Building Axure Icon Widget Libraries Using Web Fonts

One of Axure’s strengths is creating deliverables of different visual fidelity: the ability to customize styles across variety of widgets creates a modular approach to design. When talking about visual design, however, it is not uncommon for user experience designers to have difficulty finding reliable icon libraries.

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The Nerdery User Experience Lab: Transforming How We Conduct Research

When The Nerdery’s Chicago branch outgrew its original location, we designed and built an innovative research space in the new office. The Nerdery User Experience Lab, or “UX Lab” for short, was formed in a similar way to how we approach new or untested products.

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Participant-Led Usability Testing

Usability testing has a PR problem. Here’s a quick run-down of the common, pervasive knocks against it:

“Usability testing is too expensive.”

“We have no time or money to make fixes.”

“A skilled user experience (UX) professional can find as many problems as usability testing can.”

“Results and learnings can be misleading or useless.”

“The exercise is so artificial that the output can’t possibly reflect the real world.”

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Long-time listeners, first-time Soundset mobile App makers

Several Nerds will enjoy what’s become a traditional Memorial Day weekend at Soundset this Sunday, but for the first time there’s an app for that fine festival – and that’s because we built it for our friends at Rhymesayers. Continue reading Long-time listeners, first-time Soundset mobile App makers

The Art of Remote Communication

The Scenario

Maybe you have had a similar dream that goes something like this… You have a very important meeting ahead of you. You are about to meet a brand new client and you’ve practiced your pitch to a tee. Your mind has been racing for hours if not days and your meeting objectives have been looping in your head. Naturally you want to do great and you want the meeting to be a success. A lot is at stake and you don’t want to mess up. Instead it turns out more like this…

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Hitting the Strategy Sweet Spot: The Importance of Business Discovery

The beginning of The Nerdery’s UX process can feel strange and unfamiliar to clients who have previously engaged in projects with similar vendors. Why? Because we ask a lot of questions. Questions that dig into the roots of the company; operations, reasons behind decisions, internal systems and tools, long-term goals. Although, these topics may seem unrelated to the project at hand, they are the foundation and initial step in applying our holistic approach to a design project. Afterall, design is about everything. The Nerdery UX department has validated over time that its success is based on understanding its partners’ business (and their users). It is essential to develop this understanding because project success is reliant on taking into account the whole of the business.

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Your Users are Yip Yips

Using UX tools to serve all your users. Yip, even the plush aliens.

By Emily Schmittler and Christopher Stephan, Senior UX Designers

As UX designers, we always want people to understand, benefit from and even enjoy the designed interfaces and experiences we’ve shaped for them. The clients and companies we work with feel the same way; however, where we often differ in approach is in how we do the work to get there. To many UX professionals the appropriate process involves engaging with and talking to members of the target-user population. Many companies assume the UX professionals they hire have built-in knowledge about their audience and don’t think spending time with users is necessary.

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The Science of Successful Bars: How Customer Experience Relates to Digital User Experience

Bar RescueHave you watched the show Bar Rescue? It resonated with me since I was a former bartender and now user experience designer. There are so many comparisons to be drawn when creating customer experiences in a bar and digital user experiences.

Bar Rescue features the boisterous and successful bar consultant Jon Taffer and his team of top chefs, mixologists, interior designers and other experts. The premise of the show is to renovate and transform failing bars into successful bars.  They do this by diagnosing problems and using methods and tactics similar to the user experience process.

In this article, we will cover these similarities in three phases—Discovery, Definition and Design.

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Reclaiming Usability – Part 4: UX and QA, an Evaluative Partnership

Usability is nothing new to IT, software, or design. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of the UX practice, and is the grandfather of evaluative UX methods which help us to judge the effectiveness of the solution we are constructing. Despite its history, recent usage has given it a layer of tarnish, making it a hard to sell and hard to include where it could do some good.

In previous installments I have re-introduced you to usability as a part of the user experience process and practice, dusted off the value and offered it to you both plated in gold and on the cheap. Also I have explored how poor use and understanding blackened its name, and told you what lies in wait if you leave it out. Last time I told you not only how you can use it but also when. Finally, in part four, I’ll show you how it could change what we presently think of as QA.

When you want to get everything right

I’ve said previously that usability sometimes coincides with and is then presumed to be a QA function. I have also said that this perception is primarily the result of the timing with which it is frequently applied, and the time and budget available to fix things. Based on what I’ve said in previous posts, you might expect me to repeat what I’ve said about leaving usability until too late in the project. To those I say; Don’t leave your usability until too late in the project. If you want to know why, you may want to revisit parts two and three of this series. If you find yourself taking offense that any UX method could possibly be seen as a QA measure out of a sense of injured professional pride, stop. Before you warm up even one more indignant neuron, let me turn that on its head.

Hey! You got your QA in my UX

Much of what we do in UX is, when you boil it down far enough, is a QA measure. Which is to say that its purpose is to improve the quality of the product and the experience of the user interacting with it. We do research  with users to ensure that the we design the right thing to solve the right problem. Then we test with users to determine how successful we have been in our designs.

Usability, and evaluative UX methods in particular, are the only way that we can objectively evaluate design by engaging with real users to evaluate our work. This is not a test of “did it work as it was intended to”, but instead a test of “is this intended to do the right thing.” It is in this regard, as a tool for ensuring design quality in particular, that usability stands shoulder to shoulder with established QA practices when they test the designed functionality of developed code. So yes, UX is QA.

Nuh-Uh! You got your UX all over my QA

QA, as a practice, has it’s own problems. The greatest of which is the fact that they are consulted at the eleventh hour, when their expertise and findings are more difficult to act upon. Does this sound familiar? I think QA should engage early and often, in much the same way I think evaluative UX measures should be taken early and often. Now, with that idea tickling your synapses, it should seem only natural that QA professionals should become UX professionals. From the ranks of testers, technicians and troubleshooters, we can grow usability analysts. We can build partnerships that surround a project – testing and improving it from early discovery to post-launch management, not just from ideation to launch.

We can arm QA departments with valuable UX tools and methods that they can apply either on their own and in partnership. They can continue to actively support the success of the project by doing what they do best – poking holes and breaking things. They can also engage with the project at more points in its lifecycle. Finally, they can do formally what they’ve always done quietly; evaluate with UX in mind. And in this, QA is UX.

The Efficiencies of Partnership

Not every organization will have the ability to have UX and QA work closely and cooperatively. Not every organization has both departments in-house. However, if those of us in UX, and our colleagues in QA both start viewing our roles as complementary, and start working from the same basic play books, the opportunity to collaborate improves regardless of whether it’s within or across companies.

By linking UX and QA, UX maintains project visibility for more of the lifecycle, beyond the inception of the development phase, and in return QA gains formative input and can raise concerns when they arise throughout the project. We also double our resources when it comes to staffing our evaluative efforts. Methodologies, insights and resources can be shared to ensure that projects get the care and attention they need throughout their lifecycle.

I hinted a bit at what QA staff can do as UX Analysts, but let me be more concrete. There are many tasks and services that can be  accomplished in partnership with QA, or offered whole and complete by a QA department.

  • Heuristic Review (Investigation, done in a Discovery phase)

    • Format defined by UX

    • Conducted by: QA or UX

    • Synthesis: QA, UX or Collaborative

  • Usability/Task Analysis (Evaluation, done in all phases)

    • Format defined by UX

    • Test authoring: UX or Collaborative

    • Test execution: Collaborative

    • Synthesis: Collaborative

  • Accessibility Audits (Evaluation, done in all phases)

    • Format defined by QA

    • Conducted by: QA or UX

    • Synthesis: QA, UX or Collaborative

This allows QA departments to be more proactive, more engaged with the project’s health and success. Also it opens new revenue streams and engagement models that allow QA to show it’s value either in standalone engagements or as part of a larger project. In working with UX, we multiply the reach of both practices to positively affect project outcomes and finished products.

To sum up

UX has similar aims as QA. QA has the same overall goals as UX. There is a lot to be gained by building a common vocabulary, toolset and partnership between the two. Each can further enable the other, and together the combined resources and expertise can transform our expectations of project success. So, UX and QA professionals…get on that.

A final thought on usability

If you come away from here with one thought I would prefer it be this: The thought that you should be doing more usability. That you should want your designs to be vetted as thoroughly as your functioning code. That you should care about quality enough to apportion the time and budget to get it right, rather than eat the time and cost of fixing it when its wrong.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. But it should be in your project process. You should have space to size and plan and implement evaluations at the right times and in effective ways. You should include evaluative tasks in your projects. You should test your stuff.

Don’t Let the Buzz Fool You: Trends May Not Be Your Friends

Every year, articles appear in the blogosphere touting new UX trends or technologies. Some trends have merit and value. Here at The Nerdery we love to constantly push boundaries. However, sometimes when companies implement a trend, they put the cart before the horse. No matter what tactics you choose to employ, it’s always best to start with defining the problem you need to solve for the opportunity at hand.

Many of these trends appear engaging and beautiful on the surface. Designers and stakeholders may have the best of intentions when implementing the latest trends. However, blindly implementing trends can also fail miserably without a sound strategy.

Here are examples of trends or tactics that may have their downsides:

Parallax Scrolling

Parallax scrolling is a technique used where background imagery moves at a slower speed than images in the foreground, creating the illusion of depth. It can be very successful in the right situations and when implemented well.

User Experience Design considerations:

• If users need to find content quickly, scrolling through large volumes of content may deter impatient users. The Crate and Barrel parallax site requires users spend about 15 seconds browsing Christmas tree ornaments.
• If there is a large volume of content, it may be difficult to find hidden content and it may be difficult to search the site.
• If users are unsavvy, they may also be confused by the moving parts and animation.

Technical considerations:

• Content may take longer to load, if developed on one page.
• Depending on the way it’s built, parallax sites may limit search engine optimization.
• Parallax sites add a level of complexity for responsive design.

When Parallax works:

Parallax sites can be effective if you are providing users with linear experiences like stories or walking through a process. It’s also important to include sticky navigation to allow users to skip ahead to topics of greater interest, if applicable.


I love games and appreciate how they can be used to engage users. However, Gamification is not as simple as slapping on badges, leaderboards, points and “gamifying” your website with rewards. Some big brands have failed using gamification and companies continue to waste money while providing poorer user experiences.

Audiences and customers vary in their contexts, motivations, interests and desires. People are complex. Without user research and a sound strategy, you may be designing a product that users will not find valuable or impactful.

Oftentimes, games are built with the goal to increase user engagement. But engagement can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Games are just a means to an end.  We must first justify the means.

Think about the Harry Potter books. There are no badges, leaderboards, nor even pictures, yet children and adults spend countless hours of engaged reading.  It’s due to the story, relatable characters, themes and other content that conjures emotions. Engagement can come in many forms.

It’s critical to understand what drives people.  What are the things they need to learn and do?  How are they motivated?  What drives their behaviors?  After a thorough discovery process we can better determine if a gamified system is actually the best tactic to achieve your goals.

Strategy Before Tactics

In general, any tactic without a sound strategy has a greater potential to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s mega menus, blogs, social media tools, or infographics – it’s best to begin a project with a discovery process and user research to help align business goals with user goals.

At The Nerdery, we create strategies that help identify and prioritize business goals and user goals. Our discovery process may include workshops, stakeholder interviews, analytics evaluation, user research, surveys, contextual inquiry, personas, and many other methods to create a laser-focused strategy for your business or organization.

Design for People First

It’s certainly important to understand what new technologies and trends are being implemented.  However, instead of designing with the tactics and technology first, we should first consider the people and their motivations and goals. Ultimately, we are designing for people—people who happen to use technology.  If we begin with a solid foundation and target goals, we have a higher likelihood of achieving those goals.