Monday, December 6, 2010
While it's clean and useful from a pure usability standpoint (kudos to the new navigation bar on the left) - several important social implications are brought to bear in this new redesign. While I'm not sure what goes on internally, I think Facebook in general does an extremely poor job of investigating and considering the social impacts of their speedy agile redesigns, instead waiting for the consequences to emerge as the design is pushed into the billion-strong community, with often dangerous results. UI design involves tradeoffs and design choices reflect a company's values.
Here are some of the corporate values that seem to be represented by the redesign:
1. Who you are is where you went to college. According to Facebook, "who you are" is (in this order) where you went to college, where you live, and where you work. Facebook has been criticized previously for the way they distill a human being into a few bullet points, so it's interesting to consider what they prioritize as the most important attributes of a human being. I wonder why they chose to first identify you by your college pedigree - could it be their roots as an online college social connector? Or could it be the kind of people who work at Facebook and make these design decisions are the kind of people who first want to know where you went to school in order to judge where you fall in the social hierarchy?
2. Your most recent microblog is less important. Facebook demotes your most recent status update from the top of the page in favor of your biographic summary and most recently tagged photos. This is an interesting design decision and I wonder why it was made, because it decreases "newness" in one of the most prominent positions of the page. You can still locate recent microblogs within the Wall content, but it makes a strong value statement about the importance of user created content vs. demographics in Facebook's mind.
3. Your most recently tagged photos are more important than the content you created yourself. While Facebook is sure to inform those preoccupied with privacy concerns that you can easily remove photos from appearing in this stream, hypervigilence is necessary. You need to constantly monitor what photos you are getting tagged in, else that picture of you will appear in one of the most prominent places on your page. Again, these photos become a strong representation of "who you are" - in favor of content you created, shared, or cross-posted.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
There are lots of reasons why I love Facebook: staying connected with people who I don't see every day, sharing pictures and updates on what's new in my world, "peeking in" on my friends and family's world in nice digestible bites.
There are lots of reasons why I hate Facebook, and why I barely tolerate it (for reasons mentioned above). I'm not going to go into all the things they are doing wrong with the UI, and what they are doing wrong with their UX research program. I'll save these rants for another day. BUT, one of the biggest reason why I hate it is because Facebook fragments my day. I feel compelled to check it all the time for such (let's face it) utter drivel. Wanting to restrict our attention, gain focus, and have moments for reflection is a big problem we face in the modern age (and will continue to face).
Here are 4 tips that have worked for me in limiting my Facebook gluttony to a more manageable level.
1. Remove Facebook from your Bookmarks (or Bookmarks Toolbar). This is probably the biggest thing I've done to limit my use. Frequently, I used to find myself in that vulnerable state between tasks, wondering, "Hm...let's see what new stuff was posted..." Now that I've culled my Bookmarks Toolbar to more work-related tasks and industry-specific blogs, etc. it forces me to actually type in the Facebook URL to visit the site. This slight barrier to access is uncomfortable enough to make it a less likely target for my attention.
2. Set up a Facebook folder in your email Inbox, and have all Facebook-related messages go in there. That pesky marketing team at Facebook is smart, and makes great use of email advertising to draw users to their site. This is one way I'd continue to get "sucked in" to Facebook - as I'm always monitoring incoming email in my primary Inbox, I was also vulnerable to the one-click mentality when I see a new notification roll into my email. I considered turning off the email notifications feature of Facebook, but I do like knowing when something relevant has gone on in my social network. I just don't need to check it right this very second. I used the settings features in Gmail to create a special Facebook folder, and I set it up to pull in all messages sent from the Facebook notifications 'bot. At the end of the day, when I'm responding to personal messages and screwing around online, I can check the folder and see what's happened over the course of the day all at once.
3. Double-check your Facebook Notifications Settings. Under Account Settings, you can find a tab that lists all the instances Facebook notifies you to your Inbox or (*gasp*) phone about something that's happened. Do you really need to get all those messages when your friends' friends' comment after you on a photo, link, or post? Maybe you do. But it's worth reflecting on how many distractions you want to get during the day, and establishing a reasonable limit with intention.
4. Cull your Friends list and turn off Applications. I realize there's a certain degree of social status that comes from having, like a bazillion Facebook friends, but after awhile that guy you met on the flight to Paris 4 years ago might not be worth your attention. We all have friends who post all the freaking time, and I really could give a rip that you need 15 shiny rubies in that Zynga game you're currently obsessed with. Facebook has responded to customer sentiment by allowing you a great deal of customization - use it. You can remove Friends from your feed without removing them from your friends list. You can turn off Updates from Applications. Again, be conscious about what you want to consume when you do spend time on Facebook, who you want to be talking to and hearing from.
Monday, July 26, 2010
I like to explain what a usability team does by describing what usability is NOT. This list is not comprehensive, but has been successful for getting my point across. A usability team is like a tool for a software company - there's a right way to use it. While you can use a knife to eat peas, a lot of your dinner is going to remain uneaten.
Doing usability work does not necessitate having special *magical* abilities or talents. There are some skills and principles that are learned, but most good insight into usability comes from observation and research – from users, not UX professionals. People often look to my team as being able to "wave our magic wand" over some UI, and make optimal recommendations to achieve this ephemeral quality called Usability. There is no magic here; just hard work and in-depth observation. Similarly, unlike a magical spell, that provides an instant result, doing usability work takes time. Research is resource intensive and hard. But it has real ROI and is the smart approach to take.
Usability is not the frosting on the cupcake that you brush on at the end. You can't first build a piece of software and then spread some glittery pink sweetness over the top of it and expect to have anything remotely meeting real users' needs. A usability team should be brought in from Day 1 of a new product's development. We should be helping to define the requirements in MRDs and PRDs, helping refine the alphas and betas. We should be part of the cake batter, baby!
Look at the guy in this picture. This is a real user in a usability study I ran some years ago. See his face? He is expressing confusion and uncertainty at a design that I had no problem with (in fact, it's something I designed!).
It's a mantra we UX professionals should repeat to ourselves (and to the stakeholders we work with!)... "You are not your user!" It's constant discipline to keep reminding ourselves that just because we see something some way, or want some feature, or have no problem with an interaction flow, it isn't really relevant! We need to keep bringing in real users and testing concepts with them. Users will always, always surprise you. Staying objective means talking (a lot!) to other people besides internal constituents.
4. Completely novel.
About 90% of usability design involves drawing on design patterns and interactions that users have become familiarized in their previous interactions with technology (and the physical world - think buttons and tabs!). We use radio buttons when the information structure suggests it, we don't make up some completely new rule or behavior for interaction just because we want to inspire or delight. So, if we have to keep our designs consistent, where does innovation come from? I'd say that's the remaining 5%. In general, avoid the temptation to over-engineer – or over-elevate things to the interface that a software engineer put behind in the code. Keep it simple and consistent, and trust me the beauty of a smooth interaction will outweigh any desire a user has to want to "decypher" your clever, innovative UI.
5. The Holy Grail.
Ultimately, a usability team is situated in a business environment and needs to operate fluidly between many arms of a company. While user needs should be important for setting priorities, sometimes creating a product involves compromise, and iterating on a design until you get it as good as you can.
For instance, I've done a LOT of usability tests involving registration of a software program. Users always say that they would prefer not to share their email address when creating an account! Marketing would balk (and they have) if I tell them to remove this technical requirement if they want to improve UX. In the end, it doesn't matter. That's the way it has to be because the comprehensive marketing plan relies on email marketing campaigns. My job, then, becomes asking for email addresses in a way that is as painless as possible. It's a compromise. It's our job as UX professionals to stay nimble to competing constraints, discover what other teams are working with, and keep coming up with creative solutions given those constraints in place.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I promise this article isn’t going to turn into a lament about the demise/downturn of Tribe.net. True, we regular users were all sad to see it go, and most of us sold out and migrated to Facebook reluctantly, once the rest of the “herd” moved south. After all, we are social creatures, and we follow the pack. I’m a digital anthropologist, and I’m interested in how adopting technology changes and shapes our social practices. Design always involves tradeoffs. Tribe, Facebook, or Twitter are built with a set of design constraints, and these design choices have real implications about how we use these differing media to think and communicate with one another.
The premise of Tribe is to build a profile and join certain moderated groups (“Tribes”) where discussions take place. Anyone can create a Tribe, and they range from a subject area, to an event, to a location group. As Tribe member, you are alerted when new posts have happened within Tribes you are affiliated with. Users can create threads and respond to them. Posts within a Tribe can range from short comments to long paragraphs of text. An advantage of the Tribe.net format is that discussions and replies can be any length, and some of them actually involve in-depth debates where people actually create and build an argument. A disadvantage of Tribe.net’s design is that information is locked away from the surface (i.e. like any other discussion forum site, all you see is that new posts have rolled in, not exactly what they entail).
When I was an avid, active Tribe-er, I spent a lot of time checking on the latest discussions and contributing my thoughts and commentary. I think I was actually a better writer back then, having to string together a cohesive, coherent paragraph or two, rather than the “one-offs” I post to my friends’ Facebook feeds today.
Although Twitter’s hashtag convention allows users to argue/discuss/comment on a particular conversational topic, all we get are groupings of single sentences. How much of an argument can one construct in 140 characters? Most of what seems to occur in Twitter discussions seems to be “shouting into the void” rather than substantive discussion. Similarly, Facebook groups our conversations based on someone’s status update or post, but again, we’re severely restricted on string length. And though we have email capability on Facebook, conventions seem to have shifted towards posting short blurbs and messages directly on a friends’ walls.
The conversations we have on Facebook and Twitter remind me of a depressing dinner I once had with some girlfriends. We’d tried 3 or 4 times to find a date that matched everyone’s schedule, and I was excited to find a time to catch up with everyone. However, the restaurant was loud, we were all high strung and stressed, and I felt like the entire meal we were simply shouting at each other about our big, urgent problems and complaints. No one was actually listening. We were too busy with the chattering in our own head. I felt a little sick when I left, like I’d hastily eaten the entire meal without tasting it.
This comic is so symbolic of my years on Tribe. I think I love this image because I see myself in those clenched hands flying furiously over the keyboard. Oh we waged wars of words on those discussion threads! It was dramatic, and it was fun. We practiced a craft together, an art that I fear is dying as our communications grow shorter and more piecemeal. I guess I should be thankful for blogs– one of the few remaining outposts for these aging paragraphs and drawn-out arguments.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
A good handle tells you on a very low-level how it’s supposed to be used. You hardly know it’s there as you glide through the door, effortlessly. A good handle is shaped in a way that matches how you should grasp it. Based upon its appearance, it tells you whether to turn it, push it, pull it, grab it, or twist it. Cognitive scientists call this concept having an affordance. Affordances work on the perceptual level, harnessing what we’ve learned about the everyday world to seamlessly teach us how to use unfamiliar things.
Poorly designed handles, on the other hand, do make it to your central focus. You push where you’re supposed to pull. Printed signs need to be prepared to prevent errors. Think about this: a well-designed handle should never need written directions – it speaks for itself. Don Norman has written extensively about door handles, and design, and cognition, in his book, The Design of Everyday Things (Doubleday, 1990). It’s a marvelously insightful book, and it forever changed the way I look at the mundane.
I wonder if we’d do better if we considered the fact that most users don’t regard and admire our icons, our dashboard, and UI background images like Picassos and Monets. Users don’t eagerly watch their email inbox for our corporate newsletters. They want a straightforward tool that invites interaction on their own terms, but mostly gets out of the way so they can do what they really want to with their computer.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Set up screen showing some "user profiles"
"User Profiles" have recently become a buzz word around my company, largely because of a new feature implemented in this year's (2010) product release. We actually have different UIs that we show a customer based on what kind of information they want to see from our product, if they are non-technical, average, or expert, or if they are a parent, gamer, etc. This approach has been seen as revolutionary in the industry, and we've gotten kudos from reviewers.
The problem with using the term "User Profile" to represent this product strategy is that it becomes very easy to conflate it with the UI research term, as well as others in the same family - personas, user types, scenarios, etc. Here's an example of how this conflation has consequences.
While working on designing the next-generation UI for another of our security products, I got the following email from the product manager:
"About the profiles, I heard people commenting that a classification as Basic, Intermediate, Advanced would be difficult for the users. They will never place themselves into the right category. I am concerned about the naming of the groups."
From this comment, we can interpret a misconception with potentially grave consequences. The product manager is making one of the fundamental mistakes of user interface design - that the "skin" of the product will reflect literally the "guts." In other words, we literally ask a user to choose what their profile is, and then if we show them a different UI based upon one's self-identified technical skill level (as we've done in the consumer product), the user will have some indication of this in what they see as they interact with the UI. The problem is that what I call a "user profile" is NOT the same as a custom UI based on a user's profile.
Here is my reply to the product manager, which does a good job of summarizing my feelings about what user profiles/personas should be used for during design:
"I wanted to clarify about what the user profiles should be used for, and what the process should look like. You mentioned that you were concerned about the naming of the groups. I agree with you that a customer should not be put in the place of having to identify themselves as a basic, intermediate, or advanced user, with no basis for judgment or the outcome of their choice. Actually, what we mean by the term 'user profiles' is more like a design research method, or even more accurately, a thinking tool.
For now, we should think of the categories as similar to the categories that come out of our market research segmentation. We would never have the customer identify themselves as per such categories ("Beta Mom" or "Technophile") or even see or be aware of them as marketing campaigns are created. In the UI design world, these profiles are useful because they allow us to create an idealized case, and continue to ask ourselves throughout the design process, “Would a person from this segment understand how to do x?” “What would they want to see on their dashboard?" "What would 'Joe 6 Pack' think of this screen?" etc. This way we ensure that we are meeting the needs of a variety of users.
These questions still remain to be answered:
By creating user profiles that allow us to classify and personify our target users, we can continue to put ourselves in their shoes and ask whether certain approaches will meet their needs.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Second disclaimer is that this is by no means an original idea or concept - tons of people have made light-up hoops, and you could even spend about $175 on one online if you don't want to make your own. Rather, I am posting this because I noticed a paucity of clear, coherent how-to's, and I think in the process of building this version of a hoop we discovered/invented some neat shortcuts for doing things.
And so...on to the directions.
Step 1. Assemble materials.
To make my hoop, I used:
- translucent poly tubing (3/4 inch) from Home Depot, approx. 12 feet (depends on your personal preference)
- a tubing connector,
- 30 white LEDs, and 6 color change LEDs
- 9V battery
- 9V battery connector
- soldering iron
- heat-shrink tubing
- heat gun
- a dremel
- bunches of unicorn and star stickers
Step 1 1/2. Cut corners (I mean figuratively).
By this, I mean, get all materials in a state as close to the final one you will need them in. For me, this meant the LEDs - why solder together 30 LEDs when you can buy a pre-strung set for $8.99 on eBay? I made things a little more complicated because I wanted to intersperse 6 color change LEDs into the string of white ones, so I had to solder them in at junctions throughout. But I'm getting ahead of myself. One could easily use an LED set "off the shelf."
Step 2. Make your LED string.
As I mentioned, I used a pre-assembled string (arguably the cheapest way to get LEDs anyway), and interspersed 6 color change LEDs. I also needed to detach the string from the AA battery pack that originally came with it. This is because the most streamlined way to power the hoop is by using a single 9V battery.
Step 3. Power your LEDs.
We did some circuitry to power our 36 LEDs on a 9V battery. First, we attached a 9V battery connector to the string. We also needed to add in some resistance, as 9V is a little too much for those LEDs to handle, and they could burn out. I wish I could tell you the exact number of ohms we ended up using, but like any good real-world physics problem, we quickly abandoned the V=IR formula when it didn't work. We ended up using trial-and-error with a resistor multi-pack I had from Radio Shack. THAT worked - (with apologies to Mr. Dhillon, my AP physics teacher with the *almost* incomprehensible Indian accent...he did teach me well - hey, I remembered the formula!).
Step 4. Cut a battery holder.
After a couple hours of trying out various fancy and streamlined battery holder scenarios, we arrived on a simple ghetto version that gets the job done. We dremeled a rectangular hole into the outer edge of one end of the tubing (allowing for about 1 1/2 inch where the tubing connector will push in). This is kind of confusing in words so here are some sketches/pictures:
Step 5. Thread your string.
We used an old electrician's trick to get the LED string into the hoop. We took a long piece of yarn, tied a nut to one end, and the end of the LED string to the other. Then, we dropped the nut into one end of the hoop, and it quickly slid through the tube, allowing us to catch it and pull the LEDs through. We secured one end of the LEDs to the other (forming the circle) using a safety pin. See picture for a close up:
Step 6. Connect up the hoop and seal the battery.
Once everything was hooked up and the battery assembly in place, we connected the hoop using the plastic tubing connector. Because this is an extremely tight fit, we used the heat gun to heat up either end of the hoop right before we slid the connector in (makes life soooo much easier!).
The size for the battery holder that we cut is very precise, which is great, because it holds the battery in place very firmly, and it only sticks out about 1/4 inch from the outside edge. I've been pleasantly surprised because I don't notice either the uneven weight, or the added bulk from the battery, when using the hoop.
I also sealed up the battery assembly using a piece of clear duct tape. This isn't the world's best way of doing things, because I have to un-tape the battery assembly every time I want to turn the hoop on or off (I do this by detaching the battery from the battery holder). An ambitious crafter could perhaps add a switch to the circuit assembly, but I got too lazy and I wanted to play with my hoop as fast as possible.
Step 7. Glamor-fy!
I wanted to add a little personality and bling to my hoop, so I covered it in unicorn/flower/star stickers. I used stickers that were plastic and semi-transparent so they would be somewhat weather-proof and show light behind them. I've seen other hoops with gaffer tape looped around them, that is a neat effect too.
Step 8. Play somewhere dark.
(This is self-explanatory.)
Some other tips about enjoying your light-up hooping experience.
- Hoop somewhere you can watch your reflection in a window.
- Don't worry about having to know how to do fancy tricks and acrobatics. Seriously, doing anything with a light-up hoop looks damn cool!
- Have somebody take pictures of you using your hoop. It's so neat to see yourself with a swirly light-stream "hoop skirt!"
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A big thank you to my fantastic husband Shane, for his amazing talents with custom holders, dremmeling, electronics, connectors, and his infinite encouragement in doing silly fun projects!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
First, you need a faerie. It's good to start with the faerie, because she (or he) will inspire you to create her a lovely garden spot. She will also, based on her size, determine how big things in the garden need to be, like fences, stairs, bridges, wishing-wells, and couches made of shells. It's best if you get your faerie as a gift, because then you will have fond thoughts of a person as you build your garden. You can also make a faerie yourself, which is arguably an even better way to come about a magical creature.
Next, you need a spot. I chose a location that is in a corner made by two wooden fences, that is visible from my kitchen window. This way I can see it from my kitchen, and it will make me happy.
The next thing is to begin to assemble materials. For me, this involved two kinds of things. One kind was growing things that I was able to buy at a local nursery. I got thyme, lavender, two kinds of sage, and a bunch of mossy ground-cover type stuff. I also got some small glass stones to make into stepping stones, and some shells.
The second kind of things were from nature. I collected sticks to make into a faery-sized fence, that I bound together with hemp and wire. On a hike in nearby Huddart Park, I picked up a rock with moss growing on it, and some mossy branches, that I clustered around the garden. In Half Moon Bay, I collected seaglass and shells, to make faerie steps into the garden.
The nice thing about a faerie garden is that it's never quite finished. I still plan to build a bridge and a bench for the faerie. And, I want to make my own faerie and other friends, so this girl doesn't get too lonely.
Monday, March 15, 2010
If you've never participated in a usability test, the most important thing to know is that it's not really a test at all. You're not expected to perform in a certain way: there are no right or wrong answers, there is no grade at the end, and there is no pressure to perform. Usability researchers like me depend on the participants who come in to help make the products we work on easy to use, pleasant, and convenient. The way we do that is by watching everyday people try to use our products. So if the product is difficult to use, it's our responsibility to fix it. Blame the designer! not the user.
Here are some things to expect:
Expect to be welcomed
When you come to our offices, you can expect to be greeted at the door. We will go into an office that will allow us to work in privacy. Joining us in our session, we may have one or two other observers, who are there to help with note-taking and recording equipment. You can expect to be made comfortable - we will offer you a refreshment, and a place to sit.
Expect your confidentiality to be respected
Because we may be working with designs that have not yet been released to the market, we will ask you to sign a "non-disclosure agreement." This document is your word that you won't speak with our competitors about new designs. We also respect your privacy, and we will ask you to sign a video/audio recording release form. We will often create video or audio recordings during the session. These recordings are like "high-fidelity notes" for us - we want to be sure that we can remember every possible important detail of what you say. We use these recordings when we analyze the results of a set of usability tests, and they won't be shown or disclosed to any external audiences. So don't worry - you will never find a video of yourself trying to use our software on Youtube!
A lot of what happens during a usability test is conversation...about you. We will ask you about the ordinary things in your everyday life. It might seem strange for us to be interested in things you find mundane, but it's knowing about these details that allow us to design products that help you accomplish your daily tasks, make your life easier, or inspire you in some small way. Also, remember that there are no "right" answers. Don't worry about hurting our feelings if you don't like our company or have never heard of it - we *love* honest answers best of all.
Expect to be asked to "think aloud"
We haven't yet found a way to read minds, or look into people's brains, to figure out what they are thinking. We will ask you to "think aloud" as you try to do something with a piece of software or other prototype. This might seem strange, but it's just like talking to yourself as you do something. Here's an example of someone trying out a website: "Ok, I'm going to go to www.website.com now. The first thing I see is this big banner across the top. I'm not really sure what it's for. Now I'm going to click on this link. Hm. I didn't go where I thought I would. I was expecting to go to the shopping cart. This text is too small. How do I go back in the menu? etc."
Expect to have to use your imagination
Often when we put together a usability test, the designs we'll have you look at won't have the same level of fidelity as they would "off the shelf". In fact, sometimes we may even have you pretend to interact with paper print-outs! So, you'll have to use your imagination sometimes to polish out the rough edges, and not let small imperfections get in the way too much. Another way you might have to use your imagination is through putting yourself into fictional scenarios. We might ask you to pretend you're trying to do one task or another, for instance, "Let's say you were interested in finding out about product x. Please interact with the website to demonstrate how you might do that."
Other stuff to expect
Sometimes we'll ask you to fill out a short survey, help us brainstorm a layout, or do a fun creative task using markers and paper, or sticky notes. It depends on what project we're working on at the moment.
Expect to be compensated for your time
We value your time and input. The way we show you how much we appreciate your taking time out of the day to come and share your thoughts with us is by compensating you with cash, or a cash-equivalent credit card. Typically we compensate participants about $75 for an hour-and-a-half of their time.
And that's it! We've heard before from participants that they've had lots of fun coming in, and we keep a list of great folks who are interested in coming back another time. Please contact me if you have any other questions about what to expect!
Friday, March 5, 2010
1 square kitty litter bucket
1 litter catching pad (Petco $6.99)
1 66 qt. bin with lid (on sale at Target $5.59)
3 screws, bolts, and washers
dremel with cutting wheel
Using the dremel, cut off the lip of the bucket so that it will lie flush with the surface of the bin lid. Cut an archway into one side of the bucket.
Trace the size of the bucket lid onto one end of the bin lid. Add allowances for 3 1X2 inch tabs (on back and 2 sides into the tracing) - this will allow you to screw the bucket onto the bin lid, once the tabs are folded up vertically (they go on the outside of the bucket). Using the dremel, cut into the bin lid, taking it in about 1/4 inch to help hold the bucket up.
Before attaching the bucket with screws, cover it with fabric scraps, using hot glue.
Attach bucket with screws, making sure it lies flush and feels secure.
Depending on the size of the bin and the litter catching pad, you may need to cut it a bit so that it fits on the lid. In this example, it was not necessary to attach the pad to the lid as it's mostly held in place (and it's nice to be able to lift it off and dust off excess litter pieces easily).
Fill the inner bin with kitty litter (you may want to put down a bin liner first).
Introduce the new litter box to the cats! Ghostie used it within the first 5 minutes. I was very happy to see *no* residual litter bits on the bathroom floor, and a bunch caught in the litter catching pad. :)