Daniel Harvey's blog

Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/03/2003 | The Job | His work: Watching people use the Web

Here's a zen question from the weird, wired world of the Web: Can there be an architect of something that will never exist in a three-dimensional form?

This is Ben Levin's zone.

His business card says 'User Experience Architect,' and the title isn't something cutesy dreamed up by a human-resource consultant who has been to too many motivational seminars.

In the Web world, this is a common job title in the field of usability - the interaction of humans and computers.

The article gets a few things wrong here and there but it's interesting nonetheless to see how our profession is depicted in lay terms.

Academics Turn to Video Games

Interesting article on Yahoo:

Some of the new questions in a very young field: How do you judge a game? As you would a novel? Should we think up a whole new vocabulary for evaluating games? What do the social dynamics of online worlds -- those massively multiplayer games -- tell us about human behavior?

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the IT University has established the Center of Computer Games Research, which just graduated its first Ph.D., Jesper Juul.

Juul appears to be the first person anywhere to ever get his doctorate exclusively in video game studies. His dissertation 'Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds' seeks to define what video games are, and how academics ought to go about studying them.

...and here are some simultaneously interesting and heartbreaking quotes from old coworker Eric Zimmerman and Chris Crawford:

"What we try to do is provide not a single way of looking at games but a whole series of ways," Zimmerman said. "We would like to have an audience that thinks about games as more than boy power fantasies."

Some in the industry, however, are not so sure that games will ever mature. They fear games could be a dead end like comic books -- valuable as a social phenomenon, but outside a select few titles like Art Spiegelman's "Maus," not worth a great deal of individual study.

"I seldom play computer games, because it's such a depressing experience," said Chris Crawford, a game designer who is building a program to create interactive stories. "I end up shaking my head in dismay at how stuck the designers are in a rut."

The Pareto Principle

The history of the 80-20 Rule: Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who, in 1906, observed that twenty percent of the Italian people owned eighty percent of their country's accumulated wealth. Over time, this theory came to be called Pareto's Principle. It states that a small number of causes is responsible for a large percentage of the effect, in a ratio of about 20:80.

comments at Signal v. Noise.

OK/Cancel: Announcing OK/Cancel Forums

Our objective is to create a place for people in the industry, or interested in the industry, to hold discussions. Granted, we're not the first to offer such a service. Mailing likes such as CHI-Web and SigIA are great places to hold discussions as well and they go straight to your inbox.

The difference is that we're here primarily to have fun. People in the industry have started taking themselves too seriously and forgotten the fun in our profession. Also, we are starting this off from the start with a few moderators to help the forums along. The intent is not to rule over the discussions with an iron fist but to ensure things are running smoothly and the signal is where the signal should be while the noise is where the noise should be.

OK/Cancel: Announcing OK/Cancel Forums

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb

The New York Times enters into the Tufte-Byrne War, not surprisingly on Tufte's side by way of Clive Thompson's article "PowerPoint Makes You Dumb."

This year, Edward Tufte -- the famous theorist of information presentation -- made precisely that argument in a blistering screed called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In his slim 28-page pamphlet, Tufte claimed that Microsoft's ubiquitous software forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension. For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of reading. PowerPoint also encourages users to rely on bulleted lists, a ''faux analytical'' technique, Tufte wrote, that dodges the speaker's responsibility to tie his information together. And perhaps worst of all is how PowerPoint renders charts. Charts in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal contain up to 120 elements on average, allowing readers to compare large groupings of data. But, as Tufte found, PowerPoint users typically produce charts with only 12 elements. Ultimately, Tufte concluded, PowerPoint is infused with ''an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch."

About Web Critica

New usability shop in town.

About Web Critica

"We've been designing and critiquing computer-based interfaces since before there was a World Wide Web. We've designed interactive kiosks, exhibits, CD-ROM's, and, of course, a lot of websites. We understand what users want and what they need so they can successfully interact with websites. We design information systems, but we're more than just information architects, we're also users who love the Web and its range of expressions. Unlike many of our competitors, we're not trying to sell you our design services -- we don't offer any. Our goal is to honestly and thoroughly examine, evaluate, and offer recommendations so you can improve your site."

There's a nice top ten usability tips list on the site which is also available in .PDF format.

Report slams Web personalization | CNET News.com

Companies trying to get personal with their Web site visitors in hopes of increasing sales are wasting more money than they're earning, warns a new report.

The Jupiter Research report, 'Beyond the Personalization Myth,' assails as expensive and unproductive the practice of Web site personalization, which tailors pages according to information gathered about particular visitors.

Report slams Web personalization | CNET News.com

Usability 101: the What, Why, and How of User-Centered Design

Nielsen's latest Alertbox entry proffers:

"Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word 'usability' also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability has five quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

There are many other important quality attributes. A key one is utility, which refers to the design's functionality: Does it do what users need? Usability and utility are equally important: It matters little that something is easy if it's not what you want. It's also no good if the system can hypothetically do what you want, but you can't make it happen because the user interface is too difficult. To study a design's utility, you can use the same user research methods that improve usability."

First Wired Generation

Yahoo! teen conference on understanding the First Wired Generation. There was research presented on industry trends by Neil Howe and Dan Draf which are quite interesting. Click on Webcast for the presentations

Mobile Devices: One Generation From Useful (Alertbox)

Nielsen says: "I've been using a T-Mobile 'Sidekick' as my combined PDA and cell phone for the past half year. The Sidekick is also known as the 'Danger Device' or the 'Hiptop.' When I saw an early Danger demo two years ago, I was excited about its potential. Now, after actually using it, I've concluded that one or two more generations of device designs are needed to achieve true usability."

Flash Mob #6

Mob #6 Pics

I've uploaded a few pics of the latest flash mob. Naturally, I was running late to the start point but managed to intercept a large group of people leaving Hamburger Harry's. Figuring this to be the mob en route (oh, how clever am I?) I verified that to be the case with a young woman. Unfortunately, she didn't have a copy of the instructions (only a print out of the announcement email). I glomed onto the group anyway figuring my best bet would be to try to follow this wicked fast Japanese cameraman.

Much to my delight, the group arrived at the Toys R' Us flagship store in Times Square. As I was walking to Harry's originally I thought (given the Macy's event prior) that it would be a great locale. Anyway, we went to the second floor and people milled about for a bit. At one point an English gent with a mic interviewed me about the mob. After a brief bout of us both being cagey about the why I mentioned to him that I didn't have a copy of the script yet. He showed me and I was even more delighted.

...and at the appointed time we all surrounded the giant animatronic t-rex, got down on our knees in feigned worship, and screamed in mock terror when it roared.

The call to disperse came at just the right time since the police showed up....

All in all it was a grand time. A little slice of cliche heaven to boot. In front of me during the "worship" was a Japanese Salariman and to my left a trendy hipster doofus complete with adjusto-strap prole hat.

PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption

Nielsen's latest alertbox summarizes:
"Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text blobs that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDF is good for printing, but that's it.
Don't use it for online presentation."

Nice to see he's still got plenty of venom left to spew. I can't wait to see his next edition which promises alternatives to the format.

Read the full entry here: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030714.html

Audiopad

J. Patten writes in regards to his invention, Audiopad:

It is a composition and performance instrument for electronic music which tracks the positions of objects on a tabletop surface and converts their motion into music. One can pull sounds from a giant set of samples, juxtapose archived recordings against warm synthetic melodies, cut between drum loops to create new beats, and apply digital processing all at the same time on the same table. Audiopad not only allows for spontaneous reinterpretation of musical compositions, but also creates a visual and tactile dialogue between itself, the performer, and the audience.
Software can investigate suspicious deaths

Article in New Scientist reporting that Software can investigate suspicious deaths.

At the heart of the software is a "knowledgebase" containing a huge taxonomy of the possible ways in which death can be caused and the different types of evidence and facts that relate to them - such as eyewitness accounts, medical analyses and forensic evidence taken from the scene of crime.

Found initially at Warren Ellis' blog then on my blog.

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