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2 minute guide to creating the perfect dashboard

| 10.12.2016

At Sliced Bread we have seen and designed A LOT of dashboards. Dashboards for CRM, energy, IT, farming, social — you name it. Unfortunately, most dashboards we see out there fail the snooze test. They are just presentations of data that is available, rather than presentation of actionable data that is useful.   

So, how do you create a useful, usable, meaningful dashboard? When you design your dashboard, it must do THREE things really well to be successful.

1. Answer a real question

Don’t display data just because you have it. This is the number one problem with most dashboards. Data should only be displayed on a dashboard if it is answering a real question that users of this dashboard actually have.

For example, “You have walked 2,520 steps today” is useless data. Have you ever met anyone who has actually asked the question “How many steps have I walked today?” unless they are a professional shoe tester? The real question is probably “Have I had a good amount of exercise today for someone in my physical condition?” or “Have I walked enough today to overcome the chocolate cake I ate for lunch?” or “Has my walking today helped me reach my exercise goals?” Providing answers to those questions might involve analyzing data related to steps, but the steps data on its own is meaningless and boring.

Most dashboards we see are more about data trivia than useful information because they are not actually presenting the right data about the right question.  In fact, data is usually only interesting when compared to other known facts in the world that position the data contextually — for example steps compared to the average for someone your age, steps compared to your exercise goal for the day, calories burned in terms of chocolate cake, etc..  Before you start any design work, be crystal clear on the top  questions users have when they arrive at your Dashboard and write those questions down somewhere big on your wall. And, by the way, the question “What data is available?” doesn’t count.

2. Explain what is going on with the data

Fancy charts are great and can be very compelling for showing trends. However, fancy charts are even more effective if you pair them with a plain english explanation of what is going on.  No one wants to think.  One sentence that says what is happening is all you need.

And, don’t forget to tie your explanation directly to the chart displayed. I used to work at a startup that provided investment advice about 401k’s to regular folks. The company came up with a chart to show the likelihood of having enough money to reach your goal. It was a fancy histogram that exactly 0% of people understood in user testing.


A chart that no-one understands.

We added a simple bracket and plain text next to the histogram. Suddenly 100% of people we showed this to understood what was going on. Magic? No, just basic communication.  

Financial Engines with a bracket.

The bracket tied the forecast to the chart, and the text communicated the bottom line. Everyone in testing understood this chart.

3. Provide next steps

Actionable dashboards spur you to ACTION.  You should predict what the most common actions might be after someone views your data and offer gateways to those actions.  For example, truly interesting dashboards often tell you about something you didn’t expect. So, the next step after seeing the data might be to understand why this is happening. You could start answering the “why” question right there for your user or provide links for further exploration and explanation.

For example, if you had a dashboard showing that energy use was going up and was higher than the same time last year, you might also explain that the weather was warmer than usual or that the air conditioner was possibly broken. These threads would help your user decide on next steps to address the data. You might offer links to other areas of your product, buttons to start workflows in response to the data, drill-ins that open up more information inline. Whatever. Give your user some options — OR ideally, do some user research and give your user the most common ONE option to help them down the path to action.

Does your dashboard make the cut?

Take a critical look at your dashboard. Does it look like this?

Typical complex dashboard

A dashboard with an overwhelming mishmash of data forces the user to work hard to reach their own conclusions and do anything actionable.

Or like this: 

Clear dashboard.

This dashboard excerpt answers a clear question, explains what is going on, offers hooks to answer why, and provides a link to do the next step.

Make sure your dashboard answers real questions, explains the data, and provides next steps, and you will be well on your way to empowering your users with data.

Part 2: The PRACTICING Design Thinkers’ Top Ten FAQs

| 09.6.2016


Part 1 of this series dealt with overall questions that people ask me about design thinking. This second part deals with questions I hear about specific parts of the process after someone has tried it on their own. If you’re not sure what design thinking is, go back to Part 1. If you’ve learned about it, tried it, and are ready to get into specifics, read on.

1. How many people should I interview for the initial user research?

Start with 4-6. Move up from there. Interview more people if you have different kinds of target users, like new moms and empty nesters. You’ll find that as you get towards 10-12, the interviews become redundant, and you should split your research into two studies — an initial and a follow-on to answer new questions. A common mistake is interviewing too many which leads to unwieldy amounts of data. Start small.

2. I showed someone a demo of my stuff and they commented on it. Is that user research?

No, this is showing someone a demo of your work. User research involves less of you showing and more of you watching people actually using your stuff and asking questions.

3. I’m not a storyteller, but I hear that storytelling is important for design thinking. Why?

If you have ever told a friend a story about your day, you are a storyteller. Storytelling is a key to the empathy building that design thinking demands. People are hardwired to think in terms of stories, and only by hearing specific stories about problems, not generalizations, are we empowered to solve them. When conducting and sharing research, focus on the stories, not the generalizations of what is going on. Think about how to solve the specific problems and address the specific emotions that are emblematic in the stories. If you think about how to solve the problem in general, the solution you come up with will be as general and uninspired as the problem statement.

4. What’s next after I do some observations?

If you have done a strong job with your initial observations, by conducting solid needfinding interviews and unpacking insights, the next steps, ideation and prototyping, will flow easily from there. If you have not done a strong job, your path will seem fuzzy. You’ll need to do more research or reach out for help analyzing your research. Users will not give you the answer directly — your analysis will. Check out techniques like affinity diagrams and journey maps as tools for unpacking data to help you get the most out of your research.

5. What’s an insight, from a design thinking perspective?

An insight is a new perspective about the problem you are solving that is not something you could have come up with sitting in your room, thinking about the problem really hard. For example, if I am working on a problem related to health, an insight would not be: people would like to talk their doctor about small medical issues from home instead of coming in, because it’s too time consuming. This is obvious. Instead, an insight about doctors and patients would be some new story or statement about what is really happening for them that makes you think,“hmmm…I hadn’t thought about it that way before.” An insight is something you can preface with: “I was amazed to discover that….” It can be very small, but it can’t be super obvious. For example, a good small insight you might have uncovered after interviewing doctors is:  “I was amazed to discover that doctors spend more time on remote video appointments with patients than on in-person appointments at the clinic because it takes so long to get the technology working for each phone call.”

6. How do I know if I have a good “how might we” question for my brainstorm?

“How might we” (HMW) questions are a big stumbling block for new design thinkers because they must have the right level of granularity — not so broad that they are unsolvable and not so narrow that they describe the solution. The best “how might we” questions include your insight as part of the statement — so if your insight is weak, so is your HMW. A good way to check if your HMW question is good is if it has at least three elements from the “Who, What, When, Where, Why” set. For example:

Too broad: “How might we help people find health related information?” (Who are the people? Why are they looking for it? When are they looking for it?)

Too narrow:“How might we help people with diabetes find online information about diabetes classes?” (describes the solution in the question)

About right: “How might we help people newly diagnosed with diabetes feel supported as they have to make unfamiliar lifestyle changes?”  (clear who, when, and what)

7. When I do brainstorms with my group, they always judge the ideas. What do I do?

Brainstorms often fail because you have to set aside the norms that we usually have when sharing ideas and follow a new set of rules to free your thinking. That’s hard to do when someone in the room, like your manager, the in-house skeptic, or the CEO, is either making faces at bad ideas or sitting across the room with their arms crossed. A few ideas for combatting these brainstorm killers:

  1. Start with a review of the rules for the brainstorm even if everyone knows them. We do this every time. Read them out loud and post them up.
  2. Bring in a new person who is not a part of your team to moderate. Have them enforce the rules. This can be someone outside of your organization, or inside but not a part of your team.
  3. Go someplace new. New places means new behaviors.
  4. Start with writing down ideas independently on pieces of paper and then make sure that everyone shares the ideas with only positive comments after each shared idea.

8. I’m stuck. How do I know this process is gonna work?

As you are going through the process, there always comes a time that you become convinced that the problem is too hard or unsolvable or the process is not deterministic enough to hint at the solution early on. My students often get stuck because they don’t know where things are heading. Design Thinking forces you to deal with ambiguity. Suspend your disbelief and continue to follow the process … you will get to the results.

9. How do I get better at design thinking?

Practice, practice, practice. Seek out coaching. Invite talented design thinkers to help you unpack your user research, brainstorm solutions, and help you figure out ways to test the efficacy of your ideas.  Design thinking is about collaboration. Go collaborate. Ask experienced design thinkers to review your plans and give you feedback. Knowing the rules is just the beginning. You must get coached and practice to become awesome.

10. How do I get others to buy into following this process?

First of all, start with just trying out the design thinking mindset. You can continue following your current processes, but try out parts of the mindset. For example, ask your team in a meeting to avoid judging any idea. If they don’t like an idea, ask them to build on it instead. Or, invite someone new to a meeting who isn’t usually on your team to try out radical collaboration. Or, when someone comes up with an idea, ask them to draw it or prototype it in some way. Just try out parts of the mindset and see what happens. Then, try the process on something small. Use it to solve a small problem at work like not enough seating at lunch and amaze others by the success. Get others to learn by involving them in the doing. Baby steps.

Or, hire someone like Sliced Bread to show you the process and inspire others to buy in.


If you’re hiring a UX firm, you probably need a therapist

| 06.21.2016


No, you’re not crazy to be hiring a UX firm. That’s a smart move! But, we’ve noticed that when companies hire us, they tend to be in a state of intense organizational flux and team drama. While some drama is predictable, normal, and addressable, too many companies ignore critical organizational issues until it’s too late to address them.

Clients — that is, you — are usually in one of three states when they hire us:

1. The product sucks, and the folks who built it are still there.

The feeling when it hits you: your core idea is good, but your product sucks — and the people who created it are still sitting next to you. Awkward. In addition to hiring us to fix your product, you are planning to fire and replace some of the people who built it. Everyone is on edge, and then we come waltzing in all smiles and bright ideas.  How will your team dynamics affect the success of this endeavor?

2. You’ve been brought in to provide new leadership and direction.

This state is an advanced version of the previous one. You’ve just been hired to shake up a team that needs it. You’ve brought on some folks who you’ve worked with before, and you’re in the process of weeding out rot. Your arrival has polarized the team: some people are excited, while others are grumpy and may soon quit or be fired unless they can change their attitudes and adapt to your new vision. Meanwhile, you’re still hiring, so people parachute in intermittently as the project is progressing. People with all kinds of disruptive ideas want to quickly “make their mark” (read: pee on something). The team dynamics create awkward politics and whiplash in decision making.

3. You’re a new team or company.

You’re a brand spanking new team that’s come together to build a brand new product that you’re really excited about. But reality is setting in and you’re realizing you don’t agree with everything in the marketing roadmap, and things aren’t gelling magically the way everyone had in mind. Are you going to find a way to come together as a cohesive team? Or, more likely, is someone going to end up suddenly leaving in a huff?

In all three cases, your product needs help…

but so does your team. And guess what? Your UX design firm is not a group of therapists, organizational change consultants, or team builders. We know a lot about product innovation and the design process, but we can only help you if your team is receptive to being helped.

I can’t tell you how many companies have spent a lot of money with us to, only be derailed by core, human, internal team dynamics issues. The good news is that, once you recognize the monkey on your back, you can do something about it.

So look around and assess the psychological healthiness of your team. Be honest, and if it looks like things are dicey, don’t just plow forward hoping it will work. Address the issues directly and consider hiring an organizational consultant. If you can’t afford a consultant to help your team work together more effectively, read some of the great articles in the Harvard Business Review on team dynamics.

Whatever you do, don’t put your head in the sand and hope that fixing your product will fix everything. It won’t. Before you fix your product, fix your team. With or without a therapist.


Top 10 Design Thinking FAQs

| 01.27.2016

People looking at a map together.

Design thinking and Sliced Bread go back about 14 years. But, for the last five, I’ve been teaching design thinking at the Stanford and more recently, in the Computer Science department. The same questions about design thinking keep cropping up from clients and students so I thought I’d set the story straight.

1. What is design thinking? 

Design thinking is a human-centered process for solving problems that results in effective, innovative solutions.

It includes a series of specific steps that must be done in a specific order and a set of core principles. The steps are observations, insights, ideas, and prototypes — which are followed cyclically . The principles are empathy, thinking by doing, iteration, and collaboration.

It is a way to radically increase the likelihood that you are going to have success when you’re trying to solve a problem or do something new.

2. Can you describe the steps in the process in detail?

There are many different diagrams of the design thinking process, but our favorite displays it as a circular, iterative workflow that starts at the top left:

Let’s break down the steps:

design thiinking cycle

Design Thinking diagram based on an original design by Michael Barry.


This step is the foundation of design thinking — user research. Go out and understand what is happening with the problem you are trying to solve by observing and interviewing users. Gather data about the problem by understanding the human stories. The first time you cycle through this quadrant, the type of user research you’re doing is called Needfinding because it’s about understanding user’s needs. This is also the time to interview all the stakeholders involved in this problem — i.e not just those that have the problem, but the folks who understand the business opportunity and the technology options. Subsequent times when you cycle through this quadrant, you’ll do different kinds of observation of your users like rapid experimentation, usability testing, co-creation sessions, etc…


Once you’ve completed your observations, it’s time to unpack what you learned to find the insights that are going to drive the rest of the process. Initially, your insights will be focused on defining what you are solving for. What stories did you hear in your research that really stick out? What needs did you uncover? What frame will you take on the problem space? In subsequent iterations, insights will be focused on teasing out what you learned from user testing and rapid experimentation to evolve your idea or take it in a new direction.


In this step, you take the insights that you’ve gathered and use them to seed a brainstorm. In design thinking, brainstorming is taken to a new level through structured rules which encourage creativity and through the link to real user needs. This is also one of the best steps to incorporate radical collaboration, bringing in people from different backgrounds to help brainstorm solutions from new perspectives.


The final step in the design thinking cycle is about thinking by doing. Stop talking about the ideas and actually make something that people can evaluate and discuss! You might sketch a workflow, build a model, create an HTML wireframe — it all depends on what questions you are answering. You might prototype to explore the idea space for yourself. You might prototype to test some aspect of the idea in the next observation cycle with users. Or you might prototype to convince others to fund the idea. As you move through iterative cycles, the prototypes will become more and more refined culminating in the final solution.

Those are the four steps. Now lather, rinse, repeat.

3. Why is design thinking so effective?

Two reasons:

One, design thinking has a laser focus on the actual, human roots of a given problem. By understanding and empathizing with the distinct human stories underlying a problem, you are able to solve for real needs from the beginning. And, by remaining in touch with users throughout the design cycles, you can stop guessing and make decisions based on actual human feedback.

Two, design thinking provides a defined, replicable approach for a creative process. When followed correctly by skilled practitioners, it virtually guarantees an effective, innovative solution to problems that are simple or fabulously complex and ill-defined. This has been proven many times over by studies at Stanford, well-known companies, and in our own work at Sliced Bread. We don’t want to take on a problem without a guarantee that we will get somewhere great at the end. Design thinking gives us the confidence to offer that kind of guarantee.

4. Is design thinking the only way to solve problems and be innovative?

Of course not. There are many ways to solve problems including sitting at your desk and thinking really hard. This method happens to be extremely effective so we are going with it.

5. What kinds of problems can it be applied towards?

You can use design thinking to solve ANY problem. This includes business problems and personal problems. I used design thinking to help my client think through the process for server installation, to help my child deal with a mean kid at school, and to plan a party. It’s the same process…only the content differs.

6. Who can do it?

Anybody can learn the design thinking process and use it to solve problems. However, at the start not everyone can do it well. For example, little kids can learn the rules and techniques of soccer. However, it’s only through a lot of practice that someone can become a soccer superstar like David Beckham. Just like anything else, the best way to improve in design thinking is through practice and coaching. Getting coach by an expert mentor is the best way to learn. Reading about it is not going to make you better…it will just help you understand the rules of the game.

7. Can I just do parts of it and be successful?

Sure, you can use the tools individually and be partially successful. However, if you are solving a problem soup to nuts, you need to follow the process soup to nuts.

8. Can you do design thinking without initial user research?


9. How do I get started? 

I recommend taking a class or hiring someone (like us) to help you do it. You can read a book to get an introduction, but many of the skills like how to interview people effectively or how to pull out the insights from your interviews can’t be learned without watching others model the right techniques and without strong coaching. If there are no workshops locally, find an online class that will at least give you some examples of how it works that you can watch. Or, better yet, hire someone who can help you walk through the process the first time and teach you along the way. If you hire someone who is going to follow the process to solve your problem, make sure they emphasize the need for you to be involved…otherwise they are breaking one of the rules of design thinking, collaboration.

10. How did you get so good at it?

Two reasons:

One, I  have been doing it for a long time and have been working with the world’s best coaches. Folks like Michael Barry and Pam Hinds who also teach at the, coworkers like the fabulous Mia Silverman, Jenny Mailhot, Kim Ladin, and Molly Wilson who are fabulous design thinkers, and astute clients who ask us why we do what we do and force us to explain our processes. All of this makes you awesome.

Two, I believe in the process. I believe in it so much that I am willing to follow it in many circumstances because I can see the power that it has. When a client tells us they don’t have time for user research, we don’t do the project because we have no way of guaranteeing the results. I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of money on something where I’m not sure if it’s going to work and so we are not going to accept our client’s money under those circumstances.

For more FAQs on design thinking, check out Part 2: Ten more FAQs for the PRACTICING design thinker. 

Innovative Health Technology Launches at Health 2.0, User Experience Still Lacking

| 10.27.2015

Our favorite solutions from this year’s Health 2.0 conference Launch session all covered very different angles of the healthcare industry. The following solutions, which launched at Health 2.0, are ones that, although their designs still need refining, we think have strong potential to be successful based on their innovative concepts.

  • Gliimpse – aggregates all your healthcare services (primary care physician, pharmacy, dentist, O.B., etc.) into a single health record. Think of it like a Mint for healthcare, a solution that gives you a comprehensive view of your health history. You can view results from tests in visual format and drill down to see the history. You can take notes on things you want to discuss with your doctor, and upload images or documents and then share your record with your doctor or a family member. Although we found their UI still needed work, the concept is one that we think the market is ready for.
  • Vivor – helps people with cancer find and connect with financial aid programs in order to find funding for cancer treatments. As medical care costs skyrocket and less people are able to afford expensive treatments, we think this service will help give some patients ease of mind that there is financial help out there and they have it at their fingertips.
  • Sensentia – How many times have you had to scroll through endless PDF files to figure out if a treatment was included in your health plan? Sensentia is an interactive tool that not only gives a natural language explanation of your insurance benefits but also tracks your usage and deductibles. Users can search in natural terms, like “Is physiotherapy covered in my plan?” and get a relevant answer. We think this type of self-service solution will appeal to users and can succeed as long as the user interaction is smooth.
  • MedWand – In the realm of health-on-demand apps, we think MedWand is an interesting one to watch. Patients can communicate with their providers via video and, with the help of a device called MedWand that they keep at home, doctors can take their patients’ vitals and assess their eyes, ears, nose, and throat remotely. The key to their success will be to move away from just focusing on the hardware and also in becoming a viable option for providers, who are still finding virtual visits to be less efficient. Nailing the UX for patients so that they use the device correctly will also be key. 

In spite of these very innovative ideas, as Dr. Robert Wachter pointed out during his presentation, the lack of user centered design is the biggest issue in healthcare tech at the moment. Although some players like Accordion Health and Athena Health clearly get the importance of design, and it shows, most of the healthcare tech industry has some catching up to do.

Top Healthcare Tech Trends From Health 2.0 2015

| 10.21.2015

A team from Urban Design and Planning Company attended Health 2.0 2015 earlier this month and the first thing that was obvious was a decreased presence of wearables and devices from last year’s conference. This year was more about  innovative ideas on how to leverage the data that comes from all these new devices, as well as consumer solutions that offer patients health-on-demand, and solutions for providers that aim to alleviate the hassle of administrative tasks, such as entering information into medical records.

Some of the trends we observed at this year’s Health 2.0:

  • Big data…what now?

Big data was the big craze last year and at Health 2.0 2014 we found that companies were focused on the technical discussions around how to handle all this new data and integrate it with existing healthcare systems. Providers were not enthusiastic with the prospect of more patient data, but tech companies were up for the challenge and went ahead and built a myriad apps to analyze all of the health care data out there such as Ayasdi, Sentrian, and Healthline. Technical hurdles have indeed been overcome, however, we feel that the user’s perspective was missing from these solutions.  What are users supposed to do with all this new, aggregated data? Accordion Health was one of the rare standouts in this space, taking a very user focused approach to data analysis.

Also, the availability of new data sources raises a number of design (and ethical) questions. When a patient’s data from his wearable device is added to his chart, the patient will expect the caregivers to be able to digest and make sense of all this new data, alongside, say, his EKG. But who is responsible for this data and who is looking at it? Should doctors be trained to analyze this data? Is it too much information? Are some apps just collecting data for data’s sake?

  • Health-on-demand

This year we saw a surge in the number of apps that facilitate the care provider coming to you, either via text or video, like MedWand, Doctor on Demand, and VSee. While serving a patient need, providing convenience and timely access to care, the challenge ahead with these services is on the provider side who report that these virtual visits are, in fact, taking longer than office visits. With a 30% shortfall in primary care providers these days, these services could be putting a stress in the system instead of doing the opposite.

The question is, why are remote visits taking longer and how can they be improved? We also haven’t seen any data on adoption rates of these services nor how effective they are at addressing patient needs, aside from the increased convenience.Inflatable Bounce House

  • Provider focused apps

At a time when providers are spending 44% of their time recording notes and data into EHRs, it is high time that people look more closely at this problem. One band-aid solution we heard was the use of Google glass to record patient visits which are then entered into EHR through trained transcribers. Augmedix was a good example of this. 

However, the real culprit here is horrible EHR UIs. In fact, Dr. Robert Wachter, the keynote on Day 2 noted that one hospital advertising for a doctor stated that they don’t have an EHR as a value add.  A couple of our favorite EHRs at Health 2.0 2015 were EMA from Modern Medicine, an iPad app for visually entering patient data during patient visits, and Athena Health’s new secure texting app integrated into it’s Clinicals product.  However, most of the products we saw demoed had so much potential to be better. The question here is when will the time spent on bad technology interactions be so egregious that mainstream companies like Epic and eClinicalWorks (who, by the way, demoed a new UI that was “eh” at best) will be forced to spend money on creating a great user experience because their customer base has rebelled.

Overall, while some companies have identified compelling solutions to real problems in the healthcare industry, we did leave this conference with the unsettling feeling that healthcare doesn’t get UX…yet!

User experience design, a practice that has been around for decades, applies research methodologies to look at how to best design products that users will actually use – a simple but powerful concept. There are challenges, but I am optimistic that things are changing and the next gen solutions will put the needs of patients and providers at the center of their products.


Read more on our Health 2.0 takeaways: Innovative Health Technology Launches at Health 2.0, User Experience Still Lacking


Be Experiment Smart

| 01.30.2014

Experimentation has hit the mainstream. It’s become de rigueur to sprinkle references to “A/B testing” into job descriptions, business plans, and company websites. But let’s look past the buzz for a moment. How you experiment is as important as whether you’re experimenting. Productive experimentation means picking the right experiment for the right phase in your project.

I’m teaching a class at the Stanford this quarter that’s all about experimentation: we’re calling it Prototyping and Rapid Experimentation Lab. Along with my co-teacher Pam Hinds and our course assistant Nik Martelaro, we’re helping advanced design thinking students learn their way around how and why to experiment.

There are two core principles at work here. First, test any idea that you’re considering with as little commitment as possible. You want to learn on the cheap, before you’ve invested a lot of time and money going down the wrong path.

Second, experiment along multiple axes. You’ve heard of “A/B testing” – but there are many, many kinds of A/B tests. What exactly are you hoping to learn? You need to know how your idea stacks up according to these dimensions:

  • Interest – would people want this?
  • Use – does this solve a real need in a way that people want it solved?
  • Usability – is this easy, sensible, and efficient to use?
  • Implementation – can this be done?


I’m borrowing from some ideas proposed by Houde and Hill in their seminal paper for search engine optimization What do Prototypes Prototype? (1997), and giving these ideas a spin to be more relevant to what and how we design today.

Here, I’m focusing on the first three axes (interest, use, and usability). Keep in mind, though, that you’ll eventually need to launch experiments about feasibility as well.

Let’s take a look at each axis independently to understand how to dive in.

Interest: would people want this?

Asking people “would you buy this?” is not going to give you an accurate sense of what they think of your idea. You need to be sneakier about assessing their interest for like best waist corset. Create a situation where somebody happens upon your idea passively, and let them tell you whether they’re interested in this first taste. This is a great place for quantitative data – you want to prove objectively that there is enough potential to push forward.


Run an ad (or several) and see if people click. Try Google ads, Facebook ads, or ads on community sites that your target user might visit (a foodie message board if your product is for restaurant diners, say). If you’re feeling especially sly, start chatting about the prospective product in forums where your users hang out and see what people think!

Landing pages and painted doors

To get more detailed feedback on your concept, link those ads to an actual landing page that describes your concept and link the ad described above to it. Create a button or other affordance on your site that is a doorway to the functionality you’re considering, but don’t build out the functionality yet. Gauge visitor interest by tracking page views, clicks, and/or sign-ups to learn more.

These quantitative approaches will show you what’s not working, but not why. For more qualitative feedback, go to a cafe (or wherever your potential users hang out) and show your design around for some quick guerilla feedback.

Create content

If your idea has to do with a certain kind of content, try starting a bare-bones blog, twitter feed, or pinboard. Driving and observing your traffic will teach you a lot about what readers are interested in. For example, if you’re hoping to make an app related to vegan eating, you might experiment with recipes, photos, restaurant reviews, travel guides, and nutrition advice, just to see what seems to catch on. Alternatively, try Hidden Radio’s approach – submit a description of your product idea to a well-trafficked blog and see if people seem interested. The team learned, in a week, that they’d hit on an idea worth pursuing.

Us or them?

Create a landing page for your product. Show your product to users, then show a competitor’s product (switch up which product you show first). Ask people to compare them. Which do they prefer? Which do they think looks most practical, most fun, most valuable?

What about surveys?

Surveys are notoriously poor at gauging interest. They can work well for getting factual, quantitative, objective data about real events (as long as respondents don’t feel social pressure to pick a particular answer). But you can’t learn much from a survey if you’re asking open-ended or hypothetical questions – people will say yes to anything. If you must ask a survey question about a nonexistent offering, create a quick prototype and ask about people’s reaction to the prototype.Web Design located in Southend, Essex were recently awarded with the best website design company.

Use: Are we solving the right problem?

So people are interested in your idea, and you’ve built a prototype. Now you need to figure out if you’re really solving their problem – and if you’re doing it in a way that makes sense for them.

Testing in context

Your product doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To get a sense of how context impacts how people use your product, build a prototype using one of a million tools out there and test it in context – or fake the context as closely as you can for testing purposes. For example, say you’re making an app that helps people troubleshoot their internet at home. To test it in context, you might start by instructing your user to do something engaging on the internet. Next, you, the tester, could artificially cause the network to fail, and see if your user can successfully use your product to fix it.

Wizard of Oz (WOZ) Tests

WOZ tests use low-tech workarounds to make it look like a computer is doing work. Create a working front end, but then set up a human-powered kludge for the backend. If you’re building an experience for online takeout, build the interface, complete with “place your order” button – but have people behind the scenes call-in orders to restaurants. You’ll learn a ton about your product without investing time or money in an order automation system.

In her book UX for Lean Startups, Laura Klein describes how Airbnb used WOZ testing: they had a sense that better photos increased a rental property’s desirability, so they hired a few pros to take photos of a few selected properties. The properties with the professional photos did much better – so much better that Airbnb now offers professional photography as a free service to people listing properties and has an automated backend to support it. A web designer Miami guru cleverly re-purposed this very tactic to cater to his existing real estate agent clients with great success.


Usability: Can people use it?

After interest and use has been assessed to determine if you have a good idea to being with, you can start to “debug” your prototype. What’s unclear, what’s hard to find, what needs tweaking?

Moderated usability testing

I’m sure you’ve seen this technique before: make a prototype, ask people to complete a task using your prototype, and see if they can do it. If they can do it, congratulations – your prototype is easy to use. But don’t forget to test its usefulness as well as its usability. I’ve seen plenty of products that are beautifully simple, exceptionally clear, and completely pointless.

At Sliced Bread, we conduct a variation on the classic usability test that we call a Fast Insight Test. We usually run 3 to 5 tests of around 30 minutes each, and we test early sketches, not just finished prototypes. These quick tests give us a treasure trove of information, without all the expense and overhead of a usability testing lab (we often test in context or through screensharing) or a long study. Often we squeeze even more value out of tests by iterating between sessions, or even on the fly. For more info on how to do it yourself, see our previous post on Fast Insight Testing.

Unmoderated usability testing

A whole industry has sprung up around automating user testing. You’ll have no trouble finding a service that will recruit users and run them through a task for you, then give you results: try Usabilla,, Mouseflow, Five Second Test, or Loop11. These tools will help you gather quantitative feedback on the usability of very specific aspects of your site. They’ll show you where the fire is, but not why it’s burning.

Now go out there and do it

There’s a lot of subtlety to experimentation, but at its core, it’s about doing. Whether you’re looking for information about interest, use, or usability, you can frame an experiment to help you out – you can get started this very afternoon. In my next post, I’ll talk more about how to develop the questions and hypotheses that drive a good experiment.

Healthbeat 2013: IT + UX = :-)

| 09.24.2013

Cellscope’s otoscope mobile phone attachment.

When you hear the terms big data and technology  when you try to figure out how your best modular helmet was done, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t necessarily bedside manner, but attending HealthBeat 2013 back in May opened my eyes to the numbers of problems facing the healthcare industry, the unique opportunity for new advances in IT and Big Data to solve a LOT of them,  and the unique role for UX design in meeting them. I came away from the conference firmly believing that so many of our healthcare cost and service delivery dilemmas are going to be resolved by using data and technology to understand the efficacy of health procedures to impact outcomes, pricing inequities and doctor selection, among other issues. In fact, there are numerous companies out there that are already tackling these challenges head-on with creative and innovative products, a few of which caught my eye at HealthBeat.

Companies to check out

From all the companies on the agenda, I’ve put together a list of the ones that I thought were the most interesting. The big thing was solving discrete problems and not trying to boil the ocean. Throw a rock in a hospital and you’ll hit 20 unresolved IT or process issues. If you choose one to fix and do a good job, you’re golden:

  • Cellscope: attachment that turns your iPhone into an otoscoope (that thingie doctors use to look into your ear) so you can transmit inside of ear pix to your doctor when your kid has an ear infection. WOW! the most exciting new invention I’ve heard about in a long time that is going to save HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of hours in trips to the doctor for ear infection follow-ups
  • Ringadoc: allows physicians to listen and respond to after-hours patient messages via landline, mobile device or the web.
  • MEDIVIEW Mobile from Beyond Lucid Technologies: permits emergency responders to capture, complete and transmit critical patient and incident data via tablet
  • Liviam : “personal sharing site” that lets patients and caregivers communicate with and mobilize their support networks during times of illness
  • Medigram: provides a group messaging platform to coordinate communication and sharing of patient data among all healthcare team members – a logical answer to the fact that even hospital staff aren’t immune to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon
  • Pregnancy Companion: Smart phone app that’s rainchild of two practicing OB-GYNs and provides a wealth of pregnancy and particularly post-birth info resources (which pregnancy apps typically don’t have)

The increasing role of UX in healthcare

A recurrent theme  from numerous speakers (to my delight) was the important role for UX in increasing the efficiency of the healthcare industry.  Mary Kate Foley, VP of User Experience at athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based electronic health records, practice management and care coordination services, spoke at length about the value of UX (I was just excited Athena even had a VP UX). The company recently hired Abbe Don for their Epocrates division, which was created after athenahealth bought medical reference mobile app maker Epocrates Inc. earlier this year. Abbe is a brilliant designer and strategist and I’m certainly excited to see what she does in this space.

Darren Dworkin of Cedars Sinai Health Systems and Kaiser Permanente’s Julie Vilardi offered up a cautionary tale – their organizations are frequently approached with promising products, but the UI is so lacking that they can’t be piloted effectively. Their message was good functionality is not enough to win over large hospital systems; you need top-notch UI to have uptake.

Recently we were actually contacted by a company referred by a hospital exec I meat at Healthbeat – the hospital was interested in piloting their product but couldn’t move forward with out a better UI. It’s happening people.

An Epic exception?

An exception to this UI trend is Epic. The premier vendor for electronic medical records (EMR) is known for having a terrible UI, but with an implementation waiting list of two and a half years, there isn’t much impetus for Epic to make upgrades. But…Practice Fusion, which bills itself as the fastest-growing free EMR platform, is looking to put pressure on Epic. Practice Fusion is focused on strong UX, including an amazing UI they demoed for pulling analytics out of their EMR and empowering more effective pharmaceutical decisions. Being smaller and newer to the market, Practice Fusion is currently the underdog in this fight. It will be interesting to see whether their superior UX leads to a competitive advantage in the long run.

Very excited about what’s up next

Changing current inefficient but ingrained habits within the healthcare industry won’t necessarily be easy, but there are so many problems and so many new ideas about solving them that I am very confident that there are REALLY exciting changes ahead that are going to help us beat the giant increases in costing dragging everyone down. Based on the companies and technologies, such as best motorcycle helmet, I saw at HealthBeat 2013 and I’m confident that this is what the future of health IT holds.


Designing for the iPad: Check Out Our Article in Smashing Magazine

| 01.31.2012


Today Smashing Magazine published our article, Ten Things To Think About When Designing Your iPad App. Mosey on over to Smashing to check it out — we’re pretty proud.

Flipboard: A tale of tough choices

| 06.20.2011

I recently had a discussion with Mike McCue, the CEO of Flipboard, on how he and his team managed to get things so right with the Flipboard design. In particular, I was interested in how they were able to balance functionality with delightful, polished, user experience features.  Mike’s answer was very simple  — they had to make some very tough choices and a lot of cuts. Their goal with Flipboard was to communicate to first time customers the potential of the product and have them yearning for more. Mike explained that when people used Flipboard for the first time, he wanted them to think, “Yes, I get it! And it would be even better if…” Consequently, they cut all but the most important functionality for their v1. For example, Flipboard was a news reader but didn’t have full RSS on first launch; it only supported some predetermined feeds. Also, it had a Twitter reader but didn’t let you post tweets. These types of painful functionality decisions allowed time to implement the polish to the interaction that Flipboard is known for – gorgeous visuals, subtle animations and a magical, contextual user experience.  Flipbooard’s goal was that people would become so enchanted by the experience on first use, that they would be willing to wait for more complete functionality in v2.

This approach clearly paid off for Flipboard, but it’s a difficult one for many companies to embrace. We frequently have conversations with clients who try to cut user experience features and polish in order to put in more functionality.  Many of our clients ask us why they can’t have a product that works like an iPhone. If you remember when iPhone first launched, it also had all the polish and a limited set of features that were far less than current market leaders like RIM or Palm. However, by capturing people’s imaginations with amazing user experience, they were able to buy some time to round out their feature set in subsequent releases.

The lesson? Creating a beautiful, compelling, polished user experience for v1 takes guts. You have to be ruthless with your feature set and treat the user experience features as equal to the core functionality when planning your roadmap. We’ve often seen companies who have great design ideas cut those ideas at the last minute to squeeze in one more feature so it’s not a lack of ideas that’s at play here. It’s a matter of priorities.