Archive for the ‘User experience’ Category

UxFest London, 7-10 February 2011: Four Days of UX, IA and UCD

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The four days cover an range of important topics for getting the most out of your web or intranet projects: 

  • Dynamic User Experience: Ajax Design & Usability – how to use the greater interactivity offered by Ajax and DHTML to improve (rather than damage) user experience. Topics include an overview of Ajax from a non-technical perspective and its implications for usability and accessibility.
  • Agile UX & UCD – doing user experience and user-centred design within an Agile environment. How Agile differs from traditional waterfall methods and the strategies needed to make users the centre of attention. Participants do not need previous Agile experience although some familiarity with UX and UCD/usability is assumed.
  • Designing Web Navigation – principles and elements of navigation, including a simple-but-effective technique called cores and paths. Participants will learn about transitional volatility, the scent of information (amongst other topics) and how to create a unified navigation system.
  • Faceted Search & Beyond – faceted analysis, implementing facets and understanding the user interface design requirements of facets with hands-on exercises. Advanced topics include faceted navigation design with SEO, selecting multiple values, grouping and more.

Early bird rates run until 7 January and there are substantial discounts for booking three or more places. We also have a very special price for booking all four days.

I have presented the first two courses many times, including at international conferences. The dynamic user experience course has been part of the Nielsen-Norman Group Usability Week seminars. James Kalbach will be presenting the web navigation and faceted search courses. He is the author of O’Reilly’s Designing Web Navigation and is a well-respected speaker.

Visit our web site for full details and to book online.

Agile UX & UCD Courses (and IxDA talk) in November – Hamburg and London

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Ever had a hard time selling usability or user-centred design to your technical colleagues or managers? Not sure how to fit UX & UCD activities into an Agile scrum (Brit. informal; a disorderly crowd<g>)? We have an evening talk and two one-day courses coming up on these and related challenges in November:

The Psychology of Nerdiness and Its Impact on User-Centred Design (in English; Betahaus Hamburg, 19:00 04-Nov-10)

Agile User Experience & UCD (in English; Empire Riverside Hotel, Hamburg, 09:00, 05-Nov-10)

Agile User Experience & UCD (in English; St Pancras, London, 09:30, 15-Nov-10)

Are your abstractions too abstract?

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

A recurring theme in user-centred design is making sure that your technology is speaking the same language as its users. In web design failure to do this can make navigation difficult at best or frustrate users into leaving your site altogether. However, it is an extremely common problem – partly because the process of generalization (grouping related things under more abstract headings) is a powerful tool in building systems. Take Microsoft Outlook for example. Outlook manages email, appointments, contacts and tasks. This works fine for users when they are looking at the separate user interface elements with these names, but what on earth is an ‘item’? An item, it turns out, is any one of these things that Outlook manages. So when you are creating an email in Outlook and want to attach another email or a calendar entry, what do you do? By far the easiest thing is to drag and drop the attachment needed, because most people do not realize that the menu equivalent needed is called ‘attach item’ (more recent version of Outlook have a ribbon icon that helps a little, but not enough to get over the terminological issue).

So, when we start trying to get computers to do the things they are good at, we invent abstractions of related concepts and make up names for them (a C++ programmer can wax lyrical on this topic – just mention polymorphic collections and inheritance!). The step that frequently gets omitted is that if any of these names find their way into the user interface or web navigation, do users actually understand them? One very effective way of finding out (particularly if you have a lot terms or concepts to test) is to use card sorting. We are running our one-day card sorting course in London next month where you will get first-hand experience of both paper-based and online sorting. For more details and online booking, see (early booking finishes on 11 June).

If you can’t make it to London, you will find that we have lots of free card sorting information and tools (including analysis software) at

UCD/UX/Usability Course Series – Card Sorting First Up

Monday, May 31st, 2010

We are running a series of UCD/UX/ Usability courses in London along with associated soft skills courses tailored for IT and New Media staff.

The first of these is our new full-day card sorting course focussing on navigation design, developed for the Nielsen Norman Group Usability Week conference in Las Vegas last year. This covers a wide range of topics – both our own sorting tools and other resources – including online sorting services. Attendees will receive a free license for our analysis software, Syncaps V2, which normally sells for £150. (A user in Texas recently wrote to us saying “we love the capabilities”). The course is scheduled for 5 July with an early booking discount available up to and including Friday, 11 June.

Best of all, a three-places-for-the-price-of-two discount is available both within and across the whole series of courses. The full list includes:

  • Card Sorting for Navigation Design
  • Web Design for Usability
  • Communicating with Emotional Intelligence
  • Agile UCD
  • Persona-Driven Design
  • Negotiating Skills
  • Ajax Design & Usability

Further details and online bookings are available at

Welcome to Exchange Management Hell

Friday, May 14th, 2010

I’m a geek at heart and so enjoy managing our small collection of servers and other technological paraphernalia. Or at least I used to. My recent experience – of ‘transitioning’ our fairly trivial Microsoft Exchange 2003 installation to Exchange 2010 – has me seriously doubting the entertainment value of these activities any more.

Here’s the thing. Microsoft has made the deliberate decision (at least I assume they thought about it) to make Exchange much harder to manage since the 2003 release. The early versions of Exchange had a fairly comprehensive graphical user interface that both described the structure of the mail server components and provided the means to configure it. It was not perfect and no doubt had significant shortcomings for large organisations. But the main point is that it was well-suited to users who were not full-time Exchange Server technologists. That is the main benefit of GUIs as Microsoft should well know.

Enter the Exchange Management Shell command line system, originally introduced with Exchange 2007. Not only are there many things that cannot now be done from the scaled-down Exchange Management Console GUI, but frankly the shell is a real pig to work with. Admittedly there are helpful touches like command completion where you type in the first few characters and hit the tab key. If you are lucky you get the command you were thinking of, otherwise you have to backspace and keep trying until you lose the will to live. But there is no such help for the very long and tedious command arguments required in many instances. For example, creating a new routing group connector – a fairly trivial operation in Exchange 2003 – now requires a command line that looks like this:

New-RoutingGroupConnector -Name “Interop RGC” -SourceTransportServers “” -TargetTransportServers “” -Cost 10 -Bidirectional $true -PublicFolderReferralsEnabled $true

Easy, huh?

Part of the challenge is in working out what some of the things referred to are and what they are called or should be set to for your installation. There are some great training opportunities here, but from a user-centred design perspective this is a nightmare. But it gets worse. As I mentioned earlier, some things have to be done using the management shell – the GUI only provides access to around 80% of features. On top of that, if my experience of moving from Exchange 2003 is anything to go by, only around 80% of the configuration parameters that are meant to be set up automatically are actually done correctly. The compounded effect is that around 40% of installation activities are going to require digging around the discussion lists and blogs trying to identify the solutions to the problems you are having and locating the magic management shell commands that might help to put them right.

Like I’ve said occasionally in earlier blogs, I am actually pro-Microsoft (really). But to me this seems a significant missed opportunity. Redmond could have shown the world what a well-constructed management interface looked like – one that explained the organisation and internal state of a potentially complex system in a self-explanatory way. Instead they have opted for a 1980’s DOS-style solution requiring much frustration and wasted effort on the part of users. So, the good news is that if you are highly-trained, full-time Exchange technologist your skills will be much in demand. For everyone else, welcome to Exchange Management Hell.

CHI & UPA 2010 Conferences

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

We ran two courses at the CHI conference in Atlanta – Card Sorting and Ajax Design & Usability. The latter coincided with news from Morgan Kaufman that they will be publishing my book on Ajax UX later next year. I also attended a couple of interesting courses while I was at CHI, the only down side to the whole conference being that I got diverted to Belgium on my return and had to spend a couple of days in Brussels followed by a very expensive (but quite short) train ride from Brussels to London. I did fare better than those who stayed on until the end of the conference, as many were stuck in Atlanta for an extra week. (No offence to Atlanta, but it isn’t really a two-week holiday destination unless you rent a car.)

The very first UPA conference to be held outside of North America starts in about 10 days. On Monday evening (24 May) we’ll be running our Ajax course again, followed by a full day course on Web Design for Usability. I’m keeping an eye on alternative routes for returning from Munich, but hopefully flights will be running as usual.

Finally, if you like to let us know what courses are of interest to you at conferences and as one-day events, please fill out our brief survey at before 22 May 2010.

You can also enter our raffle for a GBP 35/USD 50/ EUR 35 Amazon voucher by completing the questionnaire. It will only take a few minutes.

March 2010 UK UPA Talk

Monday, March 15th, 2010

William is giving this months UK UPA talk in London on 18 March, based on his reduced empathizing skills paper presented at the CHI 2009 and British HCI 2009 last year. The UPA talk is entitled The psychology of nerdiness and its implications for user-centered design and is a light-hearted look at some of the important issues raised by the paper. Slides and a video will be available from the UK UPA site after the event.

The original paper, Reduced Empathizing Skills Increases Challenges for User-Centered Design,  is available here.

Meet the UX Salmon

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I was at the UX Competency Framework Workshop in London a couple of weeks ago. We needed to describe the roles and talents that make up this thing we currently call a user experience designer. One of the main points of discussion (at least it was my main point of discussion) was that we needed to change the focus of UX from usability evaluation – which is usually performed at the end of a project – to the early conceptual and design stages (however short these may be in an Agile project). I guess the word waterfall was floating around in my head (or swimming, take your pick of bad pun) and suddenly it dawned on me. UX designers need to behave like salmon, swimming upstream against incredbile odds, to take their place at the head of the product design river. (Where we realized after a little discussion that we would then need to spawn and die – but ignore that part<g>.)

Anyway, I thought it might be an encouraging analogy for some and decided to flesh this idea out some more (what a terrible day for puns) in the form of some artwork. So here it is, the UX Salmon:

Happy Birthday Macintosh (or why Apple was so late to its own party)

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Around 25 years ago I was doing some consultancy work for Xerox here in the UK. We needed one of those new-fangled graphical environments for an application I was designing – an interactive SGML editor that could be used for electronically marking up content (predating HTML development software by about 15 years, but much, much simpler).

At the time, there weren’t that many GUIs around. Windows version 1 was already late and so not yet available. Apple had recently launched the Macintosh, which looked promising, albeit with a tiny, tiny screen even for the mid-1980’s. But here’s the interesting part of the story: when I rang Apple in the UK to enquire how we might develop software for the Mac I was told “you would need to buy a Lisa to write the software and download it to the Mac”. The Lisa was the fairly unsuccessful precursor to the Mac and cost around USD $10,000 (which Wikipedia informs me is around $22,000 at current value). And that was in addition to the cost of the Mac in the first place (around $2,500). I asked if there were any discounts or other incentives for software developers. The Apple UK spokesman said that they didn’t really want to encourage people to write software for the Mac. They were going to do it all themselves! Now this might just have been the UK office not really understanding the market, but Apple struggled for years in proportion of Mac sales relative to Wintel (Windows/Intel) machines. Maybe deep down it took Apple a long time to realize it really did need to encourage third parties to develop for their machines.

Oh, and I did eventually choose a working graphical environment for my prototype. It was called GEM from Digital Research and ran on top of MS-DOS. However, Apple sued DR because of apparent similarities with the Mac, forcing changes that effectively crippled the product. It was sold on some games machines (like the Atari 520ST and siblings) but eventually faded away in the 1990s.

Las Vegas, Berlin and World Usability Day

Monday, October 26th, 2009

We presented two one-day courses – Ajax Design and Usability and Card Sorting at the NNG Usability Week Conference in Las Vegas. The weather was great, but we were inside most of the time (I also thought that would be very convenient but being couped up all day is not such a great idea). We will be presenting Ajax Design and Usability again in Berlin next month (see

To celebrate World Usability Day on 12 November, we are planning some special offers. Be sure to visit our site during the week commencing 9 November.