jibbajabba's blog

Establishing a Dedicated Interaction Design/Usability Team

WebWord pointed to Scott Larson & Matte Scheinker's article about starting an in-house interaction design or usability team in your organization. Are you a Web manager at a small company that wants to make sure your Web site is meeting your customers' needs? Do you work at a company where there is a new focus on customer experience? Are you tasked with recruiting and developing a dedicated interaction design or usability team to help ensure your company's success? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article will provide guidance on what to look for and what questions to ask in creating a dedicated interaction design/usability team, so you can get on with the business of running your company. (For those of you looking for an interaction design or usability job, you can use the resources and advice in this article in reverse to find a company that needs you)

Talking Moose's Weblog Manifesto

WebWord pointed to Talking Moose's manifesto for the weblogger which is right-on.

Breadth vs. Depth

Victor Lombardi posted a link to the Microsoft paper he found on Peter Merholz's site some time ago talking about the breadth versus depth issue. So I am blogging it: "Web Page Design: Implications of Memory, Structure and Scent for Information Retrieval" by Kevin Larson and Mary Czerwinski. Much is known about depth and breadth tradeoff issues in graphical user interface menu design. We describe an experiment to see if large breadth and decreased depth is preferable, both subjectively and via performance data, while attempting to design for optimal scent throughout different structures of a website. A study is reported which modified previous procedures for investigating depth/breadth tradeoffs in content design for the web. Results showed that, while increased depth did harm search performance on the web, a medium condition of depth and breadth outperformed the broadest, shallow web structure overall.

eCriteria.net Launches Open Database Project.

SoCal based web site development firms web based database solutions provider site www.ecriteria.net launches its new free Open Database Project. This hitting the news when anything free should be getting attention. Details of the project may be found at the "Spotlight" sections at the home page or by following the link : www.ecriteria.net/open. Based on eCriteria technology, the ODBP allows free access to both business and personal database content in a broad range of categories. The project is likened to a search engine for database content. Individuals, businesses, and organizations may use the site to access thousands of public databases publised by other users for free and unlimited consumption. Users need not contribute data in order to access the repository. If the data author allows it, users may also download search results to their desktop PC in plain text, or xml format. Users may elect to create their own databases and contribute the data content to the project. Using a web database publishing wizard process provided by eCriteria.net, users may import data from applications such as microsoft excel and access, and create a new web databse in 15 minutes without any programming or database knowledge. Users creating new databases may choose database names in a manner similar to selecting domain names. For instance, an organization might pick its trademark name for a database, so that when someone searches ODBP, entering this keyword will locate data associated with the organization. There are no limits on searchs, updates, or creating with the ODBP (open database project).

Pop-up ads soon to invade meatspace

In stores soon--floating product ads. Shoppers may soon be able to see images of advertised products floating in mid-air as they browse in stores. That's the story according to Reuters. Hungarian-U.S. firm Holomedia on Monday unveiled a new projection device that could make this a reality. "This innovative new media is based on American hardware and Hungarian software," said Csaba Rakosy, managing director of Holomedia, at a news conference. An appliance the size of a vending machine projects still or moving images about 40cm (16 inches) in size. The human eye perceives these images as floating in mid-air, offering what developers say is a very effective marketing tool. As if the tiny wireless video camera didn't haunt me enough. I can imagine seeing one of these at Circuit City -- picture the people thinking they're halucinating the X-10 camera popping up before their eyes, running out of the store shrieking. That's just what you want to instill consumer confidence.

Amazon lets you browse before buying

Amazon gets it right again -- this time allowing you to browse images of book pages on the Web before you buy. According to Reuters, Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" feature debutted Wednesday to include "images of covers, flaps and actual pages for some 25,000 book titles." The new feature was reportedly added as a result of customer requests. I have to say that this feature is very nice for books with photos such as art and design books. For some time, on sites like NY Times Book Review section you could read TOC's and sample chapters from books. But Amazon takes this a step further by adding a new tabbed interface to books with browsable samples. This is just another example of how Amazon successfully uses customer feedback to enhance the experience with their product.

User to User Support

Derek Powazek discusses in WebTechniques how to take advantage of user communities and the expertise of your audience by enabling user to user communication for product support. People need to share their ideas, opinions, and knowledge online. Just look at all of the people who write lengthy book reviews on Amazon. I'm sure not one of them is thinking, "It's very important to me that Amazon sells more copies of this book." Instead, they're thinking, "I really loved this book, and I want everyone to know it." Giving these people the ability to talk to each other on your site can benefit your enterprise. Not only are you empowering your users to help each other, but you're also getting a front row seat to the questions people ask about your product or service. Companies used to have to pay for that kind of thing—it was called focus groups.

Smoothing the Path: Customer Satisfaction Drives Revenues

In the November WebTechniques, Challis Hodge discusses how to keep customers at the core of your business strategy. Customer service and customer relationship management (CRM) are touted as critical success factors for companies that want to seriously compete and thrive into the next decade. As technology and manufacturing fast become commodities, the customer relationship is the only area where real competitive advantage is still possible.

Taxonomy of information visualization techniques

Nooface is pointing to a comrehensive collection of data visualization techniques -- bar chart, scatter plot, histogram, etc. -- compiled by Rika Furuhata.

Always have a backup plan

Article in Cooper Interactive Newsletter by designer, Gretchen Anderson about preventing failures in applications by planning for them. Make sure users can't inadvertently cause their software to fail. By the same token, we also encourage designers to "make errors impossible" by designing software that anticipates the actions of its users. Nevertheless, things will go wrong. By anticipating failures, and designing backup plans like those described below, you can minimize the impact of unexpected problems on the user.

Navigating isn't fun

Alan Cooper wants navigation schemes to go away. Or at least he thinks users want it to go away. If you want to design simpler, better Websites for business or commerce, try putting more interaction into fewer screens so your users don't have to navigate so much. ... Once a beginner's enthusiasm wears off after a few uses of the Web, she would just like to get her work done in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. Instead of building a complex structure of pages, a better design technique is to concentrate all of the interaction in a single screen, relieving the user of the need to explore, of the need to navigate at all. To the user, each successive screen is the equivalent of a new window or dialog in conventional software. My axiom is: "A window is another room. Have a good reason to go there." If the user is working on information on one screen, don't send her to another screen to work on that same information. The better place is right there on screen number one. See also the related article Navbars must go.

The Science Behind the Song Stuck in Your Head

XBlog caught this LA Times article about a marketing professor looking for the truth about sticky songs -- songs that refuse to leave your head. Successful recipes for stickiness include simplicity, repetitive patterns, and incongruity. Kellaris, a marketing teacher who moonlights as a bouzouki player in a Greek band, theorizes that certain types of music operate like mental mosquito bites. They create a "cognitive itch" that can only be scratched by replaying the tune in the mind. The more the brain scratches, the worse the itch gets. The syndrome is triggered when "the brain detects an incongruity or something 'exceptional' in the musical stimulus," he explained in a report made earlier this year to the Society for Consumer Psychology. To help determine which factors cause songs to stick, Kellaris surveyed 1,000 students at four universities. ... Sacks says the songs tend to be "music that was popular or important in the first 15 years of the person's life." In other words, future generations can expect to hallucinate Eminem, Britney Spears and the theme from Barney the dinosaur. Good luck youngsters. I'm stuck with the like of Gilligan's Island and various awful 70's songs. Damn you pop culture!

Information Architecture and the Support of Brand Promise

EH pointed to the draft of Tim Salam's IA/Brand Promise article (PDF). Some believe information architects should only concerned with the structure of hard information. I disagree. ... During the design of a website, as with all promotional materials, brand promise must be considered a priority. Though technical in its foundations, websites need not be burdened solely by technological considerations. The customer is not only a website user in need of logical structures but an individual evaluating price, quality, safety, speed, and support – a cohesive package. With the voluminous surge in websites and message dilution being the increasing dilemma faced by advertisers everywhere, information architecture asserts an important foothold in the message delivery process. Differentiation among brands has become an art lost to the noise of modern media, yet the opportunity is still there. Despite the “new economy” game in which brands rise and fall with accelerated zeal, the original question begs: “When a brand speaks, who is listening and what do they hear?” With a well-designed information architecture, the answer is far easier to control and deliver with accuracy.

Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Organizations

New in HBS Working Knowledge. In this first look at a new book, HBS professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria explore how human nature shapes business organizations. Does your organization reflect the four basic human drives? In "Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices", the authors combine the latest thinking from the biological and social sciences to lay out a new theory on human nature. The idea: We are all influenced and guided by four drives: acquiring, bonding, learning, and defending. In this excerpt, Lawrence and Nohria examine how an organization built around the four-drive theory might look.

WebWord interview with Christina Wodtke

WebWord's John S. Rhodes interviews one of the most vocal IA evangelists in the field, Carbon iQ and Elegant Hack's Chritina Wodtke.

Can I have your zipcode?

Kuro5hin user Lord13 has a wonderful post about the zipcode snarfing policies at retail stores these days. Just this past weekend I had this happen as usual at Radio Shack and Googled for any sites about this trend. What follows is a humourus look at one person's attitude about zipcode grabbing policies -- one that I share. I picked up some new kakis and shirts for work and my girlfriend got a bedspread. After a warm greeting the cashier asks "Can I have your zip code?" "Sure" I reply, "12345". I'm rewarded with a annoyed look and, after a couple seconds hesitation, she punches a key that bypasses the prompt for a zip code. My girlfriend simply shakes her head and the cashier rings up the items without further incident. ... I've shopped at Radio Shack plenty of times before and I know they ask for your phone number and address. After being bugged all day, I decided to have a little fun. After finding the cable we walk up to the cashier. After a plensant greeting the cashier asks "Ok, can I have your phone number?". "Sure it's <insert made up phone number that sounds reasonable>" The cashier watches his terminal while it searches for my phone number. Since I made it up, it brings up nothing. "Ok, can I have your address?" he asks. "What do you need that for?" "We'll send you a flyer in the mail" "Gee that'll be great. It's one-four-seven-two Main Street. Apartment number one-eight-one-six..." I waited until he finished entering that much before continuing "...Privacyville, MI 12345" "Is there a problem?" I inquire. "If you didn't want to give me your address, why didn't you just say so?" he spits. "I was annoyed that you asked, I just thought I would share." After getting the priceless `your-a-real-jackass' look for a couple seconds the cashier rung up my RCA cable post-haste. It was almost like he wanted me gone and out of the store as soon as possible. My girlfriend started laughing as soon as we got out the door. "Do you always have to be such a jackass?" ... At some point it seems to have become a commonplace question as more stores recognize the value of tracking where their customers are coming from. It's not exactly a huge amount of information to be giving away but it this little question has already evolved into a sales pitch for MSN at Best Buy. To beg the question: What will it evolve to in the future? It's a subtle cultural shift and an annoying one at that. Why do I have create a moment of unpleasantness in a transaction for chocolate?

Homepage Usability: An interview with Nielsen and Tahir

In Making the World a Happier Place, One Web Site at a Time, Webreference interviews Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir following the publication of their new book, Homepage Usability. NR: What would you both characterize as the most common misconceptions about what constitutes a usable website? MARIE: First, it really bothers me when people equate usability with a lack of aesthetics or being boring and that it's not creative. I think people forget how freeing good functionality and usability can be. It frees them to be creative. Still... useit is one butt-ugly site.

Search Engine Optimisation

New Frontend article on Search Engine Optimisation High ranking on search engines used to be a matter of meta-tags, titles and keywords. Nowadays there is no substitute for high-quality targeted content within the context of a usable site.

Usability News

UsabilityNews.com, published by the British HCI Group, captures the usability news and events of the day. The site also posts conference request/call for papers and usability jobs.

Why people buy stuff

An article titled "Consuming Interests" in the University of Chicago Magazine looks at the field of commercial social science research. The article focusses on the history of Social Research, Incorporated, a social science research group which used social science methodologies to study consumers in the early 1950's. The company went on to revolutionize the market research field. Focus groups, brand image, and other staples of modern advertising all sprang from the work of a group of Chicago social scientists. These pioneering market researchers used tools from psychology, anthropology, and sociology to study a once-neglected topic: why people buy stuff.

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