Archive for the 'Kristy Mayes' Category

Webstock – demystifying tech and UX

Following on from my previous blog, this year at Webstock Ashley Nelson-Hornstein gave a great talk entitled ‘Humanities x Technology’, where she advocated for a demystification of the tech industry and inclusion of contributors with skills in the liberal arts.

I liked her comment that people shouldn’t need to feel like they are a genius, or good at maths or science to code or contribute to the tech industry, and I agreed with her wholeheartedly that marrying technology with liberal arts brings about great results.

An ex-employee of Apple, her talk left no doubt – it’s not the features or tech specs, but the experience/what you can do with the product, that counts. She stressed that at Apple the experience is conceived first, and then the technology is devised to bring it about.

This arrival back at what feels like the original, more meaningful, and less ‘industry-speak’ definition of UX, was a refreshing theme for me at Webstock.

Jared Spool also focused on the user’s experience in a highly practical and educational talk about how to reach the point of UX design mastery.

He explained the growth stages of understanding – relating how individuals and organisations grow from literacy to fluency to mastery, and how this ties in to the growth phases of a marketplace. The two real world examples he used to illustrate his points were both memorable and fascinating, the story of Disney Parks and Resorts, and the story of the Nest.

Jared is an accomplished educator and his talk was as enjoyable as it was informative. Rather than do it poor justice here, I highly recommend watching it: Beyond the UX tipping point, and that you check out his slides too.

Webstock – Scenarios and storyboards

Webstock had many great talks this year, and rather than cover off the whole conference, relaying themes and highlights as I have previously – I’ve decided it would be more helpful to share my notes on a few talks in particular.

As the Research and Publishing group embark on creating a new strategic framework within which to operate, thinking about our users has rightly come to the forefront. Kim Goodwin’s talk offered an excellent methodology to learn about users and how we can help create a great experience for them:

Kim Goodwin

Scenarios and storyboards

Kim started with a reference to silos, how they lead to narrow viewpoints and prevent understanding.  She pointed out that we inadvertently implement silos in our corporate structure, and in our production systems too.  Agile user stories for example, have a narrow problem definition, ie: ‘User needs to Log in’. But – the user is trying to accomplish something, not just ‘log in’ – which brings us to the first and main question to ask ourselves: What is our user trying to accomplish?

From here we can begin to think about ‘Scenarios’. A Scenario is a plausible story about a desired user experience from end to end.

Kim’s tips for developing Scenarios are as follows (she used plane travel as an example, but I’ve added a few examples that are relevant to us):

1. Get the whole story

Talk to people about travel/research/school assignments as a whole.

What kind of trips do you take?

What kind of research do you do?

What kind of assignments do you work on?

Then get into detail – eg: What kind of tools do you use? (Not just our website.)

What software do you write your assignments in. How do you hand them in?

2. Identify what we can fix

Look for frustration, anxiety, work or effort points in the journey.

(Put an Emoji on each step.)

3. Add something unexpectedly good

What would a thoughtful human do?

What if we ran the world? What would be awesome?

4. Make it a story

From the person’s point of view, start with trigger event/need and end when the situation is resolved, e.g.: filed the expense claims/received essay mark.

Where is the user coming from before they get to our part of the experience and where are they heading afterwards, how can we help with the next part?

5. Sketch storyboards

For each scenario and each person/persona create a storyboard of ‘keyframes’. Make it visible – put it on the wall in the office.

In the next blog I’ll cover Jared Spool’s highly educational talk about how to create a product with a great user experience. Jared illustrated the journey from illiteracy to mastery, at an individual, team, organisation and marketplace level.

A new look for Te Ara biographies

Last week we released a long-awaited redesign of what is now truly the Biographies section of Te Ara.

A few years ago you may have noticed that we moved the biographies once found on to, incorporating them into Te Ara. But when the rest of the site enjoyed a beautiful redesign of its interface, the biography content was excluded from scope and, until this week, still looked and behaved in a very different way from the rest of Te Ara.

More than 2,500 of these intriguing and interesting life stories originated from the five volumes of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB), which were published between 1990 and 2000. Another 16 biographies (of subjects who have died since 1990) have been added online, and these more closely resemble the structure of a Te Ara story.

Our brief was to design a new interface for this content so that it would look and behave as you would expect from a section of Te Ara, but would also remain different enough to distinguish it from Te Ara’s other stories and sections. Its design also needed to have enough visual connections to link it to its DNZB origins, but not so much as to confuse users with mixed-branding messages.

What’s new on biography ‘story’ pages

With this in mind we began the challenge, starting with the ‘story’ pages – where you’ll find the biography text.

For our long-time biography users we retained the distinctive bright orange inherited from the old DNZB website on just a few key visual elements as a link to the content’s DNZB origins.

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

We also added a ‘metadata box’ to the first page of each story, which highlights key information about the biography subject – name, birth and death dates, occupation(s), and any tribal affiliation(s). It also lists the author of the biography and says which volume of the DNZB it was originally published in or, if it was originally published online, the date it was first published.

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

New-look Biographies section homepage

On our redesigned homepage for the Biographies section we’ve incorporated some new (and not-so-new) features that offer our users a variety of different interest points as a way into the biography content.

At the top of the page we’ve introduced a slideshow of biographies, mirroring the featured stories slideshow on Te Ara’s homepage. It uses nice big images and handcrafted blurb to describe a selection of fascinating individuals, scheduled to change on a weekly basis. It was interesting to note while working on this how much easier the handcrafted blurb was to read when compared to simply pasting in the first 50 or so words of a biography. But more on that topic in another blog post!

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

The second addition is a set of quick search filters – hotly contested and yet to prove worthy of its place! (Give them a go and let us know what you think.)

Quick search filters

Quick search filters

Next up is the portrait gallery – a curated selection of images that groups biography subjects by their photographs. This provided a brilliant opportunity to feature the colourful, quirky, humorous, familiar or unusual found among the array of biographies.  We hope the artfully written blurb and striking painted portraits shown in the current gallery lure you in to clicking through to find out more about the painted subjects.

'Painted portraits', this month's portrait gallery.

Painted portraits: this month's portrait gallery

The familiar ‘Born on your birthday’ search remains, but now, rather than just taking you off to one biography, it will give you a list of all the biography subjects who share your special day.

Who was born on your birthday?

Who was born on your birthday?

We’ve introduced a ‘This month’s life story’ block, again with a handcrafted blurb, to highlight a person who is relevant to the topic of the month in our email newsletter Te Ara hiko (which you can subscribe to from the bottom of every Te Ara page).

Finally, the last feature lets our users connect with the biographies through their occupations. From carvers and criminals to whalers and writers, the representatives of each occupation is populated randomly, with a different set of 15 people selected daily. The occupations also rotate on each page refresh to keep things interesting!

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

What’s next?

What we have is just the first version – plans for further development include: adding thumbnail carousels to image and media pages, upgrading the usability of the advanced search, adding a search bar to each biography story page that will search only the Biographies section, and aligning the design treatment and content of the Biographies search results tabs and pages no matter where you arrive from (they are currently different).

What do you think?

Let us know if you think we succeeded in our mission or not. We hope you’ll enjoy the new features mentioned above, as well as the improved usability and consistency of the updated interface. But this is all part of an ongoing process of improvement, so we can refine and adapt the design based on the evidence and feedback gathered.

So please give us your feedback – by either leaving us a comment below or emailing it to [email protected] – good or bad, it will be welcomed!