions. The user is only offered available choices to help them complete the task. In theory it seems that this would speed up the process and have better results. In a short race it would have, however this type of interface doesn’t allow the user to learn, grow, and develope. When more choices are presented to the user and they are allowed to make mistakes they are able to learn. So as more puzzles are presented the user is able to grow and become faster and better at solving them.

"Externalization makes users count on the interface and gives them the feeling (unrightfully so) that the thinking-work is done for them. This seduces them into more shallow cognitive behavior and discourages undertaking cognitive activities aimed at strategy and knowledge construction. Users who internalize information themselves behave more plan-based, invest more effort in cognitive processes, and are more proactive and ready to make inferences. This in turn results in more focus, more direct and economical solutions, better strategies, and better imprinting of knowledge. This knowledge is easier to recall at a future point in time, and is better transferable to transfer situations where the interface, the task, or both are different, and less vulnerable to a severe interruption."

— Christof van Nimwegen – The paradox of the guided user

Does this mean user friendly interfaces are bad? No. Interfaces where usability is key, for example, ATMs or information websites will not benefit from Internalization since the tasks don’t have the end goal of the user “learning”. The findings of the study are more applicable to serious task environments where learning itself is the aim. Nimwegen suggests to take care with externalizing especially in tasks with: frequent interruptions, educational objectives, skill transfer, high costs, continuous attention and deep domain understanding.

I believe that “life” is a perfect example of an interface where the primary objective is learning, skill transfer, educational objectives, continuous attention, and deep domain understanding. I don’t believe that a person benefits from an environment where their choices are limited to only “good” or “correct” choices.

(— The source for this post comes from a very interesting post I read on Usability Post called “The Dark Side of Usability”)


I Had a Bad Experience!

I became aware of a nifty little website that will allow you to claim or set up listings in Google, Yahoo, Yelp, Best of the Web, & Bing. So I decided to check up first on Practice Cafe and where their listings stand. Sure enough I noticed that I had already set up and or claimed our listings on Google and Best of the Web. So I decided to go ahead and take the time to set up the others. I chose to start out with BING.

So I clicked on the “claim your listing” link under the logo and was brought to a page that directly after I took a screen capture and tweeted about, because unfortunately I was using Google Chrome, and received a message informing me that I needed to use either IE6 or higher or Firefox 2.0 or higher. Then tried to convince me to download and install Internet Explorer. Which would of sent me to a dead end because I am on a MAC.

I decided to go ahead and fired up Firefox 3 and copy and pasted the URL. I went through the process to set up a listing. I completed all of the necessary fields and clicked on the “Check your listing” button. At this point it informed me that I would need to sign in or create an account. So I decided to go ahead and create an account. I click on the button and begin filling out ALL of the NEW info to create an account. Once I was done setting up my account and clicking on the link in the confirmation email, I was unfortunately sent back to the beginning. Back to the same page pictured above where I had to input ALL of the information in ALL of the fields again.

So when people ask me why I hate Bing, and my reply, like Left Ear (Mos Def) when asked about his fear/hatered for dogs will be, “I haaaad a bad experience.” Now you will understand.

When really it’s my endless bad experiences (ahem… IE6, IE7… ahem) with Microsoft that have added up to one TALL glass of Hateraid against anything and everything the company produces.


SXSW 2010: Sketching your own IA Process

by Chris Fahey (http://behaviordesign.com/ & http://www.graphpaper.com/ )

Data driven design

This is what people used to say was the way to work, and design. However, Real design is informed guesswork.” Be willing to take risks. Test. Make changes and learn from your mistakes.

Data-Inspired Design 

Is a better way to approach your designs

Mind Mapping:

Example: Asked a group of people what they did through the day, then tracked their behavior. From that data they created a time map infographic to help them find similarities between the people/users.

Create Personas: Figure out the different types of ideal users. Some examples would be:

  1. Temporary Visitors
  2. Occasional Repeat Visitors
  3. New Visitors
  4. Long-Term Users

A great example video about creating personas is:

Designers/Marketers should think of themselves more as “Researchers.”




"There Are No Templates"
"Try asking people what they DON’T want on their website/marketing"
"Ask how many patients/users they have"
"Brainstorm user personas"

Give your website/product/Interface it’s own persona/personality. An example he gave was a website that when you clicked on "forgot my password" another option pops up that says, "Just kidding I Remember Now."


Different types of Personas/Personalities/Styles:

  1. Editorial
  2. Dashboard
  3. Cinematic
  4. Flow

Basic idea is to try and attack a design in various ways.

3 different approaches to a design:

LISTENING: The Critique

Under Over Debate

First example was the “under over" debate. In other words it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, but rather think of it as personal preference, compromise, and team work.

You should have frequent check-ins with other people who are invested in the project. Maintain open communication between designers & copywriters throughout the entire process. Don’t think write or wrong, but rather different perspectives. "Prototype as if you are right. Listen as if you were wrong."

Things to remember:

  • Do research
  • Plan to change your plan
  • Think of your process as a story
  • Deliverables are for design team (not client)
  • Throw away the template (Don’t try the “same” things every time. Stop & try to invent something NEW)

Shane Recommends

Here are the best things I came across on the infinite abyss I like to call the Interweb in 2009. If you pay any attention to my tweets or my “Net Worthy" section on the right side of my blog you most likely already saw all of these. Enjoy™

The Four Ways People Decide

Style VS. Design

Creating a Timeless User Experience

Goodbye, Google

The secrets of Google’s design team

10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines

Can You Be a Web Designer?

Start-up Metrics that Matter by Dave McClure

Great Designs Should Be Experienced and Not Seen

Handcrafted CSS