Blackboard’s User-Centered Design

Desirability Heuristics

One of the criticisms of the UX field is that often the concern is to have a product that is usable, but is that all that is needed? Shouldn’t people have a pleasurable experience as well? I haven’t quite found a way to measure this within a usability test (other than through self-report). However, a recent proposed heuristic attempts to answer the question of how a product makes users feel by observing the emotional response of users during testing.

Although I am a firm believer in the power of nonverbal communication, I would have liked the authors to include more indicators of positive responses. This attempt, however, has inspired me to come up with my own heuristic for “desirability.” Right now I’m also beginning to look at the article referenced recently by Victor Lombardi. More to come…

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User Experience Professionals are Here to Stay

I’ve decided to pour through my Gmail account to delete and archive old emails that I’ve been too busy to move from my inbox. Sure, I really don’t have to perform this task when I can just archive everything, but I’m pretty anal about categorizing my emails, even if I am not prompt at performing the task.

Today I stumbled across an email a colleague of mine sent out last July. He referred to a YouTube video that highlighted MS Vista’s speech recognition. All I can say is that while it performs admirably at times, quite a few times I found the video both painful and funny to watch (see below). It really confirms that the usability and user experience professions are here to stay.

Microsoft Vista Speech Recognition Tested – Perl Scripting

[Runtime: 10:33 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit:]

– Hat Tip: Ari Weissman

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LinkedIn Hover Behavior

I’m not a huge LinkedIn user, but I am impressed that they iteratively work to make their product better and better by targeting better social connection and better user experience.

The other day someone invited me to connect (no, not my wife, like the picture depicts), and I was impressed with both the use of dynamic button names and the behavior of providing help text when I hover over one of the buttons. Notice that the button dynamically includes my wife’s name (click picture to view larger image). Also, note the hover text.

LinkedIn Hover Behavior

I like this method of providing contextual help, particularly because it explains what the resulting action will be when the user clicks the button.

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Information Architecture Summit 2008

This year your peers and industry experts will speak about how topics such as social networking, gaming, patterns, tagging, taxonomies, and a wide range of IA tools and techniques can help as users ‘experience information’.

– April 10-14, 2008 (Miami, Florida USA)” – (About the Summit)

I went to last year’s summit and found it very informative. You might consider checking it out – it’s in Miami!

(hat tip: InfoDesign)

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Edward Tufte iPhone Critique

Edward Tufte offers a critique of the iPhone’s interface design (includes video).

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The Neverending Scroll

I’m not a big fan of the page scroll, unless it is absolutely necessary. The reason I oppose it is that it hasn’t tested well with children. According to Nielsen,
“Children rarely scrolled pages and mainly interacted with information that was visible above the fold.”

Armed with that knowledge, I am curious to see how successful the following site is:

It’s attraction is constant discovery and continual scroll. I wonder who the target audience is.

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13 Usability Guidelines for Using Tabs

Today, Jakob Nielsen published an article on how to properly use tabs. He uses Yahoo! Finance as his case study.

Of note is how Nielsen contrasts guidelines from Apple OSX and Windows Vista. Personally, I too prefer title-style capitalization.

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Primary and Secondary Actions in Form Design

Forms guru Luke Wroblewski recently discussed the concept of primary and secondary actions in form design:

After conducting some user testing, it seems as though button placement had more effect than using color to contrast primary and secondary actions. Although there was no clear winner, my vote would be for the left-align button placement with contrasting colors.

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What I Learned at Usability Conferences 2007

Yesterday, the local UPA DC chapter hosted,”What I Learned at the Usability Conferences – 2007.” I was part of a panel that represented the following conferences:

Here are some of the notes I had prepared:

What I Learned at the IA Summit – 2007


Opening Keynote: Joshua Prince-Ramus

Joshua is best known as the architect of the Seattle Central Library. In his keynote, Joshua outlined issues surrounding limitations of space, resources and differing business goals and provided a glimpse into how his firm pushes for the best solution given these constraints. He had presented a similar talk to TED in February 2006:

Closing Plenary: Rashmi Sinha

Rashmi is the creator of SlideShare. She discussed how her team bucked traditional usability methods to rapidly deploy a social web site product in beta mode. Her slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Creating the Adaptive Interface: Stephen Anderson

Stephen offered an inspiring presentation by arguing that the desirability of an application can be related to the adaptability of the interface. “More than removing unused menu options or collaborative filtering, this would include functionality that is revealed over time as well as interface elements that change based on usage.” His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Best Practices for Form Design: Luke Wroblewski

Luke takes the seemingly insignificant “form” and argues that clearly presented information, interaction, and feedback can make all the difference when a user needs to communicate with a company (i.e., commerce, access, engagement). His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Rich mapping and soft systems: new tools for creating conceptual models: Gene Smith and Matthew Milan

Gene and Matthew explain that Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a holistic problem solving framework that can be used to design and model interactions between organizations, people, environments, products and services. Identifying the CATWOE (Customers, Actors, Transformative Process, Worldview, Owners, Environmental Constraints) helps to add context to any project by articulating the “root definitions” of the problem. Their slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

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UMCP HCIL Symposium


The University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab is hosting a symposium on May 31 and June 1.

Check out the event!

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Using a Screen Reader

If you’ve never used a screen reader or seen one in action, the Yahoo! User Interface folks posted this worthwhile video for you to check out…

Yahoo!’s Victor Tsaran is both an engineer and a blind computer-user whose interactions with his desktop applications and with the web are mediated by screen-reader software. In this video, Victor introduces you to the fundamentals of the screen reader experience and what his strategies are for accessing web content via the screen-reader interface.

[Runtime: 27 minutes | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: ]

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IA Summit Redux – DC Style

Is anyone going to the recap of the IA Summit 2007? Unfortunately, I will be unable to but I’d highly recommend going. Here’s the announcement:

If you missed the IA Summit in Vegas this year, fear not! DCIA will be holding a redux on Saturday, May 12 at 9am. We have commitments from several speakers to recap their talks.


Where: BCC Services Center
When: Saturday, May 12, 9am – 1pm
What: Mini-sessions, panel discussions, five-minute madness, networking, and bagels — lots and lots of bagels.
How much: $5 to cover the cost of food and venue

Speaker Detail Presentation File
Celeste Lyn Paul on card-sorting description PDF (519 KB)
Hallie Wilfert on her grandmother as IA description PPT (10.8 MB)
Stacy Surla on Second Life description PPT (6 MB)
Thom Haller on clear and useful content description PPT (8.5 MB)
Dan Brown on IA documentation description PPT (3.5 MB)
Austin Govella on IA’s impact on business description PPT (1.3 MB)
Lorelei Brown on lessons from failures description SlideShare (online)

We’ll be breaking into small groups to talk about several of the themes that emerged during the Summit, including: documentation for rich internet applications, management issues, and design processes.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: If you attended the Summit and would like to talk about your experience or lead a small group discussion, please drop me [Dan Brown] a line at

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Creating the Adaptive Interface

Stephen Anderson offered an inspiring presentation from the IA Summit.

[Runtime: 136 slides | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: ]

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IA Summit 2007 Roundup and UPA Resume Workshop

If you live in the DC area, there’s a good local event you might want to check out tomorrow:

Wondering where to get your coffee, bagel, and IA conversation tomorrow? Join us in Bethesda at 10:00 am for a resume panel discussion and workshop. Bring your resume for one-on-one feedback from panelists and experts. Refreshments will be available. A $5 donation will be appreciated.

On a related note, I’d encourage you to check out a great resume tool created by a former classmate of mine.

Sponsored by the User Experience Network, DC-IA, and UPA-DC.

WHEN: Saturday, April 21, 2007 10 am to 12 pm

WHERE: Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814 (Bethesda Metro Station or Bethesda Center parking garage)



IA Summit 2007 Redux: Rashmi Sinha

A closing plenary from Rashmi Sinha.

Rashmi is the creator of SlideShare.

[Runtime: 49 slides | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: ]

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IA Summit 2007 Redux: Joshua Prince-Ramus

It’s been over a month since the IA Summit, and I’m only now getting a chance to write about the experience. I took notes from many of the sessions I attended, but I’ll try to link to available videos or slides when possible.

An opening keynote: Joshua Prince-Ramus.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much commonality there is between “brick and mortar” architecture and information architecture. Joshua outlined issues surrounding limitations of space, resources and differing business goals and provided a glimpse into how his firm pushes for the best solution given these constraints. He had presented a similar talk to TED in February 2006, so seems best to just show you his related talk.

[Runtime: 20:09 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit: ]

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Storyboard Templates

In a recent post I prematurely touted a template that could be used to storyboard user experiences using a computer-based product. Martin Hardee had provided slides depicting a specific scenario. However, I am pleased to pass along news that Martin has graciously offered 3 templates that user experience professionals might use for communicating design to a variety if audiences.

Below are the 3 templates that you can use. Please be sure to give Sun Microsystems credit for the use of the template (hat tip to Martin Hardee). I have taken the liberty of converting the Open Office file format to the MS PowerPoint file format.

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Design Comics

Other than Calvin and Hobbes, I’m not much of a comic guy. There’s been a number of contributors in the web design arena who have advocated using comics to communicate a user’s experience interacting with an information system (web or client). Typically, I think of the folks over at OK/Cancel, but I know others, such as Dan Brown, are influenced by Scott McCloud.

Today I came across a post by Martin Hardee of the Sun Design Team. His team has been using comics to convey user experiences with the site. Interestingly, he has provided a template that is freely available to use, provided you have access to Sun’s Office suite (OpenOffice is freely available). Unfortunately, I am unable to install OpenOffice on my work machine, so I’ll have to look at the template when I get home.

As I mentioned to Martin, since I’m an information architect without the gift of artistic design, I am eager to use any existing templates. I’m a visual learner by nature, so having the ability to succinctly depict user experience issues to technical teams or end users alike in a visual (versus text) format is something I hope to do more of in the future. I truly hope that the template will provide some good images like that seen below. Thanks to Martin and Sun for graciously allowing me to copy content from his blog and repost it here.

Design Comic Template Example

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UX in DC Week


I know, I know. I’m late to the game. I was not able to attend Adaptive Path’s UX week in DC last month. Fortunately, there’s a wiki containing great sessions notes.

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