A Book That Opened My Mind

Following my previous two posts (A Book That Inspired Me and A Book That Made Me Think), let me share another story about a book that has impacted my life and career.

Nearly 20 years ago, I stumbled upon Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” in a friend’s house.

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A Book That Made Me Think

In my role as a Head of Product Design, I’m passionate about making software more usable. I can trace this passion back to year 2000, when I was managing a design team on an online banking project in Edinburgh. To guide us, we hired Chris, a human computer interaction (HCI) consultant — loosely equivalent to what we now call a UX Researcher.

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A Book That Inspired Me

Twenty-odd years ago, I found myself in the transient space of an airport between business flights, where I chanced upon a book that would leave a lasting impact on my design career.

Paul Arden’s “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be” sat unassumingly on a crowded bookshelf, raising my curiosity with its enigmatic cover and audacious claim, “The world’s best selling book by Paul Arden.”

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How to Create a Compelling Product Design Portfolio

A Hiring Manager’s Perspective

Having built more than one design team over the years, I’ve sifted through numerous CVs and portfolios. Within seconds, I form a gut feeling about a designer that is usually validated as I review their work.

To help you make an outstanding first impression, here are my tips for crafting a compelling product design portfolio.

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Childhood’s Digital Frontier

A New Generation’s Path to Exploration

In my lifetime, I’ve seen a transformation in the way children explore the world around them.

When I was young, kids freely roamed their own (and nearby) neighborhoods. In summertime, parents didn’t see much of their children until they returned home for dinner.

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The Unlikely Rise of Independent Writers in an AI World

Independent writer competing in an AI world

It’s easy to assume that AI-generated writing spells doom for independent authors.

But what if it has exactly the opposite effect? What if the saturation of AI-created content sparks a renaissance for human creativity and storytelling? As AI-generated writing becomes commonplace, the personal touch of these writers could turn into a rare and precious commodity.

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Usability Testing Tips for Enterprise Software

While usability testing is now standard practice in consumer software development, enterprise software still poses challenges for those seeking to conduct usability testing, including

  • Limited pool of customers
  • Domain knowledge needed
  • Customer gatekeepers
  • Customer configurations, roles and permissions

Small pool of users

Enterprise software products typically have fewer users than consumer software products, so you’re likely to be recruiting from a limited pool.

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UX Guidelines for Error Handling

Error handling is too often an overlooked aspect of UX design. Removing the pain from error experiences is critical because if a user encounters an error, they are probably already frustrated.

Error messages expose the interface. A well-designed interface becomes invisible; the user is not thinking about the interface but about her tasks. 

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Why Your App Will Probably Fail

happy shapes

When clients tell me they want to make an app, the question I ask is: why?

The potential rewards of creating a successful app are huge. The internet has recently crossed the mobile tipping point; in the US alone, adults now spend more time accessing digital media from their mobiles than from desktops.

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Designing for a Juicier Web

The first book I bought on web design, in 1998, was The Principles of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen. Jeff’s tips included how to create a striped web page background using by repeating a single-pixel GIF as a pattern in the HTML code (CSS hadn’t really caught on yet).

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How to Make Unforgettable PowerPoint Presentations

Imagine the scene.  It’s Friday night. It’s been a long, hard week. You’re slouching back on the sofa with your significant other. You’ve got the chocolate, the popcorn — you’re ready to let your imagination be whisked away for a couple of hours by whatever old movie is on TV…


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How I Made a Rapid Android Wear Prototype Using Balsamiq and Pixate


The video above shows a simple prototype for an Android Wear app, running on an an LG G watch R, which I created within a few hours of coming up with the concept — with ZERO CODING.


The idea of the app is to show the user the names (and faces) of other people attending a meeting.

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It doesn’t matter how it got this way. Just fix it.

jeff bezos

Initial client meeting

Client: “We’d like you to conduct user testing of our website.”

Me: “Great.”

Client: (Laughs.) “And don’t worry. We’ve got thick skins. We want honest, open feedback.”

Later … Worskshop to discuss the findings

Me: The users I tested loved the “Try it Now FREE” button on the homepage.

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You’ve Done the Usability Testing, Now What?

After you’ve done usability testing, or got user feedback of any kind, what should you work on? Most people prioritise low-hanging fruit. Clients ask me if there are “quick wins”.

What is Most Broken?

But a better question to ask is “What is most broken?” During the usability testing, what caused the biggest problems for your users?

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Getting From Prototype to Product

I’ve written previous posts about how I use Balsamiq Mockups to create wireframes and prototypes, and my methods for usability testing. But these are parts of a bigger process — getting from an idea to a finished website, application or software product.

My UX Method

When a new client engages me to work with them on a new design (or redesign) project, they are keen to know “What method did you use?”.

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How I Use Balsamiq Mockups

Update May 2015

I wrote this article when I was using the old version of Balsamiq Mockups, now known as “Balsamiq 2”. In March 2015, Balsamiq released a new version of their software, Balsamiq Mockups 3, which has a load of great new features and is even easier to use

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10 Ways to Make Clients Love Usability Testing


Many of my clients have never previously carried out usability testing. Even when I tell them about how successful testing has been for my other clients, I can sense that they are nervous. For many people, usability testing feels like a step into the unknown.

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Case Study: safefood


safefood is an all-island implementation body set up under the British-Irish Agreement with a general remit to promote awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition issues on the island of Ireland.

  • For some time, the safefood web team had been struggling with the design of their homepage:
  • The homepage had a high bounce rate — visitors weren’t exploring the site’s rich, deep content
  • The web team found it difficult to showcase all of the different departments, and their work, on the homepage
  • The team knew that the site had good content, but knew that it was hard to find
  • Content contributors at safefood were updating the site regularly, but the homepage didn’t communicate that
  • User feedback suggested people weren’t easily finding the content they wanted
  • There was a general agreement that the look-and-feel of the homepage was dated

What UserJourneys Did

  • Carried out an expert usability review of the  safefood homepage
  • Made a list of recommended usability changes
  • Created wireframe designs for the new homepage
  • Provided a visual designer to turn the interaction design into a high-fidelity design
  • Made recommendations on an improved navigation structure and information architecture
  • Carried out remote usability testing on two alternate navigation schemes, and compared results
  • Held workshops with safefood web team and other stakeholders to present findings and explore proposed solutions


Since the homepage redesign and the implementation of the UserJourneys recommendations, the safefood website KPIs have all increased significantly

“The results were immediate.

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Happy Shapes Takes Off

In January, I wrote about my experience creating a new Android HTML5 game app, which I called Happy Shapes.

By the end of that month, mainly due to my own (feeble) personal marketing efforts, the game had roughly around 100 or so downloads/installs. I had been checking the Android Developer Centre almost daily, until the download pattern began to level off.

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Infographics are Fun, Spreadsheets are Accurate

I recently completed a fascinating usability study with the help of Dr. Stephan Weibelzahl and Sara Kyofuna at NCI in Dublin. Here is a report of our findings. NCI will be publishing an academic paper on the study.


Question: Are interactive infographics better than spreadsheets?

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Happy Shapes – My First Android App

Last night I released Happy Shapes – a FREE Android game for kids

Android app on Google Play

Play the game now on desktop at newskoolgames.com
Here is how it all came about.


Originally, I had intended to create a software product. After months of wrangling with complex wireframes, I realised the development was going to cost $$$.

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Usable Search Results – Better Than Jakob Nielsen?

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen says the number one usability mistake in web design is bad search. Neilsen focuses on the handling of input.

search engines reduce usability [when] they’re unable to handle typos, plurals, hyphens, and other variants of the query terms.

But there’s another reason why users have learned to distrust on-site search: poorly presented search results.

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Terms and Conditions Must Die

I have read the terms and conditions; Untick the box if you do not not wish to sell your soul to Lucifer

Comedian Eddie Izzard has a hilarious routine about ticking the “I have read the terms and conditions” box.

“Even God,” complains Izzard, “has not read the terms and conditions!”

The terms and conditions tick-box is a charade. Companies know that users do not read the linked-to T&Cs, which are often many pages of legalese.

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Small Screens, Big Fingers

In the age of the smartphone, tablet, and other touch screen electronic devices, is this the end of the physical (non-virtual) keyboard?

I recently noticed a clue to the answer when shopping for a tablet device. Many of the manufacturers offered cases that came bundled with USB keyboards. 

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The Difference Between UX and Usability

People sometimes ask, “what’s the difference between user experience (UX) and usability?”. Let me try to explain, by borrowing from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

users's hierarchy of needs: 1. functional (it works), 2. usable (it's easy to use), 3. pleasurable (it's fun to use)

Let us assume that the user of any software has three hierarchical types of needs:

1. The software must work; it must be functional.

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1st Rule of Mobile Web UX – Detect The Device

Some companies spend too much time and money on mobile apps; and not enough time considering their mobile web presence. (See Scott Jensen’s thought-provoking Mobile Apps Must Die for reasons why mobile web is arguably more important.)

When you’ve built a mobile version of  your website (congratulations!),

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Increase Conversions with Better Usability

When your website is not achieving its projected sales targets, your first instinct will probably be “get more traffic”.

But those striving to grow online sales tend to focus too much on generating new visitors, while neglecting the experience of visitors on the site.

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

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Ireland Estonia Tickets: Bad Experience – Design or Intent?

A supermarket likes to keep the milk and bread at the back, so customers will browse other items on the way. What about web pages?

Today, I wanted to buy tickets for the upcoming Republic of Ireland vs. Estonia football game, so I logged onto the Football Association of Ireland’s homepage:

It seems straightforward — click the picture, buy the tickets (walk down the aisle, get to the milk), right?

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The Usability of Infographics

Web designers everywhere are adding ‘infographics’ to their list of services. Here’s an infographic to illustrate the rise in infographics.

A decade ago, most websites betrayed a lack of understanding of basic usability principles; so it is with today’s infographics.

This was starkly evident when Smashing Magazine recently published  The Do’s And Don’ts Of Infographic Design:

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and produce a traditional bar graph or pie chart; nevertheless, always consider ways to dress it up…

The article was met with horror by the data visulalization community.

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DoneDeal — Immediately Effective

When I arrive at any website, I know what I don’t want. Please — no waiting, filling out interminable forms, unticking radio buttons, or being redirected.  I want a site that is immediately effective.

With over two million visitors per month, Irish classified website, Donedeal.ie is one of Ireland’s most successful websites.

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UX and Data Visualization Software

Data, data, everywhere. It comes from public bodies, social networks, personal devices, healthcare systems, media sources, etc. The technological revolution of the last two decades has cracked open wellsprings of data that never stop giving.

Data visualization will be an important craft/technology over the coming years.

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When Banks Can’t Speak English

I’ve been using Allied Irish Bank’s personal online banking service for years and, while it was ropey in the beginning, in recent years the usability has improved. I have used this service to manage my business and it has worked fine.

Because I recently changed status from sole trader to limited company, I was advised that I had to upgrade to IBB, AIB’s dedicated online business banking service.

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Inline Validation Made Easy

Update August 2015: Of course, now HTML5 lets you validate forms without the need for any JavaScript. See: http://www.the-art-of-web.com/html/html5-form-validation/

One way of making web forms less painful is to use inline validation. This jQuery plugin makes it easy for designers and developers to add inline validation to web-based forms.

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Why Wireframes Love Comic Sans

The Comic Sans font has often been derided as the font choice of amateurs, but it is useful for creating mockups.

Indeed, it is the default font in popular wireframing tools, such as Balsamiq.

facebook wireframe

Wirefame of Facebook page created using Balsamiq

When I first started wireframing, I would hand-code the wireframes in HTML, or use tools such as Axure.

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Old Blog, New Blog

Starting January 2011, I am adding new blog entries exclusively on this site.

You can still view my old blog Mediajunk.com, which I started back in 2002. I’m keeping it online as an archive.

— Michael Heraghty

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