Tag Archives: Usability

Four Reasons Why I Love airbnb

As a big fan of traveling, I was thrilled to find airbnb.com. I am attached to it and visit it frequently even when I am not planning for any trip. It is not only usable but also enjoyable.

This website gives me great experience mainly because of the following 4 reasons:

  • Clean navigation and prominent searching area. As a platform offering choices of accommodations for travelers who have destinations in their mind, searching function should be significant and easy to find. Airbnb does a great job of placing the core function at the very center of the home page, which will also take the central place of on a commonly sized laptop screen. A “search” button colored with bright pink will ensure that you don’t miss the search box embedded in colorful cover photos.   

Screenshot 1:30:13 11:30 AM           In case you are new to the website and just want to wonder around and check it out, the fixed   search bar at the very top of the page will stay what ever page you are going to visit and quickly help you get back to track when you are ready to search for specific destination.

      This simple but thoughtful navigation design can always remind and facilitate users to complete the key task without hassle.

  • Pleasing visual enjoyment. For all online shopping sites, visual attraction is a key to attack and retain visitors. Airbnb is also a form of online shopping sites, where people make purchase decisions without seeing and touching real products. What the difference between airbnb and other online shopping store (e.g., Amazon, Nordstrom, and eBay) is that airbnb is not only selling the product itself, it is also selling the living experience and life styles. These hidden selling points are in no way negligible. Thus, I appreciate the attention and value airbnb has put on the quality of the images and delightful color schemes of the website. I have no doubt that users will be attracted by most of the photos posted and feeling hard to make a decision not because the options are undesirable but because they are all too fancy to just choose one. Furthermore, the whitespace among images is reasonable, rendering great visual effect.
  • Integration of social functions and wish list. This newly-added feature showed a salute to the good idea and experience on Pinterest. I viewed it as a tipping-point that airbnb evolved its focus on exploration rather than just search. Much like a soymilk-maker company in China spent great efforts to advocate and advertise the benefits of drinking soymilk in order to sell its products, airbnb offers contexts and atmosphere of different places around the world to arouse the pleasant yearn for traveling, and indicating living with airbnb is the best way to really immerse oneself in the local culture. I love the wish list function because I can “pin” interior designs that I love, save places for future trips, broadcast on Facebook about my taste, and plan trips with my friend collaboratively. Airbnb introduces the wish list function in the home page, right below the prominent search function. Users can easily browse popular wish lists. What adds to enhance this joyful experience is the great coding – it brings almost infinite scrolling, smoothy and robust. Screenshot 1:30:13 4:48 PM

      In each individual space page, saving to wish list or sharing function (to Twitter and Pinterest) is handy. It is convenient at any stage to bookmark favorite choices. Overall, airbnb enables different pathways for users do discover fun places and ignite their unconscious desires.

  • Trust system and adequate product information. Another formula of successful online shopping site is to build the sense of trust and ease the process of making purchase decisions. Airbnb succeeds in setting up a trust by using traditional user reviews system and approachable profile information of house-renters. Below shows randomly pulled two renter’s profile bar on the property’s page: Screenshot 2:7:13 11:23 AM

      The font used to spell their names is handwriting style, creating a sense of friendliness. Other performance matrices reflect their working style. They helps users to make good matches with the renter they are going to deal with and be aware of what to expect. By clicking the name of the renter, users could check more detailed information and business record of her. All the means very much secured users trust towards the website.

      To help users make informed decisions, useful information is also ready available and easy to navigate through. For example, information regarding a renting property could be viewed in photo’s form, geography form, street-view form, and availability form, using tabs to toggle among. Detailed description, amenity list and house rules (e.g., no smoking, and no pets) are also specified right below the photo gallery. Screenshot 1:30:13 11:03 PM

Above are the major 4 reasons why I have great experience on airbnb. As I browse it, I discover more lovely features that reflect those fine considerations from the website designer. A lesson learned.


A Fun Video about UX, with More Thoughts Following

I came across this fun video persuading people to adopt user experience work into production streamline:

While it is always fun to watch videos with hand-drawing comics and I always have my thumbs up for integrating user experience components into product development, this video leaves some un-articulated questions behind the good-looking ROI. Things are just not that simple and straight-forward.

First, what to fix?
Before any sort of redesign, there should be intense usability studies to figure out the existing usability issues with assigned severity ratings. Because we need to figure out, in this case, what are the reasons caused those 50 customers leaving the website without donation. Further more, among all the reasons, there are some with higher severity level, which if fixed can result in major improvements; while others are minor, probably only contribute to 10% of the abandon problems. In this case, cost in terms of money and time should be considered by the business to decide to what degree these issues should be addressed at this time. It will be account for the estimates of the investment of redesigning and coding the website.
To read more about severity ratings:

Second, what to measure?
It is seldom the case, if any, that the user experience improvements can bring all the lost customers back. Measurements are necessary and essential to evaluation the investment. Don’t forget that measurement itself costs man power and money, and monitoring the wrong metrics is a waste and can cause slow reactions to the market. @jmspool today wrote an interesting article to discuss the concept of KPI: Key Performance Indicator. To recap, there are three important characteristics of a good metric: related, important, and predictive.

Glad to see the importance of UX is more and more acknowledged, which encourages me as a student, a beginner on this path. Through today’s exploration, I felt I am still lacking experience regarding to the evaluation part though I had some scattered project experience. Will put more efforts on this part in the future projects and thesis work.

Control Sensitivity in Design

I run into the problem everyday: when I try to adjust the temperature of my shower, it is just way too sensitive. I have to move the lever as carefully as I can, however, it still surprises me with sudden change of temperature. I end up taking a shower either too cold or too hot.

This occurs to me today because I read about “control-display ratio” today when I went over the human factor class that I am taking this semester. Control-display (C/D) ratio is measuring the change of control compared to the change of display (or outcome, response). If the C/D ratio is high, then the control sensitivity is low, and vise versa. C/D ratio is very important for HCI design as well. Low C/D ratio (high sensitivity) could save time when users are approaching the target, while high C/D ratio (low sensitivity) could help user with fine adjustment when they reach the target area. So a carefully designed C/D ratio is important for improving user controlling experience. For example, the movement of mouse or controlling stick should have a reasonable C/D control so that users could minimize the effort when they try to move their mouse to reach a target.

The following is a common example in our everyday life: when you try to adjust the window, cursor has to be moved within a narrow area in order to change the shape. If the control sensitivity is too high, it will be very very annoying.

Connect the Digital World with the Physical World

How “human” can your mobile phone be? If you are thinking Siri as an example, check this TED talk out, it will surprise you.

This short video made me smile: I will definitely spend more time with my mobile phone if it is that sweet! The whole idea of improving hand held device nowadays is not only making them more reliable, faster, or smaller, but making them more user-friendly. So ultimately, how friendly can a device be? This TED talk pointed out a very good direction for us: bring digital experience more close to our physical experience. Just like you can now speak to Siri than just navigate through pushing some buttons, or you could flip over pages when you are reading books on iPad. Though the ideas in this talk are not so practical or necessary in some peoples’ eyes, I believe it is a right direction for UI designers to pursue: making the interactions with technology more intuitive.

However, another question we need to address at the same time is, to what degree should the digital world resembles the physical world in order to not be considered as “backwardness”? As we’ve adapted ourselves with the button “language” of digital world, even we’ve been enjoying the “high-class” sensation when we use the superb multi-touch screen, do we really want the feeling of the thickness of the books back?

I guess there is a lot of user research need to be done before any fancy new designs being carried out. Overall, making the technology more intuitive, more “human”, and more considerate in a clever way is definitely the future of digital tech design.

RAA: A Practical Open Card Sorting Study

RAA stands for: Research Article Analysis

Paper discussed:

Lewis, K. M., & Hepburn, P. (2010). Open card sorting and factor analysis: a usability case study. Electronic Library, The, 28(3), 401-416. doi:10.1108/02640471011051981

1. Purpose of the research:

This paper describes the process, analysis, results, and implications of a card sorting usability study conducted for redesigning the library Website of University of Illinois at Chicago.

2. Methods:

Totally 18 participants were recruited and 15 were completed the task at the end. Among these 15 participants, 7 are undergraduate students, 7 are graduate students, and 1 is faculty member.

The open card sorting was done individually with each participant.

  • The researchers created 93 numbered index cards. Label on each card was one of the existing or potential content from the library website.
  • The participants were allowed to create anything missing or duplicate cards where they felt the cards belonged to multiple categories, using blank index cards.
  • The participants were also allowed to discard cards that they felt redundant or named a category with “other”  or “general” for cards seems necessary but not fit into any other categories.
  • Speak aloud protocol was carried out to gain the participants’ rational for sorting decisions.
  • The researchers didn’t answer any question to define the label terminology or indicate which category should a card go.

Post-analysis using “factor analysis” was done to indicate the association of a card with a category.
3. Main Findings:

Using the methods above, the researchers got the final result of sorting these 93 cards into 11 categories, with 27 cards not sorted into any categories. Besides the final sorting result, the researchers also concluded some qualitative findings as follows:

  • Participants tend to group together cards that have the same words on them.
  • Participants were sorting not only by format but by processes or tasks.
  • The 27 cards that were not associated to any categories were due to different reasons: should be piled to themselves; redundancy; vague meaning; meaninglessness.

4. Analysis:

I found this paper particularly interesting because the up coming card sorting project. This 2010 paper not only described the project process and findings, but also did a good job reviewing previous card sorting study done by several university libraries. The qualitative findings of this paper reminds me of some essentials of designing card sorting experiment, mentioned by Gergle & Wood (2002), such as “listen to other comments about the content” and “include a brief description on each card”. Overall, it is a well-written paper with considerable details and discussions, which could be used as a good reference to our project. What I am going to dig deeper is their statistical method to combine the results. This seems to make much more sense than just eyeballing the results. I will write about different methods of combining card sorting results in a future post.



Gergle & Wood (2002), Usability for the Web: Designing Websites that Work. Morgan Kaufman.

Travel with Flexible Dates: Flight Search Should Help You

The more I browse other flight booking websites, the more I like StudentUniverse.

People always have the chance to travel with flexible dates: say, you have a 7-day Spring break, you aren’t really strict about which day to depart and which day to return; rather, the flight cost often plays a big role in helping you to decide the traveling date, since it varies depending on different dates.

When searching for flights, if you check the “my travel dates are flexible” box, StudentUniverse wisely offers a 7×7 metrics of prices, corresponding to different combinations of departure and return days that are within 3 days of your pre-set dates. In this metrics, pre-set departure and return date combination is in the middle, highlighted with dark blue color; and the cheapest prices are also highlighted with light blue color, trying to catch attention. With this metrics, you could easily decide which combination fits you the best, in terms of both price and schedule.

StudentUniverse: Search Results of Flexible Dates

Compared to StudentUniverse, other traveling agents’ websites are not so considerate over the flexible traveling needs. They only provide the results of exact dates you offered in the search engine. Want to check adjacent dates to see if there are cheaper options? You really need to work hard: each cell in the above metrics means one round of search(change departing and/or returning dates and search again), plus needs to jot down search history so that you don’t forget after so many rounds. User-centered design is small, but it is everywhere.

Search Result from other Websites

Gmail’s New Look: How Do You Like it?

Earlier yesterday, I updated my Gmail to the new look. I personally like it because those new functions actually show the sincerity of Gmail group’s efforts of making more clean user interface and more fluent user experience. You probably have seen this video when you update the account, but it does no harm to review it again to remind yourself of all these well-designed features:

To summarize, we have these NEW FEATURES IN GMAIL:

  • Enable customization of the sidebar
  • Redesign the conversation (with profile pictures)
  • Set high-resolution background image
  • Advanced Search
  • Control the display density (comfortable, cozy, and compact)

Among all these features, I could see one common trend — returning more control back to the users in a smooth way. For example, you could now customize the left-hand side bar according to your preferences, which allows me to accomplish more tasks within the first screen by hiding those rarely used tags and moving chatting window up:

New Sidebar Design                 Old Sidebar Design

A wise bonus gained through these kind of “customization” designs might be the enhancement of users’ sense of control and sense of identity, which then leads to a good impression and experience towards Gmail.

If you are about to say “cheers!” to Gmail group, save it for a little bit longer.

Since I want to compare the two versions, I switched my Gmail back and forth between the two (before the old version is totally shut down!) to play with it. Below are some comments I wanted to make.

1. Design of Grouping and Hierarchy

Compared the basic themes under both versions:

See the arrows pointing to the headings called “Starred” and “Everything else”? I really appreciate the old version providing me darker blue color with bold fonts to make them stand out. However, in the new version, these headings are being put quietly in the background color (white), it took me a while to realize there are still different sections. This task will be even harder if you are scrolling the window up and down quickly and trying to scan through items.

2. Visibility of System Status

Now look at the circled “Inbox”. In the old version, they gave it a strip like background to indicate its activation. In the new version, strategy is changed to adapt to the new visual design style, thus it is highlighted through bolding. I would say the old version is more “eye-catchy” because it is more distinguished from other inactivated options. If you think it looks still Ok in the new version, try other themes like this one:

New Gmail

Isn’t it much challenged to find bolded “Inbox” (and also all other texts) in this theme under the new version? But the old version is performing reliable, with not that fancy design. I was using this theme under the old version, after switching, I had to change it to the basic theme in order to ease my eyes.

3. Duplicated Functions

As the carrier of most of the new features, the new setting option is really helpful:

However, with two identical function logos in the upper right corner, it is a little bit confusing and annoying. Since the upper one is inherited from the old version, it carries some functions that overlapped with the new setting button. That means you could get things done (e.g., change email signatures, change themes, and add filters) through either way — then don’t make users think which one they should choose! I would definitely say the newly added one is better, since it pulls out frequently used functions.

Overall, brilliant design of the new Gmail! Very thoughtful new features to fulfill the needs that users even didn’t see. Also very interesting to compare between different versions when they are both available. Play with it and tell me how do you like the new one?:)