usability posts

ChittahChattah Quickies October 9th, 2009
  • Inside User Research at YouTube – "One of the most important findings has to do with the difference between the large group of users who are on YouTube simply to watch videos and a smaller, but very important, group of more engaged users — often uploaders." [This is such a "real" user research finding; to those of us on the outside it just drips "duhhh" but of course the discovery of the depth of this truth was probably a significant a-ha moment for the team and more importantly, their internal clients, who may have had this as a notion but hadn't really taken on how to build that insight into the design. Now it's a marching order inside the organization!]
  • Kill the Kindle: Charles Brock’s 60 second video from AIGA Make/Think 2009 – Being a book designer, Charles has an (*ahem) unique perspective on the Kindle.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 6th, 2009
  • Seen Reading – a "literary voyeruism blog" set mostly (I believe) in Toronto – What is Seen Reading?

    1. I see you reading.
    2. I remember what page you’re on in the book.
    3. I head to the bookstore, and make a note of the text.
    4. I let my imagination rip.
    5. Readers become celebrities.
    6. People get giddy and buy more books.

    Why do you do this?
    Readers are cool. Authors work hard. Publishers take chances. And you all deserve to be seen!

    (Thanks Suzanne Long!)

  • Choose What You Read NY – Choose What You Read NY is a non profit organization that offers free books to New Yorkers, encouraging its residents to read more, giving them an alternative to the free papers that get tossed out and even the digi-trash that crowds our time. In doing so, we help to recycle used books that would have unfortunately been thrown away.

    You will find us near major subway stations on the first Tuesday of each month.The idea is that once someone is finished with a book, they either drop it off in one of our conveniently located drop boxes or back to us at a station. Unlike a library, there will be no due dates, penalties, fees or registrations. We only ask that you return it once you are done so that the same book can be enjoyed by another commuter.

  • What was the last book, magazine and newspaper you read on the subway? – 6000 people respond and the New York Times posts the results
  • How and what people read on the New York City subways – Plenty of detailed examples of people, their books, and their travels: "Reading on the subway is a New York ritual, for the masters of the intricately folded newspaper, as well as for teenage girls thumbing through magazines, aspiring actors memorizing lines, office workers devouring self-help inspiration, immigrants newly minted — or not — taking comfort in paragraphs in a familiar tongue. These days, among the tattered covers may be the occasional Kindle, but since most trains are still devoid of Internet access and cellphone reception, the subway ride remains a rare low-tech interlude in a city of inveterate multitasking workaholics. And so, we read.

    There are those whose commutes are carefully timed to the length of a Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker, those who methodically page their way through the classics, and those who always carry a second trash novel in case they unexpectedly make it to the end of the first on a glacial F train."

    (thanks Avi and Anne)

  • Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands – From 2006, great Wired piece about Lego's approach to involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products.
  • Noting:books – the simple yet dynamic way to track your reading, from the dates you start and finish a book, to your thoughts along the way.
  • CourseSmart brings textbooks to the iPhone in PDF; major readability challenges ensue – “It’s not the first place to go to read your textbook,” Mr. Lyman said of the iPhone app. But he said that it could be helpful if “you’re standing outside of the classroom, the quiz is in 10 minutes, and you want to go back to that end-of-chapter summary that helped you understand the material.”
  • Nice profile of Lego’s business culture and the tension between growth and losing track of their legacy – But the story of Lego’s renaissance — and its current expansion into new segments like virtual reality and video games — isn’t just a toy story. It’s also a reminder of how even the best brands can lose their luster but bounce back with a change in strategy and occasionally painful adaptation.
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ChittahChattah Quickies August 12th, 2009
  • Optimal Microwaving with Fitt's μλ-Number – I had an idea to blog about this myself, funny that someone else did. I try to enter microwave times that require minimal thought (or "mental operator" as they say in Fitt's Law): "2:22" is about as good as "2:00" when reheating and is provably faster. It obviously doesn't add a lot of time savings to your day, but it's been one of those little habits I've observed in myself. It's funny how math education, our money, and the way we tell time and structure our day conditions us to favor certain types of numbers, even when our interfaces don't.
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ChittahChattah Quickies August 3rd, 2009
  • A thoughtful consideration (that could have so easily gone curmudgeonly) on the changes in how (and how much) we consume art – Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.
  • Michael Pollan on the cultural shifts revealed by themes in food-related TV entertainment – The historical drift of cooking programs — from a genuine interest in producing food yourself to the spectacle of merely consuming it — surely owes a lot to the decline of cooking in our culture, but it also has something to do with the gravitational field that eventually overtakes anything in television’s orbit…Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly now about — that and, increasingly, cooking shows themselves: the whole self-perpetuating spectacle of competition, success and celebrity that, with “The Next Food Network Star,” appears to have entered its baroque phase. The Food Network has figured out that we care much less about what’s cooking than who’s cooking.
  • Nine Reasons RadioShack Shouldn’t Change Its Name – Best one is " RadioShack has problems beyond any issues with its name." Also they did already change name from Radio Shack to RadioShack.
  • Radio Shack: Our friends call us The Shack – Do they really now? More proof that you can't simply declare yourself cool. Promo or overall rebranding, it reeks of inauthenticity.
  • Understand My Needs – a multicultural perspective – A Japanese usability professional compares the norms of service that retailers provide in Japan with those elsewhere (say, his experience living in Canada), and then contrasts that to the common usability problems found in Japanese websites. Culture is a powerful lens to see what causes these differences, and how usability people can help improve the experience.
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 18th, 2009
  • How commercial software products are developed (or "get some empathy for clients, right here") – I worked on the "Windows Mobile PC User Experience" team. This team was part of Longhorn from a feature standpoint but was organizationally part of the Tablet PC group. To find a common manager to other people I needed to work with required walking 6 or 7 steps up the org chart from me. My team's raison d'etre was: improve the experience for users on laptops, notebooks and ultra-mobile PCs. Noble enough. Of course the Windows Shell team, whose code I needed to muck about in to accomplish my tiny piece of this, had a charter of their own which may or may not have intersected ours.

    My team had a very talented UI designer and my particular feature had a good, headstrong program manager with strong ideas about user experience. We had a Mac [owned personally by a team member] that we looked to as a paragon of clean UI. Of course the Shell team also had some great UI designers and numerous good, headstrong PMs who valued (I can only assume) simplicity and so on.

  • Not quite-credible story about Best Buy differentiating on making technology usable/understandable – Mr. Dunn said he wanted to create an atmosphere where consumers were attracted not just to products but also to services that help them master fast-changing technology and configure and connect devices.

    One of Best Buy’s main competitive strategies has been services, something it has done better in the past than any national electronics retailer. That translates into selling product warranties, or help with installing a home theater or configuring a computer.
    Mr. Dunn said a chief example of the kind of thing Best Buy wants to be known for is a service it calls Walk Out Working that it began introducing in May 2007. The service, which is free, helps consumers configure new mobile phones so that when they leave the store they are able to use features like music playback and Web surfing.

    …He argues that [other retailers] cannot compete with Best Buy when it comes to offering individual service, explaining technology to customers and charging to help them adapt to it.

  • Jobless Benefits Web Site Adds Insult to Injury – Jobless people seeking information about their benefits on the Brazilian Labor Ministry's Web were forced to type in passwords such as "bum" and "shameless." A private company that created the site's security system is blamed; its contract with the ministry wasn't being renewed, which may have prompted the pranks.
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 1st, 2009
  • Lou Rosenfeld revisits an old engagement where the client sought to dissuade usage – What they told me was that they didn't really want to make it easy for veterans—those people risking their lives for their country—to learn about the health benefits that they were entitled to. And that taxpayers had committed to funding. All to save money—and for what??

    IT issue? Not. It was an issue of business model design, and this particular business model was shrouded in a sick morality emanating from the top levels of the VA's management structure. Absolutely immorally, shamefully, and horribly sick.

    [With the theme of persuasion, manipulation, and user-centeredness floating around lately, good to consider an example where the organization goals are 180 degrees from the user's supposed goals]

  • Citations for California drivers not using hands-free are on the rise – Seems like there was good compliance when the law was first passed but the numbers are climbing back up. One might think the best way to drive adoption of a product/service/behavior is to make it legally mandated but people are citing the poor user experience with Bluetooth headsets as a reason/rationalization for ignoring the law. "Sometimes, it can be more dangerous to figure out your Bluetooth than just to pick up the phone."
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Take It from Consumers: Simpler Is Better June 25th, 2009

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I’ve got a short article in the latest issue of Photo Reporter (a trade journal for the imaging industry). Check out the PDF here.

These problems should be obvious, yet manufacturers consistently fail to take them into account in their product development efforts. “Ease of use” has become a buzz phrase commonly uttered in consumer electronics circles, but technology manufacturers have a different mindset than their customers. They seem to think people want an endless array of features, and they continue to market products based on that.

We’re finding consumers would trade a lot of the excess functionality built into their digital cameras, cell phones and other devices for a less complicated and ultimately more rewarding user experience. Perhaps now is the time to listen to consumers a little more closely. There’s a significant opportunity for companies to embrace the consumer’s burning desire for simplicity.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 7th, 2009
  • UX guy complains about AA.com being crap and UX guy from AA.com responds – UX guy reprints email and then attempts to address corporate culture issue; strong opinions follow but most compelling part is the insight from the AA.com UX guy himself (known as Mr. X)

    "But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like."

  • Health management goes for ethnic marketing/customization: Asians and diabetes – Rice is a carbohydrate that is particularly unhealthy in large quantities for people with diabetes. That's why doctors and other health care providers are increasingly trying to develop culturally sensitive ways to treat Asians with diabetes – programs that take into account Asian diets, exercise preferences and even personality traits. "Diabetes is primarily a self-managed disease, and you have to try multiple approaches with different patients. But many of those are not culturally appropriate for Asians."
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ChittahChattah Quickies March 18th, 2009
  • Design Research Methods for Experience Design – Triading is a method that allows a researcher to uncover dimensions of a design space that are pertinent to its target audience. In triading, researchers present three different concepts or ideas to participants and ask them to identify how two of them are different from the third. Participants describe, in their own terms, the dimensions or attributes that differentiate the concepts. Participants follow this process iteratively—identifying additional attributes they feel distinguish two of the concepts from the third until they can’t think of any other distinguishing factors.

    The benefit of this process is that it uncovers dimensions of a particular domain that are important to the target audience rather than the researcher or designer. For example, participants may describe differences in groups as “warm” versus cold” or business-like” versus fun.” Designers can then use the most relevant or common dimensions as inspiration for further design and exploration.

  • Mapping Oakland – Mapping Oakland is a research project aimed at mapping people’s perceptions of neighborhoods and urban space within the City of Oakland. Mental maps have been used in geography to understand individual perceptions of space and place for sometime. The method has proven useful in helping geographers understand how people perceive elements within the landscape for navigational purposes and to understand the cultural value of spaces. This web site provides citizens throughout Oakland access to a survey that measures how people perceive and use public open space in the City of Oakland.
  • How ethnic groups change Oakland neighborhoods – When Robert Lemon, a UC Berkeley landscape architecture grad student, was a community planner in Columbus, Ohio, he noticed that despite the car-oriented landscape, residents of the city's Latino community, for the most part, liked to get around on foot and bicycle and, as a result, were bending the neighborhood to their collective will. Taco trucks and open-air produce markets popped up in vacant parking lots on one of the city's main shopping thoroughfares. The bicycle was a key mode of transportation even though there weren't dedicated bike lanes, and colorful murals appeared on the walls of large buildings. The neighborhood had the feel of small-town Oaxaca, the Mexican state from which many of the city's Latinos hailed.

    In California, he found similar changes occurring in Oakland's Fruitvale and Chinatown neighborhoods. He is conducting a formal survey as part of a fellowship & has gone through Oakland's diverse neighborhoods, walking up and down the streets asking questions.

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 11th, 2009
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 8th, 2009
  • Ziba's Sohrab Vossoughi on the multitude of sins the consumer electronics companies are guilty of – "Consumer electronics companies need to clearly communicate what their products are about and who they are for." I agree with Sohrab; we find ourselves recommending this very strongly to almost all of our clients. But why are people still writing about this after more than 10 years of usability in the mainstream? I mean this isn't news, except for the fact that it still is true.
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 3rd, 2009
  • Toilet seat covers, upgraded – Dora Cardenas, Toletta's cofounder and VP of communications, explains: “The product concept came to me and my husband while we were trying to find small travel packs of disposable paper toilet seat covers to use ourselves. Not only was I shocked to learn that travel packs are hard to find, but the products we did find didn’t have any ounce of style or quality tissues. All the products we found looked and felt like something you would find in a camping supply store—not exactly something retail stores and supermarkets would be proud to carry on their shelves.”
  • TOLETTA – Because you never know – TOLETTA is the world's first premium brand of paper toilet seat covers. From the funky music to the edgy and stylish packaging, it's easy to see that we're not your ordinary toilet seat covers. Not only do our products look great, the premium tissue helps women feel better about using public washrooms. So for all you señoras, señoritas, and diva fashionistas, you'll never have to settle for those cheap and flimsy paper toilet seat covers again.
  • John Maeda's mini-manifesto in Esquire – I don't convulse with joy every time Maeda utters something, but I did enjoy this brief piece (despite his use of "the consumer"):

    "Technology is outpacing our ability to use it. And it's the job of designers to restore balance to this equation. Technological advances have always been driven more by a mind-set of "I can" than "I should," and never more so than today. Technologists love to cram maximum functionality into their products. That's "I can" thinking, which is driven by peer competition and market forces. (It's easier to sell a device with ten features than one.) But this approach ignores the far more important question of how the consumer will actually use the device."

  • Nussbaum says "Innovation" is dead but "Transformation" is the new black – The conflation between talking about ideas and discussing their labels is kinda frightening. Glad to see someone cited my latest interactions articles about the power of words to clarify our interactions.
  • Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, on KQED Forum – What I heard was very exciting; Pallotta considers the unquestioned framework (and its history) around how charities operate and challenges these principles. He's extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful, and passionate. This was one of the best discussions of innovation – and its barriers – that I've heard in a long time.
  • Katherine Bennett explores design research methods and find the journey is at least part of the reward – "I'm two-thirds through with my MSID in design research at Art Center, and I feel the need to take stock of where I am. I've been teaching design research to product design students at Art Center since 1991, but since my journey down the path of getting this additional degree I have been traveling over some interesting ground."
  • I only started a blog because steve portigal told me to – "My name is Bria and I am a designer." Nice to see my writing having impact
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We’re not in Kansas anymore June 3rd, 2007

Dan and I have already mentioned (here and here) our stay at Chateau Avalon (an “Experience Hotel” – quick and easy ways to see times and past and locations distant, all without leaving Kansas City). Now a bit more about what was horribly wrong with my room. Let’s assume that most people who stay there fall within their intended demographic (couples, local, looking for a quick getaway), and let’s set aside issues of personal taste.

I was in the Colorado Frontier room.
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The bed is in the back, which is sort of another room.
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That room is extremely tight around the bed; one can barely get by, and I found the best way to open and close the drapes was to stand on the bed itself. No dresser, but a fairly big closet. Confusing light switches, with no light source that was reachable from the bed itself. And a massive TV that loomed above the bed rather threateningly. The literature promised satellite TV so I looked to see how to get beyond the usual hotel 15 channels, eventually calling the front desk. Those are the channels, it seemed. HBO was the satellite channel. I expressed some confusion and they explained that it’s a satellite channel “around here.” Okay.

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The room had completely useless workspace. I didn’t want a thematic chair to sit on for editing PowerPoint decks, transferring video, managing cameras and media and chargers and so on. I wanted something comfortable, and I wanted a big enough table to get my stuff on. The only other flat surface for wallet, keys, etc. was the bedside table (already covered with hotel crap and rather difficult to reach unless you throw yourself on the bed like a beached whale).

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The bathing facilities were smack in the middle of the main part of the room, and quite far from the water closet portion of things. Do you want to invite a colleague into your room when your tub (and inevitable tubby paraphernalia) is front stage?

The whirlpool spa was also a shower. But it was quite deep, so to get out meant tentatively raising a foot rather high and over the edge. What’s on the outside? Narrow stone steps. Umm, right? I’m lucky I didn’t break my neck getting out of that thing. There was no place to put a towel and no safe way to get out. Very irksome. Part of the stone stairs went down only to the level of the porch floor while others went a few inches further to the level of the main floor.

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My (least) favorite design failure. The bathroom was as wide as the door. The sink was to the right and the toilet was to the left. To reach the toilet, one must step into the bathroom and to the right, then inhale and push the door past. A person of girth would absolutely not be able to do it. I could not do it without the edge of the door dragging across me roughly.

There was a lot of energy put into the design choices, but it’s the most shallow form of appearance versus usable I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps the owner of the hotel should be forced to stay in each room and try getting things done, other than savoring luxuriant chocolate (or cranium-filling cinnamon rolls) and heavenly rose petals. Say, going to bed, getting up, washing, using the toilet, etc. Activities of daily living type of stuff…

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Has Usability Become a Cult? November 14th, 2006

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Today is World Usability Day and one newly generated ritual is Take a Red Balloon For a Walk!

A worldwide initiative that EVERYONE can participate in to celebrate World Usability Day 2006!

Walk around your community, office or home and take photos of products, road signs, or anything that represents something USABLE or NOT USABLE. Of course, you can include yourself and your balloon in the photos!

I’m reminded of Red Nose Day which when I initially encountered it was a movement to help people lighten up and have a nicer day. (Now it’s tied to fund raising and charity).

I’m sure someone could make a case that this raises awareness in a light-hearted way but it strikes as ridiculous. What’s next, red balloon lapel pins, red rubber bracelets, red balloon-shaped magnets for the back of your car? Move over Lance Armstrong, overseas troops, and breast cancer, the Red freakin’ balloon is here!

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Any Palomar is a pal o’ mine? August 29th, 2006

I blogged about my UXWeek hotel before I headed to DC and again after I arrived (when they have my reservation – expecting me to arrive one day later). Here’s some thoughts about the rest of the experience there.

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The elevator had lovely but deadly ceiling lighting. There was no place you could stand (regardless of height or headwear) that would prevent these lights from shining uncomfortably into your eyes. You had to bob and weave to see the buttons for choosing a floor, and then shift around the space inside during your ride in order to minimize the just-outside-awareness annoyance (like when a bug flits near your skin and although you don’t consciously realize what it is you are still annoyed by it).

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This sink in my bathroom drove me nuts. Only one control, to the right of the very large and prominent faucet. The control swivels between its current position, let’s call that 6 o’clock, and 90 degrees to the right – say, 3 o’clock. I never managed to get Hot or Cold out of the tap, though, so I never really figured it out. For the first set of uses, I just tilted the control back and got warm enough/cold enough water to do my washing. Then I saw it rotated right, only.

Meanwhile, every time I’d go to wash my hands I’d “miss” because I’d be aiming for the hot tap on the left of the faucet and then I’d get sort of confused with my eyes and my hands when crossing under that huge faucet. It sounds dumb when explained logically, but in terms of instinct, I could just not manage to use this sink easily.

One night I got up to get a drink directly from the faucet and smacked myself pretty hard in the forehead with the giant metal faucet. That’ll make going back to sleep fun.

I hated this sink, but only once I tried to use it.

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Looking at the clock radio, I saw that familiar connector and realized hey, that’s for an iPod. I liked the visual branding of the connector; slightly obscure but not entirely so. It semi-subtlely announces what it’s capable of by showing those pins (and connectors are often relegated to the back of the house)

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It was really nice to be able to listen to my own music while I was in my room; I made good use of this feature. Sort of a weird interface; I had to keep pressing buttons to get it to play but it was also simple enough I didn’t really mind. I probably blamed myself for not really trying to figure it out – if I had taken 3 minutes to study and learn that would have explained the use model well enough that each action would confidently produce a desired result. But meanwhile, I was getting music and that was good.

Otherwise, the hell just seemed like good ideas that no one really thought through. Lots of half measures that reminded you of the flavor of good service but not the actual experience of it. Every lunch buffet seemed to be missing some implement – gorgeous chunks of chocolate but nothing to cut them with (although maybe it was simply display chocolate we weren’t meant to eat – what a concept) or cold cuts and bread where the bread was rolls with raisins or chunks of baguette that weren’t sliced lengthwise.

The main restroom near the conference was staffed by a guy with bright yellow rubber gloves on. Was he a men’s room attendant? Or was he always in there cleaning? It was pretty unclear and it was of course uncomfortable – how were we supposed to be interacting? No script for that one.

Other people reported the bar and restaurant had lovely tables that seemed at the wrong height for the chairs (or the chairs being the wrong height for the tables). That seemed the theme here – nice looking stuff that was just hard enough to use to make you feel wrong or awkward.

Let’s hope they get this stuff sorted out; I fear they are so far off the mark, though, putting up layers of surfaces without trying them out, that it may never resolve.

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