November 5, 2004
UX and visibility
Speaking of filing things away, here's part of an email I just sent to the InfoD-Cafe list in response to Loren Needle's email re information design visibility. Many UX fields (usability, graphic design, IxD, IA, tech writing) have this same "why don't they value us?" kind of undercurrent, and I think Challis makes a critical point. Below is a linked version of my response.
Anyways, what I wanted to add to this discussion is to point to Challis Hodge's article titled Design is Broken and Needs to be Fixed. Here's a snippet:
I have listened for decades now as we designers have debated in circles, chased our tails and whined about business not understanding what we do and the value we bring. We talk about making things more usable, about creating brand loyalty, about making the world a better place. We struggle with ROI models, case studies and methods to communicate our value. Still we find ourselves in the same situation, having the same discussion. We just dont get why business doesnt understand.
I also think there's another theory that may be of use in these issues of visibility (for we share them with many, many other professions). It's diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers) aka crossing the chasm (Moore) aka the tipping point (Gladwell). It's a very complex and interesting theory, but I think the point that applies here is this: there is a gap/chasm/space between the point where something is used by the early adopters/visionaries and the early majority/pragmatists. And that space has everything to do with communication of value. The language we use is not the language used by those we would seek to convince. For me, this is exactly in line with what Challis is saying. And this is where we should look to find ways to make progress.
October 29, 2004
Karen Schriver on ballots
Karen Schriver, one of my fave info designers, has been fairly active on the InfoD-Cafe list recently. In her first post, she points to some interesting press coverage in Florida re ballots. This one (Miami Herald; no registration required) points out issues with so-called "broken arrow" ballots. This one (Orlando Sentinel; registration required...feel free to use IDblog/IDblog as your login/password) is a more in-depth critique of Florida's ballots, with Karen as one of the expert reviewers (Tim Shanahan, from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for the Study of Literacy, is the other).
Karen's post has led into a very interesting thread, so check out the ID-Cafe archives if this topic is of interest.
October 9, 2004
Rock 'n Roll Timeline
My DSL is out, so I'm going to postpone checking this site out in depth, but you may want to go ahead and take a look at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Timeline (thanks to Thom on the ID-Cafe mailing list for the pointer).
August 17, 2004
Dilbert does design Check out today's Dilbert. Looks to be a funny week, as yesterday's struck a funny chord too.
July 28, 2004
Announcing UXnet: What Lou said...
I've been waiting for Lou to go first, and he has:
Besides a minor quibble (it was UPA and DUX that were scheduled at the same time), Lou has really said this wonderfully. Please read the whole post and not just the part I've shamelessly stolen. Or visit the UXnet site and become part of the community. As Lou says:
But there's so much promise in this concept; what we right need now is support, encouragement and, perhaps, a little courage. And soon, volunteers.
Oh, and we're working on the $$ issue too :).
July 27, 2004
CFP: STC Annual Conference, Seattle, May 8-11, 2005
Do you have something to share about information architecture, usability, or information design? Then STC, the Society for Technical Communication, would like to hear from you! We're currently accepting proposals for our next annual conference.
"That's a tech writers conference." you say. Well, yes, there are many tech writers who attend. But STC is home to several thousand members who belong to its usability, information design, online, and indexing special interest groups, and our conferences attract many outside the "traditional" realm of writing and editing.
Here's just a sampling from last year's conference in Baltimore:
You can also see more sessions from last year.
Speakers receive a discount on an otherwise value-priced conference. We also welcome speakers from all levels, as our conference attracts those who are new to the field as well as those who have been in the field for decades. And Seattle is a *wonderful* conference city, with the conference is located in the heart of downtown.
To see the full Call or to submit a proposal, please visit the STC CFP site soon.
The deadline for proposals is 12 noon ET, August 12, 2004.
July 2, 2004
Intro to web fonts
Another list goodie: All you wanted to know about Web type but were afraid to ask. If you like this, be sure to browse the full topic list for more.
June 23, 2004
Beth does the usability.gov guidelines
First, my apologies for going MIA there...I did a long family reunion weekend which wound up turning into a longer time away (sans computer) than I'd planned. Mea culpa! Thanks to those who inquired where I was.
Before I left on vacation, I was inspired by two serendipitous events: one was Andrei's Design Eye for the Usability Guy post in mid-May, the other was getting a hard copy of the Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines from Sanjay Koyani before his appearance at the STC conference in Baltimore. (I'd been lusting over a print version since I'd seen it last fall.)
After Andrei's post, I started thinking that I really wanted to provide something of some value to the community besides my own blatherings. After getting the book from Sanjay, my thought was that as good as the printed book was, it'd be nice to be able to slice and dice the guidelines in different ways.
So...I dusted off my very rusty Perl skills and spent a couple of hours building some indexes into the PDF version of the guidelines on the usability.gov site. A few trips to online docs regarding hashes later, I had indexes by chapter, title, importance, strength of evidence, and a new score that I callled relative score (which was just a product of the importance and evidence scores).
I sent the resulting pages off to Sanjay, and I'm happy to say that they decided these indexes were useful enough to post on their site. The folks from HHS made some minor tweaks to my column headings and added the "How to Use..." page. They were also nice enough to move the credit I'd put at the bottom of the page up top.
Anyways, I hope others find this useful!
May 9, 2004
STC and teaching usability
Well, the STC conference officially starts tomorrow (save for tonight's welcome reception), but it's already off to a good start. Besides other administrivia, I was invited to a colloquium of sorts hosted by Steve Krug and Caroline Jarrett, and attended by other fun usability folks like Carol Barnum and Carolyn Snyder, among others. Our conversation was whether you could teach a useful version of usability testing in a day, and if you could, whether it would be beneficial or hurtful to the profession. Very interesting conversation!
I bumped into at least one DC IA/UXer, and hope to see more through the next three days.
April 20, 2004
Schriver does the 1040
Rats. The ID-Cafe list, though seemingly using the wonderful mailman list software, has woefully out-of-date archives. If they were current, I would have pointed you to a great post by one of my favorite gurus, Karen Schriver (author of Dynamics in document design).
Karen has recently taken a stab at redesigning the US 1040 tax form. She's now heard back all the reasons why the IRS can't make any of her suggested changes. Sigh.
Check out this expanded detail for a review of the changes and the IRS response. Scary!
Karen is speaking on day 1 of the STC conference (a scary good panel with Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, and Whitney Quesenbery). There's still time to register and STC offers one-day rates :). So if you have a chance, don't miss it!
April 15, 2004
Reminder: STC Baltimore in May
Wow...how time flies. Just a month ago, I mentioned some of the UX highlights of the upcoming STC conference in Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor area (May 9-12). I said I'd be doing more stumping for it as we got closer...well, it's time!
First of all, just a reminder. If you thought STC was just for tech writers, think again! Non-members pay just $650 for a three-day conference featuring over 200 sessions in topics that include usability and information design, tools and technology, theory and research, and management. Early registration is slated to end next Friday, April 23rd. There's a chance they'll extend it through the weekend, but why wait?
UX speakers include Ben Shneiderman (keynote), Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, Whitney Quesenbery, Karen Schriver, Ann Rockley, Bill Killam, Thom Haller, Carol Barnum, Caroline Jarrett, Mike Lee and many more!
Don't miss our tutorials!
If you're planning to attend the conference, or if you're relatively local to Baltimore, I'd also like to encourage you to consider one or more of STC's post-conference tutorial workshops on UX-related topics (you do not have to attend the conference to attend a tutorial workshop). At $100 for a half-day or $200 for a full-day session, these sessions are an excellent value featuring leading speakers in their fields.
Brand Experience and Technical Communication - AM
Using the Latest Research to Make Effective Web Design
and Usability Decisions - AM
Understanding Visual Communication - AM
Designing Effective Visuals for Presentations - PM
Managing User-Centered Design Projects - PM
Crafting Personas to Guide Design
Note that if you do not attend one or more days of the conference, there will be a $50 surcharge to sign up for a tutorial...but $250 (or $150) is still a great rate! Visit the STC conference site for more info and to register.
Hope to see you there!
April 14, 2004
Doing taxes on the web
Well, wasn't that easy? I just finished my 2003 taxes (US and Virginia) using TurboTax -- took me just over a half an hour. It cost me a chunk of change (probably could have done it for free via the IRS' eFile, but I've taken advantage of the AARP discount (employee, not member :) on TurboTax for a few years, and though it cost me this year (no AARP discount), it was really fast since I could reuse a lot of my 2002 return for 2003.
Anyways, the folks at Intuit have gotten the UX down pretty well. The application is fairly well designed to get you through it without asking you questions that aren't relative. That said, the ROI equation is stronger for the Federal return than for the state, so I was amused to get this question as it was processing my Virginia return:
Did you receive certification from the Virginia Department of Forestry valuing land you agreed to designate as a riparian buffer for a waterway?
Too bad I didn't think to see if there was help for this question. Riparian buffer? Uh, I think not!
Anyways, the good news is that I'm still getting (a little) money back even after the TurboTax fee. Now I just have to see about getting the AARP discount back :).
March 17, 2004
Andrei takes on Jakob
I don't usually like to blog things that are going to appear on every UX-related blog, but this is going to be worth checking out ... the comments are nearly as interesting as the post. It's an open letter to Jakob Nielsen by Andrei Herasimchuk of Design by Fire.
There's so much I agree with in this letter, it's hard to pick just one snippet, but this one gets at the heart of it:
Mr. Nielsen, I respectfully request you stop posting articles like this. You do yourself and the usability field a disservice by speaking in terms that are vague, not backed up with research data, and filled with hyperbole. Further, until you learn more about what it takes to be a designer, and what it means to design a product with your own two hands, I respectfully request you stop trying to dictate any design agenda as some subset of what you view as the usability agenda.
Those of us in the design and usability biz need leaders to help us demand more from those who develop products and services. But while Jakob's spin may get him the press he clearly desires, I'm not sure it's our best choice for effecting real change in business.
Thanks to InfoDesign for the pointer.
March 16, 2004
Looking for a great conference to go to that's value-priced? Then I'd check out STC's annual conference in Baltimore. I'll stump more for this in the future (closer to the early registration date in late April), but here's are some highlights for the early birds.
and a whole lot more. Check out the full list of usability and information design sessions. And if you haven't been (or think Baltimore is just what you saw on Homicide), let me assure you that Baltimore is a *fab* conference city. Lots of fun for the whole family, or for the single visitor. (Or for the John Waters fan...one of my fave stops is the Papermoon Diner).
For more info, check out the registration page. Hope to see you there!
March 2, 2004
Severe Weather Alert? Not!
What's up with the National Weather Service? Lately some of their Severe Weather Alerts (which I see on weather.com) have been questionable. I realize I live in DC (where I joke that people start having accidents when the humidity goes above 80%), but last week we got a severe weather alert for light rain, and this week it's for nuisance winds:
Severe Weather Alert from the National Weather Service
Winds that "may be enough to cause nuisance problems...but should not cause any major problems" do not justify a severe weather alert. I think the NWS can use some help from some IAs to deal with categorizing and labeling!
February 23, 2004
Fun speaker opportunity
Are you attending STC's annual conference in Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor in May? Want some more encouragement and/or a fun speaking opportunity? If speakers like Ben Shneiderman, Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, Whitney Quesenbery, Mike Lee, Dirk Knemeyer and Thom Haller don't do it for you, perhaps the idea (and cost savings) of being a speaker yourself may do it! The UID (usability and information design) stem can use just a couple more ID speakers to fill some progression slots that have become available.
In a typical progression, 8-12 speakers with a common theme meet in a large room and speak to 8-10 people at a time, 3x in a 90-minute session. Progressions are casual (no overhead projectors), interactive (meant to include lots of Q&A or discussion), and get you the speaker's discount!
Here are the available progressions. If you're interested, please follow up with Caroline Jarrett (or me, and I'll forward):
UID 5U "Willing and able"
UID 7B "Section 508 for Dummies"
UID 3B "Getting started in usability and information design"
UID 10A "Usability and information design
Feel free to email me if you have any questions or have an idea you want to run by someone.
Otherwise, hope to see you in Baltimore hon!
February 4, 2004
Now that's music to my ears
Here's a cool toy for music fans. You plug the Beamit (see right) into any headphone jack and it sends the signal to an FM radio.
I can see using it to easily have a carful of tunes for the trek from DC to daBurgh. Or I can use it in my office, which gets terrible radio reception. Or even at home when the CD changer just isn't enough variety. Slick!
January 27, 2004
Local buddy Thom Haller is doing a fun session at the upcoming IA Summit called "Stories from the field: Never consider yourself a failure, you can always serve as a bad example." First of all, this is perhaps one of the best session titles I've heard recently (the other is for a local event titled "Implementing User-Centric Design or 'How to make the customer king when your boss has an emperor complex' " ). Thom's an excellent speaker, so if you're in Austin, I'd stop by!
Second, here's an entry in the "bad examples" class--specifically bad maps--from Joshua Kaufman. At first glance, I would have made the same mistake Joshua did.
Finally, for not any good reason I can articulate, this example seems to me to be a counterpoint of sorts to this article on why you need to be wary of case studies (which hit the blog circuit a while back). Being cautious and understanding specific circumstances is good, but this struck me as being a bit too negative. Your mileage may vary!
December 13, 2003
Poking fun at Jakob
Ah, the joys of being Don Norman. His new book, Emotional Design, isn't yet available (will be released on 12/23), yet it is now 20,578 on Amazon's sales rank. Contrast that to the little academic book that Mike Albers and I worked on...which a year later has hit 580,099...woo baby, time to quit the day job (not :).
Seriously, Amazon's offering Emotional Design for under $20 for a hardcover. Such a deal! But if you're not yet convinced, you can take a look at some sample chapters on Don's site.
December 4, 2003
Aging eyes and tiny fonts
Over on Digital Web Magazine, Nick has a pointer to this article: Font Size: No Happy Medium. In it, Dave Shea argues that, at some point, it stops being the designer's fault if people aren't happy with text sizes on web pages:
The current standards movement seems to place an awful lot of responsibility on the designer. Its up to the designer to work around browser flaws by not using pixel-value text. Its up to the designer to consider people with perfect vision, low vision, and no vision. Its up to the designer to account for different monitor sizes and resolutions. Its up to the designer to make sure their layout doesnt break when fonts are at 100%, or 150%, or 200%.
Reading the comment trail (at 44 so far) has been quite interesting. I'm very sympathetic to the point that Jim Dabell is trying to make:
The issue of avoiding the users font size isnt about too small fonts. Its about the difference between font sizes on different websites. I have a good browser. I have a good font size. I dont like having to adjust the font size for every new website I visit just because lots of different designers have lots of different ideas on what the best font size is for me.
I have to admit, this has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I'm happily surfing along with my 11pt Verdana type and all of a sudden, I'm on an unreadable site. Here's how this looks...you're at a website like Digital Web, which is very readable:
And yes Virginia, I know how to resize type in my browser (I have to...bloug is too tiny for me to read by default as well). But I wish I didn't have to manually set it and unset it while surfing.
However, unlike Jim, I'm actually quite happy with the workaround that Jeroen Coumans provided -- set a minimum type size in Mozilla. For me, Verdana just isn't readable at 8 pts or less on my monitor (1280x1024, 20"). But 9 will do in a pinch. As Jim points out though, this may cause the page to lose relative sizes between styles. Unlike him, I'm willing to put up with this to make my life easier.
December 2, 2003
Patrick Whitney on HCD
Another failed weblogs.com ping sent me browsing MT's activity log again. Today's failed search term from the log is Patrick Whitney, who is Director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
I've just printed out an interview he did with the Danish Design Center last spring on Why Human-Centered Design is the Design of the Future (pdf).
This page from IIT is probably full of lots of other interesting fodder as well, but I'm off to one of my last classes for the semester.
November 24, 2003
usability versus innovation
I'm off tomorrow for some family turkey day festivities, so the pickings here will be slim for the next several days. But in the spirit, let's leave you with this "meaty" question...are usability and innovation diammetrically opposed?
On one hand, we have Nico Macdonald, who asks whether design is for or by the people? He notes:
Usability and the cautious thinking it embodies has come to dominate thinking about the design process. ... If usability becomes the focus too early in the development of a product it is likely that a more ingenious and ambitious way of solving the problem will be missed, and a less useful and desirable solution will be polished to perfection.
Contrast this thinking with the latest from Jakob Nielsen, regarding the rather poor usability of current web applications:
A key lesson from many other fields is that continuous quality improvement is the way to true excellence. That's a lucky break: Web usability is so far behind that there's no hope of reaching acceptable quality in a single leap. Continuous improvement is our only chance.
Maybe it is my philosophical bent, but I continue to believe that there is a useful middle ground between user-centered design and designer-centered design. Thus the question shouldn't really be usability versus innovation, but more "given this specific project, what is ideal?" There are people in the UCD camp (like Whitney Quesenbery) who espouse this balanced view, but alas, it doesn't seem common yet.
November 20, 2003
NCI's usability guidelines
So, if you're a Movable Type blogger, I hope you have the search capability enabled! I find it fascinating to check and see what folks are searching for on IDblog (usually after my weblogs.com ping has failed).
With this last entry, I was embarassed to see that someone had come looking for the National Cancer Institute's Research-based Web Design & Usability Guidelines (hosted on usability.gov) and I didn't have the pointer. Mea culpa!! I hope you come back :)
But this is well worth the download (if you aren't on dialup). The team who produced this collected web design guidelines and then rated them based on their importance and evidence. There are some plans to review printing additional hard copies (the guidelines are full of examples, which makes black and white laser printing less than satisfactory); more as they develop.
November 10, 2003
Future of information visualization
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGIA list about information visualization. It was originally about the relationship about IA to infovis, which I thought a really cool topic, but it has morphed into a discussion about the general usefulness of information visualization, period.
I've always viewed information visualization as a technology-supported kind of information graphics. Where the latter tend to be two-dimensional and static (think USAToday), the former is typically software intensive, database-driven, and often representing attribute/value pairs that can be viewed in user-selected ways. I've been exposed to how cool infovis can be thru peripheral experience on a infovis prototype for DARPA.
Ah, but there's the rub. Can infovis be commercially successful? That's the gist of the recent discussion. Here are two interesting links that appeared on the list today. First, on the pessimistic side is this interview peterme did with Marti Hearst from UCBerkeley:
Marti forecasts a significant change in how visualizations are approached. In the past, they've been treated as standalone applications ... Where as the key for the future will be incorporating it as a small part in a larger system, integrating it with the rest of the interface. In doing so, this will require visualizations to seriously take the problem that users want to solve into account, a motivation currently lacking from many visualizations.
On the optimistic side, Ramana Rao looks forward to 2007, when he hopes we'll have overcome some past distractions:
We were willing to drop back considerably in interface quality for many years because of the rich sources of information and knowledge, new services, connections to other people available through the Internet. Only now are we getting back to considering simpler and richer ways of interacting with content, services, people.
October 31, 2003
UCD meets XP/Agile
And here's another list pointer. William Hudson alerted folks to a draft of an article he's done for the Cutter IT Journal. It's a simulated conversation between a UCD consultant and an XP team leader: Adopting User-centered Design within an Agile Process (PDF). It starts:
eXtreme Programming and other Agile processes provide a middle ground between chaos and over-elaborate processes sometimes referred to as "death by documentation." A particularly attractive aspect of the Agile approach for many teams is its willingness to accommodate change no matter how advanced development might be. However, this very flexibility can cause user interface design issues and ensuing usability problems.
I'm assuming that XP/Agile are primarily relevant in software applications development. Are people using it for web sites or web applications? Inquiring minds and all that!
Skills Framework for the Information Age
Here's another email list tidbit. Whitney Quesenbery pointed to an interesting initiative across the pond: it's the UK-based Skills Framework for the Information Age Foundation (SFIA). From the what is SFIA? page:
The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems (IS) making use of Information Communications Technologies (ICT). It is a simple and logical two-dimensional framework consisting of areas of work on one axis and levels of responsibility on the other.
There's a section that describes the structure of the SFIA framework, which describes "what ICT practitioners and users do."
When I get a few moments, I'm looking forward to exploring this in more detail. There may well be some useful concepts for the whole "big picture" UX/ED issue.
October 27, 2003
The any key
I got a few yucks out of this one. Here's FAQ2859 from Compaq:
Where do I find the "Any" key on my keyboard?
This FAQ entry was created on 10/8/2001 and updated on 10/25/2002. Why the update? According to Ralph Lord (who frequents the same lists I do), the original version was written by author bgates and read:
Compaq is aware of this problem and is currently researching a solution. Please check back with our website for patches or updates which may address this problem.
Ralph writes that the author of this first entry was fired. Interesting that it apparently took a year or so to discover! While amusing, there is also some semblance of cautionary tale there too. It had been a while, so I went and did a Google search for disease of familiarity. Interesting that buddy Thom Haller had slots 1 and 2, while I had number 3. But poking through the other search results ultimately sent me back to Richard Saul Wurman, who talked about the "disease of familiarity" in both the original Information Anxiety and its sequel: Information Anxiety 2. Wurman writes:
Familiarity breeds confusion. Those afflicted are the experts in the world who, so bogged down by their own knowledge, regularly miss the key points as they try to explain what they know. ... We have all had teachers who we have said are extraordinarily bright, yet we cannot understand what they are saying.
Sigh...the more I think about it, the less this FAQ is that amusing. On the other hand, the original response (and author) is still pretty funny...just not that helpful!
October 13, 2003
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde...
If you enjoyed the "According to a Cambridge researcher..." parlor trick that went around a while ago, you may also enjoy this page, which has a lot more useful stuff. Matt Davis provides some very interesting info about what's true and what's not necessarily true, and also a summary of what may have been the source of the theory. You can also find the same text in a whole bunch of different languages.
October 9, 2003
The site is Independent Testers.org. Not sure if this can scale, but seems well worth the look!
October 6, 2003
Zen and UX
Peter blogged this interesting piece by Adam Greenfield on compassion and the crafting of user experience. As a card-carrying UU and dabbler in Buddhism (or at least the Western version), I appreciated the essence of Adam's piece. For example:
How I, at least, ensure that my work meets my criteria for right livelihood is by practicing it with compassion. This may, at first blush, appear to be a strange word to stumble across in this context. But to my mind, this is the crucial insight at the heart of the discipline: a good user-experience practitioner has to be able to imagine, and share the frustrations of, the human users of the artifact in question, in the hope that these frustrations can be reduced or eliminated. This primary understanding is something that I'd like to see explicitly incorporated into the professional education of user-experience professionals, at all levels: not because we should all be Buddhists, not because we should all be concerned with the ethics of our livelihood, but simply because it would make for better design.
Adam wasn't the first to explore the issue of Zen and design; the CSS Zen garden pre-dated him, though their emphases are a bit different!
September 29, 2003
So many associations, so little time
The interaction design folk have released the results of their first survey to gauge the needs of their membership. I'm peripherally following this, as I'm still interested in the big picture that might unite all these separate specific organizations.
Anyways, questions like "Do you feel there is a need for a new professional home for interaction designers either within an existing organization or as a new stand alone organization?" got the responses you'd expect. Lots of folks who wanted a new home and lots of folks who wanted to work with an existing organization (particularly since it is very pricy to belong to a bunch).
Here's the breakdown of organizations that survey respondents belonged to:
Slightly more interesting was the relative proportion of AIfIA members to SIGCHI members. I'm surprised there were so many more of the latter compared to the former. I'm not sure if there is really that big of a difference between your garden variety interaction designer and your West Coast information architect. Alas, labels come back to haunt again. Since the hard-core HCI-oriented interaction designers have so little in common with the polar bear-oriented information architects, trying to find a middle ground would seem challenging.
There may be more hope for a collaboration with the UPA folks, especially if UPA and SIGCHI might join forces on providing a place for these folks--each bringing their own assets to the partnership.
September 25, 2003
CFP: UPA 2004, Connecting Communities
The Usability Professionals Association (UPA) has announced the call for papers for their next annual conference in Minneapolis, June 7-11, 2004. A highlight from the call:
Communities are changing in ways unimagined a generation ago. More and more, people work and play together for years without meeting face-to-face. While technology may undercut and fragments traditional communities, it also opens us up to broad new possibilities.
I was last in Minneapolis for the 1995 Masters Rowing Championships (which were actually in St. Paul). The only touristy thing I did was to check out the Mall of America (technically in Bloomington), which is amazingly "the nation's #1 visited attraction."
September 22, 2003
Writing first for the web
We're fortunate to have Ginny Redish as a usability consultant (ah, one of the perks of living where we do :). I was poking around her website this morning and noticed that she had a handout online (PDF) that was a slightly updated version of her popular "Writing for the Web" presentation.
I must admit to having a bit of an "a ha" when I came across a point I think was relatively new. She wrote:
In the future, organize and write for the web first. If it is easy to use on the web, it will almost certainly make a great paper document.
In retrospect, it's kind of a "why didn't I think of that?" But if organizations could put it in place as a process, I think it might well improve both our online and print documents!
September 16, 2003
Usability and voting
This morning on the AIGA Experience Design list, Whitney pointed to a great resource on the UPA website. It's their voting and usability project. Fans of recent events (or California residents) may want to check out their section on the California recall election.
August 19, 2003
I shouldn't feel so pleased with myself (this wasn't exactly hard), but just a bit of URL hacking has yielded the second of Wired's two articles on PowerPoint (from their September issue).
The first, posted today, is by David Byrne: Learning to Love PowerPoint:
Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.
The second, which will be officially posted tomorrow, is by Edward Tufte: PowerPoint is Evil:
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.
I've gotten Byrne's book (see last week). I've still not played the DVD, but the book left me less than wowed. The Wired article shows a few of the better pieces. There are many in the book where Byrne seems to have been "making fun of the medium" ... or something.
August 11, 2003
My left field idea
Nearly two years ago (November 2001), Lou Rosenfeld got a bunch of folks from a variety of disciplines together via email (and later at a number of conferences) to discuss organizations, infrastructure, and information architecture. Fairly early on, there were a handful of folks who were very interested in a new organization for IA (which subsequently became AIfIA) and another handful who were interested in what we referred to as the "interfaith council" -- a group meant to share what were clearly overlapping interests (DUX2003 came out of some of those discussions).
Now it's August 2003, and Tog wants to create a new title and a new organization: the Interaction Architects Association. I'm not sure that the title change will be worth the hassle, and I think that creating a new organization is not for lightweights. But I wish Tog luck, and if this new org's dues are as reasonable as AIfIA's, I'll join. But Tog's new organization is unlikely to solve what I see as the bigger problem...how to get business to make more (and better) use of these kinds of skills.
I've participated in both the early IA discussion and this more recent discussion for one real reason: I'm far more interested in the effort that will raise the visibility (and value) of all of these related skills, whether you call them UX, ED, ID, IA, usability, or whatever. I like the way that Lyle Kantrovich put it:
A rising tide raises all boats.
But up to this point, most of the "big picture" discussions have generated more quibbling than results (and I'll cop to being a grade-A quibbler myself). No single group has been able to position itself as the "umbrella" for these activities. Most often, terminology (whether it is experience design, user experience, information design, information architecture, usability, interaction whatever) carries some baggage with it that others are unwilling to carry.
So that's one problem. The other is I suspect that none of the individual organizations have sufficient resources to "raise the tide." I agree with Challis Hodge when he says:
What we need to be talking about is an organization that can wage a serious and professional marketing and development campaign--in the context of business.
What we don't really need (though I wouldn't mind them) are more conferences, lists, journals, etc., where we are primarily preaching to the choir. And my apologies to Mark Hurst, but as I wrote earlier, I'm not sure we want a field (or an organization) to "disappear" either. In short, I think we need to raise our visibility (and our perceived value) among the people who hold the purse strings.
So here is my left-field idea to do that.
That's it so far. My fundamental premise is that we'll have more success working together on a common goal than we will with a dozen different organizations focusing more on our differences. The original "interfaith council" used the religious symbolism intentionally...it's not about creating a single religion (or user experience field), but rather finding what we agree on, working to advance that, and then helping to educate about the differences. The rising tide and all that!
So now, it's your turn. I think there's a pony in this rhetorical BS, so I'm posting this to see if I can get some bright folk out there to help dig it out :). What do you think?
August 8, 2003
So Mark Hurst has jumped into the fray with the latest issue of his Good Experience newsletter. He writes:
Somehow "user experience practitioner" doesn't roll off the tongue so
easily. Hence the inevitable effort for UX-types to name what it is
they do: at conferences and in newsletters, for years, I've seen the
endless discussions. Should it be "usability professional"?
"Information designer"? "Interaction architect"? Some other
No surprise here...I care! That said, Mark makes a great point that the name may not really matter by noting all the different labels applied to the information technology field.
The highlight of his essay (and his title) is actually:
This brings me to my own highfalutin solution to the *real* issue
usability professionals are trying to address - namely, that they're
not taken seriously enough in the organization:
Actually, I couldn't disagree more. And perhaps I'm just picking apart words, but I think just the opposite is true. Mark describes the UX as facilitator role and notes:
As facilitators, truly caring about the organization and how it can best serve its customers, practitioners will then be more valued.
Business leaders are challenged with 90 day reporting cycles, growth as a primary business objective, limited resources, regulator scrutiny, competition, media, shareholder demands, political pressures, socio-cultural forces and more. ...
Now this may be arguing a bit strongly, as making products useful, usable, and satisfying can help business leaders. We just aren't yet making the case to them to hit critical mass.
One option is to increase the visibility of the case study. In the most recent issue of interactions, Microsoft's Dennis Wixon addresses this in "Evaluating Usabilty Methods." He suggests that all the energies directed at the "how many users are enough?" question re usability testing miss a bigger point: that the premises inherent in the current usability research "render most of the literature irrelevant to applied usabilty work." (Yikes...how's that for a position!) Instead, he suggests that:
If our discipline is serious about public discussion of usability methods as they are applied in industry, we will move beyond these lines of inquiry and take a broad-based case study approach, examining outcomes that are relevant to both practice and business. Our relevance as a discipline and our career success as practitioners depend on such a change.
Interesting timing. Just this summer, AIGA-ED created a case study archive as an outcome of DUX2003. Perhaps it's a start!
August 4, 2003
Yet another UX/ED organization?
Well, well, well. So what is one to think of the Nielsen/Norman Group's Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini's column Why We Get No Respect? In it, he notes that:
We've been complaining bitterly, these last 25 years, that we get no respect, that we are thought of as nothing more than decorators, if we are thought of at all. Guess what? We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have sat on the sidelines, perpetually powerless, whining, instead of changing up the game so we can win.
Who, pray tell, could he be talking about? Graphic designers? Information designers? IAs? Usability specialists? Tech writers? The list of folks who feel undervalued and invisible (and nervous in this economic climate) is not a short one, and according to Tog, we need to add interaction designers to the list too.
His solution? We need a new title for the role of the "software designers, or interaction engineers, or human interface folks, or whatever we who create the interaction model for our products." Tog suggests interaction architect for the title, and he also suggests a new association to promote this new brand, the Interaction Architect's Association.
All I can say is, anyone remember the story of the Tower of Babel :).
Hmmm, perhaps it is time for the Order of the Elephant, whose logo can be based on the diagram that Lou Rosenfeld and Jess McMullin created a while back (see right, here for a large version). What's nice about this as an overarching organization is that it acknowleges the majority of those who have been making claims to either small or large parts of the UX/ED/IA/ID/etc space over the last few years.
Of course, since it is based on the fable, we're currently limited to only six distinct disciplines, which will likely be a problem down the road.
Seriously, I don't begrudge Tog and the interaction designers their need to find their own space--though it now looks like we may need a round-robin match in order to determine the owner of the overarching discipline :). I'm also amused that some IAs (that's information architects, not interaction architects), are seemingly unhappy with Tog's effort, when it was only a couple years ago that they rebuffed welcomes from organizations like AIGA and ASIS&T for the apparently desirous environment of their own organization.
BTW, the one point that I do fault (albeit in a friendly sort of way) in Tog's call is his distate for the label design. I think this is a red herring. Brands are re-positioned all the time, and buying the argument that design is undervalued or disrespected need not imply that it always needs to be that way, or that a new term is needed. This is what marketing is good at. And there are groups like the Corporate Design Foundation, the Design Management Institute, and the Design Council whose are doing the work of selling design to business through education and outreach and, if supported, might lead to the elimination of the "wimp" connotation of design in our field(s).
But that's just a disgression to the real issue, which is a potential new organization that will be added to the fold. Heck, what's one more :). Assuming Tog deals with AIfIA the same way he has with HFES and CHI (and given his emphasis on labels and brand, I suspect the answer will be "thanks, but no thanks"), it will be most interesting to see this play out. The IAs are so strong online, with their lists, and weblogs, and raw volunteer power. But while the IAs have their share of best-selling luminaries, Tog would seem to have more access to corporate America (and their attention and their dollars).
July 14, 2003
Tick tick tick
Just a quick reminder. Proposals for next year's STC conference, May 9-12, in Baltimore are due to the STC office in a bit over two weeks (Friday, August 1st). Caroline Jarrett, who was on the initial Nielsen/Norman World Tour, is the manager for the Usability & Information Design stem. If some of the folks who've emailed me actually submit a proposal, I think we'll have some very interesting sessions. And Baltimore is a very cool city for a conference. (Just ask Mike Lee :)
If you're interested, please see the call for proposals!
July 6, 2003
About Carol Barnum
Ah, as I mentioned on July 1st, I keep getting pointed at my activity log (where I see what folks are searching for) when my pings to weblog.com don't work. Apparentlly I had someone in search of Carol Barnum, so I'm bummed I didn't have an entry to point them to. Carol did a great session at STC's conference in Nashville last May on "the magic number 5" and usability. She was also referenced in this article about a similar session at CHI this year. Mea culpa!
June 2, 2003
Usability vs market research
A post by Whitney Quesenbery on the experience design list pointed me to a (newish?) article on her website where she provides a nice overview of the difference between usability and market research. Quoting from her email:
Market research helps a company find out what its customers or users want. Usability evaluation helps you determine whether you have meet those needs and wants.
She's got some other great articles as well, including one which paints a much broader picture of usability--the 5 E's of usability. (Now if only we could get her to do a weblog :)
May 14, 2003
What were they thinking?
I'm a bit surprised that this isn't getting raked over the coals on WebWord, but this May 2003 story on using photos to increase trust in a website is just downright depressing. Surely they jest?!? Using Flash to render an article?!? Is it April 1st?
Look, this is not an anti-Flash diatribe. Me? I like Flash, and love cool applications of it. And, even if they are doing the bull in the china shop thing, Macromedia is trying to make Flash accessible.
But an article?!? I'm waiting for the "heh heh, you were part of our psychology experiment to prove that webloggers have no sense of humor" or the "gee, Flash really isn't accessible" punchline. What am I missing here?
If I sound a bit punchy, well, maybe I am. We're trying to promote good usability practices at work, while at the same time, we're getting pressured for "cutting edge." Yikes. This is all they need. A usability firm that uses Flash so that you get 5 seconds of "sizzle" while the article loads. It would have been one thing if it was good Flash, but this?
So much for separating content from presentation. Yee gads.
April 30, 2003
STC's annual conferences
Tomorrow is the last day to sign up for STC's 50th annual conference, which is being held May 18th to 21st in Dallas. If you've been meaning to register and are a procrastinator like me, then hurry up and register!
But if Dallas isn't your thing, by all means do consider submitting a proposal to present at next year's conference in fabulous Baltimore, Maryland, May 9-12, 2004. The stem manager for the usability and design stem is Caroline Jarrett, who some of you may know from her stint on the first NNgroup world tour. Yours truly is going to be managing the post-conference stem. The PC sessions are half- or full-day tutorials for which a moderate stipend is paid (assuming registrations warrant).
April 29, 2003
I'm not sure what to make about vogging, or video blogging. Adrian Miles writes about this on vog blog. On the one hand, I'm very interested in the application of multimedia to information design products. But...cool tools like iMovie aside, there seems to be a gap between benefit and cost of use that is related to what Nielson wrote about last week on Useit.
I dunno, but I found the instructions provided for the desktop vogging demo to be way more than I wanted to go thru (never mind the first was buying QuickTime Pro 6).
I think there's absolutely a place for media-rich weblogs. I regularly check out Mike Lee's moblog (more on moblogs) because even cruddy little low-res Sidekick photos can be compelling in the hands of someone who's got an eye for interesting visuals.
But I guess what Sidekick does is make the cost low. It's relatively painless for Mike to create and for me to read. It seems we've got a ways to go to get there for video blogging!
March 26, 2003
I've gone ahead and added some conference links at the bottom of the right-nav column. Enjoy!
March 25, 2003
UCD in sound bites
Back in 1994, I interviewed for a job with an amazing design firm in Pittsburgh, MAYA Design. I still remember being asked by one of its principals, Pete Lucas, what I knew about MAYA. When I said that I understood it to be a design firm that helped make things easy to use, he was quick to straighten me out and clarify that this type of usability was only one part of it, and that MAYA was just as much about understanding (and accommodating) business and technical constraints as it was making things easier to use.
I spent three great years there, before I got really itchy to leave Pittsburgh (again). Apprenticing there, just before the WWW really took off, was really one of my luckier career breaks.
So reading this excellent post from Whitney Quesenbery on the AIGA Experience Design list made me nostalgic for life in a design firm. It also says in just a few words the strength of the UCD approach, which has occasionally been a target in recent months, as various disciplines try and find meaning and work in a challenging time. Yes, there are some folks who seem to want to correct years worth of ignoring the user by over-swinging the pendulum and making it only about the user. But we'd all be well served by avoiding the tendency to over-swing it back again. There's a moderate position that seems to me to be something we could all agree on, and IMO, Whitney has nailed it here. I recommend reading her entire post, but just have to include my favorite sound bites here:
The point of UCD is that the user is placed at the center of the design
process, and other needs or constraints balanced against them. So, in a
Venn diagram or a triangle, we would see: user needs/usability goals,
business goals, technology constraints. A good design has the goal of
optimizing all three.
<self-serving mode on> For more from Whitney, I recommend her chapter "Dimensions of Usability" in Mike Albers' and my edited volume Content & Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication. Check out an overview of the chapters or order the book. <self-serving mode off>
Now if only I could talk MAYA into opening the DC office!
March 16, 2003
I was just surfing LucDesk and saw his pointer to a USA Today article titled "Technology eroding the wall between disabled, non-disabled." Amy (Mike's wife) had highlighted the article over here, but seeing it again reminds me that I really should give my STC homie Bill Gribbons some props. He's quoted in the article as follows:
Too many Web sites use fine print and light blue colors, which become more difficult to see as people age, and layouts that can trip up screen-reading software, said Bill Gribbons, a design expert at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
Note to self: email Bill and tell him he must create an "About Bill" page on Bentley's webserver. Heck, if you're going to be in USA Today (or the Washington Times!), you should have a nice place for folks to link to that talks about all your fab accomplishments!
March 13, 2003
You want me to click where?
Can I tell you how, umm, excited I was to go to a class that was advertised as covering:
I may not be a usability professional, but I didn't just fall off the turnip truck either.
Fortunately, Kath was an extremely entertaining speaker, and it appears that the presentation she gave, while targeted at a novice group, had been well polished with all sorts of old examples (the horrible old IRS page) and new. Alas, I can't find an online version, so this will just have to serve as a heads up to keep your eyes open in case she comes to a conference near you. A PhD in cognitive psych *and* a sense of humor?!? Go figure!
March 10, 2003
Usability of infants
Need a quick yuck? Did you love the great Dave Barry article about babies? Then you'll probably enjoy Scott McDaniel's "A Heuristic Evaluation of the Usability of Infants" which is now available on STC's Usability SIG website. Scott uses Jakob's ten usability heuristics to rate his experience of parenthood.
March 3, 2003
Car seats and ID
Here's one off today's wires: Child car seat instructions too difficult. According to the study, instructions for using child car seats are written at a level that is higher than the reading level for half of those who use them. And then there's this:
For liability reasons, lawyers usually are involved in writing installation instructions, and legal jargon might make instructions sound confusing ...
Where have we heard this before?
February 2, 2003
Learning about customers
When I mentioned a week ago that part of my grade for one of my classes will be based on my ability to do a regular weblog, I may not have mentioned that the fodder for the class would likely become fodder for IDblog. But there are obvious places where the interests overlap.
For instance, consider this reading (PDF) for my class on 2/3. This could have come out of the ID/IA/usability community, but instead, it comes out of the world of business:
Many B2B exchanges were launched because they were possible, not because there was a compelling customer problem they could solve. Thus, the first step is to shift the orientation to continuously learning about customers. It was once estimated that fewer than 15 percent of all web start-ups tested their sites with customers by living with them and observing their behavior. Winners will not make that mistake.
(Emphasis mine.) From my read of this paper, the authors can't really have meant this to apply only on B2Bs, particularly as they hold Amazon up as an example of a company with Bezos' vision of being the "most customer-centric company." How interesting that I'm taking this class together with one that is essentially all about user-centered design.
Finally, an unrelated postscript. I was watching Letterman recently and was blown away by one of his musical guests, Vienna Teng. I just got her album from Amazon, and if you like lyrical voice and piano along with songs with lots of relationship angst (think Tori Amos without the edge), you'll want to check Vienna out. What's even more amazing to me is that she almost wasn't a performer, having started out on the path to being a geeky computer nerd.
January 21, 2003
STC's 50th Annual Conference
The conference will be May 18-21, in Dallas, Texas. More as we get closer!
January 9, 2003
For some lighter reading, check out some pithy quotes on usability, design, and assorted other topics.
December 26, 2002
Design and emotion
How cool...maybe I'll make it into Don Norman's next book on design and emotion. I'd forgotten he'd asked for people's love/hate relationships with products back in May. After a more recent request on the CHI-WEB list, he's posted a summary of responses. My May contribution:
After plunking down $400 for an iPod, I almost wouldn't have cared about the product after having unwrapped the packaging, it was that nice. What I've said before is that this affect/engaging/enjoyment quality is above all else a market differentiator. If you're the only one selling a widget, then yeah, it can be unusable and unenjoyable. But once there gets to be competition, preference (rather than performance) becomes very important.
December 23, 2002
Jakob's top ten
Jakob's gone ahead and posted his top ten web design mistakes of 2002. There are no big surprises on the list. That said, is anyone else astonished that Jakob would post a page that weighs well over 220K? No complaints here (I like the cartoons), but it just seems so un-Jakob-like :).
December 13, 2002
Users as designers
I wanna try and get in another quick entry before lunch is over. I've recently come across three papers that all touch on a seemingly serendipitous thread related to user-centered design.
First, Mike Lee just emailed me about an entry he just did on naked objects, which are:
core business objects, such as Customer, Product, and Order, that show directly through to the user, rather than being hidden behind the menus, forms, process-scripts and dialogue boxes that make up most user interfaces. ... naked objects give you less control over the detailed layout, typography and visual style of the presentation. However, this can be surprisingly liberating. (from here)
Mike wonders if these signal the impending death of visual and interaction design. Which brings us to paper #2: Usability and Open Source Software, which points out (among other things) that:
The OSS approach fails for end user usability because there are 'the wrong kind of eyeballs' looking at, but failing to see, usability issues. In some ways the relatively new problem with OSS usability reflects the earlier problem with commercial systems development ... The key difference between the two approaches is this: commercial software development has recognised these problems and can employ specific HCI experts to 're-balance' their processes in favour of users. However, volunteer-led software development does not have the ability to hire in missing skill sets to ensure that user-centred design expertise is present in the development team.
This brings us to paper #3 from the folks at First Monday: Beyond "Couch Potatoes": From Consumers to Designers and Active Contributors, which lays a case for users to be able to act as designers and not just consumers in personally meaningful activities. The author makes some interesting comparisons to architecture and open-source software regarding the designer/comsumer spectrum.
As Mike suggests, definitely fodder for a long train ride and not leisure online reading!
December 11, 2002
There are a couple points that struck me about the EU version. First, I liked their tabs. I think the jury is still out on whether a tabbed metaphor is the best choice on the web (much has been said about Amazon's real-estate-grabbing version). But UsabilityNet is at the right size that their tab does double-duty, providing both primary and secondary level navigation, complete with "where am I" and "where am I mousing" cues. Here's a snippet:
Another really interesting component to their site is the section called Usability for Managers. This kind of effort suggests to me that, while it's cool that the CHI folks are working with the AIGA folks (see DUX2003), it might be even more productive if we could get the AIGA ED folks working more closely with the "big" usability crowd (the ones who focus on UCD, the process, rather than "little" activities, such as testing). More about this later!
December 5, 2002
Usability and profitability
First design (see below) and now usability makes the mainstream press this week. Find out why BusinessWeek thinks that Usability Is Next to Profitability. Usability devotees will not learn anything particularly new, except for interesting factoids like Jared Spool is a "lecturer" (is that a euphemism for adjunct?) at Tufts University. I used to live just up the street from Tufts. Who knew they were doing such cool stuff?
Here's hoping we'll see more like this. Maybe they could be helpful for those who have had little success with Nielsen-like ROI calculations in terms of convincing their managers to do usability. "Ah, it's in BusinessWeek so it must be credible. Dilbert, let's do usability today!" Ok, I'm being just a little facetious (or cynical). Just a little.
November 26, 2002
Sean's comment (on Monday...can't link to the entry itself) about the high cost of entry to AIGA got me to 1) comment and then 2) update the following list, which was originally posted to the old IDblog a year or so ago.
This new version adds in AIfIA and updates each listing with the association's student membership rate and policy.
November 25, 2002
Content and style
I very much like Hedley's response about it being like a three-legged stool:
I find discussions about which is most important, content, layout, or navigation rather pointless. Why propose useless either-or competitions? Ask yourself 'Which is the most important leg on a three-legged stool?'. ... As my dear old mother was wont to tell me at her knee, 'The most important aspect of documentation is completeness, accuracy, understandability, accessibility, and attractiveness.'
And seconded! Given that it's been two weeks, excuse me for offering another gratuitous plug for our forthcoming book and in particularly, Whitney Quesenbery's chapter on the "5 E's of Usability." Her model is based upon the ISO 9241 standard which describes usability as:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Whitney takes this definition and expands upon it, and comes up with her list for the five characteristics of usability:
Now here's the trick. Any given product is very unlikely to be completely successful in all five of these characteristics. (Remember the adage: "Cheap, fast, good: pick two."). This is how business and technical constraints are worked into the user-centered design process. See Whitney's Using the 5 E's and her What does usability mean? for more.
My point for sharing this is that it this is how you get from something like a blanket (and hardly useful) "content is king" statement to a concept that is actually practical in the real world.
November 21, 2002
IA is not usability?
Hmmm...Jeff Lash has done a piece for Digital Web to let us know that IA is not usability (thanks Peter). Maybe it's me, but I guess I didn't realize that folks were confusing IA or usability. Or maybe at least little IA and usability.
For the record, let me say that while I'm very interested in what my IA and usability friends are doing, I don't place myself in the center of either circle. I'm predominantly interested in how words and pictures go together to help people make use of the data/information they are viewing. So my perspective is a bit peripheral. That said, I was a bit surprised at some of Jeff's comments. For example, he writes:
Usability is a detailed subject, taking into account things like font size, colors, visual proximity, usage context, search, error messages, navigation, form design, and labeling.
Huh? I think my usability friends, while interested in things like these, are also interested in many more big picture items. In fact, UPA's recent effort to determine if they wanted to go forward with certification was far more about the entire user-centered design process than it was about "little" usability issues (like font size) that users might get tripped up by.
Then again, a hard-core usability guy like John Rhodes didn't seem to find fault with this (instead, he simply linked to Adam Greenfield's what lies beneath (i.e., IA and the business model) and did very little commentary.
For my money, I don't think most people have issues with the differences between IA, ID, usability, graphic design, etc., at the "little" (or tactical) level. The IA doesn't want to specify fonts, the usability specialist doesn't want to specify taxonomies, and the ID doesn't want to do any ethnographic studies. Unless they are paid big bucks to do so :).
To me, it seems that those who want to play at the macro/strategic/big level are the ones whose interests or scope may well overlap. If you're talking "big picture," I think it's far harder to differentiate the IA from the usability specialist. Fodder for another column, methinks!
November 4, 2002
Irony on the web
Ah, I'm being overly critical...the web is still in its early toddler stage, and the concept of "liquid layout", while promising, is still a gleam in most web developers' eyes. Still, there's just something a tad ironic about reading an article titled Why websites are getting easier to use when the main content column is fixed at around 300 pixels wide.
October 28, 2002
Links and content
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGCHI mailing list recently about putting hyperlinks in body text. In it, Steve paraphrased Gerry McGovern (author of Content Critical) as saying "If you put hypertext links in the body text, it disrupts readability."
Gee, if that's a problem, some of us webloggers are in deep doo-doo!
Based on the responses it sure seems it ultimately boils down to: it depends! Speaking of which, there's a history (and debate around origin) to the phrase it depends, but methinks it can apply here. If "readability" is really one's goal, then yes, sticking blue underlined text in the middle of a paragraph could well affect how readable something is. I.e, it's probably not the best thing to do in the middle of articles or longer paragraphs meant to be read and digested. But I'm not aware of anything that discounts Nielsen's 1997 finding: people scan web pages.
Now the percentages may have changed. I know that I have, on occasion, actually read an article on the web. But...then again, I'm probably conditioned enough to the crappy experience (low-res monitors, questionable design practices re tiny type,e tc) of reading on the web that a blue underline in the middle is the least of my problems.
October 18, 2002
Usability must be viewed :)
PS. While you're there, take time to enjoy the hand-lettering on whiteboard "Usability Views" header.
October 14, 2002
Usability must die?
Chris McEvoy thinks that usability must die. This is not the bizarro corpses set to banquet (all your base are belong to us?) rant of recent UCD list fame. While there is much that is tongue-in-cheek, ultimately the point Chris seems to be making is this:
Usability has had its day, and we should be ensuring that User Centred Design takes centre stage in the development process, instead of trying to reinvent Usability as Interaction Design. We should be teaching programmers about users, rather than creating a new caste of high priests.
A big target is Jakob Nielsen, and Chris takes the time to do an analysis of Nielsen's AlertBox column to point out that recent columns seem designed more to sell reports from the Nielsen Norman Group and thus "has become inward looking and stale."
I think that part of Chris' problem is which usability specialists he pays attention to. The Usability Professionals Association (UPA) is at least as interested as Chris in seeing that the role of UCD come front and center. In fact, some of these same issues, such as does it require a quote-usability specialist-quote to do UCD, or should UCD be broader, may be why the UPA has chosen not to explore usability certification at this time.
So yes, UCD is bigger than usability. Trite, useless usability can die, but thank heavens for the usability folks who are out there doing the hard work to make UCD part of every development process!
September 26, 2002
UPA2003 Call for Papers
"The annual UPA conference will be held June 23-27, 2003, at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona. We invite you to share your ideas and experiences with fellow practitioners in the field of usability by submitting proposals for program topics, and by attending the conference." For more info, see the call for papers.
September 13, 2002
Be quick like bunny
William Hudson, of CHI-WEB fame, is expanding his empire. He's recently announced the creation of another list, UCD, which will also be moderated and will be concerned with "user-centred design, user interface design, web design, HCI and usability with no geographical or organizational boundaries."
He advises that some high-profile CHI-WEBers (Don Norman, Jared Spool) have already joined, and that membership is limited to 500 members. So hurry if you want to get in. Because I can't get enough (and since I'm now back in the biz of looking for IDblog fodder), I've signed up.
That said, it's a bit odd this limiting the membership business. It's great that it is a moderated list...keeps the noise to a minimum. But I think if you really wanted to keep the list small, advertising it in more public domain space (like the AIGA Experience Design list I saw it on) seems counter-productive. Contrast this tactic with the one of that other U-list which goes to some lengths to be invisible except by word-of-mouth.
Or maybe the "limited to 500" is a PR ploy? As a CHI-WEB member, I get the sense that moderating a high-traffic (due to higher membership) list requires the involvement of multiple volunteers (or one really insane one with no life :). So perhaps this is a way of being able to keep this a labor of love and not have to decentralize. Well, we'll see. Certainly any items to the list of interest to IDblog fans will appear here, and perchance UCD will be archived on the web like the CHI-WEB archives are.
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to email@example.com.
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