Evaluation: role-playing the UI

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

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: heuristic analysis

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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Lightbulb tactics – dealing with usability issues that don’t get fixed

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

A matrix of tactics for getting usability issues fixed. Click on it to see a bigger, annotated version!

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Notes and resources: designing effective data visualizations

It was great to hear Noah Iliinsky talk about how to apply a design process to data visualisation. He spent three hours with us, starting off with a short talk, and then guiding the audience through applying this design process to their data in a meaningful way.

Noah Iliinsky sharing ideas during his workshop for EBI Interfaces

A fuzzy iPhone photo of Noah Iliinsky sharing ideas during his workshop for EBI Interfaces

Anyone whom I work with will know that I’m often asking “What problem are you trying to solve?“, and this of course applies as well to data visualisation as it does system or interaction design. So it’s no surprise that I find Noah’s work really engaging and inspiring. He talks about understanding your reader (the audience… the “user” – their drivers and needs); understanding your data (its characteristics and dimensions, and the message within that you wish to convey); understanding the choices that you can make as you apply a design process to visualisation, choosing how to convey knowledge and enable action.

Triangulating these gets you most of the way to good data visualisation.

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Card sorting resources

Card Sorting - the book by Donna SpencerSome of you might have attended the most recent how-to workshop we ran on campus, looking at card sorting as a technique for organising information. If you’d like to follow up on that and learn more, Donna Spencer (@maadonna), author of the Rosenfeld Media book “Card Sorting – designin usable categories” has just updated her resoursces page for the topic.

Lots of great information, advice and articles.

Personas for the EBI resdesign

Example EBI redesign personaA lot of work has been going into the redesign of the EBI website  over the last few months. We’re steadily moving into the design of various things – content, navigation, pages, interfaces, and so on. As soon as we have something interactive, in whatever state, we plan to get it in front of users as soon as possible and test its usability.

Before that, though, we have to make something. One of the key things that we think will help us inform our design work is the use of personas. There is a lot of good information out there on how to create personas and how to use them, and my colleague Antony has already written about personas on the EBI Interfaces blog.

Recently, I worked with team-mates Jenny Cham and Andrew Cowley to produce personas for this project, and I wanted to share some of our work with you.

Do It Yourself

Go ahead and download the custom template for Word (.dot) and amend or adjust it to suit your needs. You can also download a little guide (.doc) that has an annotated example with explanations of each feature.

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Excellent free eBook on web design from Smashing Magazine

I’ve just had a quick flick through it, but there are lots of great articles on usability, typography, etc.

This Smashing eBook contains best ― most useful, most interesting or most inspiring ― articles about Web design and development that have been published on Smashing Magazine over the last five years.

Get it for your iPad, iPhone and iDon’tCareWhatElse here…


Do you see what I see? – BBC Horizon

This is a relevant article on the BBC about our perception of colour. There was also an episode last night on BBC 2 about it, but I missed it. You can watch it here on iPlayer though. Although it’s quite obvious that each of us will see colours differently as a result of many colluding factors including the distribution of cone photoreceptors on our retina plus signal processing in the visual cortex, it’s worth considering that combined with different monitors, printers and related colour profiles that we have yet another layer of complexity in dealing with colour and how we present it to users. There is also a slightly more technical piece about perception of colour when multiple wavelengths are present here.

The grey tiles on the left look blue, and the grey tiles on the right look yellow