Todd Astroth

User Experience

My passion for user-centered design grew while working in quality assurance. I had the opportunity to work with a variety of stakeholders as well as provide customer support. Since that time, I have learned just how vast the field of user-centered design really is and all of the tools and methodologies available. From user research, to information architecture, to prototyping, to usability testing, there is a lot of consideration that can go into a design before even beginning to develop the product.

Below details my history of working in the field of User Experience, followed by my Top Ten UX Tips.

Gale / Cengage Learning

Gale is a company that has specialized in library research materials since 1954. Cengage Learning purchased Gale in 2007 and began also focusing on selling digital curriculum tools for the classroom.

Librarians have been very familiar with the Gale name for years, which is synonymous with library research. However, as an unfortunate side effect of the merger with Cengage, Gale's web presence and catalog were pushed to a subdirectory of the Cengage.com website. This resulted in poor sales, confused customers, and an uncertain business model. As such, my colleague and I were tasked with redesigning Gale.com.

We spent the first month learning more about Gale's complete list of products and the key points of contact within the company. We created a list of Gale customers as personas and had the Marketing team decide which personas where of highest priority. We then interviewed customers who matched the personas and used the feedback to begin designing an initial prototype. The prototype was then assessed by additional customers, and we refined the prototype design. The project then quickly broadened in scope to include the needs of international customers, the need for a new Gale content management system, as well as including the ability to make Gale.com into a one-step-shop for both customers and product users.

Redesigning Kmart.com

Often times, e-commerce sites can become overly complex, and it can become exceedingly difficult to locate what you need on the site. A discouraged user is a lost customer. For a team project in one of my classes at DePaul University, my team decided to redesign the e-commerce aspects of Kmart.com.

As part of Team Matokijo, we worked together to define the current state of the Kmart.com site (as of April 2013) and identify issues regarding site structure and product organization. After gathering input from users, the team used design principles and other information architecture concepts to redesign a simplified site structure and new page wireframes.

Evaluating a Travel Website

"Flights With Friends" was a travel website that allowed friends to collaborate online to plan trips. Friends could also reserve flights, hotels, and rental cars.

As an ongoing class-long project, my team performed various forms of evaulation on this website, locating areas of improvement. We first performed a heuristic evaluation and contextual inquiry. We then tested our recommendations by performing usability testing with mockups of the actual site versus our recommendations.

Chicago City Services App

The "City of Chicago" website offers numerous tools and services to citizens - everything from paying a water bill to reporting a pothole.

For a class assignment, I designed wireframes for a mobile app that would accomplish these services without the extra clutter of the desktop site. I designed wireframes for two sample scenarios that demonstrate the capabilities of the app. I started by designing for iOS, and then designed equivalent screens for Android.

UX Interactive Lesson

For my "Learner-Centered Design" class, I designed an interactive lesson which teaches the learner about UX concepts. There is a massive amount of detail that goes into UX, but I felt I could easily introduce someone to the basics via this lesson.

Designed in Axure, the lesson follows a simple pattern of explanation of concepts followed by simple multiple choice questions. I designed the lesson to minimize clutter and ease the user into the subject matter.

Todd's Top Ten UX Tips

  1. Limit the use of icon-only buttons, unless you are low on space. There is not a perfect icon for every situation.
  2. Do not fall victim to the infamous "Feature Creep!" Focus on supporting the most solid project features. This keeps the application from becoming a huge jungle of content.
  3. Limit flyout submenus to one level only. Adding more submenus requires pinpoint mouse precision on the user's part.
  4. A 2-column web layout suffices in most cases. 3-column layouts often result in a cluttered look which results in the user skipping much of the content anyway.
  5. Is the customer "always right?" Sort of. The customer knows what they want to accomplish, but they are not always aware of the best methods to accomplish the task.
  6. Keep it consistent! Humans are habitual creatures, so keeping things consistent will cut down on the time to re-learn an interface.
  7. We UX Specialists do not have all the answers. Think of us as mediators that seek out the best solution that will suffice for both users and stakeholders alike.
  8. Just like coding, avoid a "Spaghetti Site Map". A more maze-like site will not only confuse customers but your development team as well.
  9. Remember to put yourself in the user's shoes. Often times, development teams think in more advanced technical terms, which results in an often over-advanced interface.
  10. Limit the use of popups, ads, or intro videos on websites. These often just serve as roadblocks that tend to annoy busy customers.