Thursday, February 15, 2007

The human factor in gadget, Web design

Cnet's take on HCI ...

"One obvious reason is that the video-sharing Web site has kept it simple. YouTube doesn't require a video player download or a special account just to watch a video. With just a click on a link, a video is up and running in a few seconds. It's a people-friendly design, and that attention to simplicity has paid off.

Experts in the field of so-called human-computer interaction, however, say good design like the YouTube interface is the exception, not the rule. For every slick Apple iPod, there are a dozen washing machines with a baffling array of buttons. And for every simple TiVo interface, there are umpteen TV remote controls that look like something out of NASA's Mission Control.

Now companies, universities and even government agencies like NASA are investing time and dollars as they take a hard look at how people interact with technology.

"Design is starting to change who succeeds and who fails," said Alonso Vera, a senior research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center who's also a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. "A few years ago that wasn't true. If I had a better algorithm, I would win," he said.

Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert and partner in the design consulting firm the Nielsen Norman Group, said when he started in the field in 1983, he had only a few hundred peers around the world--all considered "weirdos," he joked. Now, there are several thousands experts, and he's constantly meeting new specialists at major corporations.

Not surprisingly, high-tech companies are bringing in human-computer interaction experts as well. Google has a team of about 50 and regularly hires students out of CMU's human-computer interaction department. And there are growing teams at Intuit, Oracle and IBM. In the '90s, Microsoft started building a user design team that now includes roughly 500 people, industry experts say.

NASA, which has faced cutbacks in recent years, has a human-computer interaction group that's grown to 10 people since it was started in 2002. It recently worked with Google and the Firefox browser team on a new iteration of Firefox. NASA used its cognitive modeling tools--or computer algorithms that simulate how people will respond to new products--to help Firefox and Google develop more intuitive browser tabs."    (Continued via CNET)    [Usability Resources]

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