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Signal vs. Noise
Expero has launched a new blog at Free Usability Advice. With folks like John Morkes, a regular speaker at NNGroup events, you're getting free advice from world leading practitioners. In the multitude of UX blogs, this is definitely one to watch. Kudos to Dave Crow for putting it together.
There is still a possibility to attend one of the Information Architetcture seminars with Steve Krug and Louis Rosenfeld held in Washingthon, DC and Seattle. Louis is talking about enterprise IA and Krug about usability problems and “how to make low-cost/no-cost testing an everyday part of your company’s design process”. More details at Louisrosenfeld.com
One of the hassles of usability testing with video is handling all the equipment. Editing the video into something useful is an even bigger challenge. Some professionals have looked at screen recording software as part of the solution.
Now TechSmith, the folks who created Camtasia, have released Morae, an integrated recording and editing solution for usability testing. For $999 USD you get three applications for recording, annotating, and editing usability video. That's pricy compared to consumer screen recorder software, but if it works well and you do a lot of video based testing already it's probably worth it. For people like me that mostly just watch and type notes in a discount testing arrangement, it might be a tool to start using video without the huge time crunch of capturing and editing tape.
BayCHI presentation from Oracle's Daniel Rosenberg puts common ROI approaches through the wringer. The thing that stands out for me is that ROI calculations don't include any consideration of the end user - if the product costs more to own, but the company makes back its money faster, then ROI suggest that this is the right decision - even though long term sustainability might be compromised.
New usability shop in town.
"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."
The US Department of Health and Human Services announced a freely available research-based guide to Web site design and usability on Usability.gov. In their press release, they refer to it as "...a resource that will help government, academic, commercial and other groups involved in the creation of Web sites make decisions based on user research, not personal opinions." The document can be downloaded in PDF format as one 128 page PDF or as individual chapters. Sadly, the full document doesn't make use of links in the PDF.
The Dublin Core 2003 Conference is currently going on in Seattle this week. A couple of the attendees and I will be sharing our notes(and photos) when we've recovered(it's actually still going on). But until then, enjoy the conference proceedings online.
Forrester Research has made their TechStrategy Brief Web Sites Continue to Fail the Usability Test available for guest users on the site. For the price of your time signing up for a guest account, you'll get a 7 page article they would normally charge $200 or more for. Don't be deceived by the title - the paper addresses more than usability testing, and is a good-but-brief introduction to personas and scenarios from a recognized industry source (good for the boss or a client - you might want to download the 'briefcase' - a zip file with the PDF article, some source data, and ready-made slides).
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:
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."
Usability Heuristics for Rich Internet Applications - Over the coming months and years, RIAs will move from cutting edge to mainstream. That transformation will accelerate with the Flash and user experience communities working together to understand and develop best practices and shared knowledge.
Grant Skinner and I revisited Nielsen's 10 heuristics and share some thoughts on how they apply to Rich Internet Applications. Currently in the comments the debate largely reflects 2 things - animation, and what makes an RIA different than other apps.
The Usability Engineering Team at NASA's Glenn Research Center have a site that offers help to teams adopting user centered design. Highlights include:
At Usability News Larry Constantine gives a great rundown of the Magic Number 5 panel from CHI. The panel tackled the long accepted discount usability notion that 5 users will uncover 80% of the defects.
Usability testing seems to be the perceived gold standard for sites - one colleague called it the 'holy grail'. But as the panel showed, 5 users and the discount approach have some serious drawbacks.
I also find it pretty amusing that usability diehard Rolf Molich is suggesting a potential end for usability testing, while Cooper (who has long dismissed usability testing) now offers training and courses in same.
Advertising: A Cry for Usability - Advertising is frequently interruption-based, posing a serious usability flaw. It's very obvious on the Web as pop-up ads, audio, animation, Flash ads, and exit pops make the Internet increasingly difficult to navigate and use, and its content increasingly difficult to read.
I find the idea of usable advertising interesting - there seems to be a fundamental conflict between an advertiser's goals and a user's goals. But since advertising supports the service, the overall value is greatest when the two can be aligned. ( thanks Other Blog )
OntoLog is a tool for annotating (describing and indexing) video and audio using ontologies - structured sets of terms or concepts. It used RDF and the Dublin Core. This is a PH. D. project by Jon Heggland. He is looking for testers and users.
For OntoLog and my doctoral degree to be a success, I need the ideas, requirements, critique and feedback of (potential) OntoLog users. OntoLog, though usable and useful, is not finished - there are lots of things I want to do. But I want to anchor the capabilities of OntoLog in the real world
Obvious applications in looking at video/audio from ethnographic observation, contextual interviews, or usability testing.
They're each offering full day workshops in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Krug's are the day after Rosenfeld's.
Lou's tackling the ugly problem of creating unified IA across departments and business units in large organizations in Enterprise IA: Because Users Don't Care About Your Org Chart and Steve offers Don't Make Me Think: The Workshop
I'm particularly impressed by Steve's comment about Lou's workshop:
If you're involved in a large, politics-ridden enterprise site (does the word “silo” ring a bell?), you owe it to yourself and your company to spend a day with Lou—even more than with me.
The advice on intranets and staff directories is useful in Jakob's latest piece Employee Directory Search: Resolving Conflicting Usability Guidelines. But that's not why I think it's the best Alertbox in recent memory. It's because it shows the complex and paradoxical issues that comes with any signficant design.
"It is very common to have conflicting usability guidelines. They are called "guidelines" rather than "specifications" for a reason: they are necessarily fuzzy because they relate to human behavior.
Interface design requires trade-offs. The challenge is in knowing how to balance the conflicting guidelines and in understanding what is most important in a given situation."
While he still suggests usability testing as the resolution to the guideline conflict (not always true), it's a refreshing dose of dogma-lite Nielsen.
Update: Christina's got an interesting take on why guidelines don't really help novices.
In the final issue of New Architect JJG's article All Those Opposed refutes common objections to a user-centered design approach.