Thursday, March 25, 2010

Analysis of a Diagram

Just because you like something you created, it doesn't mean:
  • It's any good
  • You have a big ego
But it can be useful to stop and ponder something you did that you particularly like--so that you can understand your own design priorities a bit better.

I recently created a diagram for an article in UXmatters that I liked:

The article was about the differences in the roles of User Interface (UI) developer and User Experience (UX) designer. I wanted a diagram that showed that each had distinct areas of expertise and that there were areas of overlap as well. Duh, Venn diagram, that's the easy part. My normal instinct would have been to abstract the areas and give them awful nominalizations probably. I decided to use concrete examples instead and to leave the abstraction to the reader. In the article I said:

The area that tends to fall under the exclusive domain of UI development includes the programming skills and knowledge. If you had a pin labeled Ruby on Rails, the UI development role would be a good place to stick it. The area that tends to be the exclusive domain of User Experience relates to user research and usability testing. Thus, if you had a pin labeled card sorting, the UX side of the diagram would be its predictable home. The area of shared expertise between the two roles includes knowledge of UI patterns and standards—the widgets and elements that make up a user interface—as well as knowledge about the software development process.
I like the simplicity of the diagram and for some reason, I especially like the stick pins. I'm reminded of a story about the famous educator John Dewey. He was visiting a classroom once as a superintendent, and the teacher asked the class, "What is the center of the earth composed of?" The students eagerly raised their hands and the teacher called on one. "Igneous rock," came back the answer. Dewey then interrupted and asked, "If I could reach my hand all the way to the center of the earth, what would happen to it?" No one could answer.

My "If you could put a stick pin labeled..." approach seems to have the level of concrete understanding that Dewey was looking for. I like that a complex classification has been explained in terms of a physically familiar task such as putting stickpins on a board.

Doesn't mean it's good.
Doesn't mean I'm being egotistical to say I like it :-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Regression Testing for Usability

I just had a bad user experience at my bank's ATM. I'm not blogging to whine, they're a good bank, but I want to understand what went wrong with the experience and more importantly, the design process that led to it.

I drive up to the ATM and insert my card. New screen, bright and shiny oooooooh.

First new thing, it tells me to cover the keypad as I enter my PIN. Hmmmm, Not sure how one does that while sitting in a car, so I pointed to the sky and yelled, "Hey look, it's the Goodyear blimp" hoping to distract any lurker who might be there to steal my PIN.

OK, I got my PIN entered and the next screen asked me what I wanted, and I pressed "Get cash."

Then something happened that's never happened before, it gave me a list of accounts to select from. One said "Savings-123456," another "Visa Platinum-7654321," and then one said "CRWN-987654."

Nothing said "Checking." I figured the 1st one was my savings account and thought the second one was probably my credit card. That left me concluding that CRWN-987654 was my checking. We're talking money here and all of a sudden my ATM is giving me practice questions for the SAT. If all men eat turnips and John is a man, does John eat turnips?

So to be on the safe side, I decide to check the numbers on my card to see if they match 987654. Oops, card is in ATM. Cancel transaction to read numbers off card. Ooops, numbers no longer displayed on screen because I canceled transaction.

I'm in the business so I know what happened here. Product management decided to make my membership more valuable by now allowing me to select from multiple accounts when I withdraw cash. That's a good thing. But in doing so, the product has disrupted my familiar experience--turning a satisfier into a dis-satisfier.

When I was at CheckFree, whenever we introduced an enchancement to our online bill pay, we did what I called Usability Regression Testing. In QA, regression testing is when you make sure that a new feature doesn't break existing functionality. I think you have to do the same thing with usability, make sure that new features do not disrupt the comfort and familiarity of the user's current user experience.

Had they tested it they would have seen the whole number on the card in the ATM vs number on the screen thing.

They would have also figured out that CRWN did not mean "checking" to me. By the way, I checked it out with my wife, and apparently that's the marketing name for our service "Crown Checking." Marketing people are bad about that, they assume we are all in love with their product names and therefore familiar with them. Also, it was a huge screen with only 3 accounts, they could have said "Crown checking account" and I would have been OK.

Designers beware. When we improve the feature set, we run the risk of breaking a comfortable user experience. A little regression testing is always good.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Incremental-decremental (excremental)

I just changed cable providers, and this one has the same UI problem as the last. In both cases, if you view the guide (program menu), the channels start at the top of the screen and are listed in incremental order. That is:
So if you want to see the next channel after you reach the bottom of the screen, you press the down arrow key. This means you are pressing a DOWN command to go UP in number. For example, to go from seeing channel 7 to channel 8, I press DOWN. No problem, really, because the screen scrolls in the direction I indicate.

But if I am actually watching channel 7 and I want to go to channel 8, I press UP. Of course, I habitually press the DOWN button because my frame of reference is the menu screen.

There is a simple solution: They could list programs on the menu screen starting with the top channels and then decrementing. That way DOWN means DOWN no matter what.

But then you start with the specialty and premium channels on the menu and the not the common choices.


The point is that UI design is snarly stuff and not only must you accommodate user models and technical limitations, but sometimes business rules and market objectives as well.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Dug, you gotta love him! But I seem to get involved in discussion threads where it seems a cyber squirrel runs through the conversation and everyone gets distracted. It's a good thing we didn't have discussion groups in the old days.

Churchill: Things are looking rough on the continent, the axis forces are massing to eliminate free civilization as we know it. This could be our darkest hour.
Roosevelt: Wow speaking of dark, the power went out last night and Elinor and I had to scramble for candles.
DeGaulle: I hate that, you never know where you put them.
Churchill: But the Nazis and the Fascists!
Roosevelt: Let them get their own candles.
DeGaulle: We can't provide candles for the whole world.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bleeding Edge

Neil Perlin is looking for participants for the "Beyond the Leading Edge" presentation at the STC Summit in May. Where I stand (click to enlarge):

Click to enlarge.