Autumn Courses in Agile, UX & UCD Launched

August 8th, 2011

Our first UxFest London in February was a great success. It included four courses, two from William Hudson and two by O’Reilly author James Kalbach.

For the Autumn, we have kept the two most popular of the February courses and added two brand new, thought-provoking, but relevant days: Agile Requirements (William Hudson) and Alignment Diagrams (James Kalbach). As before, there are special discounts for every three places booked (3 x 1 day, 1 x 3 days and other permutations) or for booking all four days. (Note that the ‘UxFest Complete’ price already includes the 3-for-2 discount.)

See http://www.syntagm.co.uk/design/schedule.shtml for further details and online booking.

UxFest London 7 – 10 February: Early booking extended

January 5th, 2011

We’ve extended the early booking discount for UxFest until 15 Jan. This is the perfect opportunity to hone your UX and IA skills for the next decade!

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

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

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)http://ixdahh.mixxt.org/networks/events/show_event.24218

Agile User Experience & UCD (in English; Empire Riverside Hotel, Hamburg, 09:00, 05-Nov-10)
http://www.uxworkshops.com/user_experience_workshop_II.php

Agile User Experience & UCD (in English; St Pancras, London, 09:30, 15-Nov-10)
http://www.syntagm.co.uk/design/agileucd.shtml

October 2010 News

October 9th, 2010

Our Agile UX & UCD course was well-received in Brussels. We are running it again in London and Hamburg in November. Also, two of our courses have been accepted for the CHI 2011 programme in Vancouver next May – Card Sorting for Navigation Design and Agile UX & UCD. See our courses schedule page for more details.

September 2010 News

September 1st, 2010

We still have places remaining on our Web and Intranet Usability Course on 13 September in central London. This course is ideal for development teams, managers and those wanting to move into or already getting started in usability. For experienced usability practitioners, the course provides practical activities that can be used with teams to help sell the case for usability and user-centred design.

Our two people-skills courses have been combined into a single day, focusing on communicating and negotiating with emotional intelligence (Gordon Brown could have done with this according to Tony Blair’s autobiography!)

We recently completed an interesting usability and user experience evaluation of a SharePoint collaboration site for a European Central Bank. It involved a design review and usability testing with internal users. We discovered some challenging issues around terminology and people’s perception of some of the solutions (‘a blog? I couldn’t possibly use that for a serious project at work’). Get in touch if you need usability, accessibility or user experience expertise.

July 2010 News – Additional course dates, venues and free reports

July 21st, 2010

We’ve been making arrangements over the past couple of months to go pan-European (at least on a small scale) with our UX and UCD courses. I’m pleased to be able to add dates in Brussels and Hamburg to our regular London series for later in 2010. Plus, for London and Brussels, you can book three places across any of the courses and only pay for two. See our course schedule for more details.

Also, we’ve recently released our User Experience Benchmarking Report on US and UK clothing e-tailers (the top 6 of each according to traffic figures). It was a close-run contest between the two sets of sites, with the UK coming out just a bit ahead on average scores. However, if it weren’t for the USA’s top performer, the results would have been heavily in favour of the UK contingent. (I have tried very hard not to take sides – I was born and raised in the US and have been living in the UK since the mid-1970’s.) Download the full report to read the exciting details – a small taster is given in the overall summary chart below.

Click for full benchmarking reports

Click for full benchmarking reports

Are your abstractions too abstract?

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 http://www.syntagm.co.uk/design/courses.htm (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 http://www.syntagm.co.uk/design/cardsorting.htm

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

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

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.