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January, 2014 If You Are a UX Professional in 2030...

Timely! DENSO, MIT AgeLab and Touchstone Evaluations Establish New Consortium to Study Driver Distraction

Cathy Gaddy

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November, 2013 Emulating Google – Is It Always the Right Choice for Navigation?

Interesting study you cited (Hertzum, M., Frokjaer, E., 1996). I would be very interested in knowing more about the different variables that are at play during cognitive strain as it relates to a UI.

I also loved your comment about recognition over recall. For the last 12 years I have been a DJ on the weekends. The dance floor is a great place to observe human behavior that is influenced by external forces. There have been times when I've walked up to someone and asked them if they have a favorite song that I can play. "Deer in the headlights" sums it up fairly accurately; they go blank. I know they probably have favorite songs; it's just that I have caught them by surprise and they aren't able to recall anything as they perform a cerebral search. I then provide them with a mental "navigational" frame work to help them with recognizing (finding) a favorite song. It goes like this, "OK, I know I caught you off guard, what is a style of music you enjoy? Great, now in that style what is an artist that you enjoy? Wonderful, I love [artist] also; now with all of the amazing songs by [artist] do you have any preferences between [song 1], [song 2], or [song 3]? I usually end up helping them recognize a favorite song and no one else in the room needs to know that a particular song that was played as a result of a "moderately-structured-dance-floor-interview" moderated by a certified usability analyst.

I think usability is a 24/7 life skill that you take everywhere you go.

Art Zippel, CUA
Word & Brown

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September, 2013 Are Our Handheld Devices Making Us Smarter?

My oldest 4th grade class just got new Google Chrome Books to use as a supplemental tool during a portion of their day. As I was there during the overview I saw a lot of upside to this, especially with regard to typing, writing as well as the immersive and interactive learning that can come from this form of technology. Among all the things they will be using these for, one of the lessons that stood out for me was when the teacher led class participation by displaying (via overhead projector) a scientific hypothesis or physical description to the class. Students then anonymously wrote on what they thought the answer was as well as assessed the best responses by voting/commenting all from their individual Chrome Books. After this the teacher would lead the class through all the responses and voting comments to reinforce and trace the learning path.

As I sat and watched the kids do this I thought "what a great way to get everybody to participate in writing." Since all the kids will be on a level playing field, with regard to writing from their "word processor" Chrome Books, I am curious to see if this technology helps motivate the kids to blossom and be more creative writers.

Tom Follrath

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October, 2013 If You Are a UX Professional in 2030...

Regarding "4. Bad Mood Is History": UX will not be required to capture human emotion, but an interface would have to be smart enough to invoke human emotion like a bad mood and balance it with a good mood. Since humans are becoming much less emotional and becoming more mechanical, reaction towards emotions will be suppressed; e.g., humans tend to react to so many small provocations over a few years' time. So, bad moods will already be history at that time.

Sharad Joshi

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September, 2013 Are Our Handheld Devices Making Us Smarter?

My oldest 4th grade class just got new Google Chrome Books to use as a supplemental tool during a portion of their day. As I was there during the overview I saw a lot of upside to this, especially with regard to typing, writing as well as the immersive and interactive learning that can come from this form of technology. Among all the things they will be using these for, one of the lessons that stood out for me was when the teacher led class participation by displaying (via overhead projector) a scientific hypothesis or physical description to the class. Students then anonymously wrote on what they thought the answer was as well as assessed the best responses by voting/commenting all from their individual Chrome Books. After this the teacher would lead the class through all the responses and voting comments to reinforce and trace the learning path.

As I sat and watched the kids do this I thought "what a great way to get everybody to participate in writing." Since all the kids will be on a level playing field, with regard to writing from their "word processor" Chrome Books, I am curious to see if this technology helps motivate the kids to blossom and be more creative writers.

Tom Follrath

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July, 2013 Ethnography is Everywhere

Thanks Deepa. Very interesting article indeed. It points to the crucial importance of understanding more than the 'use' context per se, and to investigate the larger social and cultural implications involved in the use context which are more implicitly experienced by the user.

Sandrine Prom Tep

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May-June, 2013 Social Commerce - Myths and Truths

Very good paper. Well supported with intensive research.

Arvind Krishan

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April, 2013 Cross-Cultural Considerations for User Interface Design

Nehal Shah, many thanks for an excellent article. I have added a post to my own blog Translating Technical Journalism in which I quote you. The post is entitled Cross-cultural user interface design and can be found here

Steve Dyson

Amazing article. I love it. It helped me to realise why certain websites seems so difficult to navigate while others seemed to be just fit for me. It has opened my eyes and mind on how cultural differences does indeed shape our web experience and needs. I can finally confidently say, it is not me that was the problem it is the website. LOL. Thank you for writing these.

Boti Kiguta

Excellent article; I really think the biggest problem is our own preconceptions, as designers, and how they subconsciously influence our work.

Geraint Williams

Very well written article.


Indeed an encapsulated information of cross culture design. Well written with practical references of all five dimensions.

Naveen Mamgain

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March, 2013 User experience design in a non user-centric company

Satyam, I particularly liked your statement - 'User experience is often as much about communication as it is about research and design.'

Based on my experience I second the notion, often just knowing what can be done is not enough if you are not able to communicate and in turn convince the stakeholders to take cognizance of the resulting benefits.

Today, as the UX teams within the organizations are growing, communication seems to play an important role and if you can communicate well, you have won have the battle, from a UX perspective as well as team building. As Eric rightly pointed out, having an Executive Champion helps, but sometimes getting an external consultant on board is very difficult, especially till the point in time when you can really provide substantial ROI.

Satyam, your article is an actual representation of the steps that I am taking to build a team in my Company. I am sure many readers of this article would be nodding as they read it concurring with what you have written and gaining confidence that they are on the right track. Thanks.


Hi Satyam, I am very fortunate to attend your sessions last sept while attending the all four courses of CUA program. Presently i am trying to implement the UX principles in a reputed organization as a consultant. i think this was the very appropriate time for me to read your article. It certainly rejuvenated my passion towards usability and gave me a more clearer path.I was a bit distracted and de- motivated due to some frictions and unsupportieveness from some individuals, who think UX as a not required feature. But your article have certainly charged me again to carry on my path of UX implementation.


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February, 2013 The Future of Global User Experience in Local Contexts

Comment: Dr. Eric Schaffer, G11n and L11n is essential topic for global product user experience design, and I see eye to eye with you on its complexity in that the culture influences cause the difference. Appreciate your sharing of your thought. Where we can have more detailed information about the Foundational Ecosystem Model you mentioned in this article?

Response: Apala Lahiri Chavan is just now working on a chapter for the new edition of my book Institutionalization of UX due in August. She has been developing a model to let an organization cost effectively globalize and localize applications on a large scale. One element is the ability to grow and share ecosystem models. If you have a core model (say of online banking) and then over time your organization can localize it for UAE, India, China, etc… Then you have a reusable foundation. You don’t need to re-research stuff. We have been working for years on that solution, and we have had UXEnterprise™ out for over 2 years now. If you sign up at UXMarketplace.com you can get a free personal UXEnterprise™. I think you will see how it fits into a localization scheme…


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December, 2012 Older Adults Get More Tech Savvy

Great article. Being over 50 myself, I find many stereotypes like this. I've used technology primarily for work and never have been interested in the social aspect, which makes me a polar opposite to the study results. People in these older age groups are more influenced by technology than many think. Fear is the biggest issue I hear from peers or our parents, mostly of viruses and hoaxes. But with better awareness and software, that's decreasing.

Rebecca Barrett

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September, 2012 Texting While Driving

I have no argument with the premise that texting while driving creates some dangers as does talking on the cell phone. I wonder how this compares with the dangers of talking with passengers in the car, or dealing with children who are misbehaving in the back seat while driving.... Is driving a safe activity? Perhaps the best option the robot driver. But I hate the idea of giving up the feeling of control.

V.J. Hixson

This is a very systematic explanation of such a big issue on roads. Simulated driving while texting or calling by offenders can be a nice lesson for them to understand that they don't work the way they think they can work.

Amit Kulshreshtha

This is eye opening! This fascinating research is a lesson to me to take these risks more seriously and have less blind confidence in my ability to multi-task while driving. Thanks for publishing this study.

Ravi Singh

A significant factor in behavior of humans is that of learning to respond to stimuli. Unfortunately, in many cases there is no association with the environmental conditions. This factor must be included in procedures that will check the use of texting in inappropriate circumstances.

S. David Leonard

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August, 2012 Interaction Model for NFC Enabled Applications

Great idea as long as the discrete buzz of the movie ticket purchase is different than the notifications about your bank deposit, arriving text message from your mother, awaiting voice mail from your boss, and latest goal in your favorite team's game. Also, this buzz needs to be perceptible while the phone is inside my purse!

Ilona Posner

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July, 2012 Frameworks for Exploring the Usability of Mobile Designs

This artcile is very interesting and brings out key facts one should keep in his mind in mobile applications design. The video is excellent.

Laxmidhar V. Gaopande
Rolta India Limited

It's a great article. Just a simple question: Why HFI doesn't have a Mobile Optimized website? Actually, I checked this site on web.archive.org and it's design and functionality didn't change since 2010. It's time to put in practice what you preach, don't you agree?

Pablo Gonzalez
Squiggly Marketing

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Comment: Does the UX and Usability framework remain same for a responsive design? How do we carry out responsive design process?

Shital Desai

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May/June, 2012 Six Ways to Think out of the Box:
A guide to engineering award-winning ideas (that are persuasive too!)

I think this article should be retitled "Six Ways to Think Inside the Box". Two very different things are being conflated here: creativity and approval. If 89% of the ads in the Israeli study could be classified using only six templates, there is very little creativity involved. If only two percent of non-award-winning ads could be equally classified, then they were obviously less-approved but potentially much more creative. A more obvious interpretation of the results of these studies is that most people don't really approve of thinking outside the box. As with Hollywood movies, audiences want the same thing, over and over again, repackaged in only slightly different ways.

Crilly Butler
CA Dept. of Fish and Game

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"frisky and chaotic creative process"
"Random, ad hoc and panicked creativity"

Am I seeing an emergence of a seventh template here? the one that mocks and derides creative impulse and confidence?

Speaks poorly for Human Factors' mindset towards creativity, aka, "subjugating creative impulse and relying on templates" that goes beyond the reckless choice of adjectives.


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April, 2012 Do Personas Always Have to be ‘Good’?
All personas are not equal. Designing for rounded users and extreme characters.

Thanks, Apala for this inspiring review. Good "characters" are good not because they are "good", but because they are memorable. This is what extreme personas offer. It's food for the imagination. But...as you point out, even the extreme character has needs with which we can all identify. So--what we just learned, is that the character is not the message. It's their needs and goals that are the message. The character is the vehicle...and we all like snazzy vehicles that feed our imagination.
John Sorflaten, SAIC

I am working in the research unit of a company developing medical devices and safety equipment. In comparison to the PDA example, our users are experts in their domains and have a high knowledge we (as developers) don't have. Even though some of us are experts in certain clinical (or safety) areas, e.g. ventilation of patients, our perspective is completely different than the perspective of the user. We do even have project managers and developers who have been firefighters or nurses themselves, but still they are not very representative for "the users", and they can't be involved in every project.

For me it is hard to get a basic understanding of the work, the domain, the tasks, goals and processes at all, and personas help me to conclude what I observe or learn when I visit users at their workplaces. Probably our personas lack the juice mentioned above, but I still find them very valuable because, compared to consumer electronics (like PDAs) or websites, we can't start based on our own experiences and expectations. Our personas include goals, tasks, typical problems, traits and attitudes as we observed them, and they are much more complex than the Jane example. Still they lack the "juice", and I am not sure we will ever include such strong "additional" diversity, as we have more diversity in the users we observe than we wish for. At the moment our goal is rather to reduce the number of our personas, and find more common bases than to add extremes.
Maral Haar

Whenever I've seen personas used the details tend to get in the way more than be useful. It's useful to think that one set of users have no SQL experience, another set is willing to edit and another is comfortable creating from scratch. It is not useful or relevant what they wear, where they are from or what they think of super heroes. The first set of traits can be designed against because it is a meaningful distinction between sets of people. The latter are personal and not likely to reflect an realistic difference across any spectrum of users let alone in the context of a particular design. I would say in fact that they detract from helping us design, because their specificity blinds us to to the variety of ways different likes/dislikes/interests interplay across a population.
Karl Mochel

The content of the persona should reflect the relevant characteristics of the audience you're designing for, and in some cases the audience you're not designing for (negative personas). If you're designing BtoB productivity software then the examples you cite are relevant (SQL experience, etc). Basically, in the BtoB world personas should include information about the work the person does. If however you're designing consumer products and/or marketing materials for consumer products, then personal information is very important. If you're going to appeal to the desires and emotions of a market segment, then you may very well want to know what they wear, where they are from, what they think of superheroes, and yes, whether or not they have a cat. I have seen personas fail to add value and I've seen them work very well. It boils down to the skill of the UX designer in understanding what the relevant information is to include in the personas.

I hear what you're saying though, too often in the BtoB world I've seen personas with information about the car that Peter drives, or the fact that he has two kids in college. That info doesn't add value and can actually be quite a turn-off to the people it's supposed to enlighten. Keep your personas short and include only relevant information or they won't be adopted by the broader team.
Dave Fondacaro, Pitney Bowes

I fail to see how any of the ostensibly "bad boy" personas complete a niche left vacant by Schaffer's so-called safe personas other than they're perhaps somewhat more piquant.

How does a drug dealer differ from your prototypical Wall Street global investment banker; uncertain the difference is that great. Same with the Pope, how is he any different than any other publicly notable high net worth individual who enjoys playing power games with his staff?

In all, the need to develop 'extreme' persona strikes me as off key as it cements in the mind of product and service developers and providers the notion that people are in any way categorizable insofar as a minority of their traits are concerned when set against a spectrum of socially acceptable traits and desires.
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Thank you Apala, I really enjoyed reading this article. In my opinion design is in the details. and when you have a well fleshed out persona, the chances of creating unique designs that pay attention to detail is much higher. I do agree of course, that it does boil down to the skill of the UX designer and the way he extracts or processes this data from the personas is equally important.

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March, 2012 An Exploration of Relations Between Visual Appeal, Trustworthiness, and Perceived Usability of Homepages
How first impressions are critical for forming opinions and determining subsequent actions.

For my PhD dissertation (1997) only four years before the study cited above, I analyzed the emergence of websites and published many papers about website design and usability. Coming from this background and as a website developer for the past 10 years who is heavily invested in usability, I would venture to say the way people "read" websites and how they appraise them may quite different 12 years later. It would be interesting to read a longitudinal study. Thanks for sharing this,
Mia, Kits Media

Great sensible article! Can you suggest to me some links to study about symmetry, density, balance, contrast, graphics-to-text ratio, and text-to-background ratio?
Vigneshwar Raj

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Jan/Feb, 2012 Parallel Prototyping–How parallel prototyping can improve the quality of web designs.

I agree with Parallel Prototyping we can encourage designer to overcome his own lacking area and help to build his confident.
Jyoti, Xebia

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Dec, 2011 Sharing "Discoverability" Through Better Tag Strategies –How semantic web concepts improve your search-and-list challenges.

Thank you for your excellent article. One of the biggest problems in information/knowledge management is convincing users to share their information and think about other users' needs instead of just their own needs. Good 'tagging' is essential for solving this problem.
Laurence Smith, HP

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Sep, 2011 Designing Naturally With Gestalt in Mind – The "active ingredient" in great graphic layouts.

Very nice article. Got to know more on the Gestalt principles. The examples were very helpful. Has driven me to know more of same.
T S S Ganesan, Cognizant

Excellent! As someone with a deep background in Gestalt theory, therapy, and most recently, teaching Psychology to college students, I appreciate seeing these principles summarized and applied to Web design! Thanks!
David Clark

Thank you for this article. Bookmarked... I have a couple of questions:
1. You said occulometer studies shows that people's eyes move from dark shade to light shade and saturated to unsaturated colors. I think this happens when enough contrast is being provided in order for these "dark shades" and "saturated colors" to stand out. Without contrast it wouldn't be any "dark..." or "saturated..." What do you think?
2. Is Law of Common Region (Law of "Prägnanz ('Good Form')") like the Framing technique used in photography? It seems to me that way ... that said it feels like The rule of thirds has some subtle influence on the web also. What do you think?
Sorin Stefan
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What do you think though about conversion design which suggests that many elements on websites like "privacy/security icons" and customer logos, etc...are important to include since they provide "in passing" visual clues that the owner, in this case, respects their privacy and is credible. I think many elements, but grouped correctly, is the answer. But I've seen plenty of cluttered sites including shopping carts that convert very well.
Sam Ingersoll, q2Results
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Great article, I really enjoyed it. One point though: I'm sure it's a "back" button and not a "lock" button. What do you think?

Really minor comment here: the graphic you mentioned indicating the text "Lock" actually says "Back". But overall the Gestalt principle has got me hooked. Will read more on this and hopefully apply it in the workflow. It did actually reinforce certain concepts in my mind that have, up until now, have remained nameless.
Justin Calingasan, Sulit.com.ph

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Jul, 2011 Verbalizing About Visuals: Targets, Team, and Tag Lines – Visual vs. verbal design approaches.

Very interesting article. Since I am just starting with an online business for losing weight, I could have used a little bit more visual, say in terms of diagrams. Then again I am new to the whole thing. I may have to ponder a little bit. Thank you.
Quaid Suddoo, onlyweight.com

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Jun, 2011 Expert Reviews Require Expert Senses
– How to structure your expert reviews.

Wonderful article. Great practical advice on the use of the VIMM model. Thank you!
Marla Newman, HP

I like this VIMM concept very much. I feel the VIMM evaluation, Heuristic evaluation, expert review, Usabilty review, Taskflow review, Empherical review, Design review etc...are different flavours of UX reviews. It is all about how we articulate to the stakeholders and making them understand about the severity on the rating. However, I am sure 'VIMM' technique has a significant imapact to whomsoever the audience is, as it is simple. Thank you once again for the wonderful article !
Ravi Chandrasekaran, Accenture

This article paints a brilliant picture! Many will benefit!
Cheryl Magnuson, Intermec

Good and a useful newsletter. I like the addition of AK to VIMM
.T S S Ganesan, Cognizant

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Mar, 2011 Beating the "Observer Effect" in User Interviews
– Searching for "the deeper truth" in user analysis.

Interesting, useful article – thanks! I've always considered questionnaire bias to be an extremely thorny thicket. "Favorably worded" to one subject can be "unfavorably worded" to another. "Neutral" can be favorably or unfavorably slanted, depending on the user's bias, which seems difficult to determine. The testing environment can play a role, as can the dress of the experimenter. For that reason I always try to track actual user behaviors as a key to preferences instead of using questionnaires if at all possible. Least bias of all, perhaps, enters into experiments using passive measures, which involve no direct interaction with users, but simply reviewing physical written records or wear patterns.
David Ballou, Iowa Foundation for Medical Care

Very interesting and useful. For Culture assessment, for instance, the design of a good survey is a big issue. Congratulations.
Jose Alves, DNV

The RGI seems useful for so much more. I might try it out with some symbology efforts that I have coming up; trying to decide which symbology format is "better" than another.
Victor Ingurgio, DSCI

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Feb, 2011 Secrets to Setting the Context for Usability
– Approaches to cross-cultural UI design

Fascinating review to a topic of growing importance. It reminds me of a usability project I completed in Mexico for a large bank. As I arrived in Mexico City, I felt like a paranoid gringo, wary of everything new. And it was all new. But I assumed that the locals had no such wariness. Field research revealed otherwise, as Mexicans do not write checks. They are afraid of the postal service losing their letters and prefer to pay electronically. Ten years ago their cultural uniqueness had driven them to more rapidly adopt technology than the US. Emerging markets must be full of these issues.
John Smelcer, Fairfield Professionals

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Nov, 2010 Visionary Usability: Making Friends With Graphic Design
– The science of visual appeal in Web design

This is a good article and useful for people like me who voice the opinion that Visual Appeal and Usability should go hand in hand. This research reiterates the fact that Visual impact and Usability should go together and strike a right balance. Thanks HFI for publishing this research work.
T S S Ganesan, CUA, Cognizant

As the information designer/usability expert for the user documentation team, this article came at a very propitious time. We are currently trying to redesign our online help, and I have been struggling to convince the others on the redesign team how important actual visual design is. They tend to see online help in terms of the textual content rather than as a type of web page, which requires colors and graphics, as well as a controlled and pleasing layout to accompany the text.

So thank you for a very timely article, and any time you can provide more articles regarding the usability and information designing of user documentation, please do.
Tricia Sullivan, Raymond James

This was fascinating; it brought up several things for me about influence, perception, prestige, and protecting our self-esteem. Even to the extent of significantly altering our ability to be objective regarding our experience.

I have been a visual designer since the 70's and made the switch to usability 8 years ago so I feel I am able to see and think both sides.

This research seems to support the concept that if our initial experience/perception is one of quality, professional, or having a degree of prestige, we have a tendency to alter our experience/assessment to support the integrity of our ability to make accurate assessments. After all, who wants to be viewed as an easy mark, gullible, or clueless by their peers or themselves? Who of us haven't worked on a redesign project where some of the members of the original project have been less than objective in receiving some critical thinking comments from the "new" people?

I am reminded of a story in Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion concerning trying to sell some specific pieces of turquoise jewelry that wasn't moving. Because of some miscommunication the prices on the pieces of jewelry was doubled rather than halved resulting in the products being sold. Cialdini sites the concept that generally individuals, to varying extents, perceive increased cost with increased value. I think it is fair to make the comparison that if an application/web site is perceived visually as professional, then the user is going to defend that assessment further into the experience than if a lower initial assessment had been awarded.

I made the switch from visual design to usability because if I was able to build successful web sites from a visual perspective already, how much better could they be if usability principles were used in addition to just a professional appearance. It is to this end that I am looking forward to attending the PET Design training when I am able.

Even though it is well documented why the websites of Berkshire Hathaway and Jakob Nielsen are intentionally designed the way they are, I will always wonder, what if.

What a great article, it got me thinking.
Art Zippel, CUA, ArtZippel UI & X

Great research but the article seems to suggest that "graphic design" is something that is applied to user interface design as a second step.

Designers are not simply "support" or "assistance" they are an integral part of ensuring a site engages users and has a core concept or purpose that differentiates it from others. The best designs result from a collaborative effort from UI and Creative – not a "hey, come make my wireframe pretty" waterfall process. Together, a usability guru and designer should sketch out a high level approach before digging into wireframes.

Furthermore, this collaboration should go WAY deeper than the homepage. I'm not sure which site out there has 1 page with design input and 7,999 pages that are "computer generated." All large scale sites I've been involved with define a page template and visual style guide for every kind of page type. Sure there may be thousands of product pages, but they should all follow a template that a designer and usability expert collaborated on.

Go Team!
Bridget Fahrland, Fry, Inc.

Eric, I couldn't agree more with you! In fact, I think usability and visual appeal are synonymous. How a page is laid out helps the user decide what to look at and how to prioritize the content, while visual cues and action items make the site functional. These two practices should always go hand-in-hand!
Rebecca Holder-Otte, Banner Health

High viusals draw me in. Usability exerts more pull. The speed of being able to move from one page to another keeps me there. I am willing to sacrifice some usability if I can move around quickly.
R. Bryon Frenyea, FedEx

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Oct, 2010 Seeing Is Believing (How to Design for Video)
– The impact of video when designing your website.

Excellent article. Video needs this sort of research to maximize how and where we use it.
Tess Robinson, Go Viral Now

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Aug, 2010 Usability Test Reporting: "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over"
– Insights into writing the right stuff.

Great article! I printed out the last part and hung it on the wall.. Be more precise about less rather than less precise about more.
Qurie de Berk, Plag websucces

Lack of common terminology between groups is a big problem, remembering to dumb down from time to time, pays dividend.
Chris Bean, Towers Watson

If you want clear communication (in this case, usable recommendations), employ an editor.
Elizabeth Spiegel

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Jul, 2010 Using the Goldilocks Principle to get design "just right"
– How to zero in on your design without zeroing out.

An interesting and informative article on the emotion responses on the part of users, but as a designer, I have to point out that more often than not, testing is never done and design and usability is determined by the client and staff members, leading to the term, "design-by-committee."

If you remember the story, Goldilocks broke into a house, vandalized the place, stole food and ended up fleeing the scene of the crime and is still at large to this day.
Speider, Schneidersweb

Nice to try to coin a term "formative testing" but basically in an iterative user-centered design process, testing during the design is just testing. Would we need now to coin the final usability test of a product "informative but futile testing"?
Stan Lindstone

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Jun, 2010 To See Is To Conquer, Or Is It?
– a political challenge to usability.

Thanks Dr. Schaffer, your newsletter is spot on with my challenges. Although I've read and heard a lot of this when attending HFI classes, it's a great help to read this and it gives me a little more confidence. Keep it coming!
Wanda Lipscomb, JWT

Excellent article John! The way you explain the problem, it's overall solution and then the tools to make that solution happen, is very clear and easy to digest. Thanks for the great info, Ron
Ron Sova, Sova Consulting Group, LLC

Nice article. Thanks for the confidence to share some of the mouse click data i collected on a particular project with higher management.
Ashok, MIMOS

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May, 2010 New Techniques: How to Talk Truthfully About Usability Testing
– the straight rap on explaining your test results.

Thank you. I really appreciate help in communicating these difficult concepts to the decision makers. I like this approach. I have a question about the analysis of Nielsen's paper. It seems that it does not take into account the iterative nature of the process Mr. Nielsen proposes. If you test with a small group and then fix the problems before retesting, then each test is with a different error population. I have used a process somewhat like this successfully. It seems that as you get rid of the "big" problems, then subsequent test groups can see problems that were not as obvious before. I have not attempted to do a statistical analysis, but I have been happy with the results. I have assumed, based on observation that each round catches around 80% of the remaining defects. Am I just kidding myself?
Ed Schlotzhauer, Agilent Technologies
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It is good to see a detailed article on Usability Testing, which is less talked about in not so big companies as it is too expensive sometimes. Adding on I also think the experience of a tester has a relation with the test results. Would an experience tester find more errors? Sometimes it is not always true as an inexperienced tester may not follow a pattern and can find more errors. So it is uncertain. Then how do you check the tester's efficiency?
Bijoy Krishnan M, InApp
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Thanks John, for this highly informative article. It is truly essential to decide the number of users we test for on the basis of the tolerance in the error we can make. Another approach that can also be followed for usability testing is to first identify a few tasks for which the tolerance level for any error is very low. Probably, testing 18 users for only these important tasks would lead to clarity on any problems in the workflow of these particular tasks. The rest of the tasks which have more tolerance can probably be tested with fewer users to identify immediate problems only. This works in quite a few cases where only a few strong workflows exist. The challenge here, though, is to identify these correctly.
Ayush Jain, Cheese Corporate Care
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This is reasonably good but, like many articles on this subject, overlooks some very important points. I respectfully suggest readers check out my JUS paper: "MACEFIELD, R. C. P. (2009). How to specify the participant group size for usability studies. In Journal of Usability Studies, 5(1), pp. 34-45.
Ritch Macefield, Shannon-Weaver Ltd.

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Apr, 2010 Playing to Win
– the importance of bringing fun to your interfaces.

A long time ago I used the Lotus Office Suite. The Organizer had a feature everyone loved: when you deleted a file by dragging it to an icon of a wire wastebasket, the crumpled paper graphic representing the file burst into flame! That was immensely gratifying. It only lasted a few seconds and hence was not disruptive or too distracting. If we could apply that type of functioning to various user actions we might get the fun without inappropriate or irritating actions.
Jenny McDermott, Conklin Company

Thanks Noah, this is very interesting! I don't have a good example of use of gaming in a business application but since it's Friday a wild thought came to my mind. Why not change the way people interact with a regular timesheet application. I have never met a single person who ever wanted to fill this in without grumbling. But applying what you wrote about it has a serious opportunity for better compliance. As a timesheet user I would love to see where I stand among my colleagues in filling up the time sheet. What about a simple meter showing my compliance rating and star points accumulating every time I open my timesheet application. I could also get bonus points for adding comments on what did I do in vague categories like Administrative work. The simple fun could just be in the way we enter the data. Instead of asking users to type hours we can provide interesting ways to input the data. For example three clicks in a mine sweeper like row adds 3 hours against that project, or a slider control with your avatar building a wall, visually showing how much work you did within a project.
Atul Saraf, HFI-India

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Mar, 2010 "Flow" – the iPhone (and Web) Experience that Sells
– the necessity of "flow" for a positive user experience.

This a GREAT article. I've been wondering for ages how I or someone Jimi Hendrix in to a user experience topic. Why yes, I am experienced, thanks for asking. An Flow, too (read Csíkszentmihályi in '98). But both together? Very impressive.

For flow, there are a number of stars that need to align for it, some of which a designer can determine, some not (environment, user's comfort, satiated state, restedness, etc.). This is an area that designers of systems used for complex tasks really need to explore, focus on, and promote among our peers and partners. Undervalued.

Fantastic entry Mr. Schaffer!
uxdesign.com Customer-Centered Interactive

The March 2010 issue disappoints.

As delighted as I am to see Jimi Hendrix' face almost anytime, anywhere, its use at the top of this column seems non sequitur if not downright exploitive.

A recent book reflects on the fact that the only album for which Jimi Hendrix had complete control did not sell well at the time, and was generally scorned by reviewers. It is unclear that he made an effort to "attract customers," preferring instead to play his latest music, thinking that songs just six months old were no longer "representative" of his current interests and capabilities.

Even your conversation about "high-roller" apps and "also-ran" apps points out that VERY FEW apps have lasting value.

Perhaps the objective is to get producers of all kinds, including Web developers, to consider the quality of their content first, and look at the sales charts last.

Jimi, after all, doesn't realize his most recent album hit the Top 10...
Rod Morgan, Systems and Integration Office

Rod, really man... it was just a play on words, and an eyecatching one, at that.

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Feb, 2010 Loving the Madness of Good Design: "Institutionalize us all"
– how to get your organization excited about usability.

After fighting just such battles for many years, I won't do it anymore. Seeing a job description with the words 'evangelize usability' or one of its many variants causes me to run in the opposite direction. In this day and age, any company that has a need for evangelizing just doesn't get it and I want nothing to do with them.
Sylvia Lowden, Metanoia Design

Great article! If you replace usability, UX, et al, with "ergonomics", what's in this article is exactly the battle and the approaches I've been using for some 25 years. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it may at times be only a candle, but it still illuminates.
Don Morelli, Donald L. Morelli CPE

Even though India is being considered as a big IT Hub, the scenario for usability hasn't reached to the level expected. Very few companies are implementing case studies for their projects. The productivity within the service industry would rise 5-10 percent if every software program were designed for usability.
Prasad Khasnis, Rave Technologies Ltd.

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Jan, 2010 Clean Metrics from Quick and Dirty Assessment: "The SUS"
– an easy method for "grading" your interface design.

If you run SUS as an online survey, how do you ensure that you get a representative sampling? How do you know that the results would not be skewed by a preponderance of responses from disgruntled or thrilled users?
Mary M. Couse, Government of Canada
See author's response to this comment

I must be missing something here. Since half the questions are negative and half positive, a score of 80 would indicate the respondent is very ambivalent about the product, not that it's a good product. If I love the product and "strongly agree" with questions 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 (score 25), then I will "strongly disagree" with questions 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 (score 5; total SUS score 30). I'd get the same score if I hated the product and reversed my answers. Would you please explain? Thanks.
J. Femia, Opto 22
See author's response to this comment

Thanks very much. That last UI Design Newsletter (January 2010) regarding the SUS was great. I will try to use it as soon as an opportunity arises.
Ken Gaylin, AT&T

Great article. I was a little confused about what is the "average" SUS score that we should be comparing things to when running a study? You mentioned the mean of 80 and the average score of the top 25%...so I was a little confused.
See author's response to this comment

John: Great article, as always. Any sense if SUS is useful for non-English speaking user groups? I'm familiar with Usefulness, Satisfaction, Ease of Use (USE) for cross-cultural comparisons (North Americans and Taiwanese, for example) but wondering if there are good studies about applying SUS to users in other countries, i.e. not cross-cultural but simply other cultures.
Eric Olive, The Creative Scribe
See author's response to this comment

Thanks again for the valuable info by using that 11th question. Just to let you know, i used the previous test results as a baseline of usability (63%) and ran another survey using only 2 question (part of the appeal). After conducting the survey with two questions - one asking to rate usability and another optional open ended question asking how we can make the site better - i was able to conclude, we increased usability by 10% after the redesign.
Joshua Scott, U.S. Army

I don't know much about metrics around usability or UX, and I'm trying to use the SUS scale for the first time right now. My question: Does using a 7-pt Likert scale instead of a 5-pt one make a big difference in the "results"?
Gabe Biller
See author's response to this comment
See John Ims' response to this comment

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Dec, 2009 "User Experience" meets "Beauty is Truth, Truth is Beauty"
– the foundations of "user-experience" design.

I dig your new year resolution. Don't we all love a good kaleidoscope where science meets art to create beauty. All the best in this coming year with your new resolve, Eric.
Vikram Chauhan, UTV New Media Ltd

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Nov, 2009 Wherefore Art Thou O Usability? – Cognitive lock-in to the rescue
– the missing link between usability and profitability.

Fascinating information. It's the justification we need to help beat the drum for good UX. Great article.
Daniel Cardenas, Sierra Media

The phrase 'customer lock-in' sounds pretty catchy, but if I try to sell this to a customer who doesn't directly sell items on the web like all the websites in the article seem to, then what do I tell them? How does this article apply to informative websites of companies without clear products?
Qurie de Berk, easability.nl

Well written and compelling piece of info. One doubt, though this could be a little out of context...what about intranet/internal applications/employee portals etc. How can the top echelons be convinced of the ROI in usability enhancements and other related projects, taken the fact that it's mostly for a closed focused group of employees / customer service reps / users who're well trained or get used by oft repeating the same tasks.
Shivashankar Thiagarajan, Tata Consultancy Services

I need to comment on an aspect of your article that has nothing to do with usability. It continues to astound me that thinking people embrace and disseminate the theory of macro-evolution. The theory is unproved, improvable, and indeed unscientific...and requires far more faith and imagination than any alternative I've ever heard. So why use the cliched "missing link" picture in your article? Why mix the art and science of usability with the fiction of the missing link aspect of the theory of evolution? Writing an article requires a disciplined approach; it requires you to balance facts, humor and other elements to grab and hold your reader's attention. Instead, you've annoyed and even offended this reader before I've read a single word of your article. (And as an epilogue, I imagine I'll be accused of everything from narrow-mindedness to fanaticism. But I'm not the one who believes that the incredible complexity, wonder and interdependencies of our universe happened by accident, so I can handle a few insults on that point...) I like being stimulated and challenged, but I don't like having my intelligence insulted. In the future, I respectfully ask that you choose your metaphors more carefully and thoughtfully.

This article is very valuable. First, it makes me remember how I stopped visiting an IBM site after a redesign that reorganized the content. I built a knowledge of the site paths and they changed it. I never learned the newer IA. Secondly, this information has to be lifted by those who build web analytics software. Once revealed, it does not seems very difficult to have it for one's site on a regular basis.
Juan Lanus, Globant

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Oct, 2009 Where is a good chart when you need it?
– Guidelines for creating online decision tools.

Challenger was not a "debacle", it was a tragedy. No chart will substitute for management's lack of backbone.

Having said that, yes, there is a huge difference between data and information. Showing people data does not substitute for giving them information.
Ann Pinion

Interactivity is what gives the details in your Treemap (Depth of field) example. Interactivity supports evaluability - additional information can be given on request.

In his classes Tufte emphasizes that information comes to life when people can explore it, and discover what's most interesting to them. Here, too, interactivity is key.
Marc Schluper

Do we always need data to make a decision? As the sign on the wall in Albert Einstein's office read... "Things that can be counted don't always count. And things that count can't always be counted." Perhaps the high level folks at NASA and a few other places need to read that sign?
Evan Rolek

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Sep, 2009 Harnessing Your Power of First Impression
– Socially responsible design but with a compelling prolog.

I am interested to understand about first impression and persuasion factor put together to retain and enhance website visitors.
Abhijeet, Roamware Inc.

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Aug, 2009 Can you avoid political fallout from your standards effort?

But wait. Those users are all human. They all have only one focus of attention apiece. That's why we want the mechanisms to stay out of the way. We don't go to the theatre to watch the projector. Indeed, if we ever notice it, it detracts from the content.

See Raskin's summary of "The Humane Interface" at Nitpicker.pbwiki.com and note that we can only multi-task if all but one of the things we're doing is automatic so our attention can remain on the other. Ban modal dialog boxes. They guarantee to break your train of thought.

Don't demand credit card numbers without blanks, they are on the card for a reason, it's easier to get it right that way. Don't even have a save button. You mean if I don't remember to click on this button, you're gonna take my twenty minutes of work and throw it away? That would be cruel. Don't do it.

I like Lean and Agile, but that only gets you bug free code, you have to measure and test to get code that doesn't get in the way. Jef shows how, but nobody seems to have noticed yet. When they ever do, they'll find that the result is absolutely addictive.

Wait till you see what happens when you accomplish links by rollover in an auto-zooming world. It will take over the WIMP GUI if it ever gets into use at all. Pie menus haven't yet, either.
Richard Karpinski

This sounds very familiar for every organisation I have worked at.
Richard P.

This article has some good information. Parts of it seem a little confronting to Eschenfelder.
Carli Connally

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Jul, 2009 Does audience gender influence your persuasive message?
– How your design is in the eye of the beholder.

Thanks for this John. I'd say the answer to your final questions is a definitive 'yes'. Having come to usability testing from qualitative market research it was surprising to see how usability was largely founded on an assumption of people being economic, logical, rational beings when we know they are anything but this.

Over several years we incorporated qualitative research techniques to help put the participant in the appropriate 'frame of mind' before giving them a series of tasks (some specific, others less so).

I'd highly recommend other usability practitioners experiment with this approach, particularly for websites where users tend to be exploring and possibility-driven.
James Burge, Roadmap

Great article! Since the definition of usability includes not only effectiveness and efficiency, but also satisfaction, I always include metrics that measure all three. When analyzing results I always check my random sample of users to see if the sample reflects the demographics of the population of users the sample came from in terms of not only gender, but also age, experience with the organization who owns the system I'm evaluating to make sure I'm looking into individual differences (and also to make sure I have a representative sample of my population).

My only question about your article is that I'm wondering why you would say, "UX professionals need to go BEYOND usability." If a UX professional is charged with moving people toward conversion, the UX professional should look at individual differences such as gender. That's not going BEYOND usabiliy, that is simply using good scientific rigor in designing the UX evaluation and experimentation.

Just my opinions. I really enjoy your articles - and they always stir up my passion and excitement for UX and UX stakeholders.
Patricia Chalmers

Good article. It seems to support the concept of females as the "being" gender and males as the "doing" gender. It's my hope that females become a bit more "doing" and males become a bit more "being." I think the world would certainly become a better place. That said, I like the idea of using "possibility-driven" messages to persuade people. In this day and age, I believe it's essential to show what's possible, NOT just what IS.
Martha Roden, UI Writer

Great findings and very thought provoking. I will share this with several at my office.
Randy Werner, Yamamoto Moss Mackenzie

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Jun, 2009 Do age and experience impact interaction with devices?
– The importance of understanding generational approaches to dealing with devices.

It's interesting that Dr. Schaffer refers to "older adults" as "they" instead of "we". ;) Is it because WE older adults who have technical knowledge don't think we need simpler interfaces? That's not what the article indicates.
Ann Pinion

I would think that the "more errors" is more the result of rigid exploration techniques than the exploration taking place after the errors. Otherwise the erros would indeed indicate less technical knowledge?
Dana Reynolds, Walmart

I loved this article. I have an intense interest in this subject, being one in the older category and having three adult sons who seem way more savvy with information technology. I was glad to see that at least people in my category often were able to persist and get successful consequence, even if their user experience was less satisfying. I'd love to see more articles like this and more research along these lines. Excellent!
Christine Van Brunt, Paychex

I am very interested in your findings. Some of it seems intuitive. However, the title suggests that differentiation of results was determined by both age and experience. It is clear that your control groups had different age ranges. However, how was their experience level "qualified" for the participants? Or – in fact, is it merely presumed that the older age group had lesser experience with the technology. As a correlation to that, I think "'older readers" could take objection to results. The essence of the findings may be more about familiarity and experience with the tools than it is about age.
Dale Sauro

Very interesting study. I believe that just about everything I've read about designing for "older adults" can also apply for designing for younger adults. Providing strong feedback and letting users know they have erred – and providing information about how to correct their error – is important no matter the age of the user. As far as web applications are concerned – I believe older users have an easier time with applications dealing with information they are familiar with – such as financial accounts or health insurance – than younger people. Providing meaningful feedback and education on errors – both technological errors and information errors – is helpful for both groups.
Ashley Rovenski, Humana

Great experiment and presentation of findings. Cheers!
Brian Jordan

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Feb, 2009 Kindle2: Crack for readers... until you start reading
Hi Dr. Shaeffer, Visual-syntactic text formatting takes the "ReadSmart" algorithms to the next level – converting blocks of text into cascading-phrase patterns, in which the left edge of indentation also denotes hierarchical relations between phrases. Go to www.liveink.com – all of the randomized controlled trials and peer-reviewed publications can be found there. Thank you,

Randall Walker, MD

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Nov, 2008 Save the Earth. Everybody's doing it.
– On selecting the right persuasive hook.

I agree that the influence of social proof is powerfull. Although I haven't read the work by Goldstein, Cialdinim, and Griskevicius, my own experience at hotels triggers some questions. I have traveled quite extensively, particularly in the past 2 years. I do hang up my towels to indicate reuse and use a card to idicate that the bed linens do not need to be changed. In all but one case, housekeeping changed my towels and bed linens irrespective of the towels being hung and the card on the bed linen. Could it be possible that the results were biased to some degree by the Hawthorne Effect and Observation Effect on the housekeeping staff (including management)?
Patricia Oliver

BRILLIANT, just brilliant. Wonderful article.
Stuart, Curriculum Corporation

I don't have a study to proove this, but I am sure (by personal opinion :-) that there's a certain amount of people who will actively reject to do what "all the others are doing". It might not be significant, but it might be worth mentioning.

I think this has practical application for Help writers when we are recommending a best practice. Instead of saying "We recommend a value of..." we could say "Many users set this value to..."
Michael Hughes

I'm thinking the other 66% who were not motivated to reuse their towels may include some hotel-stayers like me. When I stay in a hotel with my husband or children, I don't want to reuse my towels because I don't know which ones are really mine – they are usually all white.
Wanda Lipscomb

The gawking example is pretty simple to explain: if there are people standing around and gawking, the implied message is "We're looking at something worth looking at."

But the "save the earth" example is somewhat horrifying. I want to ask the 33% if they'd jump off a cliff if Jimmy did. This shows a complete lack of reasoning and willingness to shut off one's mind to follow some unknown "others".

While this social proof may be a reasonable reaction to something rather minimal and concrete (e.g., everyone's running away from something and screaming, so you run in the same direction), it's terrible to think that people would apply the same process to a complex idea.
Wendy Loreti

My thought is that your two examples are very qualitatively different. When people are craning their neck to look at something, how could a human being not be curious what's going on up there? With the towels, it really does seem to be an example of people acting, essentially, like sheep.
Dan M

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Oct, 2008 Why the Bradley Effect is not about race

Reality is that people vote on emotion, I call it the emotion-effect. The problem with the emotion-effect is that folks don't think clearly and logically; they tend to listen to emotional rhetoric and therefore vote purely on their emotional state.

So please vote with what I call the "logical-state", and not get caught up in the emotion-effect. My 2 cents! :)
Danny Heise, NIH

I think the real reason polls are off is because people don't like to be bothered. I don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number. I've never been approached for an in-person poll - I would probably refuse because I don't want to take up the time. I really don't like polls - the only one that should be taken is after all the votes are counted on Nov 4.

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Sep, 2008 You won't see what you don't look at...
– Using eyetracking to evaluate engagement and click likelihood

Burning question: What techniques did the state of California employee employ to get the improvement seen in the before and after heatmap pictures? Response from Editors You can read all about it in the case study.
Wendy Clothier, Wachovia Securities

Response from Editors
You can read all about it in the case study.

As a teacher who works with students on wikis, I find this fascinating. We are working to make sure we convey the message and we talk about design, but do we understand it, really. No, I don't think so.

I struggle with this because as I have my web pages, sometimes I have an assignment on the page and the students literally DON'T See it. Other times, they do. I think it is the design or where it is in the page, but I'm working on being able to figure it out.

I think those creating websites for teaching and learning should understand how to draw attention to certain areas and how to focus attention for learning. This is a fascinating article.
Vicki Davis, Westwood Schools

The simple message in article title is wrong. Psychological studies using a priming methodology have shown that even if people fixate in the center of the screen, target objects to the left and the right (shown for a brief time to avoid saccades) and even ignored objects can be recognised, even if they are 4 degrees of visual angle (and probably more) away from fixation.

Thoma, V., Hummel, J.E., & Davidoff, J. (2004). Evidence for holistic representation of ignored images and analytic representation of attended images. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 30, 257-267.
Volker Thoma, University of East London

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Aug, 2008 Back-to-School Reading

I just wanted to say thank you for the recommended reading list. I thoroughly enjoyed Presentation Zen and put the lessons learned to immediate use - quite successfully I might add. One member of my team commented: "By far the best PPT I have seen come out of IMX. It says a ton without using a bunch of words. Cool."
Robert Wolverton, Intelimedix

I read Stumbling on Happiness recently and found it very interesting to say the least. Thanks for the recommendations; I'll most likely look into Presentation Zen and maybe The New Unconscious if I'm feeling brave.
Mike Wheaton

For those interested, the elements of SUCCES referenced in the Zen book are fleshed out in the very readable Made to Stick, a bestseller from 2007 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
Gary Pendergrass, L-3 Communications

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June/July, 2008 On Prose and Cons
– When two-sided frames increase attitude certainty and behavioral intention

Thank you Kath and Eric for another interesting article! I have a few questions about the research that was conducted:

  1. Who were the consumers mentioned in the study? Were they actual users on web sites who were interested in the products, or were they recruited and asked to perform a scenario for purposes of testing?
  2. What were the negative attributes mentioned, were they truly negative (example; "this phone is very expensive"), or were they attributes that might be negative for some users, but positives for other users (example, complex camera with many controls might be a positive for photography enthusiasts, a negative for occasional users - alternatively a simple point-and-click camera a negative for photography enthusiasts, a positive for occasional users)?
  3. The control group was not mentioned, I'm assuming it was the same set of users and same number of users as for the one and two frame sets of users?

Thank you again and please keep these interesting articles coming!
Craig Tomlin, inQ

Do you think you would have bought the motorcycle if Ducati had added a con-frame? Eric's point on depth is insightful for perspective.
Bryan Floyd, Synapse Wireless

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May, 2008 Look composed
– How visuals can draw and drive attention.

One of the main goals of any ad is to draw us in as it competes with all other visuals for our attention. Since direct eye contact is very powerful in drawing spectator interest, the first ad might actually be more effective. The spectators who study it might pay relatively less attention to the product, but there will be many more spectators who notice it than the other alternative as a direct result of its direct eye contact. I'm not sure how the research was conducted, but based on the eye-tracking heat images, it appears spectators were probably presented with the ad and nothing else. Another interesting research would be to present an audience with a variety of ads or a complete web site that includes this ad. We can then try to weigh in the number of participants who fixated on the product of this particular ad in each of its two alternatives. I believe the results will be able to approximate real life experiences even closer.
Raz Levinhar, Amdocs

While I find these results very interesting, what I do not feel was addressed is the key question of "which one resulted in more sales?".

Did the image of the woman looking at the audience appeal more to men? Does looking at the product generate a better response with women?

I feel this article speaks to how designers can elicit a desired behavior, but I think it is incorrect (based on the information disclosed) to imply effectiveness of the marketing piece.
Mitchell Heller, Heller& BAC, Inc.

I think it would be interesting to see an additional study on where the user would look if the model was looking at the product and the product was shifted up with the tagline below it.

Just for grins...
Jeanne Wilson

The article by Kath Straub is fascinating. I attended her class in Austin at the Government Technology Conference and was very impressed with her and HFI.

The article "Look Composed" reminded me of something I have been thinking about: Is marketing getting too good? At what point does psychological manipulation cross ethical lines?
Ann Pinion

I think this is a very interesting observation and worth application. In fact studies have been made in advertising but this kind of user response "proved and tested" is definitely worth all the money and resources spent on user testing.
Laura Dsouza

Very interesting study. That's what every director or creative designer should be aware of. If they understand all this, I am sure the ROI for their client will definitely increase.
Prashant Poladia, Monior Group

Very interesting. Informative and captivating. Keep up the good work. Appreciate more such information.
Anand Nair, GAC

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April, 2008 Layering the customer experience
Humor helps, but only if it's not funny to start with.

I like the idea of humor. I like the subtlety of the (optimistically requested). I would think for UIs I rarely vist, humor would be very acceptable and even entertaining; but for UIs I visit regularly, it would have to be very subtle, so as to not become annoying. I kill the Microsoft Office Assistant just as soon as it pops up and make sure it stays dead. That particular novelty wore off fast.
Jean Stuart

Good article on humor in interaction design. Eric is right in his grief of having to develop yet another set of metrics. The one thing that hits me the most is the non-global character of humor. Cultures throughout the world have their own sets of humor. It makes it even more difficult to "design for all".

That being said, I do believe that humor can help!
Gerard van Os, Glacimonto

Years ago, I read that humor is a way of establishing comfort with a situation; we laugh at a prat fall when we are comfortable that the person didn't really get hurt. In that light, think of humor as an affordance for lack of harm. We pick up the light tone, and we shift mindset; oh, the form didn't work, oh well, no big deal.

Incidentally, Eric, being edgy is not the core of humor. If anything, the defining characteristic is the switch: humor comes when our understanding of the situation suddenly changes. This points out another pitfall in using humor in a canned, not-really-two-way conversation: since a joke carries two meanings, you want to make sure that the audience/site-user gets the "real" meaning you want him/her to get. Technology, unfortunately, can't explain the joke if the visitor doesn't get it quickly.
Mario Cavallini, Rosetta Marketing

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March, 2008 Of cold meds and value
Understanding irrational decision making under certainty.

What if you gave some of the people the placebo and told them they were part of a control group and would get a placebo? Maybe there should be a real control group that gets no drug or information (yeah, we just abduct them and apply the electric shocks! :-)

Are there any studies to indicate how long this effect (perception based discrepancy with reality) will last? People repeatedly buy the expensive cold remedy but what about in a long term, continuous usage situation. I suppose as always, some do, some don't.

What might be the evolutionary value of this kind of behavior? Do we have this phenomenon to thank for things like courage, honor, morality, religion, political parties, ...?
Leo Hartman, Canadian Space Administration

I love to apply these articles to the strategies of my side business outside the software world. I am a professional musician. My colleagues and I always hear comments about how expensive it is to hire music groups for events. I could charge a lower rate and I would still be as good. There will always be people who can not afford what I charge no matter how low it is.

In some cases, the packaging is the only thing that is different, but that can be enough to sway my purchase decisions.

Interesting article as always!
Diane Albert

Like the old saying goes: "Perception is reality."
Don Demrow, Citi

Amusing and enlightening...thanks for sharing!
Bonni Dennison, TD Canada Trust

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February, 2008 One site fits all doesn't fit
– exploration of cultural differences in consumer segmentation.

This article is mainly based on the quoted survey results. The article mentions that Americans (53%) tend to be more "open minded" compared to the other countries mentioned in the survey. In the follow-up, Dr. Schaffer wrote "In India, there is a worry about fraud: 'Will the product be delivered?' In China, the question is more about whether the product will be real or fake." That conclusion looks like a "stereotyping" to me. I am sorry I didn't see any supporting data for that observation.

If I am (an Indian American) ordering in US, I have more confidence when I buy products from known websites and delivery networks (like amazon.com). At the same time, I would be very cautious about products that come from outside US and unknown websites.

If I am ordering from amazon.com in India, I will have the same confidence because of the Amazon (very well-known website) and US business practices (the confidence factor). My cultural identity doesn't really impact when I shop online. That's why I have to post this comment.
Venkat C. Nallanthighal

These findings are of vital importance to any company which is attempting a "global" strategy. Woe to those who think that everyone "thinks" the same. Would like to see more research, especially comparing younger, web-connected people from various geographic areas. Is globalization making an impact when age/ web experience is factored in?
Elianna James, OCLC

Statistics can be very misleading. Do the statistics indicate a difference in the people in a given country, or is it an indication of the level of service? Do you cater to the U.S. because the population is more ready to shop, or do you cater to France because you have less competition and the population is looking for somewhere to shop?
Ron Harding, Datatel, Inc.

Response from Kath Straub:
Keen observation, Ron. Statistics CAN be very misleading... and a good statistician (like a good pollster) can show some very 'creative' things. In fact, if you go back to the original source you will note that I also went to their original numbers and recalculated to generate the graph we included in the newsletter. For instance, the paper reports that 66% of the risk-adverse segment was French. It's important to consider that this observation:

  • DOES mean that of the 3 countries studied, most of the risk-adverse participants were French.
  • does NOT mean that most of the French are risk-adverse shoppers. (We presented the distribution of type within country in the graph in the newsletter.)

As for interpreting opportunities / applications emerging from this data, I agree that this work suggests that there may be a new, potentially untapped, market in France. But I would be reluctant to use this kind of research to decide that one country or another presents a better 'entry' opportunity.

Rather, I think this research suggests:

  • The design elements/content that persuade consumers to engage in France are potentially very different from those which would tip American consumers. For France, we would need to include design elements focused on reducing potential consumers' perceived risk in Internet shopping and general discomfort with new and somewhat ambiguous experiences. For Americans, we may not need to include those elements.  
  • Organizations targeting German consumers need to take into account the observed behavior pattern (research/compare on the Web, buy in the store). To optimize the website value, they need to provide comparison tools that are effective, efficient, comprehensive and visible. In addition, the site needs to find seducible moments to encourages trust and convenience (e.g., show consumers how convenient and professional the local store is). Finally, the organization's business model needs to encourage and support synergies between the clicks and the bricks sales teams.

It's important to note that this research helps us be more sophisticated and specific about the design elements that have impact within specific cultures, reflecting the distribution of shopping segment density. But all three groups appeared in all three cultures. The real 'answer' will be a design that balances the design against the motivations/drivers of the target consumers for that organization.
End of esponse from Kath Straub

Very intriguing article! any way to get the full text?
Sandra Niehaus

Response from Kath Straub:
The reference is included in the bibliography. You should be able to purchase the article on the Net ($35.50 USD) from IngentaConnect, or perhaps you can access it at your local (academic) library.
End of esponse from Kath Straub

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December, 2007 Show me the study!
2007 annual research review

The paper on testing multiple design alternatives is intriguing but it also raises a lot of questions. Usability testing's primary purpose and strength have always been about observing how successful people are in using a tool. Asking them how easy it is to use something is notoriously unreliable. The paper seems to put a disproportional weight in comments.

Also, people will learn about the non-interaction based aspects of a task while they perform them. Things like verbiage, capabilities, domain knowledge, even getting a better understanding of what's being asked of them. What they learn on the first task (first design alternative) affects their confidence and knowledge when performing the second and third tasks (other design alternatives). I couldn't find how this bias was addressed.

Lastly, I'm surprised that the authors were expecting solid design suggestions from the participants. As they state themselves, usability tests produce findings: what works, what doesn't, perhaps why. You still need an interaction designer to translate these into solid design improvements.

Response from Kath Straub:
Ah... your observations are quite sharp and insightful... and certainly ones that serious practitioners should be considering, addressing, and adjusting for in their own work. After all, usability testing should be a form of controlled experimentation... If only applied research could be well designed laboratory research...

But the pendulum does swing both ways. At what point do we worry that controlled, balanced experimentation shifts us away from ecological validity in our findings? After all, as I explore a site (in my real world), I do get exposure to it... and that exposure has an impact on how I execute subsequent tasks.

To arrive at a (reasonable?) local minima, it's important that practitioners understand and apply rigorous scientific method to their testing designs. That is your point, right? And we agree on this point. I would be curious to know what proportion of the active user experience practitioners today have taken (and still remember the key points from) their experimental design course(s)?

That said, the point of the paper – at least the one we are hoping practitioners will take away – is that testing multiple designs (against each other) can yield a very different outcome than testing a single design (against itself?).
End of esponse from Kath Straub

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November, 2007 Meta-Usability:
– When the method is not the message.

With all due respect (and I mean that), is the term "gap" in this article a leading term? Perhaps replace "gap" with "overlap". For instance, Arnie Lund has said in his Journal of Usability Studies titled, Post Post-Modern Usability "...post post-modern usability is about shaping a practice that is a synthesis of the understanding of the user and context, and the growing understanding of the principles of how people interact with the world."

Your section titled, Practitioners, hear thyself... I fully agree with your bulleted list. On one of my projects, it was gratifying to hear a PM say, "If I'm on a project without usability, then I'm entering it as a project risk right away." It's funny though! While having met many successes doing the very things in your bulleted list, there will always be resistance to usability. The logic, ROI or the editing of usability jargon won't change the "real world". That's just too easy – it wants results and it doesn't matter how they get it!

Thanks for an engaging article!
Dawn Barber, SUPERVALU

I agree with this. However, unless the problem is familiar to the business or clearly visible, we may not have enough credibility without describing the methodology. But we should still do it in business terms.

Thanks for writing this article. The issue of how to link research, practice, and client's needs has motivated me for many years. How I have addressed this has changed, but in the end the inter-dynamics between different communities of practice has always dictated what could and what could not be accomplished.

My background is in art. In the mid to late 80's I started thinking about the impact that computers would have on some traditional art media, in particular painting and printmaking. I went through an MA and an MFA program at two different universities thinking about this, participating in interdisciplinary research labs, and articulating responses to what I anticipated would be a major crisis. But research, practice and users' needs seemed to be out of sinc, and resistances persisted despite the exponential development in digital technology.

Twenty years later I am finishing a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction and this issue is now at the center of my attention. Ironically, but seriously, my challenge now is to find ways to put my research into practice.
Romeu Bessa, Iowa State University

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October, 2007 Playing doctor?
Trends in health information seeking on the Web.

Great article on health care online. Very timely for a large project that we are doing right now. Thank you!
Jennifer Blake, Sutter Health

Good article. This confirms trends observed by other research on the same topic. The Mayo Clinic is another source used by consumers seeking health information from a neutral third party.
Hector Fernandes, Premera Blue Cross

The information was useful & I quite agree on the shift in trend from 2000 to 2005.
Subhrajit Majumder, Web18 Software Services Ltd

I think it's debatable as to whether the doctor really does know best. If you are talking about an allopathic paradigm, yes. But is that the best paradigm? For many people, the answer is no. A more holistic medical practice recognizes that treating symptoms through surgery or pharmaceuticals is often not the treatment of choice... educating the clients to change their lifestyle is far more effective in the long term.
Don Child, Health is Your Destiny

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August, 2007 The Art of Icons
– Where more realism is better, and why that's helpful.

This study may be helpful in preparing documentation for physical devices, but I don't know what this has to do with the more typical use of icons in software, where the image typically represents a virtual object or process, rather than anything physical the user is handling. For example, I would not conclude that a photo-realistic image of a folder will perform better for an "open" command than a simple line drawing of a folder. For small images, the photo may even perform worse because it tends to make the object harder to recognize. Furthermore, for this study, they had the luxury of using images "of the actual part." In software (and highway signage), the designer will not necessary know the precise folder, printer, wastebasket, or pedestrians the user experiences. Photos may include irrelevant details that can distract the user (e.g., photo shows a folder stuffed with text-bearing papers, but the user is looking for a folder holding only two jpegs). More abstracted representations of these objects may be less likely to conflict with the user's reality.
Michael Zuschlag

Does this mean that we should change our highway signage to pictures instead of symbols? For a first time learner, perhaps, but let's not forget about speed and accuracy, and the benefits of recognition over recall.
Chris Gielow, Cardinal Health

I would agree with Eric on the spatial positioning of icons. Using the new IE7 as an example, I am still struggling to find the reload button after months of use. The icon is clear enough, two arrows in a circular fashion, but the new position, to the right of the address bar, is not where my mind's eye looks for it. Moving the back button up and to the left a bit didn't affect me nearly as much.
Ruth Shapiro, CSC

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July, 2007 Serious Games
– On using simulation experiences to encourage desired behavior

I wonder how much of a time gap there were between when users played the virtual racing game and actually took the Vienna Risk Taking Test. I would speculate that if the users took the Vienna Risk Taking Test two weeks after playing the game (instead of right after), their risk-taking behavior would probably be equal to those who played the soccer game.
Thanh Nguyen, BusinessOnLine

Yes, I agree with the Author(s) findings. Especially in the paragragh discussing facing one's fears through graphical intervention or positive role playing. You know, just look up the word "playing" in the New Oxford American Dictionary.
Eric Stark, U.S.P.S.

I am curious how people who play shooter games or strategic games in which players build their own worlds and fight other worlds would score in the Vienna Risk Taking Test.

That is, is there a correlation between aggression and risk-taking? It is also curious whether people's personal risk-affinity in games is correlated to the results in the test. Do people who take great risks when playing such games take similarly great risks in life.
Dimiter Simov, Lucrat

The neural pathways for simulated or imagined activities are very similar to those for the actual activities. using those pathways over and over builds efficiencies that makes those actions, attitudes, and emotions more natural. The Army has been very successfully using simulations for many years in order to overcome soldiers natural resistance to killing other human beings.

Watching violent media and playing violent video games has also been shown (via fMRI) to reduce impulse control and critical thinking.

This effect is far more pronounced in children who's mental processes are more flexible than adults. Of course many media producers, including the MPAA and video game manufacturers, deny that media affects behavior.
John Moore, Human Experience Design

How timely. I was just thinking about how "games" can be substituted for risk management in-service programs and what type of games could be developed to do this. Do you know of any that have already been developed connected to risk management?
Glenna Schindler, Healthcare Services Group

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June, 2007 Understanding the persuasive flow
I completely agree with you guys. It's all about the context and the placement of these ads. Let's have a look at banks that promote their websites. Most ads do not have a context. Just the other day I was reviewing the online account management of a client website. These were the issues I encountered:
  1. Before enrolling for account access, the website doesn't have an enticing cue to enroll. The ideal thing to do is to provide an ad that talks about the benefits/features of online banking. Now that's a context.
  2. The website provided a number of ads in the online account management section which just cluttered the page. The focus was completely taken away from the main content on the page. Now this is not a context where you provide ads. In fact, the ads were for home equity loans, mortgage loans and credit cards.
My point here is that we need to create a "context" for ads. This is important as it engages a user since he/she would be already thinking about it.
Afshan Kirmani, Kern Communications Pvt. Ltd.
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May, 2007 Why "how many users" is just the wrong question

I have for years read the debates over which number of users is statistically significant, and yes the minimum of 5 has always been a safe bet. But seriously I don't see how increasing the number of tasks is more beneficial. I am a designer for applications for which I generally test a scope of tasks per feature and there is no need for more tasks when my goal is to a test specific set of features that can be completed with a finite set of tasks. Also the article references sites; in my experience the types of tests we perform to validate the usability of a site are often different than the types of measures used to test the usability of product applications. I think this distinction needs to be made.
Shilpa, HP

Can you please comment on the selling of this idea to clients – three groups of 6-12 participants. This would be helpful because every different user groups you recruit adds to the cost. Is it advisable to separate out as common tasks across groups and special tasks per specific group? Somewhere it also connects to the maturity of usability practice within an organization. Your recommendations can help practitioners in companies sell this to their own management or clients. If an end-to-end software solution provider needs the bandwidth to address usability in projects, are there more automatized tests or techniques that can be provided?

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April, 2007 Thin slicing: inside or outside the world of user experience?

My 2006 Ph.D. thesis was about credibility based company logo design. I was able to increase conversion rates 2x to 4x with a credibility based logo at first glance. My website has an article about this www.powerlogos.com. If anyone is interested call me at 1.808.922.4042 Hawaii Time after 9 am.
Bill Haig, Ph.D., Haig Branding

In his comments, Dr. Schaffer hints at the most important aspect of this phenomenon: intuition and instinct. Certainly our anthropology colleagues can attest to the use of intuition and instinct in our very survival from our genetic roots. That judgments are showing to be "amazingly accurate" is therefore not surprising. Our survival skills are now being triggered in the virtual world of the Web. The Web has obviously expanded the range of types of interactions people have in the virtual world. It's like we're in the savannah again, scanning our environment for opportunities and danger... I would guess that the visual link to instinct and intuition has been in place long before our language-based cognitive processing skills, and is therefore stronger and more well-developed. Indeed, we can all think of many times when our cognitive processing gets in the way of better performance – if you don't think too much, you end up doing better.

I think the traditional cognitive approach made sense when we were only designing applications that did specific things, and will still apply when we design for tasks.

To take thin slicing into account when designing the user experience, it sounds like a stronger tie between marketing, design and usability is implied. But what about testing? Beyond eye tracking, what are the best methods to test for the influence of thin slicing? I used an online A/B comparison survey to try to measure test participants' perceptions of two graphical treatments of a Web site against brand and heuristic values. The outcome was very interesting: there was not a clear "winner." However, one graphical treatment clearly engendered more trust, while the other engendered the sense of ease-of-use and fun. So it seemed to me that the conclusion was to use page elements from one version to convey trust (banner, specific use of graphics and color) balanced with screen elements from the second version to facilitate ease-of-use and scanning (effective grouping and white space, placement of most important information, clear layout). We don't have eyetracking software to confirm these conclusions so I hope I was on the right track...
Jennifer Fabrizi, MassMutual Financial Group

Users identify key elements necessary to establish "the trust factor," this could be security certification, brandname association etc. I would say brand perception adds to trustworthiness factor to certain extent. Once that is established, the focus shifts to making a decision. I think the art of UX design is to identify these key elements based on research and build the architecture such that it drives the user through the shortest and most linear way to execute the decision.
Vikram Hazra, Rogers

Thanks for another insightful article. The research is catching up with the beliefs we intuitively understood. Is there an equivalent to "thin slicing" for the IVR? What is the supporting literature? Here's an example from our experience: for a utility company we changed the voice when we wanted to provide confirmation of a transaction. We used a male voice to confirm a field visit and a different female voice to confirm a payment made. The change in voice and tone gave a message beyond the mere words.
Edward Glister, IBM

We often tout the use of a "5-second" test to judge a Web page's layout and architecture – i.e., if you can't figure out the purpose and structure of the page in 5 seconds or less, then it needs redesigning. Based on this research, maybe we should be thinking in terms of a half-second test.
Marc Silver, ETS

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March, 2007 Designing for "mature" users

Instead of placing users into arbitrary categorizations based on age, wouldn't it be more efficient to address this as an accessibility issue and not just a problem of "old" people? I'm personally offended by the implication that just because someone is "old" their vision is failing or they're becoming less intelligent than others who are less "mature". Yes, there are users who are visually impaired, have learning disabilities or possess motor control issues. But those things are not a condition of age! I feel these age classifications are poorly conceived and the author could have done a better job.
Dan Ford, Sigma Micro

Was it really necessary to label the age groups as "newly old" through "very old"? Wouldn't just specifying the age ranges have been enough? I stopped reading the article at that point because I found the labels offensive.
Lauren Hansen, JPMorgan Chase

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February, 2007 Do you see what I see?

A very interesting article. I keep telling colleagues that cultural differences go deeper than just "they talk and dress funny." It's much more complex, and fascinating.
Verna Dunn, BMC

An intriguing article! I'm a Canadian-born Japanese, born and raised in Canada all my life. After the picture test, I expected my "sight patterns" to resemble that of a North American. I was wrong! My sight pattern resembled my nationality! My parents are first-generation Japanese, and I was brought up in that style. Perhaps the first few years of our lives have a significant impact on how we see things for the rest of our lives?
Yuka, MMSI

I find this very interesting, particularly when thinking about corporate branding. Logos often consist of company name and a graphic such as a swirl or blob next to the text of the name. From reading this article it leads me to wonder if people from other nationalities would focus on the text or the graphic elements of the logo more?
Stephen Montgomery, Vivid Broadcast

I can across some interesting cultural issues recently during some work we carried out for a large global brand. Specifically we were designing instruction graphics that would need to be understood without translation. We were using icons to indicate the right and wrong way to complete tasks. Our research lead us to discover that western and eastern interpretation of common symbols are widely different. In Asia a circle stands for "good" while the western "tick" has no significance at all. Never underestimate the cultural nuance!
Frank Long, Frontend.com

Interesting but how does the gender differences of peripheral vision and acuity impact on this?
Keith White, Digital Content

I'm from India and have lived in the Middle East, and I'm pretty certain that the perception of everyday time in Asia is not cyclic. First, Asia covers a wide swath including Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, so try not to make generalizations about Asia. The Middle East and East Asia have very little in common, for example. It is true that Hinduism proposes that eras are cyclic, but not all Hindus take this literally or consider it at all. Each era is vastly longer than a person's lifetime, though, so it doesn't affect the everyday perception of time even among those who do take it literally.
Chris Martin, Avenue A | Razorfish

Could have added to the article if we had samples (print screens of Web sites) to support the article. Again visual senses prevail over all.
Laura, BCCL, India

1. The picture you gave at the beginning had no instructions about how long one was to examine it.
2. It was hard to decode some of the objects (clarity).
3. Having asked us to do you a favor by looking at the photo, it would be nice to know how others saw it.
Margaret Menzin, Simmons College

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January, 2007 What's your unconscious got to do with it?

In the section "So who's really in charge here?", I can recall tons of stores that use this method. McDonald's; having the inside unappealing to the customer so they will not stay, making it the "get and go" environment they seek. Americus Diamond; I can't walk in there without feeling the romance due to the music which results in me buying something for my girlfriend :O!

Businesses also tend to use the state-dependent memory method. Businesses will have an advertisement of happiness which tends to bring back memories of times when we were happy. A good example of this might be Kodak. The way they have brought the "Kodak moment" to people. The information you guys provided was very insightful – thanks!

p.s. I can explain EXACTLY why I made each purchase decision... I am a teen, who will eat anything/everything. :)
Matt Floyd

While it may be possible that the subconscious mind plays a role, the word "unconscious" by definition means that it is not aware at all and therefore cannot play a role in decisions.

Even to the extent that the subconscious is involved, it does not consist of something separate and mystical apart from the conscious mind. The subconscious consists of conscious decisions that are automated.

In the case of the German wine, if you had had German wine before and despised it, it would be in the realm of your consciousness and no amount of German music would make you consider it.

In respect to Wendy's comment: one of the more popular definitions of 'unconscious' that I have come across is... "done or existing without one realizing: he would wipe back his hair in an unconscious gesture of annoyance." ...So by that definition and considering that the phrase being used is the 'unconscious mind' rather than simply 'unconscious' it is highly plausible that our unconcious mind plays a role in our decision making processes. After all when we sleep our mind is in an unconscious state, and we still are able to dream.

Excellent information !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Martina Lexner, IBM

Closely related (but approaching it from another point of view): the "top ten" book of Barry Schwarz "The Paradox of Choice" – a must-read for those interested in choice and decision.
Paul Hubert Vossen, I-SQUARE

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December, 2006 What did we learn this year?
Thanks for such a broad summary of key research – I'd say what a time saver, but that would imply that I would have done this on my own. Good job!
Mike Hughes, IBM Internet Security Systems
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November, 2006 Can one build a Web site or application that engenders trust?

I enjoyed the write up about trust on the Web. My sense is that usability certainly plays a big part in trusting a company when you visit their Web site. After all, if you can't find what you need and understand what you read on a Web site, you're certainly going to wonder whether the company that created that site knows or cares anything about you!

But I think trust on the Web goes beyond navigation, layout, fonts, colors, and content. I often look at testimonials from customers (with real names), and I look at whether the company offers any personal information about its executive staff. That's something that I really appreciate about the HFI Web site – the "big wigs" all provide their pictures, along with friendly, personal information about themselves. This makes them look and feel like real human beings who actually care about something more than profit and loss statements – they care about people. And I can trust someone who cares about people!
Martha Roden

Interesting piece, thanks for putting it together.

I think some general principles about the nature of trust may help here. In my work (sources cited below) I have found useful the Trust Equation--a formulation of the components of being trustworthy: (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / (Self-orientation).

In this approach, credibility has to do with issues like clarity, reputation, credentials, transparency – things that help us believe what is being said.

Reliability, by contrast, has to do not with words but with actions. It talks about track record, predictability, breadth of usage, and again reputation.

Intimacy has to do with security – am I comfortable sharing this information with this person, will they know how to treat it, will they know when it should be passed on and when held confidential, discretion, sensitivity.

But the fourth factor – the one in the denominator – is the most powerful. It has to do with motives. Why are you doing what you are doing, and to whom are you paying attention? If the answer is, yourself, then I do not trust you. If the answer is 'me,' then to that extent I do trust you.

Most of those traits – the one exception being reliability – are traits that affect interpersonal relations, not institutional relations. Trust is largely human and personal, not corporate.

This suggests that the ideal Web site would have some combination of the following attributes:

  1. Clear in its logic and visuals
  2. Annotated, sourced, linked
  3. A track record of past success
  4. Testimonials that are identifiable
  5. Clear statement of benefits to users
  6. Transparency about economic model of the seller or web host
  7. Customizable
  8. Transparency about all information
  9. Easy access to all models of communication (e.g. links to email, phone, blog, online)
  10. Make comparisons available to comparable sites

Others I'm sure will draw further implications from the general principles. (I am a speaker and consultant, co-author of The Trusted Advisor (Free Press, 2000), and author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005). More at www.trustedadvisor.com)
Charles H. Green, Trusted Advisor Associates

One of the major drivers of trust is customer satisfaction. When your company does not deliver the product as seen/promised (as is the case in many e-commerce sites), users lose trust in you, however user-centered your design! What is crucial to remember here is that trust is not just limited to the interface but spreads across everything related to the product.

I'm surprised, or maybe not so surprised, to see no mention in this article of source citation as a trust factor in Web design.

I think this poses an interesting question when it comes to online content in general. Do design factors compensate for the legitimacy of information when it comes to trusting health, financial, and other research information on line?

Too often I think Web designers sacrifice citing sources for design. I appreciate that this Website provides clear citation for its sources.
Laura Damkoehler, ELM Resources

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October, 2006 Narrative presentation and building brands

Thanks for newsletters.

Yes, I have seen the effect of narrative presentation in my current project. As mentioned in this article, we know the power of Personas and Scenarios in the UCD (User-Centered Design) process. Now I have experienced the power of stories in requirements documentation. As part of Agile methodology, requirements wrote as stories gave better results for developers, testers and project stakeholders. We observed that short stories are more effective than lengthy stories.
Rajesh Kalidindi

Thanks for the newsletters.

I have appreciated getting them. As a fellow researcher, I'd like to make a comment on this one. You quote statistical significance below without giving any quantitative information about the size of the effect. Does the narrative style result in 2% more narrative processing of the information or 50% more? Either could potentially be statistically significant at the .001 level, but would have a different impact on how much folks should worry about presenting info in a narrative way.

Well, my two cents anyway.
Hank Zucker, Ph.D., Creative Research Systems

Stories are primary means of communicating someone's message/s. When users are kids the complexities of the narratives are simple and with direct focus. As we grow up the stories get intricate and messages within them also get interdependent. This helps to build the curiosity level and so are desirable, interesting. It is also observed that things which are interesting attract attention and the result is people understand them as they concentrate more and are eager to understand the semantics.

Best examples can be novels, emotional advertising, family oriented serials. This formula of narratives has been in use for a long time. Why do we like Mark Twain and we remember his poems even long after our schooling? Maybe he is more successful in creating the curiosity though the use of words which compel people to visualize the environment he wants to portray.

Human progress can be observed as built around the fact that he was/is and will be curious about the world around him. I think the more the level of curiosity, the more are the chances of being a successful story.
Rajesh Ghodke, Philips Design

I agree that narrating any topic in a story engages people and makes them remember the events in the story with topic under discussion. I have used this method while I was a teaching assistant during my graduate studies. I also use this technique in my current job. Nice reading. The article itself was written in a storyboard.
Raghavendra S. Rao, eRT

We are wanting to use our personal family stories and I was pleased to read that this is an effective way to recruit more families. The human touch goes a long way to sell an "I can do it" idea...
Wanda Lamb, Shasta County Foster Care and Adoption

Interesting piece - thank you. I'd like to have read more about narrative as it might play into the design of web interfaces, so as to encourage greater interaction, enjoyment, and - of course - increased propensity to buy. Will be exploring the works referenced. Thanks again.
Alastair Middleton

Great article. I would like to see real life examples of where narratives have been used in the business world.
Maleka Ingram, Intel Corp

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September, 2006 Knowing what the buyers want, when they want it

This is very interesting! Two comments:
(1) There has been some research conducted on the effect of "frame" on decision-making (i.e., whether the question is posed in a positive or negative frame). My colleagues and I are currently involved in an experiment to determine the effects of frame on decision-making.
(2) In the context of Ho and Tam's study, the "negative" tone deals more with "you should buy now, 'cause you are about to lose something you'd like," rather than a bad/negative attitude on the part of the seller (or agent). We all deal with the pressure of a "negative" pitch to buy, when we ask ourselves, "shall I buy this item now, since it's the only one of its kind available? (...and someone else may buy it out from under me if I don't get it myself...)" and/or, "shall I buy this now, 'cause the price will be higher the next time I come back?" Note: Amazon.com seems to have implemented this "negative pressure" quite effectively (and not offensively) with their "Gold Box" strategy.
- Thanks for the food for thought in this article!
Bonnie Hautamaki, Alion Science and Technology

So, it's an interesting study, but since when is usability the same thing as pushing sales? To me, there's clearly a difference between making it easy for users to pursue what they want/need/expect from your site and applying sales pressure. I feel like if this is what I'm interested in, I should be reading self-help books that sleazy sales people might read to trick people into buying. I'm sure the same principles will apply. Ick!
Diana Ryan, Rockwell Collins

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August, 2006 Heatwave! Leveraging heat maps (and other eye tracking data) to refine your information architecture

I agree completely with Dr. Schaffer. I think its major value is for marketing, rather than usability assessment. Given the kind of cost-benefit considerations that govern the business world, I don't see how I could justify the time, effort, and expense.
Howard Tamler, AMDOCS

Excellent article. Visual eye movement map example very useful. Passing article to our webmasters as reference for future Home Page design implementation. Thank you for useful information.
Michael K. B. Warner, Joint Transformation Command - US Military

Thank you Eric for just plain common sense.
Jack Bellis, UsabilityInsititute.com

It will be great if you can post some information on how to analyze data from eye-tracking studies. For instance, how do we know if a spot is hot because the information in that spot is perceived as important or because the user requires a longer time to understand the presented information? I suppose that such an article would be nice.

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July, 2006 Is usability testing as we know it about to radically change?
– new trends in usability testing.

I thought Susan’s article was fantastic: a concise, timely and relevant summary of academic research that may influence future directions in our field.

I wanted to also point out that in market research in Australia, at least, they are starting to use neuroscience to gauge reactions to things (e.g. advertisements) in much the way that Susan alludes to in her response to Question 5. See this link, for example.

I have concerns about the usefulness of such data and the quality of the resulting analysis (much as I do with eye tracking) but I thought you might be interested nonetheless.

Finally, thank you for a consistently great read.
Jessica Enders, The Hiser Group

One thought on the generalizability of the West and Lehman paper. They used SAS employees from marketing and UI design groups. I realize they did this for expediency's sake. However, I wonder whether less techy, communications oriented people would provide as good a qualitative feedback in their typed in automated test comments. I was little suspicious when I saw a few of the verbatims seemed more descriptive than what I might expect test participants from the public at large might say. I might not expect references such as "easy to find the dialog" and "in order to commit the changes" from the public at large. Also, at least in the examples given, some were very descriptive task focused - almost what I'd expect a usability engineer to do when describing a problem. It'd be nice to see the study done with a broader recruiting profile.
John Bierschwale, Quest Software

People looking for another perspective on "QUESTION #4: USABILITY TESTING = THE THINK-ALOUD TECHNIQUE?" should read relevant sections of "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell.
David Robertson, Petro-Canada

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June, 2006 Oh, that kind of better... On the trade-off between feature-laden and usable
– the disparity between what consumers think they need and what they can actually use.

This illustrates well the lack of awareness humans have of the difference between their behavior and their desires.

Every workday in my software world, I'm working with marketing focusing on the customer desires and tech support working on customer behavior. I'm working on features that profile a user's behavior and then ask the users if they are interested in things that match their behavior.

I'd like for my teams to have a common understanding... focus on users' desires for the sake of the buy AND focus on the use for the sake of keeping the customer. I supposed I can clearly see how we could go wrong just focusing on the customer desires (adding more and more features), but could we go wrong just focusing on the use? My mind puts the use as a higher priority because of the positive word of mouth generated.
Abraham Williams

I purchased a Motorola wireless phone system on Monday. It will be returned today because its usability is dismal. To add insult to injury, the instruction books has errors (e.g., install 4 AAA batteries in the base unit but it takes 4 AA batteries instead). Lots of text explaining advanced features for which I have no need, but no mention of how to make a simple telephone call or what to do when the phone rings and you wish to answer it. Nothing, absolutely nothing said and guess what? I could not figure out how to answer the phone when it rang! Unbelievable but true.
Peter Carstensen

Not every consumer has the "PC mentality." I recently experienced the cell phone dilemma when trying to use my son's phone. Not very intuitive... especially the power-on button. I deal with user interfaces a lot and have developed a user interface for operation of a test station. Surprising how others view what may seem to you as obvious.
Bill Shelton, Lockheed Martin

April, 2006 If yuo can raed this yuor brian wroks... Debunking urban legends with usable explanations

– how too much educating is not always the best way to get your point across.

It is interesting having looked into this urban legend, however I approach this theory from a marketing point of view and argue, it's readable and diffferent than what the brain is expecting to see, so it draws the eye. I'd be interested in feedback regarding the theory that because the text is different than what the brain expects, the eye is more likely to be drawn to the text.
Sarla Holmes, Gordon Institute of TAFE

Kath, thanks for addressing this issue. This email has been bugging me for a long time. Your third point, about the "adaptability of people" is the reason poorly designed interfaces are still with us. A very well written article, Ron.
Ron Sova, Sova Consulting

Useful article. Many times in my field, QA Usability Testing, I hear this same argument– "but the design works", "we can find the information", "it works as designed". Strenuous arguments including logic don't always convince. A couple of examples of ways "they" might have trouble using the interface do work! As my late, great grandma said, "It depends on whose ox is being gored!"
Elianna James, NetLibrary

That darned language study:

I have actually sent debunking e-mails once or twice. But the debunking e-mail has to be right. The usual version of the "study result" is that as long as you leave the first and last letter of each word in the right place, the order of the other letters does not matter. If you stick to sentences made up of short words, this is quite difficult to disprove with an example – with a four-letter word, only one "wrong" spelling is possible. You have to use an example with long words to show that the length of words can have a sacgnnnftiiit [significant] effect on the practical value of the conclusion.
Peter Biddlecombe, KODAK Dental Systems

Here's something I agree with violently...
Howard Tamler, Amdocs Product Group

Good article. Dr. Schaffer makes a good point when he relates the jumbled words to business consequences. I think a jumbled interface will have a negative effect on the interface, very unprofessional.

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March, 2006 When getting the job done isn't enough... How insight into users' process makes interactions more satisfying
– how the types of data you collect in a usability test can effect the impact of your redesign recommendations.

"Often the biggest value of usability work is a change in process, strategy, or psychological positioning." Indeed, beyond the realm of 'usability' this is the biggest design gap for all business activities/interactions. How might we focus more work/discussion in this area?
Paula Thornton
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February, 2006 Where are you when I need you??? (or... Ending the search for search)

– users' expectations of where items should be placed on your Web page.

I feel "Login" and "Logout" are also significant links worth a mention. To speak about my own experience, I expect the "Logout" link to be located in the top-right corner of the screen, similar to the Gmail Web site. I think it is very logical for us to expect the "Logout" in this place because we think and read from left to right. May be for an Urdu Web site, the user expectation will be exactly opposite.
Narendra Singhal, Reliance Industries, Ltd.

This follow-up study is tremendously helpful for practitioners. I'd like to see "login" added to the list of common Web objects studied in the future. Thanks for this very applied research.
Michelle Bejian Lotia, University of Michigan

A simple tool for helping others understand that it's not where they "think others will think" site visitors will look – but where they *actually do* look. Making the science of usability easy for project stakeholders to understand as critical to design success is job #1!

Thank you for sharing this.
Rebecca St. Martin, Web Sites That Fly

Anticipating people's expectations is the hardest part of creating an intranet site. I have help developed and organized some for both Deloitte and Arthur Andersen, including working with Jim Voorhies at Deloitte. There truly is a fine line between location, graphics, content and speed. All four must be in play.
Christopher J. Dove, Baker & McKenzie

When an Enterprise application needs to be developed, it is absolutely imperative that the Menu or internal links should never be displayed on left or right. It should always be in Top [Horizontal], this gives lot of real estate and a flexibility to improve the usability.
Chetan Murthy, ArisGlobal

Thanks for this great article. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade a creative client that his idea for a "cool way to set up the navigation" may not make users very happy. Over and over, I have pointed to your research for support. The best design is often the most obvious, clear design. Thank you!
Kimberly Kubalek, Kubalek.com

Hmm... having the 'participants' paste in items is, I believe, less precise than than using eye tracking to actually see where they look when you prompt them to do a particular task. Maybe these results have not changed because of your methodology where you got what you expected to get?

Thanks for the food for thought.
Scott Lary

Participants used in the research were undergrad. students. The research tell us the nature of the structure those sites have. Result for 'About us' are bit surprising. Maybe it comes from students looking at more college and university sites where they do have HTML links at the bottom. Back-to-home is on the spot. Wondering if the researchers probed further to tell us if it was the logo.

I hope people looking at this research would understand the user profile and not generalize the research.

I am not sure about the number look. What are we referring to here.

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January, 2006 Selling older users short
– the use of the Internet and hand-held devices by older adults and the impact on user interface design.

Apparently, they failed to find my 68 year old mother when they did the research on this. She is a nightmare with the computer. She panics about everything...'why is that green light on...how do i get the curser from THERE and put it THERE...is email the same as the internet...' and no matter how hard we try, she just doesn't learn. she gets frustrated and then we do, as well. she just does not understand the whole concept. therefore, i really disagree with this article. give my mother a call and you'll feel the same way.
Judith Sgro

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October, 2005 Is Beauty the new usability attribute?
– the interaction of Aesthetics and Usability.

Interesting article. "...a beautiful interface that seemed like a good idea at the time becomes less appealing if it's not usable... However, when getting stuff done matters, perceived usability – judged through usage over time – is what matters most."

The one thing that isn't mentioned is the other side of this coin, which goes to the heart of the differences in approach between usability work and design work. If a site that is imminently usable but unattractive to the user is compared with another site that is equally usable but more attractive, which gets used more?

Until usability practitioners and designers can join forces to create the best of both worlds, we continue to fail our users.
Jim Voorhies, Deloitte

As a Chief Creative Officer of an interactive agency, we're trying hard to identify PrEmo models and try to see how impact on a mood once an action is taken. As interactive projects are more reactive than any other communications pieces, I wonder how can a system be built that responds to users moods...
Sergio Barrientos

One of the great things about Don Norman's book is that he speaks of emotional responses (not of beauty) as something that happens at 3 different levels. These levels exist along different time periods and thus means that while visceral emotional responses can be tested in most usability studies, behavioral and reflective emotional responses occur over a much broader time frame and thus a lab setting does not afford this level of testing, unless you repeat and compare testing results over time.

Now I would also argue that aesthetics exist at many levels within a User Experience and the presentation layer is but one piece. I recommend people check out my "Whiteboard" column in the May/June 2005 edition of ACM <interactions> on the complexity of aesthetics in interaction design.
David Heller, Synaptic Burn

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September, 2005 Fine-tuning your Internet deception detectors
– how people detect, and often miss, Web site fraud.

1) Wikipedia's definition is slightly misleading: phishing is a special case of carding, which can include many aspects of credit card fraud, rather than a synonym, while spoofing has many other meanings in computer security.

2) The application of the concepts of assurance cues and trust cues is important in this context, but it applies in many Internet contexts. The really interesting question is why 419s and chainmail/hoaxes, which are usually crudely engineered compared to the "better" phishing and money mule recruitment scams and have been around a lot longer, continue to reel in so many victims. There are many reasons for this, but clearly long-term publicity and education hasn't stopped people being distracted by trust cues in these contexts.

3) Practical solutions are (or would be) highly desirable. But the examples of creative thinking (eBay and PayPal) are also examples of heavily phished organizations confusing the end user with the mixed signals that result when understanding of the problems is not uniform across all staff – classically, there is often an enormous dissonance between security and marketing personnel. Many phished organizations compound the problem by using email distribution practices that blur the distinction between phish and legitimate marketing mail.
David Harley, NHS Connecting for Health

Your article provided some important and very helpful information – thank you.
Linda Jo

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August, 2005 Much ado about sex and Web sites... or why it's still important to know who your users are
– recent research on the effect of designer gender on Web site design.

Thank you for the gender/age/education differences insight into design. As an educator of high school students this is a key point in helping me and my students decide how to present critical content is our school web page projects.
Brian Kerr, Vancouver School Board

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July, 2005 When discount usability misleads management
– a solution – the difference between finding usability problems and predicting success rates.

Terrific article and a real service to call attention to Sauro's work and practical Web site. The HFI newsletters consistently provide insightful, dare I say useful, summaries and perspectives to the practicing professional. And they are free! May they bring you many eager customers. Thanks
John Imms, DST Systems

Very good article. It is important to understand when communicating the meaning of our testing results.
Robert Thompson, Option One Mortgage Company

A very thought-provoking article about how to communicate usability results (and set expectations) for tests with low numbers of participants. Having a high-level understanding of statistics, I really appreciate having the tool to use to calculate confidence intervals, too.
Dann Nebbe, Principal Finacial Group

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May, 2005 When what they see is what you get - but satisficing isn't enough

– the importance of effective detailed design.

I found this article very interesting. I have experienced the Window-to-five set-up often in such areas as skills selections on Web sites, as well.

I definitely agree with Dr. Schaffer. The use of a particular presentation method has to be dictated by the user mental model and the data taxonomy (AKA the content model). It seems that some designers simply build a list of data items without thought to categorizing them. The repetition of seemingly identical data points in these instances will cause even more frustration. Thanks for the information and for letting me put in my 2 cents.
Michael Bradshaw, Indian Health Service

Right on! Unfortunately there are tons and tons of poorly designed Web pages (and interactive forms on all sorts of other, non-Web platforms) that suffer because of such poor selection-list design. Little things DO matter, a lot!
Tony Austin, Asia/Pacific Computer Services

Yes, we can never again make that selection casual. Sure, the study shows surveys can be biased. But this can be said also in the case of a general opinion topic. But in case a user has to select his education level – he has to anyway go to the right option in the radio button one or in the scroll down window. So there are so many dimensions to design, and each design solution is a unique case altogether and very difficult to standardize.
Laura Fernandez, Times Group

This article was very useful for me! I am teaching the Usability Essentials and told my class about this new research finding on labels being even more relevant to navigational usability than structure. Thanks for this!!
Marjolijn Verbeek, Capgemini

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April, 2005 Making it findable

– the relative importance of user-centered labels and structure.

Actually, except for the state streets that run diagonally, Washington DC is a logical, diamond-shaped grid with each quadrant mirroring the one opposite to it. The Capitol is in the centre of the diamond. Horizontal streets are alphabetized and vertical streets are numbered, all starting from the center point (the Capitol). So the Capitol is boxed by 1st and A Streets NE, SE, SW, and NW and the letters and numbers increase accordingly as you move further away in any direction.
S. Dwyer

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November, 2004 Observer Effects in Usability Testing... or, how to collect data without messing it up
– The effect of the observer on usability testing and the differing results between laboratory and unmoderated remote testing.

Enjoy your newsletter, as always. A comment concerning the use of the retrospective think-aloud method, with video or without. I find myself a bit concerned about using this method. Has it been tested several times to:

  • discover to what degree participants' recall of task performance is fuzzy, even right after the test is over? Perhaps video usage helps reduce this problem, but I wonder if many participants are really able to replay complex series of thoughts and emotions they encounter when testing a site. Although this is not a great analog, I've read recently that trauma victims' recall of the trauma experience is not a direct replay, although they may perceive it to be accurate. Time's passage and other factors color/limit what they recall.
  • see to what degree participants will make up parts of what they report afterwards, in an effort themselves to understand and justify their behavior? To what degree will what they report be new interpretations of what happened?

Don't know how much these factors impact this method, but the potential threats are at least something that I would stick in as a caveat in a test report. Otherwise, this article is such a keeper and should help as we decide what sort of testing to do on future redesigns.
Natalie Ferguson, MA, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Excellent information on observer effects that should be followed.

However, one brief point: let's remember that the folks who assist us in our research efforts are to be referred to as "participants" and not as "subjects". The APA publication manual (fifth edition, 2001) refers to subjects in its grammatical essence (i.e., subject-verb agreement) and "participants" as humans.

Dr. Sorflaten used "subjects" 40 times in the newsletter. Kudos to Janni Nelson and Dr. Schaffer for their adherence to APA guidelines!

Further, as I sat in my cube this morning, I overheard a self-proclaimed expert in research methods and statistics remark that the "subjects" in their study... Need I say more?
Victor J. Ingurgio, Ph.D., Human Factors Laboratory, Atlantic City International Airport

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July, 2004 Adaptive Menu Design
– How to select the best menu presentation style for a given application.

It should also be noted that when users interact with folding menus that require the extra click to see all the choices, they will be less inclined to try menu items which they are less familiar with. This does not make them better users because they are not regularly experimenting with new ways to improve there routine. It can also be said that as they continue on a routine with limited choices they may in fact get so efficient at it that their speed may rival the better ways of doing it. So this may be a mute point.
John Smith

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June, 2004 Cracking Password Usability... Exploiting human memory to create secure and memorable passwords
– This newsletter looks at a novel approach to password creation.

Hi, I enjoyed reading this, and I would like to share a system that I have for making passwords easy to remember, but also secure, because you won't need to use the same password for everything (which is risk that I don't think was mentioned in the article) as they can be different for every site or other things that you need a password for.

Here is my method:

1) Come up with an opening and a closing phrase of numbers or symbols e.g. "99" and "__"

2) Next choose a word that is relevant to the website e.g. the website's name, or a word that describes the contents of the website that is obvious to you.

3) Jumble that word up in a predetermined manner, and make sure to jumble up all future passwords in the same way to keep things simple e.g. spell the word backwards, or always swap the first and last letters around. This is to throw off dictionary hackers.

4) Put the jumbled up word between the two phrases you came up with before. So you could get "99elpmaxe__" (example is spelt backwards).

In conclusion, the great thing about this is that you can practically crack your own passwords if you've forgotten them, because you have got a system to work it out with. This has never let me down - I have a different password for each site, and I could tell you all of them easily if you showed me the website name. I hope this all made sense, may seem a bit complicated, but trust me, it's simple when you get to know it.
Oliver Cowton

A lot of money will go to the persons who can solve this problem.
Jim Lutterbach, PE, RW Armstrong

No matter how clever the suggestions for creating passwords, most people can't do it successfully. They either write them down or forget them!

Here is an alternative that understands usability. Rather than relying on the user to memorize (which he is bad at), it uses the fact that the strongest form of memory is recognition – in particular, recognition of a human face, once it is familiar. I have attached a paper on the science behind this technology and would love to hear your reaction.

Best way to see for yourself is to try it. The demo takes 5 minutes and shows how intuitive this new idea is. Users love it. Nothing to recall, nothing to write down. All around its more reliable and secure than passwords. The help desk calls fall to near zero.www.realuser.com.
Patricia Lareau, Real User Corporation

"Secure and memorable. Pick 1." is not right....

There is a better and secure way to create a password. It depends not just upon your ability to remember strings, but rather depends on the ability to construct a string.

Take a date, like your birthdate 2-16-62
And a name, like your mom's name - mary

The secure, constructible password is the alternation of characters from these two strings.


It can't be guessed and is not subject to a dictionary attack. I learned this from some security folks in a long forgotten article.
Jack Grimes, GimesOnline.com

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May, 2004 Enough is Enough... but five probably isn't:
– Evaluating the "test-five-users" guideline

Regarding the "Is 5 Enough?" debate in your newsletter.

If you are the only interaction designer and usability professional in a company of 400 people, AND no one really thinks usability tests are important or wants to free up additional resources to conduct the tests... then believe me ... 5 is definitely better than none! Five people still find more usability problems than zero people.
Martha Roden, Usability Engineer, CoCreate Software Inc.

As always, I enjoyed the newsletter. I guess I can understand the frustration with the recurring question of sample sizes for usability studies, but it can be an important issue, and the various explorations of it have enhanced our understanding of some of our practices (or at least led to some interesting discussions).

I've ordered the Faulkner paper, and am looking forward to reading it. It sounds similar in method and results to a paper that I published in 2001:

Lewis, J. R. (2001). Evaluation of procedures for adjusting problem-discovery rates estimated from small samples. Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 13, 445-479.

I was a little surprised that you didn't mention the paper that I published in Human Factors in 1994:

Lewis, J. R. (1994a). Sample sizes for usability studies: Additional considerations. Human Factors, 36, 368-378. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised because it doesn't get mentioned that much. I don't promote my work as well as Jakob Nielsen, and Bob Virzi was the first to publish the results of a Monte Carlo study on the topic (HFES Proceedings in 1990, then the HF article in 1992). I also think that I might not have received as much mention because my message wasn't as optimistic or simple. Basically, the message was that the sample size you need depends on the problem discovery rate (p). If p is large, then you don't need very many people to discover the problems available for discovery. If p is small, then you need a larger sample. An ROI simulation indicated that the appropriate target for the proportion of problems to discover also depended on the value of p, with higher values having a break-even point at around 98% and lower values of p having a break-even point at around 86% (it's important to keep in mind that these values might depend on the assumptions made for the simulation -- but I think they are still informative). The data I reported in Lewis (1994) had p=.16, so to get to 86% problem discovery, I needed to run 12 participants (I actually ran 15). It's interesting (perhaps coincidental) that this is the number that Dr. Schaffer suggested in his part of the newsletter.

Another finding from Lewis (1994) that might have been discouraging to practitioners was that I didn't find any relationship between problem impact (or severity, using a behavioral scale rather than observer judgments) and frequency. In other words, my data showed severe problems being discovered at the same rate as non-severe problems.

Something that people always seem to forget (and this is something that I heard Jakob Nielsen try to drive home at a UPA panel session) is that the use of small-sample usability tests is bound to iterative testing. If you're not iterating, then small samples don't make much sense. By the time you finish testing, you should have tested a relatively large number of participants -- not just five! The reason to run multiple small samples (especially in the early stages of evaluating a design) is that certain problems emerge early and there is often general agreement among human factors engineers and developers regarding the reality of the observed problems and the need to fix them. Why would you continue running participants when you know in advance that they have a very high likelihood of encountering the known problems? Continuing to test under those circumstances is potentially wasteful of resources, slows down your ability to find out if the fixes you have in mind will actually fix the problem and not create any others, and there might even be an ethical consideration about needlessly frustrating participants.

As you repair problems, the likelihood of discovering additional problems should fall until the problems are appearing almost at random -- what I sometimes think of as problem foam. The early problems seem to have more structure and consistency than the later problems (which will usually, almost by definition, have a lower likelihood of occurrence than the early problems). Thus, the more mature a product becomes, the larger your sample size will need to be to discover the remaining problems (but, hopefully, there are fewer problems available for discovery -- and I don't think that any of us believe that it is possible to discover all usability problems). This suggests a strategy of starting with small samples, then increasing sample sizes as you continue iterating. Another advantage of shifting from small to large samples is that as you approach the end of the development cycle, the importance of global task measures (task completion rates, task completion times, user satisfaction measures) becomes more important -- especially if you have set up targets for these measures to use as a stopping rule for the iterative test-redesign-retest process, as larger samples lead to more precision in these types of measurements.

It's a shame that practitioners sometimes latch onto simple but misleading rules of practice. Thanks for tackling these topics in the newsletter.

James R. (Jim) Lewis, Ph.D., CHFP Senior Human Factors Engineer, IBM Pervasive Computing Division

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April, 2004 Tell Me the Story... The unifying role of scenarios in conceptual design
– The importance of scenarios in user interface design.

This is a brilliant piece that needs a permanent link to many individuals' list of "important stuff."

In years past, while I've recommended Carroll's book for reference, I wasn't 'happy' with his approach. I still haven't moved past the 'intuitive' nature of this disturbance to identify the issues. I do know that there was still a strong aire of Systems Engineering as a discipline that concerned me. In the experiment we called "Internet speed" we threw out all of the disciplines (admittedly most of the resources were so young they'd never been exposed to the disciplines) and survived quite well. That's not to say that over time some of the disciplines wouldn't have been helpful...but we're talking just a few.

I fundamentally believe there is an economic (continuum/balance of choice) principle at play here that is largely ignored: the longevity/criticality of the effort. If you're building a system to keep airplanes in the sky, lives are at stake. If you're building a system to keep the Federal Monetary system moving, you're keeping financial disasters at bay. I've lived through far too many efforts that lived less than 6 months to a year after they were implemented (or worse, never saw the light of day). Wouldn't those efforts have been better served with less rigorous disciplines? Or, perhaps, if they had been implemented in a more flexible approach, they might not have been shelved in the first place?

Unlike the fields of engineering and architecture, where lives are nearly always at stake, in our field of endeavor, we have to step away from the situation and realize that some projects simply do not command/deserve the rigor that many want to apply to them.
Paula Thornton

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October, 2003 Decisions, Decisions... What's a poor user (and designer) to do?
– Can thoughtful information design help users make better consumer choices?

This was a great issue. Case in point, compare the Toyota car site with the Honda car site. I was looking for a car recently, and mainly want to choose between Toyota and Honda. The Toyota car site allows me to rank all their models vs. cost or mpg or seating. The Honda site only shows price in a comparison screen. Living in LA makes mpg critical information. I felt much more inclined to go buy a Toyota car because I feel like their site gives me the decision criteria I need in an easy to find format.

Toyota: click on the top bar Vehicles, then Model selector
Honda: and click on the Honda icon on the right, and then select the all models link on the right
Dara McLaughlin, Project Webmaster, Boeing IDS

I've long used a "compensatory decision process" without knowing it was called that, and for large decisions will use a spreadsheet. I see "satisficing" as either consistent with that process, or at the very worst lazy, but not naturally at odds.

It seems to me that comparison shopping has value – either positive or negative – in the decision process the same as other factors listed: It takes time, and can be either enjoyable or not. Depending on the perceived value of time in a situation, people will behave differently.

Comparison shopping for food items by price has a positive value for the lower income shopper. Comparison shopping for ingredients has a positive value for the health-conscious consumer. It has a negative value based on the time investment for the person on lunch hour, where a decision NOW means more time for the individual.

Comparison shopping for hobby items such as fishing reels almost always has a positive value, because hobbies are essentially pastimes and the shopping process extends the pursuit without substantially increasing the cost.

The goal should be for a Web site designer or business owner to first define their clientele and facilitate the process accordingly. The Tire Rack is a good example. The consumer can simply identify their car and their climate, and get two or three recommendations and an order form. The enthusiast can spend days searching the database of specifications and reviews, and even see how the choice will look on their car.
Ray Williamson, Consulting Engineer

September, 2003 Pitting Usability Testing Against Expert Review
– When to use usability testing and when to use heuristic review.

I have to say that I find it totally unsurprising that the quality of the evaluator is the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of usability evaluation, regardless of the method.

We've known for thirty years in software development that quality of personnel was (by at least a factor of 4) the most important thing affecting the quality of the resulting product. Things like software development methods and tools are known to have roughly a 10-20% impact on metrics such as speed of delivery or errors in final product. It therefore would be unsurprising to see a similar result in the HCI field.
Alan Wexelblat

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August, 2003 Are We There Yet? Effects of Delay on User Perceptions of Web Sites
– Recent research on how download times affect user perceptions of your Web pages.

The Aug. '03 Update was very interesting. We all know that "slow is bad," but some of the specific relationships between expectations, perceptions and reality are eye-opening – for example, the perception that slow sites are less secure. I hadn't heard that one before. The August update made me think of two other studies that neither patently agree nor disagree but, rather, support the notion we hear a lot in usability land: It Depends.


From The Truth About Download Time, by Christine Perfetti, User Interface Engineering:

"It seems that, when people accomplish what they set out to do on a site, they perceive that site to be fast.

If people can't find what they want on a site, they will regard the site as a waste of time (and slow). But, when users successfully complete tasks on a site, they will perceive their time there as having been well spent.

We're wondering: When users are complaining about the download speed of your site, what are they actually complaining about? Are you better off making the site load faster or ensuring that users complete their tasks?"


And from Aesthetics and Usability: A Look at Color and Balance, by Laurie Brady and Christine Phillips:

"This appears to support the idea that user satisfaction is related more to successful navigation than aesthetic appearance. However, when asked to predict which of the four sites the users thought would be the easiest to use, they ranked the aesthetically pleasing site the highest."

What I like about this article is the notion that good structure *actually* helps users be successful, while good appeal helps users *feel* they will be successful (which may impact their actual success on the site and their post-use perception of the site).

Just my two cents.
Pat Malecek, CUA User Experience Manager, A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.

Good summary, you neglected to mention/cite my new book, "Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization" which is all about this subject and cites the papers you cite (and other newer ones). The first chapter is devoted to this subject (summarizes and distills current research)
Andy King

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July, 2003 Press 8 for Natural Language: The Future of IVRs
– The pros and cons of "natural language" interactive voice response systems.

Congratulations on your excellent write-up on an important issue in the design of telephone voice user interfaces in your UI Design Update, July 2003!

You discuss an important tradeoff: a more "directed" dialogue, which steers callers towards saying just a few words, vs. an "open-ended" dialogue, which (seemingly) opens up the caller to say anything they like. The truth is that even with such "open-ended" prompts, what callers really do say is within a quite well bounded subset of general language, and only that fact makes it possible to develop systems that accurately interpret responses to open-ended prompts.

So how can usability specialists decide the best approach to improving the user experience? Should they focus on tuning the voice recognition system, or on re-engineering/enhancing the dialogue.

I'd like to point out that some of the questions raised at the end of the essay have already been studied, some in our own research. Our answer to the questions raised is: both need attention, but key is to obtain information from end-to-end calls, comprising both of the complete user-IVR interaction, as well as key pieces of information from any user-agent dialog that might follow. Refer to [Suhm, Peterson 2002: A Data-Driven Methodology for Evaluating and Optimizing Call Center IVRs, International Journal of Speech Technologies, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 23-37].
Bernhard Suhm, Call Center Services and Speech Solutions, BBN Technologies, a Verizon Company

In the comparisons, was any attempt made to compare the success/ failure rate of different models of telephones? Part of the appeal of voice recognition is that you get to keep holding the receiver in a constant position where you can hear the prompts. The touchtone "press 4 / enter your PIN / spell your name" options become more difficult with phones whose buttons are integrated into the receiver, and I suspect the difficulty for the elderly (or anyone with impaired hearing) would be even greater. For example, my office phone system has a number you can call to reach an automated system where you are invited to spell the name of the person you are calling, using the phone's keypad. If the last name is not distinctive enough, you are instructed to continue spelling the first name. As soon as you have entered enough letters to make a unique pattern (an unpredictable number of letters), you get another prompt, which is very hard to hear if you are trying to spell a name on the buttons of your cell phone – holding it away from your ear – while riding a noisy subway. Failure to respond correctly may cause you to call the wrong person or to have to start over. On the other hand, voice recognition when using that same cell phone could be a problem if reception is poor.
Sallee Garner

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June, 2003 The Gradual Graying of the Internet...
– Recent research regarding designing for the "elderly."

Thanks for the article on designing websites for "the elderly".

I was a little disappointed that your article failed to mention the importance of designing sites to use some of the accessibility features of modern web browsers. I'd like to point out that in my experience very few sites are designed to give visitors the control to change the text size through the browser. I'm refering to features such as IE's View, Text Size... option. Using this option sometimes changes some of the text size; sometimes none of the text sizes. Designing a site to provide this control is relatively easy, yet few designers seem to be aware of it, or maybe they're avoiding it for some reasons I don't understand.

It's possible to design a site that looks good and can be used effectively when viewed with point sizes of 8-10 or 12-14 as selected by visitors with different levels of visual accuity. I'd like to see more discussion of the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to acieve these and other design objectives to satisfy different visitor requirements. How about it HFI?
Roger Edwards, Standard Insurance Co.

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November, 2002 Optimal Line Length
– What is the optimal line length when reading prose text from a monitor?

Very interesting article. I work with an advertising company as a graphic designer. We are always at odds with our clients about how typesetting differs from word processing and the common issue seems to be a lack of knowledge by people trained as "word processors". Schools who teach word processing appear to be stuck about 10 -20 years in the past in terms of understanding "what" type is and how it works. They think that the computer is simply a typewriter attached to a monitor. I look forward to reading more of the studies you provided here.
Don Nich, Sandbox Creative Group

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October, 2002 Web Site Layout
– How should you lay out your Web site?

Isn't it more than a little ironic that this article was published on a centered fixed-width page? I find it strange that with all of the resources at the fingertips of these major corporations (NineMSN, IBM, Cisco, HP etc...) they have all preferred to implement left justified fixed-width solutions. Surely they have the research and development power to be able to make justified (no pun intended) and informed decisions. Through your research did you think of contacting some of these companies to try to find out why this approach was taken?
M. Wanstall

Reading a "stretchy" site on a large monitor is not comfortable. On the other hand, restricting the size leaves you with huge white margins on that same monitor. There is a third way, so to speak, that I use on my sites. By placing the entire page in a table set with a % width, you can compromise between ugly margins and readibility. Set it to, say 80%, and it will have acceptable margins on the large monitor, whilst still adapting to the user's display. Not so clever, I know, and there's a catch with this: on a small display (e.g. 800), there are still margins on 20% of the screen – a waste of valuable real estate. One solution I've found is to use a 1px white / transparent spacer at the very top or bottom of your page, just inside the table. Set the image width to 790, and your site will never shrink below this level. The result: a Web site that displays at full screen on an 800 width, but balances margins with readibility at above. The user gets some control over the size, but within the boundaries set by the designer. Screen width: ------------- 800 = 790 1024 = 820 1280 = 1024
Brendan D.

I am surprised that the research has concluded that all three layout resulted in equal efficiency... unless of course that was the intention... Let's consider some out-of-the-lab scenario: these Web sites that are designed for 800x600 or whatever, assume their page will occupy that whole space, but often, in a windowing environment, the user needs to view two windows at the same time. Anyway, for whatever reason, the user may want to view the Web site in a window smaller than the designers have hoped for and in that case, the fluid layout adjusts the text/content, whereas the fixed size layouts would now require the user to do a considerable amount of scrolling to get to some information. So how about running the same research again, this time limiting the browser window area to something like a quarter of the monitor area? Let's see if they are still all equally efficient?
Roni Korenshtein

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June, 2002 Readability Formulas
– value of readability formulas in writing for the Web.

Re: The Bollywood Technique – Fascinating. I wonder if this technique could be used successfully in other areas, both outside the Asia theater, but also in other environments.

In the late 1970's I was involved in an examination of maritime safety, specifically ship collisions, rammings and groundings. Preliminary results were obtained by reviewing accident reports and investigations. Later we observed and "dialogued" with Masters and Pilots. While we used "non attribution" to great effect, and follow-on studies used simulations similar to flight simulators, this technique may have also produced excellent results, at a lower overall cost. Something to ponder. Thanks.
Daniel Jones, US Army

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February, 2002 More About Fonts
– What is the best font size and font style for Web sites?

Coming from a DTP and WP background, I have become interested in the use of typefaces and have done some work on students' preferences – mostly on paper rather than on screen. Given the choice, there seems to be a wide range of fonts and sizes students say they find easiest to read – some due to real visual problems, but not all. In a recent series of tests Arial 12 gave better comprehension results than TNR or the dreaded Comic Sans. Next step is to test Arial against Verdana and Georgia. I have not been looking at speed of reading though – only at comprehension.
Ann Shaw

Although your research above found reading efficiency better with 14 font, and the conclusion said older users would benefit from 14 font, do adults who are not 'older' prefer 14 font to 12 font?
Jeannie Lewis

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January, 2002 Location of the Scrollbar

– Are scrollbars located close enough to where users typically work with a Website or list box to encourage the fastest possible use?

Anyone who thinks vertical scrollbars have always been on the right isn't competent to be making claims like that. The vertical scrollbar was (and still is) on the left for the X11 terminal emulator "xterm" (and the text editor Emacs).
Daniel Barclay

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September, 2000 Reducing reliance on superstition
I still do not understand why ,until now, designers are still using Miller's "Magic 7" in their user interface designs even though it is a very old design and has nothing to do with human memory system.
Abdelaziz Khali
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October, 1999 User Interface Displays

– What direction are we going with user interface displays? Predictions for the future.

Yes, the article says it right. Currently we are working on our laptops with a monitor along, so we are working with two display hadrwares for one task. (Laptop display and a Monitor display) this is because we feel short of display area and are desporately seeking solution for this problem. We are working on developing UID for digital televisions.

This article will certainly add to our stand on having mammoth monitors. Hoping to read more in details
Rajesh Ghodke, India Times

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