Is Your Website Like Grandma’s House?

Close your eyes and picture your grandma’s house. Most of you are probably picturing a space that is warm, inviting, familiar, but most likely not a modern, cutting edge space. There’s probably a decent amount of tchotchkes, heirlooms and general “stuff” laying around.

Now think about your website. Your home page is much like an entryway to a house. If it’s warm, inviting, familiar, those are all good things. But if it’s starting to look dated like grandma’s house, cluttered with tons of old content, ahem “memories”, chances are it’s time to think about a refresh or redesign. There’s a high probability that technology has also advanced since your last refresh, you know, kind of like grandma’s continued use of a landline or flip-phone.

We’ve been stepping back and taking a look at our own surroundings recently – “eating our own dog food” as CEO Joanna Pineda would say – and we’ve seen glimpses of grandma’s house here and there.  Everything’s fine and familiar, but getting a bit dated.

Time to shake things up a bit!

 

We’ve started this process by recently revamping our office space. Like a website, interiors absolutely need refreshing every so often in order to not look stale. Our old pool table in the lobby, for instance, was so much fun when we got it! But since then it’s been sitting forlorn in the lobby taking up space and was rarely being used. We made the tough choice of donating it so we could open up the space and create a fresh new welcoming area. And we love it! 

We’re also wrapping up a long overdue refresh to our client extranet. If you’re a frequent Matrix Group Flyer you’ve probably already seen some big changes. We’re now responsive (!!finally!!) and MUCH more user friendly. We hope these changes will encourage our clients to interact with us more through that platform!

All of these changes are really making a big difference around here and we’re feeling less and less like grandma’s house. Next up on the books for us is an overhaul of our main site. We’re kicking all the tchotchkes to the curb and going for fresh and simple. It’s going to be great.

Alex Pineda

Creative Director

The Inflection Point

As I write this, I’m currently watching the live event of Apple’s latest iPhone 8 event. They just announced an update to the Apple TV set top box, with support for 4K, because, according to Tim Cook, “TV is at an “inflection point” with the mainstream adoption of 4K.”

This made me ponder the implication of this term “inflection point”. By definition, in math terms, it’s “a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.”  In Tim Cook’s reference, it’s when a technology reaches a certain critical mass in terms of how many people use it, hence Apple’s new product.

In larger, cultural terms, an inflection point represents a fundamental change in how people live, do business, communicate.  On the NY Times website, there is a video of all the things the iPhone “destroyed”, in terms of how it disrupted whole industries, and changed how we interact with each other:

The list of disruptions engendered by the rise of mobile technology is enormous, including the taxi industry, alarm clocks, cameras, etc. Every organization is faced with the potential of disruption, with the inflection point. The key is to anticipate this disruption, and embrace it, to evolve, rather than die. History is littered with industries and companies that could not embrace change and fell by the wayside.

Since I’ve been with Matrix Group (1999), there have been a huge number of inflection points, both culturally and technologically. Every time there is a major fundamental change, we’ve had to adapt our design process, business practices, and offerings to clients. From desktop to mobile, cloud computing, content management systems, these new technologies have all had huge impacts on our business, and how we help our clients.

Some of the new potential inflection points include the internet of things, virtual reality, screen less experiences etc.  As a company that designs interactive experiences for our clients, it’s imperative that we stay on top of these changes, embrace these changes, and think about how we can apply these inflection points to help our clients evolve and thrive, and not die.

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

Creating Savvy Surveys for Better Member Feedback

Conference Attendee Feedback Here in the D.C. metro area, midsummer means high tourist season — and the middle of convention-planning season. Several of our association clients are ramping up for their annual conventions in August, September, or October, and that planning includes the convention post-mortem: Association staffs return home and look to their members, sponsors, and vendors to see what went right–and wrong–at this year’s meeting.  

Associations Now recently shared ideas for questions that are often missing from post-convention surveys. As someone who’s attended conferences on user experience, content strategy, and journalism, I’d love it if the folks behind the conventions would prompt us attendees with more specific questions about why we even went in the first place. Associations Now says the reason we go is primarily “to make connections and get practical ideas that [we] can implement once [we’re] back in the office,” but is that always the case?

Here are some other suggested questions that can help to give your organization better insight:

  • What were your top goals heading into the conference? Encourage attendees to get specific about why they registered in the first place or what they wanted to achieve, like sitting in on a certain workshop, learning about a new tool, or getting warm introductions to potential clients.
  • How well were you able to meet those goals? Do attendees express frustration about missing multiple sessions because they were programmed within the same time slot? Did they have a hard time getting into a really crowded happy hour event? The answers here can give you insight into how you might adjust the schedule for next time.
  • What sessions/events did you find the most useful for your goals? For making connections with people? These questions drill down into what worked and what didn’t. If a once-popular event drew little traffic this year, it’s time to rethink repeating it next year.
  • What were the most meaningful conversations that you had? What were the most meaningful connections that you made? These questions can be a way to get the pulse on what people were most interested in or concerned about. Maybe it’s an industry-wide issue, or maybe it was a subject specific to the convention.

To make it easier for people to answer these questions, make sure to create boxes that allow a greater number of characters (for the more long-winded respondents) and that use a larger, sans serif font.

And it’s always nice to offer an incentive for folks to complete the survey, like a discount code for a webinar or a chance to a win free or discounted conference registration for next time.

What other questions do you think should always be asked post-conference?

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

Designing for Users with Autism

Website design and usage is getting more challenging for a lot of us. In addition to more older Americans accessing the internet via smartphones only, more young people than before are living with diagnosed cognitive disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says affects 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

Researcher Cheryl Cohen recently shared those numbers in a UXDC Conference session about web accessibility for teens and adults with autism that I was able to attend back in April. Cohen gave an overview of the cognitive traits that can affect users with autism and some recommendations for improving websites and apps to better meet their needs. This was very eye-opening to me!

What should we know about autistic users, and how can we design websites and apps to give them the best user experience? Here are the considerations and solutions that Cohen shared:

  • Contextual misunderstanding: Whether presented in words or in imagery, idioms and metaphors can be confusing to some people with autism.
    • Use more intuitive, less symbolic icons. Include descriptive text, which helps improve SEO, too.
    • When you’re writing for your website, keep the language simple. This might include shorter sentences or a conversational tone.
  • Visual processing: When looking at a lot of information all on one screen, some with autism become confused or distracted. So they simply focus on one specific item and ignore the rest of the page.
    • More white space, more visuals. Too much stuff crammed onto a screen distracts users and can add unnecessary steps to an otherwise simple task.
    • Fewer words, more bulleted lists. Large blocks of text make it difficult to find and focus on what is most important on a page.
    • Does your website feature rapid animation only viewable by Flash player? Get rid of it. It’s hard to look at and process fast-moving visuals.
  • Auditory processing: From voices to machines to their environment, some people with autism focus equally on multiple sound sources.
    • Sound quality matters. If your audio content or videos feature muddy or distorted sound, someone with autism will have a harder time discerning voices.
    • Captions improve comprehension. Mentally matching the sound they’re hearing with the images they’re seeing can be more difficult for a person with autism. Add captions to your videos and images as often as possible.
  • Different way of mentally organizing items: Inconsistencies can make it challenging for a person with autism to use web interfaces, especially if that person has trouble getting past mistakes or exceptions within a website.  
    • Watch how you design forms. In Cohen’s research, she found that teens with autism had a hard time filling out web-based forms. The biggest culprit? Inconsistent spacing between labels and input boxes.

The teens she interviewed and observed will, perhaps, grow up to become members of our clients’ organizations — but at the very least, they will be, or already are, consumers and users of other online content and resources. Improving accessibility for these users improves the digital experience for all users, so why not always design with these user needs in mind?

To learn more about designing for those with cognitive challenges, check out these resources from the good folks at Web Accessibility in Mind

Are you considering these factors when designing web or apps? What other specific user accessibility considerations have you come across that improve the UX for all users?

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

Site Search Best Practice: Make the Search Box Bigger

Search drives almost everything online. While lots of us bookmark pages or click on links that take us from one website to another, typing keywords into a search engine and hitting ‘Return’ is how most web users, most of the time, try to find what we’re looking for.

When using search on a specific website (versus a search engine), we want an input box that allows us to see most, if not all, of the words we type in for our search. Yet you’ve probably had the experience of typing search terms into a too-small input box. Maybe the box is too short, so the text shows up looking tiny. Or just as frustrating, your query runs too long and scrolls out of sight.

User-experience gurus Nielsen Norman Group have the data to prove that these small search boxes are not just your imagination: “The average search box is 18-characters wide, [and] 27% of queries were too long to fit into it.”

Better to design a search-input box — or really, any kind of box where the user types in text — to be too wide than too short. And on the taller side, as well, so that there’s some white space around the words.

Don’t box in your users; give them the space they need to quickly review and revise their query before they submit it.