Posts Tagged ‘user-centered design’

Let’s assume you have a scale that measures a variable “hotness” on a scale of 1 to 5. According to most people’s intuition, 1 is less hot, and 5 is very hot. A shorter column in a graph means less hotness, a longer one means more hotness. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Now, look at all your scales and all the graphs you created. Do they ALL make sense?

Sometimes, because of the way you laid out your answers in Qualtrics and because of the way Qualtrics assigns values to answers, you may end up with a reverse scale that is very confusing.

In the examples below, the scales are very confusing. In a culture that reads left to right, were things increase from left to right and from bottom to the top, the image below means that the actual difficulty was higher than the expected difficulty – but that’s not what the authors mean!

Similarly, when you look at the column graph below, you’d think the blue one indicates more difficulty, and the red, less. Alas, that’s not true…

Solution: Flip the scale!

For this measure, go into Excel, replace 5 with 1, 4 with 2, draw the graphs again, and voila! – they make sense.

In usability principles, this falls under consistency and standards – use accepted standards in your interface.

Please make sure to check your scales and graphs, make sure they make sense – in the generally accepted way in American culture.

I know that one of the most difficult challenges of your final report and presentation is figuring out the most effective ways to communicate data. It takes scientific precision, artistic creativity, and great communication skills. It should be a fun challenge for graduate students – but, at this time of the semester, it gets quite painful, I know…

Take a break, watch the video below. It will remind you that there’s power and joy in data visualization:


Oh, and… never mind Power Point. Here’ the new requirement for your final presentation! /badjoke.

You’ve read in Cooper ch. 8 that one of the main goals of applying design principles to interfaces is to minimize work. This is, indeed, consistent with the assumptions about humans of information foraging theory. The same principle, sometimes simply referred to as “make it easy” applies to many other domains, such as persuasion, marketing, fundraising. In general, if you hope people will do something, you have to make it easy for them to do so. The same does not apply to professors… It is our job to make it hard 🙂

Now, think about your usability testing instruments and protocol: How do you minimize work? How do you make it easy for the research participant? How do you make it easy for the research team? Can you point out some of the (many) specifics things you do to minimize work?

You read in the Cooper book about creating context scenarios, and I wonder what you thought about them: Helpful? Not helpful? Too much writing? Not relevant to me because I’ll NEVER create software/a website from scratch?

Even if you won’t be in a position to create a product from scratch, thinking about users in scenarios is a very helpful skill in a lot of ways.

For example, we used the scenario of the usability testing session in class to develop the materials we need. Walk through the scenario from the perspective of each user (the research participant, the timer, the observer, the session manager) and I guarantee your materials will turn out better and easier to use. Something as simple as a paper form for recording observations is an interface that can have usability issues when you put it in context.

Another example is that of a job applicant’s file – something you’ll do sometime in the future. Say you email your resume. Many people email a file named resume.pdf. Now, create the scenario of the recruiter receiving these emails and trying to save the files. She’ll end up with a million files, all similarly named! Or imagine your attachment gets forwarded, and the sixth person who gets it doesn’t really know whose resume it is, because your initial message is buried down at the bottom of the email. What will the file name resume.pdf mean to this person? Not much. So, if you imagine these scenarios of how your email and attachment will be used, you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s better for you to include in your file name your field of study, your name, and even your university. Why university? Alumni have loyalty towards their alma maters, and may open the attachment only because they saw the university’s name in the file name! (This has actually happened to at least one of my former students). – Hint: same goes with assignments you email your professor. I love the thoughtfulness of an assignment that includes the student’s name, rather than assignmentCGT512.docx.

As I am sending out recruitment emails to undergraduate and graduate students, I am also thinking (alas, imagining!) scenarios. Where are they on a Thursday night? Are they up late working, and likely to read email? Or are they already out for the weekend? I am trying to imagine their full email Inbox with a long list of messages. What kind of subject line will stand out, be appealing, yet not spammy?

So, here are two fun (?) challenges for you:

  1. What subject line would you write for an email that asks graduate students to participate in this research? How about undergraduate students?
  2. What are some opportunities in your daily life where thinking in scenarios could help you make something better?

If you recall (and I hope you do) our readings from the Cooper book and our class discussion of personnae, you’ll remember that this framework for understanding users begins with very general personal goal that are not directly linked to a task or activity. It may be a bit difficult to see the connection between those general goals and interface design, but here is a wonderful example:

I am sitting in a meeting about nanoHUB, and a physics professor tells us over lunch about some physics demos that he likes to use to help freshmen understand concepts. When asked what his criteria are for choosing those tools, he simply states:

“I want them to make me look good as a teacher.”

Then he goes on to tell us how the explanations have to be simple and clear, so that freshmen get the concept. They have to look neat, but not be burdened with unnecessary, complicated information or bells & whistles.

I had to tell you about this story, because it’s a really neat example, I think, of:

  1. the value of understanding user goals at the general level, as Cooper argues;
  2. the direct link between general user goals and interface features.

Soda dispenser at popular fast food chain restaurant

I don’t know if it’s because most unhealthy things are so easy to do, but I do appreciate the user-centered design of this type of soda dispensers. I was able to hold a sandwich and a heavy purse, get my soda, AND take a picture at the same time – all this with only two hands. (Sometimes I need more, but can’t afford the upgrade at this time.)

Above is a screen shot from a list/task/project management service, Toodledo. I haven’t used it in a while, and when I came back to it earlier this semester, it took me a few long seconds to find the “Add a task” function. Can you see it? (you can click the picture to enlarge)

Granted, as you resize the browser window, the application looks different and the “Add a task” button appears within reach. But I don’t like working in tiny browser windows.

This is an example that violates one of the Gestalt principles of perception: Things in close proximity appear as one big shape/whole. Placing the “Add a task” button so far off makes it seem like it doesn’t belong in the application. I was looking for it within the application area, not outside of it.

There are many other things I would change about the Toodledo interface… This is a typical example of cramming in so many features (to satisfy the GTD productivity system) that the application becomes cumbersome. Every time I use it, I have to learn it all over again. Instead, I think I’ll switch back to todoist.

Do you have a favorite task/list management application? Which one?

And, more importantly for our course… What would you change about the Toodledo interface?