Information Design Watch

November 29, 2011, 10:09 am

I’d Rather Have a Rocket Car

By Henry Woodbury

In the old days the future was about rocket cars. Now it’s about touch screens.

This Microsoft production is one of the vision videos that’s been making the rounds:

It’s cool, but also cold. And it’s one of the best of the bunch (Corning’s A Day Made of Glass is also very good). Others, such as the awkward imitations produced by Research In Motion (Blackberry) invite only ridicule.

Interface designer Bret Victor has produced an intelligent critique of the Microsoft video (and, by extension the whole genre). He starts by reminding us of the incredible sensory and manipulative powers of the human hand:

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

But what is the sensory experience of Microsoft’s future (and Corning’s, and Apple’s, and RIM’s)? It’s the feel of glass. It’s “glassy.”

Now read this: The 5 Best Toys of All Time. I think you’ll get my point.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Technology, Usability, User Experience

March 3, 2011, 1:27 pm

Measuring User Experience on a Large Scale

By Lisa Agustin

So you’ve just relaunched your redesigned web site or web application.  You’ve addressed known user experience problems, met business requirements, and made sure the architecture is one that will accommodate future features, both known and unknown.  Now here’s the tricky question: How will you know you’ve improved your user experience?

The broader question of how to measure success is one that we raise with our own clients at the beginning of every project, as this helps us figure out the organization’s priorities and focus.  Definitions of success range from trackable statistics (“more users will see the catalog”) to anecdotal assessment (“employees will complain less about using it”).

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring success.  Moreover, with the exception of online survey tools like Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey, which can be used assess usability and satisfaction, most tools today are designed to measure success from a business or technical staff’s perspective, rather than the users’.  Google’s researchers recognized this problem in assessing their own applications and developed the HEART metrics framework, a method of measuring user experience on a large scale.

The HEART framework is meant to complement what Google calls the “PULSE metrics” framework where PULSE stands for: Page views, Uptime, Latency, Seven-day active users (i.e., number of unique users who used the product at least once in the last week), and Earnings– clearly all stakeholder and/or IT concerns.  While these statistics are somewhat related to the user’s experience (which pages get looked at, which items get purchased), these can be problematic in evaluating user interface changes:

[PULSE metrics] may have ambiguous interpretation–for example, a rise in page views for a particular feature may occur because the feature is genuinely popular, or because a confusing interface leads users to get lost in it, clicking around to figure out how to escape.  A count of unique users over a given time period, such as seven-day active users, is commonly used as a metric of user experience.  It measures overall volume of the user base, but gives no insight into the users’  level of commitment to a product, such as how frequently each of them visited during the seven days.

The HEART metrics framework offers a way to more precisely measure both user attitude and behavior, while providing actionable data for making changes to a product’s user interface.  These include the following, which I’ve described very briefly here:

  1. Happiness. This metric is concerned with measuring the user’s attitude toward the product, including satisfaction, visual appeal and the likelihood that the user will recommend the product to others.  The use of a detailed survey as a benchmark and then later as changes are implemented will cover this.
  2. Engagement. This measures a user’s level of involvement, which will depend on the nature of the product.  For example, involvement for a web site may be as simple as visiting it, while involvement for a photo-sharing web application might be the number of photos uploaded within a given period. From a metrics standpoint, involvement can be assessed by looking at frequency of visits or depth of interaction.
  3. Adoption and Retention. These metrics explore behavior of unique users more in detail, going a step beyond the seven-day active users metric.  Adoption metrics track new users starting within a given period (e.g., number of new accounts opened this month), while retention looks at how many of the unique users from the initial period are using the product at a later period.
  4. Task Success.  Successful completion of key tasks is a well-known behavioral metric that relates to efficiency (time to complete at task) and effectiveness (percent of tasks completed).   This is commonly tracked on a small-scale through one-on-one usability tests, but can be expanded to web applications by seeing how closely users follow an optimal path to completion (assuming one exists), or by using A/B split or multivariate testing.

But these metrics are not helpful on their own.  They must be developed in the context of the Goals of the product or feature, and related Signals that will indicate when the goal has been met.  The authors admit that this is perhaps the hardest part of defining success, since different stakeholders may disagree about project goals, requiring a consensus-building exercise.

From my perspective, there is also the additional challenge of clients having both the forethought and resources available to track these metrics in the first place.  In many cases, measuring success requires a benchmark or baseline for comparison.  Without this in place, the new design itself must serve as a benchmark for any future changes.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Information Architecture, Technology, Usability, User Experience

October 22, 2010, 4:46 pm

A Usability Test Facilitator is Like What?

By Kirsten Robinson

As I prepare for a week chock-full of usability testing, I’m remembering some of my favorite analogies for the role of a usability study facilitator.

Carolyn Snyder, in her excellent book, Paper Prototyping, describes three roles that must be fulfilled simultaneously:

Flight attendant: keep the test participant safe and comfortable. (Although, with airline seats getting smaller and job satisfaction for flight attendants decreasing, I’d have to say this may set too low a standard.)

Sportscaster: ensure the observers understand what’s going on.

Scientist: gather data accurately while minimizing bias.

But my favorite analogy comes from Joe Dumas, who taught me much of what I know about testing. Joe said a usability test facilitator is like a duck – you must appear calm and placid, but underneath the surface you’re paddling like crazy.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience

October 1, 2010, 2:57 pm

Freedom of Choice (with Assistance)

By Lisa Agustin

According to a recent article in strategy + business, creating a better shopping experience is really about offering a better choosing experience. More specifically, fewer choices. Offering people lots of options — 31 flavors! (Baskin-Robbins) 87,000 drink combinations! (Starbucks) 27 million books! (Amazon)– sounds like a great idea.  But too many choices can have the opposite effect, leading to confusion, anxiety about the “right” choice and ultimately a poor choice or even No Sale.  Why? In a nutshell, it comes down to neurological limits on our ability to process information–while the idea of lots of choices sounds exciting (there’s one made “just for me”!), it can be paralyzing to choose from too many options.

The article references studies performed in a grocery store (choosing a jar of jam) and a workplace (choosing a retirement savings plan) to illustrate its point, but it struck me that this applies to online experiences, too.  A web site with a lot of content that offers too many options that are poorly organized will lead to frustrated users who will abandon your site for your competitor’s.

So how do we– marketers or user experience (UX) practitioners–craft a better choosing experience?  Authors Sheen Iyengar and Kanika Agrawal offer the following tips, to which I’ve added my UX take:

  1. Cut the number of options.
  2. Don’t worry about losing shelf space to competitors–in the end, trimming back the product line lowers costs, increases sales, and makes it easier for consumers to choose. According to the authors, “In case the poor performers aren’t evident from sales figures, focus groups and online networks can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.” My UX take: Focus on presenting the content and tasks that mean the most to your users. A combination of web analytics and user feedback (interviews or surveys) will help you figure out what should be on the site and what’s expendable.

  3. Create confidence with expert or personalized recommendations.
  4. Expert reviews and recommendations “let consumers skip over much of the information-processing component of choosing, minimizing cognitive stress and enabling them to make good choices,” according to Iyengar and Agrawal. My UX take: This tip speaks directly to the online experience. Many web sites offering highly differentiated items (books, music, clothes) benefit from recommendation tools, or automated systems (“electronic agents”) that generate suggestions based on consumers’ expressed preferences. While these tools require more of an investment on the part of the organization and sometimes the user (e.g., if a survey or profile needs to be completed), they can be worth it if your web site is one that offers a large quantity of content or inventory to peruse.

  5. Categorize your offerings so that consumers better understand their options.
  6. “For an expert, there is no completely unique product or service; rather, each offering is a distinctive combination of attributes that the expert has seen before.” The key is getting a novice to act like an expert by creating top-level categories that are easily understood. As an example, the authors cite wine retailer Best Cellars, which limits its varieties to 100 wines that are divided into eight top-level categories, such as “fizzy,” “juicy,” and “sweet.” Once the novice has chosen a category, he or she can choose a wine within that category by reading the detailed labels that accompany all the bottles. My UX take: For web site users that rely on browsing to find what they want, category names are critical. This means avoiding terminology that is either organization-centric (“Initiatives”) or vague (“Solutions”) and using what makes the most sense to users.

  7. Condition consumers by gradually introducing them to more-complex choices.
  8. “For certain kinds of decisions, you can set up consumers for success by encouraging them to learn from, and build upon, their own previous choices.” Iyengar cites a study in which two groups of car customers were asked to customize their vehicles, choosing everything from the engine to the rearview mirror. The first group started by choosing features with a high number of options, moving to those with low numbers of options. The second group started by making choices for features with a low number of options first. In the end, the first group had a less satisfying experience: “They began by carefully considering every option, but they soon grew tired and settled for the default. In the end, they wound up less satisfied with their cars than the buyers who had progressed from low choice to high choice.” My UX take: Users can go through a lot of information online, provided it’s presented to them in a way that lets them process it in logical bite-sized pieces. This means creating an information architecture that uses categories that make sense to the intended audiences, a hierarchical structure that lets users drill down and expose more information as they need it, and a supporting design that visually prioritizes information on each page.

Iyengar and Agrawal acknowledge the dilemma: “Don’t marketers have to give consumers what they want? Yes and no. We should give them what they really want, not what they say they want…They want to feel confident of their preferences and competent during the choosing process; they want to trust and enjoy their choices, not question them.” The online experience should work the same way.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Business, Information Architecture, Usability, User Experience

July 29, 2010, 12:26 pm

Historic New England’s Collections Online

By Kirsten Robinson

The Portsmouth Herald has published an article about Historic New England’s new web site and online collections project, for which Dynamic Diagrams provided web strategy, information architecture and design services, as well as project management for the site’s development.

You can view the web site at www.historicnewengland.org or dive right into searching and browsing the online collections — full of photos, artifacts, and reference materials having to do with 400 years of New England History.

We’re currently in the final stage of the project, conducting usability tests on the new site.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, Scholarly Publishing, Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

June 15, 2010, 4:53 pm

Boston UPA Conference Review, part 2

By Kirsten Robinson

Here are summaries of two more presentations from the Boston UPA conference that I really enjoyed.

Racing with the Clock: VERY Rapid Design and Testing

Presenter: Will Schroeder of The MathWorks

Summary: Will’s premise is that in design, as in psychotherapy, the most important part of any hour is the last five minutes. So he sought to eliminate the first 45 minutes (an hour of therapy is only 50 minutes, as you may recall from the old Bob Newhart show). Will described a 2-hour design process that allowed a team of 12 people to create three parallel design concepts, review and iterate on them, and usability test them, with a successful outcome. My favorite quote from Will’s talk was, “Brainstorming is so much fun, I’m surprised it’s still legal.” Another key point was the need for show and tell: “You don’t understand [a design] until you explain it.”

The Power of Focus Groups in Design Research

Presenter: Kay Corry Aubrey of Usability Resources

Summary: Focus groups (essentially, group interviews) can be an effective way to gather qualitative data on perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. Examples of how focus groups can inform the design process include:

  • Learning about your users’ decision making process, needs, and pain points
  • Determining questions for a survey or content for a card sorting exercise
  • Gathering content and feature requirements

Important elements for a successful focus group include careful planning and recruiting the right participants. A skilled focus group moderator must be able to establish trust, ask good questions, listen actively, remain neutral, and manage group dynamics.

This was an excellent overview or refresher, especially for recruiting and moderating.

More info: Kay’s slides are posted on Slideshare.

Will and Kay both deserve kudos for making their slides readable. You’d think that would be expected for a bunch of usability professionals, but at least half of the presenters had slides that were illegible both in the room and in the conference proceedings.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, PowerPoint, Usability, User Experience

June 11, 2010, 4:18 pm

Boston UPA Conference Review, part 1

By Kirsten Robinson

On Wednesday (June 9) I attended the Boston Usability Professionals Association annual conference. I’ll record a few impressions and share some highlights from the presentations.

First of all, the increasing size of the conference (450 attendees, 32 presentations in 4 simultaneous tracks this year) reflects the astounding growth of the usability profession. These are the people who conduct user research, design and evaluate interfaces to ensure they provide an effective, efficient, and satisfying experience for users. Better user experiences increase productivity, reduce costs, and increase market share for companies and organizations that use and sell technology.

I noticed some interesting trends in conference technology and culture. A few years ago, most conference attendees toted their laptops along to take notes and keep in touch with the office or clients via email. This year, I saw very few laptops — instead, nearly everyone had smartphones and similar mobile devices. I even saw an iPad or two, typically with hangers-on eyeballing the device with jealousy or skepticism.

Twitter was a little less visible this year. Last year, a twitter feed displayed conference-related tweets on a large screen for all to see. Arguments ensued (over Twitter, natch) about whether it was rude to tweet during presentations. This year the twitter feeds were no less active (see #upaboston and #miniupa), but they were not projected. Toward the end of the day, it was fun to see the final tweets about dying batteries in the aforementioned mobile devices. I’m happy to report my rollerball pen made it all the way to 6:00 without needing a recharge.

My favorite presentation of the day was Lynn Cherny’s Mining Your Data: An Easy Intro to a Tough Topic. Lynn discussed and demonstrated several methods for analyzing qualitative data — such as the answers to open-ended survey questions — and turning messy text data into numeric data for further analysis. Tools included:

  • Excel’s convert text to columns feature, pivot tables, and sparkline plug-ins
  • R (open source statistics software) for more sophisticated methods such as cluster analysis
  • Linux command line tools (e.g., grep) for manipulating and exploring text data across multiple files
  • Wordles, Many Eyes, and Concordance software for further text analysis

She inspired me to finally learn to use pivot tables — something I’ve been meaning to do for years. What a time-saver. Contact Lynn at Ghostweather for a copy of her presentation.

Watch this space for more presentation summaries.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Usability, User Experience

March 17, 2010, 12:06 pm

Your Data is my Distraction

By Henry Woodbury

I recently ran across a still-fresh 2009 Nieman Journalism Lab post on “ambient visual data” — a good term for the practice of graphically incorporating metadata into a content-delivery interface. The most common idea seems to be adding subtle bar charts beneath or around links to illustrate various kinds of popularity.

To explain the importance of the concept, author Haley Sweetland Edwards turns to designer Eliazar Parra Cardenas, creator of Backbars, “a GreaseMonkey script to turn the headlines and comments of social link-sites into ambient bar charts (of votes/diggs/views/users…).” Cardenas explains:

“The whole point is to make textual information easier to absorb… [A well-designed site] should maximize the information that a user can understand — that you can just glance at, or take note of -– without actively thinking….

“We’ve already tried the obvious in print: putting as much text as possible in one glance (hence broadsheets), mixing in images, headlines, columns. I think the next step will be digital developments like backbars, favicons, sparklines, word coloring, spacings.”

Count me as extremely skeptical. The sites that Edwards and Cardenas hold up as examples seem both cluttered and shallow — a vote-stuffing contest for “news of the weird.”

I’m old school that way. What drives traffic are the editorial and authorial inputs that Cardenas overlooks in his list of the obvious. Not headlines, but well-written headlines. Not images, but compelling images. Not backbars, favicons, sparklines, word coloring, and spacings, but good ledes.

The New York Times isn’t making money online. But they aren’t lacking for traffic.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Technology, Usability, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

September 16, 2009, 11:05 am

Mobile Accessibility

By Matt DeMeis

Not being an iPhone owner, I can’t personally comment on the ease of use of the device. Regardless, I was impressed by this video on the accessibility features of the 3GS. It’s hard for anyone with their eyesight to grasp just how well this would work for someone who is visually impaired, but to me it seems like Apple did great job.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Technology, Usability

September 2, 2009, 2:20 pm

What’s Wrong with this Chart?

By Henry Woodbury

Federal Spending FY 2009 YTD

The chart, of Federal Spending FY 2009 YTD, is from USAspending.gov, a web site mandated by law to provide the public free, searchable information about U.S. Federal expenditures.

Seth Grimes at Intelligent Enterprise figures out the problem and its cause:

USAspending.gov produces its charts dynamically using the Google Chart API…[but] passes values to Google that are out of range. Google truncates them, just as [its] documentation explains.

Here is Grimes’ corrected chart:

Federal Spending FY 2009 YTD, corrected

Unfortunately, data misrepresentation isn’t the only problem he finds.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Technology, Usability, Web Interface Design

August 27, 2009, 3:09 pm

Craigslist Makeover

By Matt DeMeis

Wired has a very interesting article up right now. Several well known designers were asked to give hypothetical makeovers to Craigslist. I use CL all the time and honestly, I have never really had a usability problem of any kind. It does what it is meant to do quite well and is a true example of a simple utilitarian web service. I don’t own an iPhone or Blackberry so mobile access hasn’t been an issue for me. That seems to be the biggest argument for some kind of partial redesign (if only for mobile clients). A lot of the designers agree “why fix what’s not broken” (myself included) but it’s still interesting to see the results. Some better than others. My take on the submitted designs…

Favorite: Simple Scott
Least Favorite: Studio8
Middle Ground: Khoi Vinh

Go check it out for yourself…

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

January 13, 2009, 1:21 pm

Bad Usability Calendar 2009

By Lisa Agustin

usabilitycalendar1

Another January, another chance to grab the latest Bad Usability Calendar.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability

October 23, 2008, 10:01 am

Don’t Eat the iPod Shuffle—Seven Years of iPod Design

By Kirsten Robinson

Wired has published a look back at iPod design, starting with this paper and foam core prototype from 2001:

one of the original iPod concepts

Check out the article to find out how the scroll wheel evolved over time, when color was first introduced (on the body and the screen), and where the title of this post came from.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Business, Color, Design, Prototyping, Technology, Usability

August 25, 2008, 9:55 am

Designing a Better Ballot

By Henry Woodbury

Palm Beach Butterfly Ballot

Debates about voting access often focus on the way votes are tallied: paper vs. electronic; touchscreen vs. optical scan. But a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law asserts that consistent design and clear instructions are possibly more important than technology:

When it comes to ensuring that votes are accurately recorded and tallied, there is a respectable argument that poor ballot design and confusing instructions have resulted in far more lost votes than software glitches, programming errors, or machine breakdowns. As this report demonstrates, poor ballot design and instructions have caused the loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of votes in nearly every election year.

The report, Better Ballots (PDF), emphatically states the importance of good design — and good design practices, such as usability testing:

Usability testing is the best way to make sure that voters can use the ballot successfully, confident that they actually voted for the candidates and positions they intended to vote for. Usability testing allows election officials to observe individual voters using a ballot — before the electionin order to see where they have problems. This allows election officials to analyze the design and language choices to determine the cause of those problems. They can then redesign and rewrite the ballot to eliminate those problemsbefore the election. Unfortunately, the vast majority of jurisdictions do not conduct usability testing of their ballots before an election. Of course, all ballots will eventually receive a usability teston Election Day. At that point, unfortunately, finding out that a ballot is confusing to voters is most unwelcome news.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Usability

August 7, 2008, 9:02 am

Do Web Designers and Site Visitors Agree on Web Site Effectiveness?

By Kirsten Robinson

Sathish Menon and Michael Douma at IDEA report on their survey to compare expectations about the online experience among web designers, non-profit organizations, and site visitors. Not surprisingly, they found a few discrepancies. For example, “Designers underestimate the thresholds for an effective site,” and “Designers are overly optimistic about visitors’ ability to maintain orientation.” Yet another argument for practicing user-centered design, including user research and usability testing.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

April 29, 2008, 12:06 pm

Of Wii and Waterproof Mattresses: Hotels Prototype New Ideas with “Test Rooms”

By Kirsten Robinson

The New York Times reported today that hotels are using “test rooms” to try out new designs and technology before implementing them throughout the hotel, saving vast sums by discarding or improving upon ideas that don’t work. New technologies being tested include waterproof mattresses, digital door panels, customized Wii consoles, and even wireless electricity. But sometimes the greatest need is to make sure the existing features are usable. One guest who tried out a test room commented that he could not figure out the alarm clock or how to turn on the television. “All I wanted to do was watch CNN,” he said.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Prototyping, Technology, Usability, User Experience

November 27, 2007, 1:57 pm

Two hot concepts: iPhone and periodic table. What could possibly go wrong?

By Mac McBurney

Two dazzling and totally irrelevant visual metaphors in one thoroughly annoying interface.

I loved the novelty of being a kiosk/iPhone and the creative, behind-the-glass point of view. Then I tried to get something done. 3M is a kind of hometown hero for me. I know some good people there and I want to like the company, so part of me wants this crime against usability to be intentional, logical somehow. QWERTY keyboards were designed to discourage excessive speed. Could 3M have any conceivable reason to discourage excessive understanding? Anyone… Hello? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

August 20, 2007, 11:04 am

People Scroll

By Henry Woodbury

In a Boxes and Arrows article titled Blasting the Myth of the Fold, Milissa Tarquini runs through research that shows that browser users really do scroll down long pages. Here’s just one of her examples:

In [a report available on ClickTale.com], the researchers used their proprietary tracking software to measure the activity of 120,000 pages. Their research gives data on the vertical height of the page and the point to which a user scrolls. In the study, they found that 76% of users scrolled and that a good portion of them scrolled all the way to the bottom, despite the height of the screen. Even the longest of web pages were scrolled to the bottom.

My question is this: If people scroll, do we need “back to top” links?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

July 10, 2007, 8:50 am

Usability: the New Career Field

By Lisa Agustin

The New York Times recently covered the area of usability/human factors as an up-and-coming career field. The article doesn’t shed much light on the subject for those who are familiar with or work in the area of user experience. But for the broader population, I thought it gave an interesting perspective on the usability profession and its purpose in making technology easier to use: “Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it.”

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Usability, User Experience

June 1, 2007, 2:18 pm

In Which No One Knows What They Want

By Henry Woodbury

James Surowiecki writes about feature creep in a recent New Yorker column. He starts by naming the usual suspects: engineers devoted to custom tweaks, marketers enticed by more selling points.

But feature creep goes beyond the failure of the internal audience:

You might think, then, that companies could avoid feature creep by just paying attention to what customers really want. But that’s where the trouble begins, because although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive. It turns out that when we look at a new product in a store we tend to think that the more features there are, the better. It’s only once we get the product home and try to use it that we realize the virtues of simplicity.

Thus it falls to designers to aggressively promote simplicity (over everyone’s objections).

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Technology, Usability

February 14, 2007, 1:36 pm

Learning Curve

By Henry Woodbury

“If it had been that straightforward I wouldn’t have called helpdesk”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pyjRj3UMRM

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Technology, Usability

February 1, 2007, 10:16 am

Your. User. Is. Not. You.

By Henry Woodbury

That advice from computer science instructor David Platt could be carved in stone. It pretty much applies to everyone that makes anything for other people, but Platt has a particular target in mind. Programmers, he asserts, don’t think like users:

People who write software programs value control. The user, on the other hand, just wants something that’s easy to operate.To illustrate his point, he notes that computer programmers tend to prefer manual transmissions. But not even 15 percent of the cars sold in the United States last year had that feature.

Business executives don’t think like users either. Frankly, users don’t think like users. Here’s David Thomas, executive director of the Software & Information Industry Association’s software division:

You don’t want your customers to design your product. They’re really bad at it.

What you want to do is ask people what they want, then compare it to what they actually do.

Platt’s Suckbusters web site is here. A typically entertaining lede:

The common technique of confirmation, popping a dialog box into the user’s face and asking, “Are you really Really REALLY sure you want to do that?” is evil. It’s unfriendly, it’s distracting, and it’s completely ineffective. Have you ever, even once, said, “Whoa! I didn’t want to do that. Thanks,” and clicked No? Have you seen anyone do that? Have you even heard of anyone doing it? I haven’t. It shouldn’t exist. Anywhere. Ever.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Business, Technology, Usability

November 29, 2006, 10:54 am

Away With the Mouse Click!

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s an example of some very impressive interface design work, if you accept the premise:

http://www.dontclick.it/

You know, I never worried about clicking that much.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Usability, Web Interface Design

August 16, 2006, 8:08 pm

Medical Products and the User-Centric Experience

By Lisa Agustin

This week’s Innovation column in BusinessWeek Online features an interview with Stuart Karten, principal of Stuart Karten Design, an industrial design firm known for its user-centric approach to product design. The interview focuses specifically on Karten’s experience designing medical products, including a bone marrow biopsy needle, an infant ventilator, and a defibrillator.

Karten’s approach to medical product design extends beyond form following function, taking into account not only the product itself, but the context in which it will be used. On the question of what makes for a successful defibrillator, Karten notes:

What we realized is the actual frequency of use is really low, but when you have to use one, your adrenaline is pumping and you’re in a very highly charged state. So the ability to educate prior to use is important, and in this case we’re designing a public defibrillator, so we’re thinking about it like a public health service announcement.

Karten’s research techniques are familiar ones to information design practitioners, and include interviews and direct observation of the user interacting with the object (user testing, anyone?). It’s yet another example of how understanding and improving the user experience is the key to creating a successful product.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Technology, Usability

July 21, 2006, 4:04 pm

The World Cup on Mobile Phone

By Henry Woodbury

It’s like the early days of Web design, but more so. This Design Interact article describes how Yahoo planned and delivered its mobile device site for the 2006 World Cup. The goal was to make a site that could work on as many browser-enabled phones as possible. The problem was the baffling idiosyncrasies of those devices:

“The Web browsers on phones vary from basic to super basic,” explains Keith Saft, senior interaction designer at Yahoo! Mobile. “They also have these eccentric bits of HTML and CSS that they don‘t support, and there aren‘t really any standards or consistency across phones.

As they catalogued the technical limitations of mobile browsers, the Yahoo team created a design strategy that prioritized usability:

With production also came usability testing. And here, surprisingly enough, the team did not try to achieve perfect layout and content consistency on every phone. Instead, it wanted to make sure that users understood something it called “design intent.

Do users navigate efficiently through the site? Do they understand how items are grouped on a screen? Can they retrieve the information they want? “Design intent” is design by information architecture.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Implementation, Information Architecture, Sports, Technology, Usability

January 13, 2006, 10:16 am

So a Man Walks Into a Bar and the Usability Expert Says…

By d/D

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.

http://www.gotomedia.com/gotoreport/june2004/news_0607_wantfreebeer.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience

June 17, 2005, 1:06 pm

The End of Usability

By d/D

Software developer Joel Spolsky is almost ready to say that usability isn’t that important:

“…an application that does something really great that people really want to do can be pathetically unusable, and it will still be a hit. And an application can be the easiest thing in the world to use, but if it doesn’t do anything anybody wants, it will flop.”

Spolsky doesn’t really want to tell interface designers to retire, but he does advocate a change in focus. Instead of fine-tuning how humans interface with computers, usability experts should consider how humans relate to other humans:

“Over the next decade, I expect that software companies will hire people trained as anthropologists and ethnographers to work on social interface design. Instead of building usability labs, they’ll go out into the field and write ethnographies.”

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/NotJustUsability.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience

January 12, 2005, 2:15 pm

What Users Do Not Use

By d/D

Many usability studies show that Internet users are goal oriented. They move forward into a site by looking for whatever link seems pertinent and reverse course as necessary by ruthlessly using the “back” button. In an article on the GUUUI Web site, interaction designer Henrik Olsen compiles the evidence for this behavior and spells out what it means for Web site design:

“In [usability expert] Mark Hurst’s opinion designers put too much effort into content organisation and design of navigation systems. Organising a site into sections and subsections does not by itself create a good user experience. What matters is whether users can quickly and easily advance to the next step in the pursuit for their goal.”

http://www.guuui.com/issues/01_05.php

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

December 8, 2004, 2:55 pm

The Fine Art of Audience Analysis

By d/D

In the mid 90s, artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid used professional market research surveys to create a series of “most wanted” and “least wanted” paintings. Still available on the Web, the project can be seen as a case of audience analysis taken too far:

“In an age where opinion polls and market research invade almost every aspect of our ‘democratic/consumer’ society [the] project poses relevant questions that an art-interested public, and society in general often fail to ask: What would art look like if it were to please the greatest number of people?” (from the Director’s Introduction)

Getting beyond the parody, the paintings make for interesting viewing, especially in comparison to each other. Mapped to a large body of real data, they represent an enigmatic, but perfectly valid example of visual explanation.

http://www.diacenter.org/km/index.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, Visual Explanation

September 16, 2004, 3:31 pm

A Pioneer in Usability Testing

By d/D

While clearly a teaser for the Usability Interface conference, this short interview with Ginny Reddish does contain some insights about usability testing and Web site evaluation:

“When I started out, almost all usability testing was done in a formal lab with a very ‘hands off’ approach to interactions between participant and facilitator. Today, the line between usability testing and field studies has blurred quite a bit. Typically, today, I sit with the participant. Depending on the stage the product is in, I may engage in much more dialogue than I did when I started out. I’ve done usability testing in conference rooms and cubicles; I even did one this summer in an airport hangar.”

http://www.uie.com/events/uiconf/articles/redish_interview/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability

September 16, 2004, 3:29 pm

Skimming or Skipping? How People Read Online

By d/D

Poynter Institute has posted the results of “Eyetrack III,” a study on how people look at news online. While the study is “wide, not deep,” it contains many interesting points that could contribute to the analysis of any content-based Web site. For example:

“Photographs, contrary to what you might expect (and contrary to findings of 1990 Poynter eyetracking research on print newspapers), aren’t typically the entry point to a homepage. Text rules on the PC screen — both in order viewed and in overall time spent looking at it.”

http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/main.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Usability, Web Interface Design

February 9, 2004, 9:38 am

Markup and Usability

By d/D

A recent study of 8,000 subjects reveals that usability is the second highest rated factor in determining a Web site’s popularity — after good content. The issue, then, is whether usability is given sufficient priority in Web site development:

“…designing usability into a product involves first doing an analysis of the user’s needs, and then designing around those needs. If you haven’t done the analysis, you have to redo the design later on.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_pemberton121003.asp (free registration required)

The article points out that Web authoring standards themselves are increasingly based on usability concerns, with a specific example being the Xforms module of the XHTML 2 markup language (see http://www.w3c.org/TR/xforms/).

Unfortunately, the major browsers are still playing catch-up with the XHTML 1 standard. In almost all of the pages we code we use the “transitional” version of XHTML 1 and the transitional phase will likely continue for some time to come.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Implementation, Usability

February 9, 2004, 9:33 am

Need Fake Latin?

By d/D

Dave Cantrell at the 4GuysFromRolla Web site has a program that generates “fake Latin” text:

http://www.4guysfromrolla.com/demos/latin.asp

Why use fake Latin, or “greeking,” as it often called? We occasionally use it in design samples to show how a page looks without distracting reviewers with sample content that is inherently incomplete or out of date.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen describes a testing methodology that leverages such unreadable copy:

“When they can’t read the text, users have to rely on the inherent communicative aspects of the layout to perform the test task. If a layout performs well when users can’t understand any of the content, then there is hope that the template will survive substantial abuse from authors who fill it with content of varying quality.

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980517.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, Web Interface Design