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  • Writer's pictureJakob Nielsen

UX Roundup: Product Simplification | Big Text Boxes | Reporting UX Research | UX Jobs | New/Old UX

Summary: Simplifying product lines saves money | Anchor users’ expectations for how much to write by making text entry boxes bigger | Reporting on UX research using the pyramid principle | 6 user research job openings at UK government website | What's new, what's old in UX 2024


UX Roundup for January 15, 2024. Image by Leonardo.


Simplifying Product Lines: UX Meets Supermarket Aisles

The Wall Street Journal reports that many companies have simplified their product lines, scaling back on product variations sold. (Subscription required to access article.) Examples include:

  • Large grocery stores reducing fresh-food offerings by 15% to 20%.

  • Coca-Cola reduced its brands from 400 to 200.

  • Kimberly-Clark carries 30% fewer product lines.

  • PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, cut more than 20% of its offerings to focus on products that are essential for customers’ wardrobe.

  • Malouf, a Utah-based furniture company, went from selling 11,000 to 3,500 product choices.

In all these examples, the comparison is with sales in 2019, before the Covid pandemic. During the pandemic, supply chain problems forced companies to scale back on product choice by eliminating less-selling variants. According to the article, a common experience was that this didn’t harm sales at all. Customers were more than satisfied with the remaining choices, which are still rather extensive. (Those 200 Coca-Cola brands!)

Thus, many companies are sticking with their newly simplified product lines, even though the supply chain troubles are over.

This finding is in accordance with long-standing user-experience principles. Choice overload is real, and one of my most loved UX slogans is, “Keep It Simple.”

Keep It Simple — also in the supermarket aisle. Midjourney.

In user interface design, every feature or option you add is one more thing for users to learn and remember. The profusion of choices in many modern user interfaces can be highly confusing for users, and when people pick the wrong choice it may take them a long time to recover from that error.

Anchoring to Elicit Detailed User Feedback: Show a Big Text Box

The ADPList newsletter carried an article about Airbnb’s user interface design. Much interesting information, but I’ll focus on the UX design tip of the week: use the behavioral economics principle of anchoring to nudge users to write detailed reviews.

First, a recap, in case you’re not too strong on behavioral economics (which I strongly encourage studying, by the way, because of its importance for persuasive design).

Anchoring influences our decision-making by biasing our perception toward an initial piece of information. Imagine you’re at a charity auction. The first bid for a painting is set at $500. Regardless of the painting’s actual worth, this initial figure becomes a psychological anchor. Subsequently, all following bids are influenced by this initial number. UX designers are familiar with the power of first impressions in user experience. In anchoring, this first impression is often numerical, and similarly sets a precedent that heavily shapes subsequent perceptions and decisions.

In the Airbnb case study, the anchoring information is provided by the size of the text box where users can leave their reviews after having visited a property. A small box would be easier to fit within a UI, especially for mobile users. However, a small box would anchor the expectations for the review at a small amount of text.

In contrast, a big text entry field (as actually used in the Airbnb UI), anchors expectations around writing an extensive review with some amount of detail. In either case, users can write a short or a long review, but they are more likely to provide more detail when they are faced with a bigger text box. (Longer reviews are beneficial for their business — the added detail adds veracity and makes future customers more likely to rent that property.)

The bigger box also enhances usability during the writing process itself, because it’s easier to write and edit when you can see more of the text. But the most important reason to provide a big text box is the anchoring effect.

Conversely, in cases where users are expected to enter a small amount of information, a big box would be wrong.

Show a big text entry box when you want to entice users to write more extensive input. (Midjourney.)

Reporting on UX Research Using the Pyramid Principle

I advocate the inverse pyramid principle when writing digital content. Start with the conclusion, because web users don’t read a lot and often don’t make it to the end. However, when writing about user research for your team and stakeholders, Thomas Stokes recommends structuring the report according to the pyramid principle.

The Pyramid Principle for writing UX reports. Image by Dall-E.

The core idea is to break down complex information into a hierarchy that resembles a pyramid. At the top is a single main message or point. Underneath are layers of supporting key points and evidence that logically build up and reinforce the main point. To construct an effective pyramid, each level should summarize the ideas below it, contain similar groupings of information, and be ordered logically by chronology, importance, or deductive reasoning. The groupings must also be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. This pyramid outline is created before writing the full report.

Researchers can take a bottom-up approach, starting with findings, or write top-down, leading with the main message. By applying the pyramid principle, UX practitioners can create reports with clear narrative flow and structure. The article emphasizes that this kind of principled technique for organizing information is useful for improving business communication skills.

Thus, despite the seemingly opposite names, the inverse pyramid and the pyramid principle share one important idea: do start with the most important point that you want to make sure all readers get. Defer background information to later. Blah-blah text may seem an easy way for the writer to ease into a report. But blah-blah repels readers faster than drenching your report in skunk spray.

If you start a UX report with copious background blah-blah information, you may as well have a skunk bless it, in terms of reader appeal. (Skunk with reports by Midjourney.)

6 User Research Job Openings at UK Government Website

The UK government is hiring 6 user researchers to work on digital services for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Application deadline Jan. 23, 2024.

That’s a hefty hiring round, signifying a substantial commitment to usability and UX. While I don’t know anything about that department, the very fact that they are expanding with this many user researchers in one go gives me faith that research-based UX is a priority for these agfolks.

As a nice touch that I have not seen before, they are hosting a webinar on 18th January 2024, 12:30 - 14:00 (UK time), about being a user researcher in this department. Access info on that job posting page I linked above.

I’m sure the people in Digital Data and Technology services don’t have this view every day. But working on the UX of the environment and the food supply is a worthy cause. (Midjourney)

What's New, What's Old in UX 2024

I did a session with the Floxies Community (“an international community for women around the world who share a passion for UX/UI design and Webflow Development and support one another in their tech journeys”) on the topic of What's New, What's Old in UX 2024. The recording is now available on YouTube (1 hr. 12 min.).

Foxies use a quite fun videogame-like virtual environment to host their meetings, which was a new experience for me.

Here are some of the topics we discussed and which you can hear more about in the video:

🚀 Decades of UX: The Field’s Journey from Obscurity to Omnipresence

👥 At the Heart of UX: Designing for People, by People

🧭 UX Careers: A Melting Pot of Skills and Backgrounds

🌱 From Junior to Guru: UX Path of Progression and Struggle for Entry-Level Opportunities

📈 Continuous Growth: The Power of Lifelong Learning

The essence of UX, despite its revolutionary growth, is fundamentally about people. This dual aspect of UX — designing for humans and the human nature of designers themselves — has not changed. I’ve seen technologies come and go, but our focus on users remains unaltered. Whether it’s the interfaces of the 80s or today's sophisticated AI-driven platforms, the core of UX is about understanding human behavior, needs, and limitations. This human-centric approach is what makes UX both challenging and rewarding. It’s a field where empathy and technology converge, ensuring that no matter how advanced our tools become, they still serve the fundamental needs of people.

A UX career is like a path through a beautiful garden where the first plants are small, and you only get to the big trees later. But do enjoy the flowers on the way. (Midjourney)


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