Posts Tagged ‘UCD’

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 Courses at HCI 2009 and in London

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

We’re pleased to announce that two of our courses have been accepted for presentation at the annual British HCI Group conference (HCI 2009), this year at the University of Cambridge from 1-5 September. The courses are

  • Innovations in Card Sorting: A Hands-On Approach – this is our half-day workshop on paper-based card sorting using our advanced analysis software, SynCaps V2. (See for further details.)
  • Ajax Design and Usability – a half-day course on how to use Ajax and similar web technologies to improve the user experience rather than to frustrate it.

Both of these courses were very well received at CHI 2009 in Boston last month. They will be available at the HCI 2009 conference in Cambridge on Tuesday 1 September. Half-day courses at the conference will cost only £40 plus, you do not have to register for the conference to attend the courses.

Full details of conference courses can be found at

We will also be running a more extensive one-day course on both paper and online card sorting in London on 5 October. The cost includes a fully-licensed copy of our SynCaps V2 analysis software. For further information and to book online visit

News Summary

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I’m moving news items from my design home page to a new blog category called News (unimaginative, I know). Here is a summary of news for 2008/2009.

We presented three courses and a short paper at the CHI 2009 conference in Boston. This puts us on a par with Carnegie Mellon (who also had three courses but slightly more papers<g>):

  • Innovations in Card Sorting: A Hands-on Approach
  • Web Design for Usability
  • Ajax – Design and Usability

(These courses can also be run in-house. Details are available at

We’ve posted the slides and a recording from our half-our card sorting webinar, plus four videos showing how to prepare for and capture data from card sorting sessions.

The paper concerns a study we conducted using Simon Baron-Cohen’s empathising and systemising quotients. It provides a psychological explanation for the difficulties technologists have in seeing problems from a user’s perspective:

William Hudson was the invited keynote speaker for the CADUI 2008 conference in Albacete (near Madrid). He also presented a half-day tutorial on card sorting. An essay based on his keynote address is available here.

Do you like using or teaching Card, Moran and Newell’s Keystroke Level Model but hate the arithmetic? Treat yourself to our free KLM calculator!