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February 2006 Issue

By Whitney Quesenbery

Published: February 20, 2006

“Why is it that the only humans who seemingly make errors are the people who are trying to use a product? As David Aragon of Voter March said, “All errors are human error.” Why not point the finger at all the other people who had a hand in the situation: programmers, designers, product managers, and quality testers?”

I lost my address book recently. It was one of those near-death computer experiences where you see your data pass before your eyes and start searching through the trash, then the Web, hoping to find the information you need right now. The experience made me think about blame—and trust.

Here’s what happened. I was running late for a meeting and plugged in my Palm for a quick HotSync. You know the drill: one hand on the mouse, the other stuffing things into my briefcase, all while shrugging on my coat. Then, I got an error message. Something about having too many records and suggesting that I delete a few and try again. Distracted, I try removing old, completed tasks. A few quick clicks, and I’m hotsyncing again. That’s when it all went wrong, and I lost all of the information in my address book.

Okay. Before we go any further, did any of the following thoughts pass, however fleetingly, through your mind?

“I bet you didn’t have a good backup.”

“Why would you do anything like that when you are in a hurry?”

“What did you really click? Maybe you made a mistake.”

“Are you sure you don’t have a recent backup?” Read moreRead More>

By Robert Barlow-Busch

Published: February 20, 2006

“UF2005…attracted more than 300 of the estimated 400 people practicing usability in China, with attendees also coming from neighboring countries such as Korea and Taiwan. Invited guest speakers came from North America, Europe, and Australia.”

The taxi jerked to the left suddenly, and my life flashed before my eyes—yet again. Narrowly missing a truck’s bumper, we careened past it at 60 mph and dashed into a small opening between two vans. In the back seat, Daniel and Jo from Apogee exhaled with relief as we burst into an empty stretch of highway for a few moments and could relax our grip on our seats. Before long, however, our taxi driver plunged back into the fray, driving at breakneck speed away from the Pudong airport toward downtown Shanghai.

Upon reflection, this was an incredibly appropriate introduction to one of the most dynamic cities in the world and the setting for the User Friendly 2005 conference. Shanghai is reportedly one of the world’s top five most populous cities—and is developing so rapidly that locals sometimes find its changing landscape disorienting. After participating in UF2005, I’m left with the impression that the design and usability professions in China are developing at a similar rate. Read moreRead More>

By Luke Wroblewski

Published: February 6, 2006

“The mockup can either sell your design or plummet you into a cyclical tunnel of churn. That’s why, like it or not, interface designers often live and die by the mockup.”

Mockup… The term itself brings to mind the duality inherent in this omnipresent design artifact. It’s both a direct representation of a product experience and a shallow portrayal of an interactive system at the same time. Perhaps the term originated with engineers or product managers intent on pointing out that the mockup was just that: a superficial representation that could never compare to the real product they had to build.

Regardless of what you call it, the mockup can either sell your design or plummet you into a cyclical tunnel of churn. That’s why, like it or not, interface designers often live and die by the mockup.

Live by the Mockup

“How would I summarize the importance of design vision communication deliverables? He or she who owns the drawings, [mockups, storyboards, or wireframes] owns the vision.”—Jim Leftwich Read moreRead More>

By Dirk Knemeyer

Published: February 6, 2006

“Most software projects revolve around a product’s engineering, to the ongoing detriment of its design.”

Design professionals often decry the lack of importance and investment their companies place on design. After all, most software projects revolve around a product’s engineering, to the ongoing detriment of its design—not to mention the chagrin of so many designers, who wriggle uncomfortably toward the bottom of the food chain. But there is a good reason for this: products can be very profitable without investing a single penny in interface design—at least, beyond the user interfaces the engineers build. Indeed, at least in the early stages of a market or company, resources dedicated to intentional interface design are often a bonus rather than being viewed as a necessity. Sound crazy? Consider the natural and normal evolution of a software product. Read moreRead More>