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September 2008 Issue

By Traci Lepore

Published: September 22, 2008

“As designers, to be truly innovative, we must open ourselves up to new ideas, surround ourselves with diverse inputs, and be willing to embark on a new journey.”

In a world where a focus on designing innovative, compelling, valuable, and engaging user experiences is becoming increasingly important, designers of user experiences endeavor to enhance and improve the way they work and achieve the desired outcome. As designers, to be truly innovative, we must open ourselves up to new ideas, surround ourselves with diverse inputs, and be willing to embark on a new journey—regardless of whether we know the destination. Actors and others who create theater would tell you this kind of mindset is part their everyday work culture. So, what can we learn from the way actors and other theatrical artists work that will help us be more innovative, too?

Is Theater Really Magic?

Theatrical tradition dates back far in our history. Theater has long given people—artists in particular—a means of interacting with their communities. There are many reasons why this is true, but some important ones are that theater provides

  • an engaging and insightful means of communication
  • a successful and proven method of building shared understanding
  • the fastest way to develop an ensemble mentality that motivates and supports each member

Read moreRead More>

By Darnell Clayton and Colleen Jones

Published: September 22, 2008

“VUIs have tremendous potential for enhancing the experience of any mobile phone user.”

When you hear the term voice user interface (VUI), what comes to mind? Most likely, memories of an interactive voice response system (IVR) for customer service arise. IVRs are certainly not going away. For many companies, they remain the foremost contact point with customers. But voice user interfaces are more than just IVRs. In fact, VUIs have tremendous potential for enhancing the experience of any mobile phone user. As the use of mobile devices and applications proliferates internationally, understanding how to integrate, or mash up, graphic user interfaces (GUI) and VUIs is becoming critically important.

Among the considerations for designing a VUI is emotion. An article in Communications of the ACM, “Speech Interfaces from an Evolutionary Perspective,” noted that, traditionally, humans use speech with other humans who are in close proximity. Therefore, when a person speaks to or listens to a voice user interface, the person assumes a certain amount of emotional involvement with the interface. Ignoring this assumption can mean disaster for a VUI. To help bring attention to the issue of emotion in VUI design, this article describes some important factors in VUI design and provides some examples of voice user interfaces. Read moreRead More>

By Mike Hughes

Published: September 22, 2008

“Perhaps the true measure of a good idea is its persistence, even though folks are slow to pick up on it.”

Perhaps the true measure of a good idea is its persistence, even though folks are slow to pick up on it. SGML is a good example. It seemed like a great idea, but for a long time, had trouble getting traction in the general tool space. Then it started showing up at technical communication conferences wearing a name badge that said, “Hi, my name is DITA,” and suddenly, it’s a hit!

The same seems to apply to use cases. It’s hard to find anyone who disparages them, but those who use them are still a minority. In a previous life as a UX designer, I used use cases and developed a great respect for them. But it wasn’t until recently that I began using them to design user assistance. Why did it take me so long to get back to these reliable work horses of user-centered design?

The Benefits

As is often the case, it took a problem that needed solving to make me return to a useful approach I hadn’t followed for a while. The documentation team I belong to was feeling pressure to break out of the documentation whirlpool that is so typical of waterfall development cycles—we can’t document the user interface until it’s finished, and it’s not finished until the last minute before release. We also needed to align ourselves with a development process that was moving more and more toward an agile development cycle. So we decided to incorporate a use case methodology into our information design and development process Read moreRead More>

By Paul J. Sherman

Published: September 8, 2008

“Malware is in the eye of the beholder.”

Since the advent of the World Wide Web and the growth of ecommerce, social networking, and Web-based applications, greater connectedness and interaction have characterized the personal-computing user experience, both between users and between users and their far-flung applications and systems. It’s not a very daring prediction to say that the amount of connectedness and interaction will continue to increase, offering users many new varieties of user experiences.

In this column, I’ll explore the user experience of malicious software, or malware. My position is that, like many qualitative attributes, malware is in the eye of the beholder. And, I’ll suggest a method that product or service developers can use to assess the risk that their users, the media, or the market at large might perceive their offerings as malware.

What Is Malware?

The term malware refers to an application that causes either perceived or actual harm to a user’s data, software, or hardware or exposes a user’s data or personal information in ways that the user did not intend or is unaware of. Read moreRead More>

By Isabelle Peyrichoux

Published: September 8, 2008

“Assume you live in San Francisco and you are looking for a hotel for a friend who is visiting you. You type hotel in San Francisco into a search box and get these results. Have a look at the results and select three hotels.”

“An over-reliance on role playing when testing a product … can have major downsides and risks.”

Usability testing makes use of a lot of role-playing scenarios like this one, and many findings and design recommendations result from participants’ responses to these scenarios. But an over-reliance on role playing when testing a product and making design recommendations can have major downsides and risks, including the following:

  • identifying false usability issues and user needs that lead design iterations in the wrong direction and result in poor user experiences—potentially leading to users’ abandoning a product and revenue losses for a company
  • overlooking serious usability issues
  • losing opportunities to gain important insights
  • calling the reliability and quality of study findings into question

This article presents some common limitations and downsides of role-playing in usability testing and provides guidelines for avoiding them by grounding usability testing in participants’ real lives. All of these guidelines come from my experience in user research—mainly from testing Web sites—but these guidelines extend to all types of product usability testing. What makes the difference is the participants’ level of engagement with the product being tested, not the product itself. Read moreRead More>

By Joe Lamantia

Published: September 8, 2008

“Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness…. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not.”—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Imp of the Perverse”

“I beg of you to take note that the spirit of mystification, which in some men ensues neither from an effort nor from scheming, but from an accidental inspiration, is akin, if only through the intensity of desire, to that humor …which drives us toward a multitude of dangerous or improper actions.—Charles Baudelaire, “The Mauvais Vitrier (The Bad Glazier)”

“We can take simple steps to align our Want and Should Selves over the three phases of decision making and help keep the Imp of the Perverse in check.”

The powerful mix of ethical fading, cognitive distortions, and perceptual biases I explored in “Designing Ethical Experiences: Juicy Rationalizations” shows we all carry a bit of the Imp of the Perverse. What can designers do to balance the many factors that lead us to make unethical choices—and see no evil when we do?

Poe says the Imp of the Perverse is “...a radical, a primitive impulse—elementary” and warns, “With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible.” [1] Psychologists and ethics researchers, however, say we can take simple steps to align our Want and Should Selves over the three phases of decision making and help keep the Imp of the Perverse in check. Read moreRead More>