Category Archives: research



Word: Lacksonomy

Definition: (Full disclosure, this is a made up word — but so worth defining) — The organic structure that emerges from an unwillingness to think about how to structure something.

Origin: This word was made up by foremost information architecture expert, Abby Covert. It emerged from her frustration with designers lack of emphasis on how products are organized.

Thoughts: I felt that this word was important to define because any UXer worth her salt should understand the importance of information architecture and how organization impacts all aspects of design and ultimately a product’s success.

Covert recently wrote an article on this very topic for the blog, A List Apartand states,

We need to teach people that information architecture (IA) decisions are just as important as the look and feel of technology stack choices.

PSA: Don’t ever fall into a lacksonomy and forget that there is always a better and more succinct way to organize information. Your users will thank you for this; I promise.


Predictive Persona

Word: Predictive Persona

Definition: A research tool that allows you to validate whether you can accurately identify somebody who will become a customer. These types of personas go beyond merely describing what a user is like, but also offer specific characteristics that will make a person become a new or a returning customer.

Reference: I first learned of this term from designer Laura Klein in her blog post for Invision. Klein wants to turn the traditional “describe your current user” persona model on its head by changing the way designers think about this portrait. She writes: 

“But the question they should be asking themselves isn’t, ‘If I interviewed a user, would this describe her?’ The question should be, ‘If I found a person like this, would she become a user?'”

Thoughts: The key to predictive personas is to identify traits and feature that will make a person want to become a customer. Once the persona is created, then designers can recruit research participants that fit this description. If you have a hard time doing this, something is wrong with your persona! Eureka!

It is always refreshing to try out a new take on an old research technique, so let’s get predicting!


Stakeholder Interview

Word: Stakeholder Interview

Definition: A structured conversation between designers and important clients used to gather insights into a project and better understand the business goals and expectations.

Thoughts: Stakeholders can take the form of senior leadership with financial stake and they can also be end users. Essentially, stakeholders are anyone who can affect the end product.

Clients or product owners do not always provide all the information a designer needs to fully understand a project. Enter, stakeholder interviews. These interviews provide a deeper understanding of your client’s needs and they also give design teams early clues into where there might be conflict between business goals and user requirements.

Tips: It is best to go into a stakeholder meeting prepared. Have questions written down and remember to take notes! Keep it conversation but have a carefully planned agenda.


Threshold Mapping

Word: Threshold mapping

Definition: The mapping of default or normal states of a user to better understand what happens when a person leaves her normal state and crosses the line into an alternative condition. When a person crosses this metaphorical line, or threshold to be exact, she tends to think and act differently.

Reference: I first learned about the concept of threshold mapping in the book Hidden in Plain Sight by Jan Chipchase. Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, a research, design and innovation consultancy, and SDR Traveller. In his book, he uses taking a shower as an example to illustrate a threshold map. Many people feel clean for about a day and therefore do not have the urge to shower more than every 24 hours. In this case, a day would be the threshold. If this person, with a threshold of a day, goes three days without showering, she has crossed her cleanliness threshold and will most likely think and act differently until she gets back into her normal state by taking a shower.

Thoughts: So what does this have to do with user experience design? Good question! Understanding user thresholds provide a significant window into user decision-making. When a user researcher understands why and how someone performs an action, she can create better experiences based on those decision patterns.

Chipchase explains the effects on design research in Hidden in Plain Sight:

“For designers to understand what lies within the boundaries of acceptable use and what lies outside those boundaries, they need to understand the contexts in which things will be used, and the range of likely conditions that will change that context in some way… design research helps us understand the boundaries of normal behaviors.”


Top-down approach

Word: Top-down approach

Definition: An approach to information architecture that involves creating a site’s architecture directly from an understanding of product objectives and user needs.

Thoughts: This approach begins with the broadest possible categories for the content and strategy while still accomplishing the strategic goals. From there, the broad categories can then be broken down into more logical and specific subsections.

However, here is your word of warning… when using a top-down approach, important details can go overlooked so be mindful and proceed with caution and thoughtfulness (as I’m sure you already do).

Question: When is a top-down approach an ineffective strategy?


Heuristic Evaluation

Word: Heuristic Evaluation

Definition: A method used to inspect and evaluate the usability of software in order to understand product effectiveness, identify interface design problems, and explore interactions and patterns.

Thoughts: Heuristics is typically conducted during the research phase of the user experience process. During this evaluation, a UX designer will examine all aspects of the product’s UI while taking considerable note of important user flows. These do not always have to be formal and can provide a great overview of current product best practices and flaws.

Now, like many UX methodologies, the way in which these evaluations are conducted can differ from one practitioner to the next. Some researchers (myself included) prefer to keep heuristics focused on single products at a time with very detailed analysis. Others like an overview approach where they evaluate many products and focuses on a few specific areas to investigate in depth that can be compared and contrasted.

Any way you slice it, this is a great tool to not only understand the product you are working to improve but to also provide helpful insights into competing products as well.

Question: What is your preferred heuristic practice? Why?


Query Effect

Word: Query Effect

Definition: The notion that people can and will make up an opinion about anything, and will do so if asked, regardless of how much thought they’ve given the answer.

Reference: I first came upon this term in a discussion about user interviews by Nielsen Norman Group. NNG warns UX practitioners to beware of this effect during interviews because it may result in disingenuous information regardless of user intent.

NNG writes:

“It’s dangerous to make big design changes because “users didn’t like this” or “users asked for that.” If you ask leading questions or press respondents for answers, they might make up opinions that don’t reflect their real preferences in the slightest.”

Thoughts: User interviews provide extremely rich information but it is important to ask about a user’s experiences instead of seeking opinions. Make sure to tread cautiously here. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Keep that in mind!


Moderated Usability Testing

Word: Moderated usability testing 

Definition: A moderator asks questions, instructs and directs a participant through a set of tasks while ensuring that the respondent is guided in such a manner that the goals of the study are accomplished.

Thought: In a moderated usability test the moderator has specific tasks for the participant to complete and she will  track these questions herself alongside the participant. The plus sides of this method is that it can can be more engaging than unmoderated testing and it leaves room for the moderator to ask followup questions and observe subtle body language clues. It is also a preferable method if the design test is complex in nature or the prototype is rough or in early stages. This way the moderator can provide advanced guidance and instruction.

In my opinion the best resource to get you started on moderated usability testing, bar none, is Steve Krug’s book “Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.” If you have not read this book then stop reading this post right now and go do it! Seriously… do it!

On the flip side, moderated usability testing requires time and coordination. These types of tests also prove more difficult to recruit participants. It is important to remember that data could be effected by the mere presence of a moderator as well.

Question: In what types of situations have you found moderated usability testing to most effective?


Card Sorting

Word: Card Sorting

Definition: A form of UX research in which participants are given a set of cards with words or topics on them. They are then asked to arrange the cards into meaningful groups.

Thoughts: This research methodology is great for organizing and understanding content structure. Many designers will use this technique when determining a site’s information architecture. For example, if you are trying to organize a site’s navigation you would write down the different site elements on note cards and have the participant arrange them in appropriate and meaningful groups. This will then help you better understand how users will explore and navigate your site.

There are many ways to go about an effective card sort and the good news is, it’s very hard to get wrong! Look into “open” versus “closed” card sorts for more information on research practices (or wait a few days until I define those terms 😉 )

Note: this is nothing like blackjack!

Question: What are some of your card sorting techniques and best practices?


Diary Studies

Word: Diary studies

Definition: A form of qualitative research that is used to capture self-reported data from participants over a set amount of time, providing key information about how people use products in context.

Reference: Diary studies are not unique to user experience and were first utilized in a variety of other fields such as anthropology and psychology. They also a key research technique in the medical field during clinical trials or disease treatment.

Thoughts: While there are many different forms of diary studies and even more ways to conduct them, defines the typical method as, “Users self-report their activities at regular intervals to create a log of their activities, thoughts, and frustrations.”

Diary studies provide rich temporal and contextual insights that can help establish behavior patterns and demonstrate strong user habits and opinions.