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9 posts from March 2006

Friday, 31 March 2006

Measuring Performance and Process

HFI's March issue of the UI Design Newsletter summarizes a 2005 study on making interface improvements based on performance data compared to perfomance and process data. Performance data is focused on task completion while process data is more about the user's experience while completing the task.

Recommendations based on performance + process data resulted in increased task efficiency and increased overall satisfaction with the interface.Collecting either direct (think aloud/retrospective verbal analysis) or indirect (eye-tracking) data provides greater insight to the user's expectations and anticipated task flow. Access to the user's mental model allows designers to identify and minimize gaps between the user's model and the site-interaction model.

This work suggests that the various data streams focus designers on different opportunities to improve the user experience. If the goal is to increase both task completion and perceived ease-of-use, then the collection of process data is critical. This data provides direct insight into the users' expectations and mental task model.

Apple at 30

Apple will be 30 years old on April 1 and to celebrate Wired News is presenting a series of special features to celebrate.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Bouncy Balls Ad

The Sony BRAVIA commercial is really cool. So cool, they created a web site for it where you can watch standard and extended versions of the ad plus a behind the scenes featurette, images and more.

When you're introducing the next generation of television, you want to make an impact - but that doesn't mean you have to shout at the top of your voice. And it doesn't mean you have to be predictable. To announce the arrival of the BRAVIA LCD and 3LCD range, we wanted to get across a simple message - that the colour you'll see on these screens will be 'like no other'.

Sending 250,000 multi-coloured 'superballs' bouncing down the streets of San Francisco may seem the strangest way to do this, but that's exactly what Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig did for the BRAVIA commercial in July this year. San Franciscans have seen some unusual things in their time, but even this gave them something to talk about. And we've got the feeling that this commercial is going to do exactly the same thing.

Image from the ad

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Usability of Functional Specifications

In early 2005 Jason Fried of 37signals declared "Don't write a functional specifications document."

Functional specifications documents lead to an illusion of agreement. A bunch of people agreeing on paragraphs of text is not real agreement. Everyone is reading the same thing, but they’re often thinking something different. This inevitably comes out in the future when it’s too late. “Wait, that’s not what I had in mind…” “Huh? That’s not how we described it.” “Yes it was and we all agreed on it — you even signed off on it.” You know the drill.

Instead the 37signals team prefers to get agreeement on a 1-page story describing the application and then start building the interface - "the interface is the functional spec".

The comments following the article contain some interesting anecdotes that go a long way in supporting "the interface is the spec" method. Many of the commenters agree but say you still need supporting documentation, annotations, etc. to identify the "what if's", assumptions, and other notes that are not easily inferred from the interface.

Great Design

Joel Spolsky released the first draft of What Makes It Great, the third, and last, section of the introduction to his series Great Design. I previously posted on the first two sections.

The third section of the introduction defines "great", where he begins with the typical examples of the Herman Miller Aeron chair and Apple's iPod, but focuses on their flaws.

Herman Miller Aeron ChairSo this is what I'm talking about when I say "Great Design." It's that ineffable quality that certain incredibly successful products have that makes people fall in love with them despite their flaws. It's extremely hard to pull off. I sure as heck can't do it. But, if you bear with me, I think I have some theories as to what's happening. While these theories do not exactly add up to a recipe for making good products into great products, they may give you a clue as to what's going on when people go crazy about the Aeron chair or Julia Roberts.

There is now a high-level table of contents for the series, which is based on Spolsky's 2001 User Interface Design for Programmers and is subject to change as he writes each section.

Monday, 27 March 2006

Web 3.0

Jeffrey Zeldman writes on the hype of Web 2.0; both the good:

Some small teams of sharp people—people who once, perhaps, worked for those with dimmer visions—are now following their own muses and designing smart web applications. Products like Flickr and Basecamp are fun and well-made and easy to use.

That may not sound like much. But ours is a medium in which, more often than not, big teams have slowly and expensively labored to produce overly complex web applications whose usability was near nil on behalf of clients with at best vague goals. The realization that small, self-directed teams powered by Pareto’s Principle can quickly create sleeker stuff that works better is not merely bracing but dynamic. As  100 garage bands sprang from every Velvet Underground record sold, so the realization that one small team can make good prompts 100 others to try.

The best and most famous of these new web products (i.e. the two I just mentioned) foster community and collaboration, offering new or improved modes of personal and business interaction. By virtue of their virtues, they own their categories, which is good for the creators, because they get paid.

It is also good for our industry, because the prospect of wealth inspires smart developers who once passively took orders to start thinking about usability and design, and to try to solve problems in a niche they can own. In so doing, some of them may create jobs and wealth. And even where the payday is smaller, these developers can raise the design and usability bar. This is good for everyone. If consumers can choose better applications that cost less or are free, then the web works better, and clients are more likely to request good (usable, well-designed) work instead of the usual  schlock.

... and the bad:

We pause but a moment to consider two AJAX-related headaches.

The first afflicts people who make websites. Wireframing AJAX is a bitch. The best our agency has come up with is the Chuck Jones approach: draw the key frames. Chuck Jones had an advantage: he knew what Bugs Bunny was going to do. We have to determine all the things a user might do, and wireframe the blessed moments of each possibility.

The second problem affects all who use an AJAX-powered site. If web signifiers and conventions are still in their infancy, then AJAX-related signifiers and conventions are in utero. I am still discovering features of Flickr. Not new features—old ones. You find some by clicking in empty white space. This is like reading the news by pouring ACME Invisible Ink Detector on all pieces of paper that cross your path until you find one that has words on it.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

The Truth About Download Time

The UIE team posts some interesting findings on the relationship between usability and download time.

If people can't find what they want on a site, they will regard the site as a waste of time (and slow). But, when users successfully complete tasks on a site, they will perceive their time there as having been well spent.

Where Users Look and Avoid Looking

HFI's February 2006 issue of UI Design summaries a recent study that examined user's expectations for placement of key web site elements. These key elements included home page link, search, internal links, about us link and banner advertising. The results showed that users know where to look for what they want and where to avoid the things they don't want (advertising) and that this has not changed much since 2001.

Internal links:

internal links

Users believe that internal links should appear on the left of the pages, below the header.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Architectural Patterns

Architypes.net is an online library of architetural patterns. The images are beautiful and the pattern descriptions are short and clear.

Single Defining Theme

Example of Single Defining ThemeThe best buildings have a single defining theme or overarching element.

Decide what is the single defining theme that you want your building to communicate. It could be love of people, nature, complexity, simplicity, or technical wizardry.

Also decide what emotion you want to foster. Is it awe? Delight? Resentment?

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