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Aaron Sedley
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Change aversion on the horizon...

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Join us at UX Australia to learn about survey best practices, and leveraging surveys for user research!
Interested in becoming a savvy user of surveys and feedback forms?
Would like to avoid pitfalls that can result in bad data & misguided decisions?

Join +Aaron Sedley, +Elizabeth Ferrall-Nunge, and myself at the UX Australia conference in Brisbane on August 27, for our half-day workshop on using surveys for user experience research.

We'll cover the following topics, among others:
-- When to use surveys (and when not to)
-- Sources of bias in surveys
-- Criteria for assessing the quality of survey metrics
-- Differences between surveys and feedback forms
-- How to plan an effective survey: research goals and constructs
-- Sampling methods
-- Questionnaire design best practices
-- Fielding surveys, and choosing among survey tools
-- Considerations for online surveys
-- Fundamentals of survey analysis

During the workshop, you'll apply what you've learned with a series of interactive exercises. Plus, you'll get handouts summarizing survey best practices, and a questionnaire template to use for your own research.

This workshop will expand your research toolkit, teach you to gather user-centric metrics and insights with surveys, and let you uncover actionable insights to optimize users' experiences and the success of your products.

Register here:

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I'm grateful to play a small part in Google's robust efforts to understand online privacy, protect users, and earn their trust.
Privacy and surprises never mix
Posted by +Jessica Staddon, Staff Research Scientist 

"No surprises!" is as much of a mantra in privacy-aware design as it is in effective management. If a user's perception of a data source or service is not compatible with usage, then privacy problems may arise. This raises the question of how we can untangle perception from behavior, especially given that user perceptions are context-dependent and potentially dynamic.

This is an ongoing conversation at Google and we’ve participated in three talks in recent weeks to try to bring clarity to the murky waters of privacy and perception.

First, we hosted Miguel Malheiros (PhD student at University College of London) at our London office. Miguel discussed how the perceived fairness of data usage and relevance of a data request impact a user's decision to disclose information.

On our Mountain View campus, +Arvind Narayanan (Post-doctoral researcher at Stanford) spoke about the limitations of technology-centric privacy approaches. One example he cited is that users perceive privacy harm when their information is made easier to find, even when data permissions are actually unchanged. His talk was based on emerging research including this paper titled “Obscurity by Design”:

Finally, Googler +Larkin Brown spoke at last month’s Symposium of Usable Privacy & Security ( on research showing that user privacy concerns and low engagement on social networks are strongly associated. The below graph depicts this research, which is elaborated on in this paper:

These talks attest to the importance of understanding users who perceive privacy risk and suggest that we may be able to identify such users based on observed behaviors. Fleshing out both of these is a key part of our ongoing privacy research agenda at Google.

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A few months ago I posted to about change aversion ( Jared Spool recently commented on it  (; below is my response:

Hi Jared, thanks for commenting on my post and for moving the public discussion of change aversion forward. Although your headline suggests otherwise, a fair reading of our articles shows that we agree more than disagree about the roots of this phenomenon, and about methods to minimize it. 

For starters, we agree on a major cause of change aversion. As you put it, users don’t like to feel stupid. I wrote that "When products change and advanced users suddenly become novices, you should expect anxiety to result." We also both point to sudden, unannounced changes and lack of control as further sources of discomfort. UI changes decrease user control, and necessitate re-learning. Learning takes effort, and therefore UI change invariably comes with cost to users. As Kahneman and Tversky famously note, losses loom larger than gains (; this is borne out in change aversion.

We also echo each other’s advice to communicate the nature and value of changes, to let users switch between old and new versions, and to avoid “change-for-change's-sake”. The crux of successful UI change is the simultaneous presentation of clear benefits that outweigh inherent re-learning costs. Using BJ’s example of a teenage girl getting her first cell phone, learning the cell phone UI takes effort, but this effort is far outweighed by the newfound ability to communicate with friends. 

We don’t always get change right at Google. In fact, I started thinking about change aversion after seeing several companies, including Google, launch changes which angered many users. In these cases, the costs of change were too high and the benefits were too low, or unclear to users. We do, however, consistently strive to minimize cost and maximize benefit. One strategy to minimize cost -- as you astutely point out -- is incremental change driven by A/B experiments, which are a staple of our user testing strategy. Google constantly evaluates a multitude of potential changes and frequently launches small improvements that enhance user experience. As you also mention, when we do them well, people don’t even realize anything has changed.

Yet some types of change aren’t invisible, and can't be subtly implemented one shade at a time, like your account of how eBay shifted its background color ( There are also technical reasons for launching changes non-incrementally, and Google often pairs visual changes with major back-end shifts. 

Although most of our attention has focused on UI change, there are additional flavors of design change that deserve mention. Visual design, information architecture, and technological change all come with unique costs and potential benefits. For example, major visual redesigns like Google's cross-product 'Kennedy' redesign (explained here by Google's Search UX Lead Jon Wiley: do not exact as large a re-learning cost from users, but may not provide as great a benefit as architectural UI changes, such as the 2009 AdWords redesign ( The mere exposure effect, demonstrated by Zajonc in 1968 (, helps explain change aversion and increased acceptance over time, especially for visual design changes. And with any change, if users' attitudes don’t reach a higher baseline after they learn and adjust, the costs have likely outweighed the benefits.

Major change to familiar products can be risky, but positive change is absolutely necessary, especially in the rapidly evolving online milieu. To quote Heraclitus, “The only constant is change.” Successful designers and researchers embrace change, minimize its costs, and maximize its benefits to users. The willingness to embrace change is critical, because the option to remain static is an illusion. Heraclitus also said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Even if our products do not change, judgments about them will, as our users and the technology environment continue to evolve.

Thank you again for your comments. I’m pleased that we’ve identified consistent sources of change aversion and prescribed similar actions to mitigate users’ pain. I hope that our discussion has moved the field forward, has given our audience new ways of thinking about managing change that will happen with or without our efforts, and leads to more positive experiences for all of our users.

--Aaron Sedley

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Social Polling: easy and interesting, but how representative?

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No kittens were harmed in the making of this video. Only humiliated.

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Modern Times, still so relevant.
One of the best scenes ever by Charlie Chaplin. I absolutely love this movie.

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Sad time for Bay Area radio. In particular, Gene Burns was a great host, debater, and paragon of civility. And I grew up listening to Dr. Bill Wattenburg's wonderfully eclectic 'open line to the west coast'. end of an era. #changeaversion

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