Archive for May, 2010

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 ww.syntagm.co.uk/design/courses.htm

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 “Ex2010Hub1.contoso.com” -TargetTransportServers “Ex2003BH1.contoso.com” -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 http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LY8KSKX 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.