Apple lays the smackdown on UI themes

[from Tomalak's Realm] Apple is creating a stink around the topic of "themes" -- alternative user interfaces for the Mac -- and has been threatening legal action with freeware developers who are creating them for the Mac OS. While I agree that the core OS benefits from a standard UI, I tend to agree with the author's opinion on this topic, there should be no reason for Apple to pank down developers that are trying to add to the tool they love. The author says, All this grousing leads us to the central question, Why on earth would Apple harass a small group of developers whose only sin seems to be the desire to make a contribution to the computing platform they love? The only explanation seems to be that, far from being afraid that theme developers will copy elements of the Mac user interface, somebody at Apple fears that the developers will create a better UI than Aqua. That hardly seems as if it would be a great tragedy to those who truly believe in an open-source approach, so I guess that somebody at Apple doesn't.

Avoid PDF for On-Screen Reading

Nielsen says no to PDF in Says Nielsen, Forcing users to browse PDF files decreases usability by around 300% compared with HTML pages. You should only use PDF for documents that users are likely to print. In those cases, following six basic guidelines will help you minimize usability problems. Some of Nielsen's guidelines are convincing enough, once you get to them. Nielsen takes a narrow view of the Web, however -- his Web worldview so often suggest that the guidelines for Usability in the commercial space are applicable to all Web experiences. Or perhaps that is just my misunderstanding because I've never heard a contrary assertion made on useit. Here's a different view. My position is that PDF, when done right (e.g. using the "Bookmarks" pane to create hierarchical navigation and embedding hyperlinks in the content), and used in the appropriate context is a valuable document format whether it's used for viewing on screen or printing. Information services organzations often have the job of providing access to documents from data aggregators, report vendors, and internal organizations. Market reports and journal articles for example can often be sent by vendors in PDF format because it is important for the appearance of the document to remain intact -- not to mention that some legal requirements prevent extracting data from and tampering with the appearance of these documents. A large percentage of data that Information services organizations have to make available may be in binary formats like PDF, Word, Excel, etc. and the challenge is to view each document as an entity and make the information contained in the document available by describing/classifying them. So the key is not to just say no to PDF, but to understand how to make access to the information in the documents possible!

The challenge of making federal Web sites friendly and interesting to disabled users

NYTimes has an article about section 508. Interestingly enough, this article appeared in the arts section because the angle was that sites produced by the feds are likely to use non-essential graphic images more conservatively in order to be more user friendly. Not that anyone thought this was possible, but the Web sites of the federal government are about to become less interesting. And from at least one perspective, that may be good. ... The goal of improved accessibility is beyond dispute. Yet as federal Webmasters re-examine what they put online to meet the requirements, they are likely to suppress their appetite for the attention-grabbing visuals known as eye candy and multimedia treats like animated graphics. ... [T]he government's 30 million pages may start to recall the Web sites of 1994, when text and graphics were nearly all that could be found online. An interesting position that some are taking is to view the demands of the accessibility requirements as an opportunity for software developers (non-feds) to work with the same goals in mind when creating multimedia applications. Accessible versions of Web sites are often drab views that remove interesting aspects such as animated information grahics. The idea is to be able to offer the same interesting views of information in those alternative formats, like motion graphics, to disabled viewers. Who can argue against wanting to make their information accessible to more of their audience without making look dull and drab? In adopting the accessibility standards, the government has become involved in a test case that has far-reaching implications for multimedia design. ... If the government can adjust to the standards, the thinking goes, it may pave the way for extending them to other areas of cyberspace. And the prospect of appealing to a mammoth customer like the federal government may prompt software developers to work harder to include accessibility features in their Web-building tools and perhaps develop creative ways to do it.

Overlay book

book cover Did you ever get your hand on an overlay book in your childhood? (I've been into finding books from my childhood lately.) This weekend I was reminded of overlay books -- books with a clear acetate or plastic sheet containing some graphics that when overlayed on a solid sheet of paper with a graphic or photo printed on it, give a sense of that graphic or photo in multiple states. An example of this are the human anatomy overlays that are sometimes in the popular encyclopedias. I grew up with an encyclopedia that had the human anatomy depicted in layers of plastic showing the epidermal layer at the top, and then with each layer, different organs are exposed. This is a great example of information design. The thing that reminded me of these books this weekend is the book, Ancient Rome : Monuments Past and Present, the ubiquitous tourist book sold on streets and tourist shops in Rome. I don't think it's still in print, but you might be able to grab one if you're in Rome or in an art museum book store.

Magazine writers stay informed by reading the weblogs

This is interesting. Network World Magazine has a link to the Argus Vivian Bliss interview and attributes the reference by saying "via iaslash". That's pretty cool. I bet a lot of writers stay informed by reading weblogs, personal sites and such, but most wouldn't attribute the reference to one of us. -m

The appliance retailer launches a first-rate site with friendly, accessible design and a partnership program with local affiliates. Terry Swack and John Shiple deconstruct in InternetWorld.

Diggit image search engine

I used to be quite interested in the topic of image indexing, having published articles on the topic in the Visual Resources Association Bulletin, so I sometimes look for resources in this field, just out of curiousity. I came across today, a search engine for images on the Web. This search engine provides some search capabilities you may have already seen in Altavista, but provides a richer set of search tools for the specific task of searching images. The simplest form of search uses terms you enter for boolean or keyword searching. Once you have found a set of images, you can refine or expand your search using similarity. Similiarity works in two ways on Diggit. You can retrieve images with similar keywords -- the word may be in the image file name, in its caption, in the title of the web page it lives on, etc. And you can search for images which are visually similar -- the visual similarity percentage match takes into account image colors, shapes, and textures. To use the similarity feature, you uncheck the keyword box after an initial search and Diggit searches by visual similarity only. The most compelling search paradigm is offered by their "FX" and "Graffiti" tools. These advanced search GUIs allow you to draw your query images. Some people may be familiar with tools like IBM's QBIC (Query by image content) which was one of the first to pioneer this area of searching. If your computer meets the requirements, give it a try.

Online cheese comparator

Online cheese comparator. I don't ask why, I just log em. Your name is: jibbajabbaboy Your cheese rating is: Ricotta A traditional whey cheese, Ricotta is white, creamy and mild, and is used when making traditional lasagne. Ricotta should be firm, rather than solid, and consists of a mass of fine, moist grains.

Cross section book

book cover A couple weeks ago I picked up a great book at the annual used book sale held by the Brooklyn Public Library in New York: Stephen Biesty's Incredible Cross-Sections by Richard Platt, Stephen Biesty (Illustrator). I grew up with a book like this, may have been the same book, that showed the innards of machines, cruise ships, etc. It's a lot of fun to look at these and a great example of how fun information design can be. Note: I'm not endorsing Amazon by linking to the book. If you prefer, find it at Barnes and Noble. -m

New NY Times info. graphic

As you can tell, I enjoy the NY Times information graphics. Probably because I took a class in Library School on information visualization and got to hear a design director speak about information graphics at the Times -- mainly on the graphics/charts they create for the business section. Anyway, today's graphic explains how an automobile's remote controled lock-and-key system works.

Don't fear 508

If you work for a federal government agency, you have until June 21 to make systems and Web sites accessible. A short article in Government Computer News breaks down the reasons to be 508 compliant into 2 bullet points: First is simple fairness and equity. The benefits of information technology should not be restricted to the fully able. In fact, severely handicapped people, such as quadriplegics, have been projecting their intellects for many years with the augmentation of specialized IT input and output devices. Second, especially for Web sites, it turns out that it's fairly straightforward to make a careful, highly usable system accessible. Clear and navigable layouts, logical link patterns, and freedom from excessive graphics and audio-visual gew-gaws make a Web site easier and more efficient for all users. A site so designed is more likely to be compatible with add-on products for screen reading, type enlargement and the like.

I hate you X10 camera!

Is there a consensus of opinion among designers that popup ads suck? It used to be just the X10 ad that annoyed me everytime I went to Altavista, but it seems that these adds that open in a new window whenever you visit a popular site like Altavista or New York Times are proliferating like rabbits. I'd much rather see and skip the huge square and rectangular (usually Flash) ads that now dominate pages than have to close that popup ad. Whatever happened to the term Netiquette?

Designing Information-Abundant Websites

Ben Schneiderman's 1997 paper, Designing Information-Abundant Websites: Issues and Recommendations, is an adaptation of his book "Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human- Computer Interaction" that came across my desk. The paper cites research from the HCI and information retrieval literature as starting points when considering user interface design because of the paucity of empirical data and practical case studies on interfaces design for the Web.

PLAY research studio

Another great site recently logged on Antenna is the PLAY research studio in Sweden which is part of an organization called the Interactive Institute. "The PLAY research studio investigates and invents the future of human-computer interaction."

Event Horizon User Interface Model for Small Devices

[from Antenna] A Sun Microsystems technical report proposes a method for expanding the navigation model for small devices. The key idea of the proposed model is that the display can be compressed and expanded by moving objects radially farther away or closer to an event horizon in the middle of the screen.

'Choose Your Own Adventure' Diagrams?

Someone posted the following question. I've not seen any literature on this type of interaction design. Can anyone help this person out? -m Do you know of a resource where I could find information on the types of diagrams used for "choose your own adventure" style interactive fiction, or software that could do it.

Tomalak's Realm retires

I'm sad to say that Lawrence Lee retiring Tomalak's Realm this week -- although i understand that he needs to focus on other things and doesn't want to compromise the integrity of his log. Tomalak's Realm is a treasure trove of useful pointers to current news. The interesting use of hypertext in Tomalak by referring back to relevant articles and resources in the past gave valuable context to the nuggets he gleaned daily. Best of luck to Lawrence in his future endeavours. -m Announcement: I've recently decided to retire Tomalak's Realm. You can learn more about this development on the website. If there are any changes to this plan, I'll post it on the website and if necessary to the newsletter subsciber list.

640x480 screen test

I embedded the link to A. Porter Glendenning's 640x480 pixel screen resolution test with the previous log entry but thought it should be highlighted on its own, because IA's might find it useful. Porter posted this link to the Babble Web design list (which I think is dead now) a few years ago as a tool for testing Web pages without having to resize your monitor resolution. An accessible information referral site for aging Americans

I came across an article in the NY Times about, a referral service from the National Council on the Aging. This looked to me like a good example of appropriate design for a well targetted audience. The text is large and easy to read. The navigation takes a linear approach if you skip the global navigation at the top and follow the "Let's get started" link on the bottom of the page after the introductory text on the front. There were a few things I found could be modified to make the site more user-friendly for this audience. I thought the top portion of the site -- the global nav and sponsor icons -- took up way too much screen real estate. When I load it into a 640x480 resolution monitor, only the first 2 lines of text appeared, with the screen dominated by logos. (TIP: A good way to check at 640x480 without changing your screen resolution is to use Porter Glendenning's 640x480 screen test.) It would be nicer to move the logos to the bottom of the screen and to either duplicate the "Let's get started" link in the global nav or somehow minimize the importance of the global nav, because use of the site doesn't start until you click "Let's get started". The global nav links to content that is really just metainformation -- information about the site. I also have to note that when I looked under the hood, I expected to see H1 tags for the headings, but instead saw the font being controlled by HTML font tags. I admit that I commit the sin of using CSS and HTML font tags myself rather than using the H# tags, but for this audience, I would expect a large portion of the audience could include people using screen readers. Overall, this was an appropriate design that could be made more accessible with some minor adjustments. I don't often throw my $.02 up about site designs, but am interested in the topic of accessbility, so this site was a good exercise.

Dell to manufacture electronic voting systems

Well, maybe the next election won't suffer from the poorly designed ballots used in Florida. According to NY Times, Dell started selling the electronic ballot systems they are building with Hart InterCivic Inc. The eSlate voting device is an electronic tablet (think huge pda) with a jog wheel and and some large, clearly labeled buttons. Follow the eSlate link above and click on the zoom link to see the device. I don't know why they didn't just make the devices touch screens. I wonder if the jog wheel will cause any confusion -- it's not a commonly used input device.

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