May 11, 2002 design case study
Frog design has a nice case study of their work with Dell (albeit in a badly framed page). It covers some of the design rationale used to make specific design decisions like use of color to highlight main path navigation:

"We established a primary purchase path defined by bright, bold colorful buttons which lead the user down the path. To address other types of shoppers, less prominent monotone image links are used. To lead users through shopping paths, we established a system of way-finding link icons with primary ones leading to the next step in the path and secondary icons leading to tangent content."
Bring a product vision to your project: Design the Box
"One practice that I've found effective in getting teams to think about a product vision is the Design-the-Box exercise ... The team makes the assumption that the product will be sold in a shrink-wrapped box, and their task is to design the product box front and back. This involves coming up with a product name, a graphic, three to four key bullet points on the front to "sell" the product, a detailed feature description on the back, and operating requirements."
The World Is Complicated. Get Used To It.
Joel provides an excellent example of real world design trade-offs in a recent post.

"Design is all about making hard choices and, hopefully, sometimes, hitting upon elegant solutions that solve conflicting goals. But when you can't solve conflicting goals, you have to be smart enough to decide which goal to solve, and not just be a lazy punter and pretend that adding a checkbox to the options dialog will solve it."
In Defense of Cheating
Don Norman points out why GPAs aren't always everything they're cracked up to be. I can say that my GPA was always pretty good, but I've also found that often the best employees are well-rounded individuals who don't have perfect grades. I've seen many 4.0 students (a perfect grade-point-average) who can't figure out how to deal with real business situations where the path to success isn't clear. The whole grading system is messed up and doesn't reward the behaviors we need in business.

As Don says in his essay:
"Consider this: in many ways, the behavior we call cheating in schools is exactly the behavior we desire in the real world. Think about it. What behavior do we call cheating in the school system? Asking others for help, copying answers, copying papers. Most of these activities are better called "networking" or "cooperative work." In the workplace these behaviors are encouraged and rewarded. Thus, many experts will tell you that their real expertise lies not in what they know but rather in who they know: that is, expertise is often knowing whom to ask and where to look. When we have problems in the real world, we want answers, no matter the source, which means searching to find someone else who has experienced the same problem, asking others for help, and cooperating."

I can't say I agree with all of Don's ideas on "fixing" the system, but recognizing the flaws is a first step.
By Design:Wisdom from the Industry (New Architect)
New Architect talks to some industry leaders and gets their thoughts on many topics. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are a few snippets that I found memorable:

"Machine translation (MT) tools simply don't work very well. To sum up recent progress somewhat cynically, I would say that today you can get a bad machine translation in only a fraction of the time it took 15 years ago." What's the biggest obstacle to Internationalization, and how will it be overcome? "The biggest obstacle to internationalization is the sheer distance, in every sense of the word, between the content owner and the content user. The people who benefit from I18N mostly are not Americans, while those who pay for it mostly are."
- Robert Hopkins - Founder, Weblations

"There will be a consumer revolt against technologies that are too complicated, unreliable, or constraining, in favor of technologies that are simple and elegant, truly helpful, mindful of context, and flexible enough to meet a wide variety of needs."
- Henry Lieberman - Agents Research Lead, MIT Media Lab

It has been said that innovation is a process, not an accident. What does Google do to keep innovative ideas flowing?
"Everybody is encouraged to come up with new ideas, and we have a Web page where everyone can post these ideas. There's a meeting every two weeks to discuss them, and everyone is invited."
- Monika Henzinger - Director of Research, Google

"Products have multiple dimensions: fitting a real need, reliability, aesthetics, usability, price. All have to be correct for the product to succeed. No single factor dominates. Any single factor can kill the success."
- Donald Norman - Co-Founder, Nielsen Norman Group

"A lot of navigational conventions have come and gone—such as 1997's "Yellow Fever" spate of left-hand nav bars, or the avalanche of Amazon-style tabs we've seen more recently—but architectural conventions seem to take more time to develop. But I would not be surprised if, for example, five years from now you could find press releases given exactly the same architectural treatment on every Fortune 500 site."
- Jesse James Garrett - Partner, Adaptive Path

What's the most interesting debate raging in the design and development community right now?
"Usability—balancing emotion with intellect in designing effective content."
- Kevin Lynch - Chief Software Architect, Macromedia
Macromedia launches blogs to support new software releases
Wired coverage of how Macromedia provides examples of corporate blogging and using blogs to provide customer service.

Macromedia blogs:
John Dowdell (Dreamweaver MX)
Matt Brown's Dreamweaver Blog
Mesh on MX (Flash MX)
the complete list

Looks like they've made a number of UI improvements to Dreamweaver MX (DMX) as well as some usability and accessibility additions.
How to design a logo
If you've ever tried to design a logo, you know it's not a piece of cake. This collection of logo design techniques from Before & After can really help make your next logo design project go faster.

May 10, 2002

Strategic usability: Partnering business, engineering and ease of use
Scott Berkun (of Microsoft): "The most limited view of usability engineering is often unintentionally promoted by usability engineers themselves. A typical usability study or method is not where usability is created or defined: it’s only where it is measured or witnessed."

May 09, 2002

International standards for HCI and usability
Did you know that there's a whole set of ISO standards that address usability? Yep, there is...

Standards related to usability can be categorised as primarily concerned with:
- the use of the product (effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a particular context of use)
- the user interface and interaction
- the process used to develop the product
- the capability of an organisation to apply user centred design

The user-centered-design certification that's being talked about is based on these standards.
Makers of Electronics Begin to Emphasize Style
Don Norman has been talking a lot lately about aesthetics and beauty. He talked about it at CHI, on CHI-Web, and in a NewsFactor article about the design of consumer electronics.

Here are a few good snippets from that article:
"Norman lauded the Handspring Treo phone and personal organizer for sporting a form that fit its function. The device has a thumb-operated keyboard and large screen for e-mail and Web access packed in a slim, flip-phone frame.

"Stop thinking about the technology and start thinking about what people are doing," Norman said. "That's the secret to good design."

"In designing the new iMac, Apple wanted to make a computer that "physically fits people better," said Jonathan Ive, Apple's vice president of industrial design.

"If we had just set out to design a computer with a flat panel, that clearly would have an enormous influence on our approach," Ive said. "If you are not considering the problem appropriately, and you are not understanding its context, you are going to come up with a fairly predictable solution."

At Nokia, designers spend a lot of time studying consumer behavior, said Alastair Curtis, group design director.

About four years ago, the company noticed Americans' and Europeans' burgeoning interest in yoga and decided it needed a simple product where special-function keys were grouped together. The result was the wildly successful, 4-inch tall 8200 phone series."

Of course, I have no idea what yoga has to do with grouping buttons on a phone. Maybe if I join the National Yoga Association they'll let me in on that little secret...

From the archives:
- Usability is lacking in the consumer electronics world as well
- User centered design sells products

May 07, 2002

Why I’m not calling myself an Information Architect anymore
David Heller makes some good points in a Boxes and Arrows piece on IA as a title:

"Information Architecture is not the same as interaction design or user experience design. The line is very clear and the only reason we allow it be blurred is because early adopters from different disciplines within the field coopted the term and have applied it to a broad swath of responsibilities."

"I know I am not an Information Architect because I know what Information Architecture is, and I respect those that can do it. I also want to make sure that those who can do it, aren’t obscured by those that can’t."

"So respectfully, I remain a member of this community, but I revoke (retroactively) all titles I ever held that included Information Architecture in them."

I've received a number of comments on my chosen title, "User Experience Architect" -- it's a new title that few people have used before. Here's my explanation of it: “User Experience Architect” is a title that insufficiently seeks to describe a role focused primarily on user-centered design, but borrowing from many other disciplines like information architecture, systems design, project management, marketing, and cat herding. I also don't call myself an IA -- for many of the same reasons David cited in his article. "Usability engineer/specialist" is too narrow a definition, and brings too many preconceived notions since many UE's only conduct usability tests.
My CHI 2002 conference report
Find out some of the things Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Jared Spool, and others had to say at the CHI 2002 conference in April. I wrote an article for Boxes and Arrows on my CHI experience. CHI is the annual conference put on by the SIGCHI group within ACM (a.k.a. the usability engineering folks). Please use the comments feature on Boxes and Arrows to let me know what you think. I'll try to answer any questions that people have as well about the conference or the sessions I attended.

George Olsen also has an excellent write-up on the CHI/AIGA Experience Design Forum - an event that brought together people from both the Usability and Design fields (and somehow no one got hurt).

May 05, 2002

Bloatware: Good or Evil?
Joel wrote a nice piece on why usability and featuritis are often at odds. Here are a couple excerpts:
"Featuritis sells products, but choices reduce usability. The really great designs are the ones that appear to eliminate a choice. You know you're doing your job as a designer when you figure out a way to take a complicated feature and make it simpler."

"It usually takes a lot more code to make a simpler interface."

But then I noticed an older post from Joel about Bloatware:
"Remember, kids, the trouble with the "everyone only uses 20% of the features" myth is that everybody uses a slightly different 20%"

"No matter how much it bothers you neat freaks, the market always votes for bloatware."

I think Joel's right on both points --- and it creates a paradox. What is better: do right by your users by keeping your product simple, or do right by your company by helping them win market share, adding features? The obvious and tricky answer is that you have to find a balance. If the feature you add is actually used by 20% of your users, that might be good enough to justify putting it in your product. Sometimes it may only be used by 1% of your users, and used rarely, but it may still be worth adding. Need an example? How about Disk Defragmenter in Windows? Few people actually know what it does, but it can be very important to getting a system working better. Of course Joel's second post make me think that things like defragmentation should just be handled automatically, behind the scenes, so that's a bad example. A better example might be a system administration feature for an ecommerce system like IBM WebSphere. Something like a system rollback option that restores a system to a prior state might be used rarely, and by relatively few people, but it adds a lot of value when it is needed. And, if no other competitor has that feature, it now becomes a wedge that marketing can use to create distance between your product and the competition.

It then becomes our jobs as designers to figure out how to add new features without overloading new users with too much complexity or confusing existing users by moving legacy features around. That's why we get paid the big bucks. :-) ...and that's why we have our methods toolbox full of things we can use to deal with that challenge.