Thursday, December 06, 2007

Design is how it works…

not what it looks like.

'Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,'' says Steve Jobs, Apple's C.E.O. ''People think it's this veneer -- that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.''
I've seen this excerpted quote floating around in coding-related blogs lately and decided I'd do my part in the beloved blogosphere echo and repeat it from this design-related blog.

Original Article.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

How did you know I was thinking that!? Are you Empapathic?

Empathy gives us the ability to see the other person’s point of view. And when you think about it, there’s no more valuable skill for the working graphic designer than the capacity to see a client’s point of view. The objectivity that designers derive from an empathetic nature is invaluable.

From the Design Observer post by Adrian Shaughnessy, The Designer's Virus

I'm not a graphic designer but I'd say that a combination of keen empathetic and intuitive senses can give a designer a distinct competitive advantage over other designers.

I've been thinking a lot about empathy and how important it is to design.

  • What is the impact that empathy can and can't have on design?
  • Can empathy be developed? If so, how much? How do designers develop some kind of "design empathy" through their training and work?
  • Is empathy driven by user research and ethnography and such?
  • What about cognitive linguistics and cognitive science? Does learning about how humans think and learn and communicate develop empathy?
  • Can empathy in design and design-related training even be singled out, pinpointed, or directly referenced to?

Blogger is frustrating me

I don't get why line breaks in the HTML in Edit HTML mode causes some huge gaps in the post - is it HTML or is it not? Also why isn't the Preview a proper preview? The CSS and post rendering are totally different.

There are a lot of other frustrating things about Blogger right now but just fixing those two items would make me a lot happier.

I'm trying a new theme template to see if things get any better. Looks like the answer is no so far.


I'm not sure who put these signs on the proximity card readers at work but since I first saw this, others identical to it have appeared.


  • A canvas was created. Pretty hard to write on the reader otherwise - etching or maybe silver marker pen? Only fairly permanent methods come to mind which makes the canvas logical since…
  • Being out of service is probably (hopefully) a temporary state so the annotation should also be temporary.
  • Some kind of tape is combined in rows to make an area to write on. More elegant than taping some paper - trickier construction but the canvas is subject to the elements and paper is pretty fragile so it may be more durable this way. Nice.
  • Words on the canvas: CARD / READER / INOP. This is the most interesting part to me. the words "CARD / READER" are fully written out but everybody that needs to know it's broken already knows what it is. To me, the critical info is that it is broken. Interestingly, of all the words to convey "broken", the creator chose the word "inoperable" (I think) and then abbreviate it as "INOP.". Perhaps this reflects the technical term internal to his/her maintenance team? I guess the alternatives aren't that great either though: out of service, malfunction, doesn't work, etc.?

The sign took me almost no time to understand but I'm pretty sure I knew something was wrong with it just by virtue of it having stuff stuck on it and writing on it. Several colleagues mentioned it was confusing to them at first.

If this were a blog with high volume and active readership, I'd ask readers to design versions. I wonder what the simplest version would be? X with two strips of tape? Is anyone out there? Prototype? :-P I won't hold my breath.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Keep the change

I asked around and it seems that my friends also get random missing button images in the Dashboard Calculator now and then.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What's the commotion?

What are the rumors and speculation over ladies and gentlemen? That they are of different sexes?

Original Article

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Was DUX teh SUX?

…most of the speakers and workshop leaders -- and I suppose, attendees -- appear to be shy of 40 years of age. That means they would have been born sometime after 1967, when systemic thinking was king and every person was treated as a cog in some larger device; and that they came of age in the mid-80s or later, as information technology was replacing systems as the predominant archetypal metaphor.

--Bob Jacobson on DUX 2007: A Great Conference but Fundamentally Off the Mark.

I didn't go to DUX 2007 or any other DUX conferences but I have read that prior DUX conferences have left attendees wanting.

Looked like Bob Jacobson felt that DUX 2007 was tainted by the prevalance of something that sounds like systems design and that the conference would have benefited from more grounding in holistic receptiveness or interest for the breadth and complexity of human experience and how experience designers can understand and interact with it.

I enjoy that Bob Jacobson cautions against confining the potential impact designers can have by (intentionally or unintentionally) excessively narrowing our focus of interest. However, I find it unusual that he would suggest that conference participants were hindered by their age, work experience, and the implications of the times they "came of age" in. Ad Hominem a bit?

Anyway, Jacobson suggests that "economic, thing-maker philosophy" and "making products and services" dominated DUX 2007 and that may well be.

If that's the case, I actually want to go next time and see what it's like. I went to CHI 2007 which I enjoyed but found it a bit more academic and research-oriented than I would have liked. (I was also in a reseach-oriented school at the time though.)

Peter Merholz, the first speaker at DUX 2007, mentioned in his blog that his biggest frustration with the conference was that it was largely paper submission-based and "[t]he moment an academic takes the stage, the conference screeches to a halt".

… pretty much all the academic research shown was simply irrelevant. The matters at the heart of experience design are simply not being addressed by academics, or being done so in a useless manner. I don’t know if its because the subject is too squishy, multi-disciplinary, subjective, or what, but it was definitely a waste of time.

Sounds like Peter would have been interested in more focused or applied presentations.

Granted, "academic" doesn't equate to holistic and human-centered, and non-academic doesnt equate to thing-making-obsessed, but it sounds like Peter and Bob may be in disagreement about what "[t]he matters at the heart of experience design" are or at least the best way to address these matters.

Too academic and theoretical or too applied and narrow-minded? Which one was DUX 2007?

I don't know if one conference can cover both theory and application very well but I would not mind if conferences were more clear on their intention with regard to application and theory.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tangible banner ads?

Are the menu inserts popups?

Found this interesting video site called 5min and it seems pretty good so far.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Focus on what won't change

The best business advice I’ve ever heard was this: “Focus on the things that won’t change.” Today and ten years from now people will still want simple things that work. Today and ten years from now people will still want fast software. Today and ten years from now people will still want fair prices. I don’t believe we’ll have a “I want complex, slow, and expensive products” revolution in 2017.

From a 37signals post, "The 5, 10, 20 year plan". The rest of the post is a very good and short read.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Drink beer instead of speculating stocks

A Random Walk Down Wall Street says that one joke making rounds on the internet in 2001 went:

Tip of the Week

If you bought $1,000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49. If you bought $1,000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all of the beer and traded in the cans for the nickel deposit, you would have $79.

My advice to you . . . start drinking heavily.

And apparently, by fall of 2002, the $1,000 put into Nortel stock was worth only $3. Today? I'm using their VPN software for logging in to the intranet at work and I think the stock price is around $17, down from $1280.50 or something like that in the year 2000.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Go Bags

Is it the wannabe ethnographer curiosity in me or the gearhead lusting for goodies? Cool article from lifehacker shows people's "Go Bags" described as "the lifeline satchel that holds everything you need to operate on-the-go."

Go Bags Part 1

Go Bags Part 2

Had to post the Macbook Pro bag, natch!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I feel kinda lame posting linkdumps but there have been some cool articles and I have no time.

Web Worker Payoff: Information Architect
"More commonly referred to by titles such as information architect, interaction or user experience designer or usability engineer, the job had average pay in 2006 of $82,400, according to a survey by The Information Architecture Institute."

Thin clients: The time is now
"…technological advances are finally getting ready to give the desktop PC the old heave-ho, at least in larger corporate environments. Their replacement? The thin client: a dumb, network-connected terminal capable of delivering a desktop-like experience without all that costly, energy-draining hardware on the desk."

Names in User Experience You Should Know
Also includes an up-and-coming list. They must have misspelled my name as "Other."

Monday, July 09, 2007


Pioneering a User Experience (UX) Process
"Creating a User Experience (UX) process can be a very rewarding journey; it can also be a nightmare if approached from the wrong angle. Initiating a culture-shift, overhauling existing processes, evangelizing, strategizing, and educating is an enormous undertaking. Often it’s a lonely path the UX advocate walks, especially if you are the only one who is driving that change from within the company. But that path is ripe with opportunities to improve your company’s product creation process, as well as the product itself."

Thanks for the good quote selection to Navneet Nair on his post which I basically copied.

7 User Experience Lessons We Can Learn from the iPhone
Cool article and cool use of SlideShare integration into a blog post.

The Lab Within the Lab
Janice, the first, and I think solo, UX/usability lab professional at Flying Lab Software (a small game company) introduces herself. I always wanted to know if UX could work well with game companies and how my skillset might fit in. I wanted to chat with the Rockstar table during a career fair and ask my prof in a game studies course but I guess this will do for now. I'd be really interested in reading more about how her work goes.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Philips Is For Sure Cool

In the BusinessWeek article Case Study: Philips' Norelco, it's demonstrated that Philips is a cool company that knows how to focus on the user. I always suspected Philips to be a cool company to design for (I keep a list of companies where I think it would be cool to do design work) .

The article has 4 headings: The Problem, a call for solutions; The Research, contextual inquiry (watch them!); Prototyping, where engineers, designers, and business strategists dream and build; Marketing, product positioning based on user needs and worldviews. Awesome! Staying empathetic, collaboratively working through solutions, sticking close to the data.

And yes, Chinese men aren't usually very hairy. Philips will consider launching a double-headed razor for China instead of triple-headed razor. Kinda funny.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Internet is Full of Design Knowledge and Literature

I re-discovered this blog/site called Core77. Browsing through it I remember why I deleted it from my feed reader a while ago: there is just too much stuff that is really broadly spread across the huge domain of design. I was more interested in design research and user-centered design than industrial and graphic design and all that other good stuff.

Anyway, I noticed tucked away in Core77 is a really neat directory of design firms and consultants. Core77 Design Directory. As of right now, 6427 firms are listed and 1389 are labeled as Interaction Design. Sweetness. I'm going to enjoy browsing through them a bit at a time. I'm really surprised at how many are in San Francisco. I really think I should have tried to tour as many of these operations as possible. I've always wanted to get to know more about design firms and the work they do but I never knew how to find them. Good thing someone else is keeping a directory!

Another thing I noticed on the Core77 homepage is the BusinessWeek Online logo and I'm guessing that means Core77 is owned by or on the payroll of BusinessWeek. BusinessWeek has a cool running "column" on Business Innovation and Design. Front page of this section looks unbelievably interesting. Looks like all those late nights of wandering on the web for more design knowledge are starting to pay off. I'm just disappointed that it takes me so long to find exactly what I'm looking for.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Technology Is Not The Answer

Article at Popular Mechanics website talks about how the US government spent 15 years and almost $500M dollars on military tech but apparently the soldiers don't really like it! Wow.

A soldier is quoted saying "There are a lot of things I'd never use in my position. It seems like a lot of excessive stuff."

From general feature and technology bloat to details like lack of consideration in equipment lag times, this could be a good example of techno-centric development that forgets to address the critical question of the user's experience and helping the soldiers actually work better instead of just working differently (and blowing R&D money).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Design Documents vs. HTML Prototyping

Garret Dimon wrote a fascinating article called Just Build It: HTML Prototyping and Agile Development over at Digital Web Magazine.

In the article, he makes the point that while design documents definitely have their place, prototyping in HTML or even AJAX-y stuff is worth considering under various conditions. It's filled with interesting stuff and reminds me to really find some time to get cranking on trying to advance in CSS and respectably wield JavaScript soon. And I had been hankering to learn more about design documents after reading a bunch of books touting their importance!

Sadly enough, I don't feel like there is a lot of good literature on how to make good HTML prototypes or design documents. Looks like it will come from interacting with other designers and getting the right experience.

Side note: I'm totally digging the writing style that Dimon's article uses where every small section has a heading. I am seeing it more and more on the web and in Seth Godin's "All Marketers Are Liars" it's notably prolific and handy. It sort of reminds me of scientific papers with many headings.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Originally uploaded by ericpan.

A funny example of error prevention via pub signage.

The first sign "DO NOT EXIT" is at about eye level, followed by "UNLESS EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE" right below it and then at waist-level "JERK!"

This is the inside view of the main entrance to UCSD's Porter's Pub (I've always entered through there at least). There is a "back entrance" that they were using as the only entrance on Sungod where they had a guy standing and carding at the door instead of the usual carding at the bar.

Some people ran up to it expecting to exit through it and then after about 1 second ran the other way.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Windows Vista: Lacking in product conceptual integrity?

From the article Facing the full horror of Windows Vista at iTWire:

So far, Transit has been using Vista Business full-time for a fortnight. And so far, we've found nothing that works better than in Windows XP, dozens of things that are annoyingly different without being a functional improvement, and several things that work at best intermittently and at worst not at all. On the whole, we wish we'd never moved.

Is this what Alan Cooper meant in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum when a product can lack conceptual integrity if a team of competent designers don't do their homework, develop personas, create specifications and a storyboard?

Well, I actually remember Cooper bringing up conceptual integrity in the context of not letting users directly define the product with feature requests, etc. Instead, it seems to make more sense to first have a bottom-up research approach where data about the users turns into personas and models which then gives way to a top down design approach from there.

Having random feature injections in lieu of user/persona-driven design seems like a bottom-up design approach which could lead to clunky user experience. Bottom-up research guiding top-down design lends itself to focused, coherent user experiences. That's my take on it anyway.

All that research work is to presumably understand what the user aims to achieve and accomplish and then to allow that knowledge to guide design. A storyboard would show how Vista "works better than Windows XP" from a persona perspective and how the "dozens of things" that are "(annoyingly) different" would be actual functional improvements.

As for the "several things that work at best intermittently and at worst not at all," I'm wondering if that's the job for QA and usability testing.

I doubt Microsoft would embark on the production of Vista without "design due diligence" especially with their roster of notable and brilliant designers and researchers. I'd be interested in seeing what their data looked like and how it translated into product specification, interaction design, and the usability testing results.

It would be even more interesting as a case study if Microsoft technically conducted the entire design and development process appropriately and the iTWire comments are accurate. (I've never even tried Windows Vista so I have no bearing on the accuracy of the comments.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Shipping Notifications: Gamefly vs. Netflix

I've been a Gamefly subscriber for a good while now and I've been generally pleased with the user experience. However, recently joining Netflix demonstrated that Gamefly could easily improve their shipping notifications.

Here is what Gamefly shipping notification looks like in my inbox:

Here is what Netflix shipping notification looks like in my inbox:

Notice that Gamefly tells me what has shipped while Netflix goes one step further and tells me what day to expect it. I think it's nontrivial that Netflix uses days of the week in the e-mail subject line notification. I'm going to receive it within one week for sure (usually within days). Most people know what day it is instead of what date it is.

Supplying a date in the subject line would needlessly increase the cognitive load for customers who just want to know "What am I getting and when will I get it?" I know today is Friday and if it's arriving Tuesday, with little effort I know that's 4 days from now. Additionally, knowing it comes on Tuesday includes connotations that may mean something to me.

For example, Tuesday is a weekday/workday; it's far from the weekend; I have weekly presentations to give on Wednesdays; and so on. All this information would help me to realize I won't get to watch it until Thursday or Friday and decide to let my neighbor borrow it.

Instead, if I see it is arriving on the 15th, I have to recall today is the 11th, the difference is 4 days, 4 days from today is Tuesday, and then the rest would be the same. Maybe a minor amount of friction but I can always appreciate less cognitive friction.

Here is what the content of the Gamefly shipping notification looks like:

Here is what the content of the Netflix shipping notification looks like:

Gamefly adds a "shipped on" which is much less useful that Netflix's "arriving on or around…" note. Kudos to Netflix for repeating that info anyway. I know that Gamefly has detailed records of how quickly different customers receive their games. So does Netflix. I'm glad Netflix puts that information to use and I'm hoping that Gamefly is working on it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Seven habits for junior designers

Chanpory Rith wrote an article Talent Isn't Everything over at Boxes and Arrows which has 7 interesting suggestions for junior designers to improve chances at success:

  1. Work quickly. Produce a lot.
  2. Attend to details.
  3. Be versatile.
  4. Make an effort to learn.
  5. Anticipate problems.
  6. Set goals.
  7. Display a positive attitude.

Of course, he goes into much more detail for each step than my copied list does.

What I enjoyed about the article is how he focused on practical details that junior level designers could pick up on such as focusing on getting your ideas and work out for others to see as opposed to spending significant extra time on trying to get it "perfect" since it would probably be more efficient to let other designers give feedback and advise.

I now realize that junior designers and senior designers have different skill sets and are expected to produce somewhat different things. I'm going to try and keep an eye out for information that could help me to learn more about what makes more sense for junior designers to concentrate on and what junior designers should expect to pick up or refine later as they transition into senior design positions.

I find that having realistic and clear expectations for myself and knowing what is expected of me by others helps to significantly reduce stress.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chris Bangle On Love and Trust… In Design

This video is great and I hope many people watch it. The talk is not only eye-opening in content but also in delivery. While BMW designer Chris Bangle illustrates the way designers work and the love they have for it and each other, I found myself wondering about all the things he didn't mention that would normally be mentioned in a story like this. How did they gather data? How did they negotiate things? Who was on the team? What happened to the engineers? And so on…

In the end, I realize that his choices regarding omission and inclusion of content were challenging me to think above all the methods and technicalities of design and think about what it means to be a designer. Bangle's mental provocation will be buzzing in my head for some time to come…

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

CHI 2007: Day 2

Today, I spent all day in a course at CHI taught by Susan Dray and David Siegel from consulting firm Dray & Associates. While it was a good course overall, the first half of the course was relatively slow and as the course progressed, topics seemed to become exponentially more useful to consider. Unfortunately, time became a factor and the parts I was most interested in were rushed through.

During one of the breaks for the day-long course, I met a coursemate from Stanford who did research for Sony in Paris in her last summer break as an undergrad. She took one day off to take this course and meet with her colleagues from the summer in Paris. In another break, I got up out of my seat and turned around to see a friend and fellow designer Anshuman. He also took the day off to take this course. They both seemed to also think the course was a tad too general for their tastes.

An unofficial recurring minor theme in the conference presentations and courses thus far is the defense of qualitative research against statistical significance. Challenges from engineers and managers seem to focus on concerns regarding sample size and a bunch of other factors in any experimental method. Each speaker has a different answer to it but the general idea is that statistical significance is irrelevant when discussing user studies. Speakers seem very adamant about it and I see what they are saying, but at the same time, I imagine it being much harder to defend in real life than they make it seem.

I've been wanting to talk to some of the groups of foreign attendees to see what HCI (and the industry of HCI-related design) is like in their countries. I ignorantly assume that many countries and their corresponding industries are behind us in what still seems like early stages for the USA. I also want to ask them which research labs, design firms, or companies from their countries they most admire. I'm pretty sure that would yield a bunch of interesting stuff to look at which would normally be much more tedious for someone like me to find out.

Being at a conference is oddly draining. I'll have to try save the rest of the ideas for future posts.

Monday, April 30, 2007

CHI 2007: Day 1

My first time at CHI has proven to be pretty interesting. I ran into a bunch of people I wasn't expecting to: Karen, Boaz, and Prof. Hollan from UCSD cogsci, Kevin from Stanford, Kerry from Google.

I went to a bunch of paper talks which were more interesting than I expected them to be. The Q&A sessions after each presentation are good. People ask good questions and it is thought-provoking. I am reminded of how in school everyone seems to hate the kid/s that raise their hand all the time and ask questions or make comments. Is it the same thing but somehow more enjoyable?

The author of the textbook for our Cognitive Engineering course (COGS 102C), Karen Holtzblatt taught a few courses. Kelly and I went to one each. It was interesting to hear her convey the same ideas in a more adamant and no-bull way. Also, she gave great examples of each main concept that made everything easy to understand. Sometimes when I read the hypothetical or procedural text, it can be ambiguous.

A few course points, paper presentations, and posters were especially intriguing but I'm too tired to write them in this post. Tomorrow, I've got an all-day course and I'm starting to wonder if that is an unrealistic plan. I guess we'll see!

Random observation: Lots of people from UK are at CHI.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hi-res widescreen is a pleasure

Before I plow through my homework for tonight, I re-realized how much a pleasure working on my 1680 x 1050 pixel monitor is. I can easily work with an open PDF that has the homework problems on it and an open document to write in. There are times when I feel reading on the screen just doesn't cut it but that's a story for another day.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Entrepreneur Stories Are the Best

I find it particularly enjoyable to read entrepreneur and startup stories. Of course, mainly stories with good outcomes get circulated but I enjoy a quality about them that is reminiscent of any classic hero story formula. The great thing is that you as a reader might have real-world connection to aspects of the story either through similar experiences or because you know their product or industry.

For example, I think a big part of what would make reading the Google story interesting is the fact that it's something you use and know about and you could become aware of how it came to be. Then again, I'm an absolute documentary nut and I don't read much fiction.

I stumbled across this book while browsing the web, Founders At Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days. The quotes are pretty interesting and I enjoy that the page numbers are cited, giving a sense of how the book might be paced and the range of variety.

I think I'll pick up a copy at some point and I hope that it will differ from other startup story books by presenting an interesting cross-section of startup lore as opposed to one profile that is drawn out for longer than necessary.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Get more results with fewer keywords

eBay has this interesting suggestion tool for when a search on their site yields zero items. Not only does it suggest alternative search strings with fewer keywords, it also shows how many items are found for which combinations of fewer keywords. Listing the number of items found for each possible query string provides decent information scent and seems to be the coolest part about this tool. Of course, I have to decide which keywords are the important ones but this saves a lot of my time and guesswork effort.

Pretty nifty!

Here's a direct link to the search string I used: "2001 monster 750 frame" in case you wanted to see if there are still no items and play with the alternate keyword combinations.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Loved Ones = Costs to Cut?

I recently bought some tickets at and after I completed my transaction, there was a link that said something like "Want to get $40 back? Find out how!" On that page, there was this picture of what looks like a father and son at a hockey game.

Hopefully it is supposed to say to me something like "Your son can go for free."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


That is a Human Usability Interaction Experience User Information Interface Factors Designer Engineer Architect Researcher. If it's not the same jobs having different names, it's a job that is eating up other jobs. Information Architecture a culprit? (Explained in Joshua Porter's Thoughts on the Impending Death of Information Architecture and Part 2.)

The field of study/work I'm interested in has some seemingly unsettled terminology. Is it Human Computer Interaction (HCI) or Computer Human Interaction (CHI)? HCI more accurately reflects the goal of being human-centric but saying "H.C.I." is sort of a mouthful while saying "CHI" (like "kai") is easy. Then there's the hyphenation issue Human Computer Interaction or Human-Computer Interaction?

Also, I am becoming confused lately as to whether I'm working on the "usability" of something or the "user experience" of it. For sure, the two can't be cleanly delineated (if I understand them correctly). Usability of something can be enhanced by improving the user experience, as noted by Don Norman in his book Emotional Design. Likewise, the user experience can be enhanced by improving usability. However, if I had to choose, I'd say that it might make more sense that user experience could be improved by usability enhancements than the other way around.

I recently read two blog posts describing what the authors think the difference is between user experience and usability. Jared Spool, mentions in his article The Difference Between Usability and User Experience:

Usability answers the question, “Can the user accomplish their goal?”

User experience answers the question, “Did the user have as delightful an experience as possible?”

which seems quite in line with the more humorous explanation in Marc Hassenzahl on User Experience:

Usability [with its focus on effectiveness and efficiency] wants us to die rich; user experience wants us to die happy.

Hrm, shouldn't we die rich and happy? Anyway, I think those two articles are helping me to understand the difference.

Remote Usability Studies

I like to call it usability study instead of test. I worry that "user test" makes the participants/users (not "subjects") think that they're being tested when actually the product is being tested. Conducting a "study" sounds more like no value judgments are being made. Strictly business, my friends.

Recently, I've been looking into remote usability solutions and I'm still looking around but here's what I discovered so far: my colleagues and I are using Macs without IE and that is not helping our search. There were two appealing products specifically designed for remote user studies. However, TechSmith's UserVue is Microsoft Windows-only and Bolt | Peter's Ethnio requires Microsoft Internet Explorer. Boo!

I found some interesting presentation slides from Paul Hibbitts on "Usability at a Distance" and at the same time discovered there is a YouTube for slides, SlideShare. Of course when anything serious about presentations is involved, Guy Kawasaki's name should be dropped somewhere along the way.

What my colleague and I ended up using for a 1-hour remote user study session were the following:

  • Video
    • Yugma for viewing the user's screen broadcast over internet.
    • iShowU for recording my screen (including the screen broadcast).
  • Audio
    • Skype with SkypeOut for calling in to the phone conference line provided free by Yugma.
  • Editing
    • Quicktime Pro for cropping audio and video and then manually synchronizing the two.

The overall result was pretty smooth and not too troublesome. I'd prefer less troublesome but we still managed to glean a solid stack of data from the session.

There's also this neat site Remote Online Usability Testing Wiki hosted by Bolt | Peters User Experience. Thank goodness the URL is only -- phew. There's a nice list of remote usability-specific tools but most of them aren't products as much as they are services with products. I've got my eyes on ClickTale. I hope they let me try the Beta soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Good Luck On Finals

I guess it's probably too late to wish most people good luck on their finals, but if you're in UCSD area, Domino's is still having a discount on pizza until March 28th, 2007.

I wish I had my camera to take a picture of these fliers strewn across the sidewalk at a UCSD City Shuttle bus stop. I think it's pretty clever advertising for pizza discounts on finals week and making the phone number end with UCSD. Nice.

One presentation and one final to go today! Going on a Panda Express study break yielded a sad fortune:

Monday, March 19, 2007

Frames of Reference

Overheard in the school bookstore:
Girl: What's the difference between these two iPod cases?
Sales guy: Well, this one's like an Aston Martin and this one's like a Mercedes Benz.
Girl: I… I don't know what that means.
Sales guy: Well, which one would you rather drive?
Girl: I don't care… I drive a Honda.

Seen on Discovery channel documentary:
"…it weighs seventy-five times as much as The Statue of Liberty."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Unfinished Reading

I am reading a bunch of books that are at various stages of being finished.

Starting to read a book usually has one of, or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. It's damned interesting
  2. It could be useful for schoolwork
  3. It could be useful or is necessary for work
  4. Someone gave me the impression that I should read it

Usually, the problem with finishing them before starting the next one is some combination of the following reasons:
  1. Periodicals get in the way. They're interesting and bite-sized and damn do I have a lot of them!
  2. One of the four above reasons become heavily weighted due to prioritizing needs and requires a change in reading material
  3. Material isn't suitable for short reading sessions - it's too dense or not as meaningful in little pieces
  4. Book is a PDF or e-book tucked away on my computer somewhere and outta sight, outta mind
  5. Not using bookmarks and/or reading late at night mean re-reading sections again and again
  6. I'm pretty sure I read more slowly than most people :-(
Anyway, here's the in-progress list of books that haunts me with guilt when I'm goofing off or vegetating in front of the TV (in order of priority):
  1. Book of JavaScript
  2. Information Dashboard Design
  3. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
  4. The Art of Innovation
  5. Emotional Design
  6. Understanding Comics
  7. Designing Interactions
  8. The Inmates are Running the Asylum
  9. Philosophy Gym
  10. Conversations on Consciousness
I can't wait 'till spring break…

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Data to Information: Hans Rosling's TEDTalk

When Professor Rosling spoke about the disparity between his expectations of his students' understanding their actual understanding:

The problem for me was not ignorance, it was preconceived ideas.

I thought, "Wow, what a deeply analytical thinker." There's a fine distinction between ignorance and preconceived ideas - a distinction most people probably fail to make.

Rosling's simple statement appears to be a personal reflection about his students but it is really the point he is trying to make in his presentation: we don't necessarily need more data to battle a lack of knowledge (ignorance) when instead, we could make sense of existing data and pit those findings against what we think we already know (preconceived ideas).

Anyone can still watch Hans Rosling's TEDTalk about the availability and use of publicly funded data. Hans Rosling founded and has a personal blog. Anyone interested in the way our world is developing socially and economically should definitely watch the talk. Of course, the information visualization techniques are spectacular and really illustrate the points he makes about global quality-of-life trends.

Regarding the more technical details of the talk, I had three main thoughts. Firstly, I found myself continuously amazed by the communicative efficiency of each of his animated diagrams. Just when I thought I had seen all the info vis tricks, he'd pull out a few more! No doubt, his narration added to the effectiveness but I couldn't help wondering what kind of and how many people were behind the design of the visualizations and how difficult it was to code it all up.

Secondly, the strive towards improving accessibility, organization, and retrieval of the world's publicly-funded and supposedly publicly-available data is paramount. The true value of achieving that would be to inform the policies which aid those in need. It appears that the whole range of aid, from planning to implementation, could benefit from a clearer understanding of the state of affairs today. Want to talk about a plan for AIDS in Africa? If you recognize the vastly differing situations within Africa, perhaps you'll realize more specific plans would be more effective and even regional plans may seem too generalized and ludicrous.

Third and lastly, to maximize on the existing mountain of data, it should be available and easily searchable. Why? Besides the obvious benefits of accessibility, open data would allow so many more minds and hours poring over it, increasing the possibility for more good stuff to float to the top. I doubt that needs any explanation or justification.

Not that its possible life-changing benefit is anywhere near decreasing infant mortality or halting AIDS epidemics, but the whole discussion reminded me of APIs and the Web 2.0 liberation of data. Oh man, the thought of vast uncharted potential gets me pumped up!

A side note about TEDTalks I've seen so far: The presenters are brilliant for sure, but they also seem to be quite humorous. I wonder if brilliant and humorous people tend to get invited to talk or if brilliant people also tend to be humorous. If humor and brilliance travel in the company of each other, I guess that would mean people pick up on it and would assume funny individuals are brilliant individuals. Better brush up on my jokes :-o

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ethnography at Thornton Hospital

On Monday night, I went to the gorgeous Thornton Hospital and did two hours of ethnographic observation with my classmate Laura. I know plenty of purists might say what we did doesn't qualify as true ethnography, but whatever.

The experience was fantastic. We showed up at around 7:30 PM and were feeling a bit unsure of what to expect but we left at around 9:15 PM and we were smiling all the way to the car. It was so much fun and there is so much data out there in the wide-open world! The nurses we observed in the Med Room were super nice and I'm very fortunate for that. I can only imagine how stressful and unpleasant the experience would have been if the nurses were unwelcoming.

I took a lot of photos (123 total) and it seemed to make people more nervous than if they were just being observed and notes are being written. Laura did a fantastic job of taking notes and that really helped to ground my photos to the storyline and give them deeper meaning.

On occasion, we'd feel like we wished there was a video camera rolling. Those moments included: fleeting activity too quick to take photos of, too much simultaneous activity to accurately record, significant sequence chunks of actions or interactions, and delayed or lengthy interesting activities. Possibly, the pronounced clicking noise of the mechanical shutter in my hunking mass of Nikon D70 was more disruptive than a quietly whirring camcorder would have been.

The overall goal of the study is to consider some improved designs. More specifically, the project is interested in examining information flow on this particular floor. Although I think we've got some exciting observations, I'm going to hold off on making them public at this point. Tomorrow (a.k.a. later today) I'll get to see the data collected by the other groups in this project - it should be interesting. I'm stoked!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Unlikely Cognitive Enhancers

According to neurological and psychological research referenced in Don Norman's Emotional Design, objects that make us happier are, in practice, easier to use (all other things equal). The explanation is that when we are happy, we are more creative and patient. Being creative and patient leads to reduced terminal errors and improved perception of usability. Fascinating, considering the usable aspect of the object need not be the only design variable contributing toward overall usability.

Thus, one is led to consider this: if we are happier, we're more creative and patient and things around us are easier to use and understand. Besides being motivation for living happily, I wonder if this also implies that mood enhancers are also forms of cognitive enhancers. I've seen recent news reporting that some very fascinating ability enhancing drugs which include reducing the needed amount of sleep and increasing cognitive abilities. A "smart pill," if you will.

I wonder how direct or indirectly these smart pills enhance cognitive abilities. Do they directly act on physiological, chemical, and electrical needs for cognition or do they do it more indirectly, for example, through mood enhancement? I love that no matter how you cut it, the human is a complex animal with a very "messy" cognitive system.

Throw UI to the Dogs

Assistance dogs are using ATMs! According to the article, the dogs can retrieve the card, cash, and receipt. Besides it being a neat trick, this reminds me that good designs can have surprising effects and benefits.

Although the design might not be especially good or intended for use by dogs, it's nice to know that at least the design doesn't make it impossible for dogs to use them. Of course, now that we know some dogs are retrieving things from ATMs for their owners, it would be a fun project to study the usage and find ways to make the ATMs more dog-friendly.

Now I just have to make sure the assistance dogs don't embarrass me by using the ATM next to me more accurately or faster than I do.

From the article: I thought this was Bark-lays bank

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Disaster by Committee

I already know Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few is going to be a decent read because by page five, I'm greeted with this remark:

Customers are expert in knowing what they need to accomplish, but not in knowing how software ought to be designed to support their needs. Allowing customers to design software through feature requests is the worst form of disaster by committee (Few, 2006).

It's been a while since I first unsuccessfully tried articulating why plain old customer feedback and feature requests don't guarantee great products. What makes a human factors specialist's interpretation of user needs more useful than the user's own voice?

I've seen more specific (but less elegant) arguments than Few's. One of my favorite answers relies on the fact that most users you'd encounter have no idea about what your company can and can't produce - they're not qualified to define product specifications.

I think what we learn from users is more useful for defining product requirements. What are the goals of the users? What do they need to accomplish these goals? What kinds of tasks do they perform to achieve their goals? Human factors specialists should elicit and then organize the answers to these questions, helping to define the actual product specifications.

A common area of contention is, "Why do we need so much interaction with the users?" This is a valid question considering we might have: "obvious" design needs, feature requests, and clear customer feedback.

In response, I would say that a keen observer watching users can not only get user information with much higher fidelity but also with much greater validity. I suppose it's worth mentioning that users report incomplete and/or misleading information - watching users actually using the product gives you the whole picture and that picture is more contextually situated.