The magic of mince pies

I stayed up last night to make a batch of my famous luxury mince pies to deliver to our Keepitusable clients today. They really are gorgeous mince pies that take me hours to make! I believe that personal little touches like this are what makes a business (or freelancer) stand out from the rest. 

Magic mince pies

Clients are just people at the end of the day and who doesn’t like to feel that someone has made a special effort for them. We’ve already given our clients Keepitusable christmas cards and big boxes of chocolates earlier this month, so the mince pies are a totally unexpected little extra touch to show that we appreciate their business and care about making them happy.

This is one of the many reasons people enjoy working with us and I thought I’d just take a moment to encourage you to think of your own clients and what you could do to make them love you a little bit more.

11 Free User Experience Books

Thanks to The UX Bookmark for this great list of free online user experience books!
1.   Search User Interfaces– by Marti A. Hearst
2.   Web Style Guide– by Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton
3.   Designing Interfaces– by Jenifer Tidwell (Most of the book is available online, not all of it, as pointed out by Amanda)
4.   Designing Mobile Interfaces– by Steven Hoober and Eric Berkman
5.   The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface- by Kent L. Norman 
8.   Building accessible websites– by Joe Clark
9.   Introduction to Metadata – by Tony Gill, Anne J. Gilliland, Maureen Whalen, and Mary S. Woodley
11. Categories for the Description of Works of Art– by Murtha Baca and Patricia Harpring

The best, portable, free umbrella stand of all time!

Whilst walking down the street yesterday in Manchester, I spotted a man carrying an umbrella. Nothing unusual about that you’re thinking. However, this guy is an ergonomist in the making having invented his own unique hands free method of umbrella carrying! Check out the photo below… he placed the hook of the umbrella on the back collar of his coat! Ingenious!


Hands are free to do other things, eg, shopping

Hands can be put in the coat pockets to keep warm

Umbrella is behind you so is not obstructive

Looks awesome (thanks to @MarkSkinner_ for this one!)

Makes other people smile 🙂


Could be easily stolen

May damage the collar of certain coats

Won’t be pleasant once the umbrella has been used and is wet!

May forget it’s there and end up sitting on it (lol) or accidentally hitting someone with it

umbrella brolly usability ergonomics

In contrast to Mark’s Pro of looking awesome, we have ‘looking a bit of a tit’ from @PeteWilliams

What do you think?

Usabilitygal wins Entrepreneur of the Month!

I’m not the type to boast (or ‘headwank’ as my ex-manager used to say!), indeed I left a local group recently as people were throwing their credentials around like a game of tennis to try and score points. I really can’t be doing with that, my passion is usability and design. However, I thought some of you may be interested to hear that I picked up the award for Entrepreneur of the month yesterday.

I’ve been working on several projects over the last 2 years. One I will hopefully be able to divulge the details of very soon! Another is keepitusable which I co-founded with my partner Ricardo in September last year. And more recently I setup catloves a fun site for people who want to enjoy browsing cute pics and vids of cats. Interestingly, I read in the telegraph yesterday that 1 in every 10 uk pets has a social network profile so I think catloves has got a good future ahead of it. People certainly love their animals!

Don’t worry I’ll be back to posting about usability very soon! In fact I started my next post yesterday, so be sure to pop by in the next few days!
usabilitygal x

Eye tracking – Should your website use it?

This week I’ve been visiting local usability labs that have eye tracking capabilities as we will soon be offering this added value service to our clients.

What is eye tracking?

Eye tracking uses non-intrusive technology to track where the user’s eyes are looking. It is often used for usability testing websites, software, mobiles, adverts, even shopping malls (there’s a lot of psychology that goes into where to place that can of Heinz!).

Testing involves the user using a website to perform tasks and is often accompanied by a satisfaction questionnaire. Afterwards, the users gaze path and fixations (basically what they looked at and for how long) can be watched and analysed. All the users data can also be combined into a heatmap so you can see which areas of each page attracted the most attention from users – did they even look at the big advert in the middle of your homepage?

Is it worth the extra time, effort and cost?

There’s a lot of disagreement amongst professionals as to whether eye tracking is worth the extra time and effort required to analyse the data and whether it really brings more value to usability testing. From speaking to those professionals that do use it, it is clear that businesses and in particular marketing departments are more persuaded and engaged by this testing method. Perhaps this is because marketing departments are more concerned about users noticing their promotions and advertising than finding out the hows and whys of users that visit their site.

I’m of the opinion that some websites are better suited to standard usability testing methods, some are better suited to eye tracking and others may benefit most from a mixture of both.

Video showing user’s scanpath
(the bigger the circle, the longer the user is looking at that point)

Video showing the use of heatmaps

Eye tracking is most useful when you want to test:

  • Page elements – To assess how much people notice ui elements onscreen, such as logos, promotions, calls-to-action, etc.
  • Navigation – To identify any conflicting terms as well as how different navigation layouts interact with each other.
  • Page layout – To show how a page layout and colour scheme affect the way users scan a page.

Eye tracking is least useful if you want to:

  • Gather user feedback – In order to generate an accurate heat map users can’t be asked too many questions as they’ll often look  away from the screen when answering questions.
  • Know why – Eye tracking will tell you what people look at and what they don’t look at but it won’t tell you why.
  • Test on a budget – Eye tracking is more expensive as it involves the hiring of technology and extra time to analyse the results. Stick with regular methods if you’re budget is limited.

I hope this basic introduction to eye tracking has been useful. If you are interested in seeing how real users actually use your website (with or without eye tracking) then give me a shout. You can observe the user testing in person (in the observation room) or we can stream the sessions live from the testing lab directly to your computer.

30 excellent free ux tools have created a great list of 25 free ux tools for doing things like prototyping, annotating, screen grabbing, site mapping, usability testing, accessibility and analytics (thanks guys!). Some of the items aren’t really free (they just have a free trial), i’ve included them anyway as they’re still really useful and i’ve added a few of my own.

Prototyping tools





Flairbuilder (15 day free trial)

Powerpoint (Open office version is free)

Paper prototyping

Annotation tools




Design tools

Lorem Ipsum Generator



Pen and paper! The simplest and arguably the best. Frees your mind to be creative, can be used anywhere and is ultra quick.

Screen grab tools


Firefox plugin



Cmd shift 4 – If you’re using a mac you can use cmd shift 4 to capture a portion of the screen or cmd shift 3 to capture the whole screen.

Print screen – On Windows PCs you can just use the print screen function and paste it into Word, or Powerpoint if you want to do a click through prototype.

Sitemapping tools



Usability testing tools


Remote usability testing tools





Five second test

Silverback (free for 30 days)

Survey Monkey

Usability reviewing tools

Concept feedback

Analytics tools

Google analytics


Accessibility tools

Accessibility evaluation toolbar

Total validator

Intro to persuasion and social influence

Many years ago, when I was a student working as a project administrator in my spare time, my manager asked me ‘If you could have any super power, what would it be?’

I thought about this and decided i’d want the power of invisibility. I guess this makes sense now, considering how much i enjoy observing and analysing human behaviour – you need to be truly invisible to not have an observer effect. My manager however decided upon the power of persuasion. He said if he had the power to persuade anyone to do anything he could do and have whatever he wanted in the world.

Luckily for us, persuasion is something that can be learned, practised and used in our daily lives. Brands leverage many principles of persuasion to convince us of their value and to purchase their product.

Principles of persuasion image

It is no coincidence that the Loreal adverts now show Cheryl Cole as their brand ambassador. She is officially the most liked female in the uk. People are more likely to trust her and be persuaded by her as she has a very high ‘Like’ factor. She also provides ‘social proof’ however there is more resistance now to celebrity social proof as people look more towards their peers for advice.

Sites such as makeup alley (shown below) rely on social proof to work. Users can read what their peers think of products, they can see the rating they gave it, what percentage of people would buy the product and importantly, they can see that the people are real.

Companies often use scarcity to act faster or pay more. Below is an example from a website that sells bedroom furniture. They use both limited time free delivery and a limited number of free drills to try to persuade the customer to purchase their products soon, otherwise they will miss out. People have a fear of loss so the thought of potentially losing something that is ‘free’ (another motivator) can be enough to get them to act.

We all look to experts for advice and recommendations. Even amongst our peers, we have experts who we turn to for advice. For example, if you need a new TV you might ask cousin John as he always knows a lot about entertainment systems. Or if your cat is ill, you might ask your friend Sarah for advice as she’s got 3 cats and is cat crazy! Each person is highly persuasive in their own way.

Persuasion is a fascinating subject area and i’ll be covering it in more depth in future posts, in particular how you can design to persuade.

10 Handy hints to check a ux agency or freelancer is genuine

[tweetmeme source=”usabilitygal” only_single=false]

As UX and usability become more well known, there is an unfortunate downside for clients and that is cowboys. These are people who have perhaps read a UX book and decide to set themselves up as experts. To help you spot the expert from the amateur i’ve created some handy hints. You don’t need to do all of these, just enough to satisfy you that the agency or freelancer knows their stuff and is genuine.

1. Check out their website Is it easy to use? Does it have clear call to actions? Are they using good copywrite? Does the layout of the text aid scanability? Is the navigation clear? Is the font readable? They should be practicing what they preach. If the site is badly designed, alarm bells should ring.

2. Read the About Us section Are they easily identifiable? (photo and name), Can you check their reputation and credibility via links to LinkedIn or Twitter? Read their experience closely – do they have professional qualifications and experience or are they a marketing company who have read a few books on the subject?

3. Check their Twitter posts Do they contribute to the world of usability by tweeting useful links? Do they help other people? Do they seem credible?

4. Check their Twitter followers Are they following and been followed by thousands of people? (they may have been on a mass following mission). Check who’s following them – if there are other agencies and usability professionals following them, they probably post good, knowledgeable tweets.

5. Read testimonials Get a feel for the type of person they are and how they work by what other clients thought.

6. Look at their previous work Ask to see their portfolio. This will give you a good idea of the standard of their work and what they are capable of.

7. Read their blog Owning and updating a blog deserves credit. It takes a lot of time and effort and shows it is important to them to give back to the profession. You can get a feel for the person and what they’re passionate about by what they write and the style they use.

8. Check their Facebook page How many people have joined their page? What have people posted on the wall?

9. Engage with them Email or talk to them. Prepare your questions if necessary.

10. Meet them Prepare your questions and more importantly see if you get along, after all, none of us want to work with people who we don’t click with. Digg it Facebook Linked in Stumbleupon Twitter