Gemma Petrie »

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I was recently invited to the UIC Daley Library to speak to an awesome group of librarians that are using UX methods to learn about and improve their institutions. The workshop focused on my work at Mozilla, how to plan a research study, and best practices for user interviews. Activities throughout the day gave all the attendees hands-on experience scoping, drafting, and running a user interview. You can see my slides below and learn more about the Chicago Library UX group on their meetup page.

(© 2015 Gemma Petrie. All rights reserved.)

chiduxx
A new resource from chiDUXX, a women’s networking and mentoring organization I help run in Chicago:

Have you ever wished for an easy way to find talented Chicago UX women looking for a job or interested in speaking at an event?  Well, we have some exciting news! Starting today, we are launching two directories for Chicago UX women:

Job Seekers

Speakers

We encourage you to add your name and to spread the word. The directories are open to any Chicago women, not just chiDUXX members. Please note, any information you submit will be publicly viewable. You can update your information at any time by following the original survey link. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions: http://www.meetup.com/chiduxx/

Task Continuity ResearchFor many consumers, software and hardware choices are increasingly becoming choices between incompatible brand ecosystems. In today’s marketplace, a consumer’s smartphone choice is likely to have a far-reaching influence on options for everything from file storage to wearable technology. With each app purchase or third-party service sign-up, consumers become further invested in a closed brand ecosystem. As start-ups are acquired or privacy standards change, consumers may become trapped in an ecosystem that no longer meets their needs.

Mozilla strives to create competitive products and services built with open source technologies, that protect users from vendor lock-in, and that address user needs. We believe supporting these values is not only good for consumers, but is also good for our industry. In February, we conducted a contextual user research study on multi-device task continuity. This user research will help Mozilla design current and future products and services to support users’ behaviors and mental models. This research builds on our our Save, Share, Revisit study conducted earlier this year.

TC Overview

Research Questions

  • Tasks: What tasks require task continuity?
  • Patterns: What are common task continuity strategies, patterns, and work-arounds? Why do they occur?
  • Behaviors: What are current and emergent behaviors related to task continuity activities?
  • Devices: What constitutes a unified experience across devices? Do some devices perform specialized tasks?
  • Context: Given that previous research has focused primarily on work and productivity environments, what do home and work boundaries look like for task continuity? 1
  • Mental Models: What are the expectations, metaphors, and vocabularies in use for task continuity?
  • Tools: How effectively do current features and tools meet continuity needs? Why do challenges occur?

Methodology

The Mozilla User Research team conducted three weeks of fieldwork in four cities: Columbus, OH; Las Vegas, NV; Nashville, TN; Rochester, NY. We recruited a demographically diverse group of 16 participants. Each participant invited members of their household to participate in the research, giving us 43 total participants between the ages of 7 and 52. All 16 interviews took place in the participants’ homes. In addition to our primary research questions, the semi-structured interviews explored daily life, devices, and integration points. Further, participants provided home tours and engaged in multi-device workflow future thinking exercises.

Device Ecosystems

If you are reading this blog post, there is probably a good chance that you work in the tech or design industry. You likely have fairly advanced technology usage compared to the average person in the United States. Your personal device and service ecosystem might look something like this:

The device and service ecosystem for the average person in the United States includes fewer elements and fewer connection points. For example, here is the ecosystem map of one of the 16 participant groups in our study:

As you can see in these diagrams, the average user has single points of connection between his primary device (MacBook Pro) and all the other devices and services he uses. The advanced user, on the other hand, is utilizing various tools to move content between multiple devices, contexts, and services.

The Task Continuity Model

TC Model

Based on our research, we developed a general model of what the task continuity process looks like for our participants. Task continuity is a behavior cycle with three distinct stages: Discover, Hold/Push, and Recover.

The Discover stage of the task continuity cycle includes tasks or content in an evaluative state. At this stage, the user decides whether or not to (actively or passively) do something with the content.

The Hold/Push stage of the cycle describes the task continuity-enabling action taken by the user. In this stage, users may:

  • Passively hold tasks/content (e.g. By leaving a tab open)
  • Actively hold tasks/content (e.g. By emailing it to themselves)
  • Push tasks/content to others by sharing it (e.g. Posting it on Facebook)

The user may also set a reminder to return to the task/content at this stage (e.g. Set an alarm to call the salon when they open). It is possible for a single action to bridge more than one Hold/Push state (e.g. Re-pinning content on Pinterest shares it with followers and saves it to a board). It is also possible that a user will take multiple actions on the same task/content (e.g. Emailing a news article to myself and a friend).

In the Recover stage of the task continuity cycle, the user is reminded of the task/content (e.g. By seeing an open tab) or recalls the task/content (e.g. Through contextual cues). Relying on memory was one of the most common recovery methods we observed. In order to fully recover the task/content, the user may need to perform additional actions like following a link or reconstructing an activity path.

Once the task/content is recovered, the user is able to continue the task in the Resume stage. Here, the user is able to complete the task or postpone it by re-entering the task continuity cycle.

TC Example

The Task Continuity Model allows us to clearly map the steps involved in a specific task continuity activity. To illustrate, one of our participants discovered a video that he wanted to watch at a different time and on a different device. Here are the actions he performed to achieve this:

    1. Discover: Finds URL for video he wants to watch later.
    2. Push/Hold: Copies URL to email. Sends email reminder to himself.
    3. Recover: That evening, while browsing on his iPad, recalls that he wanted to watch a video from earlier in the day.
    4. Resume: Scans email for reminder message, locates it. Copies URL to iMessage.
    5. Push/Hold: Sends iMessage from tablet.
    6. Recover: On MacMini-connected TV, receives iMessage, copies URL from iMessage to browser.

Research Findings

A selection of our research findings that we believe are the most relevant to UX professionals and engineers:

  • Ad Hoc Workflows: Participants used small, immediate tools such as text messages and screenshots to string together larger tasks.
  • Satisficed: Participants were generally satisfied with their current task continuity workflows, even when they knew they weren’t efficient.
  • Task Continuity Tools: Text messages, screenshots, and email were the primary task continuity strategies.
  • Screenshots: Participants tended to use screenshots rather than texting links. People were performing complex tasks using screenshots (like managing employee schedules).
  • Re-Searching: People tend to re-initiate a search to pull up content on a different device rather than pass it through email, text, or some other method.
  • Third-Party Services: While tools like Evernote may be popular in technology circles, they are essentially unknown outside them.
  • Cloud Storage: Most participants had been exposed to cloud storage services, often through work, but their personal use was usually limited to free accounts.
  • Organization is Work: Most participants avoid task continuity actions that require organization. Instead, participants relied on recovery techniques such as memory, scanning lists, and searching to recover tasks.
  • Barriers: Participants choose a path of least resistance to complete a task. When confronted by a barrier, most participants will detour; sometimes those detours become a journey away from a product or service. Barriers we observed included authentication, forced organization, and overzealous privacy and security measures.

Further Research

This research provided a valuable foundation and framework for our understanding of task continuity, but it is important to acknowledge that it was conducted only in the United States. We were particularly surprised by the reliance on texting and screenshots and believe it is important to explore this behavior in areas where carrier-based SMS programs are less popular. We plan to build upon these findings by expanding this research program to Asia in May 2015.

References:

Save Share RevisitIn early January, Mozilla conducted user research to refresh our understanding of how people save, share, and revisit content with the goal of building our knowledge base for a larger contextual research project on multi-device task continuity that is currently being conducted. (More on that in a future blog post.)

Methodology

We recruited eight participants to engage in a three-day diary study to document their save, share, and revisiting behavior. Instructions were emailed to participants each morning based on daily themes: Saving, Sharing, Retrieving. Each evening, the participants were prompted to submit their diary entries and answer a few additional questions. Based on these responses, half of the participants were selected to participate in an additional 60-minute video interview with the researcher to explore these themes in greater detail.

Primary Findings

  1. Most people are using low-tech systems to save, share, and manage their content. There is a tendency in tech circles to overestimate the popularity of services like Pocket and Evernote, when in fact the most competitive task continuity resources are basic services like email, local storage, text messages, and screenshots.
  2. Most people are aware that their personal system isn’t perfect, and in fact often cumbersome to maintain, but other solutions are perceived as some combination of absent, confusing, or limited by storage/price.

SavePeople tend to save content to their devices, rather than to third-party systems. Some of the participants had tried services like Dropbox or iCloud, but abandoned them when they ran out of free storage space. Utilizing free local storage means people always know where to find things. If saving locally isn’t possible, people will often take a screenshot of the content or send it to their own email account in order to save it.

“If there’s a way I can physically save the article I would save it to my device or SIM card. If I can’t do that, I will take a screenshot of the articles and later go back and view them” – P6

“I found a picture of a toy I want to buy my daughter. I took a screenshot on my phone and I will go to the link in the pic using my computer later to show my mom.” -P2

For most participants, alternate device access was not a big concern when saving content. In fact, most of the time, people intended to revisit on the same device. When saving content, most people intended to revisit it within a short time frame – usually the same day or within a few days. This was due to the fact that people believed they would “forget” to return to the content if too much time passed.

ShareFor many participants, the line between sharing and saving was blurred. The primary methods for sharing content – Facebook, email, and text messages – where valued not only because they made it easy to share, but because they also made it easy to revisit.

“Social media and email services make it easy to revisit content because they log and save everything.” – P3

“I found Crockpot recipes on Facebook that I wanted to try, so I re-posted it to my Facebook wall.” – P7

RevisitParticipants used a variety of low-tech methods to revisit content. The primary methods included relying on the URL bar to autocomplete URLS based on browser history, following links in emails, and leaving browser windows open.

Further Research

The Firefox UX research team is currently conducting a contextual user research project in multiple cities to learn more about multi-device task continuity strategies. These findings will add depth to our current understanding and help us design experiences that will support and expand on these user patterns. Stay tuned for more information on this work.

(You can find the original post on the Mozilla UX Blog.)

 

London

A (most likely) incomplete list of books I read in 2014, in no particular order:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
  • Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith
  • One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
  • A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
  • Laura by Vera Caspary
  • Practical Ethnography by Sam Ladner
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Moments of Impact by Chris Ertel
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  • What’s the Future of Business by Brian Solis
  • Remote by Jason Fried
  • The Pomegranate King by Nishta J. Mehra
  • Hooked by Nir Eyal
  • Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
  • Service Design by Andy Polaine
  • Communicating The New by Kim Erwin
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter
  • Remote Research by Nate Bolt
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser
  • Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer
  • Mental Models by Indi Young
  • Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace