December 23, 2003

B2B e-commerce pioneer Staples continues to define the cutting edge

According to a Network World Fusion article, usability studies help Staples stay ahead of the competition:

"By last count, customers that have standing contracts with Staples place 70% of their orders electronically, says Mike Ragunas, vice president of technology strategy and architecture at the Framingham, Mass., office-supply retailer. At least some of those results can be attributed to the company's focus on making it easy for customers to shop at Staples, whether online, in the store or from a catalog. Often that effort involves making simple to use."

"Easy Reorder required only relatively simple programming and database work. "The bigger challenge was working with customers on finding the right way to present it," he says. He adds that Staples puts significant effort into usability studies "so when we put something new out, we know customers will get it."

Yes, Staples has usability folks -- a number of them. And the company's bottom line shows the results. Check out this case study.

December 12, 2003

The SheLingual Woman Translator

More proof that PT Barnum was right when he said there's a sucker born every day:

This made me think of a million dollar idea: "The SheLingual" - a device to translate what women are saying into something men can understand.

Some potential features:
- Gripe Translation: Uses the exclusive YPMS system to analyze what she's saying. Now when you hear "blah, blah, blah, blah" during football games, you can use the "SheLingual" to avoid having to respond with "did you say something sweetie?". And when she's sniping about the laundry, you'll know it's really because you haven't given her flowers in over two years.

- Home Alone Mode: records up to 12 hours of phone chats, gossip, griping and mood swings while you are away.

- Body Language Guide: helps you interpret hand guestures, facial expressions, sighs, snickers, and a variety of hands-on-hips stances. No more asking "what was THAT look for?"

November 25, 2003

Usability Service with a smile...

...okay, a quirky, possibly scary "The Shining" kind of smile, but a smile nonetheless.

The following is from the home page of Kurt Robinson Usability Consulting. It struck me as funny - but then I have a rather twisted sense of humor (a fact that anyone who reads this site often will atest to). I'm not sure it's the kind of writing style that conveys a sense of credibility or professionalism.

"We rigorously inspect your site, looking for ways to make it quicker and easier for your site's visitors to find things, compare products, check out, subscribe, etc. Beyond that, we look for any opportunity to enhance the user's sense that your company is trustworthy, and that, vaguely speaking, your company has a consistent, likable personality. Failing that, at least try to be likable in your private life. Remember birthdays. Really listen. Play dumb. Put a sock in it.

"The deliverable is a Usability Report - A concise report describing ways to improve the user experience your site provides. In this context, 'the deliverable' has no sexual connotations."

I'd never hire this consultant - not based on their web site. Then again, there's so much obviously wrong with this site that I can't believe they actually expect to get any business from their site.

Of course, maybe they're not targeting folks like me or my clients. If their target market is adolecent boys, maybe this is spot on.

Being funny's great, and I think it can actually help in marketing. Just look at Steve Krug, his book was a huge seller, largely because of his fabulous writing style. But there comes a point when things go too far and turn people away.

November 24, 2003

It's a good chuckle

Bob's Quick Guide to Its and It's, you idiots

[via Meryl]
Dispelling myths about spam

Rebecca Lieb has an excellent piece at Clickz called The 10 Biggest Spam Myths. If you think "something must be done," then you should read this very informative and eye-opening article.

"Everyone battling the spam scourge -- marketers, consumers, lawmakers, and the media -- could do with a little reason and rationality just about now. It's time to think critically about received ideas on spam."

November 17, 2003

UIs aren't DIY

Sound & Video Contractor magazine (surprisingly enough) has a nice succinct article on why you shouldn't think of user interfaces as DIY (do-it-yourself).

"The same now holds true for user interfaces. When designing products or services for your customers, don't entrust the task of user interface design to amateurs. Whether you choose to use in-house personnel or consultants, make sure you use someone with experience in designing user interfaces — someone who knows how to find usability problems.

"Why risk alienating a customer because of a poorly designed interface? Many people have heard the buzzword intuitive applied to user interfaces. Make sure the interface is intuitive to the customer who has never used, or has little experience with, your product or service, not the person who just spent the past 24 months developing it."

Read the full article:Don't Try This at Home

November 13, 2003

Toys R Us and Sexual Assault of Children - Advertisers need to consider content that will surround their ads

I was just reading a current news item on the ABCNews web site (found via Google News headlines) and saw something that advertisers should be aware of when placing ads.

First, a little background: the news story is about how three suspects in a sexual assault case will not be tried as adults, even though the crime they are accused of is quite serious and the accused are all between 16 and 17 years old. Two of the alleged victims are 14 and 13 years old.

This story is being talked about quite a bit here in the states since many suspects in this age group are often charged as adults, but these suspects will be treated as juveniles in the court system. Victims' family members said the judge's ruling Wednesday to treat them as juveniles apparently means the three accused boys will get nothing more than probation and therapy

The story goes into some details of the accusations over a three-page article on their web site. The first page provides some details of the alleged assault:

"the suspects could have faced 26 felony counts in the incident, in which two 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old allegedly sodomized the younger boys with a broomstick, pine cones and golf balls."

The first page ends just a few paragraphs from this rather graphic explanation. At the top of the second page, there is an in-page ad that you have to view and scroll past to continue reading. In this case, it was an ad for Toys R Us offering their latest catalog, so in big bold letters, the ad offers you "The Big Toy Book". This ad was rather shocking to me as a reader. Here, I'm reading a disturbing piece about young boys allegedly being cruelly sexually assaulted, and then I get a nice big cheery offer for a "big toy book." What are the brand implications for Toys R Us? Did their marketing department really want to associate their brand with sex crimes involving children? I'm sure not.

Tip for advertisers: don't buy advertising on news sites where your brand may be placed next to things with bad connotations. I recall when the movie "Schindler's List" was broadcast on television here in the states. The entire broadcast was sponsored by Ford and, as I recall, the advertising was very solemn and respectful of the content of the movie. It wasn't a time for a fun "Zoom Zoom" style of advertising. It wasn't a case where commercial interruptions of any sort would work - so the broadcast was uninterrupted.

Generally, advertisers should look at solutions like Google's AdSense that contextualizes advertising to the content. But more importantly, they can't look just at a web site's "reach", but must also look at the context in which their ad will be viewed. Advertisers need to consider the brand experience. may attract the right demographics that Toys R Us was trying to reach, but I'm sure they never wanted their brand or their "Big Toy Book" associated with sodomy or the sexual assault of children.

Placing ads in the midst of content forces a reader to try and associate the ad with what they are reading. Ads should therefore not be place in the middle of content. Ads are almost always separate in content and purpose, and therefore should be kept in a separate "chunk" in the page layout.

As far as I know, Toys R Us is a great company. I shop there all the time. They sell great toys (like this cool mega-sphere). But they need to talk to ABC about where their ads are running if they're going to continue advertising with

November 12, 2003

The Bad Internet Fairy can teach you a lesson

Nick Usborne writes about A Fairy, a Low-Fat Bagel, and a Sack of Hammers in A List Apart. This is a great article about what we have to remember is of primary importance as web designers.

Usborne is the author of Net Words:

November 11, 2003

Free Web Content

Tired of using "greeked" or "latin" text like "lorem ipsum" on page mockups? Try ungreek.

[Via Meryl]
Study says brain hard-wired for empathy

This may explain why video highlights of usability testing are more convincing than a report...

"Ever watched someone grimace after they sniffed a carton of sour milk? Even though you were spared a whiff of stinky milk, to your brain, you might as well have been sniffing the milk yourself, a report from Italy suggests. New research shows that when we see an expression of disgust on someone else's face, the same part of our brain -- the insula -- is activated as when we feel disgust ourselves.

'People have overemphasized the importance of thoughts in our understanding of others,' Dr. Christian Keysers of the University of Parma, a co-author of the report, told Reuters Health. Although Keysers said that empathy for others is often thought of as a matter of morals, 'in our study, on the other hand, we show that empathy is a very basic, simple and automatic process,' he said. Keysers explained that when we see the emotions on another's face, 'we don't need to think about how that person feels.' Instead, according to Keysers, we share the feeling of disgust because the insula is activated as if we were disgusted ourselves.

'This sharing is automatic,' he said. 'Our subjects were not asked to share the emotion of the other person and did not report attempting to do so after the scan. It just happens.' Keysers continued, 'This shared feeling of disgust could then be our key to understanding how the other person feels.'"

From Reuters Health Information: Brain hard-wired for empathy: study
Spam for Christmas?

BBC NEWS: Spam set to soar this Christmas:

"Spam filtering and security firm FrontBridge said that now more than 70% of the mail it filters is spam based. This is a rise of almost 50% since the start of 2003. FrontBridge said that now the average company with 1,000 employees sees more than 2.1m spam messages per year."

Somebody could make a lot of money if they figured out a better way to fight Spam.
A new metric - restarts

"I discovered an interesting metric to collect for a usability evaluation of a site - restarts - the number of times the participant 'starts again' when trying to find information."

More: DonnaM: A new metric - restarts:

November 07, 2003

Wheel Mouse + Drop-downs = Gotcha! for Ecommerce Sites and Web Form Users

The lesson: new user input devices can create new interaction issues... The Devil’s in the Details

So, trying to scroll toward the submit button, you have actually changed your credit card expiry from 2004 to 2009, before you realize the wheelie isn’t scrolling the page. Furrowing your brow, focused on the fact the wheel isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing – and completely unaware you’ve entered a new expiry – you click your mouse (the technological equivalent of kicking your car’s tires), thereby locking in your new selection – and continue with the process. You submit the order ... The next thing you know, you’ve got one of those emails that I got (hopefully a nice one). “Your credit card was declined.”

I've personally experienced this problem. This would be a great interaction issue for someone to research. (Hint, hint, folks at SURL...)

November 06, 2003

Wanna Dance?

This has evidently been around for some time, but I can't recall seeing it before. The Dancing Jakob Nielsen (note it requires sound for the best experience).

Apologies to Jakob.

Note to self #1: think twice before putting "action photos" on web site.

Note to self #2: you'll know you've got people's attention when they take the time to create parodies poking fun at you.

November 03, 2003

UI Development Roles

Bob Owen has a nice (albeit slightly mis-titled) breakdown of "Roles in the Development of User Interface Software" on his site. (Mistitled because I think it's a description of roles in development of software user interfaces.)

"This document describes the five major user interface software development roles Ethnographer, Interaction Designer, Graphic Artist, User Interface Programmer and Usability Tester. Also discussed are the type of work products produced, typical background for each role and a simple user interface software development process."

Compare and contrast with:
- Challis Hodge: Experience Design Relationship Model from Models, Diagrams & Theories

- AIGA-ED Presentation: Role: Usability Specialist, presented by Steve Krug and some other sharp folks

- Step Two: Roles needed in an intranet team

October 31, 2003

OK/Cancel: A Comic Strip for Me

"OK/Cancel is a comic strip written for a very specific audience, but much of what we talk about is quite universal. Most everybody can relate to things in the world which don't work like they should -- and you needn't be a usability specialist, interaction designer, industrial designer or any sort of designer to appreciate that frustration. But if you ARE any of those aforementioned people or have had the pleasure and pain of working with one or more of this rare breed, this strip is for you."

I like this particular strip.

[via UsabilityNews]

October 30, 2003

US kids are more wired than ever - is that good?
Do we really need to close the Digital Divide?

The AP reports on a new study released by the US National Center for Education Statistics

"If kids today seem more wired than ever, it's because they are. About 90 percent of people ages 5 to 17 use computers and 59 percent of them use the Internet -- rates that are, in both cases, higher than those of adults. Even kindergartners are becoming more plugged in: One out of four 5-year-olds uses the Internet."

"Children are often the first adopters of a lot of technology,'' said John Bailey, who oversees educational technology for the department. "They grow up with it. They don't have to adapt to it. ... Students, by and large, are dominating the Internet population.''

The report predictably discusses the use of computers in schools and the "digital divide." You often hear the media, technology vendors, and educators use these kinds of statistics to cry for more computers and technology in schools.

As a parent, I question whether more technology is what we most need in schools. I wonder if the technology in place and the way it's used in classrooms is really worth the cost. I'm not talking about just financial costs either. Consider also the opportunity costs: use of teacher time, use of students' time, use of physical space, etc.

I'm a heavy technology user; I've advocated and sold many computer-based technologies in the past. Yet, I still wonder if our children shouldn't be focusing on other things or learning in other ways. There's an excellent report called "Computers Make Kids Smarter—Right?" that analyzed current research (as of 1998) and raised some excellent questions. If you're wondering if your local schools need more technology, I recommend you skim this report to learn what questions you should be asking educators and school boards. I know I'll have a keener eye to what my daughter is doing in the with computers in the classroom after looking this over.

"Over the past 30 years, studies of classroom use of computers have indeed found evidence of moderate effectiveness when it comes to the academic performance of students who use them. They also have found evidence of minimum effectiveness. And of no effectiveness at all."

"To answer the urgent question that many policymakers, practitioners, and parents ask—do students using computers learn more, faster, and better than if they were taught in familiar, nontechnological ways?—few of the interested parties have delved into the findings researchers have provided. Most have simply assumed that computers are effective and rushed to put new technologies into schools

"While it is clear that students will need to know how to manipulate databases, word processors, and other computer applications if they are to be competitive in the labor and undergraduate markets, what is less clear is how effective computers are as teaching tools or levers for transforming classroom organization. In coming to policy decisions about the best use of computers in schools, these distinct goals must be recognized and considered individually."

For another viewpoint, see Music Beats Computers at Enhancing Early Childhood Development

Closing the Digital Divide
As I mentioned, the report also highlights the "digital divide." Some will continue to say we need to "close the digital divide." (President Clinton called the divide the "key civil rights issue of the 21st century," and the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in calling for help to close the global digital divide, even recently asserted that technology "can and must be harnessed to our global mission of peace and development." Can someone please tell me how more technology in the world helps establish more peace? Do we really know that computers are what disadvantaged people need most? Do poor inner-city dwellers need a computer more than a job? Do kids need a computer instead of a mentor? Should we bypass building a park for kids to play in if it means we can provide instant access to for Brittany-depraved teens?

Sure, you can assert that I shouldn't sit in my connected home and claim that others don't need what I have. But here's my point: I know I'd rate Internet access for my kids as a very low priority on a list of things that enhance their lives. What things are at the top of the list? Having two parents, a good family income, food on the table, friends to play with, outside space to play in, a dog or cat to die so they learn about loss early in life, a family vacation, books to read and color in, and so on... One of the best "schools" I had in life was working on cars with my grandfather. He taught me a lot of things about problem solving, improvising, having a "can-do" attitude, etc. My kids won't learn those kinds of lessons from Reader Rabbit.

October 29, 2003

Eddie Bauer Gets It, and It Shows

"Troy Brown, divisional vice president of e-commerce at Eddie Bauer, told the E-Commerce Times that there is no magic mix of hardware and software in use. Rather, the company stays on top of its game by holding true to some very nontechnical tactics derived from Eddie himself. "When he launched the company, he would literally run from customer to customer," Brown said. "Our goal is to bring that to our site."

"In the company's headquarters is a customer experience lab, where users surf the site and suggest changes. Any potential change to the site is tested extensively in this lab. If it fails the lab test, it is discarded, according to Brown. 'We say that our site is designed by our customers, for our customers,' he said. 'Customers are involved in every step of design and improvement.' ... The lab has been operating for two years, and Brown said the amount of change that has taken place in that time period has been staggering. Eddie Bauer has seen a large decrease in cart abandonment and a big boost in new customers."
from E-Commerce News: What Is Eddie Bauer Doing Right?

Just another example...
Just look at the top ecommerce sites, the sites cited day in and day out as "best practice" sites: every one of them has used a healthy dose of usability methods in getting to and staying in front of the competition. See Amazon, Google, Ebay, Land's End, Eddie Bauer, Yahoo!, etc., etc., etc.

See also:
- Good Experience: Interview with Marissa Mayer, Product Manager, Google
- Good Experience: Interview with Maryam Mohit,
Information Overload: New Study Finds Data increasing

"There is twice as much new information in the world as there was just three years ago -- and most of it isn't very interesting. The researchers concluded that the amount of new information produced last year was about 23 exabytes. An exabyte is a million terabytes. A terabyte is a million megabytes -- roughly equivalent to the content of a million books." (from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
There's a whole lot of boring information out there)

The original Berkeley report "How Much Information? 2003" has a section dedicated to Internet and Web that is quite interesting. It agregates a lot of other research and provides some interesting statistics. For example, they estimate the total size of the surface web as 167 TB. There are also stats on Blogs, Spam, Instant Messaging, and Peer to Peer networking.

See also:
- The Register: US outguzzles world+dog in paper, bandwidth consumption in which they comment "it should come as no shock that EMC, HP, Intel and Microsoft 'supported' the study"
- Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Misuse of usability report findings continues

Sigh. Why should the twisting of words and meanings be limited to politics?

Linux on the desktop is a snap, study finds:
"According to a recent study on Linux desktop usability, the graphical user interface for the open source operating system is no sweat, even for the novice user. A report published by Relevantive, a German IT consulting firm, found that laymen Linux end users could grasp Linux as easily as Windows XP."

Who ever said Windows XP is a "snap"?

See also:
- Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: The Worst Social Statistic Ever
- Lyle: Sez U: Linux nears Windows XP usability
- Phil Hodgson: Usability test data - good clarification on what's qualitative vs. quanitative
- Lyle: Usability and Open Source Software
- Lyle: Open Letter to a Power User / Developer

October 28, 2003

Counting Australia with computers

Australia will be conducting a census in 2006 with an online option:
"In August, [the Australian Bureau of Statistics] conducted a test of the 2006 form among 6000 households in Brisbane, focusing on design and usability. Nauenburg said the trial was a success, with 4.5 per cent of households choosing to complete the electronic form. 'We learnt we have to continue to focus on accessibility and usability but it was good to hear that people would be prepared to conduct the census electronically,' he said."

Also in the article: the Swiss Federal Statistical Office ran their first electronic census in 2000 and only saw a 10% failure rate. (10% of questionnaires started online were not completed.)

The U.S. and Britain are projecting their first online censuses in 2010.

See also:
U.S. Census Bureau Usability Lab - an interesting site that appears to be under development.

Nokia launches TV phone

Now I can watch TV while driving to work... :-)

"New Nokia cell phone model allows users to watch television, listen to radio, take photos, video." gets some press, and quietly releases new version of guidelines

The usability team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are highlighted in two articles today talking about their web usability guidelines. Government Computer News (GCN) has an article called HHS issues usability guide for site design -- but read on here for the most exciting news for designers and usability practitioners...

First, it's great to see the head of a government agency announcing and promoting use of usability guidelines. This is clearly the result of a great job at promotion by Sanjay and the team, who should be congratulated.

From the foreword by Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services:
"Unfortunately, too many federal agencies have developed their websites according to their own needs, not the needs of the citizens they serve. For this and other reasons, the PresidentÂ’s E-government Act indicated that federal IT systems should be citizen-centered. An important part of creating a citizen-centered website is the use of research on how citizens interact with websites. This book, which translates research into practical, easy-to-understand guidelines, helps those in charge of federal websites save time and valuable resources."

The guidelines have been majorly updated

The GCN article points to a new page that has printable PDFs for download, complete with an introduction, forewords, indices and much more. What's strangely not mentioned, yet good to see, is that the article points to a completely revised version of the guidelines when compared to what's currently available from the top of the site. (The forewords are both from 2003.) If you compare the PDF versions, the site has a page for "printing complete guidelines" which looks old (from 2001), but maps pretty closely to what's available under "guidelines" on the site. The old print version is much smaller than the new one (73 pages and 2.6 MB versus 128 pages and 39.2 MB). Also, the old PDF is basically a printout of the web site, while the new version is formatted like a book - much better for printing and using as a hard copy since it has accurate pages numbers, a TOC, indices, etc.

In comparing the content of the new version versus the web site, it's clear the new version contains a lot of new work. There are now 17 sections to the guidelines (versus 14), and a number of old sections have been restructured and renamed. I noticed that the ratings for "relative importance" and "strength of evidence" for each guideline have been updated as well.

So, this all means the guidelines currently on the site are outdated, and the NCI team (hopefully) has a major web site update coming. The more current version of their usability guidelines is available as a PDF printable handbook. Go get it!

Finally, I'd agree with usability guru, Ben Schneiderman, who in his foreword says:
"These new NCI Web usability Guidelines carry forward one of the most enduring success stories in user interface design. They continue the noble tradition of thoughtful practitioners who have hacked their way through the unruly design landscape and then distilled their experience into compact and generalizable aphorisms or patterns. Compilations of such guidelines offer newcomers a clearer roadmap to follow, helping them to avoid some of the swamps and potholes. Guidelines serve experienced experts and busy managers by giving them an overview and reminding them of the wide range of issues."

See also:
- Federal Computer Week: Guide released for federal Web design

October 15, 2003

eBay Save Homes from "Fibber McGee's Closet" Syndrome


....Complicated stuff sold to unknowing public who, after beating heads against walls, squirrel it away in closets and pass it off to other rubes on eBay....

Read all about it in Seductive Electronic Gadgets Are Soon Forgotten

"People acquire these things — hand-held personal digital assistants, flatbed scanners, compact disc copiers and a host of other objects — because they promise to make life more efficient, more fun, or, some confess, simply because they appear to help them keep up with what their 'wired' friends and neighbors have.
But many such products are simply too complicated for their own good. And all too often, the buyers find that they cannot really change their lives just by acquiring something new and different."

"Ms. Kirschner, 52, has developed a theory, which she said applied not only to herself but to most anyone buying gadgets. "If the setup is hard and you're not sure why you need it, chances are it will head to the graveyard," she said. "If you really need it, by dogged determination you'll make that thing work."

- Fibber McGee's Closet
- Photo: Fibber McGee's Closet
- Don Norman: The Perils of Home Theater
Men say too many legit emails = spam

From He Spammed, She Spammed:

"Men were more frustrated, offended, by e-mails from companies they may have done business with but haven't given permission" for e-mail, said Scott Knoll, vice president of marketing solutions at New York-based DoubleClick.

"And even if they do give permission, men react strongly to getting too many e- mails from companies.

"Men tended to think being flooded by legitimate companies was more offensive to their sensibilities than receiving pornographic spam. The sheer quantity of legitimate but unwanted e-mail is turning men off to this marketing channel, Knoll said."
So What ARE the Defacto Web Standards Today?

"Web Design Practices is a site devoted to helping designers understand what design practices are currently in use on the Web—and aims to gather research about the usability of commonly-employed design practices."

The WDP site is excellent - great, valuable content in a nicely designed package!

October 14, 2003

Don Norman Interviewed on Emotional Design

BBC News has published an interview with "the Don" entitled "Technology to make you go 'wow'". In the interview, Norman summarizes some of the points he made in a talk I went to at the University of Minnesota; points that are surely expanded upon in his forthcoming book.

"He argues that the levels on which the brain works correspond with three different levels of design."

'The visceral level is the low biological level and there's where beauty comes in and appearances matter. 'On the surface something looks attractive and something feels good. That is very important and that makes the brain function differently.'

"On a visceral level, the brain is a little bit more creative so if there something does not work well, people are more willing to forgive it if they like it.

"Then there is the behavioural level which controls muscles, perception and language. It is at this level that usability and how something feels lie, something which he and his colleagues have examined in great detail.

But Dr Norman wants to move on and think at the deeper level of reflection, the level that dictates how we feel about things, he says.

'That is where having a good brand name matters. Having a good brand name has to earned because they stand for trust,' he says.

"Good design must incorporate all three levels, and that is what emotional design is all about."

You can pre-order Don Norman's upcoming book:
Great customer service example

I'm a Blogger user, but have only used the free service for quite some time. Blogger used to offer a for-fee service called "Blogger Pro." They recently changed the *free* service to include all the features of the "Pro" version and eliminated the Pro service. Naturally, those who'd been paying for the Pro version might get a bit miffed at this news, but the Blogger team has handled this well.

The announcement Evan at Blogger sent to Pro users amazed me. How many companies would do what they are doing: giving out sweatshirts or refunds (your choice)? If Google were a public company, they'd not likely want to give out refunds, but private companies don't have to worry so much about quarterly results and can do what's right for the long run.

Kudos to Evan and all the folks on the Blogger/Google team! Great attitude!

From the "Important Blogger Pro Announcement" (emphasis is mine):

"More importantly, I want to stress that we couldn't have gotten to where we are today without you. Pro subscribers helped keep us going as a struggling start-up, when servers and bandwidth were at an extreme premium. We wanted to keep basic Blogger free, but we needed to start charging in order to keep the lights on. So we built new things that would appeal to some Blogger users (namely, you).
Thanks to supportive people like yourself, this plan allowed us to grow and build a better service -- and, eventually, get us to much more stable ground. We're eternally grateful, and I hope you were happy with the relationship, as well.
Today, as you may know, Blogger's situation is much different. For one thing, we're part of Google. (If you missed that announcement, check the FAQ). Google has lots of computers and bandwidth. And Google believes blogs are important and good for the web.
This is a good thing.
So we're in the fortunate position of being able to give back to our users. Specifically, to each of you who paid for Pro (and never cancelled), we want to send you a Blogger hooded sweatshirt as a way of saying thanks. Just fill out this form* by October 1, 2003 to claim yours. (If you'd prefer to have a pro-rated refund instead, just let us know.)"
Presentation to UPA-MN Chapter on usability research

I gave a little presentation last night at our local UPA-MN chapter meeting. I discussed the role of research, highlighted some good resources for research, and also gave a quick run-down of some recent research I found interesting. The slides are available in PDF form

Drop me a note with your comments! (See my masked email address in the "About" box at left.)

October 13, 2003

Poorly designed user interfaces suck the ROI right out of enterprise software

In Pigeons can push random buttons, Rupert Goodwins makes a few good points about the lack of focus on usability in most enterprise software implementation projects:

"It continues to amaze me that twenty years after Apple showed the world what well-designed software looked like, most IT departments think the word "Usability" is shorthand for user stopping, activity blighting, information losing, irksome travesty...

"There is little point in shelling out six or seven figures on a major IT project in the name of efficiency if you never bother to find out whether the people who use it have a fighting chance of being efficient at their jobs. In the great scheme of business, everything boils down to what the employees do and how well they do it: that this never enters the design equation of IT projects is one of the great unmentioned sins of technology."

Working on a big system implementation? Do the right thing for your business: hire a usability consultant to make sure you're not wasting millions of dollars in development and user productivity.

October 12, 2003

Nokia's CEO says usability heart of their approach

In the Financial Times' Squaring up to usability at Nokia:
"Jorma Ollila, chairman and chief executive, says usability is 'at the heart' of the company's approach. He adds that it was one of the first to realise that ease of use had to become 'the main goal in design.' The company also describes design as 'a fundamental building block of the brand', adding that it is 'central to our product creation and is a core competence integrated into the entire company'. It thus devotes a considerable amount of time and money researching what customers will want and then designing products that are intended to fulfil these needs"

There you have it, from a CEO of a large company:
usability is the key to design, and design is key to the brand, AND THEREFORE, they invest heaviliy in User Centered Design. I knew this about Nokia because I keep running into Nokia folks at UPA and CHI conferences...

October 09, 2003

Technology should be simpler, more robust and more transparent

John Seely Brown makes a number of good comments in Forbes' "Back in Touch" interview, including this one:

"The real spirit of ubiquitous computing is to let technology disappear. I drive high-performance automobiles. What is the question you never ask when you buy a car: Is it powered by Unix or Windows? There is serious computing going on inside the automobile, but you don't even know it's there. With ABS braking, you don't have to activate a system. It diagnoses when you need help, moves seamlessly to help you, and then moves out of the way again. We're incredibly far from that with most technology. There has been no new innovation in interfaces for 30 years. We have to use the power of Moore's Law not just to design things that amplify our computing abilities but to keep things simple, robust, and transparent."

- John Seely Brown's page at PARC
- The Social Life of Information

October 01, 2003

New Usability Testing Software in Development by Techsmith

Just got an email from the folks at Techsmith with info about a a new product they are working on to help automate recording usability testing sessions. (Techsmith is the company that makes SnagIt and Camtasia - two tools that are often cited as the best screen capture and screen recording tools on the market.) Techsmith was present in force at the UPA 2003 conference and was actively doing research into the needs of usability professionals when it comes to recording test sessions. From their calendar, it looks like they plan on continuing their research.

Evidently the product will:
- Record audio and video (synchronized)
- Record system events like mouse clicks, dialog boxes, and keyboard use.
- Log marked events during sessions (maybe like Twinview does with its little remote control "clicker"?)
- Allow you to search recordings
- Help with creation of highlight videos
- Reduce amount of hardware needed.

The product is called Morae (not sure what that name means), and more information is hidden on their web site here. Not only could this new tool make the jobs of usability professionals easier, but it could also help promote usability testing by making it just a bit easier for people to do.

September 24, 2003

12 Click Rule for Mobile Sites?

Just read this bit about a usability study of mobile web portals and as one who does not believe in the "three click rule" for web sites, I question the validity of the "12 click rule" for mobile. I DO however buy into the fact that more clicks is bad all other things being equal:
"The situation is rather acute with the average portal click-distance (number of clicks/menus to arrive at the desired content) is in excess of 16 and often greater than 20. Moreover the number of mobile services that are within the critical click-distance of 12 (believed to be the point at which users loose interest) is, on average, less than 36%!’

"The Plight of the Mobile Navigator makes it clear that the success of the mobile Internet is at a critical juncture. Smyth argues ‘Unless usability is treated as a priority it is very hard to see how mobile service usage will increase –an issue the industry at large requires to happen"

Mobile Metrix is a company focusing on the Mobile Internet. In their coverage of the "Plight of the Mobile Navigator" report they say:

"Two years ago, a report from Norman Nielsen Group examined WAP Usability. That analysis documented the results of a WAP user survey based on a series of timed information tasks such as locating a news article, a weather report or TV listings. The survey results highlighted the usability problems that existed then with current 2G WAP services, with users taking an average of 120-150 seconds to locate target content across the various studies.

"The survey participants of Nielsen Norman report indicated that, to be genuinely useful, mobile portals must be able to bring content to users within approximately 30 seconds. In other words, mobile content services that are more than 30 seconds from the portal homepage are unlikely to attract regular users.

"That analysis was conducted in December 2000. Two years later based on the results of an analysis undertake by ChangingWorlds the situation does not seem to have improved."

According to ChangingWorlds' CTO in an article called "The Missing Link - User-Experience and Incremental Revenue Generation on the Mobile Internet":
"Every second saved on navigation time creates an additional three seconds of content-viewing time," Smyth suggests, meaning that mobile operators would be well advised to start channeling bigger percentages of their portal-development budgets to usability and away from snazzy content that might never be viewed. Achieving the balance between the offer of stimulating content and easy access is the challenge."

September 18, 2003

No more e-mail in France

The French government has banned the use of the word 'e-mail' in all its ministries, documents, publications and websites.

"In the latest step 'to stem an incursion of English words into the French language', the Culture Ministry says the term should be replaced with 'courriel'. The ministry's General Commission on Terminology and Neology insists Internet surfers in France already use the phrase courrier electronique (electronic mail) instead of e-mail. The commission ruled: 'Evocative, with a very French sound, the word courriel is broadly used in the press and competes advantageously with the borrowed mail in English.' The commission has links to the Academie Francaise, the prestigious institution that has been one of the top opponents to the seeping of English terms into the French language."

God forbid languages evolve.

Note also that the Oxford Dictionary staff estimates that roughly 28% of English words come from a French origin.

Maybe we should purge the English language of French words. Here's a list of words the American government should ban. After all, we should keep the American language pure, shouldn't we?

August 26, 2003

How to design a good web site

Great advice from an expert on design below:
Strong Bad's design tips (warning: plays audio)

Standard "sytem is down" error message

404 Error

Strong Bad's Web Site

Thanks Jeremy!

August 22, 2003

Proof that search still sucks - even with Google

Here are some search keywords and phrases that have lead web browsers to this site via Google and other search engines:

- lap dancers
- how do monkeys communicate
- impact of architecture on health
- pictures of hitlers dead body
- some things that start with letter o
- spanish lap dancers
- elrond action figures
- fun colored 13" tvs

This site has nothing to do with these topics, yet it's a prominent search result for these word combinations without even making it a "phrase search" by putting them in quotes.

How could THIS site be the #2 site listed on Google when searching for "fun colored 13" tvs"?! I need to start offering advertising for electronics stores!

Search has come a long way, but it still fails miserably when it comes to helping someone find what they are looking for.

August 21, 2003

SAP Style Guide for PDA Applications

If you're working on mobile, handheld, or PDA applications, the SAP Design Guild has a nice style guide for PDA applications built using SAP. Also interesting is the "SAP Style Guide for Blue-Collar Worker PDAs" and "Touchscreen Usability in Short" from the Interaction Design Guide for Touchscreen Applications.

August 18, 2003

Online retail sales to skyrocket by 2008

"The growth will be sparked by a growing online consumer base, increases in new product categories and efforts by online retailers to optimize the online shopping experience, according to Forrester Research."

Here's a tidbit from the original Forrester report:

"As retailers invest in site design and usability testing, online shopping continues to evolve -- from an experience resembling a trip to a bare-bones strip mall to one more akin to shopping the Miracle Mile. Retailers have spent the past two years crafting better online and multichannel eCommerce sites: 84% of the top 92 sites now offer zoom on product detail pages, retailers like J.C. Penney and Lillian Vernon offer catalog quick shop features and online versions of their offline circulars, and Sears and Office Depot serve the Hispanic market with Spanish-language sites. In response, consumers open their wallets more often: Average online retail conversion rates have risen from 2.2% in 2000 to 3.2% in 2002, according to's "The State of Retailing Online 6.0" Report."

From the press release:

It took the catalog industry 100 years to represent 4.7 percent of retail sales. It took online retailers only six years to accomplish the same feat.” said Elaine Rubin, Chairman,

Related Posts:
The online retail experience will get better (and why you should be worried about that)
U-Pods - Support Groups for User Experience Managers

"U-Pods is a new organisation aimed at managers of usability facilities. " ... "the goal is to form a usability manager's support group where ideas and information can be shared. U-Pods will comprise a number of small groups (or 'pods') in which members from non-competing companies can benefit from the experiences and insights of their peers with respect to managing usability or human factors teams and establishing these disciplines in companies. Teams of five to six people is becoming the norm."

More about U-Pods

via Usability News

August 15, 2003

The online retail experience will get better
(and why you should be worried about that)

According to research by ForeSee Results, an online customer satisfaction firm, online retailers are not very happy with their own shopping experiences.

Satisfaction Survey
According to the survey report (available on the ForeSee Results web site):
"The results in the study were collected using an online survey co-sponsored by ForeSee Results and Internet Retailer. This survey used the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to measure the satisfaction of e-retail industry insiders’ shopping experience with other e-retailing sites. A total of 368 e-retail industry insiders participated in the study and were asked to evaluate their experience with online retailers, other than their own company’s."

"The good news is e-retail insiders are more satisfied with the state of their e-retail experiences than last year, with their overall satisfaction surging ahead 8.6%, improving from a 58 last year to a 63 this year, on a 100-point scale. Yet as they are the most demanding of online customers, they still significantly trail overall consumers’ very strong Online Retail Satisfaction score of 83, as measured by the ACSI.

It's interesting that the general Online Retail Satisfaction score (83) is higher than the Offline Retail Industry satisfaction score of 75. has the highest satisfaction score of anyone online (measured in this way): 88.

What it means
The report "suggests that e-retailing will continue to get more competitive because the insiders want the online shopping experience to get better. "Investors and customers should be happy that these insiders are so hard on themselves," ForeSee Results CEO Larry Freed in a statement. "It means they're not taking their success for granted and aren't just sitting back and enjoying their accomplishments."

Okay, the words "success" and "accomplishments" should be taken with a grain of salt, since not many online retailers can tell big success stories yet.

"Internet history and ACSI experience suggest that online customers’ expectations will continue to rise and preferences will change rapidly. To keep the pulse on these expectations and preferences, e-retailers should constantly measure and work to improve customer satisfaction at their sites. The first step in continuous improvement is to be able to identify weaknesses and opportunities."

Thoughts & Predictions
This is a good indicator that online retailers (and others who place a high value on their online channel) will be looking for more ways to improve their sites. Currently is the benchmark for retail sites, and as leaders like Amazon keep raising the bar, consumer expectations will rise as well. Sites that can't keep up will see lower customer satisfaction. Sites that provide the best experiences will see higher customer satisfaction, higher revenue and higher customer retention. The best big sites will get bigger, the bad sites will get fewer, and like most other industries, you'll see consolidation over the long term.

Online businesses looking to stay around will need to lean on good experience design and utilize usability (user-centered design), information architecture, branding, and channel integration. Offline businesses who want to take advantage of the online channel will need to meet customer expectations of a good online experience. Those expectations will be set by online leaders. Metrics will be key to constant improvement and benchmarking.

If you don't have a team constantly measuring and improving your customers' online experience, your online days will be painful and numbered until you change your approach.

The days of playing around in the web channel have ended for most serious businesses. Small start-ups will continue to innovate and bring breakthrough ideas to market; challenging the leaders and stirring the proverbial pot. (See Google for a recent example.)

Is there a Google comin' to get you?
Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, and Google all have sizable User Experience or Usability teams. Those teams play a major role in their companies' success. Their company cultures are also very centered on the quality of their products - their web sites, applications, and services. For example, Google's Enterprise Search Appliance is sold as "plug and play" -- they sell you a piece of equipment that you plug into the power and network in your data center, and it's a simple configuration process to set it up to provide search results on your intranet. No messing around with multiple hardware and software vendors, no worrying about who supports the hardware the software runs on - Google supports the whole solution. (Yes, I said that buzzword "solution" -- in this case it's actually warranted.) There's no chance of vendors pointing fingers at each other. Have technolgy vendors like IBM, Oracle and HP noticed this model? Are they worried it'll take off? Or are they considering how to use this model to get a leg up on the competition?

IBM likely doesn't see Google as a "competitor" -- but it's the Googles of the world that should keep them awake at night. It's those wickedly smart companies that are 100% committed to selling more intuitive solutions, more usable products, and better experiences that can quickly redefine an industry just as Google has done with search. Amazon's done it with books and online retail.

Are you worried about where your next competition will come from? You should be. (Regular readers may wonder:) What does this have to do with user experience? Everything.


Initial ComputerWorld article fournd via Webword
Study finds Internet retailers unhappy with own online shopping experiences

Related Posts:
- Practicing Usability in the future
- User centered design sells products

August 12, 2003

Breadcrumbs Affect User's Mental Model of Web Sites

Wichita State University's Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) has released findings of a study of web breadcrumbs. The results, published in Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage are pretty interesting. Here are a few key points:

"Breadcrumb users were found to use the Back button less often than users who did not use the breadcrumb; however, no differences were found in the efficiency measures of total pages visited, navigation bar clicks, embedded link clicks, or time to complete the search tasks. It is not known if all participants understood the function of the breadcrumb as a navigational tool. Future studies should investigate whether a simple understanding of the purpose of the breadcrumb trail or minimal training impacts usage and/or efficiency.

"Location of the breadcrumb trail did have an effect on usage. Breadcrumb trails positioned under the page title (at eye level and closer to other links on the page) were used more than breadcrumb trails positioned at the top of the page. It is recommended, therefore, that breadcrumb trails be positioned in this location rather than at the top of the page. The results also suggest that exposure to a breadcrumb trail in a site may contribute to the type of site model formed by the user. Participants that used a site with a breadcrumb trail were more likely to choose a hierarchical model than those that used the non-breadcrumb site. This assessment of the user’s mental model requires further study."

I've always thought the value of breadcrumbs was in exposing site structure and helping form a mental model of the site. It'll be interesting to see what additional research the team at SURL conduct in the future.

- Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs
- Research Project: Methods and Models of Navigation in Hypertextual Space
- SURL: Breadcrumb Navigation: An Exploratory Study of Usage
Outlook 2003 More Usable?

I use Outlook for most of my email needs. It generally sucks, but is still the best email alternative I've found. According to James Governor of RedMonk, both Outlook and Exchange are supposed to get better from a usability and performance standpoint.

"People question whether software upgrades are really necessary. In this case the usability and performance tweaks alone could justify an upgrade."

"Focus on usability and real customer working patterns and the rest can fall into place. Microsoft and the industry at large should take note."

Related posts:
- Outlook, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
- Rising Costs of Free Web E-Mail
- User centered design sells products

August 11, 2003

Monkey See, Monkey Do Development

"Humans and higher primates share approximately 97% of their DNA in common. Recent research in primate programming suggests computing is a task that most higher primates can easily perform.

"Great apes (hominids) do not have tails, while monkeys do. Research indicates that great apes are very productive in the areas of software maintenance and report writing, while most monkeys will struggle. Monkeys however are great at software testing. So the rule of thumb is, if you don’t have a tail, you can probably program."

"Baboons handle software testing at PPI. Baboons work in colonies and can get very rowdy at work when things are going well."

Get a load of Cathleen. What beauty, and value priced too!

- Jakob Nielsen: Are developers people?
(How could Jakob be so wrong?)

August 10, 2003

New UPA Site Launched

New, updated site for the Usability Professionals Association.

Some notable sections:
- Projects (including certification and a "body of knowledge")
- Job Bank
- User Experience Magazine (great publication!)
- Consultants and Members Directories
Hero Joy Nightingale
Matt May (of bestkungfu blog) brought an amazing story to my attention: the story of Hero Joy Nightingale, a 16-year-old girl with locked-in syndrome. She has been accepted to study fine art at Oxford. She is "the most severely handicapped student ever to be granted a place at Oxford. She suffers from 'locked-in syndrome', a profound apraxia caused by brain damage that renders her body useless and her voice mute."

She's obviously a tremendously brilliant and beautiful young lady who in a profound way wants people to understand her. On her personal web site's photo page, she says:

"I fear imagination conjuring my features into a fictitious freakish shape, readers manipulating words such as "locked-in" and "profound disability" and "neuro-developmental disorder" with ignorance & naivity until I am not a normal being of flesh and feeling but a pitiable alien thing. The photos depict a fragment of a busy life."

She has also edited her own online magazine, which is fascinating. At the end of the first issue (of nine), she wrote the following:

"This is the pain of Frustration as I at least experience it, and it relates more to hands than voice - I'll explain about being mute in a mo. My hands are the object of my hatred and scorn because they fretfully and reflexboundly fiddle and in so doing agitate my aspirations. I long to sculpt. I long to chip marble into poetic form hue imagination into a sturdy outer reality that bellows of the music fed to me by the wind. I long to forge hot iron to twisted forms that lurk huge and somatically within plastered brain eggs of my mind. I long to weave yarns into rugs that enthrall and warm with their homespun tones and I long to reap from travel the elements of my yarns."

Looks like she'll get an opportunity to sculpt and create art at Oxford. Amazing!

She has a great story on her site about her struggles to communicate with people called "How I communicate."

"Hero" is a very appropriate name. She is definitely someone many young girls should look up to. You go girl!

- bestkungfu: The myth of Accessible
- bestkungfu: Accessibility

August 08, 2003

Sez U

Linux nears Windows XP usability (???!!!)

Linux closes on Windows in usability tests

I don't read German, but I'm a bit skeptical (as are others) of this report. Would be great if Linux was catching up, but the jury's still out on the test methodology used to assert such big claims.

"The Linux testers were in fact able to complete some tasks more quickly than the Windows testers, including playing and burning a CD and using email. Relevantive found that in the case of CD burning, this was probably due to the fact that the function has been integrated into Windows Explorer, which went against the expectations of the Windows testers."

...waiting for the English translation of the report...

Related Posts:
- Lyle: Usability and Open Source Software
- Open Letter to a Power User / Developer
Mark Hurst's Take on "The Role"

In a somewhat veiled response to the aftermath of Tog's bomb, Mark makes some awesome points I whole-heartedly agree with in Usability Professionals Must Disappear:

"Here's the thing about user experience work: its success depends primarily on the buy-in from everybody else in the larger organization. The primary issue isn't what you're named, but what results you're generating, and what buy-in you're getting from the company."

"In short, a good user experience practitioner is a facilitator - someone who quietly (having disappeared) guides the process, allowing knowledge to emerge, from users and the company alike. Instead of coming in with the answers, or the framework, or (my personal favorite) "the 200 rules of user experience design," they should come in with their auditory organs turned up to eleven. Listening."

Amen, Amen, Amen!
(Extra points for the Spinal Tap reference, too!)

My New Title
I'm having a hard time choosing my new title:
A. Professional Whale Tackler
B. User Boy
C. Customer-Centered Weenie

Related Spinal Tap Quotes:
"In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people... the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing..." - Nigel

"It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever. " - David

Ian: "Nigel gave me a drawing that said 18 inches. Now, whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I'm told."
David: "But you're not as confused as him are you. I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel."

- Lyle: An Open Letter to Tog
- Tog: It's Time We Got Respect
- Challis Hodge: UX Roles & Titles: Trend or Profession?
Inspiration Soup and Mackerelly

You have to read the text on this site and especially for each recipe card (there's about 25 of them) - some are pretty hilarious. Weight Watchers recipe cards from 1974

My favorite cards:

- Fluffy Mackerel Pudding
"Once upon a time the world was young and the words "mackerel" and "pudding" existed far, far away from one another. One day, that all changed. And then, whoever was responsible somehow thought the word fluffy would help."

- Frankfurter Spectacular
- Caucasian Shashlik
- Inspiration Soup

August 06, 2003

Coders or Cannibals

Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?

I always knew the folks that invented things like C++ and Java were sadistic, sick individuals!


August 05, 2003

An Open Letter to Tog

Tog (aka Bruce Tognazzini) of NNG has a new article called "It's Time We Got Respect." Tog issues a rally-cry for "software designers, or interaction engineers, or human interface folks, or whatever we who create the interaction model for our products are calling ourselves this week." He thinks we need a "new beginning" - that we need to name ourselves something new (Interaction Architects) that we need to create a collective brand, and that we need a new professional organization to go with it all.

I disagree.

Below is my response that I posted on the Yahoo! Group Tog has setup to discuss the article. I've added some emphasis here to facilitate better scanning for those of you that don't hang on my every word. :)

Are you in the game or sitting on the sidelines?
Okay, so I'm already a SIG-CHI member, I'm on the board of a local UPA chapter, and I consider myself an active member of the "SIG-IA" community. I'm already over-committed. Aifia is new, AIGA-ED is new, DUX is new...we've seen plenty of new organizations and events recently.

I don't call myself a "Usability Professional", although I would say I belong to that field, my title is "User Experience Architect." I came to the conclusion a long time ago that most titles need some explaining, and in the course of explaining mine I get to tell people the *value* of what I do. (For what it's worth, I also picked "architect" for many of the same reasons Tog did.) If you say you're a "lawyer," people will want to know what kind of shark, er lawyer you are, especially if they are considering using your services.

To put it bluntly, I don't need yet another organization to belong to, and I think there is enough latitude within existing organizations to accomplish Tog's stated goals. In fact, I can't see how Tog's goals are any different from UPA's.

(From the UPA web site:)
The Usability Professionals' Association was formed to:

- Provide a network and opportunities through which usability professionals can communicate and share information about skills and skill development, methodology used and/or proposed in the profession, tools, technology, and organizational issues.
- Present the viewpoints of the profession to the public and other interested parties.
- Educate the general public and others on the usefulness of the profession.
- Represent the profession before governmental bodies and agencies.
- Provide the methods and means to increase the members' knowledge of the profession through seminars, newsletters, magazines, and other communication tools, and through meetings and conventions.
- Serve the best interests of the usability profession.

They also list some Usability and User-Centered Design Activities including design.

I'm mainly a designer, and while I do some testing in the course of my work I've never said I was a "tester." I've never seen UPA as an organization for "testers" -- UPA promotes every aspect of User-Centered Design (or Human-Centered Design if you like) and all the requisite roles therein. They are, as Tog points out, very practitioner focused. Lots of interaction design and information architecture folks regularly attend our local UPA-MN meetings and international UPA events.

So what should we do?
My suggestion would be for people to get active in UPA or SIG-CHI or AIGA-ED or aifa or whatever and make an impact in the direction of those organizations. Help them better acheive their stated goals.

Start a local chapter, volunteer for a board position, start a SIG, plan an event around ID/IA that's sponsored by an existing organization. It's a hell of a lot less work than creating a whole new organization, and you won't be competing with related organizations either. Want to promote ID or Usability? Join (or chair) a communications committee and send out some press releases, recognize companies with awards, generate some interest. The number of folks really active in these fields isn't great enough to support lots of organizations. (Tog, think about how much more you and others in NNG could do for UPA or SIG-CHI...)

Critics of existing organizations may think that those organizations are doing exactly what they want to do, but the fact is that most organizations aren't doing anything close to what they'd like to do. Their efforts are severly limited by a lack of resources - financial, physical, and emotional. They can use your help, your fresh ideas, and your enthusiasm.

We are definitely "two sides of the same coin," so let's work together. Want to do something? Realize you can change what exists today, get off of the sidelines, and get in the game so we can win. Don't go start a new game - we need you on our team!

I'd be happy to discuss this further. As Tog indicated in his article's introduction, this is a very important issue.

Lyle Kantrovich

- Blog post: "Why I’m not calling myself an Information Architect anymore"
- B&A Comments on "Why I’m not calling myself an Information Architect anymore"
- The Making of a Discipline: The Making of a Title
- Challis Hodge - UX Roles & Titles: Trend or Profession?
- Argus-ACIA Salaries and Benefits for Information Architects - Most Common Titles
- Bloug: IAs: Better at Marketing than they Thought?

July 31, 2003

One-Eyed Zombies Are Becoming More Real

An article entitled Reality bytes discusses force-feedback and haptics for input and output devices.

"Improvements in graphics and sound have already raised the bar. Now, the physically immersive technology known as "haptics" is beginning to deliver on the science-fiction dream of interactive alternative realities, making gamers feel a part of their games as never before. ... Haptics technology explores how peripheral computing devices can impart force and vibrations in response to what is taking place on the screen. The military began research in the field in the 1960s. Later the focus shifted to bringing a more tactile computing experience to users of medical and automotive technologies."

"One result is technology that aims to convince the brain that it is feeling, say, a seven-gram change in pressure from a haptic device. Haptic research has also drawn on the work of scientists who have inserted probes into the arm nerves of patients to determine the effects of various tactile experiences. "Ultimately, though, you can only ask consumers if they thought it was realistic or not," Chang says. "You can't put probes in their brain and measure."

July 06, 2003

Are you a change agent?
In Prototype the Experience, Ian White makes a few points that ring true with my experience selling services to my clients:

"The context within which a product exists strongly influences the user experience and provides meaning. Illustrating this context by constructing a scenario around the artifact allows a business audience to understand a solution, rather than see a component which any design firm could provide."

"You owe it to your clients to help them think differently about design. Make them the champion of new products, services and opportunities. You can gloat in their success and be regarded as a powerful change agent."

My take:
Many designers and usability professionals ARE change agents -- but they may not see themselves that way. Change agents have to provide a vision that resonates with their clients. Clients really don't just want to know what you DO, they want to envision what you'll facilitate for their customers, their businesses and their own careers.

Provide inspiration from the start and they'll understand the solutions you provide, otherwise they'll just see the deliverables and the invoice.

"Those who have changed the universe have never done it by changing officials, but always by inspiring the people."
- Napoleon Bonaparte
Usability: A Requirement for Security
This article has a number of good points to consider when designing "secure" systems.

"For security to be effective, it has to be convenient. That means designing to relieve the burdens of everyday users and system administrators instead of adding new ones. Companies that ignore this will fail to increase security."

"Strong security is more than just technology. The lack of usability of today's technology means that only the most sensitive data handled by the most paranoid employees stands a chance of being protected properly."

June 19, 2003

Do Some Research on Being a Client
Jason at Signal vs. Noise points out a great learning tactic: hire someone in your line of work and try being on the client end of the job for once. He notes that it's a great way to learn how hard it is to be the client. I'd like to refine and add a few points to his:

- You'll learn how hard it is to be the client.
- You'll see how another consultant/designer explains things.
- You might see new deliverables, methods or techniques you can learn or adapt.
- You'll refine (or at least validate) your current approach.
- You'll be more empathetic with your own clients in the future.
- You'll learn about critical steps of the client experience you may take for granted like finding and interviewing a consultant, deliverable turnover, expectation setting, communication needs (e.g. status updates), and billing processes.
Why Things Don't Work
Don Norman talks about things usability and user experience folks need to do better to be more successful.

The way for usability professionals to get the attention of senior management is to talk about dollars and cents. ... "Executives know that service costs are enormous, the sort of costs companies try to cut. It's extremely easy to make the case that subjecting a product to usability testing up front eliminates service costs and makes customers happier."

One of the best examples of a top technology executive who thinks about usability, Norman says, is Michael Dell. "Someone once asked him why Dell keeps doing so well on market share and margins. Dell responded that his company doesn't go after market share or margins. Instead, he and his team think about whether they are satisfying customers, both in terms of usability and across the board in every aspect of the customer's experience. If you focus on that, the rest takes care of itself."

March 25, 2003

Harvard Business School - The Mayo Clinic Experience
HBS has a neat story on the Mayo Clinic called "Why Docs Don’t Wear White Coats Or Polo Shirts at the Mayo Clinic." It clearly outlines a thoughtful approach to the customer experience in a medical setting. It provides a glimpse into the Mayo brand and their focus on patients' well-being, both physical and emotional.

"The potential of design to promote healing through stress reduction has been documented in dozens of studies. For these reasons, more medical institutions are making an effort to create open, welcoming spaces with soft, natural light. Mayo Clinic goes further with its design philosophy, which is perhaps as well honed and articulated as that of any major service provider in America, and pays strict attention to how every detail affects the patient’s experience."

"A well-designed physical environment has a positive impact on employees as well, reducing physical and emotional stress—which is of value not only to employees but also to patients because visible employee stress sends negative signals. In our interviews, patients commented on the lack of apparent stress; one said, “It did not seem like a doctor’s office when we went to Mayo. There was no tension.”

Here's a photo of a waiting room at the Mayo Clinic from the American Institute of Architects - Academy of Architecture for Health.

A quick check of the Mayo site highlights more of their customer-focus in their unique patient amenities like an education center, 'quiet rooms', a communications center, pagers, and a movie auditorium.

There you have it: more proof that good design can positively impact both employees and customers.

A Cancer Patient's Perspectives on Facilities Design - facility design considerations for clinics serving cancer patients (e.g. lighting, privacy, door design)
- Mayo Clinic.Org - about the clinic
- Mayo - a health information site, elegantly designed
Move it baby!
I think this violates some heuristic about users feeling in control, but it's kinda fun...

March 07, 2003

The Benefits of Applying Interface Guidelines

There's a good explanation of the benefits of following the most basic conventions for the UI platform you're designing for from the Apple (OS X) Aqua Human Interface Guidelines.

"The implementation of Apple’s human interface principles make the Macintosh what it is: intuitive, friendly, elegant, and powerful."

March 02, 2003

Segmenting Users with Navigation Games
The Rayovac corporate site has one of the worst navigation bars I've seen on a company web site in a long time. Talk about bad interaction design. Try selecting "About Rayovac", then mouse into the body of the page, then try to click on one of the second level navigation options like "Supplier Diversity." Depending on the path your mouse travels, your target is likely to disappear before your mouse gets there. Yet another gratuitous use of Flash. Maybe one of their design goals was to make navigating something of a puzzle - a challenging game of manual dexterity. Then again, maybe their target customers are people who could win at the classic kids' game "Operation."

[Via Andrew's HeyBlog]

February 28, 2003

Usability will win the war
Googlefight, the number one research source I never hesitate to miss, says usability will beat Saddam Hussein...Now the whole world will know that usability kicks butt!

Googlefight research also proves that developers defeat usability. That 'research' quantifies just how much developers defeat usability, although it offers no real explanations for the findings or how to turn the tide. Maybe Jared Spool offers a solution to this confused problem with those blankety-blank developers when he recommends usability folks "search for seducible moments." Of course, you can get fired or sued or even better for doing stuff like that, so be careful when implementing that recommendation with developers. Keep in mind that even if they say they want do some 'unit testing' with you later, that doesn't mean you should treat them like 'objects.'

Jakob Nielsen doesn't disagree with Googlefight when he says "numbers are powerful." He adds that "such metrics are great for assessing long-term progress" and suggests that we look at our success rate. Maybe Jakob will grant me "partial credit" for this blog post...
James Lileks on the Saddam Interview
Okay, so I went on a rant about Dan Rather's interview with Saddam. I blasted CBS pretty hard, but I think they deserve it. James Lileks (who has a great blog) is a little softer, but makes basically the same key points - maybe lack of subtlety is why I don't get paid to write for a major newspaper like he does.

Some excerpts from Lileks' Bleat today:
"The tyrants of the 20th century have become iconic, and as such they seem to exist divorced from human nature. Men that evil are so rare it's almost comforting to watch them - oh, we'd know their kind if they came again. But we don't. The lesson is lost. Hitlers and Stalins and Maos and Kim Il Jungs aren't the anomalies, really; there are millions of people like them. They're just the ones who had what it took."

"What made Rather's trip such a waste was the water-kneed obsequiousness of it all. He was more interested in three full hours of bland conversation than 20 minutes of sharp discussion that ended with Saddam leaving the room. What was there to fear? Anyone think Saddam would have him shot? Stand up in the middle of the interview, put a round through Rather's skull and yell at his dead body for five minutes? Since the Iraqis controlled the production facilities, CBS apparently feared they wouldn't get the tape if Rather didn't gargle with Meek Juice before each question. Fine. As long as you realize that Rather would have been tougher on the Pope."

"Not so with the Saddam interview. The deference was pathetic, the questions toothless, the answers predictable. Sometimes history is farce the first time."

Lileks points out that CBS gave Saddam an opportunity to appear like just a normal, nice guy, and that Hitler would have appeared no different given the chance. How many psychopathic murderers have we seen on trial in our own country - people that neighbors and friends would never have suspected of mass murder or gruesome atrocities? Yet, I truly believe there were many people who fell for the 'nice guy' Saddam image CBS presented in all its prime-time glory. Proof: check out news sites and count the number of editorials discounting the interview versus the number of stories reporting Saddam's desire for a debate with Bush or his refusal to disarm. Most media outlets took this interview straight on, hook, line and sinker.