Monday Sep 17, 2012

A New Experience

So a couple of weeks ago, after a fraction over 12 years, I bade farewell to the Solaris Desktop team to join the team whose blog you're reading now: Oracle's Systems Experience Design team, known internally as sxDesign, which has a wider but still largely Solaris-focused usability remit.1

There's been a good deal of overlap and collaboration between the two teams over the years anyway, so it's not exactly a step into the unknown. The elders among you might remember a GNOME 1.4 usability study I presented at GUADEC in 2001, for example, which was primarily the handiwork of a previous incarnation of sxDesign… I pretty much just turned up at the end to steal the glory for the Desktop team. In your face, people I'm going to be working with now!2

1 A move I was first approached about making in about 2003, I think… who says I'm rubbish at making snap decisions?

2 I'm not really. They all left years ago.

Friday Mar 11, 2011

Now that I've Installed Java, What do I do?

Consumers will eventually go through the experience of installing Java on their computer.  Some of the situations that trigger this activity are:
  • The computer they bought has Java pre-installed, and now there's a security update they want to get
  • The user wants to play a game (or use a banking app, file their taxes, etc.) that requires Java, and their computer doesn't have it, or has an old version.
  • Somehow they are told to install Java (perhaps an application that they use at work will need it).
Our current Java installer is really a "one size fits all" solution.  Although the situations are quite different, the user will eventually see the same set of installer panels.  The experience leading up to the installer launch is the only way we have to cater to the differences.

In the future, we are developing an installer that is more flexible and can be tailored to the specific scenarios where Java needs to be installed or updated.  This will streamline the experience so that installing Java will be easier.

You'll notice a new layout, simpler text and an overall cleaner look.  Where in some situations you would previously see a progress indicator before the installer Welcome panel was shown, you won't have to wait for that part of the download any more as it will occur while you're looking at the Welcome panel.

Once the Java installation has completed, the browser refreshes to a page that will verify that the various components of the Java platform are hooked up correctly.  Or, if you were installing Java because something on the page requested it, then the browser will show the desired Java content.

If you look around the web, there are examples of functionality that are implemented in Java because of it's unique power and flexibility -- or just because it's fun!  Some examples that I've found are:
Take a look around the web and let us know what Java content you find.  And let us know how your experience installing and using Java goes.  We really do read those comments that are entered through the little +/- icon on the lower right corner of the browser window!

Monday Sep 22, 2008

A Day in the life in the Usability Labs

Kristin Travis has been working in high tech as an interaction designer and usability engineer for more than 15 years. She is part of the xDesign team based in Menlo Park, California.

Have you wondered what's it is like doing someone else's job? Well,
I've decided it's challenging, interesting, and educational all at once.

As a user interface designer, I'm used to dealing with design challenges
and project issues, but what is it like to shift focus and walk a mile
in someone else's work shoes? I recently was given the chance to
find out, while our very competent Usability Labs Manager was out on
maternity leave.

In contemplating the quickly passing days (and some not so quickly
passing nights), my work life has definitely been different over the
last few weeks. In a nutshell, I've :

  • helped with the creation of a number of recruiting screeners
  • brought a new recruiting firm on board
  • become overly familiar with some financial processes: POs, invoices, gift checks
  • helped to provide primary or secondary logistical support for multiple lab studies

Here is what it's felt like most days:

Lab activities

Has it been worth it? You bet. In addition to seeing our Usability
Labs being used frequently by dedicated designers and
development team members, seeing how our customers use our products
remains a critical part of the design landscape.

Thanks to everyone who uses or supports the Labs in some way or another.


Monday May 12, 2008

Environmental Psychology

Jakub is a User Researcher in xDesign and works mainly on Java tools. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology.

As a part of my doctoral studies I am teaching a class on Environmental Psychology at Charles University in Prague. This subject fascinates me with its focus on application in the real world. It is not very theoretical and has lots of applications in our everyday life.

Knowledge about humans from another psychological disciplines like cognitive or social psychology as well as from this discipline's own applied research is directly used in architecture, urbanism and environmental design for making environments more friendly to its inhabitants.\* Great attention is paid to studying interactions between people and their environment in the real conditions which takes into account the whole complexity of real settings.

Environmental Psychology provides answers to questions such as: How should we plan cities so that people find them as a desired place to live? How should buildings be designed so that people are not getting lost in them? What recreational areas help people to recover from daily stress? What kinds of front gardens discourage burglars from invading the place? How should the lack of privacy in hospitals be compensated without major changes to their current operation? What kinds of maps are really helpful in wayfinding? What office arrangements facilitate productivity best? What classroom arrangement keeps pupils' attention focused on the topic? What personalities finds certain landscapes unforgettable?

Focusing on peoples' needs and using knowledge about them in designing for them rather than taking in account just aesthetics, architectural expertise and superficial economical aspects gradually becomes common practice in urban planning and architecture. This approach does not effect "only" peoples' satisfaction but proves to be highly cost effective. Focusing on design and analysis of people's needs slightly elevates costs in the initial phase, but increased productivity and many other benefits save money in the long run.

Does this sound familiar to you? Yes, there are many many similarities in designing living environments and designing user interfaces for software products.

Hungry for more information? Sign up for my class:) Charles University, Faculty of Arts, room n. 338, every other Thursday at 5pm.

\*My class does not focus on ecological preservation as the name could suggest, but on interactions between human and their environment.

Thursday Dec 13, 2007

What do you really want from your mobile device?

Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with software installation and registration. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.

Again, I have a question for you. I have tons of unused Sun swag to exchange for my favorite answers -- a Java gym bag, a Sun CD case, a Sun coffee mug, a desk clock, a laptop bag ... too much to list. Send me a great response to my question, and I'll let you pick.

Here's the thing ... we all have mobile devices: cell phones, laptops, PDAs, nav systems, pen tops, tablets, hand-held game consoles ... and they all provide some value to us. That value may be access to a resource, the ability to perform a new task, the ability to perform an old task in a new way or at a new location, entertainment, productivity, connection to our friends, immersion, or escape.

So in my mind ... I have a vision ... if I took all the functionality of all those disparate devices and combined it with all the benefit that I get from my non-portable devices (for example, my SunRay, my iMac, my cable box, and a Wii) I know what it would look like and what it would do for me. I imagine it every time I look at the iPhone. I want it not only to supplement the cadre of devices that I already have, I want my next mobile device to replace them. All of them.

But I realize that, along many axes, I am not in the majority. As desperately as I want an iPhone, I just refuse to buy one until it meets some of my other demands.

So my question to you is ... when you dream of the mobile device that you wish you had, how is it different from what is available now? Write me your answer in email: jenm at sun dot com.

Monday Dec 10, 2007

Sun's usability test labs in Menlo Park

Back in August, Jiri Mzourek told us about the building of Sun's usability test labs in Prague, Czech Republic. In October, Kristin Travis told us what it was like to have her engineering team view her usability tests remotely. And in November, I posted an interview with Kim Arrowood, who manages Sun's usability test labs in Menlo Park, California. Now in this post, Kim takes us for a virtual tour of the labs in Menlo Park.

Kim Arrowood has worked in xDesign for over a year managing Sun's usability test labs in the U.S. Before coming to xDesign, she worked at Sun for 6 years in market development engineering as a program manager. Kim is working to improve the visibility of the usability labs in the U.S.

Jen: So Kim, tell me about the usability labs in Menlo Park.

Kim: The labs have both digital and analog recording; we use Camtasia for digital recording, and DVDs for analog recording. We recently installed all new equipment in two of our three labs in Menlo Park, so the labs are really state of the art. We primarily use two of the three labs in Menlo Park and the third lab is used as a staging area for tours and other demo setups. One lab is set up like an office environment, with desks, chairs, and computer equipment. We typically use that for one-on-one (facilitator:participant) usability testing.

The other lab that we use a lot of the time, called the "playspace", is set up in a more creative and casual way. There is a table in the middle with chairs around it, couches, and it's decorated in a more artistic way. It's been built to look more like a design studio than a typical usability lab. For example, it has lamps off to the sides, instead of being lit from the ceiling, and we have toys scattered around the room. We only have one computer set up in the room, and it's off to the side.

Jen: So how do you use the playspace?

Kim: It's great for focus groups, and we record webinars (training) in there. It also has a ceiling-mounted camera that looks down on the table, so we can use it for testing consumer devices or for capturing drawings. Once a week, the playspace is used to host a "design cafe" for teams to strategize and brainstorm, or for people to review their current designs and get feedback on what they are working on.

All of our labs in Menlo Park have an attached control room, separated from the lab by a half-wall and a two-way mirror, but they vary in the lab size and the number or observers they can accommodate in the control room. The playspace can accommodate up to 20 observers, and the other labs can handle up to 10 observers. Each lab also has the ability to support remote observers, for people who can't observe a study in person. This is very useful when part of a team in somewhere else and they can see everything that is going on in our labs.

Jen: So what else should we know about the labs in Menlo Park?

Kim: We've given tours to several different organizations internal and external to Sun. We were part of the CHI 2007 lab tours, and we just gave a tour to the SEED mentoring participants.

Jen: When you give tours, what's the feedback like?

Kim: They think that the control rooms look like a newscast. And the most common question is, "How do you get anything done in the play space?" I tell them that it facilitates creative thinking and communication.

Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with software installation and registration. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.

Thursday Nov 15, 2007

World Usability Day 2007 in the Czech Republic!

Ondrej Langr is an interaction designer working on NetBeans IDE, and he is located in Prague, Czech Republic

This was the third year in which the World Usability Day also took place here in the Czech Republic. Organized by Sun Microsystems, Czech Technical University and Dobry web (one of Czech Republic's biggest web usability and design consultant companies), under the aegis of Czech SIGCHI, it was a big success. The Czech usability community is steadily growing, and after 80 visitors at the first WUD in 2005 and 140 visitors at WUD in 2006 we had 220 registered visitors this year. The event took place in a Palace Cinema with the capacity of more than 280 people.

The topic of this year's WUD was "Get to know your user", and we had some of the top speakers. Nalini Kotamraju (Sun Microsystems) had a keynote about "What Does it Mean to Know Users?", Jakub Franc (Sun Microsystems) talked about his experience with user research on elderly people done in cooperation with Czech Technical University. Martin Klíma (Czech Technical University) shared the other side of the experience about how it was to adapt user research into a medium-scaled European Commission sponsored research project. During the break between lectures, visitors had a chance to learn more about Czech Technical University’s usability lab and about Czech SIGCHI at two booths in the lobby.

Those who were fast enough to sign-up for workshops (due to limited number of seats, all workshops were booked out during the first day they were announced!) met at Prague’s Sun Microsystems site in the early afternoon. There were three parallel workshops:

  • Introduction to Usability Testing, led by myself (15 seats)
  • User Research led by Jakub Franc, Sun Microsystem's user researcher (12 seats)
  • Web Usability Testing in Praxis, led by Adam Fendrych from Dobrý web (12 seats)

I was not able to attend two out of three workshops, so I can only report on Introduction to Usability Testing. Participants came from both local and international companies, and there were also some students. After the necessary theoretical part where participants learned how to prepare and conduct a usability study, they were led, step by step, through the process of preparing a usability study and got a chance to try a real test session in Sun Microsystems' state-of-the-art usability lab.

The most interesting part of the workshop for me was the discussion. Considering that the usability awareness in East and Central Europe is relatively small (for example, in this area WUD only takes place in Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Russia), surprisingly many participants had some experience with trying to employ user-centered techniques in their production process. However, their attempts had often failed, mainly because their companies are too technology-driven and because customers and management in this part of Europe still do not see benefits of UCD for their business.

However, the situation is improving. Sun and other members of Czech SIGCHI are building the usability community in Czech Republic and already thinking about how to make the next WUD even better!


Friday Nov 09, 2007

What is it like to work in a design group, when you're not a designer?

Kim Arrowood has worked in xDesign for over a year managing Sun's usability test labs in the U.S. Before coming to xDesign, she worked at Sun for 6 years in market development engineering as a program manager. Kim is working to improve the visibility of the usability labs in the U.S.

I recently spoke with Kim Arrowood about what it's like to join a design group, when you're not a designer.

Jen: So Kim, tell me a little about what it is that you do.

Kim: I manage our usability test labs. World-wide, we have 9 or 10 labs spread across Prague, Massachusetts, Colorado, and California, but I primarily manage the 3 labs we have in Menlo Park, California. I handle logistics, recruit usability test participants, and help out with technical equipment. I also manage some aspect of operations for our organization, like goals, budgets, and dashboards.

Jen: From your perspective, what's the most challenging or interesting part of coming into a design group?

Kim: The most challenging aspect is the terminology. In my former group, we used the terminology of the customer, but the design group uses both the terminology of the engineering teams as well as terms that are specific to design or usability. For example, I had to learn what it was an interaction designer does and how that is different from the work of a visual designer. And I didn't know what a usability test was until I got to see one, so there was a big learning curve.

One really interesting thing that I learned was how "hands on" design is. I never knew all the work that goes into creating designs before they go to engineering. And I was surprised at how collaborative the design process is. When I worked in engineering, a single person wold work to resolve a single customer problem. But here, there's a very supportive environment -- a lot of teamwork.

Jen: How do you see that manifested?

Kim: Well, when Kristin was working on some designs for the Identity Manager team she took them to the weekly Design Cafe, to get feedback and input on her ideas from other designers in the group. And we have those design cafes weekly, so anyone with an idea or a new mock-up can get feedback from their peers, in a supportive way. But I was surprised, too, at how small the group is, when design is so important to Sun.

Jen: So what is the most interesting part of your job?

Kim: I get to learn a lot more about the products we make; what they are and what they do. I'm reading as much as I can about design and usability testing, but I like to learn about our products by being the participant in our dry runs -- the practice round of a study, when the lab setup and script get tested.

I enjoy participant recruiting, but it's challenging. It's really hard to find good participants; ones that match the test goals for each study.

But the best part of my job is getting involved in the projects, and working on the teams. Everyone works together and communicates -- there are no funny looks and no stupid questions. I really enjoy the collaboration and the teamwork.

Tuesday Nov 06, 2007

Toh-may-toh? Toh-mah-toh?: Let's call the whole thing.. a terminology study

Ann Sunhachawee is an interaction designer in xDesign, and has been working for over 8 years in the area of tools, Java client, and currently OpenSolaris projects.

When deciding on terminology to use in your user interface, you try to fulfill a couple of different objectives: 1) accurately and concisely describe the concept 2) make it easy for the user to grasp.

The Network Auto-Magic project (which is part of OpenSolaris) needed to capture the concept of associating a group of settings (such as network proxies and services) with the network the computer is connected to. For instance, if you're using your computer in your office, you would need to use proxies that allowed you to work through your employer's firewall. But you would not need those particular proxies when using your computer at home.

What do you call this concept of needing different network settings depending on where you are? Mac OS calls it "Location" (as does Windows Vista). However, "Location," as Mac OS uses it, is not exactly the same as what Solaris will be implementing. We tried some alternatives like "Network Environment". No term was fully accepted. So what could we do?

A quick & dirty terminology study! I printed 2 sets of screenshots — one set featuring the term "Environment", and the other "Location". Then I walked them around the hallways to get people's opinion: "Hey you — Do you like A or B?"

But, before rushing into that, I consulted user researcher Nalini Kotamraju to figure out if there were any gotchas to think about. There are a few factors to consider, for what seemed like a short & simple survey. Here are some of them:

  • Alternate which term is shown first to each person, to get rid of any order-effect bias.
  • Don't ask about the term directly; instead just ask what they think the function of the dialog is. Observe the person's understanding by listening to their response.
  • Only directly prompt the user about the term in question if the person doesn't comment on the term during the course of their discussion.
  • Present the alternative after finishing discussion of the first term.
  • Ask for any alternatives that they might think are better.
  • And of course, avoid leading questions.

The Results

In the end, of the 10 people I polled, only 1 person preferred Environment over Location; 8 people chose Location; and 1 was undecided. I hadn't thought the results would be this skewed. Reasons for choosing Location did include familiarity with the term (a number of people were Mac users) and the notion that Environment is way too broad, evoking associations with the Desktop Environment and Unix environment variables, which were both something people felt were not changed very often.

In the end, the term might not be the most accurate, but sometimes it's better to use a good approximation that is recognizable. In the case of this project, it is an acceptable trade-off. I highly recommend the quick & dirty study method — great payoff for the price of a couple of print outs and getting to know your neighbors =)

Thursday Oct 25, 2007

Thoughts from a recent remote usability study

Kristin Travis has been working in high tech as an interaction designer and usability engineer for more than 15 years. She is part of the xDesign team based in Menlo Park, California, and she currently supports the Identity Manager team, which is based in Austin, Texas.

Identity Manager Login Screen

The last release of Sun's Identity Manager software (in May of 2007) had substantial user interface changes, so when I joined the team in June we discussed conducting a usability study in the Menlo Park usability labs, to get feedback from representative users on the current release.

In my experience, most development team members appreciate seeing how users interact with a piece of hardware or software that they've helped to create. Seeing first-hand reactions to existing functionality helps to shape team members' thinking about changes and new features for a product.

Picture of LabBut while I'm located in Menlo Park, the Identity Manager development team is located in Austin, Texas. So the questions I had going into this exercise were: would it be relatively easy to involve a remote development team in a usability study? And would the remote team be satisfied with viewing a study in real-time, but not actually being in the same room as the user?

So what did we do?

In terms of the setup, we created a VNC connection between the usability lab in California (where I was, with the study participants) to a conference room in Texas, where the members of the development team could observe the test sessions.

The remote access allowed the people in Texas (and other locations, if needed) to see what study participants were doing. The Texas team could see the participant's computer monitor and watch, in real time, while the participant interacted with the product. In addition, the team could listen to the participant over an audio conference call that we established between the locations. At the end of each session, if the remote team wanted to follow up with the participant about a particular issue or question, they could do so by using the conference call.

And how did it work out?

Here are some highlights of the feedback that I got from the remote and local teams:

  • As with any other type of study, it's really important to conduct a dry run of the session. You don't want to get side-tracked during the study by unanticipated logistical issues. During our dry run, we diagnosed an error in the VNC login instructions for the remote set up. That took a while to figure out, but then things went according to plan.
  • The remote team's commitment to the study is essential. Jeff, my main contact in Texas, coordinated the remote conference room, kept everyone there informed about any schedule changes, and attended each study session. Considering the two-hour time zone difference, this meant a few late nights in Austin. But it was extremely helpful to have Jeff complete intra-task dependencies so I could concentrate on working with the participant.
  • Jeff said that seeing how the participant interacted with the product was a huge benefit. This was true even though they couldn't "see" the participant directly (as they would have if they had been here locally).

Would we change anything for the next time?

I was in the room with the participant, and Kim, our Usability Lab Manager, was in the control room interacting with Austin by phone, so there was a bit of a communication delay at times. If Kim and Jeff had relevant content to share, Kim had to wait for an appropriate time to break into the conversation that I was having with the participant. It would have been useful to have a '3-way IM chat' up and running, so if the participant discovered any software surprises, or they had any related questions, we could communicate more quickly, without disrupting the flow of the test.

So the questions I had going into this exercise were: would it be relatively easy to involve a remote development team in a usability study? And would the remote team be satisfied with viewing a study in real-time, but not actually being in the same room as the user?

Well, in this case, yes.

Friday Sep 14, 2007

A Sociologist in a Technologist's World: What's a CLI, again?

Nalini Kotamraju is a user researcher in xDesign, and a PhD in Sociology. She has a penchant for research methods and telling it exactly like it is.

Years ago, shortly after I joined the Software User Experience Group (xDesign) at Sun, my manager asked me whether I would be willing and able to conduct a usability study of a new CLI for one of our software products, Sun Cluster. I, the ever eager new employee, promptly responded yes, that I'd be thrilled to do such a study. I then withdrew to my desk, and typed "CLI" in Google to figure out what it meant.

CLI stands, of course, for command line interface, which is a way to interact with software or an operating system. Once I met with the product team and had my first look at the CLI, I understood why my manger had wanted to feel out my reaction to this kind of study. By the time I joined Sun I was a veteran at usability studies, having led many a user through a graphic interface in paper prototypes or interactive mock-ups (usually web sites of now-failed dot.coms). Testing the intuitiveness of the content and structure of a CLI, initially seemed to be simultaneously a tedious bore (only a bunch of cryptic words, no images?) and a memory challenge (learning how to string those same words together to make software do something?).

However, the usability study of this CLI turned out to be one of the favorite usability studies that I've conducted in the past decade. The fact that those words come out of my mouth still makes people who know me, even a little bit, laugh. What was so great about this study?

What made the study great wasn't just the team's ability to follow through on the findings from the usability study; thankfully, that happens regularly, though to varying degrees. Nor was it the rich feedback that we did indeed receive from the usability participants themselves. What made this usability study great, for me as the researcher, was the commitment of the product team. It's the most dedicated team with which I've ever worked on a usability study.

The software engineers on the product team were committed to hearing what actual breathing users had to say about the proposed changes to the CLI, which is rare, particularly in the context of what was a politically charged project. They hadn't made the changes to the CLI lightly, and they were passionate about making sure that what they had come up with would work for their users. In addition, they were willing to participate fully in the preparation, execution and post-analysis of the usability study, which is a rare occurrence in a field in which usability studies are often used as after-the-fact rubber stamps to mollify potential internal critics rather than to improve products.

Most of the team had never seen a usability study, so we toured the usability labs in Menlo Park, California. After a discussion of various research methods, they accepted that questions about a statistically significant population of users had no place in what we were about to do. Their commitment also involved spending painstaking hours with me, preparing me for the potential questions of live participants, by explaining how the most popular commands were executed both in the original and the proposed CLI, and, most interesting, how it connected to the underlying software structure. They not only attended the usability sessions, but mandated that other engineers, doc writers, and marketing staff on the project attend as well. My manager, who dropped by one of the usability study sessions, said he couldn't enter the observation room (of our largest lab, nonetheless) because it was chock full of observers.

And all this for a usability study for a bunch of words. Just kidding.

Wednesday Aug 22, 2007

Building of Two Usability Labs in Prague, Czech Republic (Part 2 of 2)

Jiri Mzourek is a senior manager in xDesign, responsible for Sun Developer Products and SOA/BI. In his spare time, he evangelizes usability in the Czech Republic by organizing SIGCHI meetings, World Usability Day, and working closely with the Czech Technical University on usability and accessibility related projects.

When Sun's Prague office became too small, we all moved to a new building. So during the space planning, we made sure that we got a room there for a usability lab. Why build a second lab? The main reason was to have it in the same place as the engineering team so they could easily attend the test sessions.

This time, we decided to do everything on our own: one of our interaction designers, Rudolf Bock, selected the equipment. Based on our experience with the labs at CTU and at Sun in Silicon Valley, we created blueprints and made sure to have a big one-way mirror. From our experience, despite the fact that some participants feel less comfortable in this set-up, it makes a difference to observers -- they feel more connected to the participants.

We got the space with a one-way mirror in the Summer of 2006! Here are pictures of what we have now:

The lab is fully digital, again partially based on Morae. The equipment is:

  • 2x Dome camera Panasonic WV-CS570
  • 1x Panasonic WV-CU360CJ
  • 1x Data multiplex unit Panasonic WJ-MP204C
  • 1x Blackmagic Design DeckLink Multibridge Extreme PCIe
The first usability study was conducted in this lab in November 2006. Since then, we have used this new lab for the majority of our studies. We also plan to show it to the public as part of World Usability Day 2007. Stay tuned!

Monday Aug 13, 2007

Building of two Usability Labs in Prague, Czech Republic (Part 1)

Jiri Mzourek is a senior manager in xDesign, responsible for Sun Developer Products and SOA/BI. In his spare time, he evangelizes usability in the Czech Republic by organizing SIGCHI meetings, World Usability Day, and working closely with the Czech Technical University on usability and accessibility related projects.

In 2004, our xDesign team in Prague was facing a problem: the number of usability studies we needed to do in Prague kept growing and growing. Since we had no usability lab, we did all of our testing in two meeting rooms that the rest of the company also used. One served as observation room and the second one as testing room. It worked ... but there were two main issues. We had to "build" the lab every time from scratch, and it took about a day to run wires, set up the computer and camera equipment, and move furniture. The second, even bigger, problem was not having enough space. Sun had started its expansion in Prague, so we were hiring a lot of new people, and the building was very crowded. It became harder and harder to find two meeting rooms that were next to each other and available for a couple of days. And it was impossible to build a lab in the building: there was no space for it!

So I started a discussion with the Department of Computer Science at Czech Technical University. Our history of cooperation had started earlier, in 2003, when I was networking with other interaction designers in the Czech Republic. I found out that the person in charge of Czech SIGCHI was my former professor, Prof. Pavel Slavik. So I contacted him, and we quickly found that both Sun and CTU were interested in cooperating in the field of usability. But that's a different story, which deserves its own post.

Then in 2004, we discussed usability labs, reached an agreement and made a deal: Sun would supply the equipment and know-how, and CTU would supply the space and construction. Both institutions would share the facility, and, after three years, CTU would keep all usage rights and equipment. To construct the lab, we worked closely with the manager of Sun's U.S. usability labs at the time, J.O. Bugental, and we outsourced the equipment and configuration work to a vendor.

The lab was designed and built to contain both standard analog technology (a scan converter and DVD burner) as well as fully digital technology, which is currently mostly running on Morae. There is no one-way mirror -- we observe the tests using monitors and video cameras.

The lab officially opened on November 15, 2004, and the Czech Minister of IT, Vladimir Mlynar, attended. It was the first usability lab in the Czech Republic and, most likely, in all of Eastern Europe!

After the lab opening, we also supplied the promised know-how in two ways. First, we arranged for an external company, Relevantive, to provide a four-day training for teachers and Ph.D. students, which covered usability basics including usability evaluation. Second, we cooperated on ongoing projects, coaching and mentoring students as well as teachers.

Since 2005, CTU added usability to its standard curriculum and became the Czech Republic's leading university in this field. Hundreds of students have access to the lab every year and use it to run their accessibility and mobile device projects.

So this is the story of the first lab. I will talk about the second lab in a later post.


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