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October 2008 Issue

By Colleen Jones

Published: October 20, 2008

“An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.”—Robert Frost

Metaphor teaches. Metaphor influences. Are you drawing on its power? Perhaps not, because many major works on writing for interactive products make little mention of it. To help encourage better use of metaphor, this column describes both the usefulness of shallow metaphors and the potential of deep metaphors, while offering tips and examples.

What Is a Metaphor?

“Deep metaphor can be useful in mental models as well as content, user experience, and product strategy.”

As Merriam-Webster notes, a metaphor is a rhetorical device “in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.” You may be familiar with metaphor from literature, cinema, or even advertising. You might have pondered interaction metaphors such as the desktop metaphor. Or perhaps you’ve given up on using metaphor in the wake of the book Killer Web Sites, which touted creative navigation metaphors with little regard to their usability. While I consider usable navigation and interaction metaphors important, I think other people have covered those topics well. This column focuses on text and visual metaphors in content and explores how deep metaphor can be useful in mental models as well as content, user experience, and product strategy. Read moreRead More>

By Jonathan Follett

Published: October 20, 2008

“The input method affects the way in which we communicate with our computers—particularly, the way we feel about the experience.”

As we create our digital lives—communicating and socializing with others, collecting content for business and pleasure, building objects with software, buying products—we understand that, despite its moniker, this existence is only half virtual. While it’s a given that engaging in our digital experiences requires physical devices, it may be less obvious that the input method affects the way in which we communicate with our computers—particularly, the way we feel about the experience.

In the physical world, we don’t have to think about manipulating an object—we just do it. Turn a photograph around on a table? Pick it up to take a closer look? Put it into a file folder? All of these are purely automatic actions.

In the virtual world, though, we constantly have to think about how to take such actions. Does performing a particular action require a single click or a double-click? Can I drag that file to move it or launch an application, or do I need to use a dialog box? What’s the keyboard shortcut for magnifying images in this particular program again? In the real world, we don’t need to double-click a piece of paper to read it or move it. But in the virtual world, we require abstractions and use intermediaries to accomplish our tasks for us—like engineers who have to manipulate a robot arm to move radioactive material around inside a reactor. (Let’s hope, as UX designers, that our users do not see the interfaces we create as being toxic!) Read moreRead More>

By Daniel Szuc, Paul J. Sherman, and John S. Rhodes

Published: October 20, 2008

“As industry’s adoption of UX broadens and more of us find ourselves in situations where we need to sell UX, we need to be prepared to do so effectively.”

At some point in your career, you’ll be called upon to sell UX to someone in your organization. You’ve probably already done it. Perhaps you’ll need to justify what you do in an organization or industry that’s just beginning to adopt UX methods or sell UX to secure your position within an organization or get future projects. So, what do you need to know to help you sell UX? What challenges might you face?

This article examines what works and what does not work well when selling UX within an organization, identifies barriers you might encounter to the adoption of UX methods in your organization, and discusses how to package and present UX to stakeholders. In this article, we’ll try to avoid just being prescriptive. Rather, we’ll pose questions along the way, regarding what has worked well for you. Please share your thoughts with us, so we can learn from your experience, too. We hope this article promotes some interesting discussion. As industry’s adoption of UX broadens and more of us find ourselves in situations where we need to sell UX, we need to be prepared to do so effectively. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Nieters and Laurie Pattison

Published: October 6, 2008

“What … are the most salient factors in getting you to the strategy table?”

In my last column, I talked about what it takes to be a successful first-time people manager—hopefully debunking some common myths. After reading that column, a number of people pointed out that they have a larger challenge: How can they make UX strategically relevant within their companies? I’ve been discussing this very topic with my peers in UX management for a number of years. One venue for discussion on this topic was a CHI 2007 panel “Moving UX into a Position of Corporate Influence: Whose Advice Really Works? that Richard Anderson facilitated, in which I participated. [1] Since I’ve been talking with a colleague from Oracle about this topic over the last month, it seemed appropriate for us to collaborate on this installment of my Management Matters column. So, I’d like to introduce Laurie Pattison, Senior Director of UX at Oracle.

Although our UX management peers have shared many tactics with us that have made their groups more strategically relevant, we’re presenting just a few here. We’ll highlight what we feel are the most salient factors in getting you to the strategy table. If you’re not doing these things, try them out—or contact us if you want some help. Guidance from our mentors has been critical in helping us learn how to make our teams strategically relevant. Read moreRead More>

By Michael Hawley

Published: October 6, 2008

“When developing hierarchies for information-rich Web sites, designers and usability researchers often turn to card sorting for help in making design decisions.”

When developing hierarchies for information-rich Web sites, designers and usability researchers often turn to card sorting for help in making design decisions. Card sorting offers a systematic and statistically significant process for answering questions about hierarchy design. However, those of us who have run card sorts know there is an art to conducting successful card sort studies, and there are many variables that can affect the usefulness of results. In this column, I’ll discuss the challenges and limitations of card sorting and review alternative and complementary techniques that designers can leverage when developing an information hierarchy for a large-scale Web site.

Challenges of Card Sorting

Part of the appeal of card sorting today is that researchers have the option of conducting studies either online or in person. When using an online tool, large numbers of participants can complete the exercise, lending additional statistical weight to the findings. In some organizations, the large sample size and statistical basis of online card sorting is helpful in dealing with decision makers. In-person card sorts let researchers interact with participants and ask probing questions to determine their organizational strategies, as well as other follow-up questions. A number of resources are available online that provide detailed steps on running and analyzing studies in both contexts. Read moreRead More>