Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Interview with David Travis

Discussing the field of UX ...

"Not content to offer their skills to blue chip clients such as Barclays and eBay, Userfocus also provides training courses in areas including user experience design, intranet usability and usability testing. The person behind Userfocus is psychologist David Travis who shares his thoughts in this month’s interview.

How did you get into this field and what sorts of things had you done previously?

Between 1979 and 1986, I earned a degree and a Ph.D in psychology (from the universities of London and Cambridge) and then embarked on an academic career of post-doc research. My interest was in human colour vision and Andrew Monk at the University of York encouraged me to write a cross-over book to help HCI people use colour effectively on displays (called, predictably, “Effective Color Displays”). At the time, designing for colour displays was like designing for Web 2.0: it was seen as a real paradigm shift from the previous technology (even though, in reality, all the old rules still apply). The book got me on the agenda of some people at BT’s research labs in Ipswich who headhunted me for a job in their graphical user interfaces team in 1989 (sadly, it’s the only time I’ve ever been headhunted). I quickly realised that colour was just one element of interface design and BT gave me the opportunity to design usability labs and mock-up future HCI concepts, like telepresence. This gave me the urge to do more applied work, so in 1995 I moved to System Concepts and built up their practice in usability consultancy. I founded Userfocus in 2002.

What are some things (or people) that inspire how you think about and then develop digital experiences for users?

At the University of York in 1986 Andrew Monk introduced me to the Mac. Before that I’d been programming PDP-11s to support my research activities and this was the first graphical user interface I’d ever seen. It was an epiphany. Andrew had a post-doc working with him at the time who insisted on giving me a tutorial on how to use a Mac, as if this was some untamed beast I was about to be let loose on, but I was dying just to play with it. So I’d get into work at 8am before anyone else (this doesn’t seem early to me now but this was at a University) to spend time playing around with MacDraw and Cricket Graph, two wonderful Mac applications. I was blown away by the possibilities. It was like Adam’s first words to Eve: “Stand back, I don’t know how big this thing is going to get.”

From a practitioner’s perspective, the two biggest influences on me have been Bill Buxton and Tom Stewart. I’ve worked with both of them and learnt the importance of a pragmatic approach to design problems and to avoid “analysis paralysis”.

There are various definitions of UX out there depending on who you talk to… What does UX mean to you?

I like the quote from Whitney Quesenbery: “User Experience v. User Interaction v. User Interface v. Information Architecture v. Information Design v. Human Factors v. User-Centered Design v. Performance Centered Design v. … As far as I can tell, a choice of title says more about “where you got on the bus” than any real distinction of goals.”

To me, user centred design means three things: 1. Early and continual focus on users and their tasks. 2. Empirical measurement of user behaviour. 3. Iterative design. You may be doing design, but if you’re not doing all of these things then you’re not user centred."    (Continued via Userfocus)    [Usability Resources]

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