(My cold wasn't too bad today, as it turned out... throat much better, somewhat bunged-up otherwise but better that than having a runny nose all day, IMHO...)
Started the day at the Character Development session where Jen was presenting her data-driven persona talk—good to meet her in person at last! Also bumped into a few old (and a couple of new) faces there, including Robin Jeffries, now at Google, and Matthias Müller-Prove, with whom I co-authored a paper and presentation for CHI in Vienna.
Unfortunately I was paying so much attention to Jen's presenation that I forgot to take a photo, so you'll have to make do with this out-of-focus, mostly-people's-backs effort of her (left) chatting to Andrea Knight from Google, Christoph Noack from Bosch, and Robin (mostly obscured by Christoph):
Another of the talks, on identifying personas using latent semantic analysis (essentially looking for similarities in the textual patterns of questionnaires completed by the subjects), was interesting too, although some of the resulting groupings presented in their example seemed a little dubious. Probably another one I ought to go and read the paper for...
I ducked out of the session after Jen's presentation to see Evangeline Haughney's talk on how she's used comic strips at Adobe to present user interview findings. This is obviously something we've done some work on at Sun as well, so it was interesting to see how her approach differed from ours. The most obvious difference to me was that she didn't use the traditional chronological comic strip format, but an information-rich montage of comic strip elements on each page. And also that she delivered it to the stakeholders as a printed comic book, rather than just in an email or on a website. (I really want to try this on one of my projects soon!)
Next up was the Collaboration and Cooperation session, which included a couple of talks on "co-located collaborative web searching" (aka "one person Googling while one or more others look over their shoulder trying to help") . One paper described a novel solution where the 'observers' who aren't sitting at the keyboard can contribute by suggesting search terms to the 'driver' via their bluetooth phone, on which they can also browse results pages independently of the other participants.
I went for lunch with Christoph Noack from Bosch, who's part of the OpenOffice user experience team, and Mike Terry, Ed Lank and Christine Szentgyorgyi from the University of Waterloo in Ontario—Mike gave the InGimp talk I attended on Tuesday. We chatted about his plans for analysis on the data collected via InGimp, whether the instrumentation might be abstractable to GNOME applications (since GIMP and GNOME are both built on gtk+), and about open source usability in general.
(Having spent some time trying to remember where he'd heard my name before, Mike suddenly pulled out his laptop halfway through lunch to show me a paper he was writing that referenced one of mine!)
Got back just in time to hear a case study from Intuit on the advantages (and pitfalls) of using users' real-life data, such as bank and tax details, in their usability tests. They cited a couple of examples where features that had been readily discovered by participants in 'fake data' tests were missed when users worked with their real data instead. To counter that, they also gave the example of the user associating a memory-jogging phrase with certain data to aid recollection months or years down the road—it was impossible to test the effectiveness of that feature, because the user naturally had to choose the phrase just before the test.
So to Bill Buxton's closing plenary, where he spoke about "not what can we do, but what should we do" with the expertise that the CHI community has. He showed how how great design borrows from and extends the great designs of the past, and how a product's development needs to include a consideration of the social and cultural implications of its success, rather than evaluating it in isolation. A suitably thought-provoking finale.
It's been a busy week, with some interesting sessions and some not so interesting ones, as always. Was good to meet up with the Sun folks, who I don't see in person very often, and I was particularly glad to meet some other proponents of open source usability—there still aren't many of us around! It's probably fair to say the only real disappointment this week has been the weather...
And with that, I'm back off to Dublin late tomorrow afternoon to catch the last few hours of my wife's birthday, so I guess I'd better try to find her something nice here in the morning :)