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Archive for June, 2004

User Experience Network launches

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

UXNet launched today. They called it a soft launch – soft so they can gain input from the field.

According to the website, UXNet is:

“an organization dedicated to exploring opportunities for cooperation and collaboration among organizations and individuals involved in the field of user experience (UX).”

Looks interesting and has the potential to offer a lot to the UX field, with our wide variety of overlapping disciplines

A neat powerpoint trick

Monday, June 21st, 2004

I love presenting but struggle to prepare presentations. I know exactly what I want to talk about but what I struggle most with is preparing presentation slides.

The presentations that I enjoy watching are those with lots of diagrams, screen shots and illustrations that provide something interesting to look at and support the speaker’s story. But they aren’t great as take-aways – they don’t make sense without the story. And the presentations that I hate most are those with lots of bullet points, however well they support a story (personally, I also find that they stop my story flow as I am as drawn to the words as everyone else is).

I was pleased with some of the IA Summit presentations this year that included diagrams and photographs in the slides, with speaker notes for reading later. This is great, but still has a disadvantage – it takes a lot of paper to print out – Powerpoint at least doesn’t have an option to print both slides and speaker notes with multiple slides per page.

So I came up with a neat trick to get around this – a way to tell a story with illustrations, and provide listeners with notes to follow up later. It’s dead easy as well. I create my presentation with a slide containing an illustration followed by a slide with relevant notes and bullet points. Then I ‘hide’ all of slides with notes. They don’t appear when I’m presenting, but they print out. So listeners get a good set of notes, and I don’t have to once show a bulleted list on the screen.

How cool is that!

(come and see me practice this at our new seminar – Latest Thinking in Usability and IA, July 29, Canberra, Australia.)

90% of All Usability Testing is Useless

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

An excellent article by Lane Becker called “90% of All Usability Testing is Useless”. I have been thinking the exact same thing (and writing it here and other places).

Been thinking of writing something on pitfalls in usability testing big, informational sites. Keep an eye out…

Redesign of Murrumbateman Field Days

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

I have just finished a visual redesign of a community site that I manage – Murrumbateman Field Days. I’m not a great visual designer, probably not even a good one, but it is certainly better than the previous version.

But hey, it’s valid xhtml strict & plays nicely in most browsers ;) That’s got to be worth something.

I’m in the userati

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

How cool. I was added to the userati today, with a fabulous justification as to why.

Selecting scenarios for a usability test

Tuesday, June 15th, 2004

I used a new method of selecting scenarios for a usability test for a client last week. The test was for a system that would help frontline staff with client questions. We had an initial list of 30 scenarios that I thought looked good, but because this was my first exposure to the users, I wasn’t sure. I would normally select 10 or so scenarios, but didn’t want to in case the ones I picked weren’t realistic or representative.

So we printed out all scenarios on index cards. At the beginning of the usability test I asked the participants to put them into 4 piles according to how often they were asked that question – frequent, sometimes, rarely and never. I also asked participants if there were questions that were asked frequently but were not covered. This gave me extra information about what clients ask about and checked that the scenarios were realistic. I chose 4 scenarios from the ‘frequent’ pile and 4 from the other piles, making sure I didn’t double up on topics.

This worked well – the participants were working with real scenarios so I was confident that their reactions were close to a realistic situation. Choosing more from the ‘frequent’ pile ensured that the usability test covered core questions.

Normally I wouldn’t use a large variety of scenarios with a small number of participants as I would not get enough coverage to identify repeated usability issues. However it worked in this situation because it was on a small, reasonably homogeneous set of information. The test showed that the participants’ actions and usability issues were similar for different scenarios.

I bombed the usability quiz

Sunday, June 6th, 2004

Who am I to criticise…according to the HFI usability and web site quiz, I should be calling them for help. Did you know that:

“Usability testing for a Web site can be performed optimally with

  • a. An initial list of potential functions
  • b. Human task flow diagrams”

Wow – I’d love to know how to usability test with an initial list of functions, and human task flow diagrams are my favourite technique.

“when writing for the Web one should … a. Avoid paragraphs”. What a great suggestion. My enter key is getting way too worn out anyway.

“To satisfy both novice and expert users, the best strategy for label and field alignment is…b. Left align both fields and labels”. What does this have to do with novices and experts? And what do we do for the perpetual intermediates.

During usability testing it is OK to “Keep the testing situation as ambiguous as possible” but is not OK to “Start out by showing the participants how the software works”. OK, I wouldn’t often go into a lot of detail about the software, but there are times where I would demo part of it, particularly in an early stage, exploratory test. But I would never, ever keep the testing situation ambiguous!

Go try the tests – see if you are worthy.

How many participants?

Sunday, June 6th, 2004

This month’s article from HFI is about how many participants to involve in a usability test. And the answer is [insert drum roll here] 12 per user segment. Yay!

No matter what the answer is (Spool, Nielsen), the more important issue is that the question is wrong. The discussion about how many participants to include in a usability test is based on the premise that the ultimate goal of running a test is to identify as many usability issues as possible.

This is not the goal of a usability test. It’s not even a sensible or realistic goal. Even if we could identify every usability problem, by the time we fix all of them, we will have introduced new ones. Then we find all of the problems again, fix, introduce new ones, and so on until only a very small number of usability problems remain.

In reality, the most important goal of a usability test is to identify the main usability problems – the ones that affect all users, are high impact or high risk. We redesign those and test again, but with a smaller focus to start with, we can get to a good product more quickly.

As I mentioned a few days ago, big-bang testing is not the right way to usability test anyway. Usability testing is most useful as part of an iterative, user-centred design cycle. If you usability test as a part of the design process rather than as a scientific experiment, you will have happy customers instead of statistical significance…I know what I’d prefer.

Usability testing: bias doesn’t matter

Thursday, June 3rd, 2004

Had a thought on the way home today…it actually doesn’t matter if there is a bit of bias in usability tests. All of the effort that we go to to make sure that the test represents the real world, the perfect set of participants are chosen, the scenarios are real and worded beautifully and we introduce no bias into our tests – all a bit of a waste of time really.

More important than doing one perfect test is running multiple tests (and trying not to make them too imperfect). The only time when as much bias as possible should be eliminated is when there is only one usability test – and this isn’t the right way to test anyway.

Usability testing is an inherent part of an iterative user-centred design process. Research, design, test, design, test etc. In this model, a bit of bias doesn’t matter. It is still important to choose the right type of test, make sure the participants are in the user group and that the scenarios aren’t leading. But a leading question here or there won’t hurt. The test won’t unravel on you. You have plenty more chances to explore design and usability issues.

Usability testing as a stand-alone process is wrong. The single test by a usability guru is a waste of money. Put the effort into research and iterative design instead…

I’ve seen a tipping point

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

I mentioned tipping points in my last post. I’ve just seen my first really obvious tipping point happen.

Now I don’t have Malcolm Gladwell’s book at the moment (if you borrowed it, please let me know), but from memory, one type of tipping point is the point at which a product is all of a sudden everywhere.

This is a strange one, but I’ve just witnessed a plastic bag to purchased bag tipping point. In the last fortnight I’ve noticed that everyone is carrying around lime green bags containing their shopping rather than plastic bags. I’d think a couple of things happened to tip it:

  • the supermarkets have walls of lime green bags, embedding them in our consciousness
  • the bags are inexpensive
  • other people are brave enough to buy them and walk around the shopping centre with them

I’d guess that this last point is the most important one in causing a tip. People need to see that ‘everyone else’ is doing it and have the ability to do it themselves and boom – off it goes…

My IA tipping point

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

I just remembered (and I don’t know what triggered it) how I first came across weblogs.

Around two and a half years ago, I was doing some research into faceted classification. The IAwiki had been released, and I naturally found the page on faceted classification. A link on that page led me to Innovation in Classification on peterme. Somehow I found Christina’s Elegant Hack as well and off I went.

Thinking back, that was my big tipping point into IA. How cool!