Design articles on TechnologyReview

May 10th, 2007 by ua

Three extremely well-written articles on user-focused design and why it matters recently on TechnologyReview:

  1. Apple’s process
  2. Helio device design part 1
  3. Helio device design part 2

It’s about time

February 9th, 2007 by ua

After having turnstiles with RF readers for quite a while, BART has started their EZRider program – essentially FasTrak for people on public transit.  I’ve been using it for a week, and it is substantially better than the ticket system.  Some other posts are focusing on BART’s decision to go it alone instead of working with the regional Translink system, and I think that is a valid point – but it is good that at least they are making some changes.  Kudos for a step in the right direction, BART.

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New Year, Old Problems

January 7th, 2007 by ua

said best by Opus, on December 31st

Not Yet! WAIT!

I couldn’t say it better myself.

Tivo strays; audience sighs

November 24th, 2006 by ua

Another foray into interactivity on your television appears to have gone awry… TiVo’s attempt to branch into new functions has drawn some scorn from a well-publicized AP review.  The main challenge is really user interface:

The rest of TiVo’s online features struck me as spare, less
user-friendly imitations of tasks that seem better suited to a computer.

When you have a machine designed for a single purpose and stray from that task, your executives should be shouting “Danger! Danger!”  I understand the need for TiVo to add functions and revenue options, but why not aim more like Apple’s iTV possibilities and make your service something that leverages what you do best – television?  After all, you never want a user to say:

I soon found it pretty tedious to enter information like usernames and
passwords into an on-screen keyboard with the up-down, right-left
buttons on my TiVo remote.

That spells doom, no matter how you enter the text.

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Voting machines didn’t claim headlines in elections

November 20th, 2006 by ua

For all nervous nellies like myself, it was a great relief when election results didn’t generate as many articles after the election than before it.  When you’re seeing severe usability issues leading up to the election, it sounded like the US was going to suffer another 2004.

Voting machine glitches may have determined a race or two, but nationally the results – news stories, agitations, protests – look pretty minor.  That’s really good news for all users.

Creativity to solve security issues

November 8th, 2006 by ua

The Internet Storm Center had a growing problem with form spam but wanted to avoid using captchas, so they decided to use creativity.  Their solution is one great way to separate machines and humans when they fill out the forms – but their readers came up with a few more that also got posted that are even more interesting.

The common thread in all the solutions is that computers are very literal and find it hard to be flexible, and humans cannot help but be flexible.  I have dealt with enough captchas – and struggled with some, and failed some – that I think these ideas are wonderful from a user’s standpoint.  Plus, as the ISC post states: . Pictures of cute kittens! How can one NOT use that approach ;-) ?

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Apple’s Design Man

October 16th, 2006 by ua

A great story about Jonathan Ive from BusinessWeek.  The Apple team comes up with amazing things that I’ve raved (and ranted) about before, but they never come up with things that are boring.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the products trigger emotions.

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Word and footnotes

September 29th, 2006 by ua

A small challenge in using Microsoft Word popped up today, when I had a footnote that I wanted to apply to two separate table entries. I first tried the intuitive answer – copy the footnote reference number and paste it in the second location that I wanted. Nope! Next I tried the easy way out – I asked a coworker. Nope, nobody knew how to do it.

I finally threw my ego on my sword and looked in Help… and found it! A 6-step process to create a second reference to a footnote.  Except it doesn’t format it correctly, though the page does tell you that problem… and if you can warn the user about a problem, you should correct the issue in the application.  And the second reference doesn’t behave the same way on mouseover and may have its own peccadillos.

I started playing around with it, and found out that you can right-drag the second reference and choose “Link Here” and it can be duplicated to a third and fourth instance… but it doesn’t work if you right-drag the first footnote.

What do we learn from this?

  1. Consistency: If you’re going to give an option like the right-drag, make it behave correctly.  The “Link Here” option, when used with a footnote reference, copies the footnote… which is the same behavior as a right-drag “Copy Here” has.
  2. Ease-of-use: Don’t make the user go through multiple (6!) steps when there is an easier way to deal with the issue.  While the help entry provided the steps to the result I desired, a more helpful way of dealing with this situation would be to allow me to copy the reference number and then give me a smart tag that let me choose to [a] create a copy of the reference and footnote with a new number (the current action) or [b] create a second reference to the existing footnote.  Or make the right-drag work.
  3. Completeness: Document that you can right-drag a second reference footnote to a new location and get the same result, and reference a link to that documentation in the original Help article to lead the user to all the possible feature uses.

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Living Room Videoconferences For All

September 22nd, 2006 by ua

I know Robert X. Cringley’s column is all about speculation, but his current description of a plan for Apple to introduce living-room-based videoconferencing gave me a moment of “Why didn’t I see that coming?”

Apple has already created the world’s easiest videoconferencing setup and built it into almost every computer they produce.  To make HDTVs with it built in, or even to enable it via the iTV, would make a tremendously compelling user experience… and for me, a tremendous reason to buy their equipment.

I have young kids.  I have brand-new baby cousins on the other coast.  I could spend a couple thousand dollars to travel and see them for one week, or I could spend half of that on Apple hardware and see them every week or even every day.

I have young kids that I hate leaving at home when I’m on a business trip.  What better family experience than a quick videoconference from a Mac laptop to the home living room before bed?

Apple has always been excellent at driving technology where the users need it, whether they know it or not, which has created incredible sales opportunities for them.  If this is real, I could be buying a new HDTV, a new Mac for the house, a new Mac laptop… and that doesn’t even start to cover the relatives’ purchases.

And, if the interface for calling is implemented correctly, it will feel like a steal.  Final pressure will be on the Apple dev team, but if they have even marginal attention to detail and follow the iTV interface already shown in Jobs’ presentation this could be an incredible hit.

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Vista RC1 usability dissected

September 12th, 2006 by ua

Paul Thurrott peeled back the covers of Windows Vista RC1 and found some problems with the user interface.  A very good read.

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