Category Archives: Research

Designing experiences for multiple devices

As the use of multiple devices to research and buy products increases, we look at techniques to help you design for the total customer experience, rather than individual devices.

Research from Google last year suggests that around 14% of people use multiple devices to research a mobile phone purchase, 21% use a smartphone, desktop or tablet in parallel with the TV, and that these numbers are increasing.

Here is a typical scenario:

Ann’s oldest daughter wants her first mobile phone.   There’s so much choice… and her daughter has her own ideas about what she wants.  Ann started looking at work at her desktop computer over a sandwich.  She then checked a few of the links her daughter sent her on her phone on the way home.  And now, she’s sitting in front of the TV with her tablet trying to unpick the various contract and model options.

A responsive web design would ensure that the interface that Ann will interact with works well in each of the devices.  But what about the total impact that the use of the devices together has on her overall experience and purchase decision?

Because research projects often focus on only one channel or platform throughout the design and validation process, for example researching an on-line shop on its mobile platform, they can miss the important role of the mobile in the overall shopping process and its support for other platforms, such as its desktop counterpart.

Techniques that can help

There are techniques that can help to incorporate other platforms and channels into research.  Here are some we find particularly useful:

1. Storyboards
Storyboards are used for many purposes, from validating concepts to sparking ideas by stimulating the imagination.
As storyboards are narratives depicting the user’s experience from their point of view, they automatically integrate all the channels and platforms involved in the experience.  

In our example, it would be easy to illustrate how Ann tries to look for some information on the train to work, but has a poor connection, so finds some time at lunch to look at it, and then visits the shop in the shopping centre on Saturday, when she does the weekly shopping for the family.
Incorporating a story like this one during the testing of a responsive web design for an on-line shop will help to get not only the layout right but also the flow of the overall experience.

2. Customer journey mapping
This provides a visual description of how and when the user might access a company’s product including what their typical goals and motivations are at each stage.

3.  Video and animatics
Videos and VoxPops can be created from research to show the users’ own stories.  Relevant video clips from the research, short documentaries about the research and videos of scenarios can all be used as a starting point for discussion with users and stakeholders. 

Audiovisuals activate our imagination, and make it easier for us to relate to the users so we can discuss realistically the different aspects of the experience.

4. Role play and experiential theatre techniques
These can be used as a research technique, or to depict concepts and used as a brainstorming tool.  However, using this research technique only makes sense when exploring contextual elements of the story in multichannel experiences (e.g. mobile alerts based on location and context). There is no point on using role-play to validate a layout or the web design flow in a mobile device.

And in the future ?

As screen sizes become more complex and numerous a responsive web design approach will soon not be enough.  Wearables such as watches will need a new definition and layout design just for them.  They will also raise new challenges in terms of content. (e.g. does the user really want to check a website in his watch?, or would it play its part in the overall experience?)
Future developments where screens could be displayed anywhere and anytime mean we might be talking about ‘display spaces’ rather than screen sizes or devices, opening another world of content display and layout.
So incorporating multi device narratives in the user experience research, design and evaluation phases of a project will help us to keep an eye on our multichannel experience. It will help us see different channels not as separate parts of the experience but as complementary parts of the total customer experience.  Then we will be aiming to design a user experience that is enhanced by the value of each channel, so that the overall experience is more than the sum of its parts.


(This article was written for and  first time published at in May 2014)

Storytelling and Role play in UX research

Can you remember playing make believe when you were a kid? It required absolutely nothing but your imagination and you had an unlimited number of ad­­ventures for hours! The structure of make believe is so efficient in sparking our imagination that it can be used to generate technological innovation.

Role play as an innovation and ideation tool.

Make believe is a form of role play, and what makes it so special is that it is a factory of ideas.  This is because its structure is based on a very fluid scheme:  setting a basic scenario, declaring who is going to be which character and improvising stories based on these.

We can use this formula to ­bring innovation to the corporate arena.

Use open-ended stories to focus creativity on specific users’ needs.­

One way of doing this is to use Living Personas.  This is a technique which involves actors taking on the part of typical customers or users.  We often create vivid personas for clients which help focus design teams on the needs of the users and Living Personas just takes this one stage further.  We use an open-ended story to help participants (clients) to engage with the actors and invent different endings to the stories.  We set up each story to represent a UX challenge or a particular issue and can then explore how this might play out for different customer or user types.  In this way, Living Personas provide a framework to predict user behaviour.

Use storytelling as a decision-making tool when evaluating ideas.

Storytelling can really help to evaluate ideas by observing how Living Personas react to ideas thrown at them.  During a brainstorming session, this allows the team to validate and refine their ideas on the spot.  This method can also be used following on from a brainstorm to filter the ideas that emerged.

Storytelling provides the opportunity to experience concepts almost as if they were real, therefore it is especially insightful for the exploration of any multi-device, multi-platform, and multi-location experiences.

If the budget is tight use your existing personas to create stories.

Using this technique is more affordable than you may think, and the results can pay dividends, but if budget is tight storytelling can be used as a standalone method. In the same way that children use stories to bring their toys to life, using stories can bring personas to life.

To do this, you just need to identify stories that portray the UX challenges associated with the idea.  You then walk your personas through this scenario, using role play in the same manner that you would do when actors are involved in the process.    This exercise helps the team to empathise with the user and compels us to experience each of the touch points as if we were someone else.

Set up who, when, where and why based on the UX challenges you want to explore.

Firstly you need to design your story to address the UX challenge that you are interested in.  You will then need to set up:

  • the characters for the story – these will usually be your personas
  • the scenario (where and when) – for example, if you want to explore shared user experiences you may want to mock up a public place such as a café
  • the plot – this needs to be defined in a way that will lead the discussion towards your ultimate research goal for the session.

Stories create culture, culture creates change.

Finally, share your stories.  Using actors in a role play exercise has the advantage of providing powerful experiences, that the team will remember, which impacts positively on the design, development and delivery of the product.

But if you go for something more modest, communicate your story as much as possible throughout your organization by using engaging media, such as infographics, videos or other audiovisuals. Stories are powerful because they catch our attention, and are easy to remember due to the emotional impact they have.

Stories create culture and culture creates change, that’s why stories can be a very powerful tool within organisations.


Article published at System Concepts    in June 2013

How to identify and analyse engagement in a system.

The principal challenge when designing a system is to create engagement. By engagement is meant,  the user not only spends a reasonable amount of time on your site, but also performs those actions that you want she to perform, for example, buying something, registering, or doing something off-line.

It’s no longer enough that the site attracts visitors, but it has to match a user’s needs, and this entails attracting the right kind of visitors and engaging them.

It could be said that the ideal site we want to create is one, which attracts a lot of users, which is efficient in engaging them and which encourages them to perform whatever we want. What follows is an approach, which can be used to analyse a system in order to assess what can be done to optimise engagement. It’s called the 2×2 engagement matrix.

The approach sets up a model with two variables: visitors and engagement, and the resulting basic  2 by 2 matrix contains four web-page types.

These four page types are characterised by how many visitors are attracted to them and the degree to which the visitors become engaged. They are labelled: bulls, sexy dolls, hooks and zombies.

Engagement matrix (by Rebeca Miranda)Bulls

These pages are completely optimised towards the user. They bring traffic to the site and they also foster engagement and lead to completion of interactive transactions.  They are characterised by the following:

  • High level of visits
  • High click through
  • Longer time spent on them
  • High bounce rate
  • High number o page views.
  • Low percentage of exits.

In general, the aim of an improvement strategy, will be focused on pages that are either sexy dolls or hooks.

Sexy dolls.

These are pages that receive lots of visits, but they are barely engaging.  They represent a good opportunity to improve the level of engagement because an audience is already in place. Basically the problem here lies in the content. Sexy dolls pages will likely show:

  • High levels of visits
  • Low CTR (Click through rate),
  • Lower number of pageviews
  • Higher percentage of exits


Writing relevant content. Perhaps the research and audience are not understood. Good research may be needed, as well as a proper segmentation of the audience.
Displaying other kinds of media such as videos, might also improve the level of engagement, but of course the media need to be designed to be ‘engaging’ for the specific audience.

Relating content with other parts of the website. This involves engaging the user more.  If the user is interested in a certain topic, then more content about it should be displayed.  Other example might be the use of contextual links

Making sure structural elements such as navigation menus are clear, intuitive, and simple.

Creating only a few elements to choose from. Navigation is more effective when there are not too many elements to choose from, and where the elements present are related to what the user is already familiar with.


These are pages for which there are few visitors but on which the user spends a great deal of time.  Users of these pages keep navigating indicating that their interests have been perfectly matched. However they represent a minority of the user base.

These pages are characterised by:

  • Low level of visits
  • High percentage of CTR
  • High number of pageviews
  • Longer times spent on these pages
  • High bounce rate
  • Low percentage of exits.

In addiction, the presence of such pages may indicate that:

A-    The audience has not been segmented correctly,

B-    The audience represents a different subset of the population than was assumed

In either case the starting point is a positive one: you already know that the content is relevant.

So what can one do to move these loyal geeks to became bulls?.


Improve the research and work on the SEO strategy – The content may not be sufficiently engrossing.

Place the calls to action in these pages

Try to understand why these pages are engaging in order to either:

–       Apply it to rest of the site, these pages may have elements that are absent in other pages, like contextual navigation, etc.

–       Promote this content across the site, it may be hidden, which may explain why it doesn’t have as many visitors. (e.g. users on these pages get specific information about certain services, and while trying to decide whether to buy those services, they may spend more time on the pages just to make sure, they’re making the right decision. Another reason may be they might be learning something through these pages and so spend more time on them.)


These pages are attracting neither visits nor loyalty. They are usually useful as a way of indicating errors: from 404 to just pointing out pages that need a review in order to establish:

1. If they are worthy to improve

2. What makes them so bad, in order to get clues to improve the rest of the site.

These can be recognized because they are characterised by:

  • Low level of visits
  • Low rate of click through
  • Short time spent on them
  • Low number of page views
  • High level of exits

Once one has identified which pages are problematic, it becomes easier to create specific remedies for improvement, as well as deriving valuable information about the overall performance of the site. Also by analysing the pages belonging to each of the defined categories across a system, we could obtain a ‘big picture’ of overall site performance, which could lead us to rethink how it should be developed.

How would you like to be approached in a social network

We don´t admit everybody to join our social network in Facebook. Thinking about what someone should do to make you add her to your social network, what do find is the most important rule to take into account in on-line social protocols

Adding strangers to your social network

Thinking about how willing we are to meet strangers in the web. Here there is a very short survey.