Featured TC: Rebecca Cox

July 2017

Rebecca Cox

Rebecca Cox is a freelance User Experience Analyst, based in Auckland. Rebecca works with people to develop websites and online resources that help users to get things done. Jim Costello spoke to Rebecca last week, and asked her about her life in UX.

How do you define UX?

UX is all about trying to improve the user experience. A lot of that is about bringing users into the picture when you are designing online material. Often there is an in-house team, and an internal client who wants to build a product, but there is not always a direct connection with the end user. They are often outside of the room. I think that it is really important to involve users as they are the agents of change. A business goal will only happen through actions that the users take. So my job is to make sure that it is easy for the users to take those actions. This involves finding out what they need from the online resource, how they approach it, and trying to make it straightforward for them to use.

Can you please describe a recent UX project you were involved in?

There was a small job I was involved in recently around global navigation for a government site. The site is used by a wide variety people that need to get from the home page to the different services that the organisation offers. The users are people of all ages using a number of different devices. I needed to check that the previous changes that we’d made hadn’t made it harder for the users to get around the site. On this site there are different searches for each aspect of the business and we’d had feedback from a user that it was now harder to get to different search tools.

So my initial goal was to check whether there was an actual need for fixes or whether the site was still ok. I used Google analytics to confirm that yes, there did seem to have been a change, in this case, a lower rate of searches overall. I did a range of other testing, including at a conference with some older users who don’t spend a lot of time online (this is the audience we’d had the original feedback from). I did A/B testing manually with printouts, showing people the designs (either the new version, or the version before the changes) and asking them questions, and then entering the data into Optimal Workshop tests to collate the results. That worked pretty well and was a more effective way to get feedback specifically from this audience than emailing out an online test.

Do the analytics show you how users are navigating around the site?

Sort of. It depends on how the site-tagging is setup, and the other tools that you have linked to it. There are a lot of analytic tools and tags you can plug into a website, but many don’t have these set up, so what you are going to see is limited. At a minimum, websites need to be tracking their own site search, tracking selected user interaction events, and have Google Search Console set up to get data on organic keywords. User surveys, online usability testing using tools like Optimal Workshop, and observational testing with people help to explore and clarify what the problems are. It’s always better to get feedback from more than one method and match them up to confirm that something is a problem.

How would you measure success in that sort of project?

I’d go back after fixes have been implemented and re-check the analytics and if necessary conduct some more user interviews to check that the experience is as expected. Being able to flag issues as “things to keep an eye on” and doing regular user testing is ideal, for a product or website that changes frequently, and you can often bundle several things that you’re monitoring into a single test.

You talked about stakeholder research, how do you usually do this?

I do surveys, focus groups, workshops, and user interviews. You need to balance the research techniques and methods that will suit the problem and suit the research participants. You will always have some constraints around the research method that you can use. But for me it’s really about lining up the goal of the research, the questions you have to answer (let these first two be your guide), access to users, and of course, the budget.

What advice would you give a technical communicator that wants to bring more of a customer view into their work?

I would try and engage with the people in the organisation who are already close with the customers – customer service, help desk, marketing department, product design teams, that sort of thing. Anyone who is in direct contact with customers. So get involved in the customer support and sales side of the business. There is likely to be quite a lot of information there that will help you get that understanding, and may also help with getting access to customers so that you can start doing some usability testing and other research with them.