Mediabarn

The purpose of our blog is to provide our readers with a variety of posts that they are interested in. From our studio, research, and staffing agency, all branches of Mediabarn contribute to creating insightful and fun reads. We hope to educate, inform, and entertain with topics ranging from what's going on in our office to current industry trends worldwide.

Mid-November can only mean one thing: the Holidays are rapidly approaching. With that comes feelings of happiness, joy, love, and self-giving, but it could also mean feeling a bit overwhelmed.

If you’re like me, your calendar is typically full. Between working, getting to the gym, completing your chores and errands, and making time for friends and family, your brain may be on the brink of overload. Now throw in all of those holiday parties, dinners, travels, and shopping, and they can surely add a bump to your routine.

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Here are some tips on how to manage your time and remain productive at work during the hustle and bustle of the season:

Organize: Organization is key. Come up with a to-do list in order to manage your thoughts and tasks, as this will help you mentally prepare and stay productive. “The psychological relief of clearing your mental clutter and then removing some burdens is immense. It makes your holidays more joyful and energizes you to accomplish your front burner tasks,” says The Productivity Coach, Casey Moore. You can also check out Real Simple for a great list of apps that can act as your own personal assistant and help simplify your life (even year round).

Plan ahead: “If you know the week before Christmas is especially busy on the personal front with school concerts, visiting relatives or even charity work you may be involved with, anticipate and communicate this early,” suggests international business speaker, Michael Kerr. Plan your calendar accordingly so that you won’t end up working overtime. And be sure to sync your calendars to the various devices you use to stay on track!

Separate work and play: It can often times be difficult (for some of us more than others) to remain focused on just work. At the office, don’t pick up the habit of online shopping or trying to cram buying all of your gifts during your break. Avoiding multitasking will help you excel in your work-related tasks, as well as helping keep you sane.

Exercise: If there’s one thing you shouldn’t compromise, it’s your health! Exercising will help keep your energy levels up and keep you on track both physically and mentally. Even taking that extra walk during your lunch break can help boost your productivity at work. Plus, you won’t feel too guilty when having an extra holiday treat or two!

Effectively dividing your time and finding the balance between work and play is important so that you don’t burn out or fall off track. Stay organized and keep your momentum up during this season, and you’ll find that you can start your new year off on the right foot!

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From focusing on Facebook status updates and tone, to using the right #hashtags and keeping your tweets under 140 characters, managing corporate social media can be challenging. There are many elements to keep in mind when strategizing your next update, but there’s a science to achieving higher engagement! All you need is some good content and proper planning.

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Consider these facts next time you’re posting something:

Twitter: Schedule your tweets around lunchtime. The Twitterverse is especially buzzing Monday through Thursday while you’re grabbing a bite, but once Friday afternoon rolls around, people have checked out for the weekend. Want more engagement? Add an image or video and you’re guaranteed to boost your numbers.

Facebook: Now’s your chance to use your audience’s mid-afternoon slump to your advantage. Since many people are getting back to their desks around this time, it’s likely they’re checking their Facebook too. According to Entrepreneur, the highest average click through rate is from 1pm to 4pm. Avoid posting on the weekends and between 8pm to 8am, as people are typically caught up with other things.

LinkedIn: We’re always stressing the importance of making connections on social media sites such as LinkedIn, but what good will that do if no-one is there to read it? Share your updates midweek around noon and 5pm in order to utilize it as an effective engagement tool.

Most importantly, ensure that your content is relevant, meaningful, and interesting – that’s when engagement increases. You could have mastered the science behind when users are likely to see what you’ve shared, but at the end of the day, content matters. Combine your quality content with appropriate scheduling, and your marketing efforts are sure to skyrocket.

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What is Wrong with Sandwiches?!!

The above title is what my 10 year old son yelled out of frustration as he watched his hamburger smothered in ketchup fall out of his hands, quickly landing on EVERYTHING. His blaming the burger, but not the hands that held it, made me chuckle. Obviously if the burger was designed differently this would not have happened, right? Or would he have dropped any kind of sandwich at that exact moment because his hands were not holding it correctly? A usability or user issue?

I describe this incident as a very loose parallel to UX issues that we often see during usability testing. How do we know if a usability issue is truly the fault of the interface? The debate has gone on for years, where many would argue that there is no such thing as “user error” –  that it’s always an issue with the product; while some may claim that no interface/design will have a 100% success rate for users.

  • Your participant didn’t see the search bar. Was it because it wasn’t where they expected it to be or was it because it truly was not in a clear or obvious place?
  • A participant doesn’t go to the “correct” link during a task. Did they not understand where to go because the task was not phrased in a way they would have expected, or is the interface really preventing completion?
  • The user didn’t notice the ad you wanted them to see. Was it because it was not prominent enough or did the messaging not resonate or make sense to them?

There are many other examples; those are just a few of the more common ones.

Regardless of what the task and results are – it is important to note during testing that people tend to blame themselves even when it’s not their fault, so be mindful and patient.

Generally, things will resolve to whether or not the interface works within standard expectations. It’s our role as experts to know what those standards are and how to make sure they constantly evolve while technology expands, without reinventing what already works.

With any UI design, if you deviate too far outside of what users generally expect, you run the risk of them missing features or not knowing how it would work. However, if we design for every person’s expectations could there be one perfect interface? Or, more importantly…one perfect spill-proof sandwich?

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For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you made it through a phone screen. This is important to note because it means the employer liked what they saw on your resume and you probably met most (if not all) of the requirements for the job. With that in mind, we’re going to focus on what happened during the next step, the in person interview and why you received the “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Let’s face it, interviews are tough. There are many variables that come into play. Whether you’re meeting with one person, a group of 7 or need to make it through staggered rounds of different teams, all it takes is one person to sink you. Let’s discuss some of the things that can go wrong so you can better prepare yourself and land that next interview.

· You were late – Don’t let this happen. Even if you have to sit in your car for 30 minutes before your interview, leave early to ensure you’re timely. There’s nothing worse than making a busy hiring manager wait for you.

· You weren’t a good fit - This is one I hear often and is typically reserved as a catchall. It usually means you rubbed someone the wrong way for one reason or another. Some common reasons are: simple personality mismatch, appearance, over confident, not enthusiastic enough, too demanding about what you need.

· Connections – It’s all about who you know. There’s a possibility that someone else had an in. With social networking becoming such a large part of our daily lives, this is something you should use to your advantage. By simply establishing a connection through these networks prior to your interview, it helps build a relationship and gets you one step closer to having your own “in”.

· Change of direction – Often times, clients think they know what they need until it’s right in front of them. Only then do they realize that’s not it at all. If this is the case, don’t sweat it – it was nothing you did or could have avoided. Don’t be shy in communicating your experiences and skills that could fit what they’re now looking for. If delivered properly, you’ve positioned yourself as a strong candidate for the new role.

· You weren’t prepared - I can’t stress this enough. Spend time getting to understand who you’ll be meeting with, and their role and responsibilities. If you have a solid background of the company and the individuals, you can tailor your questions to be relevant. Once they feel like you “get it”, you’ve elevated yourself above the competition. Make yourself look good: do your research and ask smart questions.

· Did you close the deal? - Interviews can often times end abruptly and awkwardly, but they don’t have to! As you see things starting to wind down, see if they have any other questions. Ask if they have any concerns about your background that you can address, and most importantly, be sure to close with why you feel like you’re a good match. Take some of your research combined with what you uncovered with your “smart” questions and leverage your background to show clear examples of why you’d be strong for it.

· Follow up - This is something that’s often overlooked. Get their business cards and send a thoughtful thank you email or handwritten note. Don’t overdo it, keep it short, sweet and gracious. Any fluff will immediately be transparent.

And no matter what, don’t take it personally – interviews are hard. From a limp handshake, to too much perfume/cologne, many things can go wrong. In my opinion, focus on being the right fit. This is one you can work on prior, during and even after the interview. Since managers are more likely to hire candidates they relate to, this should be a point of emphasis for you to nail that next job!

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7 Tips for Successful Screeners

When it comes to market research, the group of participants taking part are a crucial component to the success of the project. Comprising a faction of high quality, qualified respondents is a process that comes with its own set of challenges, but creating a great group starts with a well built screening questionnaire. Not only does a well written screener aide in the success of the project, but it can also save a lot of time and money on the client end!

So, what makes an effective screening questionnaire? There are several points that should be closely reviewed before stamping a draft with the seal of final approval for fielding.

1. Before you begin wiring your questionnaire, be sure you have a clear outline of what you’re aiming to achieve from this research study. Ensure you have a solid understanding of the intent and purpose, what types of participants would provide the most useful data, and how you will utilize the collected data after the study concludes. All of these factors weigh in on the pertinency of the questions you choose to include for screening.

2. Limit the questions to those that really have the most impact on the scope of the study. By putting in too many questions, you run the risk of turning off a potentially great respondent because the time commitment up front is too long and monotonous, and may also relay a message of a disorganized study. You also run the risk of redundant questions that may inadvertently disqualify participants who are the right fit for the research. Contradictory questions create a lot of confusion for the interviewers and respondents, alike.

3. Be mindful of skip patterns and recruiters notes. While most recruiting firms will pick up on errors, it’s not always clear what direction your skip pattern should take an interviewer as opposed to the direction it is taking them. Also, leaving off notes that give instructions for disqualification can create confusion if there aren’t clear cut guides to quotas. If these errors aren’t caught early, the entire recruiting process may be compromised.

4. When you can, limit excessive quotas. There are certainly instances where an abundance of parameters are absolutely necessary in order to collect the best possible data. But most times, this isn’t the case. Excessive specifications create more obstacles for the recruiting firm to find the multiple needles in the haystack, and also put your project at rick of losing valuable respondents who may be screened out over an insignificant detail. Some quotas are always expected, but be careful about adding quotas to the quotas (and so forth).

5. Keep the wording of the questions limited and easy to follow. Remember, most recruiting firms interview potential candidates over the phone by reading from the script you provide. If the questions are too wordy or complicated, a respondent may lose focus, or misunderstand the question, which may inadvertently lead to a false or inaccurate response. This could compromise the quality of the recruit, but can be avoided by keeping questions simple, short and direct.

6. Review the order of your questions, and ensure it has the correct flow. When possible, include all qualifying questions at the front end of the screener. This will save time on the recruiting end, and also reduce the number of candidates who spend excessive time answering questions only to be turned away at the end. Demographic and other sensitive questions are typically best suited for the back end of the screener, and folks who don’t have to answer these right out of the gate are more inclined to answer. Make sure the questions are aligned in an order that makes logical sense and doesn’t disrupt the flow.

7. Finally, before you send your screening questionnaire out into the field, ask someone to read it out loud to you. Role play, as if you are the candidate and the other person is the interviewer. This will give you first opportunity to hear how the screener reads, and pick up on any potential issues. Also ask that person to look over any skip patterns you may have included to be sure they make sense and don’t elicit confusion. Give your document one last look over to make sure nothing obvious needs correcting before sending it along.

Once the recruiting firm has the screener in hand, ask them to review it and provide any feedback they may have. If there are issues, they will be sure to let you know! It is also important to keep in mind that when the recruit has been fielding and not producing after extensive efforts, it is usually an indication that there is a significant issue with the screener: either the questionnaire or the specifications. If you make the process near impossible, it will be near impossible to fill with quality respondents. Remember, the success of the project starts with a sound screener!

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Wcoollogo_com-160351114ith social media’s increasing impact on daily life and communication, staffing firms have taken to tools like hashtags on Twitter or specific filters and groups on LinkedIn to help better assist them with their recruitment strategy in uncovering the best possible candidates. Staffing firms, job seekers and employers are using these different platforms to connect and fill positions both internally and externally. In fact, many fortune 500 companies have recently developed and/or reinforced their hiring strategies to better focus on social media as a recruitment tool, and for good reason. In a recent survey from Spherion, 47 percent of Millennials now say a prospective employer’s online reputation matters as much as the job it offers. Companies have finally grown wise and are continuously adapting this breakthrough in their development and engagement practices. Below are some recent findings and trends that demonstrate how social media and staffing are making a strong duo:

  • “Aside from passively marketing their companies, recruiters are messaging prospects directly, getting introduced through connections and posting jobs in groups. They are using these networks to fish where the fish are.” - TIME
  • “Because the desired opportunities rarely exist on job boards, and job seekers are participating in communities all over the web, social media can become a fascinating place for employers to find talent that they may not be able to find otherwise.” - Forbes
  • “The Society for Human Resource Management recently found that more than 75% of companies use social networking sites to recruit job candidates — and recruiters are often going beyond professionally oriented platforms like LinkedIn.” - Mashable

Social media sites and tools have seen an increasing role with our recruitment team in uncovering talent and improving the time frame with which we fill a position. In fact, we’ve seen a steady rise in inquiries from jobs that we have posted on Twitter and messages from potential candidates through LinkedIn who saw a post about our jobs. Not only are we able to successfully engage and recruit talent through social media, but these platforms have also allowed us to create an arena where we are able to interact and build relationships with our clients as well. By effectively utilizing this shift in communication and technology, we’re transforming the “same old” activities into a combination of strengthening our brand and successfully reaching people in every corner of the interweb. These social media platforms are continually available at your fingertips, and more often than not, they’re free. So be sure to stay up-to-date and link up with us on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook. We’d love to connect with you!

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Time for a Redesign?

How many years should you wait before redesigning your website? I get asked this question a lot.

Truthfully, there’s no specific time period or magical formula that determine whether it’s a good time to freshen up your web presence, redesign from scratch or simply leave it as is. Certain factors play a big role in making that decision though, such as budget, time, and resources available.

While it’s not an exact science, you can consider a few questions to help determine what might be the logical next step for your site.

1)     Do you have a lot of new content that’s being thrown into a “more resources” bucket?

If the answer is yes, it may be time to rethink the core structure of the site and consider exploring a revised information architecture (site map structure) to accommodate your latest, updated information. Note that whatever you design, it should be built to be expanded upon, so it doesn’t leave you with that all too familiar “catch all” section.

2)     Have you rebranded yourself lately? New logo? New mission?

This would be a good time to modify the site to relay your new brand. A new palette and style could add a few more years to your site’s life. If you have all new content as well, see item 1.

3)     Is your site full of stock imagery?

If you’ve read my prior posts, you know how I feel about this. ;-) Lose the stock. Can’t afford custom images or graphics? Find newer stock and use less of it. At the very least, change your main “hero” images often. Your users are likely to get tired of looking at the same picture over and over again, and this small change can make a big difference.

4)     How does your content read?

Is the tone of your copy up to date? It may be time to rewrite copy and update your messaging if you’re still referring to the World Wide Web or mentioning people or services that are no longer part of your organization.

5)     Is your most recent news item from over a month ago?

If you have news or a “what’s new” section on your site and it’s over 2-3 weeks old – you need to make a change. This timely content lets users know you’re constantly online and up to speed on everything. Letting your site appear dated via old content tells your audience “we aren’t paying attention.”

6)     How old is your site?

Although I mentioned there was no specific expiration date to a website, chances are if it was built over 5 years ago, the technology and design are really outdated (and it shows). This reflects on your overall brand. Design styles and various functions have changed and you may want to take advantage of some of the newer looks and possible site features.

7)     Your site was built in 1999

Full redesign. STAT.

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Keep the Creativity Flowing

 

We have all seen beautifully designed websites, cool looking apps and slick ads. When I look at these, I often admire how creative they are and how talented the designer(s) were that did the work. It got me wondering – what do designers do now to constantly maintain a level of enthusiasm, creativity and just sustain an overall energy that allows them to come up with great ideas and fantastic art?

Waaaay back, and I do mean a really long time ago, when I was a graphic designer, I would occasionally feel “stuck” while working on a project – where nothing I concepted was hitting the mark. I found that going to the library (yes, a real library – not an online version) and looking through the beautiful photos in art history books, browsing graphic novels and just sitting in the quiet area would really help to re-energize me and get my creative spark back on track. Is a trip to the library still a popular remedy?

I asked some of my very *favorite designers who I work with almost daily. They had a variety of responses, all really interesting and helpful if you’re experiencing a mental block in any field of work.

Andy Parker, our very own Lead Experience Designer, had this to say: “The web is the most ultimate modern library resource we have the fortune to access. I have bookmarked sites and ‘best-of’ showcasing sites but the best method I find is to capture the most popular and relevant design-related work is news feeds. For this I use everything from Flipbook, Pinterest (iPad apps) to Feedly.com. This way the content is served to you and you are kept up-to-date on a daily basis.”

Some other tips and methods that could help:

- Explore: Sketching and doodling down everything that comes to mind. During this period there’s no right or wrong – only the goal of generating as many ideas as you can in the shortest possible amount of time.

- Read: Reading good design and UX books can often give you a new perspective or motivate you to try something new.

- Recharge: Just walk away. Take a walk, go do something completely different to gain some temporary distance.

- Listen: One of our designers is also a musician so sometimes he takes a break to play his guitar. If you don’t play an instrument, that’s ok. Just listening to good music (whatever that means to you) can really help get you going.

- Communicate: bounce ideas of a friend or fellow designer. We do this a lot at Mediabarn. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting involving a white board, it could be a phone call or a quick meet up for coffee

- Educate: Although not all conferences are created equal, they can be a good way to motivate and inspire you. Networking is always a plus at events as well.

In general, constantly coming up with new and innovate ideas can be tiring. Trying some of these tactics might help you regain your creativity and avoid the all too common burn out.

 

*Special thanks to Andy, Sarah, Scott and Patrick for your thoughts.

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Work Hard, Play Hard

From understanding UX, to learning how to manage working in a fast-paced environment, I’ve gained tons of knowledge since beginning my journey at the ‘Barn (you can read how intimidated I was when I first started here). One thing I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with is getting caught up in the typical “daily grind” that a majority fall victim to here in the DC area.

Many people get lost in their 9-5 business infused life, and in turn are left with stress and frustration. In a recent study performed by APA, about 50% of DC-area residents report having been irritable or angry at least once in the past month due to stress, and 61% of workers reported that heavy workloads have a significant impact on work stress levels. Fortunately, Mediabarn’s mission statement doesn’t include the words “stress” or “frustration”. That’s not to say we don’t get stressed from time to time, but we try and do things to help offset it while here at work.

We all enjoy spending time at the ‘Barn, and it’s a given because we are passionate about what we do. And when you combine that with a little bit of fun, we avoid being part of such a large negative stress statistic. “There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation” says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play. Plus, according to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (a global design company), people are willing to take more creative risks in an office where they have the security and comfort to play and not be judged. We’ve found that whether it’s taking a mid-day break to check out the new ice cream shop around the block, or spending the day kayaking on the Potomac River, Mediabarn’s spirited environment keeps our Monday mornings sunny year-round.

MBTeamIf you’re looking to brighten
things up around your office, here are some of the ‘Barn’s favorite
team building activities that you may want to consider to keep employees happy, healthy and productive. Take it from this ‘Barn-ette, it makes a difference!

  • Museums
  • Golf Outing
  • Bowling
  • Baseball games
  • Amusement parks
  • Food cookoffs
  • Happy hours
  • Concerts
  • Monuments

 

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As more of our clients develop sites and apps for mobile devices, we have seen an increased need to conduct usability testing on tablets and smartphones. Finding the right recording solution has been challenging, especially when compared to recording desktop usability sessions.
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For desktop usability, there are many different applications that allow us to capture screen interactions along with a picture-in-picture view of a participant’s face. When trying to apply this to mobile device testing, it’s particularly difficult to capture an accurate and clear video recording of the session. Although clients typically want to see the participant’s face, often it’s more important to see what the user’s hands and fingers are tapping and swiping on the mobile device.

An added complication is that the mobile devices are… mobile; in other words, participants move them during the session, making video capture an even bigger challenge. Here at Mediabarn, we made the decision at the onset to develop a mobile testing solution that wouldn’t require any attachments (e.g., cameras, sleds, or wires) to the device. We felt that wrapping a device with mounts and wires would create an unusual user experience.

In order to mimic as lifelike an environment in the usability lab as possible, we offer a variety of flexible solutions and equipment, including wireless HD connections, wiring and power in our ceilings, and a large selection of cameras, mounts and arms. Our recording system allows us to try various approaches and enables us to cater to diverse groups of participants, dependent on the objectives of each unique study. For example, we discovered that testing mobile devices with kids requires a different setup than one we might use with adults. Specifically, kids have a tendency to pull devices into their laps, while adults seem content to use devices on the tabletop. During longer studies, however, we have found that adults tend to pull the device closer to their chest and lap as their arms become fatigued. The bottom line is that our technical approach considers the participants, the type of device, the type of site or app being tested, and the length of study.

We essentially have two main setups:

(1) Camera. We have a number of different camera setups. Generally, we use an “over the shoulder” view or our telescoping arm document camera (our most recent equipment addition). This setup allows for a clear view of the screen as well as what the respondent is doing on the screen. We find that most of our clients are more interested in seeing how participants manipulate what they see on the screen, so this is what we record. Additionally, there are two cameras (one on each side of the participant) showing body language or facial expressions. When we’re testing kids, or for longer studies, we use ceiling cameras, placed to the right or left of the respondent so that their head will not block our view if they lean over the device.

(2) Apple mirroring and Airplay. When it’s more important for our clients to have a crystal clear view of what is on the device screen than to see participants’ hand or finger movements, we use this type of screen capture recording. As with the other technique, the dual cameras capture facial expressions and body movements.

While we would love to have a single solution for recording mobile device usability tests, we have found that maintaining a flexible approach is the best way to fulfill the needs of our clients and their individual projects.

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