Information Design Watch
January 13, 2006, 10:23 am
News.com correspondent Declan McCullagh has caused a stir among bloggers and free speech advocates with his report of a new U.S. law that makes it a crime to “annoy” other individuals via an anonymous email or Web post:
“Buried deep in the new law is Sec. 113, an innocuously titled bit called ‘Preventing Cyberstalking.’ It rewrites existing telephone harassment law to prohibit anyone from using the Internet ‘without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy.’”
McCullagh worries that the law “could imperil much of Usenet” and be used against whistle blowers.
Looking to the legal experts, opinion is divided. Professor Orin Kerr asserts that the law is actually just an extension of a long-standing ban on telephone harassment, which takes constitutional speech protection as a given. What is affected is not speech laws, but the definition of “telecommunications device:”
“Now I suppose you can criticize Congress for being lazy. They haven’t rewritten the old 1934 statute in light of the modern First Amendment, and that has resulted in a criminal statute that looks much broader than it actually is.”
However, First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh points out that extending old laws to new technologies can have unexpected consequences:
“How is this different from traditional telephone harassment law? The trouble is that the change extends traditional telephone harassment law from a basically one-to-one medium (phone calls) to include a one-to-many medium (Web sites). This is a big change.”
January 13, 2006, 10:21 am
Recently revised, Jeffrey Zeldman’s classic essay on the difference between style and design still rings true:
“Many young web designers … mistake Style for Design, when the two things are not the same at all. Design communicates on every level. It tells you where you are, cues you to what you can do, and facilitates the doing. Style is tautological; it communicates stylishness.”
The consequence, Zeldman points out, is that experimental Web sites often have little application to the improvement of Web usability:
“[A]fter ten-plus years of commercial web development, [Internet users] still have a tough time finding what they’re looking for, and they still wonder why it’s so damned unpleasant to read text on the web — which is what most of them do when they’re online.”
If you can’t see the Flash version above, you can read a PDF here:
January 13, 2006, 10:19 am
Many CNET pages offer an option to see a list of their most popular stories in either a “headline” or “graphic” display. For example:
http://news.com.com/2001-11386_3-0.html?tag=ne.tab.hd (scroll down a page and look to the right)
For a mini-usability study, click between the “View As” radio buttons just below the “What’s Hot” headline and consider each format. Our take? The graphic display takes up an enormous amount of space for not much purpose. While it emphasizes the relative popularity of different stories, it is hard to quickly skim through the list. Maybe the second or third story is the one you would actually want to read.
In addition, since the stories are still placed according to convention — first at top-left, last at bottom-right — there seems little reason to use a box instead of a single column. But maybe your take is different.
Once you get to an article, CNET adds some additional options in the “What’s Hot” area that are interesting in comparison.
January 13, 2006, 10:16 am
The high end of usability testing is very high: randomly selected users, audio and video recording, one-way mirrors, etc. Most Web design teams have neither the time, budget, nor any real need to go that far. Interview-style testing of a limited number of users can give plenty of feedback for an expert information architect or designer to use. In this light, Eric Burns proposes an innovative approach for low-end testing of random users — taking your test to a local bar or café:
Half of the battle in café testing is getting participants to come talk to you. I’ve had great success with a small home-made cardboard sign with a 8 1/2 x 11 piece of printed paper stapled to it. I’ve tried a number of different promotions, but by far my most successful one to date has been ‘Want free beer?’ Free beer only costs me $4, and people love it. Oddly enough, even at 10 a.m. in the morning, this one is a winner. Most people don’t want the beer, but I think they know they’ll have fun when they come and talk to me.
As Burns notes, café testing assumes your audience is the general public (or, perhaps, coffee or beer drinkers). Beyond the scope of the article, it should be said, are many other factors that go into successful user testing. For example, testers should prepare their own version of the test script that covers expected answers. Preparing these answers helps refine questions, avoid redundancy, and make test delivery more efficient. If more than just a few users are to be tested, multiple choice or numeric answers will also streamline the tabulation and analysis of the results.