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Designing for Ongoing Participation

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We’ve all heard, or lived, the fact that relationships are something like a fairy tail at the beginning. Everything is so pretty. Couples are getting to know each other, everything is new and exciting. But when that’s over, what’s left? Hopefully a relationship of trust, stability and happiness. But we all know that’s not as simple as it sounds.

When you’re building a website that’s usually what you’re looking for: a relationship built through ongoing participation. We all know that’s one of the hardest things to do and one of the main reasons why so many businesses fail. Joshua Porter, in his book Designing for the Social Web, wrote a chapter about designing for ongoing participation.

What do you need when the momentum is over?

Answer: Motivation

Yes, that was an easy answer. Unfortunately that’s not the right question to ask. You should be asking yourself: “What really motivates my users?” And that, my friend, it’s a hard question to answer.

What makes us feel unique?

Answer: Having an identity

It is about profiles. But it’s not only about enabling personalisation. It’s much more about allowing people to interact with others through those profiles and being flexible. The information needs to change, otherwise the profiles won’t be interesting anymore. Facebook has done a great job here by introducing notification, status and news feeds. But what I love about what Joshua says is that “managing profiles isn’t itself a reason for an application to exist. If managing profiles is the only activity your social app is supporting, you probably won’t last long.”

How to make people contribute?

Answer: By leveraging reciprocity

“Reciprocity means exchange for mutual benefit”, says Joshua. It’s pretty simple. When people benefit from other’s contribution, they will be willing to contribute as well. Once they relate, they quickly understand the reason to do it. It’s important that the interface allows this to happen without much effort, it needs to feel natural. In the book Josh uses Linkedin’s example of recommendations. “Browsing the site makes this abundantly clear — many of the recommendations are indeed reciprocated.” It’s about returning the favour.

How to get an accurate impression of someone else?

Answer: Allow for reputation

“A person’s reputation is the set of beliefs or opinions that others hold about them. We each have a reputation, even if it is a small one.”

Designing the features that allow for reputation depend on the type of community you’re building. Remember, you don’t want to allow negative reputation, so focus on the good and simple things. Common features are – number of friends/fans/followers, ratings,  recommendations, likes, etc.

It’s also interesting when the application itself contributes. Foursquare does this extremely well by using the ‘Superuser status’. This is given to users who have checked-in a lot or added lots of new venues. It’s a nice way to show the user you are paying attention and giving something in return – reputation.

What to do so users feel productive?

Answer: Promote a sense of efficacy

Users need to feel they are actually doing something. The worse feeling is going to work and not do anything the whole day. You are still getting paid, but you feel crap. It’s the same here, it can be lots of fun to look at other profiles and see what the others are doing, but if you’re not contributing it’s less fun and you’re more likely to get bored.

The sense of efficacy can easily come from reputation, it’s the “feedback provided to people about how valuable their contribution was”. You need to make sure the users know when they are contributing and how much they have contributed in the past. Twitter does a good job by saying how many tweets you’ve sent, your personal timeline is a good way to keep track of that.


Designing for ongoing participation is about allowing for basic motivations – identity, uniqueness, reciprocity, reputation, efficacy, control, ownership, attachment to a group, and fun. You need to clearly outline a mix of these motivations in the features you design so users won’t lose the interest and hopefully, keep coming back.


Written by Cristina Dresch

February 5, 2012 at 12:02 AM

The User is Always Right

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When you are designing a website it’s easy to fall into the trap of designing it to yourself. But you need to remember, you’ve got an audience that might not be the same as you. You need to consider your target audience and what are their interests and behavior. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Even if you’ve got a very specific audience, you still have different people! You need to consider those differences in order to try and please everyone.

Steve Mulder, in his book ‘The User is Always Right’, writes about how to understand the users goals, what are their expectations and needs. There are different techniques that can be used to find those answers, but Steve specifically talks about the use of personas in order to accomplish those things.

User-driven Experience

First, you need to focus in a user-driven experience. This means you need to design features that are going to be useful to your users, they cannot be just cool features that are sitting in your website to make it look cool. To understand what is useful you need, as said before, understand your target audience. From there, you can start creating your personas. Each persona, which can be fictional or not, consists of pictures, names and a background. In order to get those, you need a good qualitative and/or quantitative research.

Qualitative VS Quantitative

Quantitative is based on surveys and usage data. Qualitative is based on interviews and observation. Qualitative usually takes more time and it’s more expensive, but it can be worth it. You just need to know exactly what you need to make the right decision. The best way to do it is to use qualitative to get insights and quantitative to validate those insights.

Building a Persona

Usually in order to create the right personas you will first interview real people. You can start with people you know, who you have easy access. But in case you have a nice budget you can interview people on the streets in exchange for an incentive, money usually works. From those interviews you will then focus in one or more situations you need more research on. As an example, let’s say you are developing an online grocery store. From the interviews you found that a group of people like to stay healthy, therefore nutricional and ingredient information is essencial while buying. You should create personas that are motivated by that, so you make sure those people are pleased with the information and features displayed in the website.

Let’s meet Frank…

Frank, 66 from Sun City, California
Single with two adult children and three grandchildren between ages 2 and 8. Retired financial planner

Primary Goals: Find a well stocked and reliable health food website that notifies you if something is out of stock and gives you potential substitutes that you can choose if necessary.  He is involved in the organic food movement.

Motivations:  Stay fit and healthy so he can play with his grandchildren.  Wants to attract women.

Hobbies: Likes to play golf, shuffleboard, cook for his family and visitors.

Behaviors: He likes to do his big food shopping online and then buys smaller, specialty items locally.  Since he is very involved in his grandchildren’s lives, he does not always have time to get to the local stores before they close.

You need to know what is right for you

There are thons of different templates to display personas. You need to know the information you need in order to build them in a way you will have everything you need. Building personas can be fun! But you can’t forget you’re building them in order to achieve a goal, give your website a user-driven experience.

Written by Cristina Dresch

July 24, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Ratings and Reviews – The Social Validation in Websites

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It’s funny how we as human beings always have the desire to fit in, to be like the crowd. Interestingly, there are studies that prove that in a social situation we will look to others to see how we should behave. It’s not considered a conscious process, since we don’t really know we are doing it. Susan M. Weinschenk, author of Neuro Web Design, calls this behavior social validation.

How to use social validation in websites

  • Tell a story – It’s easier for people to associate with others they believe they can somehow relate. Whenever you are adding rating and review, you should add a mini persona or scenario, which will help to add a narrative element to the story.
  • What do they think? What did they do? Online ratings and reviews is a feature that is becoming more and more popular, especially in ecommerce websites. Weinschenk says it affects us “most powerfully at a non-conscious level.” For this reason, ratings and reviews should always be very visible for users, whenever they are browsing the website. Another effective way to do the same is by showing what other users have bought before. If we go back to the theory of wanting to fit in the crowd, this makes a lot of sense.  But it’s always good to keep in mind that ratings and reviews can sometimes get suspicious, so make sure you use story telling also as a way of making sure the user understands that’s real.
  • Be logical – Ratings and reviews help us in a non-conscious level, but it’s also part of a rational decision. So it’s always important to include data, charts, graphs, and statistics to present the ratings in a more logical and visual way.
  • Right reviewers – It’s not only about telling a story. If you don’t have the right characters, this won’t solve any issues (it might even create bigger ones). So make sure you understand your audience and add reviewers according to that. Reviewers who can somehow connect to your potential customers.
  • Experience – You need to remember that not everyone is a contributor (remember the social technographics ladder?), so make sure to count every interaction. As an example, on Youtube, you can see the ratings but also you can see the views in each video. This will influence us to watch it, contributing to our behavior. So it’s not everything about products, it’s also about experience. Showing what other actions were performed by different users in a website can be very persuasive.

Written by Cristina Dresch

July 4, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The Elements of User Experience – The Five Planes

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Jesse James Garrett, author of The Elements of User Experience (great book, by the way), says the user experience design is a process applied in order to ensure all actions of the user happen as planned. To accomplish this is necessary to understand the user’s expectations and behavior, which will affect how the product you are designing looks, how it behaves and what it allows the user to do. It’s not a simple process, for that reason, JJG breaks it down in five different planes – surface, skeleton, structure, scope and strategy.

Strategy Place

This is the first plane, “the foundation of a successful user experience”. It defines both what businesses and users want to get out of the product. Sounds simple, but this has to be clear and straightforward. Every decision in the process has to be backed up by this definition. It’s also essential at this stage to define the success metrics, indicators that will be used to track whether the product is meeting the right objectives.

Scope Plane

When your strategy is determined, you need to start focusing on the scope, which is fundamentally defined by the strategy itself. In the scope you identify the content, features and functions that are going to be used in your product. By going through these requirements, you’re forced to address potential issues right at the beginning.

Structure Place

At this stage the scope turns into a conceptual structure of the product, which cares about how the system behaves in response to the user. It’s also about the arrangement of elements that will facilitate the understanding of the user about the product being designed. It’s important to define which options patterns and sequences will be presented to users, how they will perform and complete tasks focusing on delivering the right information to the user.

Skeleton Plane

Here the structure is further refined, where aspects of interface, navigation and information design will be identified. This will “make the intangible structure concrete”.


Interface Design “is about selecting the right interface elements for the task the user is trying to accomplish”, and then arranging them in a way that will be easily used and understood. Remember: Focus! What is the most important element in your interface? Make sure the users notice them.

Navigation Design deals with three main goals: provide users with a means to get from one place to the other, communicate the relationship between different elements and make sure users understand the relationship between the content and the page he’s currently viewing.

Information Design is about making decisions on “how to present information so that people can use it or understand it more easily”. It’s very easy in theory, but in practice it might get complicated. Remember to always ask for the opinion of the user!

Surface Plane

Here is where “content, functionality, and aesthetics come together to produce a finished design that pleases the senses while fulfilling all the goals of the other four planes”. You need to decide how the design will be presented. Depending on the product designed, difference senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) should be used.

Written by Cristina Dresch

June 27, 2011 at 11:40 AM

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