Archive for July, 2009

Giving users what they want… or what they need

My preschool son loves all the Herbie movies. He gets excited anytime he sees a VW Beetle and yells “Herbie!” and then proceeds to tell us all about him: “Herbie is a racecar.” “Herbie’s wheels and lights.”  You get the idea. We’ve been toying with the idea of getting him a Herbie of his own and finally decided to do it after a string of really good accomplishments (sleeping better, being good in preschool, potty training, etc.).

Two nights ago, we were walking downtown and saw a red, vintage Beetle. My son gets so excited that we run across the street to say “hello.” He proceeds to tell us to get the keys and get in the car. He wanted to drive. He wanted this Herbie. Little did he know his own version of Herbie was coming in the mail the next day.

Herbie - "first release"However, his version of Herbie is not a full size car. It’s a small ride on. It’s not exactly the right style (more like a modern VW). It’s not even the right color. Also, it has a parental override…. a remote control so we can make sure he’s safe. This is not what he asked for…. but its what he needed.

He still loves it. It’s the right size for him. He can reach the pedals. He can steer. It has a funny horn sound and blinking lights. He is disappointed in the color. So, for the “next release” we will update his new toy with a white paint job and Herbie decals – already arrived from Ebay. However, overall, he is thrilled with it.

Now, I’m not saying that all users are like preschoolers. However, as usability professionals, we know our users will sometimes ask for more than they could want or need. Some features, no matter how cool they sound, are just not the right thing to include. Some features would actually hinder the user’s interaction with the software. For example, would it make sense to give my little boy a full sized VW? No way! Its much too powerful and big for him. His new little bug is just right!

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My 2nd Axure Experience

After my first experience with Axure, I was very excited to try a real world scenario…. something other than the set demo that worked so well. So, I pulled out a wire frame I put together as a quick mock up (PowerPoint, my favorite mock up tool) and started recreating it.

At first impression, I thought it was pretty quick. Putting the page together was easy. Most things work as expected. After the demo walkthrough, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on some basic actions. I immediately jumped into making my master items. I have always loved using masters, which is one reason why PowerPoint has worked so well for me in the past. It was a bit odd that the sitemap node on the page tree was called “Home” rather than “Sitemap.” However, it is the “Home” of the prototype, so I let that slide. Besides, once you figure out that it doesn’t behave like a normal page, its easy to see its true functionality.

Then, I ran into a few annoying features…

Choosing colors: The color picker is a little clunky.  I wanted to use a custom color from a websafe chart, but when I toggled between my chart and Axure, the color picker is lost.  Ok, so you can find it again via Alt-Tab, but why isn’t it forced to stay up. I wouldn’t be quite so picky if this were an open source project, but I expect a $600 application to be a little more polished. This isn’t a HUGE issue, but it does get frustrating when you’re going back and forth between windows.

Second level bullets: It’s very easy to drag and drop widgets onto the page and configure them. Most formatting tools work as expected. However, I tried for about 10 minutes to create a second level of tabs within my text widget. Yes, I could’ve created a second text field and just moved it over, but I preferred to keep it as one big text field. I even went into the help system for the first time. When I clicked on the “Bullets -> Add” topic, I was told how to add a widget to the page, nothing to do with bullets. So, I gave up and just used dashes and spaces. Not an awful work around, but still frustrating.

Embedded links: So, how often do we as designers have a link in the middle of a sentence? All the time! This is my largest issue with the application so far. It is the type of thing that will make me groan every time I need to do it, until I figure out a better work-around. You cannot select text from a text widget and make it a link. You can make the entire text widget a link, but this is not useful for usability testing or for explaining the design to your team. Plus, if you have more than one link you are stuck. You can break the text into little bits, but then you have to constantly align things and deal with all the little widgets. I opted for creating links with the exact text and size of my links and overlaying them. I wasn’t completely happy with my workaround, but it wasn’t too bad. And, once you line it up and group it, everything stays in place unless you resize anything or change the text… Then its a matter of ungrouping, realigning and grouping again. As a workaround, its not awful. And, given the potential of the application, I was happy to let it slide… until I generated the prototype.

Within Axure:

Energizer bunnyThis does not mean I’ve given up on the product. All products have their flaws. I’m going to keep going and see what happens.

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Persuasive Personal Informatics

Today, I saw an interesting Tweet by IATV. He seems to post some really good links, and I think he may become one of my favorites to follow.

This afternoon, he posted a link to a presentation on Persuasive Personal Informatics. The presenter, Matt Jones, is one of the designers at Dopplr. I wish I had the pleasure to see his presentation in person and chat with him about it. The presenter had a great sense of humor and shared a lot of interesting stories and designs. Its only 35 minutes long, so its definitely worth a watch:

Persuasive Personal Informatics


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The Axure adventure begins….

I’ve decided it is time for me to learn Axure. Since it’s a product that I’m sure others are curious about, I thought I’d chronicle my adventures….

Currently, my Axure adventures include installing the free trial and going through its 30 minute tutorial. I love exploring new software, so this is a lot like playtime for me. Axure made it even easier. When you go to install its free trial, it provides links with a quick 30 min .pdf file and starter .rp file to help you with the tutorial.

My current favorite prototyping tool is PowerPoint. I have it down to a science and have been asked for my HTML code because the image look so real. Additionally, I am able to make quick walkthroughs, so the user can pretend to use the site. There are a couple bugs in PowerPoint when you attempt this, but overall it works. Axure reminds me of my favorite tool and adds on even more, great functionality. The masters are powerful and quick to use. Interactions seem to be pretty intuitive so far. And, it’ll even generate my specifications for me!

I’m not 100% sold until I try to build some real world scenarios, but I have to say… so far I’m intrigued! Plus, I’ve still got Protoshare to check out.

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In Stock or Out of Stock?

I had an interesting experience trying to buy a discontinued  item over the weekend (on a side note, I did finally find a place that had one in stock! yeah!). What amazed me is how many of these sites would say “in stock” and then have it become “out of stock” in the cart… or after you try to pay and you get an email a day later. However, my “favorite” site really decided to go with mixed messages:

Is it out of stock or in stock???

Is it out of stock or in stock???

What’s wrong with just putting “Out of stock” or “Discontinued” on the page?

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World Usability Day, 2009


I am very excited about this year’s World Usability Day (WUD) topic:  Sustainability. For those of you not familiar with WUD, it is a day for usability practitioners to spread the world and teach their communities what they do and why it is important. I am working with my local usability group (Gateway CHI) to organize another wonderful, interactive day. I will post updates as our plans become more solidified. Until then, I hope any UCD people out there who have not gotten involved will do so. Mark your calenders: Thursday, November 12th.

Until then, check out their website and take the Global Transport Challenge.gtc-logo

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Conducting Interviews with 3-4 Year Old Children

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to interview a wide range of users.  Each group has their own special needs, especially the younger ones. Through trial and error, I came up with a successful strategy:

  • Dress comfortably. If you go to interview a CEO of a large corporation, you might want to dress up. With children, make sure you’re comfortable. If you’re comfortable, they’re more likely to be comfortable. Plus, they will think of this as a “play session,” so make sure you’re dressed appropriately
  • Guardian. Allow a parent/teacher to stay in the room if it will not interfere with your study. This will make them more comfortable. Make sure the guardian has something to keep themselves busy. You do not want them interfering with the session. Classroom teachers are wonderful because they can work with the other kids while you are conducting your interview.
  • Location. I found it best to conduct the preschool interviews in the classroom, in a tucked away area. If we were too far removed from the class, the child felt nervous and would clam up. If we were too close, the other children would try to join in all the time. Having an quiet area that is a “safe” distance from the rest of the class worked well. I still had other children peeking in at times, but it was not a huge disruption to the session. And, it actually made the subject more willing to participate.
  • Time. Make sure the session is short. Remember, these kids have a limited attention span. I planed for 30 min per child. Additionally, I made sure we did a variety of activities in that time to keep their attention.
  • Flexibility. If a child does not want to play a game you’ve shown them, don’t make them. You’ll get better data if he/she is being cooperative. Plan multiple activities. If the child doesn’t want to participate in one activity, go on to the next. You can always go back to the original one later, if time allows.
  • Helpfulness. Sometimes, even with adults, it can be difficult to watch your user struggle with an interface. With young children it is even harder. It seems to be part of our instincts to jump in and help a child. In order to keep me from interfering with the data and to alleviate too much frustration for the child, I chose a very specific helping system, based on the activity:
    1. Do nothing. Offer encouragement.
    2. Ask what they are looking for.  This will help you know if they understand what they are supposed to be doing.
    3. Offer verbal help, e.g. “Does it want you to find the hammer?”
    4. Point at the object on the screen/toy that is needed.
    5. Complete the task for the child.
  • These steps also made it very easy to have a numerical measurement for the ease of use of various tasks I had planned.

  • Verbal abilities. Remember children of this age may not be overly verbal, especially with a stranger. Be prepared to have other methods of gathering data. Rather than asking what you like about the toy/software, ask specific things – Do you like A/B? Sometimes a follow up “Why?” will give you more details. Also, use cues like smiles/laughter/frustration to gauge their likes/dislikes. I was even able to gather useful data from a child the did not speak English well. Pointing can be a very strong tool in a situation like this.
  • Stranger anxiety. If possible, spend some time in the classroom/home/with child before your interviews. Even a few minutes of reading and talking before you go into the activities will help put them at ease.
  • Have fun!

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