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Web of Confusion, Part 2

(SIGCHI Bulletin March/April 2001)

UI 2001 Conference, 30 Oct - 1 Nov 2000, Boston

In Part 1 of this article I described the low success rate for web-based tasks in general, and web purchasing in particular, as reported by Jared Spool and his colleagues at User Interface Engineering. Part of the solution to this dismal performance is for developers to have a better understanding of user interface design issues as they relate to web design. This was the primary purpose of the UI 2001 conference.

Altogether there were eight seminars, with the possibility of attending two in full one-day form. I will describe the two that I attended in some detail, followed by my impressions of the conference as a whole. Details for all of the seminars can be found at www.ui2001.com [now defunct].

Visual Literacy for UI Designers - Bill Horton is well-known as the author of The Icon Book and several titles on documentation, online training and web design. It is therefore no surprise that his seminar had a familiar ring to it in a number of places, especially in the area of icon design. However, the material covered a wide range of topics related to visual design and effective visual communication: thinking visually, clarity, principles of effective graphics, illustrating concepts and international graphics. Unfortunately, some of the finer visual points are lost in the notes, which are reproduced (understandably) in black and white. This is partly compensated for by access to the full-color slides from the William Horton Consulting web site (www.horton.com - confusingly, the web site refers to the presentation variously as "How We See" and "Say It in Pictures".)

The strength of this seminar was that it dealt very comprehensively with the principles of visual design, but naturally not all aspects would have appealed to everyone. The introductory sections covering visual perception and memory would have been very familiar to anyone with an HCI background and these also overlapped significantly with Tom Hewett's seminar which I also attended. Visual design for the web did not get as much specific attention as some participants might have expected, and several issues were addressed that were perhaps more relevant to documentation than to UI design, although interesting nonetheless.

Designing With the Mind in Mind - Dr Tom Hewett is a cognitive psychologist who is active in the field of HCI. The focus of his tutorial was cognitive issues, primarily perception, memory and problem solving as well as their implications for effective user interface design. Unlike brief overviews of the Gestalt principles and theories of short-term memory that frequently appear in UI design material, Tom Hewett provided detailed references of research and numerous "live" experiments to drive the issues home. These practical exercises would have been extremely useful to anyone faced with the prospect of teaching or promoting UI design, but they would also appeal to those wanting a greater understanding of the underlying psychology. Web or UI designers looking for "instant" guidance that could be applied to next week's project would have been disappointed, though. Tom Hewett's approach is more reflective and needs to be absorbed over time. In fact, he insisted that participants make the effort to occasionally re-visit the material.

My overall impression of UI2001 is that it would have been very difficult not to find something of interest and genuine value to almost anyone actively working in UI and web design. The three-day format, with short versions of each of the seminars presented on the second day worked very well, although it might have been more effective had this been done on the first day. Participants would have been able to decide if they had really chosen the right seminars - particularly important given both the breadth and depth of topics covered.

The Author

William Hudson is principal consultant for Syntagm Ltd, based near Oxford in the UK. His experience ranges from firmware to desktop applications, but he started by writing interactive software in the early 1970's. For the past ten years his focus has been user interface design, object-oriented design and HCI.

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© 2001-2005 ACM. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in SIGCHI Bulletin, {Volume 33, March-April 2001} http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/967181.967193

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