Coverage for WUD 2010 in Zürich

Last Wednesday I gave a talk on "UX as the 'project glue' in product development projects" at the Zürich World Usability Day 2010 to an audience of approx. 120 people! My central statement was: Usability Professionals are in a unique position to becoming the "project glue" within product development processes because two layers we operate on: our deliverables serve as a focus point for business requirements and technical implementation, and our methods help structure internal communciation within the team as well as drive user-centered innovation. The talk was very well received – got lots of great questions afterwards, and there are a couple really nice comments on Twitter and in the blogosphere as well. Here are some pictures (thanks to @swissupa)

Sweet spot 

Focus point

Also would like to link to the great illustrations the talented artist Roland Stahel was doing while listening to our talks. Take a look at his photostream on Flickr!

More great stuff at this World Usability Day event:

  • Clive van Heerden (Philips) showed some fascinating "design probes"
  • Sibylle Peuker (Zeix) spoke about innovative communication and showcased a couple of examples from her previous work at Swisscom Innovation and her new endeavors at Zeix AG
  • Patrick Grässle (KnowGravity) told us about quality assurance in requirements engineering
  • Rinaldo Dieziger (Supertext) held a very engaging presentation on the power of the word and how to write good copy
  • Sascha Weisshaupt (Swisscom) elaborated on branding and re-creating a brand

Overall, this was a fantastic event with a very engaged audience and great presentations. Thanks a lot to the organizers and sponsors!

Talk at Zürich WUD 2010: “UX as ‘project glue’”


I'll give a talk on the role of "UX as 'project glue' in product development" at the World Usability Day in Zürich on Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010 (in German). I'll cover how UX contributes critically to the project's success through process and structure and through deliverables.

Please follow this link to sign up for this year's Zürich WUD:

Looking forward to seeing you guys there!

SwissCHI event Apr 30, 09: “Prototyping of Rich Internet Applications”

Last Thursday I attended the monthly SwissCHI meeting. That evening's topic was "Prototyping of Rich Internet Applications" – Andreas Binggeli, Marc Blume and Yuan-Yuan Sun presented their Master's thesis (from their MASHCID studies). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, paper prototypes compared really well to more elaborate prototypes done in Axure RP Pro or realized using Ajax-y technology, and users didn't really pay much attention to the paper prototypes lower fidelity. (I wrote up a piece on which prototyping tool to use in which case earlier.)

After a brief introduction into what RIAs are (or rather, aren't: "RIA ≠ Ajax ≠ Web2.0"), Andreas, Marc and Yuan-Yuan presented their study. The following hypothesis were to be tested:

  • Between different forms of prototypes, there would only be differences in speed and visual appearance
  • There wouldn't be differences in user hesitation, difficulties, slowing-down, quality of interaction etc.

They'd be asking subjects to form an overall assessment of visual appearance, behavior, and speed.

The four prototype variants they were testing were:

  • hand-drawn paper prototype
  • Powerpoint-created paper prototype
  • Pseudo-HTML prototype created in Axure RP pro
  • Ajax prototype

These were their findings:

  • Both the hand-drawn and the PowerPoint-created paper prototypes were experienced as (too) slow; a lot of preparation on the researcher's side and high concentration were needed
  • Axure-powered prototypes used interaction elements that looked alright but didn't live up to their expectations
  • The Ajax-based prototype was quite slow in some parts, which lead to some immediate reactions not being perceived by the subjects, whereas some elements' affordance wasn't perceived properly
  • Interestingly, subjects didn't really see differences in the visual appearances of the prototypes
  • All methods can be used to prototype RIAs, but all have their very specific weaknesses
  • Interaction quality is compromised most severely by unexpected behavior, not so much by visual appearance or speed
  • The appropriate method should be chosen based on the phase the project is in, the Ajax pattern to be simulated, and the desired longevity of the prototype

In the end, if you take the effort into consideration, paper prototypes might still be the most appropriate method in most cases. This finding really doesn't come as a big surprise…

SwissCHI event Mar 26, 09: “Interaction Design Patterns in the Real World”

On March 26, 09, the monthly SwissCHI event focused on "Interaction Design Patters in the real world". A panel of six experts plus an advocatus diaboli came together to exchange opinions and experiences on design patterns, but it quickly became clear that they weren't talking about the same thing at all: They were arguing on very different levels of abstraction, from controls to actual design patterns.

An initial definition of an interaction design pattern reads:

  • A proven solution to
  • A recurring problem
  • in a defined context

Participants in the discussion were:

  • Marcel Brunschwiler, UBS AG
  • Christian Hübscher, Zürcher Kantonalbank
  • Bernhard von Allmen, Roche Diagnostic
  • Thomas Kneubühl, MAS HCID
  • Stefan Schallenberger, eGovernment Kanton Aargau
  • Frank Leidermann, Swisscom AG
  • Daniel Felix had the role of the Advocatus Diaboli
  • Christian Hauri moderated the session

Marcel Brunschwiler, UBS AG, opened the session. UBS is using design patterns as "aid to self-aid" for better UI design (and to free up resources in the usability team for more challenging tasks). They don't really have interaction designers at UBS; instead Business Analysts are defining everything. There used to be a style guide that also defined how certain elements were to be applied.  UBS AG's pattern effort started with a big document. Later they switched to an HTML-based tool that featured a description of the pattern, its application, and related patterns. Future releases will incorporate best practice examples. The pattern library has already been in use for some time. Christian Hübscher, ZKB, seconded Marcel's description – at ZKB, too, Business Analysts describe the GUIs. They usually don't have any background in HCI. Currently, their pattern library is limited to one application. This app is based on an organically grown piece of standard software (which, by now, shows a huge degree of inconsistencies). They have been building up their pattern library within the context of a redesign project. They're using a Wiki. The Business Analysts aren't using it for their daily work yet, though. This shall be changed in the course of the introduction of a new spec process, in which specs will be linked to the library. They're also building the library into their prototyping tools. From the ZKB's point of view, the pattern library needs to be well-structured and needs to be available electronically.

Daniel Felix jumped in as the advocatus diaboli and pulled out a number of style guides, asking: What's new about this actually? He said all the pattern stuff has been there before, even linking all the elements can be found in earlier style guides. This at least triggered a longer discussion on the question whether controls and patterns are the same, which showed clearly that most of the audience wasn't quite sure about or familiar with the concept either. In the end, it was mentioned that the big difference is that a pattern library should always go from the problem to the solution, while a style guide usually starts with the solution and then describes where to apply them. Bernhard von Allem, Roche, told us of how they started out to define a style guide and later realized they had actually defined patterns, as they had started from the problems. For him, a spec contains information on colors, fonts etc., stuff that doesn't belong in a pattern definition. He pointed out that patterns were "management compatible" – they are easy to "sell" to management.

Stefan Schallenberger, eGovernment Kanton Aargau and MASHCID student, related that they had derived their patterns from requirements and paper prototypes. For him, it's important that a pattern library isn't just a collection of stuff, but needs to be accessible (they're using an HTML tool). He said patterns limit the solution space and help to achieve consistency. At Kanton Aargau, the project has been a success: they're planning on redesigning 80 internal apps. Thomas Kneubühl, Postfinance and also MASHCID student, told us about his project "Patternfinder", which looks at why patterns aren't used more heavily and how to make them more accessible. He found 1400 pattern descriptions in 40-50 libraries, which could imply a high level of redundancy. Interviews within their internal development department revealed that patterns were completely unknown. They were looking at involving the future users of the library more, e.g. by having them create their categorization scheme themselves, using tags etc.

Finally Frank Leidermann, Swisscom, spoke about the customer center application, and organically grown, very inconsistent app. They put together a pattern library that abstracted heavily from the actual UI and relies on, among other things, inheritance. It partially contains controls or styles, partially flow diagrams.

The subsequent discussion focused on the following points:

  • Patterns are very interesting for HCI experts, needs to be defined by HCI experts and made available; the target audience, though, isn't usually HCI experts. No-one needs to be afraid that a pattern library could turn everybody into an HCI expert (and render us out of work). It does allow HCI experts to focus on the really interesting issues, though
  • A pattern library should never be released without proper training, and their usage implies common sense. Engineers were looking for solutions to copy anyway
  • Patterns aren't the same as guidelines. There should be one solution per problem that a company should agree on
  • Pattern Languages are valid within a given domain and move within certain forces, e.g. what's feasible technically
  • Do patterns need to be updated? Should we collect older versions? Are patterns that need to be updated patterns at all? Aren't pattern technology-agnostic?

As for the future of design patterns ("what's going on with patterns in ten years' time?"), the panelists saw these options:

  • Patterns will be tied into design tools and IDEs
  • Pattern libraries and guidelines will live side-by-side
  • The hype will have died down
  • Those who understand them will use them; those who don't will ignore them

World Usability Day 2008!

World Usability Day 2008

 It's World Usability Day today, and the UPA asks you to take the Global Transport Challenge to 

  • Measure your everyday transportation usage
  • Monitor your personal carbon travel footprint and compare
    yourself to others around the world
  • Minimize your energy usage through alternative transportation choices, carbon offsets, and simple travel changes thereby maximizing the impact on our world.

Go visit the WUD 2008 page and take the challenge today!

Best Session Award for our Tutorial on Form Usability

At this year's "Vielmehr" conference (what was formerly known as "Mensch & Computer") in Lübeck, Germany[GP:luebeck], my colleage Iris Niedermann and I presented a paper and a tutorial. The paper (called "Usability Professionals – a role playing game") was targeted at young professionals and experienced people looking for a change of jobs; the tutorial (called "Form Usability for dummies") covered the basics of form usability and design and included a long team exercise redesigning a couple of difficult forms. Even if we had hoped to win the Best Session Award, guess how surprised and delighted we were to learn we had actually won it for our tutorial!

The prize for the award was the German version of Jim Kalbach's book on Web Navigation :-) Now I've got it in both languages. When I met Jim a couple of days later, he found that funny too. 

Presentation of the results of the exercise

Again, at this Vielmehr conference, I wasn't intrigued to attend any of the "Mensch & Computer" sessions and focused exclusively on the Usability Professionals track, which doesn't really come as a surprise. 

“Mensch und Computer” conference, Lübeck, September 7-10, 2008

"Mensch & Computer" is the biggest usability-focused conference in the German-speaking sphere. Over the last couple of years, it used to feature a "UPA Track" to take into account not only academics' needs, but also practioners' specific questions and wishes. This year, the overarching motto is "Viel Mehr" ("much more"), and it encompasses the Mensch & Computer, DelFi, Cognitive Design, and Usability Professionals conferences! It will take place in Lübeck, Germany, from September 7-10, 08.

My esteemed colleague, Iris Niedermann from soultank AG, and I will be giving one tutorial on form usability (UP T6) and one paper on roles in the usability job universe (UP V6), as you can see in the conference program. Come look our shop!

CHI 2008 – April 5-10, 2008, Florence, Italy

CHI 2008 logoEarlier this month, I had the chance to go to Florence to attend the 2008 CHI conference. I had been looking forward to CHI for several reasons: After being disappointed by HCII last year, I was hoping for a more practitioner-oriented conference; I knew that a lot of people I knew would be going; I had been involved in the review process; and I wanted to (finally) go to Italy. Speaking of Italy: I've still got that "Florence, Idddallly" sound in my ears, and it'll take a while to wear off.

Saturday, April 5

My colleague Jonah and I chose to take the night train from Zürich to Florence instead of flying – a 9 hours journey on an Italian train that felt like the 70s on rails :-) Definitely an interesting experience, setting the scene for the conference. Think I had expected something more like the German railway sleeper trains. D'oh.

Sunday, April 6

Attended the full-day workshop #17: "Now let's do it in practice: User experience evaluation methods in product development". It had not been easy to get into this workshop, even though I had acted as a reviewer for four of its papers. The workshop turned out to be good and valuable, but I was amazed (again) at the disconnect between what academia did and what "the industry" needed. This surfaced most obviously in the breakout sessions in the afternoon, when mixed groups discussed their approaches and assumptions. Defining even what "user experience" means turned out to be a major challenge. Sneaked into course 1: "Mobile interaction design patterns" (which was good), but had to leave early b/c of hunger. I was starving by then. Speaking of which: food was extremely hard to come by, and most food I had in Florence was a total disappointment (with one notable exception). I have been told that the food quality increased dramatically once the conference was over. Met with the Hamburg UPA chapter for dinner.


Monday, April 7

Attended the opening plenary but was severely unimpressed by the speaker, Irene McAra-McWilliam. Took course 4: "Mobile interaction design practice", which was delightful. Great instructors, great real-life insights, very nicely done. Hung around the Google booth during the late afternoon / evening.

Tuesday, April 8

Attended the panel "Media spaces: Past visions, current realities, future promise", which was good (panelists: Ron Baecker, Steve Harrison, Bill Buxton, Steven Poltrock, Elizabeth Churchill). A nice introduction into the history of CSCW and video conferencing. I also attended the panel "What would you do with a 1 million dollar UX marketing budget", even though the title was slightly misleading (panelists: Luke Kowalski, Carola Thompson, Tom Chi, Darren McCormick, Omar Vasnaik, Peter Heller). Got so angry at Ms Thompson saying that UX was a relatively new field within SAP that I had to leave. She said that UX had only been around for three years – remember: I left SAP three years ago after four years of UX work, and there were UX colleagues who had spent 10 and 15 years there. What a disservice. Spent the afternoon and the evening calming down at the booth, helping during the job fair etc.

Wednesday, April 9

Attended the hospitality events (Google's and Microsoft's) in the evening. Guess which one was better! :-)

Thursday, April 10

Took course 20: "Key issues in planning and making sense of international field research" by Susan Dray. This was the second course I attended with Mrs Dray (first one was at HCII 2007), but I was rather unimpressed this time. She didn't manage to create a rapport with the audience, and her having an somewhat unpleasant and embarrassing fight with her husband in front of the class didn't help. Also attended course 24: "Designing location-based experiences", which was interesting – the instructors had set up some information points on the conference grounds, and participants could explore those with a GPS-enabled iPaq PDA. Unfortunately it felt as if it was a scripted audio guide rather than an interactive experience. In the late afternoon, I attended the closing plenary "From the materialistic to the experiential – A changing perspective on design", delivered by Bill Buxton, which for me certainly was the highlight of the conference. In a delighting and inspiring talk, Mr Buxton reflected on the design profession and where it was headed. Later took the night train back to Zürich (10 hours :-)).

Overall impression

This was my third CHI (after 2002 in Minneapolis and 2004 in Vienna). I think CHI has been moving in the right direction, taking practitioners' needs more into consideration. Still, I found the disconnect between academia and practice a bit disconcerting. It was an interesting but somewhat time-consuming additional honor to act as a reviewer for CHI papers (for the #17 workshop and one or two additional papers). I was glad to see that my critique of most of the papers was reflected by the other reviewers' impressions.

I chose to mainly attend the panels because papers can always be re-read in a different setting, while panels tend to create dynamics of their own. Most courses I took were well worthwhile, too. In addition, CHI is always a great opportunity to create and refresh professional relationships (citing Jonah: "Stop knowing everyone!" :-)).

Of course I made some pictures of Florence during my stay there.

How overly “intelligent” software can embarrass you

Yesterday I got an email telling me that I was invited to an acquaintance's birthday party, together with some 30-odd people, most of which I didn't know. The email contained an .ics invitation as an attachment, one of these little files created by, for example, MS Outlook or Apple iCal. The .ics file carries information on a calendar entry in it, like time, location, sender, attendees etc.

I wanted to add the event to my Apple iCal calender, so I clicked on its underlined name. The event got added alright, but to the wrong calendar – one of my deprecated work calendars. So I deleted the entry from the calendar and tried something different: This time I dragged the .ics file from the Apple Mail email body right onto my private calendar in iCal. The event appeared in the right color, indicating that it had been added to the correct calendar, but … I noticed some interesting activity in my Apple Mail client! iCal had started to send out updated invitations to all the original party invitees – in my name! I quickly deleted the event from my calendar, only to be asked if I wanted to send out some explanation to the invitees. Confirmed that (I was a bit nervous by that time) and had to close ~30 draft emails; nevertheless, my email client kept sending out message after message until I finally disconnected the WiFi network to make it stop. By that time, at least 16 invitations and updated invitations had been sent out.

The shame of it! I had spammed a number of people, most of which I didn't even know, with updates to a party I had only indirectly been invited to, and that happened to me, who I consider to be sufficiently tech-savvy, with one my favorite tools, Apple Mail, on my favorite OS, Mac OS X 10.5. I sent out an apologizing email to the party organizer and later today another one to all the invitees. My apps' misbehavior had caused shame for me and irritation in my social network, and in the end the blame would land squarely on me.

Someone at Apple obviously had tried to make something super-simple but somehow got it wrong. Why am I made the owner of an event when I drag it to my calendar, and how can my email app start sending out messages without asking me first? This reminds me too strongly of Plaxo, a contact management tool that makes it super-easy to stay up-to-date with your contacts' address data, because it syncs all the changes in the background, but that can also result in your sending out messages to all the entries in your address book. The infamous AOL client had a similar functionality that I invoked at least once accidentally while working at AOL.

Brings to mind Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (1942), and right at number one, they read:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Please, keep this in mind when designing applications – protect people from overly clever actions of applications, and think about possible negative consequences of your apps' behavior.

Attending CHI 2008 in Florence!

This year's CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) conference will take place from 5 to 10 April 08 in Florence, Italy. They are expecting ~2000 attendees from 38 countries. I've always enjoyed going to CHI conferences – they offer a unique blend of current research and topics that are more geared towards practitioners. You can still get the early bird rate if you sign up before Feb 10! For me, there was one big disappointment with this year's CHI, even before the conference started: I was asked to be on the program committee for a workshop: "Now Let's Do it in Practice: User Experience Evaluation Methods in Product Development". I reviewed four papers in my spare time. Now it turns out that the CHI organizers assigned so small a room to the workshop that a maximum of two authors per paper can attend – and the reviewers cannot take part in the workshop. Quite frustrating. :-(