On World Usability Day and in the lead up, we’ll be out on the streets of London tying balloons to the worst offenders. We want people across the world to do the same. Participants are encouraged to photograph the scene and either add it to our Flickr group, or email it to us (hello [at] makinglifeeasy.org) and we’ll post it to the website where we’ll be collecting votes for the Usability Hall of Shame and the Usability Hall of Fame.
We’d LOVE you to get involved. There’s a few things you can do.
Help get more people involved! If you have a blog, give us a shout out and send people our way to participate. If you have a Flickr account, come join our group and invite all your friends!
Share your examples of the best and the worst of usability where you live (or visit or holiday!). Add photos to the group or drop us an email and we’ll add your submission to the website and potentially to the Hall of Fame or Shame
Cast your vote! Take a look at the website and have your say in what *really* drives you crazy and what you really love.
Stay tuned for the announcement of inductees to the Usability Hall of Fame and Shame on 14 November 2006 – World Usability Day.
Meanwhile – I encourage you to make the most of the opportunity that this day and the lead up offer to put the spotlight on Usability and User Experience. Help us make a noise and raise awareness and – ultimately help us make life easy!
Having been a project manager in a past life, and still working day to day on projects, I watch with interest the deployment of a range of web based project management tools. In a lot of ways it’s like a dream come true. For most of us, Microsoft Project – the only real project management tool available beforehand – is possibly the most over featured piece of software in the world.
I’ve heard it said that most people only use about 5% of Microsoft Word’s functionality… I can’t imagine what a miniscule proportion of functionality most people use in Microsoft Project. And like MS Word but worse, often times that unused functionality would rear up and cause problems for users who didn’t understand it or weren’t aware of it.
Not only that, but it’s also prohibitively expensive. So unless you’re working in a company where they’ve got the finance and inclination to pay for your license fee – you’re unlikely to get access to it.
Then along comes 37 Signals with Basecamp, BackPack and TaDa Lists . Project managers everywhere were ecstatic (not to mention all those David Allen Getting Things Done disciples). With the ability to create and assign tasks, to post messages, to do simple scheduling and starting at the bargain price of free – 37 Signals and their products soon had a lot of evangelists wondering aloud how they ever managed without these web based project management tools.
Just last night I got my invitation to check out GoPlan. It’s been developed by the team at WeBreakStuff, so I had pretty high expectations. These guys think a lot about usability and user experience, so their work should be top notch. And, I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
GoPlan is a spunky looking piece of web application, and it has lots of great functionality.
You can create multiple projects with multiple users (users with varied permission to access content and functionality), there’s notes, a project blog, a calendar, a file upload.
GoPlan also has two similar but different sections called Tasks and Tickets. Tasks, I assume, are things you have to do in the course of the project. You can assign it to a category but not a person, and you can assign a deadline to it (although, strangely that doesn’t make it show up in the calendar). Tickets, I assume, are for bugs and variations. You can assign a priority, a severity (is it just me, or are these two *very* similar criteria… when is a critical severity ever a low priority? I guess there are exceptions… nevermind, tangent).
Oh, and there’s a cool inbuilt ‘chat’ so you can have your rapid fire online discussions AND keep a record of what you actually decided!
All good. All a lot like the 37 Signals offering. But all slightly disappointing to someone who’s managed some reasonably complex projects in her time.
I never thought I’d say it, but I miss the Gantt Chart.
I think it’s quite interesting that both 37 Signals and WeBreakStuff have not used any visualisation tools as a part of their project management offerings. (Well, ok GoPlan has a calendar… do we count that? I might if their task deadlines integrated with the calendar, so for now.. no).
One of the most recognisable features of Microsoft Project is the Gantt chart it generates. Back when I used to make lots of big MS Project files, I thought that I was really just making those charts for my clients (they’re pretty, they look seriously impressive – wow! that’s one complicated project!… this was before Getting Real, ok!)
Interestingly, if you take a look at 37 Sig’s Manifesto for BaseCamp, this is one of the first things you’ll read:
Projects don’t fail from of a lack of charts, graphs, reports, or statistics, they fail from a lack of communication.
Ah yes. But what I’ve come to notice is that charts, graphs, reports and statistics do more than just impress clients. And they can play an important role in communication, and motivation.
A Gantt chart is a graphical representation of the duration of tasks against the progression of time.
You can see why that might come in handy.
At a simplistic level – nothing focusses attention like a Gantt Chart with lots of red on it – indicating that you’re way behind schedule.
On a more practical level – when constructing project plans, I’ve come to realise how much I did actually rely on the Gantt Chart to help eliminate errors in my scheduling, and to quickly see the implications of alternate scheduling, risks and delays.
When reviewing a complex project plan to see if I’d made errors in scheduling, or understanding project relationships, or if I’d just missed lots of stuff out – it was the Gantt Chart that would most quickly let me know if I’d stuffed up. Breaks in the flow, a critical path that just stops (before the end of the project), tasks that just look too long or too short compared to the tasks around them – all rapid visual indicators that something’s not right.
It get’s really hard and boring to read through a long list of tasks, and even more difficult to understand the relationships between tasks in this format. This is where the Gantt Chart comes into it’s own. Relationships between tasks and groups of tasks are immediately apparent. Tasks that are on the critical path are obvious.
In retrospect, I’d have to say that Gantt Charts were really important in eliminating errors in project planning for me, back in the day.
So, the Gantt Chart is much more than just client eye candy. It also plays a real role in faciliating the detailed planning phase of the project. It also helps with rapid comprehension of project progress and task relationships as the project continues.
Gantt Charts allow you to understand how long your project is going to take, in what order tasks need to be undertaken (no, it’s not always self evident!), and what tasks are dependent on other tasks. This means that if you move tasks around, or some tasks get delayed, you can see what’s going to happen to your project as a result.
This is all really handy stuff to know if you’re managing a team and have a deadline. It helps you communicate within the team, and to your client, early and accurately. It helps everyone make decisions.
In both the 37 Signals products as in GoPlan, there seems to be no notion of a critical path, or dependencies between tasks. To me, that means that I either have to work a lot harder to keep my projects under control or to impose a structure of my own, or that these products are only intended for reasonably simple projects where, perhaps, the deadline is not such a big deal.
I’ve been using BackPack and BaseCamp for almost as long as they’ve been available, and I have to say that they’ve certainly been valuable to me. Particularly when I was freelancing and had to manage my own tasks on several projects. In these cases though, when I was working on big projects, I was a resource (information architect) and someone else was a project manager who had the biggest Gantt Chart you’ve ever seen in your life! (I needed a separate tool just to manage my tasks!)
I find it intriguing that both 37 Sigs and GoPlan seem to have taken such an anti-chart approach to their tools (and there’s much more than just the Gantt chart that they could have included). I suspect it’s to do with the lack of the critical path. Or perhaps, they’re not actually *project* management tools, but ‘sets of tasks’ tools.
Either way – if any one’s planning a web based PM tool that *does* include a critical path and some pretty pictures… I’d really love to see it!
As you do, I was lying in bed the other night when the thought struck me that if I found myself in an emergency situation, if I really needed to get an ambulance to where I was as soon as possible – I had no idea what number I would need to call.
OK, so I moved countries recently, but I’ve been here almost 3 months now… and I’m sure I’ve never seen anything that told me what the emergency number was.
Funnily enough, my husband happened to witness a robbery in progress at work today and one of his co-workers called the emergency number. It turns out, in London, it’s 999.
In Australia, it is 000. As everyone in the world knows, in the USA, it’s 911.
Now, is it just me, or is this an example of where an international standard could *really* come in handy.
How hard would it be for everyone to agree on an emergency number that we used, like, everywhere?
There’s a kind of grim irony in exploring Crazy Egg, only to discover that the very thing that would make their website and service useful for me would never be able to be detected using the tools that they provide.
Crazy Egg is designed to help you continually test and improve your site.
They do this by capturing where on your site people are clicking and providing you this information in a range of formats, from a simple list, to an overlay (which we’ve seen a fair bit of now, and is even included in Google Analytics these days), to a ‘heat map’ that looks a lot like something you’d generate from eyetracking, but is of course based on the volume of clicks in various parts of the page.
There’s obviously a lot of interesting information you can gather from this kind of data, and it’s particularly digestible thanks to the visualisations. It is only one of very many ways that you can establish what people are doing or not doing on your website, and it is far from telling you what is working and what is not. Crazy Egg says their data can help you:
Test different versions of a page to see which works better
Discover which ad placement gives the best results
Find out which design encourages visitors to click deeper
Learn which content leads to improved sales
I don’t have a huge problem with most of these claims… except for the first one – how on earth do you define what ‘works better’ based on clicks?
What Crazy Egg doesn’t tell you, though, is why something that you’re *not* doing is making people unable to use your service.
Case in point – me!
I got an email from Crazy Egg this morning to tell me that they’re up and running and inviting me to register and have a play with their service. It’s a particularly interesting service for someone in my line of work – might be another quick, cheap tool to add to the research kit. I’d love to use their services if only they’d make it a little easier for me!
I couldn’t find a word of ‘support’ or ‘help’ content on their site, nor did their blog appear to have a search facility so that I could see if they’d address the issue I was looking for help with.
My problem is that I want to try Crazy Egg, and I want to use my WordPress Blog as a test. I’m guessing that I won’t be the only person they’ve emailed today with this question. I’m guessing they’ve emailed a lot of people who blog today.
At the moment, I’m at the point of abandonment with Crazy Egg because of their lack of support. Surely an FAQ or a discussion board or a Wiki could be in order? OK, so they’re new and they don’t necessarily know what people need to know… let us all help each other. OK, so they do have a ‘Contact Us’ form… eh, at a pinch, perhaps, but I’m still disappointed.
Is lack of help content a bug? (They want us to report bugs… what do you think?)
For now, I’m hoping that someone out in blog-land can help me?!
I have my Crazy Egg Code and I was thinking of putting it on my blog homepage. Anyone got any idea where in the template code I should be putting this code? I had a quick look at places that seemed logical and couldn’t see anything that matched Crazy Egg’s instructions.
Seriously… not even an FAQ on their website. Who do they think their customers are?!