Friday Apr 22, 2011

Geezers and iPhones

Shortly after I relocated to the United States I realized that the term "geezer" wasn't a reference to one of those dodgy, fast-talking, wheeler-dealer character types from "Eastenders" or "Only Fools and Horses", but to an, eh, more mature person. All sorts of labels apply to the older generations: seniors, senior citizens, old folks, the elderly, old age pensioners, and so on. From a design perspective though, whatever you call this group of users, one thing is clear: the last thing you want is a UX that screams "older user", something I was reminded of by this Irish Times article.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the smart phone space. Instead of offering older users dumbed-down and patronizing designs with over-simplified features and larger controls, it is possible to offer a graceful, highly intuitive and classy design for all. The iPhone for example is one such device that works for users of all ages simply because of a great universal design, and one whose form factors--the large display and controls--work especially well for older users (though perhaps some of the finger-based gestures not so, maybe). Compare the keyboard experience when sending an SMS message on the BlackBerry with the iPhone, for example.

keyboards_compared.JPG

The Nokia 6310 phone was another device example, cited by the article, that was very popular with older users, yet like the iPhone was never marketed specifically for that age group (mind you, an endorsement by Jeremy Clarkson of any product would be enough to put me off it for life).

nokia_6310s.jpg

These older users must not be forgotten from design perspective. They're active with technology and online too, and besides the obvious social inclusion aspects of universal design, to not consider their UX needs leaves designers missing out on a very large global audience, one with a lot of economic clout. And, of course, we're all getting older too. If we consider ageing as an accessibility issue, then remember we're all "temporarily abled" up to some point in time, so designing for age is a wise investment, one that doesn't mean compromising on features or usability in any way (in fact, designing on accessibility ground has often led to improvements for the entire community). For details of the importance of this group in Ireland as well as some general observations, see the proceedings of the Business of Ageing conference.

So, it's not just "UX for kids"  that we need to think about.

Addendum: I picked up some great Tweets on this subject from CHI 2011, triggered by Alan Newell's presentation: Older people - a commercial imperative.

@chatchavan: #chi2011 Alan Newell: older people don't want "accessiblity". They just want to use the damn system!

I must read that paper!

Thursday Dec 30, 2010

Book Reviews: Art of Community and Eyetracking Web Usability

Holidays time offers a chance to catch up on some user experience and user assistance-related reading material. So, two short book reviews (for which I considered using my new Tumblr blog for. More about that another time) coming up.

The Art of Community by Jono Bacon

Excellent starting point for anyone wanting to get going in the community software (FLOSS, for example) space or understand how to set up, manage, and leverage the collective intelligence of communities for whatever ends. The book is a little too long in my opinion, and of course, applicability of what Jono is saying needs to be nuanced and adapted for the enterprise applications space (hardly surprising that, given there's a lot of insight about Ubuntu, Lug Radio, and so on from Jono's community interests). Shame there wasn't more information on international, non-English community considerations though. Still, some great ideas and insight into setting up and managing communities that I can adapt and leverage (watch out for the results on this blog, later in 2011).

One section, on collaborative writing, really jumped out at me. It reinforced the whole idea that successful community initiatives are based on instigators knowing what makes the community tick in the first place. How about this for insight into user profiles for people who write community user assistance (OK then, "doc") and what tools they might use (in this case, we're talking about Jokosher):

"Most people who write documentation for open source software projects would fall into the category of power user. They are technology enthusiasts who are not interested in the super-technical avenues of programming, but want to help out. Many of these people have good writing skills and a good knowledge of using the software, so the documentation fit is natural. With Jokosher we wanted to acknowledge this profile of user. As such, instead of focussing on complex text processing tools, we encouraged our documentation contributors to use a wiki."

The book is available for free here, and well as being available from usual sources.

Eyetracking Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Kara Prentice

Another fine book by established experts. I have field experience of eyetracking studies myself --in the user assistance for enterprise applications space--though Jakob and Kara concentrate on websites for their research here. I would caution how much of this website usability research transfers easily to the applications space, especially enterprise applications, as claimed in the book. However, Jakob and Kara do make the case very well that understanding design goals (for example, productivity improvement in the case of applications) and the context of the software use is critical.

Executing a study using eyetracking technology requires that you know what you want to test, can set up realistic tasks for testing by representative testers, and then analyze the results. Be precise, as lots of data will be generated (I think the authors underplay the effort in analyzing data too). What I found disappointing was the lack of emphasis on eyetracking as only part of the usability solution. It's really for fine-tuning designs in my opinion, and should be used after other design reviews. I also wasn't that crazy about the level of disengagement between the qualitative and quantitative side of this kind of testing that the book indicated. I think it is useful to have testers verbalize their thoughts and for test engineers to prompt, intervene, or guide testers, as necessary. More on cultural or international aspects to usability testing might have also have been included (websites are available to everyone).

To conclude, I enjoyed the book, took on board some key takeaways about methodologies and found the recommendations sensible and easy to follow (for example about Forms layouts). Applying enterprise applications requirements such as those relating to user profiles, design goals, and overall context of use in conjunction with what's in this book would be the way to go here. It also made me think of how interesting it would be to compare eyetracking findings between website and enterprise applications usage.

About

Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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