Monday, May 25, 2009

Delivering Happiness

An interesting topic from the Web App Summit ...

"Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness keynote presentation at the 2009 Web App summit in Newport Beach, CA outlined Zappos' commitment to culture and customer service, and the impact this approach has had.

* Tony sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million because the company culture had diminished over time
* Zappos brand: Tony wants it to be about customer service not about shoes.
* Zappos is committed to wowing customers. 75% of their purchasing comes from returning customers.
* Instead of spending money on advertising, Zappos spends it on customer service: shipping, communication, etc.
* Zappos' number one priority is culture. If you get culture right, rest will just fall into the place.
* All employees get 5 weeks of culture training and two weeks of phone answering. Interviews and performance reviews are 50% based on core values & cultural fit.
* Twitter is introduced as part of company training. Helps create relationships between people that work at the company.
* Take costs for security, monitoring and instead put it into the hiring process.
* Focus for 2009: owning the three c’s. Clothing, Customer Service, Culture.
* It does not matter what your core values are as long as you commit to them.
* Decide: if you’re trying to build a long term sustainable brand. Doing so requires more patience with revenues & profits in order to lay the foundation. Decide sooner rather than later.
* Zappos gave up short-term revenues to be true to long term vision.
* Vision: chase the vision, not the money. Get more engaged and passionate about your company. “What would you be passionate about doing for 10 years even if you never made a dime?”
* What’s the greater purpose for employees other than profits. Inspiration over motivation.
* Build relationships, not networking. Be interested rather than try to be interesting.
* Build your team: hire slowly, fire quickly.
* Think Long Term: repeat customers, customer service. Takes years to develop right approach. “Overnight” successes are years in the making.
* What is your goal in life- if you ask “why?” enough, you end up with people want to be happy.
* People are very bad at predicting what will bring them sustained happiness."    (Continued via Functioning Form, LukeW, Tony Hsieh)    [Usability Resources]

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Don’t forget keyboard navigation

Input from mouse and keyboard ...

"Many developers take for granted that everybody uses a mouse to interact with the web. I don’t have any numbers, but it is indeed likely that the majority of people are primarily mouse users.

However, some people choose not to use a mouse because they find using the keyboard to navigate is faster. Others simply cannot use a mouse and are forced to use other input devices.

Either way, accommodating people who do not use a mouse is not very difficult:

* Make sure that all interactive objects can be activated by the keyboard alone
* Use the :focus CSS pseudo-class to highlight elements when they receive focus

Testing how you’re doing is easy – just unplug your mouse and try using the site you’re working on.

Further reading:

* Accessible JavaScript: Beyond the Mouse
* Keyboard-Friendly Link Focus

This post is a Quick Tip. Background info is available in Quick Tips for web developers and web designers."    (Continued via 456 Berea Street)    [Usability Resources]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is Information Visualization the Next Frontier for Design?

As design work shifts to infrastructure and problem solving, sexy infographics are part of the new skill set.

You've seen them. Those tag clouds in the right-hand column of Web sites with jumbled type of varying weight and size indicating the relative usage of words. Tag clouds may be the most common example of an emerging field known as "information visualization," an offshoot of graphic design devoted to the clear display of complex information. Executive pay in relation to shareholder returns. Senate voting patterns. The geographic location of cell phones. Similarities among rock albums. Graphic designers are mapping over the known world and posting their graphic interpretations on sites like Visual Complexity.

Visualization got a big boost during the political season from newspapers and networks. On March 24, CNN aired what it claimed was the largest ever tag cloud composed from President Obama's press conference that day."    (Continued via Fast Company, James Cannell)    [Usability Resources]

Tag Cloud - Usability, User Interface Design

Tag Cloud

Friday, May 22, 2009

10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

Whitney Hess on misconceptions about experience design ...

When I tell people that I am a user experience designer, I usually get a blank stare. I try to follow it up quickly by saying that I make stuff easy and pleasurable to use. That’s the repeatable one-liner, but it’s a gross oversimplification and isn’t doing me any favors.

The term “user experience” or UX has been getting a lot of play, but many businesses are confused about what it actually is and how crucial it is to their success.

I asked some of the most influential and widely respected practitioners in UX what they consider to be the biggest misperceptions of what we do. The result is a top 10 list to debunk the myths. Read it, learn it, live it.

User experience design is NOT…

1. …user interface design

It’s not uncommon to confuse “user experience” with “user interface” — after all it’s a big part of what users interact with while experiencing digital products and services. But the UI is just one piece of the puzzle.

“Interface is a component of user experience, but there’s much more,” says Peter Merholz, founding partner and president of Adaptive Path. Christian Crumlish, curator of the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, explains that design “isn’t about cosmetics, pixel-pushing, and button placement. It’s holistic and it’s everyone’s concern, not just the realm of ‘artistic’ types.”

Dan Saffer, founder and principal at Kicker Studio, agrees that it’s common for design to be mistaken for being solely about decoration or styling. “I’ve had clients tell me not to worry about what their strategy is,” he says, “because why would a designer care about that? UX is more than just skin deep.”

2. …a step in the process

It is the process. In order to create a great experience for your users, not just design something that we’d like to use, we need to keep listening and iterating. It doesn’t have to be a rigid process, but it does need to exist.

“User experience design isn’t a checkbox,” says Liz Danzico, an independent user experience consultant and chairperson of the new MFA in Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts. “You don’t do it and then move on. It needs to be integrated into everything you do.”

Dan Brown, co-founder and principal at EightShapes notes, “Most [clients] expect experience design to be a discrete activity, solving all their problems with a single functional specification or a single research study. It must be an ongoing effort, a process of continually learning about users, responding to their behaviors, and evolving the product or service.”

3. …about technology

User experience isn’t even about technology, says Mario Bourque, manager of information architecture and content management at Trapeze Group. “It’s about how we live. It’s about everything we do; it surrounds us.”

faucetLike a painter uses paint to communicate concepts and emotions, user experience designers use technology to help people accomplish their goals. But the primary objective is to help people, not to make great technology.

“User experience design is not limited to the confines of the computer. It doesn’t even need a screen,” argues Bill DeRouchey, director of interaction design at Ziba Design. “User experience is any interaction with any product, any artifact, any system.”

Really, a user experience designer could help to improve a person’s experience with just about anything — a doorknob, a faucet, a shopping cart. We just don’t typically refer to the people using those things as “users,” but they are."    (Continued via Mashable, Whitney Hess)    [Usability Resources]

Faucet Design - Usability, User Interface Design

Faucet Design

Ergonomic Computer Mouse

Expanding the ergonomic mouse ...

"I think we can all agree the most fun part of any design project is coming up with something nobody has ever thought to do before. These moments of innovation are exhilarating, getting the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing.

However, on most projects, they are few and far between. That’s because, even in the most innovative projects, the portion that counts as never-been-tried-before is only about 20% of the project.

The remainder is supporting functionality — things the new functionality needs to work. That supporting functionality doesn’t get the heart pumping or the adrenaline flowing. It’s just nose-to-the-grindstone, must-do work that is part of every project.

But what if we could reduce that work and make it possible to spend more time on the fun, exciting innovative parts? Well, that’s just one benefit of having a solid re-use strategy."    (Continued via ozelwebtasarim)    [Ergonomics Resources]

Ergonomic Mice - Ergonomics

Ergonomic Mice

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Using Verbs As Nouns in User Interfaces

UX Roles in Organizations ...

"Q: My company is developing software that, among other things, manages large amounts of member information. This is enterprise-level software, so we assume there will be some training involved. (Although, it’s been my task for the past year to get the company out of the mindset that we should rely on training rather than usability.) To better manage interactions with such large datasets, we’ve incorporated the concept of views, in the same way that Microsoft Outlook and SQL Builder use them. However, my initial usability testing has found that the concept of views is escaping most people, and I think it often boils down to the term itself. Even if I show users what the software does—and they pretty much always like it when they see it—they still often cannot get over the initial hurdle of the naming convention. When we say Click here to view your views, we see eyes glazing over and drool forming at the corners of the mouths of even the most competent users.>

Q: My company is developing software that, among other things, manages large amounts of member information. This is enterprise-level software, so we assume there will be some training involved. (Although, it’s been my task for the past year to get the company out of the mindset that we should rely on training rather than usability.) To better manage interactions with such large datasets, we’ve incorporated the concept of views, in the same way that Microsoft Outlook and SQL Builder use them. However, my initial usability testing has found that the concept of views is escaping most people, and I think it often boils down to the term itself. Even if I show users what the software does—and they pretty much always like it when they see it—they still often cannot get over the initial hurdle of the naming convention. When we say Click here to view your views, we see eyes glazing over and drool forming at the corners of the mouths of even the most competent users."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Great Designs Should Be Experienced and Not Seen

Recently, in a set of interviews we conducted with avid users of Netflix.com, the online DVD rental web site, we asked "What are the things you like best about the site?" Lots, apparently.

They liked how you didn't have to return the discs right away. They liked that there were no late fees. They liked that the selection of movies was great. They liked how the site's recommendations were usually really great films, that they otherwise would've never heard of. They liked that you could now watch movies online, without even waiting for the discs to arrive. It was easy for them to come up with benefits.

However, what we also found interesting was what they DIDN'T mention. They didn't mention how great the site's information architecture is, even though the designers have done a great job of organizing the more than 100,000 DVDs you can rent. They didn't mention the site's advanced use of Ajax, even though it creates a fluid and seamless set of interactions throughout. Nor did they mention the integration of social networks into the site, making it groundbreaking and creatively extending their business model.

While all these things are what the designers at Netflix work hard on every day, they go unmentioned by their customers. It's not because these aspects aren't important. It's because the designers have done their job really well: they've made them invisible.

The Better the Design, the More Invisible It Becomes

When things are going well in a design, we don't pay attention to them. We only pay attention to things that bother us.

It's like an air conditioner in a conference room. Nobody ever interrupts our meetings to tell us how comfortable the temperature is. They don't even notice.

We only notice the conference room temperature when it is too cold or too hot. Or perhaps we notice if the unit is too loud or is leaking all over the floor. But when it's working perfectly, it becomes invisible.

The same is true with online designs. We attend to things that aren't working far more than we attend to things that are. When the online experience frustrates us, we pay attention to its details, often because we're trying to figure out some way to outsmart it.

Not Great for the Portfolio

Unfortunately, this is not good news for those of us who want people to know what we do. If we do our job really well, nobody can see what we're doing. It's only when we do it poorly that we have something to show.

Take this error message from American Airline's website that popped up when a test participant was trying make a reservation:"    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

American Airlines - Usability, User Interface Design

American Airlines

Friday, May 15, 2009

As Consumers' Demands Change, Designers Are All in the Behavior Business

"Over the past few months, I've been busy riling up the design community with a theory that designers are now in the "behavior business," and I plan to explore this further in my posts in the coming weeks. Many of the challenges that businesses are facing cannot be addressed without a strategy for influencing consumer behavior in a positive and sustained manner, in areas like personal finance and preventative care. For example, I have spent significant time with head of disease management for a major U.S. insurance company who can't do his job, and manage the ballooning costs of chronic illnesses, if his members don't get their annual checkup (which is free BTW).

Even as behavior emerges as a central theme to many businesses, design is generally not at the top of the agenda. Yet times like these require creative thinking more than ever: if you feel that things are under control, then you are not moving fast enough. The design community needs to help businesses not just understand how we think, but how we fit in.

A colleague of mine offered the following thought: "The greater the gap between the current infrastructure of a given business or industry and the changing needs of its customers, the greater the value of design for that business."

Why is that? In the current environment most businesses cannot adapt their existing infrastructure rapidly enough to meet changing demands in the market-place. They are seeing rapid changes in consumer expectations that have the potential to open up new markets and opportunities if they can be translated into sustained behavior. But, instead of jumping ahead most companies are falling behind.

Consumer behavior in areas like health and prevention are a great example. Communities like Patientslikeme are becoming more and more sophisticated in how they coordinate and support collective behavior and shift consumer demand in ways that traditional provider networks can only dream of.

I recently sat down with a CMO of a major U.S. corporation who "gets it." He knows that his existing product planning process is overburdened by technical fears from years of battling with IT and engineering. They have spent a long time comparing themselves to their traditional competitors in the telecommunications space. They have been measuring their progress against one another while consumer expectations are rapidly changing based on experiences emerging from other places (not just Google).

In the past he might have considered championing an organizational change process, working with a typical management consultancy. But these processes can be equally slow and the results hard to measure internally--even more so in the marketplace. Consumers are not waiting for you to come up with a new plan.

Design Intent

Before you try and untangle these operational barriers, you might take a page from a number of successful businesses that have found increasingly sophisticated ways to engage directly with their customers. Companies like Zappos and Zipcar (what is it about Zs?) have found incredible ways to drive change from the outside in. They encourage their customers to lead them in new directions and then use that demand to pull the change through their operations and infrastructure. It can be eye-opening. These businesses have found that this dialogue is one of their most important assets. Be aware: creating this kind of dialogue is not a one-off investment but a sustained initiative. These companies have built a layer of "social infrastructure" that is essential to their success in the marketplace on an ongoing basis."    (Continued via Fast Company, Robert Fabricant, putting people first)    [Usability Resources]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Refactoring the User Experience

Understanding the conscept of refactoring ...

The ability to take a broad view of the world and incorporate lessons learned from other disciplines distinguishes the best practitioners in any field. As UX professionals, there is much we can learn from good software engineering practice, which maps a team’s understanding of a problem at a human level onto the implementation of a technical solution. The essence of good software engineering practice is effective user experience—from developing the high-level design documentation that describes how the main elements of a system interact to its implementation in clearly written code. Though the relationship between software engineering and user experience is not always an easy one, software engineers and UX professionals share some common goals. Both have a vested interest in producing systems that are useful and usable.

This column, Innovating UX Practice, will explore how we can apply software engineering concepts and practices in the context of user experience design and, hopefully, build greater understanding between the two disciplines.

“Programmers rate themselves almost exclusively by these two rubrics: how challenging is the field and toolset, and how virtuoso are their talents.”—Alan Cooper

“Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs. Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do.”—Donald Knuth

“Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.”—Bjarne Stroustrup

The Need for Refactoring

Both software engineers and UX professionals can find themselves in the position of having to modify a system that has evolved without strategic planning rather than resulted from requirements‑driven design. When faced with a situation in which we are trying to improve a user experience without adding new functionality, we can apply refactoring, a common approach in software engineering. Martin Fowler, coauthor of the book Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code, defines refactoring as follows:

“…changing a software system in such a way that it does not alter the external behavior of the code yet improves its internal structure…you are improving the design of the code after it has been written.”—Martin Fowler"    (Continued via UXmatters, Peter Hornsby)    [Usability Resources]

Making $10,000 a Pixel: Optimizing Thumbnail Images in Search Results

The thumbnail image in search results ...

"In search results, the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words rings true. When it comes to making your search results more efficient to use, more relevant, and more attractive, images reign supreme. There is simply nothing else on your search results pages that can come close to offering the same potential as thumbnail images for dramatically increasing your conversion rates and revenues.

While your Web site’s image requirements are likely unique, there are some common pitfalls you might encounter in using images in your search results. The good news is that you can easily avoid most of these mistakes with awareness and a little foresight.
Best Practices for Thumbnail Images

Why do most Web sites use thumbnail images in search results? There are two very good reasons:

* helping users identify relevant search results
* reducing pogosticking—that is, customers’ bouncing back and forth between search results and the items at their links’ destinations

Research consistently shows that well-crafted images make excellent use of the limited screen real estate on search results pages and play a crucial role in providing the information scent people need to navigate search results effectively. Simply put, pictures sell content."    (Continued via UXmatters, Greg Nudelman)    [Usability Resources]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How technology improves usability: the Nokia 8810

Facing pragmatic problems in need of UI design ...

"Remember when mobile phones still had external antennas? Everyone thought they were annoying as hell, because, for example, you could not put your phone in your pocket upside down. Secondly, the antenna tended to break. Now, did I say everyone hated external mobile phone antennas? No, not everyone. Radio engineers liked them. And justifiably so: external antennas improve signal reception, improved signal reception reduces energy usage, which in turn improves battery performance.

Wired describes the struggle and compromises Nokia went through when tucking the 8810's antenna inside the phone (the case is part of a wonderful article called design under constraint). Nokia pulled some pretty smart tricks: they printed the antenna like a chip, gave the phone a shape that would lead the users not to cover the antenna with their hand, and they made part of the casing out of plastic (the rest of the phone was metallic).

Once again this shows the rocky road from concept to implementation. At one point or another most mobile phone developers could see consumers would prefer internal antennas. It was a matter of making it technically feasible, and being willing to compromise signal reception in favor of a product that's easier to handle. Because all other things being equal, a phone with an external antenna will always have better signal reception than one without, and thus better battery performance. However, when looking at today's mobile phones, we can safely say that users were happy to trade in some battery performance to lose the antenna. How technology, a smart design, and the right compromises can improve usability."    (Continued via the product usability weblog)    [Usability Resources]

Nokia 8810 - Usability, User Interface Design

Nokia 8810

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Engineering and Design: An Open Letter

Matching the talent and knowledge with the task ...

"Well-intentioned engineers often ask me how they can become designers, or how they can "do" design. A typical question might be something like this: "Can you please share guidelines for maximizing user experience while designing a UI? For instance: When should I use radio buttons instead of drop down bars [to minimize clicks] and so on?"

Questions like this are tough in more than one way. So I thought I would share a considered response—in the form of a hypothetical e-mail reply—to the well-intentioned engineer:

Thanks for taking the initiative and demonstrating interest in user experience (UX).

Without intending any disrespect or discounting your sincerity, I must admit that my first reaction goes something like this: You're kind of asking for a master's degree in an e-mail. Let me explain by paraphrasing your question, but with the professions reversed.

"Can you please share guidelines around supporting concurrency, while avoiding deadlock and race conditions, while designing a real-time system that has optimal performance and minimal code footprint?"
Hone your questions, find the talent

Imagine how a trained computer scientist would respond to this question if it were put by someone who came from a design school, or whose training was in the social sciences. You might not be entirely generous, right? That's how a designer would respond to the first question.

The magnitude of what is actually being asked is overwhelming, so the short answer to both questions is:

Add to your team the professional competence appropriate to the task. In your case, you need a UX professional. The UX people clearly need a professional computer scientist.

End-user satisfaction and quality of experience need to be the fundamental pillars of any worthy company's value system. Hence organizations must be structured in a way that tilts the odds in favor of achieving these goals. Good intentions are a start, but they are not sufficient. Appropriate tools and skills at the highest professional standards, applied according to best practice, are what's needed.

Every project thus needs equally high levels of competence in the mutually dependent but different disciplines of engineering and UX. Professional stature is equally hard to achieve in each, and there are no simple shortcuts that let one jump from one to the other: This is no place for amateurs."    (Continued via BusinessWeek, Usability News)    [Usability Resources]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Top-10 Information Architecture (IA) Mistakes

Jakob Nielsen discusses structure and navigation in IA ...

"Structure and navigation must support each other and integrate with search and across subsites. Complexity, inconsistency, hidden options, and clumsy UI mechanics prevent users from finding what they need.

Bad information architecture causes the majority of outright user failures and isn't improving at the rate of other Web usability issues. To determine why, I've identified 10 long-term sore thumbs that together cost websites billions of dollars each year.

I divided the following list of worst IA mistakes into two parts, which corresponds to how we partition the materials across our 2-day IA course: structure on Day 1 and navigation on Day 2. Of course, you need to get both right, but they're essentially two different design levels: The invisible way the site is structured and the visible way users understand and manage that structure.

Structure Mistakes

1. No Structure

The most notable structural problem is when designers treat a site like one big swamp with no organizing principle for individual items. Yes, users can fish the swamp using search or by following links from current promotions or outside sites. But whatever they dredge up is it. No opportunities for understanding the site's other offerings or locating related items.

This sin is common on news sites and catalog-based e-commerce sites, where each item (articles and products, respectively) is treated as a stand-alone unit without connections to related items. No wonder users leave those sites so quickly.

2. Search and Structure Not Integrated
We've long known that users often exhibit search-dominant behaviors. This doesn't mean that search is all they need, however. Arriving on a page from a search is like parachuting into a city. Hopefully, if you want to go to Paris, you'll land there rather than in Amsterdam, but in any case, you're unlikely to land on the doorstep of your favorite restaurant. To get there, you'll need to walk or take a cab. Similarly, users often need to navigate the neighborhood around their search destination.

Of course, local navigation works only if the site has a structure to define its neighborhoods (see mistake #1). But the design must also expose local options to users. Even better if it indicates how relevant the neighboring options are to the user's current query.

SERP (search engine results page) usability increases when each search hit exposes its location within the site structure. External search engines like Google can't always do this because they don't know the site's structure or which navigational dimensions are most relevant to common site tasks. But you do know your site's structure and should therefore include the info on your own SERPs.

Sadly, search and navigation fail to support each other on many sites. This problem is exacerbated by another common mistake: navigation designs that don't indicate the user's current location. That is, after users click a search result, they can't determine where they are in the site — as when you're searching for pants and click on a pair, but then have no way to see more pants.

3. Missing Category Landing Pages

We recommend that sites have a series of categories that each link to their own landing page that gives users a section overview. Sometimes, sites forego the overview page and simply offer links directly to individual pages within a section. This might reduce the number of site pages, but when no page is clearly identified as a sub-topic page, users can misunderstand the site's scope and miss important details, products, and services.

Category pages also help SEO because they're the most prominent landing place when people search for a type of product, service, or information. They're also a way to overcome mistake #2 because they help users bump up a level or two in the site structure if search takes them to an overly detailed leaf node. (Breadcrumbs facilitate users' ability to easily move up the levels.)

4. Extreme Polyhierarchy

Compared to the physical world, one of the online world's benefits is that items can live in multiple locations. Because websites can classify products and other content along multiple dimensions, they help users navigate locally to related items and provide faceted winnowing of a large product space into manageable shortlists that can satisfy the user's main requirements.

This is all good, but polyhierarchy can easily become a crutch. Rather than spend time upfront to develop several intuitive and logical top-level categories, teams rush through this important process, creating numerous weak categories and listing products multiple times within them. The usability impact? Users spend too much time agonizing over top-level categories and then get confused when they see items showing up in multiple places ("are these the same thing?").

With too many classification options and too many structured dimensions, users are forced to think harder to move forward. The profusion of options also makes people question the information scent. This lack of confidence early in the site experience extends throughout their visit and can negatively impact the end result (by thwarting a purchase, for example).

5. Subsites/Microsites

Poorly Integrated with Main Site
Abandoned microsites litter the Web as the detritus of old marketing campaigns. A dedicated microsite might have been a good idea back when you launched a new product, but by the next year it's undermining your online strategy and diluting your online presence.

Web design is design for the ages. Think about how anything you do will feel in 5 years.

It's typically best to forego independent microsites and place new information on subsites within the main site. But you still need to integrate these subsites within the overall site structure.

For example, on both microsites and subsites, we often see product-specific pages that fail to link to information about the company or organization behind the offering. Further, many sites poorly represent their subsites in the main site search — which often ignores microsites altogether."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

The poverty of user-centered design

Everything is user-centered ...

"In the dim distant past, some of us used to distinguish our work from the masses by declaring proudly that we were ‘user-centered’. At one time this actually meant you did things differently and put a premium on the ability of real people to exploit a product or service. While the concern remains, and there are many examples of designs that really need to revisit their ideas about users, I find the term ‘user-centered’ to have little real meaning anymore. It is not just the case that everyone claims this label as representative, after all, who in their right mind would ever declare their work as not user-centered and still expect to have an audience? It is more a case that truly understanding the user seems beyond both established methods and established practices.

I will leave aside there any argument about the term ‘user’. Some people have made careers out of disimissing that term and proposing the apparently richer ‘person’ or ‘human’, but the end result is the same (though I prefer to talk of human-centered than user-centered myself). The real issue is methodological.

First, claiming adherence to user-centered methods and philosophies is too easy; anyone can do it. Ask people what they would like to see in a re-design and you have ‘established’ user-requirements. Stick a few people in front of your design at the end and you have ‘conducted’ a usability test. Hey presto, instant user-centered design process. If only!

Second, and more pernicious, the set of methods employed by most user-centered professionals fails to deliver truly user-centric insights. The so called ’science’ of usability which underlies user-centeredness leaves much to be desired. It rests too much on anecdote, assumed truths about human behavior and an emphasis on performance metrics that serve the perspective of people other than the user. ISO-defined usability metrics refer to ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ and ’satisfaction’. These do not correlate so one needs to capture all three. But who gets to determine what constitutes effective and efficient anyhow? In many test scenarios this is a determination of the organization employing the user, or the thoughts of the design team on what people should do, not the user herself. Maybe this should be called organizational-centric or work-centric design. If I wanted to start a new trend I could probably push this idea into an article and someone might think I was serious."    (Continued via InfoMatters, User Experience Network)    [Usability Resources]

Approaching Design: Advice on how to really rock in UI / UX design

On my honor I will do my best? (Boy Scout Oath) ...

"The longer I do this job, the more I think that there are certain qualities, or attitudes that can make a real difference to ones ability to get better designs implemented, and generally enjoy the job more. Here’s my hopefully controversial list of qualities that will help you really rock.

Be Respectful

Focus on trying to understand and empathize with the people you work with…they are smart people and do difficult jobs. Respect will come easy after that.

With respect and understanding comes trust… and if you really want to design something great the first thing you need is the trust of the people you work with and respect from them.

Be Collaborative

Moving from design dictator to design facilitator is a shift towards true collaboration. Design within a multidisciplinary team (is there any other type of team?) requires a shared vision and if you really want things to happen then sharing decision making and taking people on a journey towards an agreed solution is a great place to start.

Learn to move from “dictating” the UX design to “facilitating” the UX design… and watch how people really pick up your design and run with it.

Be Trusting

I think its essential to trust that people are doing their best, and that if they say “that’s to hard”, or “we should rethink this” then trusting that its coming from a good place will, if nothing else, help you approach the conversation about why its hard in the right way.

Investing trust in the business is also essential, questioning every business decision they make is not exactly going to help – so trust that these guys are actually thinking about their jobs and that their priority decision are considered. This doesn’t mean you can attempt to better understand where they are coming from , but again, if nothing else trust will help you approach the conversation in the right way.

Dive deep into the data

This may seem like a strange one to add, but as a UX designer I think one of the most important things is to understand the underlying foundation of what “can” make up your design. In the end I think applications are very simple, all you need to understand is that there is data at one end (e.g. the XML returned in some API) and there is your application interface at the other end. Its rare that you can make fundamental changes to the underlying data, but you have almost complete freedom (in a new application) in deciding what to do with that data. The page flows, the presentation and passing of that data is in your hands."    (Continued via the architecture of everything)    [Usability Resources]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jakob Nielsen Critiques Twitter

Jakob Nielsen on Twitter ...

"Not everyone is hearts and flowers over Twitter. Web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen discusses the hazards and limitations of tweeting.

Few would dispute that Twitter is the hottest social medium around. The microblogging application, which enables anyone with Internet access to issue short public messages—about where to buy the best red-velvet cupcakes or what the latest tally is on swine flu—has enjoyed stunning growth that has made Facebook and MySpace look like yesterday's children. An increasing number of CEOs are employing Twitter to communicate and bond with customers and employees.

Nonetheless, it might be time to put some brakes on tweeting, according to Jakob Nielsen, a principal at Fremont (Calif.) Web-usability consulting firm the Nielsen Norman Group and author of 11 books on the way humans interact with technology. Nielsen recently answered some of BusinessWeek.com's questions about Twitter. Edited excerpts follow.

Are you surprised to see so many CEOs tweeting?

Well, there are always people who jump on the latest bandwagon, no matter what it is, but I do think it's surprising that CEOs would have the time to tweet, since they can't just toss off a sentence without repercussions the same way a normal user can. One of my former bosses once said that he had to be very careful what he said because tens of thousands of people in his organization would actually take it seriously and act on it. So if he said something that was easily misinterpreted, it could steer the company in the wrong direction.

Do you think it's a good idea for CEOs to tweet to their customers?

Mostly no. Posting on the Web is the modern PR, and the CEO's job is to articulate the company's vision and direction, which requires more than 140 characters. Being perceived as a wise guy or a shallow thinker is not going to do your stock price much good. We have just completed a usability study of investor relations info on corporate Web sites, and one of the big reasons individual investors turn to companies' Web sites is to find the CEO's vision and take on the company's and industry's direction.

Because users don't want to read very much online, this information should be addressed concisely, but not as concisely as in a tweet. Better to write something deeper (or post a video clip, since investors also want to assess the CEO's personality by watching him or her speak), and then announce that, with a link, from the company's general Twitter update, as opposed to in the CEO's personal tweet."    (Continued via BusinessWeek, Rebecca Reisner)    [Usability Resources]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

BayCHI Monthly Program

"Tuesday, May 12, 2009"

The Unexpected Joys and Sorrows of Translating In-person Experiences to On-Line Tools
Luke Hohmann, Enthiosys

Innovation Games were originally designed to be in-person, goal-directed, serious games that enabled small groups of people to use collaborative play techniques to accomplish complex goals. Over the past year, in response to customer demand, Enthiosys has been working to translate some of the games into a new online serious gaming platform. When we started, we had some expectations about what would and would not work. Some of these expectations were validated. What's more interesting has been the unexpected joys and surprising sorrows. In this talk, Luke Hohmann, creator of Innovation Games, will present an overview of a few of the games and share some of Enthiosys's experiences in creating online versions of the in-person games. You'll get the chance to play in-person games, and, technology permitting, play some online games (bring your laptop -- we'll play online if we can). You can expect very little (to no) fancy PowerPoint and instead frank discussions on a few key aspects of how our future will evolve as we create increasingly innovative forms of online collaboration.

Luke Hohmann is founder and CEO of Enthiosys, a recognized expert on agile product management of software products and a former senior software product manager at four companies. He is also the author of three books and numerous articles on software product management. Before founding Enthiosys in 2003, Luke was vice president of business development in the U.S. for Aladdin Knowledge Systems; vice president of engineering and product development at Aurigin Systems Inc.; education technical director at ObjectSpace Inc.; and vice president of systems engineering at EDS Fleet Services. Luke graduated magna cum laude with a B.S.E. in computer engineering and an M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. In addition to data structures and artificial intelligence, he studied cognitive psychology and organizational behavior. He is also a former National Junior Pairs Figure Skating Champion, as well as a certified aerobics instructor. In his spare time, Luke likes roughhousing with his four kids and his wife's cooking. He also enjoys long runs in the Santa Cruz mountains to burn off his wife's cooking.

How to Fire Your Boss and Start Your Own Consulting Business
John Carter, Consultant

There are many ways to go about consulting, but how do you do it, and how do you do it successfully? Most consulting companies fail because they can not attract the clients who need their services. Failed strategies include calling on their former associates, attending networking events, and cold calling, and waiting for the phone to ring. The key to successful consulting is marketing -- NOT selling. This presentation will be based on the creation of a successful boutique consulting firm, Product Development Consulting Inc. which was founded in 1990 and is still thriving in Boston. The talk will describe the practical marketing techniques that were used to establish and grow the firm, and give tangible best practices and operational metrics in order to get clients to call you, not the other way around. The focus on marketing in the presentation will help aspiring consultants, or those who are more experienced find greater success without stress.

John Carter has been a CEO, CTO, founder, and a widely respected consultant over his 35-year career. He has provided merger and acquisition advice to technology firms (targets acquired by Google and Computer Associates) and the private equity firm Vantage Point Venture Partners as Principal of TCGen. In 2004 John and his partner raised capital and executed a global rollup strategy in consumer electronics integrating the brand operations of Klipsch, Jamo and API which tripled sales and doubled profit in less than three years. Prior to TCGen, he was the Founder and a Principal of Boston-based Product Development Consulting Inc., a leading consultancy advising Fortune 500 companies in the areas of research, development, and marketing. He has consulted for many high technology companies, working with clients such as Abbott, Apple, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and 3M where he applied best practices in areas such as portfolio management, stage gate, metrics, product definition, and teamwork. Before starting PDC, John was Chief Engineer of BOSE Corporation. He earned his SM in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California."    (Continued via BayCHI)    [Usability Resources]

Friday, May 08, 2009

On Engineering and Design: An Open Letter

Microsoft Research Principal Scientist Bill Buxton calls for engineers and user-experience designers to learn to appreciate one another.

"Well-intentioned engineers often ask me how they can become designers, or how they can "do" design. A typical question might be something like this: "Can you please share guidelines for maximizing user experience while designing a UI? For instance: When should I use radio buttons instead of drop down bars [to minimize clicks] and so on?"

Questions like this are tough in more than one way. So I thought I would share a considered response—in the form of a hypothetical e-mail reply—to the well-intentioned engineer:

Thanks for taking the initiative and demonstrating interest in user experience (UX).

Without intending any disrespect or discounting your sincerity, I must admit that my first reaction goes something like this: You're kind of asking for a master's degree in an e-mail. Let me explain by paraphrasing your question, but with the professions reversed.

"Can you please share guidelines around supporting concurrency, while avoiding deadlock and race conditions, while designing a real-time system that has optimal performance and minimal code footprint?"
Hone your questions, find the talent

Imagine how a trained computer scientist would respond to this question if it were put by someone who came from a design school, or whose training was in the social sciences. You might not be entirely generous, right? That's how a designer would respond to the first question.

The magnitude of what is actually being asked is overwhelming, so the short answer to both questions is:

Add to your team the professional competence appropriate to the task. In your case, you need a UX professional. The UX people clearly need a professional computer scientist.

End-user satisfaction and quality of experience need to be the fundamental pillars of any worthy company's value system. Hence organizations must be structured in a way that tilts the odds in favor of achieving these goals. Good intentions are a start, but they are not sufficient. Appropriate tools and skills at the highest professional standards, applied according to best practice, are what's needed.

Every project thus needs equally high levels of competence in the mutually dependent but different disciplines of engineering and UX. Professional stature is equally hard to achieve in each, and there are no simple shortcuts that let one jump from one to the other: This is no place for amateurs."    (Continued via BusinessWeek, Usability News)    [Usability Resources]

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Close To The User: User Centered Design Improves Workflows In Radiology

Applying User Centered Design to medical equipmrnt ...

The software developers at Siemens Healthcare have come up with something special for customers employing Siemens PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) and RIS (Radiology Information System) software: Clinical staff members process their specific tasks via "role-based portals". These portal applications are tailored to the respective users and workplaces. Therefore, each application offers precisely those functions the staff member needs for his/her tasks. Siemens developed this portal concept according to the "User Centered Design" method. By combining the practical clinical experience of many customers and users with medical knowledge and modern user ergonomics, developers created an innovative user interface which demonstrably enhances radiology workflows. Three applications of this type are already on the market: The Syngo Portal Radiologist and Syngo Portal Referring Physician support efficient workflow for diagnostic processes relating to all aspects of radiology. Furthermore, Siemens recently introduced the Syngo Portal Transcriptionist, which simplifies the transcription of medical texts for transcriptionists and secretaries.

In order to design software as user-friendly as possible, developers must have specific knowledge of the user, his or her demands, workflows, and the individual process steps. For this reason, Siemens Healthcare introduced the "User Centered Design" method into the IT departments. According to this method, the first step is to analyze the diagnostic process. At this point it is determined which persons are involved in the workflow and which of their roles are important for software development. They are observed in their individual work environments and interviewed regarding their tasks. This may involve, for example, referring physicians, radiologists, technologists, transcriptionists, or even administrative employees. Therefore, participants include persons who either initiate the process or use the results from the process.

A further element in the method, the "Overview Use Case", describes the typical role player with respect to age, education, knowledge, characteristics, preferences, and work patterns. The objective is to portray each user group and its working environment as precisely as possible in order to provide the developer with as vivid an impression of the user as possible. Then the interactions of these persons with the medical-technical system are described and analyzed in the "User Goal Use Case". This results in the approach that is taken most often and makes the most sense, referred to as "main scenario" or "happy path", as well as possible alternative scenarios.

The final result of the development process is a software which fulfils its users' demands and can be operated as simply and quickly as possible. This could mean, for instance, measurably fewer pop-up screens, fewer clicks, shorter mouse paths, or displaying only the essential information on-screen. The 80 percent rule applies here: The information that is required in 80 percent of all cases is displayed on the screen immediately. All other information can be displayed via one more mouse click."    (Continued via Medical News Today)    [Usability Resources]

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Usability Study: Men Need Speed

Designing for gender ...

"The importance of download speed, for most Web users, has long been established (King 2008). Fast response times foster higher flow states (Skadberg & Kimmel 2004), higher conversion rates (Akamai 2007), higher perceived trustworthiness (Nielsen 1999), and lower user frustration (Ceaparu et al. 2004). But, previous research has also found that differences in gender, age and computer self-efficacy can moderate user priorities. This article explores the differences among men and women in their desire for speed.
Gender Differences in Website Usability Criteria

In a survey of 301 undergraduates on the importance of different web usability criteria, researchers from Southern Illinois University found that after ease of use, men prefer fast download speed over easy navigation (Pearson & Pearson 2008). Women prefer ease of use, easy navigation, and accessibility. Figure 1 shows the differences among genders for the most important factors in assessing web usability."    (Continued via WebSiteOptimization.com)    [Usability Resources]

Figure 1. Gender Differences. - Usability, User Interface Design

Figure 1. Gender Differences.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Does Apple Netbook repudiation signal a shift?

Apple does not strengthen the notbook category ...

?Apple COO Tim Cook's recent comments about Netbooks may reflect an incipient movement to look beyond this category of laptops--now more than a year old. The comments also echo lingering disaffection with the Netbook business model. Sentiment that may not be that far removed from Intel's internal thinking.

... This New York Times blog does a good job of dispelling any ambiguity about Cook's comments when it says that "contempt may be too kindly a term" to describe his attitude toward Netbooks.

Cook joins a small chorus of less blunt but equally disdainful companies. Toshiba initially resisted Netbooks and in conversations I had with Toshiba at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January (where its Netbook offering had been relegated, quite intentionally, to an easy-to-miss corner of its sprawling booth) they clearly were not enthusiastic about (if not disdainful of) the category.

Toshiba, caving to pressure in its home market (Japan) from Acer and Asus, has since come out with a redesigned Netbook but has yet to offer anything officially in the U.S. market--more than a year after the Atom processor was launched.

And in case anyone misses the irony. Toshiba practically invented the laptop category and, to state the obvious, is one of the largest laptop vendors in the world.

And Sony has gone out of its way to say that its Netbook-like notebook is not a Netbook--and priced it accordingly.

Advanced Micro Devices has been more outspoken than most. Their contempt, to a large extent, is a given since they are Intel's chief rival. And, unlike Toshiba and Sony, they're not a customer of Intel's and don't have to couch their disdain in diplomatic language. (Skeptics will cite a host of other reasons too: AMD's lack of R&D funds to develop an Atom equivalent, for one.).

That said, in conversations I have had with AMD (including CEO Dirk Meyer), they seem to genuinely believe that Netbooks--as defined by Atom--are not going to be around for the long haul. In short, like Apple's Cook, they think they're too dinky. (See Cook's comments linked above for a variation on this theme, including the words "junky," "terrible," and "cramped.")"    (Continued via CNET News, Brooke Crothers)    [Usability Resources]

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ten inexpensive tips to improve user experience

Quick tips for better UX ...

"At TechCrunch’s Geek ‘n Rolla event last week, I managed to have a quick chat with Leisa Reichelt from Disambiguity, following her great presentation about “Why you can’t NOT afford good user experience”.

Although the presentation was geared up towards digital start-ups, our conversation crossed over into the fact that usability is often overlooked by most small business with an online presence, usually due to a combination of a lack of understanding, time and resources.

It’s been proven time and time again, that the smallest changes made as a result of examining a site’s usability can have a large-scale, highly positive impact.

With this in mind, usability should not be ignored. Here are ten tips to inexpensively improve user experience.

1. Back to basics

Ensure that the basic functionality of your site meets your online objectives. Do this by identifying the goals you want to measure: Do you want a user to buy a product? Sign up for a newsletter? Book an appointment?

Focus on the main goals that the user is trying to achieve. This will prevent you from wasting time and resources on secondary aspects of your website and allow you to identify the steps the user takes to reach your primary objectives. Then you can begin to establish if these steps can be simplified or made more prominent.

2. Use your imagination

Create a persona. Lots of people recommend this, but very few seem to practice it, possibly because it seems a little bit crazy. However, I can assure you that it’s not. Imaginary personas of your website’s core demographic will help you be able to build and understand the site from a user’s perspective.

This can be done either before or after you’ve undertaken research into your website but ideally, you should be referring to your imaginary user (or users) constantly through the process of establishing a usability cycle. Be extremely careful not to stereotype though, as this will lead to problems.

3. Test from your desk

Technology is a wonderful thing. If you want to test some real-life users, you can save time and money by doing it remotely from your desk.

Use a phone to talk to participants whilst using screen-sharing software to see what they’re doing and how they respond; there are many inexpensive, effective products, such as Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, that exist within this marketplace. These will allow you to conduct either real-time, face-to-face tests from a different location to your user, or to set up an automated, un-moderated test and simply collect the results when it’s convenient for you to do so."    (Continued via Usability News, Econsultancy)    [Usability Resources]

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Is Interaction Design a dead-end job?

Is everyone an interaction designer? ...

"IDEO’s Bill Moggridge made a comment last week after a screening of Objectified that hit close to home. To paraphrase, he said interaction design has become pervasive, that anyone and everyone can be an interaction designer, and so the role of professional interaction designer is (or is becoming) unnecessary.

So, is Interaction Design a dead-end job?

As an expertise, no. But as a discrete service offering or a career path, I say absolutely.

This position has not made me any new friends around the office, but to be clear, I'm not suggesting our profession is akin to flipping burgers at the mall. Instead, it's that interaction design has reached a point of maturity where growth is constrained. I see three major factors behind this and hope that by acknowledging them we can find a way forward.
1: Developers get it
The practice of "interaction design" grew from the need to present software experiences to users in a way that makes sense, meets their needs, is consistent and coherent and "usable" and ultimately desirable. Other actors in the creation of software, from senior management to product managers to developers, had little exposure to these values nor the abilities to deliver on them.


The landscape is much different today. Developers have a much stronger sense of "good" and "appropriate" interactions. Entire development methodologies revolve around delivering value to users by understanding their needs. There are many developers and development-driven organizations with little or no professional Interaction Design involvement making good software.

Modern development frameworks provide a strong baseline for producing interfaces and interactions that in the past required a skilled interaction designer to realize. On iPhone, for example, while it’s certainly hard to produce great experiences, it’s just as difficult to produce bad UI. On the Web, AJAX libraries offer very usable UI patterns right out of the box and greatly reduce the custom design and coding efforts required to build good online applications.

So from the software side, as the level of interaction design awareness and quality continues to improve throughout development organizations, Interaction Designers are no longer as frequently or as heavily needed to bring a successful product to market.
2: Interaction is not an on-screen activity
Another factor is the emergence of more direct input and feedback mechanisms in today’s software-enabled devices. Interaction designers are vital to help translate between human and computer when interfaces are composed of virtual abstractions with no corresponding physical affordances to aid comprehension. As software manipulation becomes more "natural," the work of designing appropriate interactions moves from the screen out to the device as a whole.


Design of physical devices has traditionally been the purview of industrial designers, a profession with its own long history of considering context and user needs to design products driven by and responding to user interaction. And industrial design education today can include much of the same user-centered design training familiar to interaction designers.

So from the hardware side, Interaction Designers are encroaching upon an established discipline with deeper roots and a better understanding of physical materials and human ergonomics."    (Continued via Cooper Journal:)    [Usability Resources]

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Knowledge Navigator Deconstructed - Building an Envisionment

Worth a read if you missed the original ...

"Last week we reprinted an article discussing the 3 steps design teams take when creating an experience vision to guide the direction of design toward their users’ ideal experience. Once a design team creates that experience vision, they need to share it with everyone involved in the project to make sure everyone is on the same page as the design process progresses.

While the process of conveying the vision to key decision makers on the project and within the organization is very important, the methods used to share the vision can vary greatly depending on budget, available resources, and the pool of creative talent. Teams can use any technique, from expensive video-shoots with actors to low-fidelity stop-motion animation, as long as the vision helps the design team and stakeholders progress in the same direction and inspires team members to produce an improved experience.

In this week’s UIEtips article, I once again go back to an article UIE published in June 2007. In this article, Knowledge Navigator Deconstructed: Building an Envisionment, I discuss how a successful envisionment that focuses on the users’ ideal experiences can lead a design team’s direction for years to come. I also explore the many creative techniques for making that vision clear to everyone involved with the project.

Does your organization have an experience vision? How are you guiding your design direction toward your users’ ideal experiences? What methods to share this vision have you used? Join the discussion about this week’s topic below.

Also, I’m conducting a one day workshop in three different cities on Secrets Behind Designing Great User Experiences. One of the topics covered is the Making of a UX Vision. I take the concepts I discuss in the article into greater depth."    (Continued via UIE Brain Sparks, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

Friday, May 01, 2009

Touch Screens with Pop-up Buttons

When touch buttons also pop-up ...

"Touch-screen technology has become wildly popular, thanks to smart phones designed for nimble fingers. But most touch screens have a major drawback: you need to keep a close eye on the screen as you tap, to make sure that you hit the right virtual buttons. As touch screens become more popular in other contexts, such as in-car navigation and entertainment systems, this lack of sensory feedback could become a dangerous distraction.

Now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed buttons that pop out from a touch-screen surface. The design retains the dynamic display capabilities of a normal touch screen but can also produce tactile buttons for certain functions.

Graduate student Chris Harrison and computer-science professor Scott Hudson have built a handful of proof-of-concept displays with the morphing buttons. The screens are covered in semitransparent latex, which sits on top of an acrylic plate with shaped holes and an air chamber connected to a pump. When the pump is off, the screen is flat; when it's switched on, the latex forms concave or convex features around the cutouts, depending on negative or positive pressure.

To illuminate the screens and give them multitouch capabilities, the researchers use projectors, infrared light, and cameras positioned below the surface. The projectors cast images onto the screens while the cameras sense infrared light scattered by fingers at the surface.

The idea of physically dynamic interfaces isn't new, and in recent years, researchers have explored using screens made from polymers that can alter their shape when exposed to heat, light, and changes in a magnetic field. However, these materials are still experimental and relatively expensive to make."    (Continued via Technology Review, Kate Greene)    [Usability Resources]

3D Pop-up Button - Usability, User Interface Design

3D Pop-up Button

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