Thursday Nov 19, 2009

Prague World Usability Day 2009

Just a few words about 5th Prague World Usability Day. This year, we have almost filled the capacity of the cinema, we had 290 registered visitors! We didn't use the official theme of the event (sustainability), we put together topics focused mainly on case studies.

Jakub Franc was the conference MC.  During the intro, I've presented highlights from the first year of Prague ACM SIGCHI operating as an official non-profit organization: we have 45 paying members, more than 300 people in our mailing list, we organized 8 talks and 4 trainings, and we evangelized UX on major local conferences (for example WebExpo). The second short talk was from Michal Horava, who presented the first local HCI book, which consists from several articles from different authors (including myself and Jakub).

The keynote was given by Tjeerd Hoek from FrogDesign, focused on innovations, design processes and convergence of hardware and software.

After that, there was a presentation from Adam Fendrych and Tomas Blaha about their experience of using eyetracking device during redesign of local finance website

The third talk was from the local Czech Technical University in Prague. They've presented first outcomes from Sun Center of Excellence focused on accessibility of RIA.

The last two talks were from Peter Korn and Theofanis OIkonomou focused on EU funded accessibility projects AEGIS and Accessible.

Slides, audio and more information about the conference (in Czech) is on our website

See you in Prague again on November 11, 2010!


Monday Jan 26, 2009

Opening of Center of Excellence Focused on Accessibility and Usability in Prague

xDesign cooperates with Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU) for more than 5 years. For example in 2004, we have opened first local usability lab, from 2005 we organize every year local World Usability Day and also recently we cooperate together on local chapter of Prague ACM SIGCHI.

Czech Technical University is one from the oldest technical universities in the world, established in 1707. Computer science department was established in 1964. The department has long term experience in the field of accessibility and cooperation on European Union projects. Recently, since the part of the department dedicated to computer graphics, HCI and accessibility is still growing, was a new department established: Department of computer graphics and interaction.

Sun Center of Excellence is an official framework for cooperation with universities. There is an official contract signed with description of work and deliverables, usually for 3 years. This one, with CTU, is for accessibility and usability in the area of development of applications (web, desktop, mobile). All results will be open sourced.

The official opening was on December 9th done by Peter Korn and Pavel Suk (director of Sun Prague Engineering Center) and the dean of the faculty Prof. Frantisek Vejrazka.


More pictures:

We closed the day in the atmosphere of accessibility in the restaurant "Pod kridlem noci", where you eat in complete darkness and you are served by blind waiters. Definitely interesting experience!

Wednesday Jan 21, 2009

Prague World Usability Day 2008

As every year, we were co-organizers of Prague World Usability Day. Theme for this year was "transportation". We had about 130 registered attendees.

In the beginning, we have introduced new form of local SIGCHI chapter: non-profit organization Prague ACM SIGCHI.
There were 3 talks in the morning: first one from Jan Kleindienst (IBM Research) about Voice User Interfaces, second one from Roman Schubert (Skoda Auto) about usage of Virtual Reality during process of car design and from Jakub Franc (Sun Microsystems) and Jan Vystrcil (Czech Technical University) about project focused on navigation of blind people in interiors.

In the afternoon there were 3 excursions: in the Virtual Reality Lab of Czech Technical University, Cave of Czech Technical University and Usability Lab in Sun Microsystems. After the excursions, who registered soon enough, could attend one from 3 trainings: UI Bloopers, Interviews & Surveys and Usability testing of webs.


More pictures:

It was definitely great day!

Friday Oct 17, 2008

Twittering a Usability Test

We noticed that when the Labs were running user tests, we would see a flurry of email about status and schedule. Stuff that was highly relevant at the moment and then not at all. Material that seemed like it should be on ones twitter-feed not ones inbox. So for the last two user tests , we tried something new. We created a  twitter account for the user test , got a badge for it. We placed the badge on the website we create for the client-product group. Now we could tweet about schedule changes , status, and even how a session was going. In the beginning, the badge was a marginal element on the client page, but in a matter of hours, we moved it to be the main content area. Anyone with the twitter account information could put in the updates. They could do so from a variety of platforms. and 140 characters was just perfect for our short, transient messages. A good use of web 2.0  in the company. Now if we could twitter within the intranet... we could even share comments and notes this way !

Here are a couple of screen shots , to give you some idea of how this worked visually. 

Monday Sep 29, 2008

A quick review of is geared towards rapidly creating low fidelity prototypes, including screen flow between various pages.

I decided to give it a try to see if it would help me show the flow between various portions of a screen and its associated overlays.  I wanted to create a very rough and quick representation of the screen to show the main flow between  the screen and its overlays.

Here is my first impressions:

The good

  • Fairly easy to figure out how to use
  • The run feature is nice as you can test drive the screen flow
  • It supports layers for reuse of wire frames
The bad
  • Right now there is no help.
  • There is no way to group widgets
  • There is no way to copy whole pages to another page
  • Lots of bugs still - but its in beta
  • I wish it had more widgets like tables and trees 

Nice concept and worth looking at when it matures a bit.  However, I am not sure if it is really better than my drawing a rough storyboard of my screens...

A quick example of the running application:
(marked up with the Cursor stamp using Snag it)

1. Main screen as first shownMain screen as first shown

2. After selection of OK from Search Overlay


3. Showing Add Record Overlay

4. A snap shot of a page being worked on.  I am setting  what page the OK button goes to.

Andrea Joy Kendall has been a Graphics and User Interface programmer and designer for over 20 years. She is passionate about designing for the user. Currently she is working on a Mock Up for the Open Source project Mural, Master Index Studio as part of the SOA/Business Integration Composite Applications group.

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 Mar 17, 2008

Goodbye to an old friend - hello to a new 'smart phone'

Andrea Kendall has been a Graphics and User Interface programmer and designer for over 20 years. She is passionate about designing for the user and is currently working on implementing a Web 2.0 GUI using Woodstock.


Well after 10 long years of faithful service my Sharp Wizard died.

 10 Sharp Wizard


Question: Why did I keep this so long?

Just look at that keyboard.   It is so easy to type on.

Anyway, I dropped it last week and the plastic hinge broke.    

While I was really tempted to get an iPhone, I decided to go with the Sprint HTC phone. The first thing I like about the phone is the nice keyboard.  The other thing I like is that it is based on an OS I am familiar with -  Windows XP.

Sharp HTC 'smart phone'

Things I don't like about the phone are:
  • It can be hard to tell if you have closed a program (and it can only run so many)
    • You have to go into another program to check for running programs and stop them (I do this every time I go to turn off the phone)
  • It can be hard to tell if the actual phone is on or it is in  flight mode
  • It seems a little too easy to make a phone call when viewing contacts
  • It does not come with enough memory to actually use the built in camera and run anything else
  • The sales person told me it had everything it needed to back up the phone but it turned out I needed Outlook  if running on Windows XP

Now to be fair the sales person did warn me that this was a more 'geeky' phone.

Yes, I could return the phone and exchange it for the Palm OS one but I figure I will get past the learning curve.  However, it will never be the same as my Sharp Wizard..

So goodbye to an old friend.  

Note: I can still turn on the old Sharp Wizard which I am doing because I have to get all the important data off it.  The Sharp was so old it used a COM port and had proprietary software (long lost)  to back up the data.


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.

Tuesday Nov 27, 2007

The New Solaris Installer team wins an award

In September we posted an interview with Frank Ludolph describing his work on the New Solaris Installer (NSI). Well, since its release, feedback on the NSI has been phenomenal both inside and outside of Sun. In the past, Solaris had been described as a headache to install. With the NSI, "Solaris can now be installed by mere mortals". In fact, the NSI team won a "People's Choice Award for Collaboration" -- a prestigious award given once a quarter to a deserving team in Sun Software.

Congratulations to the NSI team!

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 Oct 30, 2007

openInstaller User Interface Design

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

Last year, one thing I did was to work with a team of Sun engineers and UI designers to create a set of branded interaction guidelines for desktop applications.

[aside] Two weeks ago, I posted an interview with the folks behind the web application guidelines — those are different, because they focus on UI components used in a browser, not a desktop application. [/aside]

The interaction guidelines that I worked on were not component-oriented, but task oriented. Another colleague led the effort on branded system startup, and I led the branded installation guidelines. We may see those guidelines go public at some point, but until then, you can see them in action in the New Solaris Installer (NSI) and the openInstaller framework — even the OpenDS Installer took on some of the guideline design, even though it's a web application.

The openInstaller project team describes the effort this way: openInstaller is an open source community project building a free and comprehensive next generation installer framework. Initial development of openInstaller was done by Sun Microsystems, but is now available under the open source Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). What's really cool that's not in that statement is that the framework is all Java + XML. I've looked at their code, and if you know a little Java and XML, you can create an installation program quickly and easily. 

From an interaction standpoint, there are a few things that I'm particularly happy with. One is how software licenses are presented to the user. Another thing that you may notice is the placement of buttons. The most frequent interaction is placed bottom right, and then other buttons are organized by projected frequency of use from right-to-left. This organization supports the visual scan patterns of readers of most languages better than button placements that we often see, which are grouped in the bottom right-hand corner, but require the user to read all of the button labels from left to right, to find the most frequent interaction.

openInstaller screen

From a geeky coolness factor, the openInstaller is written in Java and XML that even I find understandable, and the output of that code is two-fold: not only does it render a GUI, but it renders a command-line CUI, that is comparable to what the user would see in GUI mode. As a result, installers written using the openInstaller framework are easier to develop, maintain, and use.

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.

Thursday Oct 18, 2007

What's Right With This Picture?

Loren Mack is a design architect in xDesign who creates strategic and tactical designs for the Service Oriented Architecture/Business Integration group at Sun.

Things done right in the darndest places...

Every once in a while I imagine myself and Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods trotting the globe, he's searching for strange cuisine and I'm searching for usability blunders. I can see us chatting over the table, smiling for the camera, and me wincing while he chokes down some bizarre-bug-bisque. I would then comment on the strange design of the spoon he's using.

Yes, I know what you're thinking - "What a fantastic idea!!" Change the name of the show to "Bizarre Foods and Users", or "Eat-a-usability", or my personal favorite "Bizarre Food Usage". Funny thing is he still hasn't called me back on it yet. It's going to happen though, and I can be patient.

While I was waiting for that call though, I went down to my local library to find some ideas on potential destinations. And then, while waiting in line to check out my books, I saw the most amazing newfangled contraption ever. It was beauty and simplicity defined, an ergonomic eros of non-error. I was rapt with attention while I watched some brave soul actually use the thing.

I had to try it myself!! It was just so... um... usable!! I approached the lady whom I'd just seen use this usable thing -- a kiosk at the public library -- to check out a book, and then realized she didn't speak English. Her books were in Russian! It was amazing to me that a non-English speaker could go to this public library and check-out books without any assistance!

I immediately found my favorite librarian and asked for a demo. This video shows her showing me how to use the most usable kiosk I've ever used.

Notice that even though the interface is in English, the video instructions are so clear that even someone who cannot read them can see what needs to be done. And, if you listen carefully, you can hear auditory feedback as well, letting you know something happened and you succeeded.

Every once in a while, you'll find something that's really well designed and thought through, and in the darndest places.

Technorati Profile

Monday Oct 08, 2007

User Research at Innovation@Sun

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.

Jen McGinn and I recently had the honor of giving a talk about user research at Innovation@Sun, a gathering of Sun's top engineering talent. This illustrious group count among their ranks people who are pioneers in Java (of course), but also in computer graphics, routing security, cryptography, and large-scale distributed computing. Many great technical brains, many patents in pockets. An intimidating group, by most measures.

Jen was presenting (I was back-up) about user research that we had done last year for an organization in Sun. The research findings themselves are terrific and already being applied within Sun. What we wanted to share with this audience was the innovative way in which we conducted the research, and to remind the audience of the importance of understanding the people who are ultimately often the end-users of technical innovations.

One might imagine that such an audience, gathered to exchange information about advances and challenges in the realm of engineering might be -- at best, apathetic -- to a presentation about users and user research. Or at least I had imagined such a response from the audience. Instead, I found that many of the people who stopped by during the poster session or who asked a question after the talk were not only receptive, but were even enthusiastic about user research. In the formal settings, as well as over meals and in hallways, these engineers asked questions about how we think about understanding users and, more often than not, wanted to know how they could utilize user research in their own work for Sun.


xDesign is a software user experience design group at Sun.
Follow us on Twitter : Flickr : Blog (see feeds below)


« July 2016