Tag Archives: emagister

Designing a new interaction pattern for online questionaries

Self-evaluation and 360° feedback surveys are important tools in the human resources toolbox. Sadly, most online self-tests have evolved little compared to other web apps. When Emagister asked me to design their new self-evaulation test, I introduced my own, admittedly small, innovation to one of the test’s key interaction. I’ll explain the story here.

Questionnaires are the opposite of fun

Fact: questionnaires are about answering questions. Fact: answering questions kind of sucks. One more fact: HR questionaries have an added handicap, they have lots and lots of similar questions. The questionnaire we used at Emagister was no exception. It’s called the Holland Vocational Preference Inventory (even the name is long!) and it boasts 60 multiple-choice questions that could bring a 3rd grader to tears. Thanks to the indomitable Alberto Almansa‘s HR wizardry, we were able to cut the questions down to 11 but that’s still way too long. I had to come up with a tiny interaction miracle by making 11 questions:

  • Easy (don’t make me click too much)
  • Fast (don’t make me read too much)
  • Fun (don’t bore me)

Ruling out existing patterns

I tried existing interaction patterns in the hopes they would be usable, intuitive and fast. I always start with the most common design solutions. I really despise forced innovation aka designing to impress my designer friends. Here are some early attempts:


Two part questions


Tag selecting


Standard exam questions

These solutions “worked” but none of them were good enough. They all either required two interactions on the same item: one click to select the item and a second click to rank it.

Dead end? Let’s play

We were pretty frustrated and may have even turned to a cold afterwork beer to ease the pain. That’s when Gustavo and I decided to play. Let’s talk about play for a moment. Play rocks because it distracts you from thinking consciously about the problem in front of you and lets your subconscious take the wheel. Your subconscious eats these kind of challenges for breakfast by repeatedly imagining seemingly illogical solutions to the problem until one sticks and floats up to the conscious brain. I’m a big fan of the subconscious (ask me to show you my Freud tattoo). Play is also great because it’s physical. This is ideal for testing out real world interactions quickly.

The breakthrough

It was while playing that we had our big breakthrough. We could get users to select and rank their selections in just one step. All we had to do was ask users to drag their selection from one side of the screen to the other and to drop it in order of priority. Dragging means just one click and the movement is kind of fun in a nerdy way. Its also fast, even when stretched out over 11 questions. Check out the the wireframes, mockups and final interaction below.

So there you have it. After a bunch of trial and error (and beer), we played our way to a cool new interaction pattern and, hopefully, made the world of online questionaries a tiny bit less tedious.


I originally wrote a draft of this article in January 2012 and have only gotten around to publishing it now. In the meantime I saw Monica Zapata‘s presentation on Elecciones.es at this year’s UXSpain. I was pleased to see they wrestled with many of the same issues and had even cooler results. Well done!

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The Making of Grupos v2.0

This post has been a long time in the making. In mid-May we decided to build a new version of Grupos Emagister, our new beta version social learning network. Construction lasted into early July and we launched on the 10th of that month.

It was a ton of work, lots of weekends and nights. Discussions, arguments, testing, testing, pizza and then more testing. In short, we had a blast. So much so that I decided to make a small “the making of” video to capture it for posterity. It will be a nice addition to the old digital scrapbook and will have the added benefit of showing all of those digital altruists using Grupos Emagister that we too believe in sacrificing for art’s and passion’s sake.

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The Damage “Friend Finder” is Inflicting on Facebook

Annoying Facebook "Friend Requests" via "Friend Finder"

Annoying Facebook "Friend Requests" courtesy of the "Friend Finder" app

It seems like everyone is jumping on the anti-Facebook bandwagon lately (if you haven’t seen “I’m getting bored of Facebook”, you really should, it’s quite funny). I’ve never been a fan of the “I liked them before they were popular” phenomenon, but in this case I have no choice but to agree with some of the criticism.

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually find many of the most common annoyances to actually be a pleasant waste of time (hope no one from Emagister is reading this 😉 ). Seeing new profile pictures of ex-girlfriends, reading feeds for high school pals may not be productive, but like everything in our personal lives, it has an emotional meaning for me, if not for others.

The problem comes when Facebook opens the “friend” flood gates and starts to let people that I’ve never met, have nothing in common with and don’t even live on the same continent as I do (disclaimer: I don’t share a time zone with most of my Facebook pals, but we did study together at some point, Fbook’s bread and butter.) I have to date received over 60 friend requests from these people I’ve never met and with whom I share no mutual friends, so many that I’ve been forced to actually deactivate Facebook email alerts.

The culprit of all of this unsolicited “friending” is a pesky little app called Friend Finder. I’m a big believer in Facebook apps and was quite impressed by the teams that presented theirs at Sclipo’s Facebook Garage (well done, Gregor). Again, all is fair in love and poking when I have some connection to the people poking me. I may not accept every request to install the Super Awesome App of the Week, but they’ve never been a source of real frustration.

And this is where we move past one user’s feedback to a more business focused critique. Facebook has really shot itself in the foot here: they’ve allowed users that I’m not interested to hound me into deactivating my alert emails and thus have forced me to miss out on news about the people I am interested in. I’ve always marvelled at their ability to make a viral echo chamber where the smallest actions by individual users are amplified throughout their networks. A great trick but the echo chamber only works if I’m there to hear it. The second I say “I’m getting bored…” the jig is up.

Here are some quick recommendations for Facebook:

  1. Be careful with the apps you allow into your site.
    They can hurt you in the long run. No app’s viral power is worth damaging your brand.
  2. If you must allow people I don’t know to find me, make sure you control it.
    Use all of the algorithm magic you use in the general search results. I’ve always marvelled at the way you seamlessly hide results based on network or profile information. Use this power, plus the amount of mutual friends as a barrier to unsolicited requests.
  3. Think LinkedIn.
    I’m not advocating Facebook require a prior relationship for every request, or an email address, but they should at least make it easy (ie in the profile itself) for users to control the type of contact they seek with others. My friending needs (finding old friends, showing pictures of my son, etc) are much different from teenagers in the Midwest.

A final note: we had long discussions about these kinds of issues while working on the new version of Grupos Emagister, our new social learning site. I was a strong proponent being less restrictive with Grupos because it’s a social learning site, designed to help you meet new people that you don’t know but do share the same interests with (ie. non-friending model. In the end we opted for a hybrid solution that a) requires user consent before adding someone to your network but b) does not restrict the initial contact. Hopefully this willfit nicely with the site’s business model. Time will tell.

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