Pattern Driven Usability (opportunities and challenges)

Certified

There’s been quite a bit of talk, on and off, around developing a library of patterns that interface designers could use that would mean that technology would become a whole lot more consistent and usable. So I was interested to discover that XPDesign, the methodology that PTG Global have been talking up for a while now, is essentially a part of this whole discussion.

PTG have been in the press a bit lately since they’ve launched their ‘certified usable‘ product.

The Certified Usable Guarantee: We guarantee that, on average, 90% of users can complete 90% of tasks with minimal assistance, within a reasonable time, without error, and with at least 80% satisfaction (based on a random sample of at least 300 end users using a Certified Usable™ technology product).

Craig Errey of PTG presented some of the fundamentals of XPDesign at the NSW CHISIG gathering last night. At the very least he should be congratulated for stimulating probably one of the most engaging debates around HCI methods that I’ve been a part of for quite a while.

The last one was probably back at OZCHI conference, where another PTG representative presented their work on the Citibank Mobile Banking interface and surprised many of us by stating that PTG didn’t need to iterate in their design process because they *knew* what worked and what didn’t. (Obviously, given that mobile banking is a pretty new application on a reasonably new device with many special complexities, many in the audience found this difficult to believe!)

Craig started his talk by asserting that ‘nothing particularly interesting has happened in HCI for the last 10-15yrs’. Big call. I guess that depends a lot on what you consider interesting, he then went on to challenge people to answer two questions: what is usability? and how do you make something usable?
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tag cloud interface for list selection (hello Jobby!)

GoJobbyTagCloudInterface

Via TechCrunch today I came across a new beta site – Jobby. This is a site that allows you to upload your resume and create a bit of a personal profile (if you’re hunting down work), or if you’re a potential employer, to search for suitable talent.

There’s nothing particularly special about that but – as Michael Arrington points out – the interface is worth a second look, if you’re into that kind of thing. Michael says:

The interface is exceptional and you don’t have to do more than click a couple of times on a tag cloud to set up tags. You’ll have to try it to fully understand how it works.

I think that might be a *bit* of an overstatement, but it certainly is a *very* efficient implementation of the ‘tag cloud’ as a interaction device, in this case, for creating lists.

Ajaxian is similarly impressed and says that Jobby:

combines a solid combination of interface and functionality to create an easy to use kind of user experience

The interface designers at Jobby do need to be congratulated for taking a new ‘web 2.0′ interaction concept that has been poorly implemented in so many places, and applying it in a new environment where it solves old interaction design problems. So, let’s check it out…

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cardsorting for validation: truth, dare or torture?

Recently I had cause to use a closed card sorting with the objective of ‘validating’ a proposed Information Architecture model (and some labeling). Argh. I think I will do what I can to avoid that approach in the future.

Card sorting in the initial stages of the project is a noble pursuit, in my opinion, and one that is bound to help you learn more about your users, how their heads work, and the problems that they’ll have with your site. Not to mention their ideas around what your content should be, and how it should be organised and what it should be called.

An IA Validation card sort happens a little way down the track when you think you know what your sitemap is going to look like, and what things are going to be called. You probably even have some draft wireframes that you’re not ready to commit to, but that you developed as you were thinking through the conceptual model for your IA and getting into the nitty gritty of the sitemap.

Once upon a time, I used to think that a card sort at the beginning and a card sort at the end of the IA scoping process was good practice. For my mind, I think that the second user testing exercise needs to be something related to the wireframes… maybe paperbased prototypes (or maybe even interactive prototypes?!), but definitely something that puts your IA into a context… a context beyond a few titles on some cards, that is.

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design is a good idea (on ugliness, with some thoughts on the DesignGuys Craiglist ‘realignment’)

There’s been a whole lot of talk lately about ‘ugly design’ and the perception that ‘it works’. The often quoted examples are My Space, eBay, Craigs List, and Del.icio.us. As someone who spends too much time thinking about design and trying to apply user centred design principles to the projects I work on, I find this somewhat annoying.

First up, let’s define what we mean by design. There are really two different aspects to ‘design’ that people are referring to – there’s the design that I’m most interested in which is the information and interface design. Then there’s the design that is most often talked about, that’s the visual design. Both of these types of designs are important when it comes to thinking about this idea of ‘ugly design’ and why, sometimes, it appears to work.

Information/Interaction Design: no one likes bad information design. Bad information design means you can’t find the information you’re looking for because its badly placed, or doesn’t exist at all, or the ‘flags’ (or scent) you need to help you find the information are hard to find or non existent. When you come to a site like this, you leave. And you don’t come back, unless you absolutely have to. The internet is abundent with information and making information that people are looking for easy for them is an essential part of making your site somewhere they’ll visit and return to, and recommend to their social network. Good information design (which includes information architecture) is entry level to having ‘a site that works’.

Interaction design, when poorly executed, is also a source of frustration for users, and a good reason for them to seek out an alternative to your site. Interaction design is poorly executed when it doesn’t allow users to perform the tasks that they wish to perform on your site with thel least amount of effort. Taking the time to identify these tasks and to ensure that they are implemented efficiently means that your site becomes ‘easy to use’, which is compelling reason to choose your site over other alternatives.

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