forUse: The Electronic Newsletter of Usage-Centered Design
#21 | May 2002
|| 1. Events: The Complete Conference.
|| 2. Resources: All-New Web Site
|| 3. Technique: Designers as Testers.
|| 4. Process: Fitting the Project.
|| 5. Training: Another Chance to Learn.
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1. forUSE 2002 Complete Program.
We were overwhelmed by a flood of first-rate proposals submitted to the conference, so it took longer to review them all and make the tough decisions, but we ended up with a dynamite program to offer. This August, 37 presenters from 7 countries around the world will converge on picturesque Portsmouth. If you are a designer, a developer, or a manager interested in software and Web applications that work, then you will want to be there, too.
It’s a practical, hands-on affair, with 5 full sessions devoted entirely to detailed case studies and in-depth presentations of real-world experiences. Broaden your professional horizons with 5 different presentations on performance support and performance-centered design. Add depth and sophistication to your techniques through any of the 10 sessions focusing on use cases, scenarios, and task modeling. Teaching and research are covered in 5 presentations, and Web design and development figures in 6 presentations. In all, it’s three jam-packed days of conference plus two days of tutorials, including a “master class” with the originators of usage-centered design, Larry Constantine and Lucy Lockwood. Get the full story at http://foruse.com/2002/program.htm, then register early to be sure you do not miss out on this most exciting professional conference.
2. New and Improved, Win Prizes
Our Web site, forUse.com, has become a focal resource for information on usage-centered design. Originally intended as a 6-page site to support release of our book, forUse.com grew like a New England farmhouse into a rambling assortment of additions and appendages. The steady accretion of materials and resources was putting a strain on the original foundation, and the whole thing was beginning to show its age. At the end of last year, we launched a complete re-analysis and redesign of the site--usage-centered, of course.
After completion of beta testing, the new site finally went live in the early hours of 5 May! We hope you find it useful and usable. Please take the opportunity to check it out and give us feedback. And, we want your help in continuing to improve it.
Here’s the deal. If you find a bug or a usability defect and are the first to report it to us (lconstantine @ foruse.com), we will give you a $50 off any conference or seminar registration this year. If you are the first to give us a fix or effective redesign and we use it, we’ll make it $100 off any conference or seminar registration this year.
3. Tough Audience
We have always argued that usage-centered design makes it possible to come closer to getting things right on the first try. Of course, no matter how careful you are or how good you are, there are always those little gotcha’s, which is why you do testing and involve users. Involving users in the design and evaluation process is important precisely because they can be such a tough audience. The toughest audiences are those users who believe that they, too, are designers and are convinced that they could do a better job than you. What do you do if they really are designers, and good ones to boot?
That is precisely the situation we faced when we included our Consulting Associates (http://foruse.com/about/associates.htm) among the beta testers for the new Web site. Consulting Associates are a hand-picked lot: experts on usage-centered design and some of the best designers around. And what a bunch of critics. Picky, picky, picky. (Ultimately all for the better, of course, but sometimes hard on the ego of the designer whose sweat and soul had been poured into the design.)
We will be publishing a complete case study of the site redesign, but I wanted to share a few tidbits about using expert evaluations as a guide to better design.
The experience got us to thinking about how best to use expert advice and evaluations. Are the “problems” found by expert consultants real problems? Do the usability defects that a panel of experts identify cause noticeable difficulty in practice when real users actually use a product or site? Well, the usual consultant’s answer is, “It depends.” Many of the smaller details that experts highlight may turn out to be of little or no consequence in the real world. Indeed, some research clearly supports the notion that some kinds of expert evaluations, such as heuristic evaluation, do have a significant rate of “false positives,” that is, they identify some problems that are, in practice, really no problem.
In some instances, this definitely seemed to be true with feedback from our beta testers. We learned that one clue to a possible false positive is when only a single evaluator points something out as a problem. The case is even stronger when others specifically single the same thing out for praise.
At the same time, some tiny details do matter. For example, a number of our beta testers were confused by and complained about an early version of the multi-level navigation scheme used in the new site. As the designer, Larry was all prepared to argue how he had designed it to work and why it was right. He had agonized over the scheme, and he agonized over how to redesign it, but the simple truth was that the original scheme failed to make a clear and easily understood visual connection between the first and second levels of the hierarchy. The revised version differs in several small and subtle details from the original, but these add up to a significant improvement in how readily new users are able to make sense of the scheme. In this case, the insistence of beta testers who were also trusted colleagues paid off.
It is hardest to know what to do when experts disagree. For example, the new site has an alternative set of navigation links arrayed at the bottom of primary and secondary pages. These links give one-click access to almost every part of the site. One of our experts criticized these as non-standard, obscure, and confusing. Another, equally qualified reviewer, said these were exactly as expected and very useful. Go figure. We ended up leaving them in, partly because of research by Jared Spool and others showing that a significant fraction of experienced users routinely scroll to the bottom of a Web page looking for useful text links.
4. Fitting the Process to the Project
IBM, a leader in design methods for decades, has recently been developing and refining their own usability methods. What they refer to by the old standby moniker of user-centered design actually incorporates key features of usage-centered design. Now Jack Scanlon and Lynn Percival at IBM have written two papers on how to adapt the activities in a usage-centered (or user-centered) design process to suit various types of projects, from complete green-field development of all-new software, to mere tailoring of commercial-off-the-shelf products. You’ll find the links and more details on our home page and listed among publications. (Okay, so we want you to try out the new site!)
5. Autumn in New England
Our next full-week, hands-on public training seminar will be 11-15 November in Portsmouth, NH. Details at http://foruse.com/seminars/november02.htm. Register early. Don’t miss out this time!
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