jibbajabba's blog

The Psychology of Menu Selection

[picked up from SIG-IA] Kent L. Norman's 1991 book, The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface is available online. Note that the online version is a pre-publication draft.


The unofficial just in time web log for the CHI conference: http://www.chiblog.org/. Kind of a neat idea.

Real world usability rules

On the other side of the usability coin is practical usability -- the kind where one considers the spirit of a rule and makes informed judgements on their own. A good summary of how to interpret the usability gurus is on Christina Wodtke's elegant hack in an entry titled, "The Rules". I think that the usability evangelists like Nielsen make statements that tend to sound like laws, but that they might argue that the rules based on their research are meant to be broken when logic indicates that some bending is needed.

Adobe Gallery: Valerie Casey on the other side of usability

Here is an interesting quote in an interview with one of Adobe's featured designers: Casey: Current practice is overrationalized and focuses too deeply on task analysis, and not enough on empathy. I think that now, Web design has really crossed over to another point. I think that usability was a hot issue, and it's fading because people are getting used to computers. Now all of a sudden, the focus isn't "we aren't meeting our usability standards." Now it's "what kind of cool user experience can we make that has motion and user interactivity?" And on the next page... Adobe: So is there no place for the Jakob Nielsens of the world? Casey: I think that usability is dead. How's that for bold!


Usability.gov, provided by the National Cancer Institute has an extensive offering of news and resources including self-published reports such as their Usability Guidelines & Checklists document.

Search usability

Been working with a team that is assessing usability of database search pages using a Web interface. Thought it migt be helpful to capture the current literature we are referring to. Have any other suggestions that you have used and find valuable? Nielsen/Norman Group. "Search: Design Guidelines for E-Commerce User Experience". -- $45, I would say it is worth it to buy this. Nielsen, Jakob. "Search and You May Find". Spool, Jared. "Web site usability: A Designer's Guide". -- 1997 study that tested 7 sites for usability issues -- one of the sections is search.

Waking up to Good Design

Cooper Interactive's March newsletter includes this article by Tony Zambito on the flood of media attention being paid to the importance of good design and ease of use. With the too many product choices floating around, companies are beginning to build an "increased awareness of customer needs and goals are helping to ensure lower-risk product releases." Zambito suggests that with all this attention, designers should step back and review some key questions that will tell you whether you are on the track to producing a product that meets user's needs and ensures a good user experience -- that increases the probability that your product or service will be universally hailed and widely adopted.

New feature on iaslash: News filter

I've added a News filter page that lists the places I go daily to look for IA, HCI and usability articles and resources. Includes some headlines from news sites, and canned searches on sites like findarticle.com. You can find the link to News filter in the right column of iaslash under "Recommended reading".


I got my Mac OS X final release disks from the UPS guy yesterday. Whoa I can start having fun with my mac again. It's like having a completely new computer and still having my trusted Mac apps available -- although I may be abandonning them when OS X versions become available. Right now I'm spending my time on macosx.com and stepwise.com to figure out how to install tomcat (to serve jsp) and mysql. I hope to have Apache's Coccon as well. Personally, I like having to learn a new interface, and I like the Black Cave terminal window. It is a boon to power users to be able to run stuff like shell scripts and stuff. In the end we'll all be using Unix. As a Bell Labs person, I hope to see the day when this really becomes true, and when using Micro apps becomes more of an alternative than the standard. The NYTimes had an article on OS X today, written by David Pogue of course.

Information Architecture standards?

This site may be one to watch. As far as I can tell from SIG-IA, someone has taken it upon himself to create a group to develop some sort of standards or best practices for Information Architects. IAStandards.org's mission, iastandards.org was created as a center for awareness, coordination, and focusing of the efforts of members of the Information Architecture community interested in the development of open standards for information architecture and related aspects of web development. Topics to be explored include notations, processes, and tools to support the increasingly complex work of the profession. This site aims to give direction to the enthusiasm, shown recently in mailing lists and at conferences, of practicing Information Architects discovering their common connections and challenges while seeking collective enlightenment. Additionally, this site is intended to serve as an open laboratory for exploring IA-related topics in site development. Thus, as the site evolves, artifacts and processes used in its development should serve as real-world examples of common IA best practices. This should be interesting. Currently the bulk of the discussion on this site is focussing on the label "Standards".

Informatica: Faster alerting from post-usage data analysis tool

I found this article on Interactive Week interesting because our programming staff has been working on using clustering to pre-filter data before it is indexed. We have not looked at data analysis from post-transaction perspective before, except in doing log analysis using WebTrends and some visualization tools, but the concept of doing more granular data analysis with a tool like Informatica is compelling. Informatica, while focussed on commerce/financial side of transactions also integrates with other CRM data. "Connectors already exist between PowerCenter 5 and PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel Systems Enterprise Resource Planning applications, which contain customer relationship data. The $200,000 PowerCenter software may also receive eXtensible Markup Language-tagged data or clickstream data and send it to an analytical application." Apparently, with the acquisition of Zimba, now it will also send alerts via the Internet or mobile devices.

Forrester brief: Maximizing Usability Testing Benefits

New brief on Usability at Forrester. Because sometimes we have to educate our clients and employers and they may not know from Spool or Nielsen -- Forrester is the language many of them speak.

Beyond The Browser: Tog and Jakob discuss the future of information apps on the Internet

Bruce Tognazzini and Jakob Neilson takl about the problems with today's page-based browser in Beyond The Browser [interactive week]. They foretell a future where many distinct applications are added to take advantage of the Internet for offering information access. They talk about a lot of applications that extend the Net, including peer to peer apps like instant messenging and the many Napster-type apps. They mention Internet broadcasting and set top boxes as a means of suggesting, I think, that the hardware and applications that need to be designed, need to take the form of specific information needs. Just don't bring back PointCast or the Windows Active Desktop. They also talk about needing better ways of visualizing the information space on the Internet (not just the web), but don't offer any vision on where that would come from or how that may take shape. This, to me is a big question, as it must be for other IA's out there. People that work on large scale Web projects have probably been realizing the need for better collaboration and information access applications that work over IP for a long time. Working on an intranet, you see that failures to afford access or collaboration can result in decreased productivity and I guess the financial types would argue decreased Return on Investment (ROI). I find the argument valid that there is a great need for many new distinct applications that will fill the gaps where the browsers have failed. I wonder, though, how that will be realized when nearly every standard business application that sits on my PC desktop at work comes from Micro. [Sigh]

Humanizing your helpdesk: Initiating Helpdesk/CRM sessions online

I've been looking a lot at Helpdesk, CRM, and trouble ticket tracking software solutions. I am trying to come up with a matrix of functionalities and features offered by some of the off-the-shelf solutions so I can make recommendations for a project I am working on. Here is what I found with the help of some friends on a several discussion groups.

Duke University survey of Live online reference solutionshttp://www.lib.duke.edu/reference/liveonlineref.htm

Broughton, Kelly. Our Experiment in Online, Real-Time Reference. InfoToday. http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/apr01/broughton.htm

24/7 Reference project http://www.247ref.org

Library of Congress Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS) http://www.loc.gov/rr/digiref/

Live reference list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/livereference

LSSI http://www.lssi.com/virtual/

San Francisco and Monterey Bay area Libraries' Q&A Cafe http://qandacafe.org

Webhelp http://www.webhelp.com

Bad things shouldn't happen to good websites

Just picked up a link to this white paper series from Watchfire via a PR News Wire article: Watchfire Launches Bad Things Shouldn't Happen to Good Websites Program to Heighten Awareness of Common Website Design and Usability Pitfalls. Leading Internet companies Akamai, Interwoven and NetGenesis to collaborate with Watchfire to produce educational white paper series. March 21 /PRNewswire/ The first paper: "Setting the Scene for Web Experience Management with foreword by Creative Good." This white paper discusses how Web Experience Management closes the Web Experience Gap. It explores the critical issues that have created the gap; why itís critical to address these issues; and how Web Experience Management solutions and other complementary technologies bridge the gap.

Builder's "Church of Usability"

I don't know about proclaiming things gospel and having a ten commandments of anything. Builder'sChurch of Usability elevates the word of usability gurus to gospel. Hmmm.

Dead fragments -- usability of text

In Just Say No to Dead Fragments , Nick Usborne urges us not to use "dead fragments". His definition of a dead fragment? "A dead fragment of text is what's left after a usability expert has had his or her way with some perfectly good copy." I guess what a lot of do is distill a lot of text and labels to the bare minimum of words in an effort to make the text more easily digestable. Often pages that become data-dense demand quick and easy recognition by users, and that is done by being clear and economic with our words. I liken the way we create dead fragments to the way you can communicate a very complex thought or feeling with just a few words in a haiku. You don't have to be verbose to communicate your message eloquently and effectively.

Scopeware: Knowledge management tool introduces new information-use metaphors

I picked this story up from The Standard. David Galertner's Mirror Worlds Technologies announced the commercial release of ScopeWare, a new information management tool that sits on the desktop of your computer and indexes, displays and allows searching of all of your data in any format. As a knowledge management tool, I find it interesting. I played with Altavista's personal search for while, and still found that organizing my data on my hard rive, in my bookmarks, and in my email folders was easiest using folders hierarchicaly arranged by subject/topic, project, etc. The metaphor that ScopeWare uses is likened to a personal journal. The tool displays your data in chronologically arranged "streams" on the desktop like a journal of your days' activities. They posit that people think in terms of "content and time, rather than file name or location." For me, that statement rings quite true, but I would argue that the physical arrangement of my folders (file name and location) maps to my internal cognitive mapping of the content; and that serves me fine. But, time IS another issue, and their offering seems not only to add that fourth dimension to your information-use experience, but it also integrates all of the information you use (email, web sites, documents) into one interface. While we're on the topic of interface, I wonder what impact their "time-streaming" metaphor will have on us interface designers? Will have to leave that discussion to a later thread after I've digested the concept a bit more.

Move over, Google. Make way, Yahoo. Meet Lynn, the live, online reference librarian

I had to post the link to this article I picked up from lisnews.com.The Mercury News published this article about some Bay area libraries banding together to offer reference research assistance online. The idea is that anyone can get real time reference answers from someone operating the reference desk 24/7, with the back-end being driven by librarians that are part of the consortium staffing a pc somewhere. (See related site: http://247ref.org/) I think this is an excellent idea, that companies have latched on to with CRM services powered by human click and liveperson. I am working on a team right now to explore combined online reference desk and technical CRM functionalities that will aid in searching and will build FAQ's on the fly. I thought this might be a relevant path to follow if anyone is interested in FAQ's and the like as an aspect of helping users make sense of site content.

3 clicks or more?

Eric Schaffer, CEO, Human Factors International, Inc., talks about the 3-click thing in the article, Web Banking: Quickness and Usability Keys to Successful Web Sites. The topic of 3-clicks versus more clicks coupled with good organization and labeling has been getting some mileage on CHI-WEB, with lots of refereces to the good-scent concept of Jared Spool. The Spool concept contrasts with the 3-click concept, by suggesting that users will follow any number of links to navigate to their destination, so long as the steps toward that end point have a good scent -- i.e. the steps convey in a clear, consistent and understandable way that they are on their way to the thing they need.

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