The McFarlane Prize for Excellence in Australian Web Design

Greetings from Koh Tao, Thailand (a.k.a. heaven on earth).

Just a quick note to help spread the word about this new Australian web design prize. For me, I think a lot of the current ‘awards’ are pretty lame at the moment (speaking from both the judging and the judged perspective). Hopefully this one will actually help to unearth, promote and reward real excellence in practice in our industry.

This prize is a little different from others in at least two ways.

Firstly – you don’t have to pay a fortune in entry fees to have your site considered. Too often, great work is not included in awards because the entry fees are prohibitive. Congrats to the Macfarlane Prize team for not following this trend and allowing everyone to be involved. However,…

Secondly. There are only four judges, expert in each of the critiera for the awards (Usability, Design, Accessibility and Coding). I hope these guys (and gal!) have nothing much on in the next few months, because they will have a mountain of entries to get through, I predict (especially due to factor one: free entry!).

I have mixed feelings about the small number of judges here and the fact that there is only one per category. Particularly Design and Usability which can be such subjective areas. (Perhaps accessibility and coding can also be subjective, certainly coding seems to be! I’m not so expert in those fields so I’ll leave others to comment). For me I probably would have rather see 3 judges per criteria, but perhaps that would start administrative hassles that the ‘Prize’ can’t afford just now.

Anyways, congrats to the team for getting it off the ground. Go check it out for yourself.

Here are the details as forwarded by Maxine Sherrin:

Named in memory of noted Australian web pioneer Nigel McFarlane, the inaugural McFarlane Prize, aims to recognize and encourage excellence in web design by Australian developers.http://www.mcfarlaneprize.com/

The Prize will reward excellence in web design in the broadest sense, from the appropriate use of technology, to design aesthetics, to its impact more broadly on the web.

Open to Australian designers or teams for a site launched or significantly upgraded between August 1 2005 and July 31 2006, the Prize aims to be a showcase of the best in Australian web design, and to inspire other developers in their endeavours. Nominations are now open.

http://www.mcfarlaneprize.com/nominationform.html

The McFarlane Prize will be awarded by a jury of Australian experts in various fields of web design and development. Based on two rounds of judging, the McFarlane Prize shortlist will be announced on September 22nd.

The announcement of the winner of the inaugural McFarlane Prize will then be made at the Web Directions Conference Reception, September 28 2006, during Australian Web Design Week.

So, if you’ve been doing some web excellence lately, be sure to get along to the website and submit your site. I look forward to seeing an amazing showcase of great Australian work.

Meanwhile, for me, I have some snorkelling to do, followed by some lazing on the beach with a trashy novel.

I’ll be back online ‘seriously’ in a couple of weeks. Hope you’re all well! Until then :)

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).

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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

User Experience & Cognitive Pleasures (there’s easy, and then there’s *experience*)

Jenga

User experience and usability are two different things. And usability does not always imply a system or interface that does not require any learning, or any enquiry, or any challenge on the part of the user.

I constantly find myself trying to walk a balance between using ‘convention’ where it is most appropriate, but also looking for ways that we can look to use new forms of interaction to solve user experience problems. I can’t understand how people who do IA and UxD can find their work fulfilling if they are constantly wheeling out the same old solutions to problems that they face on their projects.

I don’t understand how we expect our profession to develop, how we are going to create *better* user experiences if we are not always testing new approaches, giving new solutions the opportunity to prove that they are feasable, efficient, ergonomic and pleasurable, rather than ruling them out wholesale because there’s nothing in a textbook to say that the approach is ok.

‘ooh, that’s innovation for innovation’s sake’, I hear from these people who are overly besotted with convention. Well no. It’s innovation so that I can continue to do *better* work, and so I don’t become an automaton. ‘show me the research that says your approach works’. Well, there is none.. yet. Let’s do some! ‘Tags, schmags. That’s fine for Flickr, but we’re not Flickr’. It’s difficult to argue with someone as obtuse and uninterested as that.

If you’re any good at your work and if you’ve been doing this UxD stuff for a while now, then you *can* almost do it in your sleep… if you’re content with taking an uninspired and boring approach to your work. Is that very respectful of your users?

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