Monday, August 25, 2008

Well...I guess I "sold out"

I have entered into the world of corporate blogging. So not only can you read my ramblings here on, you can also read my stuff at My first post called "The Hidden Costs of Poor User Interfaces" is up an ready for comments now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quotes like this make me cringe

"It's amazing what people have done with HTML, which was never intended to do rich Internet applications. And Flash was originally created for lightweight animation--literally for Mickey Mouse on the Web," said Brad Becker, who as group product manager for rich client platforms at Microsoft helps oversee Silverlight. "But these technologies were designed for something else, and people are really hacking them to do more."
This was in an article on CNET.

In my opinion, there is a big difference between how AJAX has be built on top of technologies that weren't meant for application development and how Flash was really rewritten to create a platform intended for application development. I don't consider what is being done with Flex and Flash as "hacking them to do more"

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Extended User Experience

When most people think of User Experience of a product, they think of the product's physical interface which could be a UI on a screen of a virtual product or industrial design of a non-virtual product. However, the Experience (not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix's Experience), is far more than just that. It is every interaction the consumer or user has with the product and the company that produces it.

You can see examples of this with most restaurants. It isn't only about the product (the food). It is also about the experience (the atmosphere and the service). Think of Starbucks. The coffee itself is probably not enough to make it as popular as it is (IMHO).

When you deliver an online product, make sure you think beyond just the product. Comcast has done that in a very unique way. Their approach might not be right for everyone, but it certainly is an innovative way to use the social nature of the internet to better provide an "Experience"

Usability testing on a budget... but only on a Mac

If are designing software you no doubt realize the importance of usability testing your wireframes, mockups and prototypes. However, most people hear "usability testing" and automatically assume that means a giant effort at a giant cost. Well the geniuses over at Clearleft have a solution called Silverback. The real power is in its simplicity. It allows you to put a user in front of a screen and point and click their way through whatever you put on the screen while it records screen changes, mouse clicks and video of the user.

All that and its only 49.99.

It really begs the question, "Why didn't something like this already exist?"

Unfortunately, for those Windows users, it only runs on the Mac. If you know of something similar for Windows users, feel free to comment.

Why is UX hard to sell?

In any other type of product, if it is hard to use, people will look for something better. Whether it is a car, dishwasher, lawnmower or anything else, you would not put up with struggling to figure out how to use it when you can buy something else that is simpler and allows you to get to work, wash your dishes or mow your lawn more effectively.

In light of those facts, you would expect that anyone building a product, whether a physical product or a piece of software, would place ease-of-use at the top of the priority list. However, in may cases that isn't true.

It goes back to the early history of computers when the people using them were the people that created them and they understood and appreciated how difficult they were to program to do anything. So when presented with something complicated, they thought "wow... this must have been really complicated to develop". They were ok with that. But now, computers and software are "magic" to the majority of people. They don't care how complicated they are to develop and don't appreciate the effort (and they are right not to). But people creating software sometimes think that users will understand how difficult a feature is and cut them some slack if the interface isn't as good as it could be. It just isn't true anymore.

I, and other designers I'm sure, would be interested to here success stories from those designers who have overcome the "lets just make it work... we'll make it easier to use later if we have time" mentality. Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Adaptive Path and Mozilla's Aurora - Part 2

Aurora (Part 2) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

The second part of the video shows two people using a mobile device to access a similar interface to the desktop version shown in the previous video. What is interesting is that the mobile device is not also a phone, camera, mp3 player and food processor as would expect in "the future".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Adaptive Path and Mozilla's Aurora

Aurora (Part 1) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

It seems that some people like this interface while others have had mixed feelings about it. But let me put my two cents in.

When I look at these types of videos I typically stand back on try to imagine a world in which I use that tool. In most cases, like with Aurora and the multi-touch coffe table, I wind up thinking that I would never use that. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of these futuristic visionary interfaces is not to predict exactly what the future will hold. The real purpose to to explore the possibilities much like a concept car from an auto manufacturer. In most cases the total package never gets rolled out but certain aspects of them get rolled into more realistic versions of cars.

So while I think some of it is interesting from an interaction design aspect, other parts seem like a solution looking for a problem to solve... but thats ok and I commend Adaptive Path for going well outside the box.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Worst UI Ever: Too much information

Have you ever heard someone say that more information than you need couldn't hurt? In some cases that is true. However, most of the time, when it comes to communicating effectively too much information can definitely "hurt" by overwhelming the reader and ultimately confusing them. This example comes from the the US Army website and is intended to show how many pushups one must do in order to pass basic combat training. Here is the screenshot...

As you can see this grid has quite a few numbers in it... 750 cells of data. There are only 20 numbers that are actually useful to support the goal of: I want to know how many pushups I have to do to pass. The rest of the numbers are all either failing amounts or more than you need. Granted, there may be a secondary goal such as I want to know what my grade would be if I did 100 pushups. However, a grid of 750 numbers is not the best way to do that either.

Something like this would more effectively meet the goals of the user trying to see how many pushups he needs to do to pass each test.

If you find yourself saying "I'm not sure what data the user needs so lets show all of it" then you probably haven't thought enough about who your users are and why they are using your site or application. You must resist dumping the data on screen like an export from your database. It will only overwhelm the reader.

It is no different than if you ask someone on the street the time and he proceeds to list off the time in every possible timezone. That is useful data to someone but not me and not right now.

Adobe Media Player - Can't download it?

Is it just me or is there a problem with the download site for Adobe Media Player? If I go to there is no button to actually download it. It appears that the badge installer is not clickable. The text on the page says "If you click install now..." but the "install now" appears to be missing.

For those of you that run into this problem, you can get it from the Adobe AIR Marketplace