links for 27 February 2006

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documenting usability for RIA (or, when interface design gets collaborative)

Yahoo Autofill

I’ve been reading a bit lately about the challenges that Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) present to people interested in designing elegant, efficient, usable interfaces. Most recently it was Usability for Rich Internet Applications by Donna Maurer over at Digital Web Magazine.

One of the aspects of RIA interface design that is causing some consternation (or at least discussion) at the moment, is around how we make the interfaces easy to use.

There are lots of great ideas being thrown around, techniques that look as though they could evolve into future conventions.

One thing I find myself thinking of often is how we go about documenting these conventions.

It has been my experience that in reading about RIA and usability, many of the suggestions made fall into what would traditionally be the realm of the visual designer or the application developer. Examples (from the article cited above) include:

… Visual attention is attracted by movement and high color contrast … We can use this to our advantage and draw the eye to the updated part of the page [Visual Design]

… By making sure the change occurs quickly …. we can ensure the eye is drawn to the appropriate place [Application Developer]

… Odeo provides effective feedback by using color (and) movement [Visual Design]

Now, for me, these are all excellent suggestions for making RIAs more usable. They are also things that, traditionally, I would have neglected to include in my project documentation. Say I was working in a large development team and wasn’t involved in the ‘production’ phase of the project (where the designers and developers took up my specifications and built the project), I couldn’t guarantee that these measures would be taken. I could only hope that they’d be picked up and recommended in later usability testing. Not good enough really, is it?

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links for 24 Febuary 2006

Friday linkey goodness :)

the art of travel, alain de botton

the art of travel

My bus reading in the last week or so has been The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Alain is a philosopher who has written a number of interestingly titled books including The Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety, How Proust can change your Life, Essays in Love and a few more.

When I bought this book I’d forgotten that I’d actually read How Proust can change your Life a few years ago… I have hardly any recollection of the book actually (which probably says more about me than de Botton), but having read this book, I’ll be digging it out of the bookshelf again and having another read.

I imagine that a number of people would be scared off by the fact that this purports to be a ‘philosophy book’… certainly, my undergraduate university experience of philosophy text books wouldn’t lead me to choose this as a bus read. Bus reads need to be books that are engaging, reasonably easy to digest, and easy to dip in to – given that a characteristic of bus reading is short (20mins or so) grabs of reading once or twice a weekday.

Actually, it turns out that this book is pretty easy going. De Botton uses storytelling, both of his own experiences and that of other historical figures such as including Wordsworth, Baudelaire and Van Gogh and travels to destinations as diverse as Barbados, the Sinai Desert, and the Lakes District of England, to illustrate a range of thought provoking themes around travel.

I found this particularly interesting as travel is currently infused both through my work and personal life at the moment, so it was fascinating to reflect on various aspects of the travelling from this relatively obscure perspective. De Botton is interested in why we are attracted to travel, why it sometimes disappoints us, how we can take more from our travelling experiences and how our experience of travelling contributes to our overall well being.

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