August 02, 2002

Penguin Code
Considering using ISO standards in your forms for country names? Might want to think again after reading Web Forms and ISO 3166 country codes Conquering "Penguin Code". The page covers a lot of areas and how geographic location isn't as cut-and-dried as you might think. It talks about cultural perceptions and how users may feel that their county name is important when from a shipping perspective it isn't. Also covers some obvious blunders committed by us Americans frequently when requesting user location information on web forms.

"I am not certain why uninhabited islands made it into the ISO 3166-1, while the following geographic areas did not; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People have been living in these areas for hundreds of years, and there is a strong cultural identity involved. The ISO 3166-2 country subdivision codes overlooked these same areas again. Guess, the penguins won out, because they have an automated weather station on their island. Uninhabited islands and several other entries should have never been included in the IS0 3166-1 Country Codes. Why? Because they are not really countries at all."

What state was that?
The ISO site has forms with required state/region fields. They use a drop-down with only one value: N/A -- N/A must be that 51st state otherwise known as "Area 51" -- of course the US government has conspired to hide that state from us. Looks like the ISO requires all of us to move there. Cool. I always wanted to get in on an alien autopsy...

Tick me off...
Here's a humorous check box label from the same page: "The data provided via this form will be used by the ISO Central Secretariat and by the ISO members (national standards institutes). If you wish to restrict the use of these data to the administrative tasks related to the sales transactions and for statistical purposes, please tick the checkbox"
...ISO Central Secretariat...didn't that horse win a few races in Kentucky? Maybe only horses are allowed to live in Kentucky?

August 01, 2002

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd Edition
Sneak preview (beta) chapters from the next Polar Bear book by Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. Just digging in now -- gotta be good!
Interface Invaders
The latest from the "Cranky User": Everything I need to know about usability, I learned at the arcade makes some excellent points.

"Many video games are designed so that the user doesn't need to be taught how to play; the designers assume that the user will never read the manual. Modern games often feature some kind of tutorial before the game really starts, to expose you to the concepts you need to be familiar with in order to play the game well. To be frank, productivity software is often hostile to new users. Help systems are either absent, poorly designed, or just plain wrong. Even companies like Apple, who have built a reputation for usability, can get this wrong; Apple's AppleGuide help system, for instance, won't let you read the instructions for performing a task unless you perform them as you read through them. Its mantra of "do this, then click 'continue'" is a distressing one."

Classic video arcade games I remember playing a lot (dating myself): Dig Dug, Defender, Spy Hunter, Galaga, and Tron

Classic PC software you might have missed: Oregon Trailer Trash, Mavis Beacon Teaches Quilting, and Microsoft Bob

July 30, 2002

Usability Must Die
No matter how cynical you think you are, keep in mind there's always someone more cynical. Of course regular readers know I'm a sucker for sarcasm and cynicism -- so these made me chuckle:

Free Discount Usability Advice from Jakob Nielsen - you can also ask Jakob's advice on fashion or hair styles. :)

Illustration of the process for a usability review of a VCR - If the review in the example would've been conducted by UIE the final product would include a Mickey Mouse wrist watch and be located in the cheapest hotel on the monorail at Disneyworld. The product also wouldn't have any FF or REW options -- after all, they're too similar to search and movies have no "uniquely identified content" within them (at least no movies starring Keanu Reeves). Another issue obviously overlooked in the review is that most videotapes don't provide enough "scent" -- yet more proof that we need Smell-o-Vision(TM). (Apologies in advance to Jared.)
The painful details of a content inventory
Donna Maurer has created a new blog on IA, UCD and usability. She has a nice writing style and has shared her recent experiences doing a content audit on a pretty good sized site "down under" in Aussie-land. Check it out.

July 29, 2002

Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility
10 guidelines for building the credibility of a web site that are based on three years of research that included over 4,500 people.

Like most guidelines, when you see them they seem like common sense. That being said, I think these are excellent guidelines -- truly a new milestone in the area of online trust.

- ecommerce Trust & Trustworthiness -
- Affective Design of E-Commerce User Interfaces:How to Maximise Perceived Trustworthiness - Florian N. Egger
- A matter of trust - InfoWorld
Seven plus or minus two reasons you should forget the magical number seven plus or minus two
Ron's Ramblings (cool new blog found via Webword) has a list of articles that explain how most people misuse George Miller's 40-year old research on short-term memory limitations.

Some excerpts:

How to improve design decisions by reducing reliance on superstition by Dr. Robert Bailey of Human Factors International (HFI)
"At least partially because of the success of Miller’s paper, the number “seven” is now almost universally and erroneously accepted as the human capacity limit for a wide range of issues."

The Myth of "Seven, Plus or Minus 2" by James Kalbach in WebReview
"While Miller's "Magic (7±2)" principle reminds us of moderation, it is not appropriate for fundamental navigation decisions and leads to an arbitrary "one-size-fits-all" solution. In no event should it be taken as an absolute law. On the other hand, spamming site visitors with hundreds of navigation links is also irresponsible. Feelings of confusion and information overload are problematic. There probably are limits to the number of menu items a web page can display without overwhelming the user, but these do not come from Miller.
Clearly, the optimal number of menu items cannot be reduced to one generalized rule applicable in all situations. Instead, when planning the information architecture of a site, the two most important considerations are breadth versus depth and the display of information."

More in-depth info on the same topic:
3.14159, 42, and 7±2: Three Numbers That (Should) Have Nothing To Do With User Interface Design by Denny C. LeCompte
"The fame of Miller's number would be a wonderful thing if not for a couple of problems. First, at least in private settings, the magical number is often invoked inappropriately. For example, an individual may claim that a web page should have no more than 7±2 links on it. As will be discussed in more detail, nothing Miller said lends support to such a statement. Second, even when it is cited correctly, Miller's work is discussed as if the scientific understanding of short-term memory had not advanced at all in the last half century. In fact, an analysis of Miller's original paper and of subsequent scientific research suggests that 7±2 is no more relevant to user interface design than is Douglas Adams' facetious 42." ... "At best, Miller's 7 ± 2 figure applies to immediate serial recall for a sequence of familiar, easy-to-pronounce, unrelated, verbal stimuli presented auditorily with no distracting sounds within earshot. Thus, the narrow range of generality implied by the research findings cannot support the wide variety of situations to which people try to apply this heuristic. Based on the relevant data, user interface designers should probably forego application of the 7 ± 2 heuristic altogether."

Fighting (with) Hierarchies - Part I: Basics - SAP Design Guild
"Why is breadth harmless and why are the people who cite Miller wrong? Because the user doesn't have to memorize the menu - that is to say, the link list. It's on the screen and available to the user. The memory problem is posed by the levels or steps to be remembered; that is why a route in a maze is so hard to remember."

Of course, as the SAP article points out, good UI's rely on recognition rather than recall, so the idea that users have to depend soley on short-term recall memory is flawed from the start.