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December 2009 Issue

By Ahmed Riaz

Published: December 21, 2009

“The Polaroid camera forever bifurcated the product experience of photography into two tracks: cameras for professionals and personal cameras that small girls and other amateurs could easily and enjoyably use.”

Most fathers would do anything for their daughters, but Edwin Land took a simple question from his inquisitive child and changed the world of photography forever. “Why can’t I have them right away?” asked the small girl, as her father—a successful chemical scientist—took photographs on a family vacation.

Why couldn’t she have the photographs right away? Keep in mind the context of the time in which she asked this question. In 1943, photography was the realm of serious professionals and ambitious hobbyists. Photographers needed to learn about chemical reactions to develop film and make prints. While working in a special darkroom, they had to give photos various types of chemical baths and patiently wait for prints to dry. Just the sorts of things small girls are rarely interested in.

Have the photographs right away? Ridiculous! Incredible! Unfathomable? Or was it? Read moreRead More>

By Colleen Jones

Published: December 21, 2009

“Most companies haven’t given testing content the attention it deserves—partly because it’s challenging.”

As UX professionals, we’re all familiar with the need to test user experience designs. Testing content, however, might be a different story. Most companies haven’t given testing content the attention it deserves—partly because it’s challenging. One challenge is that time and budget usually do not allow us to test every single piece of content. Another challenge is that gathering too much unfocused feedback can freeze our projects in analysis paralysis. To meet these challenges, try testing your content concepts—and start testing them early in your projects.

I have found surprisingly little advice about testing content that is integral to rather than supportive of the user experience. Also scarce is advice about testing content for more than usability. A good starting point for understanding the need to test content is a blog post by Ginny Redish, “Usability Testing: Be Sure to Test Content as Well as Navigation.” According to Redish:

“Too many usability tests focus only on finding information—not on how the information itself works for people.”—Ginny Redish Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: December 21, 2009

“I took the position that it was entirely possible for designers to test their own designs—with one catch: confirmatory bias would make us less likely to completely discard our faulty designs and start afresh.”

My last column, “Usability Testing Your Own Designs: Bad Idea?” engendered a lot of discussion with UXmatters readers about some related issues that crop up for many designers throughout their careers:

  • Is it possible to both design and test the usability of our own designs effectively?
  • If so, how can we test our own designs well?
  • If not, then what?

In that column, I took the position that it was entirely possible for designers to test their own designs—with one catch: confirmatory bias would make us less likely to completely discard our faulty designs and start afresh. Then, I provided some guidelines for testing our own designs. When people read the column, it became clear that they had other ideas. This column is an attempt to synthesize a new set of guidelines for testing your own designs that I’ve based on the best of my own and UXmatters readers’ ideas. Read moreRead More>

By Richard A. Muscat

Published: December 21, 2009

“This tutorial turned out to be a highly motivating, fast-paced, and anecdote-rich journey through the process of designing and analyzing qualitative field work in a user-centered design (UCD) context.”

Given the choice, how many people would swap a gloriously sunny Saturday in Cambridge, England, for a 7-hour long tutorial about—wait for it—qualitative user research and analysis methods? Yet thirty odd people did just that, electing to closet themselves in one of the nicer rooms at Churchill College to listen to what UCD researcher David Siegel had to say. This tutorial turned out to be a highly motivating, fast-paced, and anecdote-rich journey through the process of designing and analyzing qualitative field work in a user-centered design (UCD) context.

As anybody involved in UCD, UX, or related work probably knows, field work—whether in the form of usability tests, interviews, or focus groups—is an essential tool of our trade. Yet making sense of the data and the field notes we collect can often be a non-trivial task. The material can easily build up into a tall stack of notes, transcripts, and visuals. Even more challenging is the task of communicating the results to our clients in a compelling and authoritative way. Based on extensive real-world examples, including his work on the Microsoft Tablet PC OS and other projects for similarly high-profile clients, David attacked these problems with vigor and enthusiasm. Here are the top-five take-away values. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman

Published: December 7, 2009

“When a customer constructs a query that may have more than one meaning, a good search user interface provides tools to help the customer define the query in less ambiguous terms, so the search results more closely match the person’s intention. This process is known as disambiguation….”

Our language is limited and imperfect. Typically, people type search queries quickly and with little forethought, so queries are definitely less than perfect. When a customer constructs a query that may have more than one meaning, a good search user interface provides tools to help the customer define the query in less ambiguous terms, so the search results more closely match the person’s intention. This process is known as disambiguation, and best practices for effectively supporting the disambiguation of search queries are the subject of this column.

Recently, I came across a new search engine—which shall remain nameless—that promised a combined search and browse approach to finding products. I was curious, so I put this new search application through its paces by typing the query Canon. In addition to results for cameras, the search engine displayed results including the company’s profile for investors, Pachebel’s Canon—a form of music—and, to my great surprise, a Canon mattress and a Canon ottoman, which the products section featured prominently.

Unfortunately, these search results represented a fairly typical situation that occurs when a search application does not correctly understand the meaning of a query. Especially frustrating was the fact that the user interface did not provide any tools to help people to refine their queries and, thus, improve the quality of their search results. The only way people could improve their search results was by typing more keywords into the search box, which takes both thought and work—two things any busy, distracted Internet user can do without. Read moreRead More>

By Whitney Hess

Published: December 7, 2009

“Your goal in the contract negotiation process is not to determine the best price, but to most accurately define the scope of your project. This is possibly the most critical factor in the success of your project….”

Now that you’ve convinced a client they want to work with you, it’s up to you to define the terms of your working agreement. Your goal in the contract negotiation process is not to determine the best price, but to most accurately define the scope of your project. This is possibly the most critical factor in the success of your project, and it’s something most consultants completely fail to follow through on.

A Statement of Work (SOW) formally defines the scope of the activities and deliverables for a project. BusinessDictionary.com defines scope as the “chronological division of work to be performed under a contract or subcontract in the completion of a project.”

Some clients have a very specific chunk of work in mind, while others just know they need help. In either scenario, use your expertise to determine the appropriate amount of work to tackle, according to several key variables: needs, resources, location, schedule, and budget. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: December 7, 2009

Send your questions to Ask UXmatters and get answers from some of the top professionals in UX.

In this Ask UXmatters column—which is the third in a three-part series of columns focusing on usability—our experts discuss:

To read the rest of this series, see

Ask UXmatters answers our readers’ questions about user experience matters. To read our experts’ responses to your question in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your question to: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Peter Hornsby

Published: December 7, 2009

“The Web is a special effects race, fanfares on spreadsheets! Just what we need! (Instead of dealing with the important structure issues—structure, continuity, persistence of material, side-by-side intercomparison, showing what things are the same.) This is cosmetics instead of medicine. We are reliving the font madness of the eighties, a tangent which [sic] did nothing to help the structure that users need who are trying to manage content.”—Ted Nelson

“As a discipline, what is our collective goal, our grand design? What are we, as a group, trying to achieve, and for what will history remember us?”

Computer scientists are familiar with Moore’s law, which Gordon Moore originally proposed in 1965. This law states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double roughly every two years. The reality of Moore’s law has led to an exponential growth in the raw processing power of computers, which lets us solve more—and more complex—problems by applying more processing power to them. Over the last 20 years or so, we have increasingly devoted this comparative wealth of processing power to supporting the human element of human?computer systems, to the extent that UX design now operates as a specialist field. Read moreRead More>