Field Studies

Using The Paradox of Choice to Improve User Experience by Cory

When designing a UI or landing page that has a desired action, I like to revisit the principals learned in an excellent book by Barry Schwartz called "The Paradox of Choice". There are three main principals I've taken away from The Paradox of Choice:

  1. The more options people consider, the more buyer's regret they have.
  2. The more options people consider, the less fulfilling the ultimate outcome.
  3. Most important: The more options people have, the less likely they are to make a choice.

These three principles can be tough to use when designing a UI or a web page because our instincts tell us that more = more when in reality it is quite the opposite.

Here's a few tips for improving your user experience using these principals:

Strip out the bells and whistles. Unless they directly aid in getting your users from Point A -> B, loose em.

Get rid of fluffy copy. Face it, when trying to accomplish something, people don't read, they skim. Fluffy copy just slows them down and waists precious time. Chances are that if you need lots of text to describe something, that something is too complicated. If you must have a block of copy, re-write it down to the point where is says the same thing in as few words as possible.

Dont give users a bunch of different ways to view the same information. Determine the best way and present it that way. Any time I've ever built a UI with lots of views types, usability testing forces me to choose the best and strip out the rest.

Present one task or call to action per screen. Every screen should have one clear call to action or end goal. It's better to have many screens that lead the user down a path than one page that does it all.

Demographics of Taggers by Cory

pwe.gifJust as the internet allows users to create and share their own media, it is also enabling them to organize digital material their own way, rather than relying on pre-existing formats of classifying information. A December 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that 28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content. Here are the results of the survey...


Demographics of Taggers 28% of online Americans say they have tagged content like a photo, a news story or a blog post

Proportion of all Americans in the group who are taggers

  • Men 29%
  • Women 27%


  • White, non-Hispanic 26%
  • Black, non-Hispanic 36%

English-speaking Hispanic* 33%


  • 18-29 32%
  • 30-49 31%
  • 50-64 23%
  • 65+ 18%

Educational attainment

  • High school diploma 24%
  • Some college 28%
  • College degree + 31%

Household income

  • <$30K 28%
  • $30K-$49,999 28%
  • $50K-$74,999 27%
  • $75,000+ 36%

Internet connection at home

  • Dial up 23%
  • Broadband 38%

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project December 2006 tracking survey. (N for internet users=1,623. Margin of error is ±3%).


Tagging is done somewhat differently at different websites. Here are some links that illustrate more fully how the tagging process is done:

Feature ridden complexity not the way of the future by Cory

thumb220x275-images794007.jpgConsumers are becoming aware that the more features a product has, the less easy it is to use. They have demanded feature ridden products without understanding the impact on usability. Technology companies in competition have been compelled to meet these demands...cramming as many features and functionality as possible so that their products can be everything to everyone. These products do a thousand things poorly, and nothing great. The success of the iPod is a perfect example of a product that does one thing extremely well...and is a good indicator of things to come. I believe that we'll start to see more products like the iPod...instead of 1 product that does a thousand things, we'll see 5 or 10 products that meet specific needs.

The CEO of Phillips, Paul Zeven, recently made some enlightening comments on this topic and shared some results from a study they performed:

"Clearly, the American consumer believes that we are still cramming features and functions into our products simply because we think they will sell or in response to fierce industry competition.

We need to change that. As makers of tomorrow's gadgets and gizmos, we need to take a lesson from the success of Google. It rescued users from complexity by presenting the simplest Internet search interface possible. Another Web site, Craigslist, has done the same to maintain simplicity and to-the-point information at users' fingertips.

The fact that some products have been able to deliver this should have raised the bar for all technology products. My industry needs to better understand the impact technology is having on our lives and find ways to simplify the overall consumer experience. And consumers should demand that we deliver this, always. After all, what is the purpose of designing a product for consumers if they are not able to use it?"

Study Results:

  • more than half of Americans believe manufacturers are trying to satisfy perceived consumer needs that may not be real.
  • two out of three Americans have lost interest in a technology product because it seemed too complex to set up or operate
  • Only 13 percent of Americans believe technology products in general are easy to use.
  • only one in four consumers reports using the full range of features on most new technology products.

Unfolding the fold by Cory

ct.gifClicktale recently published some findings from their analytics data that reveal some interesting things about user behaver when it comes to scrolling. They used a subset of 120,000 page views from 11/06-12/06. Their service records the height of the web pages, the height of the window and the bottom-most location the user scrolled to. Global Statistics

  • 91% of the page-views had a scroll-bar.
  • 76% of the page-views with a scroll-bar, were scrolled to some extent.
  • 22% of the page-views with a scroll-bar, were scrolled all the way to the bottom.


  • Visitors are likely to scan the entire page no matter the page size.


  • Don’t try to squeeze your web page and make it more compact. There is little benefit in “squeezing” your pages since many visitors will scroll down below the fold to see your entire page.
  • Since visitors will scroll all the way to the bottom of your web page, make life easier for them and divide your layout into sections for easy scanning.
  • Minimize your written text and maximize images, visitors usually don’t read text - they scan web pages.
  • Encourage your visitors to scroll down by using a “cut-off” layout.

The Paradox of Choice by Cory

theparadoxofchoice.jpgI just watched an excellent lecture at the googleplex by professor Barry Schwartz where he explains his philosophy of "Why more is less" and how offering more selection and choices to customers leads to less choice and satisfaction.

Studies from the past 50 years have shown us that more selection and variety of features equals a better product. However, those studies failed to observe actual behavior in comparing a large selection from a refined selection.

This reinforces my belief that there is usually a difference in what people say and what they actually do...which is why its more important to observe behavior rather than opinion.

A study was performed in a super market in the UK a couple years back. On one day they set up a table and gave a selection of 20 jams for people to sample, each of those people got a $1 off coupon to use on any jam they wanted. The next day they only offered 6 jams, with a $1 off coupon.

While many more people were attracted to and sampled the 20 jam table...1/10 AS MANY PEOPLE BOUGHT JAM!

What does this tell us? More choice = fewer decisions. The more choice available, the more likely people will choose nothing. That's a pretty powerful finding if you ask me. There are several other studies Schwarts references with similar outcomes.

I think that Barry Schwarts has some excellent points...and watching the video just may change the way you think about building products.

What Eye Tracking tells us about website usability by Cory

eyetrack1.jpgLike all forms of usability testing results, eye tracking gives us good clues into user behavior, but it certainly shouldn't be taken literally. Testing results are merely insights into problems and their solutions...and I prefer to treat them that way. Heck I've observed many testees that do the opposite of what they say...which is really just part of human nature when it comes to using things vs. explaining how you use them. One of the recent and big studies to come out this year was the Poynter Institute's "EyeTrack III" 2004 Eye Tracking Study. This is the third eye track study conducted by Poynter since 1991.

Here's what Poynter has found from their eye tracking studies relating to website content usability, page layout, navigation and design: (along with some great comments from Frank Spillers below each finding that are good examples of how one can interpret the data):

1. Users spend a good deal of time initially looking at the top left of the page and upper portion of the page before moving down and right-ward. Comment: Another thing to think about is how this user behavior mirrors search engine traffic (i.e. Google Bot visiting your site). Search engines read starting at the top left, and then downward in a left to right column fashion.

2. Normal initial eye movement around the page focuses on the upper left portion of the screen. Comment: Not surprising when you consider that users are patterned by all the other software and websites that they use which have a standard menu start point (e.g. File, Edit, View...). Note: For Japanese or Arabic it would be the mirror reverse. 3. Ads perform better in the left hand column over the right column of a page. Comment: The right column is treated by users as an "after-thought" area and should be designed with that in mind.

4. Smaller type encourages focused viewing behavior. Comment: This is especially true in older or elderly users. For the rest of your users, stick with 9-12 point Sans Serif (Arial, Helvetica, Verdana) with an average of 10-11. FYI: Only developers appreciate miniature fonts!

5. Larger type promotes lighter scanning. Comment: Most reading behavior consists of skimming and scanning. If you want to slow your users down- use smaller fonts in the body of your content. Use larger fonts to help them cover more territory.

6. Dominant headlines most often draw the eye first upon entering the page- especially upper left of the page. Comment: Remember, Poynter's focus was a newspaper website. However, bear this in mind for portal type design and intranet design.

7. Users only look at a sub headline if it engages them. Comment: So make sub-headlines relevant and of course make them the keyword phrases users and search engines use.

8. Navigation placed at the top of a homepage performed best. Comment: Again, if you understand how users are patterned by other tools they use (Word, IE, Outlook Express)- the goodies are at the top of the page.

9. People's eyes typically scan lower portions of a page seeking something to grab their attention. Comment: This seems consistent with "Information Foraging Theory" where users are said to hunt for information by "scent" or navigation and content of the highest value to them.

10. Shorter paragraphs performed better than longer ones. Comment: Attention is clipped on the Internet. Short bursts of attention are the environment you are designing for at all times. Note: Longer product descriptions do better than shorter ones in ecommerce situations. As with all usability findings, context is key.

11. The standard one-column format performed better in terms of number of eye fixations. Comment: Most users are overwhelmed by the average web page that they try to deflect information as a coping strategy. It is the same phenomenon that occurs at a party when you focus on one conversation and ignore the other conversations around you by categorizing them as "noise". 12. Ads in the top and left portions of a homepage received the most eye fixations. Comment: Interesting, but I wouldn't recommend putting ads there. *Just because they receive eye fixations doesn't mean they put a smile on the user's face*. This is one of the main points of this article!

13. Close proximity to popular editorial content really helped ads get seen. Comment: One of the golden "rules" of usability is that anytime you satisfy the user's task (interest, goal, objective), you increase the likelihood or create the conditions that they will be open to other stimuli (advertising, cross-selling etc.)

14. Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested. Comment: Text ads are popular because they are less distracting, camouflage well with the page and are often not known to be ads and therefore annoyances to the user. Oh, and since Google "pioneered" them- they are the de facto standard in effective web advertising.

15. Bigger ads had a better chance of being seen. Comment: Also repeat advertising on a page by the same company is being used on many sites to reinforce exposure.

16. The bigger the image, the more time people took to look at it. Comment: Using larger images (file sizes) is easier these days since 20% or more (USA) are on high speed connections, but using thumbnails with large images is always a safer bet.

17. Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixations on homepages. Comment: Humans are wired to recognize patterns and hard wired to other human faces.

18. Higher recall of facts, names, and places occurred when people were presented with that information in text format. Comment: Good recall depends on the level of relevancy, good copy-writing and content usability (structure and display).

19. New, unfamiliar, conceptual information was more accurately recalled when participants received it in a multimedia graphic format. Comment: It is known in the field of cognitive science that the more emotion involved in a learning transaction, the higher the retention and recall.

20. Story information about processes or procedures seemed to be comprehended well when presented using animation and text. Comment: And the animation or text must be clear, easy to understand and in the language or conceptual world of the audience.

Eye tracking study - Forms and label placement by Cory

eyetrack.jpgUXmatters performed an eye tracking study on forms and label placement. The results conclude that non-bold text above the field and left aligned pose the least amount of eye work, hence a faster and easier user experience. Drop-downs should only be used when necessary and placed below the more important fields. Placing the label as the default option in the drop-down performed better than a label above the drop-down menu. Here are the conclusion bullet points from the study:

  • Label position—Placing a label above an input field works better in most cases, because users aren’t forced to look separately at the label and the input field. Be careful to visually separate the label for the next input field from the previous input field.
  • Alignment of labels—In most cases, when placing labels to the left of input fields, using left-aligned labels imposes a heavy cognitive workload on users. Placing labels above input fields is preferable, but if you choose to place them to the left of input fields, at least make them right aligned.
  • Bold labels—Reading bold labels is a little bit more difficult for users, so it’s preferable to use plain text labels. However, when using bold labels, you might want to style the input fields not to have heavy borders.
  • Drop-down list boxes—Use them with care, because they’re so eye-catching. Either use them for important data or, when using them for less important data, place them well below more important input fields.
  • Label placement for drop-down list boxes—To ensure users are immediately aware of what you’re asking for, instead of using a separate label, make the default value for a drop-down list box the label. This will work for very long lists of items, because a user already has the purpose of the input field in mind before the default value disappears.

Poor usability imposes significant costs on product producers by Cory

logo_rev.gifResearch and Markets will be releasing a new book in November 2006 on usability success stories. There seems to be some enlightening information based on the overview, table of contents, and experienced writers involved... "Poor usability also imposes significant costs on product producers. Companies that make hard-to-use products incur higher support costs, spend more on rework, and have less satisfied customers. "

People spend increasing amounts of time and effort interacting with complex hardware and software products. Some of the products we interact with are easy to learn and easy to remember. Some are even a pleasure to use. Others are hard to learn, hard to use, and frustrate us at every turn. But it is not just the user that pays the cost in such cases.

These outcomes can be avoided by applying the techniques of usability engineering and user-centred design (UCD) during product development. This book shows how usability and UCD practitioners do this by studying users needs and abilities, designing the product accordingly, and verifying the design through additional testing with users.

Despite the positive return on investment for usability engineering activities, many organizations view usability engineering as a non-critical part of the product development process. This book seeks to change this by relating a number of cases where usability engineering contributed significantly to the solution of a business problem. Evidence is drawn from experiences within a range of private and public sector organizations showing how usability work can best be organized and executed within a business environment. The organizational factors that facilitate or impede the application of usability engineering are also discussed. The book clearly explains the barriers to be overcome as well as highlighting the factors promoting success.

A wide range of applications are covered, including web-based e-commerce, medical devices and software, process control management systems, financial services applications, consumer desktop applications and interactive voice response systems. Usability Success Stories provides a valuable guide for business managers and technical staff as well as for practitioners within the field itself.

Table of Contents:

An introduction to usability and user-centered design, Paul Sherman

Tracking ease of use metrics: A tried and true method for driving adoption of UCD in different corporate cultures, Wendy Castleman and Kaaren Hanson

Tales from the trenches: Getting usability through corporate, Hank Henry

Redesigning the United States Department of Health and Human Services web site, Mary France Theofanos and Conrad Mulligan

Creating better working relationships in a user-focused organization, Elizabeth Rosenzweig and Joel Zif

Using innovation to promote a user-centered design process while addressing practical constraints, Leslie Tudor and Julie Radford-Davenport

Changing perceptions: Getting the business to value user-centered design processes, Adam Polansky

UI Design at Siemens Medical Solutions, Dirk Zimmermann and Jean Anderson

Collaborating with change agents to make a better user interface, Paul Sherman and Susan Hura

Learning from success stories, Paul Sherman

Ammunition for that 30-inch display you've been wanting by Cory

prodshot_30_inch_3display.jpg Apple's Marketing and PR departments have gotten quite clever in their old age. They know that for someone's company to fork over $2000 for a 30-inch Cinima HD monitor, they better have some damn good ammunition and reasoning behind something like that.

Well, just recently, Apple has provided you with the ammunition.

They hired a consulting company to do a benchmark analysis on using a 30-inch vs. a 17-inch monitor for certain tasks...and I'll have to say, the results are convincing...

Major Findings

  • High-resolution displays such as the 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display can result in measurable productivity and efficiency gains.
  • Productivity gains were present in not only professional design and publishing, digital imaging, and digital video, but also in general productivity and office applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.
  • Cumulated productivity gains linked to a large, high-resolution display can lead to a return on investment (ROI) of several thousand dollars per year.


They also proceeded to break down the ROI based on productivity gains, concluding that buying this monitor can save you up to $23,000 per year! Ha!