In July 2011, UserZoom held the first of its quarterly seminar series, bringing together usability (UX) experts to explore the role of UX, how it can impact effective online business and how it can be developed and improved.

Chaired by Arthur Moan, Country Manager UK & Ireland, UserZoom, the afternoon saw experts from UserZoom, ShopDirect, Betfair, Foviance and Microsoft share their knowledge of the market, and their expertise in the transformation that effective usability can make in site, and therefore, business performance. Speakers explored UX methodology, real life case studies and the increasing need for accountability, as well as the changes to the industry likely to follow the advent of wide-spread mobile interactivity.

Michael Quek, Usability Manager, Shop Direct, the UK’s largest shop from home business (which includes brands such as Very, Woolworths and Littlewoods) ran through the methods available to test the usability of a site. He emphasised the importance of understanding where problems occur and why. The critical steps in effective usability improvements are using both quantitative and qualitative measures to prioritise areas of focus, ensuring that you define your targets and hypothesis for testing and, most importantly, the need to align your targets to the overall business strategy.

He reiterated the importance of engaging all stakeholders both internal and external, but especially the need to keep customers involved every step of the way. Only by keeping them involved can you really understand one of the most important issues – weighing up the cost of correcting a problem (and the benefit that comes with it) against the risk of implementing a new and different design. One of the things that UX must do as a matter of process is be able to provide an analysis of cost versus results.

He ran through a couple of case studies showcasing the difference that usability testing and action can make. In one example, he explored the difference that adding video to a page had on user comprehension. Adding video is a popular move for many site owners, but the essential thing is to ensure that its use supports and streamlines the user’s ability to complete its task. Initial data showed that visitors were spending longer on the page with video than without, but not why.

A remote unmoderated usability study run with UserZoom showed that the people on the video page were not as clear about how to complete their task as those without, resulting in higher drop-out at purchase. The video was dropped. In another attempt to optimise checkout, ShopDirect used a number of tools to undertake research which resulted in 54 usability defects being resolved. Most importantly, that resolution resulted in some areas of checkout seeing a fall in dropouts of up to 50%. In the end he said, what it all boils down to is that you need data to make efficient and effective UX decisions.

Kevin Mercer, Principle User Experience Researcher, Betfair, the online sports betting exchange, agreed. He took the opportunity to talk about how, without checking and testing data, we make decisions on wrong information. In order to understand what users are likely to do, we need to understand who they are and what they want. Demographic and geographical data is important, as it can sometimes teach us things that are potentially counter-intuitive. In the case of Betfair, one of the fascinating offshoots of its research has been understanding where and on what, people choose to bet. For example, most betting on Gaelic football takes place in London, while the majority of betting on English football takes place in Belfast.

He emphasised the need to understand what drives users and, more importantly, the need to understand them as individuals. He said, “Usability is about understanding people’s limitations and abilities.” There is enormous diversity amongst end users and he warned that assumptions can be made that a site that works for senior staff will work for everyone, but this is often wrong. Even building to the idea of an average can be a mistake as you can miss the complexity – especially across borders.

Betfair, for example, has grown rapidly and now has 3m users across sites that have been localised into 17 languages. The difficulty is that as a company grows, so the distance between products and audience increases. When trying to validate user centred design research, the real struggle lies in how to reach them.

In order to generate effective UX, every company needs meaningful, quantitative and verifiable data - and Mercer believes that remote unmoderated user testing can provide this very effectively. Done right, remote unmoderated user testing can capture task success, time on task, satisfaction measures (SUS), user journey, as well as offering free text for feedback. Users can be recruited via email and screened by a recruiter or the UserZoom application. And it can provide significant results.

Betfair discovered through remote unmoderated testing that while its long time users had no trouble using the site, some new users (unused to the idea of a betting exchange) were finding it hard to place the right kind of bet. The research had highlighted a problem of ‘the threshold of complexity’, providing the company with clear benefit. The company is able to reduce complexity for users, providing tools and generally supporting those new to the site.

Mercer admitted that remote unmoderated testing is not a silver bullet but said that it does enable engagement with a large number of users at a distance. It can identify user intent, allow for focused investigation, offer pre and post validation and provide persuasive quantitative measures. While it doesn’t provide the rich observational aspects of a one-to-one interview, or the flexibility to change the interview that personal interaction provides, it is effective and far cheaper on a per user basis.

Alfonso de la Nuez, Co-CEO, Head of Sales and Marketing, UserZoom talked about the critical importance of making usability accountable. In the US, big business is turning to more cost effective and stronger ROI based research insights and there is a great opportunity for UX. One of the challenges the industry faces is the huge range of descriptions of what constitutes a UX professional. Is a UX professional a designer, an engineer, a researcher, a manager? De la Nuez posed a fascinating question – has anyone been fired for poor usability? Poor sales, of course. Equally true of bad product design – but usability? That seems the case despite the fact that an unusable site can lose a business a fortune in dropouts.
De la Nuez suggested that part of the challenge is a failure on the part of the UX community to identify itself as a brand – a brand is what’s sold, its how customers identify with you. Without a clear identify and a message on what UX can deliver, how can it develop its role within any business. He argues that until there’s a clearer understanding of what UX is it will not be prioritised. Of course, this can be hard to achieve given the evolving nature of digital. With the explosion of social media and mobile, its hard to argue that one can provide a unified user experience.

He argues that the key lies in making a closer connection with ROI – he says that UX must become fully accountable if it is to thrive. While many still see UX as highly subjective, UX requires metrics to prove the concrete difference it can make. He believes that UX still needs to make its case, that UX must make senior management understand the vital importance of ‘understanding the why behind the what.’ He reviewed the different tools that UX professionals have at their disposal, and the impact they can have but in the end, he argues, UX is about complementary tools. What matters is combining them in appropriate ways so that they’re fit for purpose. Most importantly, he says, “Its about linking your work to actual results.”

The afternoon closed with a panel session of experts discussing the impact of mobile on UX. Chaired by Catriona Campbell, Founding Director of Foviance, the afternoon’s speakers took part in the panel. The core message that came out of the question and answer session was how much there is still to learn about mobile and the context in which users operate. There are potentially fascinating opportunities surrounding knowledge and use of geographic location, social networks etc but they come with huge challenges around privacy. Web analytics can provide some data for mobile but using it slows apps so far as to put off users.

Another thing that came out is the significance of the contribution that mobile apps can make to a business. Betfair discovered that users of its app, once use had stretched beyond a week, increased their spending by around 70%. The context can also be hard to understand. ShopDirect found that users of its app were buying large items like furniture using its mobile app, but didn’t know what was driving that conversion.

What surprised the audience most was the lack of impact that UX is having in mobile. While most mobile platforms carry apps from a range of third party developers, not one platform from LG, Nokia or Apple – test apps on their platforms for UX.

The market is at an early enough stage that it’s a challenge to work out what researchers need to know but UX services are addressing the market. UserZoom has already launched its first service targeting live mobile sites and running a private BETA of it’s app solution - needless to say the market is set to accelerate. The challenge for mobile lies in understanding context of use – mobile needs a quick UX but it’s vital that its not rushed. The good thing is that an understanding of the need for UX is growing in digital overall, and the growth of the market will only improve our knowledge.

To view the video sessions from Shop Direct, Betfair and UserZoom go to

Arthur Moan
UserZoom Country Manager
Telephone: 01625 525 650

Published on: 2:16PM on 16th August 2011