I recently had the pleasure of attending a one-day tutorial on data visualisation, given by Andy Kirk (@visualisingdata) on the Genome Campus. I was particularly glad that we were able to organise for Andy to run his tutorial here since, rather like Noah Iliinsky and Miriah Myer, Andy frames his guide to data visualisation in terms of a design process; something close to my [UX design] heart.
Taking a step-by-step approach to exploring one’s data, learning about the audience and their goals, deciding on the purpose of the visualisation, and taking time to experiment with different possible solutions is an essential grounding to set down for people, I think.
The March issue of BMC Bioinformatics includes the first ‘how to’ guide for applying user-centred design (UCD) to websites for bioinformatics. In this post, written by user experience (UX) professionals at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) UK, we find out how UCD could positively impact scientific discovery in the life sciences.
Paper prototyping for Enzyme Portal
Bioinformatics services can be really useful for scientific research, but unfortunately they have a reputation for being too technical and hard-to-use. This is because it is usually the software developers who decide how bioinformatics software looks and behaves, rather than the biomedical researchers who actually use the resource.
In our article, we outline a better approach – focusing on what the users want.
Activity-centered design (ACD) is a concept that appears to have its roots in activity theory, mostly of the Scandinavian flavour. It asks designers to focus on (wait for it… ) the activities that people are carrying out, and that a system should support.
It is a high-level view of tasks and goals and clearly does not focus on “the user” as an individual unit. Instead, it gives us a framework in which to consider what people do, or what we want them to be able to do, in a more-or-less general sense. This can be a very attractive perspective to take in situations where the user-base is very diverse, the goals are varied, but the broad activities are less numerous and easier to define.
Activity theory itself addresses the psychology of working and learning. It has influenced, and subsequently been influenced by, human-computer interaction research.
Following on from some email discussions, some of my EMBL-EBI colleagues asked me if I could give a general talk on the topic of user research.
They work on Ensembl, one of the joint flagship projects of both the Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI. It is described as “[a project that] produces genome databases for vertebrates and other eukaryotic species, and makes this information freely available online”. It is a complex system that supports the activities of thousands of scientists around the world.
There were a couple of specific questions that they wanted to explore, and I tried to cover them. I also made the general point that to gain value from user research, we need to dig below the surface, to have articulated goals, and to have a mechanism for reporting findings and acting on them.
A big thank you for the invitation.
It’s about that time of year again! Vizbi, the conference for visualizing biological data, returns in March. This year, it will take place at the Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA, between March 20 and 22. There are half-day tutorials available on March 19.
Early registration closes on February 8. If you cannot make it to Cambridge, USA, you have the option of virtual registration: this allows participation via streaming video, with the possibility to ask questions of the speakers
Back in June 2012, I was contacted by UX designer and visual note-taker extraordinaire, Mike Rohde. We’d been in touch before, to talk about “sketchnotes” and spreading ideas around. Along with 14 others, Mike asked me if I would like to provide some artwork for an upcoming book: the Sketchnote Handbook.
Are bears Catholic? Does the Pope… ? Well, yeah – you get the idea. I was only too happy to produce some illustrations and that book has now been published.
Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in a week-long “seminar” on data visualization for biology, to be held in September 2012, at a computer science institute called Schloss Dagstuhl, in Germany. I was pleased and surprised to receive this invitation out-of-the-blue, having never heard of Dagstuhl, but given that it came from Seán O’Donoghue (co-organiser of the Vizbi conference), I was happy to accept.
To start with, I didn’t know who else was invited or what I was supposed to do there. As it is, it turned out to be a very rewarding and productive session. Outcomes include papers, talks, invitations, videos, sketchnotes (of course!), plans for future events and conferences, and new collaborations.
Yes, there is an actual Schloss… a mini one, at least
A matrix of tactics for getting usability issues fixed
On July 20th, I had the pleasure of giving a workshop at UX Bristol 2012 alongside Caroline Jarrett. We promised that we would share all the great ideas and recommendations that our participants generated. These were tactics for how to make sure that the usability ussues you find actually get fixed.
A big thank you to Steve Krug for allowing us to build on all the work he did with Caroline on this topic, and for letting us reuse his slides in our presentation.
The following is a matrix of those “lightbulb tactics“, with the four main usability testing phases we considered on one axis, and some apparent themes along the other. I produced those themes by doing a quick bit of affinity mapping of all the tactics… hopefully, they make sense!
A matrix of tactics for getting usability issues fixed. Click on it to see a bigger, annotated version!
None of the projects I work on follow an Agile process. Imagine that.
That’s not to say it’s all waterfall but the team I work in, in particular, has too many separate projects on the go to be able to make the most of Scrum or Kanban, sprints and burn-down charts. Our open-plan office would quickly be wall-papered with those charts, if we had one per project!
All this is to say that I have largely ignored discussions about “how do we combine traditional UXD practices, especially up-front user research, with the Agile process?” and more recently, the development of lean UX. There are people whom I respect (people like Adrian Howard, Jeff Gothelf and Johanna Kollman) who know a whole lot about these things… but I’ve rather let it pass me by.
Then I was at UX Lisbon in May, 2012, where Jeff Gothelf spoke about lean UX and building a shared understanding, and I really sat up in my seat. “Hang on,”, I said to myself, “given Jeff’s 5-part definition of lean UX, it looks as though I’m doing that already!”
Lean UX in action? Developer, domain expert and UX designer (me, taking the photo) at the EBI