jibbajabba's blog

Financial Web Sites Scramble to Add Video

NYTimes article about adding video to financial services sites. All I can say is, "Why?". Do users of financial services sites demand video? I'd rather just leave CNNfN on the TV or something. Suddenly, the race is on among financial firms, including E*Trade and Fidelity Investments, to enhance their Web sites by adding video clips of interviews with executives, stock analysts and mutual fund managers. They are also transmitting newscasts provided by financial Webcasting companies like WebFN, JAGfn and ON24.

Nielsen on Usability: Next Steps for Web Usability

Nielsen on the state of Web Usabilty (I pulled out his arguments into bullet points). Sort of a recap and reiteration of the Jacob-bytes (or Jakob sound bytes if you will):

  • Content: see: useit article on content usability
  • Multimedia: develop guidelines for multimedia usability that will increase user engagement and control.
  • Search: The solution lies partly in technology (better search engines), partly in content management (identifying the top answers for common questions), and partly in content production (better meta-tagging).
  • Internationational usability: there is more interest in international studies among surviving companies as they recognize that they cannot ignore half of their customers.
  • Internalize human factors guidelines: central usability group that can run behavioral studies to discover the truth about customers and identify the many flaws in the corporate Web site. It is also great to gain a deeper perspective on the company's usability strategy from an independent review by an outside expert ... and evangelize usability within the organization (my paraphrasing).
While I don't wholly agree with the guidelines on content usability and think Nielsen needs to expand more on his recommendations for international usability, I agree largely with his comments about internalizing human factors guidelines, and the search recommendations are valuable.

A Ray of Hope for Air Travelers Following Signs

[from Interaction by Design] The NYTimes has an article about creating clarity out of confusion in the design of NYC airport signage. "New York airports were among the most confusing in the world," said Paul Mijksenaar, the 57-year-old Dutch designer, who has been brought in by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to redo the obtuse airport signs."There was no system. They resembled — how do you say it? — the apocalypse." As an information designer, Mr. Mijksenaar's specialty is taming chaos. Over the last two years, he has begun to turn the perplexing welter of signs at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark into an orderly series of transitions that will ultimately replace more than 5,000 dated and confusing ones, easing the way for some 90 million travelers each year.

Marketers Call On Kids To Design Web Sites

Bizreport talks about companies using children to design web sites and to help their product marketing efforts. The look, the feel, even the sound of a Web site can mean the difference between a Web hit or miss, especially for kids. Online marketers have less than 8 seconds to capture a kid's attention — or lose them, perhaps forever. That's a lot to lose, considering 17.3 million individual kids and teens go online each month. And they spend or influence spending in excess of $500 billion annually. Many of the biggest kid marketers — from Mattel to Disney to Nintendo to Crayola — are spending millions of dollars, logging thousands of man-hours, hiring child psychologists and even offering freebies or cash to kid consultants to help make their Web sites "kid-dictive." The formula is embarrassingly simple. Keep kids stimulated. Let kids feel in control. And, in a growing number of cases, let kids design the sites.

PhD Power drives the search engine standard

InternetWorld interviewed Google's Sergey Brin to talk about how two Standford CS PhD students' discussions of data mining led to the difference of philosophy that has made Google the standard by which other search engines are compared. One of the things that keeps Google on top is the relevancy of retrieval, which is powered by algorithms constantly developed by engineers in Google's technical team. Another thing is the focus -- doing one thing really well -- on search.

Critical thinking in web/interface design part 2: idea generation

[from WebWord] Scott Berkun releases Part 2 of the 3 part UIWweb series on critical thinking in design. Part 1 covered planning, and part 3 will cover project management. Some of the material in this issue is derived from the CHI 2001 tutorial presented last month entitled “how to solve interaction design problems”. Good ideas are hard to find. Project schedules, plans and budgets are important, but without quality ideas, great design is impossible. Finding people that can create and cultivate good ideas is always difficult, and often beyond our control. However, everyone can develop their own creative thinking skills, and can provide an environment that supports creativity. The best teams know how to balance quality engineering practices with a creative and supportive work environment. This essay on idea generation describes how this can be done, and offers advice on defining and managing the creative process.

Section 508 ripple effect

According to Michael Takemura, director of Compaq's Accessibility Program, "there are 54 million people with disabilities out there". Although he didn't identify the scope of "out there", there is no doubt that there is a large population of people that will be affected by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation act. The Standard talks about the ripple effect the federal regulation will have on companies vying for business with federal government. In short, developers of software that want to market their products to the government in one way or another are saying that they are moving to to make their future offerings comply with this important regulation.

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 useit.com. 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 Maytag.com 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 Diggit.com 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.

XML feed