Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mistakes using photos on websites

I am finally catching up a little on my UX-related magazine reading and got to that article in Design Instruct that I previewed last week on using photographs on website.  Jacob Gube describes “eight common mistakes” that designers often make.  The article is solid in that he provides evidence for all of his ideas.  Unfortunately, it seems rare in these days of social media publishing that anyone recognizes that opinion does not make fact.  I really applaud Jacob for the way he put the article together. 

I put all three words in quotes because I am not sure that there are eight, that they are common, or that they are all mistakes.  This might sound like a big criticism of the article, but as I said above, most of it is really solid.  He just overgeneralizes and overspecifies on several occasions and I want to set the record straight.

Mistake 1: Not choosing the right photo.  Jacob is spot on with this advice in one sense – having a photo that is not relevant to the user’s task is not going to be productive, no matter how great a photo it is from a purely aesthetic perspective.  But I have one major quibble with his evidence.  He used an eye-tracking study to show that users did not look much at a photo and concluded that this means it is not relevant.  But there are two possible reasons that this might not be true.  First, the photo might be so clear that the user only need a brief glance to get the meaning and the value from it.  In this case, very little dwell time in an eye-tracking study could be an indication of a good photo choice.  This is why eye-tracking has to be used in conjunction with other methods in user research.  It is not a stand-alone tool.  Second, the user might only need to get a gist from the photo rather than any specific information.  Users can get gist in milliseconds.  In the case he uses, people downloading a college application didn’t look very long at a photo of some smiling students sitting in a classroom on laptops.  But users can get the impressions of “happy, classroom, technology” and that is really all they need.  In his counterexample of shopping for a bookcase at Pottery Barn, clearly users will need more specific information from the photo and will look at it longer.  Even if the photo is no better in relevance or quality.  The difference is in the need for precise information versus gist impression. 

Mistake 7 kinds of contradicts mistake 1.  He suggests using the photo of the artist rather than the artwork on a site that sells paintings.  The reasoning is that photos of people are most powerful.  Well, yeah OK, but what about relevance?  If the user is buying the art based largely on an engaging story about the artist, then maybe this photo is relevant.  But otherwise, it is the artwork that matters.

Mistakes 5 and 6 are kind of the same thing.  Mistake 5 says not to use photos that take too long to load and then Mistake 6 says how to code photos so that they load faster.  Same thing, isn’t it?  This is kind of nitpicky, but it is a long article.  He didn’t need to make it longer still.

The Mistake 8 tells us to use large photos.  This contradicts all of the above.  It takes longer to load and might not be as relevant as what it displaces.  Aren’t we better using small photos if there are other elements that are more relevant and if we want the page to load faster?

I recommend the article to anyone who has missed it and uses photos in their web design.  Most of it is really good and he provides real evidence.  I just had a few nitpicks I felt compelled to share.  Am I being too picky or do you agree?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The relationship between anxiety and performance

I participating in a Google Hangout this morning about Gamification that arose from my post about the “Dark Side” of gamification.  The six participants were brilliant and it was a great way to spend an hour this morning.  I wanted to follow up with a blog post because there was something mentioned at the very end that we didn’t have time to talk about in detail but I think is critically important.

The topic was anxiety and how anxiety affects performance.  For those of you who know me or who have read my blogs regularly, you know that for any topic that I find interesting, most questions about it can be answered with “it depends.”  I think that is exceptionally true for the relationship between anxiety and performance.  So here are some thoughts.

First, there are a lot of different sources of anxiety:

1.  We can be under time pressure.  The anxiety can be caused by a requirement that we do something faster than we want to or previously thought we needed to.

2.  We can be under performance pressure.  The anxiety can be caused by a requirement that we do something to a higher level of effectiveness than we want or previously thought we needed to.

3.  We can be under process pressure.  The anxiety can be caused by a requirement to do something in a more efficient or sophisticated way than we want or previously thought we needed to.

4.  We can be under creativity pressure.  The anxiety can be caused by a requirement to do something fundamentally different than we have ever done before.  Solve a new and unfamiliar kind of problem.

Second, there are different consequences of the action:

A.  There might be a benefit/bonus/reward for achieving the new, more advanced requirement.

B.  There might be a penalty for not achieving the new, more advanced requirement.

C. There might be social pressure – we will be letting down our team/community/family for not achieving the new, more advanced requirement

Third, there are different levels of visibility of the success/failure

i) Our success/failure may only be known to ourselves and perhaps the person who added the pressure.

ii) Our success/failure may only be known to the team/community impacted by the success/failure.

iii) Our success/failure may be publicly available, although only through some effort.

iv) Our success/failure may be publicly broadcast – on the nightly cable news or the next Twitter Trend.

Fourth, there are individual differences.

a) There is the prevention/promotion-focus dimension.  Some people are motivated by the opportunity to achieve something new or challenging (promotion-focus).  Some people are risk-averse and prefer to avoid anything in which they might fail.

b) There is perceived locus of control.  Some people think that they have the ability to make a difference and overcome challenges that they are facing by using their personal strengths and abilities.  Some people think that outside influences have too strong an influence on the results, so no matter how hard they try they can have too little an impact on the likelihood of success.

Fifth, there are domain differences.

x) each person might have a particular risk, efficacy, or locus of control profile in one area (e.g. sports) but a different profile in another area (mental acuity).

Sixth, there are task requirement differences

y) some tasks require brute force (physical or mental) exertion such as running faster or rote memorization

z) Some tasks require more creative and diverse action (physical or mental) such as finding a new way to explain an old idea or a way to tie your shoes with only one hand.

So if you cross each of these dimensions, you get 4x3x4x2x4x2 ~ 800 different situations, each of them might have a different mediating effect on the relationship between increasing the pressure and the resulting performance. 

There is some evidence from cognitive neuroscience and from empirical field research that brute force activities benefit from pressure whereas creative activities are harmed by it. 

There is also some evidence that promotion-focused individuals and internal locus-of-control individuals benefit from increased pressure whereas prevention-focused individuals and external locus-of-control individuals are harmed by it. 

There is also some evidence that time-pressure can increase performance but quality-pressure can harm performance. 

But with 800 different situations, there is clearly a lot more we need to learn about these relationships. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My time Alone Together

As I am sure you are aware (and couldn’t avoid even if you wanted to), there has been a huge debate in the sociology/social media worlds about the effects of social media technology on our interpersonal interactions and social lives. 

On one hand, social media allow you to connect to, keep track of, and bond more with a much great diversity of people despite physical distances.  We can now move across the world and still keep in touch with family, friends, business contacts, and our favorite sports teams. 

On the other hand, we can be a lot more shallow in a Tweet or Facebook post than we can in a face-to-face conversation.  If you take the time to go to someone’s house or meet them for a beer at the local dive, you are going to say more than 140 characters.   

Some of my favorites:

I am not going to go into either of these sides because there is plenty of material already and a lot of it is really insightful.  No, instead I am going to warn about the hazard of trying to split the difference and do them both in parallel.  I went out with four friends a few days ago.  We went out together because we are friends.  We enjoy each other’s company.  We have mutual interests.  We have lots to talk about.  At least that is what I thought.  But for 90% of the evening, all four of their heads were buried in their phones – checking email, Facebook, Twitter, et al.  I would have taken it as a personal insult to be so totally ignored except that they were ignoring each other as well (yes, I looked over their shoulders to make sure they weren’t all texting each other J).

It is a good demonstration of the Power of Habit, the Fogg Behavior Model  and Hooked.  When the signal of a new tweet, email, text, or post comes in, the dopamine rush automatically elicits its associated response – look to see who it is.  And it is too tantalizing not to check real quick what it is about.  It will only take a second, that isn’t too rude to my friends.  And just one more second to punch out a quick response or to bookmark it for later.  Maybe with just a few additions to remember it.  And just one more little think on top.  15 seconds tops.  And then 15 seconds later, the next tweet, email, post, or text comes in and the activity cycle happens all over again.

But I really wanted to hang out with my friends.  I didn't feel like I got much of that.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pub Crawl Gamification

This is a great example to illustrate many of the motivators that you can implement in a gamification layer.

A group of pubs in Ireland wanted to drum up some business so they created a short term event called the 12 Pubs of Christmas.  Since this is short term, it is OK to have extrinsic rewards.  But they have a combination of all types.  And I added a few of my own to round it out for some player profiles that seemed left out.


  • Getting through all 12 Pubs alive (epic achievement motivation)

  • Singing songs together (collaboration motivation)
  • Wearing the same sweater (uniform) (in-group identity motivation)
  • You could do the pub crawl with any set of friends you wanted (one to one bonding motivation)
  • You could meet people as you went along (expand your network motivation).

  • You could go to any pub, at any time during the window, in any order, and still be part of it (freedom of time motivation)
  • If you weren’t interested in the special prizes, you could skip any of the pubs and any of the drinks on the list (freedom of action motivation)

Collection of sets

  • There were specific drink types allowed at each Pub.  There was a special reward if you drank one of each.
  • There were 12 pubs and you got a special reward if you went to them all.
Meaningful Purpose

  • It was a Christmas-themed pub crawl (Is Christmas still meaningful?  If so . . . )

  • They could have had a few mystery drinks at one or two of the pubs.  Perhaps in addition to the official collection set or maybe as part of the set.

  • The bawdiness of the songs.
  • The tackiness of the sweater.
  • Acting obnoxious with a good excuse.
  • Have safe times at each pub so that someone not interested in obnoxious and bawdy can also participate. 
Supplemental mechanics

  • There was a set time window for the crawl (time pressure mechanic)
  • They could have special rewards for being at a certain pub at a certain time (appointment mechanic)
Any others to add . . . . ???