By Calum on Nov 03, 2005
Happy World Usability Day!
Yikes, it's ten years today since the first real project I worked on (for money) produced its first real deliverable.
I was employed by Logica (now LogicaCMG) in Cambridge, but was working with a team of other usability folk from Logica, Admiral Consulting (now part of LogicaCMG themselves), Microsoft, GUI Designers and others at Reuters' now-defunct Usability Group just off Fleet Street in London.
With insufficient funding to build their own in-house team, Reuters' Greg Garrison decided to form a virtual team' of usability consultants from various companies, who could be called upon as they were required. The rest of the time, they would be back in their own offices, being paid by their own companies. (In practice, it didn't quite work like that; most of us were there 10 or 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, blowing the budget on a variety of wild ideas.)
And the deliverable? A multimedia extravaganza of usability examples, guidelines and icon libraries on CD-ROM, all produced in Macromedia Director, Microsoft Visual Basic, and Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop (all of which were at about Version 3 in those days). And burned on the office's own CD burner-- which cost about three grand, and took half an hour to burn a disc.
I can't say that the work was always a whole lot of fun... long hours, personality clashes, artistic differences and inter-company rivalry were never too far from the surface, and because the virtual team thing was considered innovative at the time, Greg was always trailing all sorts of media and BPR types around the office (and particularly the usability lab that was part of it) while you were trying to get your work done. But most of the stuff we did, and the CD-ROM itself, still stands up pretty well, I learned a whole lot from the people I was working with, and made some good friends. (The occasional spot of wild partying in London was a bonus, too...)
I actually signed up there over a year ago, though, and unfortunately it's not really scratching my particular itch. (Or, perhaps more accurately, as I'm on the usability side of things, it's not making it very easy for me to scratch anyone else's). Without any mailing list or RSS feeds to let you know what everybody is up to, you really have to join one of the dozens of projects that have signed up, at which point you can elect to receive email notifications when somebody posts in one of the project-specific web forums.
For me, though, one of the main problems with open source software usability is that there's no proven, repeatable, successful method to achieve good results1. So with different usability folks (for those lucky enough to have any at all) working on every OSS project doing their best to adapt standard usability techniques to the open source field, the results are patchy. Unfortunately, with no cross-project discussion areas or other useful means (i.e. not the pain that is web forums!) to monitor everyone's successes and failures in the participating projects, I don't think OpenUsability.org is quite ready yet to be the place that such an approach is fostered. But I'll certainly be keeping my eye on it.
1Okay, you could say the same about usability generally, but certainly not to the same extent.
Heh... it's probably old hat to most of you that newer scanners, printers and software will barf if you try to use them to forge a banknote, but I only found out today... not by trying to artificially inflate my beer fund, I hasten to add. I find it hard to believe that your average master forger is going to be relying on an inkjet and a copy of Photoshop anyway, but I suppose some people get away with it...
NotZed, it's a fact of usability life that some users will always see what they want (or are conditioned) to see, however hard you try to make them see something else. If it's only 1 in 10 then let them go and use something they think is better for their job... free software is all about choice, right? If it's 5 in 10, then try to figure out why they're not seeing what's obvious to you because you've been working on it every day for the past six months.
FWIW, I actually looked at this dialog a good few times before I saw the Username field too-- and I knew it must be there or you wouldn't be annoyed about it :) My guess is that it's sometimes being overlooked because the "Server requires authentication" checkbox and the authentication section itself aren't beside each other. (Paper prototyping is a great way to find out this sort of thing before anything ever hits the screen...)
I usually go on the defensive when people are quick to slag off Ryanair's customer service-- if you're only willing to shell out a few coppers for your flight, it's a bit rich to go looking for compensation or overnight accommodation if it's a few hours late or cancelled, or moan when they charge you for every ounce of overweight baggage. (Fates which have never befallen me on any of the dozens of Ryanair flights I've taken, I have to say.)
I did find an insidious little addition to their online booking form last week, though... a "purchase insurance" checkbox, checked by default, that when unchecked changes your country of residence from Ireland (or whatever) to Other. 'Oh, I need to change that back to Ireland' you think, only to notice (if you're lucky) that when you do, the insurance checkbox is checked again.
Even if you work out that it's perfectly acceptable to leave the insurance box unchecked and your country of residence as "other" (you have to enter it in an unconnected box as part of your address further down the page anyway), you get another 'We really think you should purchase insurance from us' popup before you're allowed to continue to the next page. All rather intimidating really.
On the vagaries of installing a new Windows-based touchscreen interface in San Jose police cars...
I am an Interaction Designer in the Systems Experience Design team, arriving at Oracle via Sun where I've worked since 2000. I currently work on sysadmin user experience projects for Solaris. Formerly I worked on open source Solaris desktop projects such as GNOME, NWAM and IPS.