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Feb 2007

Happy New Year 2007!

My goodness, how time flies! The end of January is already in sight and we still haven’t wished you, our dear readers and users, a great new year in 2007; one filled with health and happiness. So Happy New Year!

In 2006, we got to work on some very exciting projects and technologies. What better way to kick off the New Year than by quickly going over what we learned last year?

– While on a mission in Washington last November, I saw first-hand how simulation and total immersion environments are becoming more and more popular as training tools. In fact, the “Serious Gaming” industry is poised to become the largest industry in the US economy, right after (or on par with) the military industry. In the future, teaching and training methods will be required to go the gaming and simulation routes. We’re talking about a relatively new field in human-computer interfacing for usability experts like us. But what an exciting challenge!

– In 2006, I also realized just how radically client-supplier communication management is being changed by the injection of IP into the very heart of business processes. “Click-to-Call” is one example, among many, of a service that is giving clients more power and control over how services are delivered. From our perspective, using IP opens up new realms of information manipulation, which can in turn create a richer experience for the consumer.

– I’ve tried to translate the user experience into an equation. For example, I can now say that the experience is equal to the level of satisfaction the human operator feels toward an interactive system, and that this value should consider the product’s utility, as well as the aesthetics, effectiveness and efficiency of the interaction, all of which are impacted by weights that vary according to the need driving the product’s use.

– In 2006, our profession was much more well-known, recognized and in demand. Does that mean we stop singing its praises? No, not yet ;=)

– I started using Adaptive Path’s “Task-Based Audience Segmentation” methodology, which is a very useful tool. It considers the user experience globally, saves time for everyone and provides structure to the process of analysis by making essential data available during design.

– What about 2007? Please, stop telling us that usability tests performed on very few users can provide compelling results. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s always good to test; even on a smaller scale. But it’s important to remember that the greater the number of participants to a usability test, the greater will be the yield in quantitative data. It is also important to remember that we continue to learn about human behaviour right up to the last participant.

– I learned that PowerPoint can be used to create useful interactive prototypes for a speedy interface evaluation.

– It has also become clear to me that usability test participants often perceive the interface evaluation as a test of their performance. As a result, they often try to minimize the problems they encounter, to please the moderator and leave a good impression of their performance.

– One should never expect that a solution will go the distance, unless it’s been tested on real users, regardless of the product.

– In 2006, Web 2.0 finally became reality, bringing with it a number of new challenges. More and more, the user experience goes beyond a simple interaction with a machine; interfaces must now also allow the user to interact with the community transparently and non-intrusively.

– Usability has a role to play from the very first moments of a product’s life cycle. From the time a product is defined, developers should focus on the user; not once the design has been sketched and the specifications drafted. Users should be involved from the beginning, through interviews and on-the-ground observation.

– A heuristic evaluation should be performed by two or more specialists on any product in development, before proceeding with usability tests. This is a good way to maximize the relevance of usability tests, as it will eliminate the most obvious ergonomic obstacles early on.

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