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March 2008 Issue

By Mike Hughes

Published: March 24, 2008

“User assistance writers are often the Rodney Dangerfields of the UX world, bemoaning the fact that we don’t get any respect.”

User assistance writers are often the Rodney Dangerfields of the UX world, bemoaning the fact that we don’t get any respect. I think the real problem is that user assistance folks are not particularly good at communicating the ways in which we add value to an enterprise. This column explores two models that show how user assistance adds value and how we can communicate that value to those who pay our salaries—something I would like to encourage other user assistance writers to do.

The Value Triangle

Many service-oriented enterprises define a three-way value relationship that entails the participation of an agent, a client, and a sponsor.

  • The agent is the person or company who performs the service.
  • The client is the person or company who receives and benefits directly from the service.
  • The sponsor is the organization that employs the agent or pays for the service.

Industries that follow this model include education, training, and health care. For example, in the health industry, a nurse is an agent, a patient is a client, and a hospital is a sponsor. User assistance can apply a similar model, but in this case, the stakeholders are the writer, the user, and the business. Read moreRead More>

By Daniel Szuc, Paul J. Sherman, Josephine Wong, and Liya Zheng

Published: March 24, 2008

“UPA China saw the 2007 event as an opportunity to return to Beijing, giving attendees the opportunity to visit the 2008 Olympics host city as it prepares for its moment in the spotlight.”

User Friendly 2007 was held in Beijing on November 23–25, 2007, as shown in Figure 1, and—like the previous conferences in Beijing (2004), Shanghai (2005), and Hangzhou (2006)—was a rousing success. UPA China saw the 2007 event as an opportunity to return to Beijing, giving attendees the opportunity to visit the 2008 Olympics host city as it prepares for its moment in the spotlight.

The capital of China, Beijing is the heart of China’s economy and culture. With a 3000-year history, there are many places of interest for people to see—such as the Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and many more.

User Friendly 2007 conference attendees enjoyed a diverse range of topics. The official program shown in Figure 2 included sessions on the Business of UX, Telecom, Software/Web, Industrial Products, Usability of Public Services, and Education. Invited speakers came from China and around the world.

Attendees enjoyed the facilities of the Jiuhua Spa & Resort, which gave them an opportunity to relax, indulge in a traditional foot massage, and talk to people outside the conference environment. Shared meals—like that shown in Figure 3—were an important part of connecting with people at User Friendly. Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: March 12, 2008

“Search tools help us to find our stuff after we’ve already lost it. They don’t help us organize our stuff.”

As I mentioned in my inaugural column, “Envisioning the Future of User Experience,” I often have difficulty remembering where I put my digital documents and files. It takes considerable cognitive effort to maintain a mental map of my computer’s nested folder structure, and inconsistencies creep into my folder structure as a result of the on-the-fly taxonomic decisions I make when filing things away.

There’s got to be a better way of keeping track of our digital stuff than this decades-old organization scheme.

Google, with the laudable mission of organizing the world’s information, has created desktop tools for content retrieval. Microsoft and Apple, too, have added desktop search capabilities to their latest operating systems. But let’s face it: Keyword search happens after the fact. Search tools help us to find our stuff after we’ve already lost it. They don’t help us organize our stuff.

And with some of us dragging around twenty or more years of digital stuff from one personal computer to another—documents, pictures, what have you—only the most determined and organized of us have their digital files organized in a way that facilitates rapid findability—in a file structure that is easily remembered and traversed.

I blame the file/folder metaphor for this rampant problem. It’s no longer up to the tasks we’re attempting to accomplish using it. I think there are better ways for us to organize our digital stuff. Read moreRead More>

By Steve Baty

Published: March 12, 2008

“What usability testing won’t necessarily tell us are the ways in which an application fails to meet users’ expectations.”

When our online service channels fail to meet the needs of our customers, if we’re lucky, customers will resort to an alternative channel to get the assistance they need. In doing so, our customers offer us the potential of gaining rich insights into their needs and mental models. Feedback forms, complaints, call center logs—all of these tell us valuable information about customers’ failed interactions.

It’s in the nature of user experience work that we really begin to understand the success of our designs only after a project goes live. We minimize the risk of a complete failure by using iterative design methods and carrying out usability testing at various stages of the implementation. Whether we follow user-centered design or activity-centered design or even agile development methods, there is a certain element of uncertainty about the quality of the finished result until it hits the production servers.

What usability testing won’t necessarily tell us are the ways in which an application fails to meet users’ expectations—whether by way of missing information, missing features or functions, or things that simply fail that most pragmatic of tests: could users be bothered?

Lessons Learned for a Site Redesign

A few years back, I was involved in the redesign of a Web site for a consumer electronics company. The existing site was considered to be a success, but had passed its use-by date. Internal stakeholders felt the site was visually tired, but otherwise working fairly well to support the company’s offline activities. Read moreRead More>