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December 2007 Issue

By Jonathan Follett

Published: December 17, 2007

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”—Carl Jung

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”—H. G. Wells

“Satisfying the desire to play can be integral in determining the success or failure of a digital product or service.”

With so many choices as to how we can spend our time in the digital age, attention is becoming the most important currency. In today’s splintered media environment, new digital products and services must compete with everything under the sun, making differentiation key to developing an audience that cares, invests, and ultimately drives value.

What makes a person want to use one particular digital product or service over its competitor? What makes one user experience more engaging, interesting, or compelling than another? An often overlooked, under-appreciated, and rarely measured component of user experience is playfulness. The digital space is conducive to play—exploration, imagination, and learning. And many successful digital products are built for play or incorporate play into their interaction design. No matter how important our jobs, serious our responsibilities, or stiff our personalities, all people need to play—whether we admit it or not. Is the boss looking? Read moreRead More>

By Richard F. Cecil

Published: December 17, 2007

“Documenting the design of any page that uses Ajax is a challenge, because the page—and, more importantly, components on the page—can have different states.”

Ajax and Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) have revolutionized the way users interact with Web sites. However, documenting the design of any page that uses Ajax is a challenge, because the page—and, more importantly, components on the page—can have different states, depending on how users interact with the page’s components.

When I use the term state, I refer to a page or a page component that displays different information—content or user interface (UI) elements—depending on a user’s interactions or the information available to the system. For example, the following components have state:

  • a navigation bar whose links appear in boldface to indicate a user’s current location within a Web site
  • a link that changes from Register to Sign in depending on whether a user is logged in
  • an Ajax widget that lets a user add a tag to a picture

Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: December 3, 2007

“After initially becoming somewhat familiar with a system, people often continue using the same inefficient, time-consuming styles of interaction they first learned.”

In this column, I want to further explore one of the issues I mentioned in my inaugural column. I call it the problem of the perpetual super-novice. What is this? Simply put, it’s the tendency of people to stop learning about a digital product—whether it’s an operating system, desktop application, Web site, or hardware device.

After initially becoming somewhat familiar with a system, people often continue using the same inefficient, time-consuming styles of interaction they first learned. For example, they fail to discover shortcuts and accelerators in the applications they use. Other people learn only a small portion of a product’s capabilities and, as a result, don’t realize the full benefits the product offers. Why? What can operating systems, applications, Web sites, and devices do to better facilitate a person’s progression from novice to expert usage? Read moreRead More>

By Michael Hawley

Published: December 3, 2007

“Your interview questions might be relevant to you and your project team, but are they the questions that will get at important issues from a user’s perspective?”

Chances are that, if you do user research, you conduct a fair number of user interviews. When conducting interviews, our training tells us to minimize bias by asking open-ended questions and choosing our words carefully. But consistently asking unbiased questions is always a challenge, especially when you’re following a participant down a line of questioning that is important, and you haven’t prepared your questions ahead of time. Also, if you do a lot of interviews, you might fall into a pattern of asking the same types of questions for different studies. This might not bias participants, but you can bias yourself if you always investigate the same types of issues. Finally, are you sure you are asking the right questions? Your interview questions might be relevant to you and your project team, but are they the questions that will get at important issues from a user’s perspective?

In an effort to address some of these considerations, I’ve experimented with the Repertory Grid method—an interview technique that originated in clinical psychology and is useful in a variety of domains, including user experience design. Read moreRead More>

By Hilary Coolidge

Published: December 3, 2007

“For tweens and teens, mobile phones are more a lifestyle statement than simply a communications tool.”

Want to know the future of mobile device use? Talk to your tweener or teenager.

Mobile device use is reaching down into younger demographics. A July 2006 study by iGR showed that, among 15–17-year-old teens, most had been using a cell phone for two years or more. In the 12–14-year-old bracket, 50–70% of these young people already own and use mobile phones, and the mobile phone market is beginning to reach down to kids who are ten or younger.

Young people experience increasing connectedness and identification with mobile devices. For tweens and teens, mobile phones are more a lifestyle statement than simply a communications tool. Their phones are highly customized with media, ringtones, and photos. Most kids wouldn’t dream of leaving their homes without them. Two-thirds of the tweeners the study polled said they keep their phones on while they sleep—to ensure they don’t miss out on anything. According to a study by Wired magazine, youths who are immersed in the mobile world see communication via a phone as equivalent to face-to-face contact—going one step further in the realm of electronic versus human connections. Read moreRead More>