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Posts in category 'Usability'

14 December 2008

Can Microsoft make its future mobile?

Xperia X1
In a BBC background article on how Microsoft is missing the boat (again) on the latest technology development, Tim Weber points out usability as Microsoft’s main weakness:

“The real Achilles heel of Microsoft’s devices was their abysmal user interface – firmly wedded to the look and feel of old-fashioned computer desktops, a concept that doesn’t work on small screens.

At long last this is changing, although it is not Microsoft doing the job. Instead, phone manufacturers are busy building user-friendly interfaces to sit on the Windows platform.”

Read full story

24 November 2008

Easy-to-use, intelligent technologies to extend independent living for the elderly

Episodic memory
Press release:

IBM is announcing a collaborative effort with European Union partners to develop new technology that will help support active aging and prevent cognitive decline in the elderly population.

Based on intelligent audio and visual processing and reasoning, the “HERMES Cognitive Care for Active Aging” project will develop a combination of home-based and mobile device-based solutions to help older people combat the natural reduction in cognitive capabilities. The three-year project includes a special focus on developing an interface that will be comfortable for technology-averse users.

The HERMES project brings together experts ranging from gerontology and speech processing, to hardware integration and user-centered design to achieve the common goal of cognitively supporting older people.

Read press release

24 November 2008

Turin, Italy to host first UPA European Regional Conference

UPA European Regional Conference
Over 250 participants are expected to attend the first European regional conference of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) next month.

From December 4-6, 2008, the beautiful baroque city of Turin, 2008 World Design Capital, will host the conference, themed “Usability and Design: Cultivating Diversity“, with important contributions being made by companies such as Google, IBM, Oracle and many others.

The conference will concentrate on overcoming the traditional professional divide between the concepts of usability and design, with a particular focus on uniting the diverse cultures and practices within Europe: “The UPA Europe conference provides a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of usability and user-centred design in Europe, and will underline the central role of the UPA in advocating these ideas,” says Michele Visciola, President of the UPA Italy, and conference chair.

Highlights of the conference will include four keynote speakers. Elizabeth Churchill, principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research; Anxo Cereijo-Roibás, user experience research manager at Vodafone Global; acclaimed designer Isao Hosoe; and Daria Loi, design researcher at Intel Corporation will speak on topics related to five macro-themes: industrial design and usability, cross-cultural design, designing mobile usability, usability and creativity, and managing design in organisations. Downloadable versions of the speakers’ presentations will be available online after the conference from www.upaeurope2008.org.

On the final day of the conference, open discussions on the outlook to the future will be held by special interest groups for UPA and UXnet. Inspired by the Slow Food cultural movement, which aims to protect and defend our world’s heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions, European UPA members are invited to bring their own original contributions to the growth of the usability culture and practice.

The Usability Professionals’ Association supports usability specialists, people from all aspects of human-centred design, and the broad family of disciplines that create the user experience in promoting the design and development of usable products. The conference is open to both UPA and non UPA members. A detailed program of events and speakers can currently be found online at www.upaeurope2008.org.

The UPA Europe 2008 conference is sponsored by Adage, Amberlight, Apogee, dnx Group, Design for Lucy, Experientia, IUP and UID. Exhibition sponsors are Axure, SR Labs/Tobii, SMI and Noldus.

Late registration is now open: to register, contact conference program manager Cristina Lobnik, email: cristina dot lobnik at upaeurope2008.org, tel. +39 011 8129687.

20 November 2008

Working through Screens

Working through screens
“Working through Screens: 100 ideas for envisioning powerful, engaging, and productive user experiences in knowledge work” is a reference for product teams creating new or iteratively improved applications for thinking work. Written for use during early, formative conversations, it provides teams with a broad range of considerations for
setting the overall direction and priorities for their onscreen tools. With hundreds of envisioning questions and fictional examples from clinical research, financial trading, and architecture, this volume can help definers and designers to explore innovative new directions for their products.

“Working through Screens” is available in three formats, each of which is freely available via the creative commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike).
1. Highly summarized “Idea Cards” .pdf (recommended for a quick look!)
2. 143 page .pdf book
3. Full book as 121 .html pages

View / download online book

(via UXnet)

20 November 2008

Recent Donald Norman writings

Donald Norman
Donald Norman has posted a number of columns/essays on his blog:

People are from earth, machines are from outer space [Interactions 2008 column]
People are from earth. Machines are from outer space. I don’t know what kind of manners they teach in outer space, but if machines are going to live here in our world, they really need to learn to behave properly. You know, when on Earth, do as the earthlings do. So, hey machines, you need to become socialized. Right now you are arrogant, antisocial, irritating know-it-alls. Sure, you say nice things like “please” and “thank you,” but being polite involves more than words. It is time to socialize our interactions with technology. Sociable machines. Basic lessons in communication skills. Rules of machine etiquette. Machines need to show empathy with the people with whom they interact, understand their point of view, and above all, communicate so that everyone understands what is happening.It never occurs to a machine that the problems might be theirs. Oh no. It’s us pesky people who are to blame.

Signifiers, not affordances [Interactions 2008 column]
One of our fundamental principles is that of perceived affordances: that’s one way we know what to do in novel situations. That’s fine for objects, but what about situations? What about people, social groups, cultures? Powerful clues arise from what I call social signifiers. A “signifier” is some sort of indicator, some signal in the physical or social world that can be interpreted meaningfully. Signifiers signify critical information, even if the signifier itself is an accidental byproduct of the world. Social signifiers are those that are relevant to social usages. Some social indicators simply are the unintended but informative result of the behavior of others. Social signifiers replace affordances, for they are broader and richer, allowing for accidental signifiers as well as deliberate ones, and even for items that signify by their absence, as the lack of crowds on a train platform. The perceivable part of an affordance is a signifier, and if deliberately placed by a designer, it is a social signifier.

CNN designers challenged to include disabled
I’m on a campaign to make assistive devices aesthetically delightful – without impairing effectiveness and cost. Why are things such as canes, wheelchairs so ugly? I urge the skilled industrial designers of this world to revolutionize this arena. Perhaps the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) and the equivalent design societies all over the world ought to sponsor a design contest. The best design schools should encourage design projects for assistive devices that function well, are cost effective (two aspects that are often left out of design schools) as well as fun, pleasurable and fashionable (aspects that are absent from more engineering- or social-sciences -based programs). There are many groups at work in this area: simply do a web search on the phrases “inclusive design” or “universal design” or “accessible design”. They do excellent work, but the emphasis is on providing aids and assistance, or changing public policy. All that is both good and essential, but I want to go one step further: add aesthetics, pleasure, and fashion to the mix. Make it so these aids are sought after, fashionable, delightful, and fun. For everyone, which is what the words inclusive, universal, and accessible are supposed to mean. Designers of the world: Unite behind a worthy cause.

The psychology of waiting lines
This is an abstract for a PDF file, “The Psychology of Waiting Lines.” Waiting is an inescapable part of life, but that doesn’t mean we enjoy it. But if the lines are truly inescapable, what can be done to make them less painful? Although there is a good deal of practical knowledge, usually known within the heads of corporate managers, very little has been published about the topic. One paper provides the classic treatment: David Maister’s The Psychology of Waiting Lines (1985). Maister suggested several principles for increasing the pleasantness of waiting. Although his paper provides an excellent start, it was published in 1985 and there have been considerable advances in our knowledge since then. In this section, I bring the study of waiting lines up to date, following the spirit of Maister’s original publication, but with considerable revision in light of modern findings. I suggest eight design principles, starting with the “emotions dominate” and ending with the principle that “memory of an event is more important than the experience.” Examples of design solutions include double buffering, providing clear conceptual models of the events with continual feedback, providing positive memories and even why one might deliberately induce waits. These principles apply to all services, not just waiting in lines. Details will vary from situation to situation, industry to industry, but the fundamentals are, in truth, the fundamentals of sociable design for waiting lines, for products, and for service.

>> Check also this related CNN story

Sociable Design – Introduction
This is an abstract for the attached PDF file, “Sociable Design“. Whether designing the rooftop of a building or the rear end of a home or business appliance, sociable design considers how the design will impact everyone: not just the one, intended person standing in front, but also all the rest of society that interacts. One person uses a computer: the rest of us are at the other side of the desk or counter, peering at the ugly rear end, with wires spilling over like entrails. The residents of a building may never see its roof, but those who live in adjoining buildings may spend their entire workday peering at ugly asphalt, shafts and ventilating equipment. Support for groups is the hallmark of sociable technology. Groups are almost always involved in activities, even when the other people are not visible. All design has a social component: support for this social component, support for groups must always be a consideration.
Sociable design is not just saying “please” and “thank you.” It is not just providing technical support. It is also providing convivial working spaces, plus the time to make use of them. Sociable technology must support the four themes of communication, presentation, support for groups, and troubleshooting. How these are handled determines whether or not we will find interaction to be sociable. People learn social skills. Machines have to have them designed into them. Sometimes even worse than machines, however, are services, where even though we are often interacting with people, the service activities are dictated by formal rule books of procedures and processes, and the people we interact with can be as frustrated and confused as we are. This too is a design issue. Design of both machines and services should be thought of as a social activity, one where there is much concern paid to the social nature of the interaction. All products have a social component. This is especially true of communication products, whether websites, personal digests (blog), audio and video postings mean to be shared, or mail digests, mailing lists, and text messaging on cellphones. Social networks are by definition social. But where the social impact is obvious, designers are forewarned. The interesting cases happen where the social side is not so obvious.

20 November 2008

Nearly half of technology users need help with new devices

PEW_logo
New research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that nearly half of technology users need help with new devices.

Many encounter problems with their internet connections, home computers or cell phones. As gadgets become more important to people, their patience wears thin when things break.

Some 48% of technology users usually need help from others to set up new devices or to show them how they function. Many tech users encounter problems with their cell phones, internet connections, and other gadgets. This, in turn, often leads to impatience and frustration as they try to get them fixed.

- Read full story
- Download report

20 November 2008

Why digital research is important in tough financial times

eDigitalResearch
Michelle Fuller, Director at eDigitalResearch, writes in the Financial Times on the user experience of online banking:

With the banking sector moving towards consolidation, it is crucial that customers are understood, reacted to and rewarded for their loyalty. With the UK office of national statistics estimating that almost half of the UK population is now banking online, the role of the website in the customer journey has never been more important to financiers.

Our best advice is for banks to follow the examples set by some of the big online giants who we monitor. When looking at several of our top-rated commercial online retailers, their sites are well optimised, regularly updated and contain clear content and strong usability.

Read full story

(via Usability News)

11 November 2008

Why do we forget things

Forget
An interesting article in Scientific American discusses a new insight about forgetting: although the brain contains detailed representations of lots of different events and objects, we can’t always find that information when we want it.

“As this study reveals, if we’re shown an object, we can often be very accurate and precise at being able to say whether we’ve seen it before. If we’re in a toy store and trying to remember what it was that our son wanted for his birthday, however, we need to be able to voluntarily search our memory for the right answer—without being prompted by a visual reminder. It seems that it is this voluntary searching mechanism that’s prone to interference and forgetfulness.”

Read full story

11 November 2008

Two UX magazines for subscribers only

UX Mags
Two user experience magazines landed on my desk this week. They are available only to subscribers, both in print and online. But subscriptions are relatively cheap.

User Experience is the quarterly magazine of the Usability Professionals’ Association (membership is a modest 100 USD) and its latest issue is devoted to usability in transportation. Here are the titles of the feature articles and you can find the abstracts online:

Taxi: Service Design for New York’s yellow cabs
By Rachel Abrams

Safer Skies: Usability at the Federal Aviation Administration
By Ferne Friedman-Berg, Ph.D, Kenneth Allendoerfer, Carolina Zingale, Ph.D, Todd Truitt, Ph.D.

Listen Up: Do voice recognition systems help drivers focus on the road?
By David G. Kidd, M. A., David M. Cades, M. A., Don J. Horvath, M. A., Stephen M. Jones, M. A., Matthew J. Pitone, M. A., Christopher A. Monk, Ph. D.

Get Your Bearings: User perspective in map design
By Thomase Porathe

Lost in Space: Holistic wayfinding design in public spaces
By Dr. Christopher Kueh

A Really Smart Card: How Hong Kong’s Octopus Card moves people
By Daniel Szuc

Recommendations on Recommendations: Making usability usable
By Rolf Molich, Kasper Hornbæk, Steve Krug, Josephine Scott and Jeff Johnson

Disclosure: my business partner Michele Visciola is on the editorial board of this magazine.

Interactions is the bimonthly publication of ACM. Better designed than User Experience, it has become, under the thoughtful leadership of Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko, both profound in its analysis and broad in its interests. At 55 USD for six issues, it is also a bargain.

Here is the latest harvest of articles, some of which you can actually find online:

Designing Games: Why and How
Sus Lundgren

An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research
Liz Sanders

Signifiers, Not Affordances
Don Norman

User Experience Design for Ubiquitous Computing
Mike Kuniavsky

Cultural Theory and Design: Identifying Trends by Looking at the Action in the Periphery
Christine Satchell

Understanding Children’s Interactions: Evaluating Children’s Interactive Products
Janet C. Read, Panos Markopoulos

An Exciting Interface Foray into Early Digital Music: The Kurzweil 250
Richard W. Pew

Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff
Steve Portigal

Design: A Better Path to Innovation
Nathan Shedroff

A Call for Pro-Environmental Conspicuous Consumption in the Online World
Bill Tomlinson

Of Candied Herbs and Happy Babies: Seeking and Searching on Your Own Terms
Elizabeth Churchill

Experiencing the International Children’s Digital Library
Benjamin B. Bederson

Taken For Granted: The Infusion of the Mobile Phone in Society
Rich Ling

How Society was Forever Changed: A Review of The Mobile Connection
Brian Romanko

Audiophoto Narratives for Semi-literate Communities
David Frohlich, Matt Jones

Think Before You Link: Controlling Ubiquitous Availability
Karen Renaud, Judith Ramsay, Mario Hair

Disclosure: As of next year, I will be a contributing editor to the magazine (and I feel honoured to be in such esteemed company).

3 November 2008

A social interaction primer

Social interaction
Adrian Chan, a social media expert and social interaction theorist at Gravity7, makes a nice attempt at setting out a new model for social interaction design.

“Social interaction design works by respecting the psychological and social, the ambiguity not the clarity, the unintended not the intended. The best a designer can do is set up a social architecture that structures and organizes participation well enough that users know what’s going on, and therefore what to do. Social interaction designers start not from user needs but from user interests.

The bottom line for any social media company is know your users. Here again, social interaction design differs from non-social design. There is not just one user. There are not even several “personas.” Instead, users differ by their communication and interaction styles, their ways of being social, their understanding of what they are doing and of what others are doing. For simplicity’s sake, I segment users according to three types of interest: Self Interest, Other Interest, and Relational Interest.”

Chan then goes on to identify three types of social user interfaces: the mirror, the surface and the window, all based upon similar distinctions made by psychologists and sociologists.

The article is published on Johnny Holland, a brand new site on interaction in the broadest sense of the word, created by Jeroen van Geel in the Netherlands. Johnny Holland is set up as an “open collective for talking, sharing and finding answers about the interaction between people and products, systems or processes”.

Read full story

31 October 2008

Designers challenged to include disabled

Universal toilet
CNN reports on how Donald Norman wants designers to be more inclusive:

The future of design could see the divide between able-bodied and disabled people vanish.

Don Norman , design Professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, and the author of ”The Design of Future Things,” is issuing a challenge to designers and engineers across the world: Create things that work for everyone.

“It is about time we designed things that can be used by ALL people — which is the notion behind accessible design. Designing for people with disabilities almost always leads to products that work better for everyone.”

Once the champion of human-centered design — where wants and needs of individuals are the primary consideration in the design process, Norman now believes accessible activity-centered design is a better approach.

Read full story

28 October 2008

The intelligent fridge is neither useful nor desirable

Central Park Fridge
Hubert Guillaud has written again a short analysis on why it makes no sense at all for companies to create something like intelligent fridges.

His main argument is that nobody has any need for such a device.

Although the article itself is in French, much of it was written based upon English-language materials, including this overview of intelligent fridges currently on the market by Mike Kuniavsky, a short article by Nicolas Nova, and the study entitled “User acceptance of the intelligent fridge: empirical results from a simulation” by Matthias Rothensee.

20 October 2008

Hassenzahl on UX, pleasure and beauty

Marc Hassenzahl
Marc Hassenzahl is Junior Professor for Economic Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Koblenz-Landau. He is also a freelance usability consultant, president of the German Chapter of the Usability Professionals’ Association, and the author of over 30 journal papers / book chapters.

Two recent ones caught my attention:

User Experience (UX): Towards an experiential perspective on product quality
This paper presented my personal view on UX and related phenomena and research. Instead of providing a one-size-fits-all-definition of UX, I emphasize its subjectivity, present-orientedness and dynamics, and the central role of pleasure and pain. In addition, I provided an approach to explain, where the pleasure and pain comes from, namely from the fulfilment of basic human needs.

Aesthetics in interactive products: Correlates and consequences of beauty
The present chapter focuses on the judgmental approach to the study of aesthetics/beauty. It starts with an attempt to define beauty in a way, which lends itself to its empirical/quantitative study in the context of HCI. This is followed by a review of research addressing correlates of beauty, primarily focusing on the relation between beauty and usability. After this, three consequences of beauty are considered in detail, namely beauty as added value, beauty as a way to accomplish self-referential goals and, finally, beauty as a way to work better. The chapter ends with a summary and conclusion.

7 October 2008

Between a rock and an interface

Jupiter
Designers and developers should be consulting their psychologists, says BBC columnist Bill Thompson.

“Major sites like Facebook are constantly being redesigned on the basis of little real understanding of how people engage with their computers.

Vast amounts of work have been done in our attempt to understand human psychology, and the investigation of how we can use computer systems for co-operative work has been going on for decades. Yet few of today’s user interface designers seem to make use of the things we already know.

The research carried out by psychologists is important because it involves proper experiments, with control groups, null hypotheses and statistical analysis – all the things that focus groups and usability labs don’t have.

Making use of the results in the real world is not easy, but it is very worthwhile, despite the temptations to skip the hard stuff and just get on and build the website or launch the computer.”

Read full story

24 September 2008

Gestures will force the mouse into retirement

Mouse
The Financial Times argues that the ability of computers to read and understand our gestures is bound to move the mouse into retirement:

At almost 30 years old, is the computer mouse ready for retirement? Certainly, a growing band of human-computer interaction (HCI) specialists believe so. The crude language of “point and click”, they argue, seriously limits the “conversations” we have with our computers.

Among them is Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, a veteran HCI expert who joined Apple in 1978 as its 66th employee and founded the company’s Human Interface Group during his 14 years there. These days, after spells at Sun Microsystems and online healthcare company WebMD, Mr Tognazzini is a respected consultant, author and speaker with usability company, the Nielsen Norman Group.

Read full story

(via Usability News)

23 September 2008

Task-based user experience for home networks and smart spaces

Homebird
Nokia Research Center published a technical report, entitled “Homebird – Task-based User Experience for Home Networks and Smart Spaces”.

Contemporary wireless networks in people’s homes are already enabling consumer electronics devices to communicate with each other. Standards like Universal Plug and Play are being developed for interoperability between devices from different manufacturers. For example, a digital media player device is able to display video clips from a home PC or play music from portable devices. Development of the user experience is also needed to have devices perform tasks in concert. Homebird is a demonstration of a task- based user experience on a mobile phone. It discovers features of other devices automatically and suggests to the user that certain tasks can be performed together with those devices.

This approach cuts down the number of steps needed to perform common tasks, and also makes it easier for users to find out what can be done in a particular environment. The implementation architecture makes it easy to add new tasks, and they can also have the phone perform actions in the background without user interaction. The task-based approach was evaluated with a small user study, and participants found it easy to understand and useful, if they were offered tasks that suit their daily life.

Download report

18 September 2008

Sir Mick Jagger now an EU usability consultant

Mick Jagger at the EU
The BBC reports that Sir Mick Jagger has taken on a new challenge, as an EU usability consultant:

You can’t always get what you want – that was the EU’s message to rock star Sir Mick Jagger at a forum aimed at making internet shopping easier.

The veteran rocker was among a group of business leaders invited to help find ways to simplify the complex e-shopping rules that EU citizens face.

Online consumers often feel they are not getting a fair deal, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said. [...]

The business panel also included: Apple boss Steve Jobs, the head of EMI Roger Faxon, Alcatel-Lucent boss Ben Verwaayen and the bosses of Fiat and eBay – John Elkann and John Donahoe.

Read full story

14 September 2008

How to make open source projects care more about usability and user experience?

malware
Open source projects have historically suffered from featuritis and poor usability (even WordPress, which this blog runs on, has a cumbersome software update). Now a private company is investing in improving Ubuntu, the Linux desktop poster child:

Canonical, the corporate backer of the Ubuntu version of Linux, is hiring a team to help make open-source software on the desktop more appealing and easier to use.

The company plans to sign up designers and specialists in user experience and interaction to lead Canonical’s work on usability and to contribute to other free and open-source desktop-environment projects, including Gnome and KDE, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical chief executive and founder of the Ubuntu project, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.”

Why do we need a private company to do this? Why are usability and user experience still issues that open source is grappling with? Why are some of the best software development projects in terms of usability still privately developed projects? What would need to change in the open source movement so that these issues become engrained in development? Are there some serious best practices, aside from the encyclopaedic approach taken by such initiatives as OpenUsability and Interaction-Design.org?

Canonical’s Ubuntu initiative: article 1 | article 2

1 September 2008

Usability in the UK communications sector

Ofcom
In June 2008 Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, held a one day event about usability in the communications sector.

The event was held to encourage debate, to share ideas about good practice, to hear others’ views on how usability can be promoted and to explore the themes of inclusive design and design for all. Attendees included industry, the voluntary sector, journalists, civil servants and academics. The keynote speech was given by the Minister for Digital Inclusion.

The full report is published this week, together with the contributions made by delegates via the ‘suggestions box’ and a list of the online resources mentioned by speakers at the event.

Download report and resources

(via Usability News)

4 August 2008

People increasingly want better designed products

Rutter
Two articles highlight the increasing social demand for better designed products:

Bryce Rutter interview: “The tolerance for poorly designed products is decreasing dramatically”
The Globe and Mail – 2 August 2008
Paying a visit to Toronto recently, Rutter spoke to Globe Style about the beauty and necessity of good ergonomic design, whether it’s for toothbrushes or luxury cars.

Lifestyle drives medical device design: “Patients are becoming more demanding”
plastics & rubber weekly – 1 August 2008
In the issue of PRW published today, a four-page feature covers a roundtable discussion in London at which PRW brought together product designers and polymer materials specialists to discuss trends and issues in the medical devices market. According to the participants, patients are bringing consumer attitudes to their use of medical devices and this presents challenges when designing a product for such demanding users.

(via Core77)