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Corel Xara X

If use Corel Xara for vector graphics, Corel has just release Xara X for Windows.

Interface Usability in Flash

[from elegant hack] Flash has been a bone of contention for a lot of usability folks in recent years. Merien Q. Kunst wrote an article on interface usability in Flash for iboost that offers some very practical usability pointers (gleaned from the Quintus Flash Index, which she hosts) and points out some common errors.

Usability glossary

[from antenna] Usability First has a browsable and searchable Glossary of Usability terms.

P2P offers new paradigms and challenges for the way we do business

The Standard is running an article on peer to peer technologies that are making their way into the corporate collaboration and knowledge sharing space. With the announcement of new business P2P applications available by companies like Groove Networks, more IT people are looking to ways to make the P2P mode of collaboration a natural part of business workflows. Is this targetted, just in time mode of communication and collaboration the better mousetrap that replaces corporate America's intranet portals?

IA tools for Mac OS?

[from drewspace] Andrew Hinton pointed this one out on his blog. Apple has this article about Mac OS applications for Information Architecture work. I can't wait, personally, for OSX versions of Illustrator and Photoshop to become available, and it's really a shame that Visio isn't available at all for the Mac. Sigh. I liked how they expressed the role of the IA, by the way -- "working with the client to identify problems and opportunities and then articulating the best solutions." Very high-level, but appropriate.

Wireless devices: The 1994 interface of the future

Douglas Rushkoff's Second sight in the Guardian is talking about the speed and simplicity of animation and ad banner free WAP user interfaces. Take a look, for instance, at the NYTimes WAP page. In the article he says "We merely have a very clear recollection of how much better early web interfaces served the needs of students, researchers and anyone looking for some information." Hmm. True probably to some degree -- for some sites. But remember how hard it could be to find stuff using interfaces like Gopher? The usability of simple browsing interfaces that provide access to large collections depends on access points and recognizability. Rushkoff has a point though. I love reading news using RSS/RDF headlines that I grab everyday rather than going to the sites themselves.

A collection of login screens

[from webword] Ovo Studios has a page with a collection of login/register screens for some popular sites -- in case you need to make a comparison for best (or worst) practices.

Boo! And the 100 Other Dumbest Moments in e-Business

[from Mersault*Thinking] This was too funny to pass up. Funny thing is, on a project I worked on (in 1999, I think), the designer kept telling me how the user experience of boo was so innovative and wonderful. At the time I was taken by the cleaner, simpler design of sites like born magazine in its pre-flash period.

The McDonalds/Amazon effect: Familiarity breeds temptation

The NYTimes has an article about the forthcoming Babies R Us redesign. Toys/Babies R Us has partnered with Amazon.com and the ecommerce offering of the R Us stores will be rolled under Amazon. The article talks about familiarity and the McDonalds effect. "The reason you go into a McDonald's when you are in a foreign country ... is you know what you are going to get, and you know how the french fries are going to taste. The reason you like a store to look like Amazon is because then you know how to navigate it comfortably." I see the point that familiarity makes for a comfortable and maybe more tempting shopping experience. But following this argument, is the best design direction for ecommerce interfaces to start with tabs and grow their product offering until the tab metaphor no longer supports the information architecture well? Personally, I think the current Amazon navigation experience has gone down the drain since they expanded beyond the available horizontal space afforded by tabs as they moved to become the Walmart of the Web. Sure, the "Store Directory" and "Browse menu" afford access to the many new categories of products on Amazon, but I personally wonder, when I think about the growth of their product inventory, how they will continue to make it easy to shop without feeling overwhelmed by the navigation. The article ends with a final and telling comment from the shopper they interviewed about her shopping experience with the new Babies R Us/Amazon site, "... it still took me twice as long to shop. Next time I'm going back to my regular store." But she may be the exception. I'm sure Amazon might say that she spent more time because she lingered and surfed Amazon while shopping -- and that kind of behavior leads to add-on sales.

XP stands for eXPerience?

NYTimes had this intriguing article about Microsoft's forthcoming upgrade, Windows XP -- the XP is supposed to stand for eXPerience. Look at this precious and telling comment: Microsoft ... says that the best way to get a computer with Windows XP may be to buy one with it already installed — instead of trying to install the new system over an older version. What? That does sound like the M$ eXPerience I'm used to -- eXPect very little consideration in terms of ease of use, pay lots of money, and have no choice in the matter. It's funny. I had no problems upgrading my Mac from OS9 to OSX, which I was thoroughly impressed by. And Microsoft tells users that the easiest route will be to just by a new PC with the OS preinstalled. Yuck!

What people search for

I found this informative and fun. Search Engine Watch has an index of pages on search engines that show current or frequently entered search terms.

Bad designs

Came across baddesigns.com, a Human Factors site that shows example of badly designed every day objects.

HFWeb 2001 Universal Access: More People. More Situations.

The free HF conference is coming Monday, June 4, 2001 to Madison Wisconsin. Click "Read more" below for full press release. PROGRAM ANNOUNCED, REGISTRATION OPENED FOR HUMAN FACTORS CONFERENCE Web accessibility, CRM, mobile interface design highlighted by industry leaders MADISON, WI (April 17, 2001) - Optavia Corporation today announced the program for the 7th Conference on Human Factors and the Web (HFWeb) and tutorials on June 4-6, 2001 in Madison, Wisconsin. Free online conference registration was also announced, available at the conference web site, http://www.optavia.com/hfweb. Optavia Corporation is hosting this year’s HFWeb conference, which is a major annual event for human factors professionals - engineers, developers, and designers - to share and promote ideas and resources towards a more useful and usable web. Previous HFWeb hosts include Microsoft Corporation, IBM and SBC Technology Resources, AT&T, and US West Communications. The theme of this year’s event, “Universal Access: More People, More Situations,” highlights increasingly critical issues of accessibility and usable design. Leaders in a number of industries, including human factors, wireless Internet technology, user-centered design, and accessibility, will give presentations and tutorials. Specific topics include mobile interface design, prototyping and evaluation techniques, accessible web design, and customer relationship management. A complete listing of the conference program and tutorial topics is available at the conference web site. The conference will be held June 4 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, and is free to registered attendees. The tutorials will be held June 5-6, also at the Monona Terrace. Details of the tutorial fees are available at the conference web site. An early registration discount applies to tutorial registrations received prior to May 2. For questions about the conference or tutorials, visit the conference web site, http://www.optavia.com/hfweb, or contact the conference coordinator, Kary Lehman, at 608-260-9000. Optavia Corporation (http://www.optavia.com) designs the usable interface that connects you with your customers. Optavia’s user-centered techniques illuminate your customers’ needs, behaviors, and expectations, taking the guesswork out of interface design. Optavia’s training, research, and flexible consulting products guide your team in creating effective, usable technology built with the customer in mind. Optavia’s accessibility services open your organization to more people, in more situations. Bringing together the needs of your business and your customers, Optavia makes technology usable.

Citibank.com crit by Rosenfeld & Shipple

[from elegant hack] With citibank.com, performance issues and complexity make for a challenging online experience with the new citi.com. Lou Rosenfeld and John Shiple take the site to task.

Why is usability so hard? [Observations from the information retrieval perspective]

I had to move this one back to the top because after someone's comment about this thread on other blogs, I started to think about this article from the library and information science/information retrieval perspective. In Human-Computer Interaction Resource Network (HCIRN): Reflections, Adam Smith tackles the difficult question, "Why is usability so hard?" Answers Smith's answer is right on the mark. He says These are the cornerstones of user interface design -- people and goals/tasks/strategies existing within a context. To create usable, effective designs that people like, you need to understand all of those on their own terms and as a functioning whole. And that's why designing usable systems is so hard. Information goals and context That's a nice summary that makes good sense. Smith also says that "the first trick to designing usable systems is actually to not think about the computer at all, but to focus instead on the goals." It should come as no surprise to people with information retrieval backgrounds, that his statement is not trivial in anyway. I realize that for many users information seeking on the Web can be for experiences that are ephemeral and not directed at use outside of the electronic world, e.g. chat, entertainment and surfing. Smith's statement interests me most as it applies to users that seek knowledge to do something offline -- the users browsing and searching large information collections with the goal of extracting knowledge for use in the physical world ("meatspace" as opposed to "cyberspace", as I've read it refered to.) Information retrieval professionals obsess over the part about goals and context. In a good session with a reference librarian, you will be asked about the intended use for the information you seek and for some context -- the what and why of your information need. i.e. if you are a pre-med student doing research on current children's vaccinations for a term paper, the type of information you require may not be the same as for a parent looking for current information on the same topic. Or maybe it would. The context surrounding your need has to be fleshed out before the search intermediary -- the librarian -- can direct you to a good place to look. To complicate things, often times users cannot express easily in language what the information need is -- what Nick Belkin called an "Anomalous State of Knowledge". [1] If the information returned is not appropriate, the user and the intermediary iterate through the process. (I once illustrated this concept -- the classic information retrieval model -- crudely in an article I published on image retrieval [2].) So uncovering the goals and context to find the information can be a bit more complicated then just asking, "What are you looking for?" Information seeking on the Web OK, you say, that's nice for libraries, but what does that have to do with creating usable Web sites and information retrieval systems? On the Web, the information seeking episode replaces the human intermediary with the interface and the search form. The user interface is our main tool for presenting access points to our information through navigation and the search funtionality presents a method for posing questions to our body of stored knowledge. One of the problems with designing interfaces or systems, however, is that if you have not anticipated the kinds of questions your audience will ask, then it is quite difficult to present the information topology to them in a way that makes sense -- to map the access points to your body of knowledge with the user's way of thinking of that body. And that, to me, is where the system may tend to fail. This may not be such a problem when dealing with a shallow corpus of content, but when the body of information you are attempting to provide access to is extremely large, as is the case with Digital Libraries, representation of the knowledge contained within that body is extremely difficult. In the LIS field, a lot of the information retrieval literature that I have read focuses on users' information seeking behavior to uncover how people search and to point out how systems fail users in being able to use that information to do things in the real world. This cannot be very different from what Usability professionals do. With the availability of so much of our knowledge being on the Web these days, it's not surprising that so many people focus on the issue of the difficulty in creating Usable Web experiences. For references, click "Read more" below. [1] N. J. Belkin, R. N. Oddy, and H. M. Brooks. Ask for information retrieval: Part I. background and theory. Journal of Documentation, 38(2):61-71, June 1982. [2] M. Angeles. Information Organization and Information Use of Visual Resources Collections. VRA Bulletin, 25 (3), 51-58, Fall 1998.

User-friendly flash content

Whoa. I don't have time to read this white paper in it's entirety, but am going to post it for later. Here's the abstract from the site: The original intent of this white paper was to provide Macromedia Flash developers with the knowledge necessary to create user-friendly Macromedia Flash experiences on the Web. The need for this paper has never been more crucial, since many of the most vocal Web critics have recently portrayed Macromedia Flash content in a negative light. The claims that Macromedia Flash content is bad for the Web or that Macromedia Flash and usability are polar opposites are both myths.

UCLA ASIS lecture, 26 Apr. 2001: The Eyes Have It: User Interfaces for Information Visualization

Human perceptual skills are remarkable, but largely underutilized by current graphical user interfaces. The next generation of animated GUIs and visual data mining tools can provide users with remarkable capabilities if designers follow the Visual Information-Seeking. See full story for details. Dr. Ben Shneiderman Thursday, April 26, 2001 from 5-6:30 in GSEIS room 111 Mantra: Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand. But this is only a starting point in the path to understanding the rich set of information visualizations that have been proposed. Two other landmarks are: Direct manipulation: visual representation of the objects and actions of interest and rapid, incremental, and reversible operations. Dynamic queries: user controlled query widgets, such as sliders and buttons, that update the result set within 100msec. and are shown in the FilmFinder, American Memory (for Library of Congress), NASA (for environmental data), LifeLines (for medical records and personal histories), Spotfire (commercial multidimensional visualization tool), and Smartmoney marketmap (stock data). As a guide to research, information visualizations can be categorized in to 7 datatypes (1-, 2-, 3-dimensional data, temporal and multi-dimensional data, and tree and network data) and 7 tasks (overview, zoom, filter, details-on-demand, relate, history, and extract). Research directions include algorithms for rapid display update with millions of data points, strategies to explore vast multi-dimensional spaces of linked data, and design of advanced user controls. Some background information on Dr. Shneiderman: Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Founding Director (1983-2000) of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Member of the Institutes for Advanced Computer Studies and for Systems Research, all at the University of Maryland at College Park. Author of Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction (third edition 1998), Addison-Wesley Publishers, Reading, MA. His current work on information visualization has led to a commercial product called Spotfire. A collection of 47 key papers with extensive commentary - Using Vision to Think - appeared in January 1999 (with S. Card and J. Mackinlay). On the Board of Directors of Spotfire Inc. and has been on the Editorial Advisory Boards of nine journals. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1996 and was elected as a Fellow of the Association for Computing (ACM) in 1997 and the AAAS in 2001. This lecture is sponsored by UCLA-ASIS and LACASIS and is free. Registration is not required. Refreshments will be provided. Directions to the GSE&IS Building, UCLA GSE&IS is located at the north end of the UCLA Campus next to the Young (formerly University) Research Library (see http://www.ucla.edu/map/north.html). From the 405 freeway take the Sunset Blvd. exit and go east. Turn right on Westwood Plaza into the campus. Stop at the parking and information kiosk and tell the parking attendant that you are attending an event in the GSE&IS building. You can purchase a one-day parking permit for $6.00 and will be given parking directions and directions to the Library. For more complete directions to UCLA, consult: http://www.transportation.ucla.edu/parking/spdirect.htm

What can games teach us about human-computer interaction?

Kuro5hin.org has a very good article about learning HCI lessons from game interface design.

Zeldman on Navigation and Interface

A List Apart's Jeffrey Zeldman is giving away a preview of chapter 3, "Where Am I? Navigation and Interface", of his forthcoming guide published by New Riders, Taking Your Talent to the Web. Zeldman challenges interface design conventions and their relationship to user experience and suggests that the most effective Web design is characterized by "Focused, usable, brand-supportive interfaces". Or as he puts it, "A site that is "everybody's friend" is nobody's best friend." Call him the opposite of Nielsen for the bold statement he makes. Why, he even points to Lance Arthur's glassdog to give an example for what not to do with interface design. Public criticism of a peer's personal site. That's something. It's interesting that the majority of the IA and Interface Design writing that does not appear in journals takes such a limited view of information-use environments. The key points about considering audience, purpose and all that important stuff are there, but it is difficult to come across an article that talks about IA and interface design for vast and diverse content collections. Most of the writing, like Zeldman's chapter, focusses on Retail/Commerce sites. Personally, Id be more interested in seeing more of the outspoken folks out there talk about how to effectively design access to larger and diverse universes of content.

A Usability checklist and the pervasiveness of Usability

In ClickZ today, Suneet Kheterpal shows us her high-level usability checklist. While this article is titled, Usability makes a comeback, it is another article, A land beyond usability that mentions the pervasiveness of the term in the Web arena these days. That's about all it says, though.

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