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UX lightning talks 2014 – Cambridge Usability Group

6 May

I was lucky enough to be involved in organising the UX lightning talks event for Cambridge Usability Group again this year. Towards the end of March, I sent out a call for people in the Cambridge UX community who would like to give a 5-minute talk about their work. Tips and tricks, stories from the trenches, thoughts, ideas, questions… anything. They didn’t disappoint, and on the night, to a sell-out * audience, everyone shared ideas and told stories based on their experience.  Just for a bit of added excitement / headache, I gave a talk as well. We hosted it at Microsoft Research, and Red Gate Software kindly sponsored drinks afterwards at a nearby pub.

I’ve managed to pull together notes for the talks, in order of appearance…

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Evaluation: role-playing the UI

4 Mar

While this might not be as strict (or serious?!) an evaluation technique as, say, heuristic analysis or usability testing, having two people act out the roles of the user and the user interface (UI) of system can, I think, be very revealing.

It’s a little bit like some of the more elaborate “paper prototyping” scenarios I’ve seen, but I first heard of this in a talk by Stephen P Anderson, at UXLx 2010. Perhaps the best thing to do is see Stephen describe it at another event in Norway.

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Evaluation: usability testing

4 Mar

Observing representative users carry out representative tasks using a system (for example, your data visualisation tool), and recording any issues that come up!

Ideally, there’s a participant (a user to test your system), facilitator (that might be you), and observer (let them take notes).

sketchnotes of usability testing tips & tricks

Dave Hamill’s usability testing tips & tricks (sketchnotes from NUX2)

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Evaluation: critique

4 Mar

As part of evaluation, critique gives you a structured way to discuss usability issues with the developer of a system. Aim to give and receive feedback in positive way. Be kind, though. You don’t need to put the recipient on the defensive (although that takes skill and practice).

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Evaluation: heuristic analysis

4 Mar

Heuristic analysis provides a way of objectively evaluating your own work or that of others against a set of design principles (“heuristics”). While it is a great way to pick up issues early on, it is not a replacement for observing real people using your system. We’ll get to usability testing later on!

ten usability heuristics

A nice little primer for Jakob Nielens’ 10 Usability Heuristics. This was created by João Machini and is used with permission

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Javascript: sold out

23 Jan

Registration for the Javascript Tips & Best Practices event mentioned in my previous post opened on January 17 and co-organiser, Rafael Jimenez, and I held our breath.

We knew that lots of people, both on the Genome Camps and off it, were interested but we were less sure about the extent to which that would translate into actually selling places! Turns out that we needn’t have worried.

Places were sold out in a record 29 minutes. Now, there’s a waiting list and it looks as though we could run the same event a week later and fill it. Phew.

Screengrab from

Screengrab from

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13 Jan

Between February 26th and 28th, the EBI will play host to Javascript Tips & Best Practices: A hands-on workshop. Over the course of three days, participants will learn about Javascript for modern web development, as well as have an opportunity to talk about how they’re using Javascript in their work.

Since the summer of 2013, I’ve been working with my colleague, Rafael Jimenez, to take this from an idea to reality. Though we hope to have lots of interest from staff at both the EBI and the Sanger Institute, the event is open to anyone.


Inside the European Bioinformatics Institute

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A little bit of UI design

24 Sep

While I am keen to make it understood that UX design is not UI design, now and then, I am asked to help design a user interface. During the summer, I was pulled onto a project last minute: “Can you help us with this presenter interface?”. It turned out to be an interesting little exercise, and the end result seems to be pretty good.


Start screen from the control panel

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User research plans

8 Aug

To maintain your sanity, and as a tool for communicating the goals of user research, a plan is essential.

I’m not a fan of lots of documentation in a project and anyway, exhaustive development specifications and milestone reports are usually not part of the projects I work on at EMBL-EBI. Even so, for a given piece of user research, I want to have a plan, and the single-page kind that Tomer Sharon recommends is perhaps my favourite way of doing this.

A friend recently asked for an example of one of these single-page user research plans, so here’s one I drafted recently. I’ve anonymised it slightly, so it might seem a little bit vague!

example user research plan

An anonymised example of a single-page user research plan

Since the idea of considering the user experience of using EMBL-EBI bioinformatics resources took root about four years ago, we’ve been able to build on past successes and peoples’ trust, and expand that kind of UX design-related work we can get done.

More recently, we’ve begun to get more traction for carrying out research of users and their habits early in a project, to give us a solid foundation for design and development work. This is brilliant, since it brings us closer to the community and learn from their stories, but just like scientific research, user research needs to be planned. To have a record of this, I’ve adapted Tomer’s format very slightly, and now I have something that I can use myself, and that I can share with team-mates, project leaders, and other stakeholders.


Participatory design: including people in the design process at UX Cambridge 2012

2 Aug

This blog post is long overdue. At UX Cambridge 2012, I was lucky enough to be joined by my friends Mel Findlater (@melfindlater) and David “Sheff” Barker (@mcshefferty) in running a workshop called “Design for Society”. The aim was to give participants an taste of running a participatory design session, and we included both UX designers (conference attendees) and “real people” – in this case, long-term wheelchair users and their carers. Thank you to everyone who took part!

Participatory design workshop participants

Designers and non-designers working together to understand design problems. With Lego.

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