Friday Nov 04, 2005

Send a Smile

From the Microsoft Office UI blog:

Q: What is "Send a Smile?"

A: There's a general philosophy Microsoft has been embracing more and more in all of our beta products, which is that people should be able to send one-off comments as easily as possible, while they're "in the moment." Windows XP had a "Comments?" link in every dialog box that let you tell us if the dialog was stupid. Previous versions of Office had the same thing.

Send-a-Smile is a related tool that goes a bit further. Anywhere, anytime, someone can click a "smiley face" to tell us they like something or a "frowny face" to tell us they don't like something. We get a lot of context (with the user's permission of course), including a screenshot, sometimes a short movie of the last 30 seconds, related documents, etc. There's another tool called the Office Feedback Tool (also known as "Ebert") which does a similar thing but with Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down.

All of these tools work on the principal that if someone has to open a newsreader, log onto a newsgroup, type a long message, and send it, we'll lose a lot of valuable feedback just due to complacency. The idea is to reduce the barrier to entry for sending comments so that we get more data from the "heat of the moment."

And of course, we have all sorts of tools that help us sort an analyze the feedback on the back-end.

I really like even the simple "Comments?" idea, and it would be cool if GNOME/JDS could do something similar in its development releases. It would probably need some sort of toolkit support so it could be easily added to any window or dialog, and easily turned off for the final builds. And of course, the hard part would be analysing all that data. But from the user's point of view, it would be pretty unobtrusive, and would probably capture that Kodak Moment a lot better than having to go and file a bug report. (Plus, of course, people don't file bug reports about cool stuff that Just Worked.)

Thursday Nov 03, 2005


Happy World Usability Day!

Tuesday Oct 18, 2005

Jakob Nielsen on Blogs

Jakob's latest AlertBox concerns Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes.

Monday Oct 17, 2005

Why Software Sucks

A nice little essay from Scott Berkun: Why Software Sucks (and What to Do About It).

Wednesday Sep 28, 2005

MS Office 12 UI blog

Jensen Harris from Microsoft has started a blog about the new Office 12 UI.

Thursday Sep 22, 2005

A decade of usability

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...)

Friday Sep 16, 2005

IE designer switches to Firefox

An interesting defection indeed.

Tuesday Aug 30, 2005

Philip van Hoof brought to my attention again this week. It's a project aiming to bring open source developers and usability experts together, and that can only be a Good Thing.

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 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.

Friday Aug 05, 2005

Licence to (not) print money

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...

Monday Jun 20, 2005

As PLAIN as the nose on your face

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...)

Sunday May 29, 2005

Newsflash: usability ain't new :)

Jeez, listening to Miguel at GUADEC today you'd think nobody had ever done GNOME usability studies before :) Sun can't always publish theirs in full, unfortunately, but we sure file a lot of bugs from them.

Monday May 09, 2005

Trinity Presentation

Here's the presentation I gave at Trinity College last Thursday night. Thanks to Marc and Netsoc for asking me, and to Trinity for buying me dinner at Tante Zoe's afterwards.

Here's how Alan thought it went... he assures me that "top usability expert" is only in quotes because that's what it said in the announcement :)

Monday Feb 07, 2005


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.

Thursday Dec 16, 2004

Article online

For anyone who's interested, the article I wrote on OSS usability a few months back is now available online ("Meeting the Challenge of Open Source Usability", starting on page 9).

Wednesday Dec 15, 2004

Who goes there?

Alistair Edwards from the University of York Computer Science Department is conducting an interesting little study in the memorability vs. security of passwords-- read about it and take part here.


I am a Principal UX Engineer in the Systems Experience Design team, working at Oracle (via Sun Microsystems) since the turn of the century. 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.


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