Tag Archives: usability

If you can watch only one usability redesign this holiday season…

If you aren’t familiar with boxee, their goal is nothing less than putting cable out of business. No small task. Boxee is a media center interface for aggregating both locally stored and streaming movies, TV shows, music, photos and more. Whitney Hess will be leading the redesign of the user experience and it is a fascinating project because boxee is a critical time in their development. They’ve got loyal early adopters but it needs some work before it gets rolled out to the masses (and if they want o beat cable at it’s own game it has to work really, really well. Computer users have much higher standards than TV viewers. It’s weird but true. Two boxes, two different sets of expectations.)

Here’s how Whitney Hess describes the project in front of her, “So I have quite a challenge ahead of me — how do I preserve the existing elements of delight while making the app more scalable, more social, more effective and easier to use by a larger audience?

I’m starting off by doing usability testing with current alpha users, using boxee both on laptops and TV set-ups, and will additionally conduct interviews with prospective boxee users to learn their media consumption behaviors, attitudes, motivations and frustrations. Together these findings will be brought to light in a small set of user personas and scenarios, from which the necessary features for the ideal experience will emerge. Working closely with the boxee team, I’ll develop a set of wireframes to communicate how the features should be woven together in the most useful, usable, pleasurable way, screen by screen. From there the visual designer and developers will bring the product to life, infusing all of the sleekness and fluidity you’ve come to love so much. And all together we’ll test it, and validate it with users, and tweak it and test it again. On and on and on until we’re ready to launch beta.”

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30 important usability issues, terms, rules and principles which are usually forgotten, ignored or misunderstood.

That is probably the best long title ever. But usability is critical to success and smashingmagazine.com has put together one of the best one (scrolling) page overview of usability.

If you are new to usability, this is a great resource. If you are a practitioner, then it’s a fine reference page.

“In this article we present 30 important usability issues, terms, rules and principles which are usually forgotten, ignored or misunderstood. What is the difference between readability and legibility? What exactly does 80/20 or Pareto principle mean? What is meant with minesweeping and satisficing? And what is Progressive Enhancement and Graceful Degradation? OK, it’s time to dive in.”

>>Here’s the highly-usable link<<

6 Metrics for Managing UI Design (Russell Wilson)

Russel Wilson has written some very good guidelines that begin to address the question, What are the success metrics? I have managed and lead several large Digital Creative groups and this is ALWAYS a thorny issue. This is very helpful:

Full Article here.

“As part of a recent management summit at my company, we were asked to fill out an RMPT matrix for our departments (I head up Product Design).  An RMPT matrix consists of (R)esponsibilities, (M)etrics, (P)rocesses, and (T)ools.  I have been intending to develop better metrics for both measuring and guiding our design efforts, and this exercise served as a catalyst to get me started.  Bear in mind that metrics help you focus your efforts and measure your progress, but you are also held accountable to them.

For (R)esponsibilities I specified the following:
1) Improve our products & innovate
2) Provide the UI design for new features/functions/products
3) Approve any UI design work done outside of Product Design
4) Validate our UI designs and explore user needs through user testing

Given those responsibilities (and that’s important because your metrics are linked to them) I then came up with the following metrics and met with my team who helped to refine them:

For a given period (e.g. a business quarter):
1) Number of layouts delivered
2) Number of interactive prototypes created
3) Percentage of product design requests completed by commit date
4) Number of users tested
5) Number of product improvements made
6) Number of product insights documented

Current Reading List for Digital Businesses

21 October 2008: If you have, or are starting, a digital business you’ll want to read these. (A special thanks to Tom Illmensee)…

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely
A challenging mate to Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational examines how the world often works according to principles of irrationality in the places where we least expect it. Do you know why you still have a headache after taking a one-cent aspirin, but why that same headache disappears if the aspirin costs fifty cents? Do you know why recalling the Ten Commandments reduces people’s tendency to lie, or why honor codes are actually effective in reducing dishonesty at the workplace? Do you know why, after doing careful and extensive research on which car to buy, a random meeting with someone who had an awful experience with that car changes your decision? Why do we make decisions contrary to our better judgment? What is “better judgment?” Predictably Irrational challenges us to ponder these questions and demonstrates how irrationality manifests itself in situations (often very peculiar and hilarious situations) where rational thought is expected.

Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better

Gina Trapani
This book isn’t a computer user manual, and it isn’t a productivity system. It’s a mashup of both. It’s where you learn to practice big-picture productivity methods on your very own computer desktop. Whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, know only enough to get by or are the family tech support geek, there are tricks here for you. Whether or not you’ve been turbocharging your day with the tips from Gina’s first Lifehacker book, you’ll feast on this buffet of new shortcuts to make technology your ally instead of your adversary.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance

Jim Thatcher, Christian Heilmann, Michael R. Burks
This book gives you all you need to know about web accessibility, whether you are a web designer or developer who wants your sites to be accessible, or a business manager who wants to learn what impact the web accessibility laws have on your websites. After an overview of the accessibility law and guidelines, and a discussion about accessibility and its implementation in the enterprise, the book goes on to show how to implement accessible websites using a combination of concise references and easy-to-follow examples.

Make It Bigger
Paula Scher
“Make it bigger”-a familiar refrain to any graphic designer accustomed to presenting layouts to clients-is an apt title for a book that examines the graphic design profession primarily through the lens of the business community it serves. Veteran designer Scher draws from over three decades of design experience to provide readers with a firsthand account of the creative process, that is, advancing good ideas and personal vision within the corporate cultures and organizational dynamics that are predisposed to resist them.

Access 2003 All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies

Alan Simpson, Margaret Levine Young, Alison Barrows
One-stop guide to building databases and managing information with Access 2003

Access 2007: The Missing Manual
Kate J. Chase, Scott Palmer
Demystifies databases and explains how to design and create them with ease.

Why Software Sucks: …and What You Can Do About It

David S. Platt
It’s no secret that software sucks. You know that from personal experience, whether you use computers for work or for personal tasks. In this book, programming insider David Platt explains why that’s the case and, more importantly, why it doesn’t have to be that way. And he explains it in plain, jargon-free English that’s a joy to read, using real-world examples with which you’re already familiar. In the end, he suggests what you, as a typical user, without a technical background, can do about this sad state of our software – how you, as an informed consumer, don’t have to take the abuse that bad software dishes out.

Metaphors We Live By
George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Johnson
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are “metaphors we live by”—metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.

Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites

Christopher Schmitt, Mark Trammell, Meryl K. Evans, Kevin Lawver, Kimberly Blessing
Gives developers a peek into the process of the best designers in the world through the work of high profile, real-world Web sites that made them famous. The book focuses on deconstructing these top-tier large-scale sites with particular attention given to deconstructing CSS.

Project Management Tools for the Troublesome Right Brained People Amongst Us.

Project Management (or productivity) software has always been troublesome. It was like accounting, you needed to have a special person who thought like all those spreadsheets to actually use the program.

Action Method

Action Method

Then the tools evolved and now, with online banking and financial tools like Mint, we are able to track and analyze baffling things like money.

But productivity software has been notoriously problematic for creative projects. Just utter the phrase, “Microsoft Project” in a room full of creatives and it will quickly turn quite frosty. If the tagline for MS Project wasn’t, “Designed By Engineers For Engineers” it really should have been. Even the much-lauded Basecamp from 37 Signals, while light years ahead of Project, is still a bit of work for creative folks who still need to retrofit their working style to fit the interface.

In a recent email discussion about this, a friend from Agile Partners suggested that I keep my eyes open for Action Method. While it isn’t released yet (and living up to pre-launch hype is always a challenge), the concept gave me great hope because the problem wasn’t necessarily with the productivity software, it was with the people that used these applications. And the problem was that they loathed using them. I don’t think loathe is too strong a word. That’s a problem.

What looks different about Action Method is that they’ve broken out the world into projects with three categories.


They describe it like this: “The typical creative process for managing ideas and projects is haphazard. Many creatives lose energy amidst unclear tasks, half-finished thoughts, ideas with ambiguous next steps, cluttered references, and little follow-up in a team environment. This method brings order to the organic creative process we all use in our work.”

The secret of what will most likely make Action Method successful is this key point: creative processes do not lend themselves to a whole lot of documentation and categorizing. “The Action Method is project-centric, not context-centric. “We found that creative people tend to approach their personal and professional lives as a series of projects. Design helps us sort the components of these projects and stay engaged long enough to complete them.” With over twenty years of experience in creative groups, I can assure you the operative in that sentence is, “stay engaged long enough to complete them”. It’s the difference between a productivity system that you can actually use to run your business and one that just wastes everybody’s time.

There’s a great usability book called, “Don’t Make Me Think” which encourages developers to not make the people who are going to be using the interface have to think about what they should do next. Action Method sounds like they have taken that to heart and designed a productivity system that works the way creative people think. At least, I’m hoping that’s what it is.