Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New title; broader mission

New year's upon us and it's time for some changes. I'll be starting a new assignment in 2010, as a user experience architect embedded into a development team for managed security services. I've moved somewhat from what my focus was when I first started this blog. Then my focus was on user assistance; now I have much broader responsibilities for shaping the total user experience. Of course user assistance stays a part of those broader responsibilities.

I now get to concentrate on an old passion of mine, going back to my CheckFree days, and that is how to integrate user experience design into the technology design and development process. I like being embedded in the design and development team, a model I worked in at CheckFree. I have a basic disagreement with Jabob Nielsen who measures the maturity of a user experience presence in a company by how independent its practitioners are organizationally. It takes me back to my old manufacturing days where we felt that Quality had to be managed by someone outside the production chain of command. Later thinking changed to putting it back onto the shoulders of those who made the product. I feel the same way about usability and user experience design--it is an intrinsic part of the product and should not be separated from the measure of good code writing. Code that works well but renders a lousy response time would not be regarded as good code; nor should code that renders a bad user experience.

I'm not naive about the implications that producers, anxious to meet due dates, will push out bad product if not overseen by third-party watchdogs. Well, that's the challenge that fascinates me. I think the solution is in well-defined processes and well-written requirements, not in separating functional requirements from non-functional.

The new Blog title is a bit of an homage to Jeff Raskin who wrote The Humane Interface. My focus will be on understanding how we as humans interact with technology and how to design technology to accommodate that.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Important message

Click cartoon to enlarge.

Click cartoon to enlarge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Useful Web Site

Check this new site out:

It's a vendor web site with all kinds of useful links to get you to bookmark it and send other folks there. Doh! Got me!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Contest Results

See the contest.

OK, here's the official explanation, and then I'll reveal the winner.

First off, thanks to everyone for not challenging which character was Kitty and which was Maria. One person tried to at work, and I hit him. (Duh, the one's that's a CAT is Kitty.)

Panel 1 has Kitty citing Fitts Law, which basically asserts that the time to move to and click on an object is a function of the size of the target and the distance the user must move the mouse. Kudos to EagleSongs for recognizing the law, but that would make Kitty the UI layout designer, someone who would be interested in things such as button location and size.

Panel 2 has has Maria citing Hicks Law, which asserts that the time it takes a user to choose among options is a function of the number of choices the user is presented with. That would make Maria the Information Architect. (Note the base 2 logarithm, on the assumption that choices are binary and the search can take advantage of a decision process that progressively cuts the available options in half.)

Here is a UI that is optimized for both laws:

Panel 3 is, as several pointed out, the opening of Hamlet's soliloquy expressed as a Boolean formula. A more graphical representation would be:

That would imply that the two met while taking a course in English Literature.

Technically, Siska provides the right choices, but her linking Maria with Fitts Law is wrong.

Anindita provides the most elegant explanation of the layout designer and information architect rationale, and although her answer to the third question is different from mine, I'm going to accept it and name her the winner!

Congratulations, Anidita. Send me your mailing address and I will send you your very owned signed copy of Iron Hoop.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Geek Fight!

I'm doing the comic early this week and throwing in a contest.

Click to enlarge comic.

Click to enlarge comic.

Here's the contest

The first to answer the following questions correctly and sufficiently explain their answers (no guessing) wins a signed copy of my novel Iron Hoop [shameless self-promotion].

Kitty and Maria both work in the UX department and went to the same geeky school. They have a lot in common, but take two different looks at UX design.

1) Which is the Information Architect?
  • Kitty
  • Maria
2) Which is the UI layout designer?
  • Kitty
  • Maria
3) When they first met and became friends in school, what elective were they both taking?
  • World History
  • English Literature
  • Economics
  • Technical Communication

Submit your answers as comments to this blog post.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


If you think quality and craftsmanship are dead, and you think that design is a lost art, look at these two working pieces of equipment from Shubb. They are both accessories for playing Dobro. Santa's bringing me the capo (I already have the slide). If you think the slide looks nice, you should heft it and position it in your hand. Ooooh, makes me all goose-bumpy.

The Gary Swallows slide

The Shubb capo

Monday, December 07, 2009

Dominant and Passive

This one is too weird, don't even read it. I'm only putting it in a blog so I can find it later if I need to ask my doctor to up my meds.

I don't count sheep when I can't sleep. Instead, I try to visualize Dobro licks and how I would notate them on a treble staff. I had a couple of aha! moments the other night:
  1. The middle three lines on a staff are the same as the G tuning on the dobro: GBD. This is important because I am a reaaaallllyy sloooooooowww reader of music. I usually have to start at the bottom and say Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge or spell FACE. I also have a hard time remembering what order the letters of the alphabet are in, so if I'm looking up a word in the dictionary, I have to sing the ABC song to figure out where in the dictionary to go. Fortunately, I can start with elemenopee if I know the letter is in the second half of the alphabet and that saves some time. Now, I can read the middle lines of the staff without having to start at the bottom. That's handy in much the same way as being able to start the ABC song at elemenopee.
  2. I've been trying to decide in a certain song (Shenandoah) how many frets down to start a slide at "A-a-way you rolling river." I was doing it starting a half-step below the G and also a full step below the G. As I tried to notate the variants in my head, I realized that the choice was between going to the 7 note (F#, one half-step below the 8 note, G) or the flatted 7 note (F, one full step below). As I did the notation in my head, I realized that the full step, taking it to the flatted 7 note, was really establishing the dominant chord (G7) and setting up a nice transition from the I to the IV chord (G to C in this case). I would not have noticed that had I not been notating the phrase instead of just playing it by ear.
I've been rereading Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong in which he examines the assertion that literate societies think differently from oral ones (where there is no written language). It made me ponder, at point 2 above, if literate musicians (those who read music) think differently than folk musicians (those who have an oral tradition for learning and passing on music). I thought differently about the phrase when I read it than when I played it.

Then that led to thoughts about the dominant chord and its role in establishing transitions and the various ways we deal with transitions in written language. Joseph Williams in Style: Toward Clarity and Grace talks about using the given-new rhetoric. Make the thing or concept that is already known to the user (the given) the subject of a sentence and then make the new thing or concept the predicate or object. Then in the next sentence, you can take the concept that was the object in the first (the new) and make it the subject (the given) in the second.

For example, "The traditional newsletter is giving way to the blog. A blog (web log) allows readers to comment openly. These comments can validate or challenge the writer or even other readers."

This technique leads to an often overlooked use and justification for the passive voice: It allows us to make something the subject of a sentence (so it can occupy the "given" slot) that would normally be the object of the sentence in an active voice construction. Example, "The computer generates a configuration file. This configuration file is saved to the local disk drive at the end of the session."

One more observation about transitions. We often signal transitions with "metadiscourse," that is, discourse about discourse. For example, in the examples above (as well as in this sentence--gawd this is so surreal) I have used the phrase "for example" to signal the user what the role of the sentence is. Other metadiscourses are "On the other hand" (signalling that a contrast is coming) or "Consequently" (signalling that a conclusion is coming). I have become a firm believer that since these are signals for a shift in meaning, they should always come at the beginning of the sentence. Look at the following.

Different roles will expect different information. Engineers, for example, want to see....
Different roles will expect different information. For example, engineers want to see...

I like the latter, the metadiscourse is at the beginning of the second sentence and does not separate the subject from the verb. Not true in the first case. It seems a little less stylistic and dramatic, but technical communication is about clarity.

I'm thinking Ambien, large doses of Ambien.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Life with Mike

Click cartoon to enlarge it.

Click cartoon to enlarge it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The new magic number

Miller's famous study on the ubiquity of 7 in short term memory aside, I have my own candidate for a magic number:

1/√ 2

The decimal equivalent is approximately .707, which is a kind of cool looking number (it's approximate because the square root of 2 is irrational, another cool aspect). But its real significance is that if you square it you get 0.5 or ½.

OK, why the math today? I'm trying to figure out how to cut my work in half. Why? Because if I get laid off I will hire myself out as a documentation consultant with my specialty being that I can reduce documentation by half. Hey, in a bad economy, sell hamburger and beer.

So here's my radical (pun intended for my mathy geek friends) approach:
  1. Look across the breadth of what's being produced and reduce it by 30%. A 30% reduction is not that hard to find.
  2. Look at the depth of what's left and reduce it by 30%.
The net result is that you're left with half of what you started with (actually a little less because of rounding).

Gotta run and get a copyright or a patent or something on this.