AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

How to Hire (And Retain) More Women in Tech

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up just over 50% of the total US population and 59% of the US workforce. And yet, when it comes to technology, the number of women at the table plummets. A Deloitte report exploring the gender disparities within the tech industry found that the number of women employed by these companies (including some of the world’s most recognizable brands like Microsoft and Google) is less 25%, even fewer for technical roles. So what can tech companies do to recruit, hire and retain more women?

  • Provide educational opportunities and chances for women to learn. Part of the challenge in hiring women is that there are presently fewer applicants in the job pool. Less than one fifth of US computer science degree recipients in 2013 were women. While not all people working in IT or other technical positions have computer science degrees, companies without training programs or educations offerings are missing out on opportunities to consider women who’s skills can be polished once hired and can be developed into a true asset.
  • Consider how job descriptions and outreach are worded. Deloitte identified two major keys for recruiting efforts. The first is to make it a priority to avoid words that demonstrate or present any sort of (unintentional) bias that may deter a woman from applying. Secondly, reconsider requirements and recognize that mandating a significant amount of years of experience inheriently slashes many women from the pile of applicants.
  • Make it a priority to help ensure jobs are satisfying for women once they are hired. To consider simply getting women in the door is setting up for failure. A National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) study found that not only are women in technical positions between 25-34 finding increasing dissatisfaction with their jobs, 56% of those women are leaving before the highlight of their careers. This quit rate is twice as high as men in the same positions. Include true flexibility especially with scheduling. Develop catches to stop any sort of discrimination or bias that may not be recognized.
  • Create a path to leadership. Opening the path and demonstrating to younger women how they can grow can be a critical piece of the puzzle. Develop a mentorship program that pairs up women executives or management with younger women. This could be as simple as making tan internal program to create lasting bonds among coworkers or it could be going the route of Facebook, Pinterest and Box who paired together to create WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech). WEST pairs experienced women in technical roles at one of the three sponsor companies with younger women within their region (as opposed to their company) to provide 1-on-1 mentorship. Developing leaders does more than improve the worker’s life; it improves a company’s bottom line. A Credit Suisse report found companies with women in leadership experienced better sales, higher returns on equity, better stock performance, and higher payouts of dividends

Hiring (and keeping) female tech talent and creating leadership opportunities for these workers is more important now than ever. With benefits clearly demonstrated, it’s up to today’s tech leadership to identify what women need to feel good about their jobs and comfortable in the workplace – and make the necessary changes.

Technology

When a Great eCommerce Experience + Unique Business Model Led to Magic

In an attempt to change the entire eyeglass industry, Warby Parker has achieved what few companies have ever attempted, let alone succeeded to do: give the power to the people. Driven by a completely consumer-based business model, the minds behind Warby (Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Andrew Hunt, Jeffrey Raiderand) were dedicated to perfecting their users’ experience from start to finish. This idea that the user comes first is is one that drives the entire Ai team, and what makes us particularly drawn to the brand. Well, that and the fact that they make stylish, inexpensive, and downright fun (to buy and wear) eye wear.

Escalating to the top of a $28 billion industry less than a decade after its establishment in 2010, Warby demonstrates it’s focus on catering to customers from the first touch point by sending customers five pairs of glasses to try on for free. Recognized by Fast Company as 2015’s most innovative company, Warby’s business approach backs up its winning title. From designing their glasses in-house, embracing nontraditional marketing channels, addressing customers directly, and selling their products for the strikingly reasonable prices, Warby far exceeds the normal e-commerce transaction, especially within their industry.

As Wired author Marcus Wohlsen puts it, “[Warby Parker’s] customer service seems to be conducted by real people, not robots or, even worse, people trained to act like robots,” in the 2014 post “Is Warby Parker Too Good To Last?” Powered by giving customers exactly what they want, the company ultimately sacrifices their own money, time, and control to fulfill such a unique business model. But the strange reality is that it actually works. Just last year investors valued the company at $1.2 billion. Yeah, it’s working alright. 

With such a unique foundation, Warby has seen a huge backing from millennials. This is due in large part to what many companies lack according to Accenture: a connected shopping experience. In a recent study put out by the consulting group, delivering a seamless shopping experience requires a presence at every stage of the process, meaning retailers must integrate their operations. Luckily for Warby, they’ve been doing this since the beginning. In an interview with Slate, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby David Gilboa stated, “We’ve taken a very hands-on approach, to ensure that we’re getting the best quality, and that we’re working with partners whose values are aligned with ours. That requires a lot of hand-holding, a lot of flying all over the world, but we think that that’s worth it.”

Another thing that sets Warby apart from its competitors is the company’s global awareness about the lack of adequate vision care. According to the company site, 703 million people currently live without access to eyewear. Working by the buy one/give one approach, Warby makes a monthly donation to their nonprofit partners (primarily VisionSpring) which in turn covers the cost of thousands of glasses. So far, that number is well over 1 million. Fun fact: people love companies that give back (We’re looking at you, Toms). According to a 2013 study by Nielsen, 46% of global consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that have ‘giving back’ programs.

So blame it on the free delivery and returns, blame it on the one-for-one style giving, or maybe blame it on the fact that Warby Parker stands as the first ever e-commerce site for eye wear, whatever the decision may be, you can’t deny the magic of this incredible company. Come close to this unique business approach, and you just might find yourself at the head of a skyrocketing start up, leaving companies in the dust unable to look the other way.

Ecommerce

The Top Six Insurance Start-Ups To Watch

Legacy industries like insurance can seem complicated and inpentrable. This is no longer the case. More insurance start-ups than ever are popping up – and finding both funds and users – within the space to give consumers more options than ever for every type of insurance experience or need one might have. Here are six of our favorites that are not afraid to shake things up.

 

Company: FitSense

FitSense (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2015

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $15k

Top Investors: StartupBootcamp InsurTech London

About FitSense: Fitsense is a data analytics platform working with insurance companies to personalize life and health insurance for anyone with a smartphone or wearable device.

Why FitSense Made Our List: Fitsense was created to help lower insurance costs and improve risk ratings. By taking the data from a user’s wearable (like Fitbit or Jawbone), insurance providers can make more accurate risk preditions based on actual data which will reward users who live healthier lifestyles with lower insurances costs and premiums.

 

Company: Lemonade

Lemonade (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2015

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $13 million

Top Investors: Aleph, Sequoia Capital

About Lemonade: Lemonade is set to become the world’s major peer-to-peer P&C insurance provider.

Why Lemonade Made Our List: Lemonade is built on the idea that today’s insurance industry is “antagonistic” and “annoying” and the company aims to fix that. Lemonade is also stacking their team with more than just insurance industry pros: they hired renowned behavioral scientist Dan Ariely to help finesse their customer-focused, back-to-the-basics model.

 

Company: Melody Health Insurance (dba Canopy Health Insurance)

Melody (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2015

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $3.8 million

Top Investors: Eduardo Cruz, CEO of ARS Humano

About Melody: Melody Health Insurance, the startup health insurer that will provide value-priced health insurance to individual consumers throughout the U.S.

Why Melody Made Our List: Melody seeks to give consumers more power in purchasing their own plans at budget-friendly prices. They aim to be able to give bigger discounts on procedures by having a smaller group of core providers that are close to where their customers live and work.

 

Company: Oscar

Logo (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2013

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $727.5 million

Top Investors: Fidelity Investments, Google Captial

About Oscar: Oscar is a health insurance company that employs technology, design, and data to humanize health care.

Why Oscar Made Our List: Oscar isn’t the newest player in the book but they are one that has raised significant funding and has found successful growth. They aim to bring affordable premiums to their customers while also providing a pleasant user experience. They have an app that enables users to correspond directly with their doctors and customer services reps are always available. While their business model may not be significantly different, that focus on user experience in an industry that has a reputation for being challenging makes them notable. Oscar also offers its customers incentives like cash for flu shots and money back for meeting goals specific to its partner wearable (the Misfit) that encourage users to live healthier lifestyles.

 

Company: Sure.

Sure. (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2014

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $2.6 million

Top Investors: ff Venture Capital, Fosun Kinzon Capital, Montage Ventures

About Sure.: Sure is an innovative app within personal insurance that enables travelers to purchase on demand policies up to the time of their flight takeoff.

Why Sure. Made Our List: Sure. gives air travellers peace of mind by providing life insurance for specific durations (the length of a flight). This focus on microduration is different than a general life insurance policy since it is only enacted during air travel. The app provides it’s users with policy cost in real time.

 

Company: Trov

Trov (Insurance Start-Up) Logo

Year Founded: 2012

Amount of Funding Raised So Far: $46.27 million

Top Investors: Oak HC/FT

About Trov: Trov is an on-demand insurance platform that lets users buy insurance for specific products, for a specific amount of time.

Why Trov Made Our List: Trov is a service unlike any other. It enables its users to choose which of their belongings to cover and for how long. It also allows users to file their claims through the app. Furthermore, the coverage granted and cost are extremely transparent and upfront.

 

Insurance

Millennial Consumers Vs Gen Z: Should Brands Plan Now?

For brands and marketers everywhere, earning the Millennial consumer is without a doubt a key goal. Millennials, or anyone born between 1980 and the late 1990’s, are over 80 million strong and, according to a study put out by Accenture, spend over $600 billion each year. Millennials were the first digital generation and engaging with them was truly a unique experience from any of the previous cohorts before them. Earning their consumer dollar has been a test of adaptability and willingness to go digital.

As brands have adapted to appeal to these Millennials, is it time to start concerning themselves with Generation Z? It absolutely is. Despite their youth (the eldest members of this generation are just arriving to college and the youngest are still in grammar school), Gen Z is enormous. They make up 25% of the population and appealing to them effectively is and will continue to be a completely different ball game.

What worked for Millennials: Reaching them on mobile. Millennials are EXTREMELY attached to their mobile devices. In fact, Forbes found that a whopping 79% of Millennials were introduced to new brands via digital advertising and 71% of those surveyed felt that these mobile ads provided better options than they previously knew. Those numbers are huge!

How Gen Z is different: Gen Z’ers are don’t spend as much time on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter so mobile ads in these sorts of verticals will fall flat with this group. According to an AdWeek survey, this generation is much more likely to spend time on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and other visually led social platforms than Millennials were. In addition, they are drawn to one thing: video, video and MORE video. Simply being in the digital space will no longer work as well as it had, unless content has video components.

What worked for Millennials: Brand Advocacy leading to loyalty. According to Nielsen, 85% of Millennials trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust consumer opinions online (Hello, outlets like Yelp and Glassdoor). As brands turned to new means of advertising like influencer and experiential marketing as well as sponsored blog content, they found a way to reach their targets.

How Gen Z is different: Gen Z doesn’t feel this same loyalty. They were truly born into the connected era; a majority don’t remember a time before smartphones existed. According to research put out by Ernst & Young, that ease of connectivity and instant gratification has created an environment in which Gen Z expects to be catered to as they expect brands to know that they can price and comparison shop. They expect to be engaged immediately or they are gone.

What worked for Millennials: Many Millennials were born into peaceful and prosperous times. While they were budget conscious, especially as they entered the workforce through the recession, security has made them much more comfortable with spending on non-necessities.

How Gen Z is different: Gen Z was born into a very different and tumultuous set of circumstances starting from the 9/11 terror attacks through the recession that began in 2008. Due to these sorts of massive experiences during formative years, Gen Z tends to be much more risk averse. This trickles into their spending: according to Accenture, Gen Z is much more likely to only make purchases for items that fulfill needs.

Clearly there are some similarities with the two generations (looking at you, technology!) but they also have very distinct differences. The two force brands to move further into the digital space. As more members of Gen Z ascend into college and the group enters the workforce, brands will have to continue the path Millennials led them to: get creative online and in the social space or get left behind.

Ecommerce

The Opportunity Insurers Have Targeting Millennial Consumers

There is no doubt about the importance of capturing the Millennial consumer. According to the US Census Bureau, there are 80 million people making up the millennial generation, or anyone born between 1980-2000. Look out, Baby Boomers! Millennials are officially the most populated generational group in the US EVER and how they go about making purchasing decisions is VERY different than any group before them. Why does this matter for insurance? Here are a few major reasons.

Millennial life looks VERY different than Baby Boomer life did at the same age. Pew Institute Research Center has estimated that only a quarter of Millennials are married – compared to nearly 60% of Baby Boomers at the same age. Furthermore, a 2016 Goldman Sachs study on Millennials spending and lifestyle habits demonstrated that Millennials are deferring major purchases like cars in favor of engaging with the sharing economy and utilizing ride-sharing options like ZipCar or Uber.

Opportunity for Insurers: Recognize that one size does NOT fit all. Millennials don’t do not live like their parents or grandparents. They are used to having a plethora of options to pick and choose from in order to get to the end product that is right for them and how they approach insurance is no different.

Purchasing style looks very different. Though Millennials face difficult economic barriers like massive student loans and a sluggish economy, they are still a powerhouse: AdAge estimates that Millennials will spend over $10 trillion dollars in their lifetime. How they spend this money is unique: they tend to be less brand-loyal and demand more transparency. An IBM Business Institute survey showed that comparison-shopping and personalized, user tailored experiences are extremely important pieces of the buyer process.

Opportunity for Insurers: Get comfortable with transparency. Build up social media and online presence with the purpose of more than just outright selling. By laying down the groundwork as an information provider, it helps create an open relationship that is appealing to Millennials. The Milliennial is not looking for an agent to reach out after this exchange, but to find information that will enable them to make their decisions.

Immediacy is Key. Millennials spend much of their time digitally – and it shows in every facet of their lives. For the generations that came before them, word of mouth was a powerful influencer when it came to making large purchases, including insurance. Previously, families would have a local agent and stick with that agent for decades. These agents would spend face time with their customers over time. Millennials prefer something more immediate and tend to prefer searching for information themselves than relying on advice of friends and family.

Opportunity for Insurers: Two words: prioritize digital. Not only do Millennials want to spend less time speaking on the phone or meeting in person, they want their answers RIGHTNOW. Upgrade any consumer facing websites to make sure the user experience is flawless, the design is appealing and fresh, and without a doubt, make sure it’s all mobile friendly. Goldman Sachs estimates that over 85% of Millennials own smart phones and do a majority of their browsing on alternative screens. If they can’t engage in those mediums, it’s a missed opportunity.

No doubt finding and maintaining success for insurers requires capturing Millennials as consumers. This means engaging with them on their terms and in the way that they like to be reached.

Insurance

Ask Ai: What’s Your Biggest Website Usability Pet Peeve?

Everyone on our team has very unique roles and we all come together to make sure our clients’ needs are met completely. Because of we all have different experiences and skills, we all offer a wide variety of perspectives. Every two weeks we will crowdsource a tech, design, UX, etc style question from the team and share.

In our first ever installment of the series, we asked our team: What website usability issue across the board is your biggest pet peeve right now and why? Here are a few of the responses!

 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAALJAAAAJGE5YmQ4MzgyLWE2OGYtNDVhMy1iNzE3LWFkM2U0MzBlNjQyYgChuck Wells

Copywriter

“My biggest pain point is mobile websites without a quick load time and thumb-friendly navigation as well as mobile sites that don’t recognize that I already have the app installed.”

 

37919d5Catherine DeAngelis

Senior Project Manager

“I like when articles are a long-scroll on mobile, so when I’m brought to a slideshow (that most of the time isn’t working), it’s a poor user experience. I usually don’t read the article when that happens.”

 

1d3f37bRobert Gurdian

Business Strategist

“My main frustration is filling in again something that I already provided to the site. This is particularly frustrating if I provided it in the same visit. An example is when signing in and I get the password wrong, my email should still be filled in after I receive the error.”

 

3a43af4Kate McCormack

Lead Visual Designer

“[I most dislike] websites that have dense and difficult to scan content or service websites that hide their contact information!!!”

 

3bf0618Carolyn Dobbs

UX Lead

“Feature gaps/inexplicable differences in the customer experience across device types irritate me (ahem, Spotify, Hulu, Netflix). Poor interaction support for tablets also burns my hairdo.”

 

257cacbChristina Goldschmidt

Director of User Experience

“The unlabeled hamburger menu, on desktop [is my least favorite]. There are so many great articles out there showing that users don’t realize that all of the important menu items are hidden behind that design element. We’ve seen it ourselves in user testing on projects, yet its still all over!”

 

Do you have any major pet peeves that weren’t mentioned? Comment below!

Uncategorized

Our 10 Favorite Insurance Tweeters Right Now

Getting to know the ins and outs of the industries our clients are a part of is something that is extremely important to us at Ai. One of those particular verticals is insurance. So here are TEN of our favorite insurance experts on Twitter right now in no particular order.

V8W8DIIaName: Shifting Gears – @shiftinggearsio

Followers: 783

Why you should follow them: Shifting Gears is a blog that provides insight on changes to the insurance landscape, innovations in product development, emerging technologies and the world of actuaries. They tweet their own posts along with articles from reputable 3rd party sources like Fortune, TechCrunch and Insurance Thought Leadership among others.

Best Recent Tweet: PSA: You are no longer an insurance agent ‪http://insurancethoughtleadership.com/no-longer-insurance-agent/ … ‪#insurance ‪#innovation

Runner-up: Why Google could be a major force in insurance – insurers should take notes ‪http://insurancethoughtleadership.com/what-i-learned-at-google/ … ‪#insuretech

 

aRMJySEYName: Jonathan Swift – @InsuranceSwifty

Followers: 3,754

Why you should follow him: Jonathan is the director of content for Incisive Media’s insurance division. He has been writing about insurance since 1998 and truly knows the industry inside and out.

Best Recent Tweet: Millennials are key to ‪#insuretech success ‪http://tinyurl.com/j8xwkgm ‪#wakeupinsurance ‪#sta

Runner-up: My list of #insurtech #startup firms who could make waves in 2016 http://tinyurl.com/hfsbfal #wakeupinsurance

 

LtMyFkYm_400x400Name: Deb Smallwood – @dmsmallwood

Followers: 1,178

Why You Should Follow Her: Deb is the founder of Strategy Meets Action, which is a leading research and advisory service firm strictly aimed at the insurance industry. She makes it her business to know the industry inside and out – and it shows on the newsfeed. Some of her best content is

Best Recent Tweet: RT @Insurancethough: How to insure the sharing economy. ‪@monhess ‪#ITL ‪#connected ‪#sharingeconomy ‪http://insurancethoughtleadership.com/how-to-insure-the-sharing-economy/ …

Runner-up: “Want to understand insurance technology priorities and plans for 2016? ” by @dmsmallwood on ‪@LinkedIn ‪https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/want-understand-insurance-technology-priorities-plans-smallwood …

 

SofNxKAFName: Mairi Mallon – @Reinsurancegirl

Followers: 7,714

Why you should follow her: Mairi is a public relations pro who specializes in insurance and risk on a global scale. She engages with people throughout the agency, shares industry articles and promotes events and meet-ups.

Best Recent Tweet: ‪#reinsurance‪ #insurance #ils tweet up in New York – please spread the word and come along! February 25 http://www.rein4ce.co.uk/blog/2016/02/start-spreading-the-news-there-is-a-tweet-up-in-new-york/ … cc@ilsdiva

Runner-Up: RT Global ‪#Reinsurance Outlook “Negative” – Life Reinsurance “Stable” Says ‪@AMBestCo See why ‪@WRINtv ‪http://shrd.by/Cesx3K

 

bW9gd0SjName: Jim Peavy – @ThePeav

Followers: 5,969

Why You Should Follow Him: Jim is a PR/social media/media relations pro in the insurance and reinsurance sectors. He offers interesting commentary on the latest industry trends as well as touching on tech and social media.

Best Recent Tweet: Troubled energy market impacts ‪#insurance via ‪@reutersCarolynC ‪@Noor_ZainabHuss ‪@JGouldReuters ‪@ReutersRachel ‪reut.rs/1TSoXtR ‪ via @Reuters

Runner-up: ‪#Canada‪’s largest life insurer takes C$250 million charge on #oil #investments by @katiadmi #insurance ‪bloom.bg/23YDUPm

 

blog4_big_400x400Name: Emmanuel Kenning – @BrokingBod

Followers: 2,267

Why You Should Follow Him: Emmanuel is the editor of Insurance Age magazine. He covers a lot of insider news about the industry.

Best Recent Tweet: RT @BrokingIda Smaller brokers pushed out of the market because of regulation, says Craig Tracey MP ‪http://tinyurl.com/zvx94ad  ‪#insurance ‪#insurancebroking

Runner-up: Drum roll please… the winner of 2015 ‪#brokerapprentice has been revealed ‪http://tinyurl.com/brokerappwin  check it out here ‪#insurance ‪#broking

 

DVXGZ2E2Name: LearnVest – @LearnVest

Followers: 38.1 K

Summary: While LearnVest focuses on financial planning and making it more affordable as a whole, they spend considerable time on insurance and offer plenty of great insurance resources about the industry as a whole.

Best Recent Tweet: 20 of the best company benefits and perks, rated: ‪http://ow.ly/XUiUU  via ‪@FastCompany

Runner-up: 3 steps to getting the most out of your health plan: ‪http://ow.ly/XJsth  via ‪@MONEY

 

twitterJMName: Jamie Macgregor – @JamieMacgregorC

Followers: 466

Summary: Jamie is an insurance tech and IT strategy specialist out of London. His tweets are informative, interesting and conversational.

Best Recent Tweet: Ouch. Never underestimate the power of regulatory compliance. A lesson for ‪#insurance tech startups from Zenefits?

‪http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/df3caa5e-ceca-11e5-92a1-c5e23ef99c77.html#axzz3zYwtUrvH …

Runner-up: A whopping 43 vendors to choose from in Celent’s latest ‪#insurance PAS report for P&C in EMEA from ‪@cgbeattie. ‪https://lnkd.in/eDjWvcA

 

PC360-no-tag-leftName: Property Casualty 360 – @PC_360

Followers: 20.5k

Summary: PC360 provides total coverage of the P&C insurance market. They tweet often and their content covers

Best Recent Tweet: Why a good ‪#insurance claims experience is so important ‪http://ow.ly/YmlT8  ‪#customerservice

Runner-up: 5 ‪#liability issues restaurant, bar and tavern owner needs to watch out for ‪http://ow.ly/YtGy4  ‪#insurance

 

5efe29807983554210cd2c91e37d06b3Name: Emily Delbridge – @CarInsReview

Followers: 1,156

Summary: Emily writes as an Auto Insurance expert for About.com and Michigan Insurance Review with the purpose of making insurance fun and easy. While her specialty is auto insurance and all that it entails, she also

Best Recent Tweet: Do you have to pay for your own pipes in a frozen pipe home insurance claim? Find out now. ‪http://bit.ly/1dnDLrm  ‪#frozen ‪#home ‪#claims

Runner-up: Curious what is considered to be car insurance fraud? Check it out now! ‪http://abt.cm/1mbTz5g  ‪#insurance ‪#fraud

Business

High Tech Valentine’s Day Gifts for Everyone!

Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s a holiday you love or hate, it is right around the corner. Sticking with candy and flowers may be tradition, but there is no better time than now to upgrade your gift giving skills to include some of today’s latest in greatest in tech. Here are some awesome ideas perfectly tailored to match your special someone’s interests.

For the hobbyist. If your significant other is always tinkering around and building, the perfect gift might be an arduino board. Whether it’s programming robotics or other projects, this gadget is a great place to start. ($24.95)

image3

For the sweet tooth. Candy hearts and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates have always reigned supreme on February 14th. If your
tech lover is also a sweet tooth, why not step outside of the box this year?  Who needs heart shaped chocolates when you can get your special someone iPhone shaped chocolate! ($19.90) Double points if you make it yourself!

FullSizeRender

For the person who can’t put down their phone. Nothing says “I love you and I accept you (and your phone addiction)” like a snazzy new phone case. What better time than now and what better choice than this perfect Marc Jacobs  option that is covered in hearts? It comes in red, pink or white. ($55)

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For the fashion forward fella. What man does’t look dapper in a suit? Dress him up more in a way that is stylish and functional with stainless steel cufflinks from Adafruit. While both look similar, one opens to reveal a USB with 4 GB of storage. ($29)

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For the music lover. Remember a time when people used to make mixed tapes or CDs for the person they were crushing on? While it might seem like music streaming killed the mixed tape, this gift proves that it is not true! With Sharetapes, you can take your love back to a simpler time. Make a playlist on Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, etc and download it onto the credit-card sized tapes. Your special someone will be able to use the card to play the music. ($9.99 for 5 tapes + cost of music)

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For the person who is always snapping pictures. Does the special person in your life constantly snap pics whether the moment being captured is big or small? The Polaroid Instant Snap Digital Camera might be the perfect gift! This 10 megapixel camera has the technology you are used to from a digital camera while also printing out a cute 2×3 polaroid of the shot. ($99.99)

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For the health conscious couple. Unless a person has been living under a rock, it’s impossible to have NOT heard about FitBit. There is no better way to show someone they have your heart than looking after theirs. The FitBit Charge HR goes above and beyond to measure sleep and heart rate while also allowing food and water to be recorded. Like some other wearable trackers, it allows you to connect with other users and challenge them. How’s that for some friendly competition!

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For the consummate host. Your special someone is the person who loves throwing a party or hosting a dinner. Enter the Bartesian. This gadget allows people to make their own premium cocktails using pods filled with mixer ingredients and adding alcohol. Bottoms up! ($299 on preorder)

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Still looking for a valentine? No worries! Enter The League, a free dating app (iOS) that connects smart, ambitious professionals. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, The League has partnered with BloomThat and Minibar to deliver your potential matches booze and flowers. (NYC and San Fran areas only)

Funny Stuff

Selecting Tools for Moderated Remote User Testing

In my previous article, I spoke about how to prepare yourself for a moderated remote usability test. The tools you use while conducting a remote user test are just as important as being prepared. This article is meant to highlight my experience with tools I’ve used in the past for remote user testing.

Using Ethnio for Recruiting and Paying Incentives

Ethnio is a tool that allows you to create a screener, schedule participants and pay them for their time. When you create a screener, you place their JavaScript on your site. They also provide a mobile-friendly direct link for you to place in your Facebook or LinkedIn ads.

Once the user fills out the screener you can use Ethnio’s template emails to schedule the prospect’s test. Ethnio provides a way for you to show users the open testing spots for their choosing. After conducting your user test, you can automatically send the participants their gift cards by simply inserting the participants email and the amount you’d like to pay them.

Ethnio was quick, convenient, and gave us access to the actual users that use the site, not professional user testers.

Something to keep an eye on are their template emails. In the past, we had to contact each participant on our own since we wanted to send them specific information. Despite this, Ethnio is perfect when it comes to recruiting qualified participants quickly.

Prototyping with InVision

InVision allows you to share functioning prototypes with the participant easily and quickly. It helps simulate how the actual site will work. InVision gives you so much control over your design that you are able to make changes on the fly even in between user tests based on the insights you received.

InVision allows you to quickly create hotspots and hover states on your wireframes so the user can go through an experience. When prototyping for user testing, it’s important to make sure the user can carry out entire flows.

Presenting the site in a realistic context is key. It makes it more difficult to get insights when you’re asking the user to imagine what would happen if they explored a specific area of the site. It also helps to turn off the hot spot hinting and commenting while testing. That way you aren’t giving any misleading direction on how to navigate through the site or giving the participant access to view comments between team members. Below is a screenshot of how to share your InVision prototype with your participants.

Prototyping with invision

Remote User Testing with GoToMeeting

For a recent user test, we wanted to be able to view the participant’s screen and record the session so we thought GoToMeeting would be a good option. In the past we’ve used join.me but we were having some issues with the audio and the screen sharing.

GoToMeeting is simple. The only thing the participants need to do is install the GoToMeeting Chrome plugin and from there all they need to do is access a link for their testing session. It’s easy to record our session and there’s no lag time between what the user is looking at and what I see on the screen which is an issue we had with other meeting software.

GoToMeeting allows you to view the user’s reaction and what part of the site they are exploring simultaneously. It helps gather behavioural insights as if you were in the room with them. You can ask participants to share their screen and if you want to view their actual facial reactions, they can use their webcam.

GoToMeeting Screenshot

These tools allowed me to moderate the test and experience the site with the user. I do recommend these tools but I would also explore other ones out there and see what is best for you. I also recommend trying these tools out before your testing sessions in order to make sure you know how to navigate them flawlessly. Once you do, it becomes easier to moderate and to keep your focus on the testing sessions.  

 

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How to Run a Flawless Remote User Testing Session

A guide for planning and running a moderated remote user test

There are plenty of ways you can run a usability test. Most people would advise you to do them in person; others may advise you to use a service that will automate the test. This may not always be an option for your project, so running a moderated remote usability test is the next best thing!

Remote testing can lead to incredibly helpful insights. You get to experience user’s reactions on the fly; and access your own customer base—not a panel of professional user testers. Just like in-person testing, you need to prepare ahead of time, and that prep work is a little more difficult since technology is involved.

This article is meant to help you prepare for a remote user test by highlighting the key actions to consider:

  • Recruiting your own participants
  • Technical check-Ins
  • Scheduling
  • Managing incentives
  • Getting to know the user

There will be moments where participants may back out at the last minute, you’ll run behind schedule, or your software won’t work they way you hoped it would. That’s okay! Because this guide will prepare you for anything that gets thrown your way.

 

Recruiting Your Own Participants

Before you can run a usability test you need to find qualified participants. There are several ways to find the right candidates for your test: use a professional recruiter; recruit from your email subscribers; asking your Twitter and Facebook followers; or recruiting customers directly from your website.

For a recent user test on a client project we chose to use Ethnio, a remote recruiting tool,because they had a very specific user base and loyal customers that we needed to target. Ethnio allowed us to place a screener on the client’s website and ask questions that would help us rule them in or out.

When determining whether or not a participant is qualified for the test, ask yourself the following questions when evaluating their responses.

  • Does the participant have anything to do with the development or design of what you are testing?
  • Do they represent your personas that you developed or a target audience you are trying to reach?  
  • Are they already familiar with the website and subject matter?

Once you have your participants ready you should plan to conduct a technical check-in.

 

Preparing for Technical Check-Ins

Before you run the usability test I recommend conducting a technical check-in prior to the big day. Asking a participant for an extra phone call prior to the session can be seen as a waste of time. It’s important to remind the user why they signed up and give some details so they know what to expect during their testing session.

In order to make the testing event successful we know we need to do a 15 minute dry run a few days before the test to check the technology. We adjusted the language of our email to let the participant know what we expected of them. Here is an example email template we used for a recent test:

 

Hello [Name],

Thank you for signing up to participate in our research for X website! We can’t wait to hear your thoughts about what we’re working on.

We will reach out separately to schedule your 60 minute research session on Tuesday 12/8. During this session you will explore our site and get a $100 Visa gift card for your feedback.

But first, we wanted to do a quick technical check-in with you in order to test the software we’ll be using for the session. Are you available for a 15 minute technical check-in on Friday, 12/4 between the hours of 9:00am EST – 4:00pm EST?

There are a few things you will need to prepare for this tech check in.

  1. We’d like to make sure that you have access to a web browser like Google Chrome. If you don’t have access to it already, please download it before our call here: https://www.google.com/chrome/.
  2. Once you have Google Chrome installed, please download the following extension so [moderator’s name] can view your screen: We will be using GoToMeeting to share screens. You can go to this link and click “Add to Chrome” to install the extension.

Thank you for your time and feel free to ask any questions.

Best,

[Moderator’s Name]

 

Conducting the Technical Check-Ins

For this testing session we used GoToMeeting to share and record screens. Many of the users weren’t familiar with GoToMeeting. We needed to make sure they had the proper plug-in installed and knew how to share their screen. Taking 15–20 minutes to do this saves time and decreases the chances of things going wrong during the actual testing session.

For those who didn’t end up doing a technical check in, we spent a lot of time trying to make sure the audio and screen sharing was working properly. There were times GoToMeeting just kept freezing or the user couldn’t hear me. During another session, a user didn’t realize that they needed to be on their computer in order to walk through the prototype. Running a technical check-in helps avoid these issues.

If you plan on using GoToMeeting (GTM) for user testing, you can follow these steps during your technical check in.

  1. A few minutes before the scheduled technical check-in time, open the GTM desktop app and log in to the meeting. You have to manually enter the meeting number.
  2. Dial into the audio via the phone then put it on speakerphone and mute the phone to dial-in your audio code. Remember to un-mute when your user gets on the line.
  3. You can see when your user enters the meeting as their name will appear in the participant list in the GTM app. You can also see whether they are connected to the phone or computer audio by the icon next to their name in the app.
  4. After thanking the participant, walk them through the screen share setup if they haven’t connected already.
  5. Press “Change Presenter” in the GTM desktop app. Normally, this will prompt them to download the desktop app, but if they have the Chrome extension installed, they won’t have to. Remind them to share their entire screen, not just the GTM screen.
  6. If you want to also see their face and they’ve agreed to using a webcam, direct them to the camera icon in the GTM in-browser view.  
  7. Make sure their web cam feed and their screen are visible on your desktop.
  8. Send them a URL via the chat function (something neutral like google.com) to make sure they can find and use chat. This way you’ll be able to send them links.

Now that you’ve done your technical check-ins, you can focus on scheduling the actual user testing sessions.

 

Scheduling

You should dedicate entire work days to user testing. That way you get in the flow of testing and won’t get interrupted by other tasks. For one of our projects, I dedicated two days to user testing with four sessions each day. Each session was an hour and I added time in between each session. When scheduling tests it’s helpful to give yourself 15–30 minutes in between sessions for you to debrief with your team. Take this moment to review your notes and figure out if there are any questions you would like to ask differently or explore different task during the next round of testing.

Since you are using an hour of someone’s time to conduct research, it’s important to provide an incentive to show your appreciation for agreeing to participate in your study.

 

Managing Incentives

Ethnio allowed us to use their site to deliver Visa gift card codes to the participants. When it comes to determining the value of the incentive, consider the value of the insights they will give you and how hard it was to recruit participants. If you know that the project you are working on has a very specific and unique user set, you may want to give them a larger incentive. Typically, we like to provide an $50 incentive for 30 minutes; $100 for 60 minutes. Don’t forget to include that incentive in the screener to attract participants.

 

Get to Know the Participants

The participant is going to be nervous. They have to speak to a complete stranger, answer non-stop questions and be recorded for an hour. In order for them to be comfortable and truly say what’s on their mind, the moderator needs to move the conversation past the typical “good morning” and “how’s your day going?”

Have a pre-interview script ready and ask them about  their experiences with the site. Get to know why they were on the site in the first place. Some questions we like to ask are:

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Occupation, if relevant
  4. How they discovered the site?
  5. What were they trying to do on the site? Read an article or purchase an item?
  6. What is their level of knowledge of what the site provides?
  7. How often do they go to the site?

Then ask them questions based on their answers. If they mention they were purchasing a specific item, ask them why or for whom. Following up based on their answers can help you figure out what experience the user was having on the site. From there on it becomes easier to walk through the prototype, make a few jokes and really hear about their experience with the design.

Once you follow these steps, and get through the first hurdle of getting to know a participant, you should be ready for testing. Following all of these steps will make your remote user test go smoothly. Now all you have to focus on is developing your script to facilitate the conversation. Good luck and get to testing!

 

UX