In this column on the future of computing, we’ll look at how a handful of advances—including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), sciences of human understanding like neuroscience and genomics, and emerging delivery platforms such as 3D printers and virtual-reality (VR) headsets—will come together to transform software and hardware into something new that we’re calling smartware.
Smartware are computing systems that require little active user input, integrate the digital and physical worlds, and continually learn on their own.
Humanity and technology are inseparable. Not only is technology present in every facet of civilization, it even predates archaeological history. Each time we think we’ve identified the earliest cave paintings—such as that by an unknown artist in Figure 1—stone tools, or use of wood for fuel, some archaeologist finds evidence that people started creating or using them even earlier. Indeed, while our own species, Homo sapiens, is only about 300,000 years old, the earliest stone tools are more than 3 million years old! Even before we were what we now call human, we were making technology. Read More
In recent years, the Hindi word Jugaad has gained popularity as a synonym for frugal innovation—that is, the ability to do more with less. While the concept of Jugaad came out of developing nations such as India, the concept has garnered interest in the developed economies of the West. This trend has arguably occurred after a half century of relative wealth. Consider, for instance, the British wartime call to arms on the domestic front to “Make do and mend.” The idea of frugality is not simply about making things cheaply. Companies, particularly well-known Western brands, have hard-earned reputations they need to maintain. For these companies, frugality means staying true to their brand values while, at the same time, delivering additional value to the customer. They may accomplish this by
In my series “Applied UX Strategy,” I’ve written about a model that describes three levels of UX maturity and key areas of effort that can transform designers from implementers into strategic partners.
To achieve the goal of transforming User Experience into a strategic function, a company needs a long-term action plan. In the beginning of this journey, there will likely be a huge list of things that are wrong with the company and its products or services. Seeing an enormous number of painpoints for our customers is frustrating and saddens our product designers. Of course, we want to fix all of them at once, but resources may be scarce. Plus, ineffective processes and narrow-mindedness about design often hinder our solving customers’ woes once and for all. Moreover, the value of every change we make may differ, depending on the company’s stage of UX maturity.
Now, in Part 6 of my series, I’ll discuss the implementation of a company’s UX strategy in two installments, each covering the following topics:
In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our expert panel discusses how best to test designs for products that people will use in a wide variety of environments. First, the panel discusses which and how many of the expected environments you should test within, then how to simulate those environments, if necessary.
Of course, it is also important to consider the financial and time costs of testing in multiple environments. Furthermore, you must design a usability study appropriately when testing in various environments, recognizing that particular participants may complete only certain tasks within each of these environments. The panel also explores the advantages of remote testing when users’ environmental conditions are likely to have usability impacts. Finally, I describe a two-phased approach for evaluating the design of products for use in multiple environments. Read More
What do your product stakeholders really know about user research? In organizations in which User Experience is more mature or even completely institutionalized, there is a good chance that product stakeholders—for example, your product owners, product managers, business analysts, and developers—know at least a little something about user research and user-centered design practices.
But in organizations in which User Experience is in its infancy or corporate budgets underfund User Experience, you might hear someone on your product team say, “That’s the stuff you do with the one-way mirrors, right?” The majority of product teams are likely neither practicing nor evangelizing UX research. There might be a UX unicorn or two—a UX professional who does a little bit of everything, including design, strategy and research. In companies that have not fully embraced User Experience, product stakeholders do not have a firm grounding in UX research and do not truly understand what is necessary to capture the user’s story. Read More
Even though computers are controlling more and more of the world, they are not always getting smarter. Oh, they’re becoming more sophisticated, but humans must make computer code smart, and we don’t always get things right. It doesn’t help that we’re using old, ad hoc methods of planning, design, and analysis.
It’s scary that we sometimes don’t know why artificial intelligence (AI) systems work. But we should be even more worried that pretty much every system we use—every app, every device—is now so complex that we cannot possibly predict all system behaviors. Read More
Testing social media is difficult. We are not testing micro interactions, but macro, or global, behaviors. These can be extremely hard to observe—either by using qualitative methods to assess the commentary of individuals or groups or by tracking clicks. When testing social media, we are assessing social influence and motivation, which are much more elusive.
Understanding these types of behaviors won’t let you determine things like the perfect placement of your shopping basket icon. However, it can be invaluable when determining the right timing for providing choices such as content or action buttons. The monitoring of macro behaviors is quantitative in nature, and the data represents broad trends—what people do en masse, not individually. Nevertheless, it is the sum of many people’s behavior that is important rather than the behavior of individuals. Studying societal behaviors requires a different way of thinking—macro thinking—rather than the micro thinking that is characteristic of studying the behaviors of individuals. Read More
I’ve encountered a wide variety of participants in the many usability tests I’ve conducted over the last 17 years. The perfect participant is a rare and elusive breed. I’ve spotted only a few who came even close to being perfect. Most usability test participants are just average human beings who have somehow found themselves thrust into the odd, unnatural experience of participating in usability testing. Even though they’re not perfect, they try to do their best, and you can easily work with most participants to get the information you need.
However, occasionally, you’ll stumble across a test participant who is the antithesis of perfect—the difficult test participant! When you do, stay calm and tread carefully. These people can be dangerous and unpredictable. Knowing how to handle them is key to saving test sessions with difficult participants. In this column, I’ll provide some tips on how to effectively wrangle difficult participants to salvage as much as you can from their test sessions. Read More
In Part 1 of this three-part series on designing user experiences for the industrial environment, I explained that industrial automation is more human facing than you might think. Then, I discussed how the industrial environment itself presents difficult challenges for UX designers to overcome when designing software for human-machine interfaces (HMIs), covering both plant-floor and control-room environments. Finally, I shared some key principles of effective HMI design that apply to both environments.
The chaotic plant-floor environment impedes users’ ability to focus. Plus, the necessity of using personal protective equipment (PPE) affects their ability to perform actions on an HMI terminal. The control-room environment poses its own set of unique challenges. For example, in a control room, users must monitor several large HMI displays over an eight-to-twelve-hour shift, which can result in eye fatigue.
Now, in Part 2, I’ll explain some methods that industrial-automation UX designers can use to combat challenges relating to the design of isolated customer sites and to localizing information for global users. Read More
In Part 1 of this two-part series, I highlighted the study Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass conducted at Stanford University, which showed that people treat computers, Web sites, applications, and other new media just as they treat other people. The study’s findings formed the basis of my article’s core argument: we should strive to design human-like politeness into software.
In his book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper describes fourteen characteristics of polite software. I discussed the first nine of those characteristics in detail in Part 1. Now, in Part 2, I’ll cover the remaining five characteristics of polite software, providing several examples. Read More