Usability

Voice Interfaces: Assessing the Potential

Jakob Nielsen says, in Alertbox, that voice interfaces have the greatest potential in the immediate future when they can be applied to situations where the traditional keyboard-mouse-monitor combination are problematic, e.g. users with disabilities, phone systems, cars. He adds that "visual interfaces can communicate much more information than auditory interfaces whenever users have a monitor and are capable of looking at it. And that "voice interfaces hold their greatest promise as an additional component to a multi-modal dialogue, rather than as the only interface channel."

It's fun to note that Jakob uses a HipTop. He's got a good suggestion for how to make voice alerts usable, if you want to have your phone tell you, "Your mother is calling". Would you really want that, though?

Business apps get bad marks in usability

ZDNet reports on research conducted by Forrester that is part of a bigger report the firm is publishing that evaluates software companies that sell enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

Forrester has found that even commonplace tasks can take 'inordinate patience' to carry out - and that adds up to big expenses for companies.

The Usability of Open Source Software

David M. Nichols and Michael B. Twidale discuss open source software usability on First Monday.

Open source communities have successfully developed a great deal of software although most computer users only use proprietary applications. The usability of open source software is often regarded as one reason for this limited distribution. In this paper we review the existing evidence of the usability of open source software and discuss how the characteristics of open source development influence usability. We describe how existing human-computer interaction techniques can be used to leverage distributed networked communities, of developers and users, to address issues of usability.

ROI and Professional Usability Testing

Charles Mauro of Taskz will be publishing the white paper, "Professional Usability Testing and ROI For Web-based Products and Services." on Taskz.com soon and has subjected the paper to informal peer review. The paper explores, in detail, on-line and traditional lab-based testing methods and their impact on ROI for mission-critical web development projects. If you would like to send feedback to Charles, please contact me and I will forward his email address to you or you can post comments here as well.

Alertbox: Return on Investment for Usability

New Alertbox on ROI.

Development projects should spend 10% of their budget on usability. Following a usability redesign, websites increase usability by 135% on average; intranets improve slightly less.

Year-end wrap-up

Must be that time of year, since two usability-related year-in-review pieces came out yesterday:

Both are actually fairly level-headed and practical. Most of these things should be common knowledge for most IAs, but it's nice to see them summarized (and, in Nielsen's case, illustrated). HFI also has footnotes to all the relevant research, which is very useful for those ubiquitous “I'm looking for research that supports my opinion that ...” questions.

Heuristic evaluation OmniOutliner template

I don't normally do heuristic evaluations, but I volunteered to do one for Drupal's administration interface. I created a checklist of questions under Nielsen's heuristics and wanted to record my evaluations in a simple bullet list. The template is simply an OmniOutliner file that lists the 10 heuristics, with notes describing each (taken verbatim from Nielsen). I plan to insert bullet points for each of my evaluations under each rubric and export to RTF. At that point I will probably create a PowerPoint presentation or Word document from the RTF and then save as PDF.

Use it if it's helpful to you.

Steve Krug Interview

Tom pointed to the since1968 interview with Steve Krug.

Accessible text on the web

The MCU: Understanding web typography - an introduction - In this article I attempt to cut a swathe through the complexities of Web typography; explain the possible pitfalls; and provide some guidelines for creating accessible and easy to read web pages.

Thanks, Library TechLog (Matthew Eberle)

Dial Up Modem Simulation

Christina found this page on WebNovice that offers suggestions for simulating dial up modem speed.

Flash and Web-Based Applications

Nielsen's alertbox talks about web-based applications using Flash on the front end. I recently talked to Molly, a new aquaintence in NYC, about how her organization was using Flash to put a front end on a project management db. Sounded like an interesting idea, only because I haven't seen a project/client contact type db done in Flash before.

    In usability tests of 46 Flash applications, we identified several basic issues related to Web-based functionality's ephemeral nature. Some findings restate old truths about GUIs; others reflect the Net's new status as nexus of the user experience.
To digress a bit, the Flash based apps I've thought work well lately are just for fun, e.g. this Bush speech generator, tuning the world. I've come across some design sites that have all flash interfaces with databases, but at the time felt turned off by them. I'm coming around, though. For me, a Flash interface for customizing a product design, like timbuk2 bags is excellent. But what are good examples of content-heavy sites that use Flash, like Molly is talking about? Are there any portal-type sites using Flash?

Interview: Maryam Mohit, Amazon.com

Mark Hurst interviews Maryam Mohit, V.P. of Site Development at Amazon.com to find out what makes that company one of the leaders in customer experience online and off.

    For us, it's a combination of listening really hard to customers, and innovating on their behalf.
I never knew about Amazon's butterfly ballot joke.

Information Architecture is not Usability

Jeff Lash tells us why Usability is not IA in the November, 2002 IAnthything goes column of Digital Web.

    The distinction between information architecture and usability may seem like semantics, but there are significant differences between the two disciplines. Though they are often discussed interchangeably, and practitioners are often well-versed in both, information architecture and usability differ in their scope and areas of focus.
Spanking Jakob

John S. Rhodes reviews Jakob's latest Alertbox, Intranet Usability: The Trillion-Dollar Question", where he says, "The average mid-sized company could gain $5 million per year in employee productivity by improving its intranet design to the top quartile level of a cross-company intranet usability study. The return on investment? One thousand percent or more.". The Alertbox shows some good recommendations based on usability tests done by NN/g. Rhodes is taking issue with his ROI figures, which make the claim that usability results in millions in savings per year. Rhodes says, "Jakob Nielsen is selling us a dream," that usability is the magic pill to cure all intranet ills.

INUSE 6.2: Handbook of user-centred design

From the Nectar Project: This handbook on user-centred design is intended for those responsible for commissioning or carrying out usability work during the development of interactive systems. It consists of 5 chapters which are summarised below.

  1. A user-centred approach to design and assessment
  2. Introduction to usability methods
  3. Individual method descriptions
  4. Selecting an appropriate method
  5. Standards and guidelines in user-centred design
Thanks, Column Two: KM/CM blog

Top reasons ease of use doesn't happen†on engineering projects

Scott Berkun gives us his top 14 reasons and some possible solutions.

    In reviewing all the email I've received at this website, and the experiences I've had teaching and consulting, Iíve tried to catalog the different reasons why projects didnít result in easy to use designs. Below Iíve compiled the top ten reasons into a short list, with some brief suggestions on how to approach fixing the problem.
The enemies of usability

Peter Morville calls for a unified front in the UX community to take on the Enemies of Usability in his latest Semantics column.

Scent of a webpage

I found Jared Spool's 9/18/2002 presentation "Scent of a Web Page (PDF accesible only to NYC-CHI members)" to be very useful, even without the context of his speaking notes. There are some great suggestions about how to layout and describe page objects to ensure good scent. Also some interesting conclusions that good layout and good scent support findability better than pogosticking and search.

Evidence-based usability guidelines

Tonight I attended a great presentation by the leads on the usability.gov project. (Despite the .gov domain, this is not a government-specific site.)

They really sold me on the use of evidence-based guidelines for making site design decisions. One of the many interesting points: practitioners tend to view their own experience-based usability guidelines as being strongly supported by research-- even if the research isn't there. We can point to research-based guidelines to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise when many different parties (internal and external) bring differing design experiences to a project.

Currently there are 50 guidelines on the usability.gov site; by the end of this year 200+ will be posted. Awesome.

usability.gov/guidelines

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