Women in Tech: Whitney Hess, UX Designer

BlogHer Original Post

Whitney Hess is a user experience (UX) designer. She blogs about technology and customer experience at Pleasure and Pain. She works with companies like Happy Cog and consults with startups and major corporations. On Twitter, she's @whitneyhess.

Whitney Hess at "An Event Apart" Minneapolis 2010

Whitney's a terrific conference speaker, and recently spoke at An Event Apart in Boston, a web-centric event about design, code, and content. The day she spoke at An Event Apart, Jeremy Keith recorded some of what she said in a live blog post for his blog, Adactio. What Whitney said was so valuable, I thought it was time take a closer look at Whitney Hess.

Here's the heart of that live blog post from Adactio.

Good design can equal good experience. That’s why Whitney does what she does. But she needs our help. She’s going to propose a set of design principles that she feels are universally applicable.

  1. Stay out of people’s way. The Tumblr homepage does this. You can find out more about Tumblr further down the page, but it doesn’t assume that’s what you want to have thrust in your face. Instead the primary content is all about getting started with Tumblr straight away.
  2. Create a hierarchy that matches people’s needs. This is about prioritisation. Mint.com uses different font sizes to match the hierarchy of importance on its “ways to save” page. Give the most crucial elements the greatest prominence. Use hierarchy to help people process information.
  3. Limit distractions. Don’t put pregnancy test kits next to condoms. On the web, Wanderfly does this right: one single path, completely self-contained. Multi-tasking is a myth. Let people focus on one task. Design for consecutive tasks, not concurrent.
  4. Provide strong information scent. Quora does a great job at this with its suggested search options. It’s actively helping you choose the right one. People don’t like to guess haphazardly, they like to follow their nose.
  5. Provide signposts and cues. Labelling is important. The Neiman Marcus e-commerce site does this right. It’s always clear where you are: the navigation is highlighted. You’d think that in 2011 this would be standard but you’d be surprised. Never let people get lost, especially on the web where there’s a limitless number of paths. Show people where they came from and where they’re going.
  6. Provide context. A sign that says “Back in 30 minutes” isn’t helpful if you’re in a hurry—you don’t know when the sign was put up. On the web, AirBnB provides everything you need to know on a listing page, all in one place. It’s self-contained and everything is communicated up-front.
  7. Use constraints appropriately. Preventing error is a lot better than recovering from it. If you know there are restrictions ahead of time, stop people from going down that route in the first place.
  8. Make actions reversible. (illustrated with a misspelled Glee tattoo) Remember The Milk provides an “undo?” link with almost every action. There’s no such thing as perfect design; people will make errors, so you should have a contingency plan. Undo is probably the most powerful control you can provide to people.
  9. Provide feedback. How do you know when you’re asthma inhaler is empty? You don’t. You won’t find out until the worst moment. On the web, loading indicators provide useful feedback. Tell people that a task is underway. Design is a conversation, not a monologue.
  10. Make a good first impression. Vimeo has one of the best first-time user experiences: “Welcome. You’re new, aren’t you?” Establish the rules, set expectations about the relationship you’re about to initiate on your site.

Take a look at your own website with those ten principles in mind. How did you fare?

On her own blog, Whitney has plenty to say about UX. Try these posts.

Learn More About UX Design

Whitney wrote an article for Blogs.com in which she listed her 10 Best UX (User Experience) Design Blogs.

Image credit: SuperPope

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com

Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

Recent Posts by Virginia DeBolt

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