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March 2007 Issue

By Steve Baty

Published: March 20, 2007

“In user research, as with all avenues of statistical inquiry, we’re able to demonstrate only that a hypothesis is probably true—or untrue—with some specific degree of certainty.”

Recently, I was reading through a sample chapter of a soon-to-be-published book. The book and author shall remain nameless, as shall the book’s topic. However, I was disappointed to read, in what otherwise appeared at first glance to be an interesting publication, a very general, sweeping statement to the effect that qualitative research doesn’t prove anything and, if you want proof, you should perform quantitative research. The author’s basic assumption was that qualitative research can’t prove anything, as it is based on small sample sizes, but quantitative research, using large sample sizes, does provide proof.

This may come as a shock to everyone, but quantitative research does not provide proof of anything either.

Here, I’m using the word proof in the mathematical sense, because that is the context within which the author made those statements. In mathematics, a proof is a demonstration that, given certain axioms, some statement of interest is necessarily true. The important distinction here is the use of the word necessarily. In user research, as with all avenues of statistical inquiry, we’re able to demonstrate only that a hypothesis is probably true—or untrue—with some specific degree of certainty.

Granted, I’m being pedantic; and you might think this just an interesting exercise in semantics. But let me take you through a brief survey of this topic, then perhaps you’ll appreciate the importance of this distinction. Read moreRead More>

By Lindsay Ellerby

Published: March 20, 2007

“When you’re starting out as an information architect (IA), being part of a strong community of fellow practitioners helps immensely.”

When you’re starting out as an information architect (IA), being part of a strong community of fellow practitioners helps immensely. A little over a year ago, on Sunday, February 22, 2006, I participated in an informal workshop on wireframing techniques that took place here in Toronto. Bryce Johnson, Director of User Experience Design at Navantis Inc., facilitated and hosted the workshop at his workplace. The knowledge sharing and the wireframing best practices that emerged from the workshop, plus the sense of community I experienced there, helped me build a foundation as an information architect and got me started on developing my own design workflow. Now, I’d like to share the techniques I’ve learned with a broader community of information architects.

Why a Wireframe Workshop?

There is a fairly informal IA community in Toronto. People in that community see value in sharing ideas and practices with those who are new to the field. This democratization of information is quite astounding in an increasingly competitive market. The wireframing workshop provided an opportunity for participants to introduce different ways of doing wireframes to each other, explore how wireframes factor into different design processes, and get some rookies started with easy tips and tricks. No organization sponsored the event. It was just a bunch of practitioners coming together to share ideas. Read moreRead More>

By Mike Hughes

Published: March 6, 2007

“The optimal placement of user assistance, space permitting, is in the user interface itself.”

User assistance occurs within an action context—the user doing something with an application—and should appear in close proximity to the focus of that action—that is, the application it supports. The optimal placement of user assistance, space permitting, is in the user interface itself. We typically call that kind of user assistance instructional text. But when placing user assistance within an application as instructional text, we must modify conventional principles of good information design to accommodate certain forces within an interactive user interface. This column, User Assistance, talks about how the rules for effective instruction change when creating instructional text for display within the context of a user interface.

User Behaviors and Their Implications for Instructional Text

When designing user assistance—particularly instructional text within the context of an application—we should keep the following typical user behaviors in mind:

  • When users are processing information on a computer screen, their flow of focus is the same as when they process information on a printed page. For example, in English, readers scan from the upper left to the lower right and read from left to right and top to bottom; in Arabic, people read from right to left and top to bottom.
  • When using an application, users are motivated to take action, and their focus is easily drawn to action objects such as menus, buttons, and text fields.
  • Once an action object or other visual element on a page has drawn a user’s focus downstream in the focus flow, it is difficult to redirect it back upstream. In other words, if something initially draws a user’s attention to the middle of a page, it is far more likely that the user will continue across and down as opposed to going back up the page. This is especially true if there are additional action objects downstream.

Read moreRead More>

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: March 6, 2007

Organization 5 stars
Content 4.5 stars
Presenters 4.5 stars
Proceedings 4.5 stars
Venue 4.5 stars
Hospitality 4.5 stars

Jared Spool’s User Interface Engineering (UIE) thought the time had come for a UX conference focusing on Web applications and thus produced the first UIE Web App Summit. This conference definitely filled what formerly was an unmet need. The UIE Web App Summit took place at the Monterey Marriott, in Monterey, California, U.S.A., on January 21st through 23rd, 2007. It drew a capacity crowd of 218 people, who had traveled from far and wide to attend the event. While most attendees came from the United States and Canada, nine came from the UK and Europe and four hailed from Oceania and Asia.

Like other conferences not sponsored by professional associations, the UIE Web App Summit was a fairly pricey event—$1999 for advance registration for all three days—so I was interested in finding out whether attendees felt they got value for their money. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about their conference experience and felt that the content was valuable to them.

This was an excellent conference! The best I’ve attended in the last three years since starting to write conference reviews for UXmatters. And its content focused on a topic that’s highly relevant to the work of the majority of UX professionals today: Web applications.

Tutorial: Deconstructing Web Applications
Presenter: Hagan Rivers

Summit Keynote: Moving Towards Delight: Following the Rapid Evolution of Web-Based Applications
Presenter: Jared Spool

Read moreRead More>

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: March 6, 2007

More session reviews.

RIA Patterns: Best Practices for Common Patterns of Rich Interaction
Presenter: Bill Scott

Communicating Concepts with Comics
Presenter: Kevin Cheng

Best Practices for Form Design: Bridging the Gap with Your Customers
Presenter: Luke Wroblewski

Web Application Page Hierarchy
Presenter: Luke Wroblewski

Read moreRead More>

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: March 6, 2007

More session reviews and the conclusion of my conference review.

Building a Great User Interface, the Netflix Way
Presenter: Sean Kane

Tagging in Your Web World
Presenter: Thomas Vander Wal

Learning from Social Web Applications
Presenter: Joshua Porter

Design Strategies for Web-Based Recommender Systems
Presenter: Rashmi Sinha

Read moreRead More>