Google’s virtual reality efforts are getting a lot of press these days, so what’s all the commotion? For the past two years, Cardboard has been the flagship of Google VR. If you’re new to the world of virtual reality, Google Cardboard is essentially housing made of cardboard that turns your smartphone into a virtual reality viewer. Similar products include Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR, but they come with a hefty price tag. A Cardboard viewer, on the other hand, will run you about $20 or less; Google even provides the blueprints if you want to create your own from scratch.
If you’re still scratching your head, think back to the good ‘ole View-Master. With Cardboard, you’re also looking at images through a viewer, but the experience is more interactive. Instead of viewing stagnant images, you can watch 360-degree videos that respond to your movements. For instance, in Bjork’s 360-degree music video, you’ll see Bjork standing on a beach in front of you, but you can also look up at the sky, down at the sand, even behind you. Pretty impressive stuff, eh?
Unfortunately, creating a 360-degree video isn’t quite as affordable as viewing one. GoPro has a VR camera rig called Jump that can be yours for the low low price of $15,000. That said, you can create your own 360-degree still images for free with the Google Street View app! In Google terms, these images are called “photo spheres”, or a series of images stitched together to recreate a 360-degree experience. I took one of my office and the process was incredibly simple; the app prompts you to move your phone around as you take photos to capture your whole environment. The final product isn’t 100% seamless, but the price is right and sharing is remarkably easy. If you’re eager to try out Google Cardboard, check out the #360Video YouTube channel. Even without the viewer, this will give you an idea of what we mean when we say virtual reality.
In addition to Cardboard, Google recently announced a new virtual reality viewer platform called Daydream, set for release this November. Daydream is considered an upgrade to the existing Google Cardboard viewer at more than double the price ($80). If you’re curious about VR, Cardboard remains an excellent choice for beginners. Daydream may be the latest model, but it’s unlikely to rival the simplicity, DIY quality, and accessibility of Cardboard.
If you’re interested in emerging technologies and digital creativity, join us on Mondays this semester at the IQ-Wall for Maker Mondays workshops, presented as part of the Scholars’ Commons Workshop Series – yet to be covered are stop-motion animation, internet of things and logo design:
Last week I was happy to have the opportunity to take in this energetic, insightful keynote by Harper Reed, currently Senior Director of Software Development at PayPal and sometime CTO for Obama for America and Threadless.com (best T-Shirts ever!). It’s MSFW (mostly-safe-for-work) [F-bomb alert], but hey! our CIO invited him so I think IU employees at least are A-OK.
Enjoy this talk on Big Data, Product Design, UX & Being Only A Little Creepy. I’m pretty confident the hour will zip by.
We all have goals. Write that book, run that marathon, build a better mousetrap … start a book club with an umlaut in the title.
Actually, it didn’t have to be a book club. I just LOVE umlauts, and some tiny part of me has been waiting for the chance to shoehorn one into some professional endeavor for years. Lucky you, that time has come!
We’re starting a book club, and we’re calling it DUX BÜX (ahem, that’s ducks boooks, please say it with feeling). We hope you’ll join us. Below, find the brief blurb we’ve shared in our staff newsletter.
I think you’ll really enjoy this book – I know we have. It’s pithy, it’s useful, and, let’s be honest: it has gigantic type and lots of pictures. So there’s no excuse for not showing up having read the first chapter next week.
User experience (UX) encompasses everything related to how people experience the library: how easy it is (or isn’t) to find what you need on the website, signage, customer service, how books are shelved, you name it. Let’s talk about this! To encourage discussion of UX issues throughout the Libraries, DUX is starting a book club, open to all librarians and staff.
Our first book will be How To Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert – freely available online and relatively inexpensive to purchase in print format. (We’ll also have a ‘reserve’ copy – ask us directly at our usual email) This highly readable book will help you understand the field of information architecture, and how to clean up just about any kind of “mess”– whether it’s a hopeless file drawer, a cluttered kitchen, a terrifying tenure dossier, or a website.
Join us monthly for a lively discussion. You bring thoughts and questions, we’ll bring snacks! All meetings are from 12-1p.
September 27th: Chapter 1
October 18th: Chapters 2 & 3
November 15th: Chapters 4 & 5
December 6th: Chapters 6 & 7
Speaking of books, which as a librarian is an occupational hazard, if you’re interested in user experience, think you might be, or just want to look like you are, these two recommended reading lists from UXBooth are chock full of great content.
Can one word change user experience on your website, for better or worse? YES. Think about the labels you experience on websites – and in the non-web world – every day. Most of them are just a word or two, and yet you rely on those words to give you confidence that you know what is going to happen if you take a particular action.
A real world example that has been bugging me for years: The gas station closest to my house has instructions on the gas pumps. After you swipe your credit card, it says to “push start.” THERE IS NO “START.” NOWHERE is there anything that says “START.” There is, however, a button that says “PUSH.” Sure, I can figure out that I’m supposed to push that button, but why on earth not use the word that actually matches up to what you’re looking for? What if someone who isn’t fluent in English tries to use the gas pump? Or, for that matter, a nit-picky word-nerd? Insert “banging head against wall” emoji here. (The more you learn about UX, the more stuff like this drives you crazy… it ain’t pretty, folks.) A good rule of thumb, by the way, is to use a label that relates to “what’s going to happen if you take this action” as opposed to “the method by which you take the action” – “submit request” is a much better label for a button on your website than “click.” (If your user is submitting a request, that is.)
And speaking of “start,” did anyone else attempt to do tech support for less computer-literate coworkers or relatives in the days of Windows 95? “Okay, now to shut down your computer, click the Start button.” WHO COMES UP WITH THIS? THIS DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE! “To stop the thing, click on the thing that starts the thing.” WHAT. And then, when Microsoft did away with the “Start” label and just offered a round buttony thing that does all the things, everyone still called it a “start button” and then they complained when it went away in later versions of Windows – but that’s another story.
On a more local note, a few years ago our department did a little bit of lightweight user testing on some website labels we were considering. We were about to roll out new-and-improved subject pages that would include lists of databases, and we were trying to decide what to call a short list of databases that were the most generally useful within a subject. Start here? Best bets? Core databases? Research starters? Be like Google and call it “I’m feeling lucky”?
I personally thought “best bets” would be a great label. Short, snappy, suggests that you might want to try these first if you’re floundering, without necessarily tying them to a particular point within the research process (you might also find them useful when you’re in the middle of things). Boy, was I wrong. Thank goodness our user testing involved asking some international students, because “best bets” was all but meaningless to many of them. Idiom, people! Plus, who wants to be gambling if they’re using a library website, anyway? (We ended up using “Start here.”)
On a slight tangent: What even is a “database”? What do you call those things? Subscription electronic resources? Library research tools? I’ve heard students call them “specialized search engines” which is technically not accurate, but understanding how our users think about things helps us use friendlier language sometimes. The same brief user interviews that saved us from “best bets” told us that the word “resources,” within the context of a library website, more or less made sense to people. I’ve never been confident that any label we can come up with for those things will make sense to everyone… but you gotta use something. (If you work on a library website, and you’ve come up with a great label that works well for your users, let me know, eh?)
And don’t get me started on “Useful Links.” The day I retire, I’m gonna go through and change all those labels to “Useless Clicky Things,” which is just about as meaningful. …Okay, I’m not. But I’m sure gonna think about it.
More recently, as we were about to go live with a totally redesigned search box that was much more prominent on the Libraries’ home page, we had a long conversation about how to label it. We wanted something welcoming, something that would put the search box in context so you feel like you know how to use it. We thought about “What are you searching for in the library?” Well, there’s a saying that “only librarians like to search – everyone else wants to FIND.” (You know it’s true!) And we didn’t want to set a tone of “you’re going to be searching… and searching… and searching.” Eventually, and after some discussion of the relative merits of “what do you want to find” versus “what would you like to find,” we went with “What would you like to find at the library today?” And we also put “Search…” in the box for those who might be looking for that particular word out of habit.
Which brings me to a fascinating article I just read. The very smart folks who run the GOV.UK website found that pages with buttons labeled “Start now” often ended up with users going around in circles rather than clicking the “start now” button. They observed this behavior in the lab when running tests, and then reviewed usage stats to find out whether the same thing happened “in the wild.” It did, so they set about testing different labeling options, using A/B testing to weigh several options and see which performed best. You can read about their testing methods, and the results they ended up with, in “A/Bsolutely fabulous testing” on the “Inside GOV.UK” blog.
There are so many other examples of this kind of thing. Have you ever seen a confirmation dialog box pop up and been completely uncertain about which option you actually want? (“Do you really want to cancel?” with your choices being “YES” and “CANCEL” is a sad but true example.) Beth Aitman, who’s also in the UK – those wonderful UK word-nerds! – wrote a great article about how to write a confirmation dialog.
This stuff – tiny little bits of text that make a big difference – is called “microcopy.” And it matters. It’s more than just labels and buttons; think about link text – what people click on to go somewhere else. Do they know where they’re going? Does the link make sense to them? What about somebody using a screen reader to access your page – do things make sense to them? Iain Broome (another Brit, it appears!) has a fantastic piece on “How to write good hyperlinks” which I highly, highly recommend. In fact, Broome’s article will help you think through the process of writing other things on the web, not just hyperlinks – that is, if you want to write things that are accessible and understandable to your users. I hope you do.
So yes, I may sometimes spend twenty minutes deciding on the absolute best word for a particular purpose. And I may fuss at you more than you may think is warranted if you have a link that says “click here” on your web page. But this stuff matters. Microcopy is the difference between “Please come in; we’re so happy to see you!” versus “This is a door.” Choosing the right words for your website, especially in places that are crucial decision points for your users, can be the difference between “this sucks!” and “success!”
No other page logged more than one percent of overall hits for the site in that time frame – that’s pretty typical behavior for us. What does that mean? Well, we have a lot of pages, and we have a lot of people entering somewhere other than the home page.
What was our most used resource? Google Scholar, with 330 hits, followed by the New York Times with 316.
About 5000 sessions were via smartphones – that’s 15% of our overall traffic, which is up 150% from our previous average of about 10%. Only 2% of our users reached us via a tablet.
We here in DUX – and UX folks generally – think a lot about the tools that people use to do their work. As a content strategist, for example, if someone asks me to help them create an FAQ, I will take a step back and help them consider whether an FAQ is really the best tool for the job they are trying to do (in this case, generally leading users to the information they need). In the case of the Libraries’ website, we will ask whether a particular function or piece of content belongs on the public website or whether perhaps the staff Intranet is the best tool for that job.
To be a bit silly about it, just because an HTML tag exists that can make your text bright pink doesn’t mean you should actually USE that tool, right? Unless you have a really, really good reason for doing it.
Anyway, it was with that in mind that I came across this fantastic Powerpoint presentation (three words you won’t often hear right in a row, at least not from me) – “PowerPointless: Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education” by Rebecca Schuman. If, like me, you’ve spent more hours than you care to count sitting through Powerpoint presentations that involved huge blocks of text on the screen or the presenter’s outline, or sat there while somebody carefully read their entire presentation to you from the screen, you will read this and probably fist-pump and shout “hallelujah!” Okay, maybe you won’t do that, especially if you’re in the library. But you really should click on the link and take a look at this presentation before you create YOUR next presentation, whether you’re planning on using Powerpoint or Prezi or just a stack of notes you scribbled out on old napkins.