observational Design

5 New Interesting UX Phrases

The latest instalment in our monthly list of User Experience terms and definitions.

Each month, we are adding new terms to our existing glossary of Web Design, Usability and UX definitions; terms we deem useful, interesting or – hopefully – a mixture of the two!

Discover new terms, learn more of the ones you thought you knew and find out interesting, little known, details.

March’s five new terms are as follows:

Breadcrumbs

Just as Hansel and Gretel taught us as children, remembering where we came from is essential in getting home. However, unlike the fictional kinderen our breadcrumbs aren’t at risk from birds.

Breadcrumbs are a navigational aid, used within programs or documents to keep users informed of their location. Their use is especially apparent within a file system. Folders, within folders, within folders… mean that without a clear trail of how we got somewhere, there is no way of finding our way back on the correct path.

So, just like Theseus and his string, or Hansel and Gretel, we leave that trail behind us should we ever need to return home. Just right click your ‘back’ button!

Observational Study

Somewhat related to our previous instalment on thoughtless acts. An observational study involves watching people’s behaviour to discover patterns in their actions. Insights can help shape the future design process, building based on a user’s behaviour.

Observation marries well with User Centred Design (UCD), where the user is at the centre of the design process. For example: by studying people working in an office environment, we can better understand their interactions and usage of computers. Leading to systems being built more adapted to their needs.

A relatively inexpensive study method, observation allows designers to gain a basic understanding of the situation quickly. Perfect for discovering what is happening, it ignores the why. A key limitation of the method.

HTML

An STD to some, a key career skill to others – HTML underpins the web. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the main markup language used for creating web pages and other web-based content. Without it, this page would be little more than basic clump of text.

Originally built by Tim Berners-Lee, the internet pioneer, its foundations were first implemented in 1990. This first iteration has evolved constantly overtime, as we currently sit on version 5.0/4.

HTML is written in the form of ‘tags’ around text. These tags shape, format and compose the page’s content. This could be text, image, audio or visual content. Default characteristics of the HTML-shaped page are determined by the web browser, these characteristics enhanced by use of CSS(Cascading Style Sheets). Rarely these days would we see a page built of purely HTML, with CSS providing the gloss. Yet even non-programmers may frequently encounter it. Many text inputs (ie. forums) still require a basic understanding, and even this text is formatted in HTML in order to differentiate titles, images, links, and whatever else.

Engaged time

In recent years, detailed analytics tools such as Google Analytics have allowed us to collect ever more detailed data on our site’s visitors. Originally Pageviews were the go-to stat. Getting this simple number as high as possible was something to brag about. Later we saw this simplistic, but flawed, metric abandoned in favour of Unique Pageviews. Showing a more reliable number of a site’s traffic.

Analytics tools allow us to go much deeper however, so much so that now we can study the amount of time a user spend on a page.

This ‘Engaged Time’ is as simple as that. It tracks the length of time each user spends on a specific page. From this we can calculate an overall average of the time spent by all users. With this information we can understand if users are actually engaging with our content – not just simply browsing over it and going home. An engaged user is far more likely to connect with the brand in question. They are invaluable users, likelier to return for more than one fleeting visit.

You are here indicator

A rather simple one to finish. This is a method of relaying a user’s current position within an ‘interface’, back to the user. Interface being a loose term… This could be anything from the large ‘You are here’ arrow on a map, to the highlighting of an element within a menu.

In computing, this was historically essential for use in menus. Before the mouse, navigation using arrows meant this was the only way of knowing your place. The mouse now allows us a secondary indicator, but the original remains key. By having clickable elements highlighted by hover-states, we know what we’re clicking. Helping users to orientate themselves in large information spaces.

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