Meet Brian Williamson, BBG’s User Experience Designer. He’s one of the newest BBG team members who will be working closely with ODDI’s Manager of Design, Steve Fuchs, to deliver an enhanced user experience across a wide variety of interactive platforms.
Luck Is When Preparedness Meets Opportunity
As an undergraduate, Williamson attended art school—specializing in illustration and painting. Afterward, he enrolled in grad school to focus on visual journalism, went on to teach magazine design at the same university, and then was hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He worked there for a number of years as a page designer, graphic artist and illustrator. After showing a simple Flash-based portfolio to his boss, he was tapped to create interactive projects for the newsroom.
By combining basic programming with design and journalism, he was able to produce a variety of interactive graphics for sports, politics and business stories. Williamson’s portfolio helped him land a job at XPLANE, an information design company that explains technical business ideas and processes through graphics, animations, and illustration. But, Williamson began to really miss journalism. This then lead him to his current position at ODDI as the User Experience Designer, which he calls “a good fit”.
All In a Day’s Work
Since coming on board, Williamson has primarily focused on ODDI projects, but he plans to expand his focus to other BBG entities in need of UX guidance. Currently, Williamson says he is working “to explain how to use the products and the value of the products,” referring to a host of digital tools now offered to BBG producers and journalists. “ODDI is creating some amazing tools and resources for journalists,” he says. “The office needs to promote these new tools and explain their value to busy journalists.”
BBG will have lots of “new tools to illustrate the news,” adds Fuchs. And, since many BBG websites are being redesigned to be responsive, Williamson and Fuchs can focus on the user experience—particularly for mobile use—“which is a totally different animal,” Fuchs sums up. “We are going to look at the classic storytelling task, then re-imagine it,” Fuchs explains about the projects that lie ahead for the BBG entities, “and there is a very strong interest to do those things.”
Providing Familiarity and Consistency for Users
“Go into the Apple store and you have all these different screens to check out the news,” Fuchs points out as an example of how rapid the technological landscape can change. Therefore, changing the needs for a good user experience. He suggests looking at new products constantly or “at least every two years” to do usability experience tests because things are changing so quickly. “It’s not only complicated by people using different devices in different ways, but we also have all these countries, and cultures, and languages involved,” expresses Fuchs.
But what are the top recommendations for improving user experience, considering all these factors? “Communicate that this is a trusted news source and positively inspire trust,” concludes Fuchs, “Meet people on their own turf in a way that they trust.”
Looking To the Future
Williamson knows that predicting the future landscape of the newsroom, let alone user experience needs, is a tough task. Of particular concern to him is actually getting too far ahead of the curve and producing a user experience that is too advanced for those using older phones or Internet browsers. “The great advantage of using responsive web design is that we’re not just targeting high speed and iPad people… news will be accessible to all levels,” he says. Thus, experiences tailored to individual devices are likely the best way forward. “If they’re using a basic feature phone that has some capabilities, we’ll just serve them a smaller file size that will load quickly on their device,” states Williamson. After all, it would be a shame to produce great content across the BBG entities but not have a great digital product to present the material. Luckily, with Williamson’s and Fuchs’ eye for design, the future of USIM looks good on my Android (and on your iPhone, too).
—> THE LATEST via FUCHS
ODDI will be conducting Mobile Usability Testing at the Hubert Humphrey building in early December. Usability testing is a structured interview technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a digital product. It gives direct input on how real users use the digital interface. A test participant and a test facilitator run through a series of task-based questions designed to gauge how easy and intuitive our current mobile design is. Each session is videotaped and metrics are collected (time on task, false starts, whether a task was completed, etc). This is a broad baseline test to find any existing issues prior to the next mobile redesign in 2013. The team will be testing the English Mobile Development site with English as Second Language students from various countries around the world.
So, stay tuned. Fuchs and Williamson will do a blog post documenting the process of testing and they will also issue a report summarizing the findings at the end of December.
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(Thank you to Brian Williamson and Steve Fuchs for their contributions to this post. To contact Williamson: bwilliamson at bbg dot gov [or] @drawinghands. To contact Fuchs: sfuchs at bbg dot gov)
(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)