Thursday, 23 May 2013

UX decision making the right way

I'm currently in a bit of a bad mood, unfortunately we've had feedback from client on some work and they want to make some changes. The changes aren't too major in scope, in fact they probably will only take about 10 minutes to implement due to the highly CSS-centric approach I've taken to build the Web App.

The problem isn't the complexity of the's why the changes are being made.

The web app (sorry, got to keep it vaguely abstract, no pics!) utilises a soft pastel colour scheme, to be complimentary to the brand's colour scheme, while also using some striking colours to help emphasise certain user actions. A stronger green colour is used when a section is complete, and a somewhat jarring orange is used when there is something that still needs attention.

These choices on their own are not good usability per se, but combined with clear and concise labelling that gives the user an indication of the intent of such a coloured object, and the use of icons to further emphasise such intent, the colours can form part of an ongoing subconscious indicator that will hopefully gravitate the user in to quicker choices for their navigation and an ease of finding their next task on the page.

To reinforce this colour scheme we also use the same colour scheme in the form validation that is done at login, and with strong visual cues on the homescreen of the web app.

The choice of how to use colour was very considered, and the relationships between colours too. The overall goal was to make the app pleasant to use throughout the day, but also to really highlight where there was an interaction or message that needed immediate attention.

The client has changed their mind from the initial advice of "This isn't customer facing, brand colours don't matter" (and I can't say whether this is just poor communication on behalf of the people I work with, or the client truly changing their stance) to "I want everything blue"

Now, I don't mind the idea that things should be blue. It's awkward if everything is a shade of blue, and we definitely lose some of that easy subconscious filtering of information that a striking colour affords. I wouldn't choose to do it, but if there was a good reason to do it I wouldn't stand in the way of it. Alas, it seems I dug too deep in requesting that someone requests information on why this change is desired, and now the elements that were orange, a clear contrast, have gone from being a lighter shade of blue than the other blues on the page, to actually grey.

GREY. The universal colour of inactive and disabled elements on the web. To add insult to injury we already use grey in specific use cases on the app...yeah...when the button or interactive element needs to be present but clearly defined as non-interactive!

I feel strongly that we have gone through the right process in deciding our colour scheme, unfortunately something has happened in our communication with the client that means a veto has come from upon high. Even more unfortunately there is no context or reason to that decision...and since they pay the money no-one is willing to challenge it.

I'm no expert, I try to make the best decisions I can with my colleagues...UX isn't a science. What it is, however, is testable. It's a shame that our relationship with the client appears to be such that we're going to miss out on the one opportunity to actually nail this particular disagreement to one side or the other...user testing!

We could easily give a sample of those that are intended to use the application, potentially even those that aren't, a set of tasks to do on one colour scheme, and a different sample the same tasks with a different colour scheme. We could record if there are any difficulties in the perception of the app, we could also measure the time taken to perform the tasks. Through then asking each sample to do the same again with the opposite colour scheme we can then also measure the change (if any) in productivity through the app compared to their first run. Productivity should improve as their experience with the app has grown, but we can check for differences in how usage speed changes, perhaps most importantly we can ask each group how it felt to move on to the second colour scheme.

If one is better we should have a clear indication through watching our users perform the tasks that the transition from one colour scheme to the second created greater comfort, while the other transition caused more confusion.

This kind of decision making should be standard when we make decisions that are challenged by a higher power for undisclosed reasons. If they are unwilling or unable to provide reasoning for their request then the only sane way to provide the best solution is to test both solutions and determine an optimal solution.

So why are we so afraid to do this? Is the client going to hate us for having proof that we're doing the most efficient thing with their app? It may seem stupid, but if a difference in colour scheme improves productivity by 5 seconds across a day, on a three day week, with 100 employees, that saves 21 hours worth of employee time through the year, or another three days of work. Not a significant saving perhaps in that example, but a saving none the less. Is the client going to be outraged at us providing this saving?

Be it fear of annoying the client, the want of an easy ride at work, misaligned loyalties from within your job many bad decisions are being made in the process of capitulation that can and should be easily and amicably resolved to the best solution available, regardless of who came up with the best idea?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Online Safety Bill (take two)

There are a few bits of zombie legislation that just can't be put down to their eternal slumber, no matter how much we try to put them out of their misery. One is the idea of providing police with more powers to snoop on our activities online in a way we would never condone if done "in the flesh", and another is the idea of "protecting" us by forcing people to opt in to adult (pornographic) content. Last year Christian backed Tory MP Clare Perry put forward her unworkable idea for protecting the children and it seems that all this has led to is a revised version of the Online Safety Bill to be attempted this year.

What you're going to read below will be much easier to understand when you realise that the duty of monitoring all of this is being put on to OFCOM, and is using definitions that are intended for use in the broadcast mediums of TV and radio. Our MPs are seriously going to be looking at some potential law that treats the internet not as an interactive medium, but as a one way flow of information. Keep that in mind as you wonder how anyone can possibly think this is workable.

Is this version any better than the one that was actually laughably unable to be implemented before? Let's take a look.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Queen Speech, Fixed Term Parliaments and Resignations

An interesting bit of thought experimentation is going on about what might happen if the Queen Speech (the Government's legislative plan for the year) is amended. The New Statesman has raided the parliamentary website to dig out this quote...

The first parliamentary test of a minority or coalition government is the vote on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign. The Conservative party lost their majority in the December 1923 election. They put their programme to the House in January 1924 as a minority administration and lost a vote on the King’s Speech. Ramsay MacDonald was called to form a Labour administration.

An EU referendum?

One thing that is becoming a stark inevitability is an EU referendum in the near future. It's been teased in front of the electorate like dripping red meat in front of a rottweiler, so we shouldn't be surprised that the media and a section of the voting public are frustrated that it remains very much there, but out of reach.

I strongly believe that the UKIP successes last week were less to do with the EU as they were to do with the failing of the Tories and Lib Dems to turn our economic situation around. But still, common sense rarely dictates the narrative of the nation, and as such we are to be assured that this is all about the EU, and immigration...the greatest scapegoat for our ills this side of Jews in 1920-30s Germany.

As such there are more calls for this referendum, and sooner. Cameron has promised to legislate to have a referendum next parliament if the Tories win in an utterly pathetic display of blackmail, also utterly useless if the other two main parties also promise a referendum. The right wing back benchers of the Tory party don't want to wait...and I would tend to agree with them.

Why should we wait?

The Lib Dems are immensely pro-EU, even if they favour some reform, and it is generally the position of the Labour party to be pro-EU as well. As with Leveson, why aren't these two parties stealing the thunder from the Tories, and from Cameron, right now?

The idea that an EU referendum has to be a negative thing is run entirely under the assumption that it is going to be lost...but why would such a referendum end up with us leaving the EU? The media machine spinning tales? UKIP marching down the country lanes drumming up support? Where is the assumption that the "pro-EU" side wouldn't have a message to give the electorate too?

One of the biggest dangers we face on the question of the EU is that it is handled in the same way that the AV referendum was with the bulk of the "information" coming from the biased voices of the two campaigns fighting it out for the win, rather than from an independent body such as the Electoral Commission. The constant batting away of the idea of a referendum plays not only into the hands of the right wing in terms of determining the time frame, but also in terms of framing the debate.

We have two years until the next election, one until the next EU elections. I would argue that the best time to hold a referendum is in 2014 alongside the MEP elections. There is no better time to combine resources and have all kinds of politicians putting their views across, and it gives this parliament time to organise to set up the referendum AND to ensure that the information campaign for the public is well resourced and given ample time to allow the public to digest what is a complex subject with good time before the referendum campaign starts.

This won't happen if we rely solely on the Tories panicking about UKIP. It's time for Labour and the Lib Dems to step up to the plate and take control...the Tory right will back them, this isn't a move that is likely to fail, and Cameron will be left even more destitute as a political power than he is right now. Why wait? Bring on the EU referendum...

Friday, 3 May 2013

Local Elections 2013

The Tories are dead, long live the Tories

Last night I made a prediction as to where today would go, I feel I would have said the same a week or even a month ago. With these council elections taking place almost exclusively in Conservative council areas (mostly rural), in councils that they won in the lead up to the 2010 election when disenfranchisement with Labour was at a recent high, this set of elections was always going to be the tale of how the Tories have lost their way.

The plot of that tale though, was always going to be the more interesting thing; with the rise of the "evil" UKIP, and no clear "hero" of the story, against a backdrop of a looming darkness yet to would the story be told? My view was that UKIP would do well, but that this wouldn't be a reflection on UKIP as much as it is on Labour and the Tories (and Lib Dems to a degree, but for different reasons).