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December 2005 Issue

By Dirk Knemeyer

Published: December 19, 2005

“On one hand, we are rapidly moving into ubiquitous computing environments that let people constantly interact with the omnipresent network; on the other, the devices and interfaces we are using to enter these new frontiers provide woefully inadequate user experiences.”

Personal computing is in an awkward adolescence right now. On one hand, we are rapidly moving into ubiquitous computing environments that let people constantly interact with the omnipresent network; on the other, the devices and interfaces we are using to enter these new frontiers provide woefully inadequate user experiences. Let’s take a look at one of the key technologies that will take mobile user experiences to the next level: holography.

Holography and the State of Input

The primary reason why the BlackBerry® became such an enormous success is its miniature QWERTY keyboard, which lets people rapidly enter information and, in the process, made easy-email-while-on-the-run a reality. Earlier devices such as cell phones and Palm® PDAs provided a substandard means of communicating with a computing system, but the BlackBerry took the well-established and long-practiced QWERTY keyboard interface and employed it in a practical and portable form. This allowed people to engage in a more natural human/computer interaction.

Unfortunately, while it is our accustomed way of entering information into a computing system, even in its most optimal state, using the QWERTY keyboard is an unnatural and awkward activity. Shrinking it down to fit on a handheld device may have allowed mobile computing to leap far forward, but this remains a poor and ultimately temporary solution to the problem of mobile data input. While more people—particularly people in east Asian cultures—are embracing an active mobile-computing lifestyle, the modes of input mobile devices offer have not advanced much. Components that behave like a mouse and miniature touch screens cannot replicate the speed and power of desktop computing environments. Read moreRead More>

By Luke Wroblewski

Published: December 19, 2005

“Data monitoring, reporting, and modeling applications require people to make sense of large amounts of information quickly and easily.”

Many software programs provide access to—and let users work with—large amounts of information. In addition to interactions that allow users to create, edit, and expand massive data sets, these information-rich applications must also support effective data interpretation.

Data monitoring, reporting, and modeling applications require people to make sense of large amounts of information quickly and easily. It should come as no surprise, then, that for such applications many interface design problems are actually information design problems. As a result, we can leverage information design solutions when tackling such problems. Using small multiples is one such solution.

“Small multiple designs are graphical depictions of variable information that share context, but not content.”—Edward Tufte

Defining Small Multiples

In Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte defined small multiple designs as information slices that repeat a common design several times within a user’s eye span—with each instance showing different data values. In other words, small multiple designs are graphical depictions of variable information that share context, but not content. Read moreRead More>

By David Heller

Published: December 6, 2005

“So far, we’ve had few discussions about the value of RIAs to users and how RIA technologies let us create better, more usable Web applications.”

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), how they work, and how to choose the appropriate RIA technology. Unfortunately, so far, we’ve had few discussions about the value of RIAs to users and how RIA technologies let us create better, more usable Web applications.

This article addresses two questions:

  • What is wrong with traditional, pre-RIA Web applications?
  • How do RIAs remedy their problems?

What Is a Traditional Web Application?

A traditional Web application is heavily dependent on the metaphor of the page. A page presents a single set of information in response to a user request or query and provides limited interactivity. Bob Baxley, in his book Making the Web Work, discusses various page types. A page might be a form—allowing limited user input—a view of a single dataset or media object, or a list view of aggregated, or summary, data. Without adding richness, you cannot really break away from these three basic page types. Each page type has an infinite set of variations and, depending on the level of richness that you add, can provide a certain amount of intrapage interactivity such as the selection of options, drag and drop within a page, and even business rule validation. Read moreRead More>

By Matteo Penzo

Published: December 6, 2005

“Eyetracking offers unique benefits and provides a practical alternative to conventional discount usability testing.”

This article is the first in a series of articles on eyetracking that will appear in UXmatters. Over the coming months, I’ll use eyetracking to evaluate a lot of world-renowned user interfaces—including Web sites like Amazon.com®, Google™ News, and eBay®; Rich Internet Applications (RIAs); and desktop applications—and analyze quantitative eyetracking data to provide best practices for designing user interface elements like navigation systems, menus, and forms, and for effective ad placement.

For some time, usability professionals have evangelized the term discount usability testing. Discount usability testing was a product of the early years of the Internet. Its techniques promised to provide a simple, fast, and relatively economical way of conducting usability studies and improving users’ experience of the Web and other software user interfaces. However, such studies are mainly qualitative and subjective. The data reflect users’ conscious thoughts and feelings as well as the observers’ impressions. Some think this is the best, even the only method of conducting usability studies, but there are other—in some situations, perhaps better—ways of evaluating user interactions. Eyetracking offers unique benefits and provides a practical alternative to conventional discount usability testing. Read moreRead More>