jibbajabba's blog

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.

Interactionary at CHI 2001

Scott Berkun recaps Interactionary at CHI 2001, where Teams of usability engineers and designers from IBM, Cooper Design, and Trilogy solved design problems live on stage in front of an audience.

Business-speak generator

This business speak generator is a gem. In the spirit of the dilbert mission statement generator, dack.com's Web Economy Bullshit Generator produces gems like:

  • transform visionary infomediaries
  • monetize clicks-and-mortar communities
  • grow magnetic paradigms
Invaluable. Try it on your superiors and see if they latch on! And speaking of Dilbert, here is great one for IAs

CSS2: Designing for aural devices

XML, and Style Sheets are realizing the concept of write once publish everywhere and engineering the user experience for multiple devices is becoming more and more a concern for IA's. With that in mind, webreview has a brief introduction to the concept of using the aural features of CSS2 and of course the CSS2 recommendation can be found at the w3c. ...should you find yourself in a position to discuss this issue with colleagues or clients.

The Myth of 800x600

[another picked up from elegant hack] In Webreview today, James Kalbach (an IA from Razorfish with an IS background) itemizes the different types of layout behaviors fixed, liquid, and hybrid discusses the challenges of designing interfaces. He doesn't suggest in this article that there is one solution that is appropriate to every use, but points out the advantages/disadvantages of each approach.

Debunking the myths of UI design

[picked up by HannaHodge] A lot of great stuff in HannaHodge's brainbox. Paul Smith of IBM developerWorks has a great article on the culture of software developers and looks at the myths related to the design of user interfaces.

Library User Interface Issues

Not much there yet, but an Electronic Resources Librarian at Sweet Briar college is developing Library User Interface Issues (LUII) to discuss Libraries and Usability issues.

Visual Architecture: The Rule of Three

[picked this gem up from eleganthack] Digital Web Magazine's feature, Visual Architecture, discusses the relation of image, word, and composition to suggest how to effectively communicate messages visually. The interaction of objects in a pyramidal composition carries a concept often used in painting over to design. The pyramid is used to convey stability while directing the eye around the corners of the composition. A classic example of this is Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks in the Louvre. Carole Guevin does a nice job of showing how to use triangular composition, dynamic placement, and color to achieve similar effects.

The anti user interface

The NYTimes Arts section is running this article about the art site 0100101110101101.org/ which gives the public access to it's computer. What you really see is a directory listing of a *NIX machine, and when you follow a few links you are bombarded with pages that take you to different parts of this machine in jodi.org-like fashion. Sites like these are about art not information provision, but they do challenge the idea of user experience on the web more boldly than just moving the home page link to the right side of the page.

MarchFirst latest casualty: Declares bankruptcy

[from The Standard] After months of speculation, failed Internet consulting firm MarchFirst last Thursday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A week earlier, the Chicago-based company sold its most valuable assets.

Looking for Metadata in All the Wrong Places

Ed Lehman discusses controlled vocabularies in this Webreference article. He makes the appropriate statement in saying that there is no off the shelf solution to satisfy everyone's needs. Knowledge representation for information retrieval is difficult work that ususally requires the work of humans. He does suggest strategies that are sound, one of which is to grow your controlled vocabulary over time.

CHI 2001: The state of Computer Usability

Computerworld covered the annual Computer/Human Interface (CHI) conference and reported back with this article, Experts: Computers slouching toward usability. The message from the conference was, software and hardware aren't nearly as usable as they should be. And more bluntly put, The devices we're forced to endure are crappy," said Donald Norman, president of Unext.com in Deerfield, Ill., and author of The Design of Everyday Things (Doubleday, 1988). "Most human error is caused by design error." Well said. But will the word of Usability folks ensure careers for IAs?

2CE CubicEye

A colleague pointed me in the direction of the Cubic Eye, another new tool that attempts to render the web space in 3 dimensions. The search interface lets you view 5 URLs (as panels of an exploded cube) simultaneously. It appears that as you do a Web search in the center panel on a site like Google, the first sites would appear in the 4 adjacent panels.

Personalizing news content: Effects on society

The NYTimes interviewed law professor Cass Sunstein to talk about news filtering and effects on society. The discussion suggests some interesting ideas about democratization and the Internet, and Cass discusses the effects of getting personalized news -- which Nicholas Negroponte refers to as the "Daily Me".

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