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How is an interaction designer like a choreographer?

Australian Ballet, Swan Lake Tour 2005

How is an interaction designer like a choreographer? They both rely on conventions and patterns to faciliate powerful and efficient communication.

Last night I went to the ballet. I’m not really much of a ballet girl. You’re much more likely to find me at the symphony. I haven’t been to the ballet for almost 10 years (and that was to see the Nutcracker one Christmas in London, so I’m not even sure if that counts!).

I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. A couple of hours of prancing on the stage with some nice enough music (how many people did I just offend with that sentence… I’m sorry). I didn’t have great expectations, but instead I had a completely unexpected experience of flow. The couple of hours at the ballet felt like minutes. I love that feeling.

Sadly, some might say, I spent quite a bit of the time thinking about the amazing challenge that the composer, choreographer and performers had in communicating what is a rather kooky storyline to someone like me (that is, someone who wasn’t prepared to shell out $15 for a program and ‘learn’ the storyline before watching the ballet).

(more…)

flickr goes gamma

So by now you’ve probably seen the new Flickr interface.

Personally… i like that all the functionality is more accessible from every page, but the main photo page seems a little sterile now. Perhaps I liked the clutter? I *do* like having the two columns of photos on all the pages now though. I quite like the ajaxy dropdowns… but they’re kind of ugly, don’t you think?

Flickr Dropdowns

There are a few oddly placed elements, in my opinion. The number of photos and views just seem to be floating up the top of the RHS column, and then from time to time this spot is used for subnavigation/tools (e.g. profile page). It’s fine once you ‘learn’ it… but a little unexpected.

It took me a while to work out how to add a photo to a group. It seems to have disappeared from the Organizer, and has moved to the toolbar under the image name on the image detail page. I quite liked being able to add to groups from the Organizer… that made sense to me, and made it easier for me to select the photos I *really* wanted to add to groups.

But then, I was never really a Group poweruser. Maybe it’s better this way, if you’re *really* into groups.

There’s a good overview of the changes that have been made here.

How do you like the changes Flickr has made?

image via FlickrNation

ActNow Launches (2.0 for good not evil)

Act Now
So, one minute you’re enthusiastically selling toffees at recess at school to raise money for Fred Hollows Foundation, and the next minute you’re thirty something and can hardly be bothered to vote. How is it that so many of us become so disengaged with the issues that affect us, our families, our community and our world?
Keeping young people engaged and active on the issues that matter to them is the mission of ActNow – the latest inspirational program from the Inspire Foundation.
Isn’t that a great mission for a 2.0 site? Yes? Well, don’t just sit there. Act Now! Tell your friends, tell your friends’ kids, write about it on your blog. Get busy. Please :)
I had a flying trip down to Melbourne yesterday for the launch party. When I was producing at Massive I had the pleasure of working on this project and it is exciting to see ActNow move out of beta and into the wild. I’ll be watching (and reading) with great interest.

ActNow is not your average old website – it’s really quite 2.0. You’ll find many of the 2.0 buzzwords in action on the site including User Generated Content (come up with a better buzzword and I’ll use it), RSS, Social Networks and more. It’s based on a Wiki format, where members can create their own pages using a range of different templates, and create or upload content – written word, photos, video, Flash movies, you name it.

Members can go back and edit their content whenever they like. They can also give permission to other members to edit the content. So, if you’re putting a page together about Obesity, and there are a group of you doing research on the issue, you can all contribute to the content that goes on the page.

As you can imagine, this was the topic of *much* angst. Letting anyone put whatever content they like on the website. It’s a scary thing to do. As you can imagine, the lawyers were terrified. But, trust is a 2.0 thing too. We needed to have faith in the community that would build on ActNow and trust that people will use the powers given to them for good and not evil.

Throughout the project we had a little mantra that I borrowed from Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path.

”The Web’s lesson is that we have to let go, to exert as little control as necessary. What are the fewest necessary rules that we can provide to shape the experience? Where do people, tools, and content come together? How do we let go in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to our business?”

Time will tell if this risk pays off. Of course, it will be a pretty quick task to get rid of these freedoms and to build in a more onerous moderation path… but who wants that? Certainly Inspire don’t need the extra work, and it takes away that ‘magic’ of the internet, which is that you press a button and it’s suddenly there for the world to see.

Moderation is boring. So, we’ve taken the approach of distributing moderation – on all of the content pages is the option to ‘report’ content – meaning that the ‘official’ moderators only need to look at a few pages (hopefully) rather than check off every single thing that goes on the site.

I’m fascinated to see how this plays out.

That beautiful homepage is pretty cool too. It looks like a tag cloud, but it’s actually not. (In fact, no tags were used in the making of this site… so, perhaps it’s not really 2.0 afterall ;) – don’t you worry, they *were* discussed at length but we opted out).

So, those things that look like tags are actually the names of the various issues that people are writing about on the site. The ones that are being viewed the most are shown in the cloud on the homepage, with the most often viewed shown in the largest font size and less often viewed in gradually smaller font sizes. Cool huh.

(Don’t you love it when XML and Flash play so nicely together?! Cheers to Damian and Dom for their technical brilliance and many hours of hard work)
ActNow Screenshot

What we’ll get to see over time is what issues are most important or interesting to young people. Also, when something big is happening in the news we’re expecting that this will probably be reflected on the homepage cloud, making it really easy for people to get straight to the content they’re interested in.

It also allows you to get a quick preview of all the top issues from the homepage, thanks to the little preview box.

Lots of crazy stuff, hey? Will the young people be able to use it? We can confidently say yes. You see, this site has been designed in concert with the people who use it, and they’ve been testing it and testing it for months now. Lots of them!
The project has already involved more than 100 young people, participating in ‘incubators’, as interns, helping to develop content and start build the online community.

Working on a project with the Inspire Foundation is a real exercise in participatory design.

The young people have a really active involvement in deciding how the website would work. They used online forums and face to face meetings to discuss everything from what kinds of content the site would need, to how to best group this content so that people could find it.

ActNow specs

They not only *read* the specs, they pored over the wireframes and held workshops. Never before have I walked into my client’s office and found my wireframes stuck up on the wall like this! (Obviously I was so excited I had to capture the moment!)

At every step, the young people were involved in decision making, and were our go-to point when we needed to decide if an idea was going to fly or not. So, even though they didn’t necessarily know what a wiki was, or what and RSS feed was – they took the ideas we suggested and evaluated them and they decided whether it was in or out and how they wanted it to work.

It’s a great way to work, and particularly good when you’ve got such a tough target audience. I don’t think I’d ever want to work on a youth focussed site again without having access to a bunch of people in the target audience to guide what I was doing and to act as a sounding board for my ideas and approaches.

It should be like this for *all* projects… but, in reality, it rarely is. (Unless you’re working exclusively on Intranets, in which case you have no excuse!).

But anyway – ActNow. Launched. Hoorah!

Now what it needs is a vibrant community – which I’m sure it will get if enough young people know about it. So, pass it on.

(Either that or make a cash donation to Inspire ;) )

Thank you!

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UnFundaMental: Left, Right, Top, Bottom? Consider the context for navigation

Compass Collection
So, given recent events, I’ve decided to start a new little category on the blog (something I’ve been trying to resist). I’m calling it UnFundaMental. Yes, I know it is not really a word. This category is my attempt to encourage people to *think* about how they create their user experiences online (and elsewhere, I guess), and to discourage them from taking ‘rules’ and applying them unreflectively. So, it’s against ‘fundamentalism’ in UxD, and there should also be an unsubtle hint towards people who embrace said fundamentalism that I think they are mental (which seemed like a nicer expression than ‘utterly incompetent’).
So, today, let’s talk about navigation. Where should you put it on your page?
Here is the absolutely incontrovertible answer…
It depends.
(Pardon me whilst I channel Christina Wodtke (amongst many other smart people who would say exactly the same)
If you thought that there was a rule book somewhere that would tell you how to do your job, then you’re absolutely out of luck. You need to use your mind, and your experience, and your smarts. You’re going to have to do some research (see what other smart people have done in similar situations), and do some user research.(don’t under-estimate your users, they’re smart)
I *know* that people have probably told you that the left hand side of the page is place that people most expect to find the navigation. Others have probably told you that navigation top of page is the most efficient placement. But, what do you think? Are either of these reasons compelling in your case? Is the site/application/system you’re designing *like* the sites that people are referring to when they’re making these statement?
Loads of blogs now have right navigation (I think that’s why I’ve found myself feeling it to be more and more natural over time). There’s also been an emerging trend for blogs to put their navigation at the bottom of the page [example]. Do you just ignore these trends because they’re not *real* websites? At your peril, you do. (or, unless you really *want* to create utterly uninspired experiences for users by pumping out the same old thing every time and hoping you get a good creative to spice up the visual design so your work looks better than it really is).
It’s not just the evolution of blogging templates that make a RHS nav seem like good sense. Check out the great literature review that the Razorfish (Germany) guys have done in their paper outlining the results they received when testing RHS navigation on the Audi website.
And what did the guys find?
Well, they went in to see whether the accepted view that LHS nav was more efficient than RHS nav was true. They were pretty surprised to find that this didn’t seem to be the case… that RHS nav was also efficient, maybe even more efficient. Sure, people weren’t expecting it at first, but they learned it quickly. And users reported that they enjoyed using the RHS navigation.
So they went ahead an implemented a RHS navigation, and by all reports, it’s been well accepted by users.
It’s important to note that Razorfish didn’t just throw in a RHS navigation for the hell of it. Or for the sake of being different. They had a rationale.
‘A key motivation for this design decision was that a right-hand navigation better reflects core values of the Audi brand: innovation, progressiveness, and individuality. The design goals (creating a usable but unconventional layout) were therefore tied closely with the business goals (reinforcing brand values and distinguishing the site from competitors’ sites).’
Very important. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m advocating a free-for-all, or that we’re allowed to ignore all the findings of the past. Everyone should be able to justify why they choose to design an experience a particular way. My point is that the response ‘because that’s just the way you do it’ shouldn’t cut it as a rationale.
So, you have a project that might benefit from a navigation on the RHS and you need some ammunition to back up your decision to a Usability FundaMentalist? Here’s some stuff I gleaned from the Razorfish paper:
Interestingly, Nielsen (1999) also theorizes that right-justified navigation areas should result in better user tasking and usability. He believes that placing the navigation menu next to the scrollbar will save users time. Additionally, he claims that a right-hand navigation and the main content area on the left should increase the priority of content. Nielsen abandons this logic, however, and goes on to dictate the use of a left-hand navigation: “If we were starting from scratch, we might improve the usability of a site by 1% or so by having a navigation rail on the right rather than on the left. But deviating from the standard would almost certainly impose a much bigger cost in terms of confusion and reduced ability to navigate smoothly” (Nielsen 1999). In other words, the vestigial behavior outweighs the actual efficiency of a right-hand navigation. Nielsen offers no proof of reduced usability with a right-hand navigation, however.
Fitts’ Law: Fitts’ law has been frequently applied to computer interface design (Mackenzie 1992). For all intents and purposes, it simply means that the bigger and closer an item is, the easier it is to click. Position on the screen, then, is a key factor in “ease of click”. In general, shorter mouse movements are better according to Fitts’ law. Therefore, locating the main navigation menu next to the scrollbar on the right side of a Web page should indeed reduce the time required to alternate between the two.
Constantine & Lockwood (2002): You can confidently make novel use of many standard, well-established controls, visual elements and interaction idioms provided that new functions and behaviors are consistent and logical extensions of the old…Significant improvements in the user experience often require creative departures from standards and accepted practice. However, useful innovation in visual and interaction design should not burden the new user with a long and frustrating learning process”
Need a couple of sample RHS Navigation sites to further prove your point. Try these on for size:
Ok. Let’s talk.
  • Anyone out there disagree and think that RHS navigation is the devil’s spawn?
  • Anyone got some other good example sites or literature to back up RHS (or maybe bottom?!) navigation systems?
  • Anyone got another FundaMental Belief that needs tearing apart?
Go crazy.
Image Credit: Chauss513 @ Flickr
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