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Getting Real

by on November 29, 2006

I’ve been reading 37 Signals’s book Getting Real on line. This caused a bit of stir when it came out as it self-consciously throws out the rule book(s) on application development and looks firmly towards the new dawn of Web 2.0, and (sort of) in the direction of an extreme “agile” methodology. All the rage. […]

The Soul of Socialism Under Hucknall

by on November 23, 2006

I don’t read the Guardian much these days, but I’ve always known it as a broadsheet with a sense of humour. Their printing today of this article, “written” by Mick Hucknall, and the inevitable comments about it on line, must be one of the funniest online occurrences this year. Hucknall (oh OK, it’s some music […]

Will X-Series Light the 3G Touchpaper?

by on November 19, 2006

It’s not long now until 3 starts selling its X-Series in the UK. Hidden among the usual bundling and partnerships fluff (eBay, Skype, etc.) is a rather quiet, yet potentially cataclysmic feature: X-Series will have flat-rate pricing. So, after the glorious £4.3 billion they spent on their 3G license and the completely predictable failure of […]

Distributed Boing Boing on Webtorque

by on November 18, 2006

One of the sites I read rather a lot is Boing Boing. Some over-enthusiastic web filtering software (and possibly some oppressive regimes) classifies Boing Boing as an undesirable site and blocks it. So, I’ve installed the Distributed Boing Boing proxy on this website. The URL for the proxy is http://www.webtorque.org/dbb.php Now might also be a […]

Christian Lindholm at UX 2006

by on November 18, 2006

I’ve been meaning to record my thoughts about seeing Christian Lindholm, head of Yahoo! Mobile (and former Director of Multimedia Applications for the Nokia Ventures) talking about “Mobile Usability” at the Neilsen Norman Group’s User Experience 2006 in London a couple of week ago. Firstly, let me state that I’m not exactly a mobile phone […]

Worthy Petitions

by on November 18, 2006

10 Downing Street, in conjunction with mySociety, have recently launched an on-line petition system where citizens can collect signatures for issues with which to petition the government. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to lend your support to petition set up by Suw Charman of the Open Rights Group: “Thousands of people own […]

Graphics and Relevance

by on November 14, 2006

This graphic “explaining” what the BBC’s honeypot might have been employed to do had it been hijacked (which I assume it wasn’t – how boring) is all but pointless. While rather an extreme example, I think it highlights rather well what I’ve realised recently is the biggest single problem I have with graphical representations of […]

User Experience 2006

by on November 6, 2006

Originally uploaded by Gilgongo. I’ve been at User Experience 2006 (London). Don Norman looks even more like Capt. Birdseye than normal, but he had some good things to say along with bashing Microsoft and spending rather too long talking about cars. A good day out I think – and one that also might need to […]

A Great Disturbance in The Force

by on November 2, 2006

As prophesied, the roll-out of IE7 via Windows Update started today, and as a “High Priority” update no less. Webmasters everywhere now need to be afraid. Well, afraid of those running legitimate copies of Windows, since the wording on the download mentions that it’s for those with “genuine installations” – so WGA will prevent the […]

Seven After Five Years

by on October 19, 2006

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 was released in August 2001. This week, one of the biggest and most damaging private monopolies in human history relented, and fully five years after, we now have their MSIE 7. I installed it today. Coincidentally, a couple of days before I heard that the 7 was out, I happend to […]

Tag Cloudy

by on October 16, 2006

I’ve become a bit of a tag cloud hawk recently, looking for examples of their use and what I think is abuse, or just plain old misunderstanding. My definition of a useful tag cloud is something that allows you to get a feel for the “mood” of the information tagged on a site. On the […]

Online Payment Form Patterns

by on October 8, 2006

When designing an e-commerce site, it’s hard to avoid the payment form. For an industry barely a decade old, the payment page has a powerful mystique – associated as it is with high technology like i-frames, fraud, mysterious loss of life savings, and alien invasion. I was thinking about this last week after reviewing some […]

Giving RIAs an STD

by on September 24, 2006

I’m sure there’s a wittier subject line for this, but it’s hardly worth the effort. The project I’m currently working on has some “wizzy” interactivity planned, and verges on being a proper “rich Internet application” sometimes. As mentioned here before though, people like me working in the stultifying confines of a web development agency are […]

A Problem With Search Forms

by on September 9, 2006

Golly – it’s about time I wrote down something about user experience design, seeing as this is what this blog is suppose to be about. I’ve been doing some work for a site re-design, starting with user testing 24 people over two weeks. We asked them (a wide demographic) to use some currently live sites […]

Proof, If Proof Be Needed

by on September 9, 2006

Microsoft’s “fastest patch ever” is interesting: If you really want to see Microsoft scramble to patch a hole in its software, don’t look to vulnerabilities that impact countless Internet Explorer users or give intruders control of thousands of Windows machines. Just crack Redmond’s DRM. One of the more stunning conversations I’ve ever had with a […]

It’s The Spammers – They’re In It With The Aliens!

by on September 8, 2006

The recent Sunday Times report(s) on keylogging got me thinking about why journos never examine the other dimension of the problem of keyloggers and security compromise: spam. The Times basically took the start of the problem to be a mysterious process of “inadvertently downloading a Trojan” which then installs a keylogger, which then reports all […]

Goodbye Drupal – Hello WordPress

by on September 2, 2006

Welcome to a new Webtorque – now running WordPress. Drupal had fallen victim to the vagaries of software versions. For the geeks: I was running Webtorque on Drupal 4.4.2 (the current version is 4.7.3). This web server runs Red Hat Enterprse v3.2, which has PHP 4.2.2. Red Hat will not move RHEL 3 to a […]

Being Rude About Alan Cooper

by on July 31, 2006

Alan Cooper: feted genius, father of Visual Basic and giant of user-centred design. Jonathan Baker-Bates: pitiful, microscopic nobody. But at least I’ve designed a few websites…

I assume Alan Cooper hasn’t designed any significant web sites because Cooper Interaction Design only lists one in its case studies, and that is HP Shopping. Cooper (or more likely his acolytes) identified a needs-based persona and presumably designed for that and not any others, as per the methodology handed down by the great man. HP then ditched that design for a solidly features-based Endeca boilerplate a couple of years later. Oddly, the only thing Cooper says about the project in terms of results is that most users would have recommend the site to others. The lack of any reference to sales, or even traffic, speaks volumes to me about Cooper and their work for HP.

Weird World of Appraisals

by on July 19, 2006

One of the less wonderful things about working as a permanent employee for a company larger than a certain size, is that you have appraisals every six months. And every six months both you, your line manager, and anyone you care to talk to about the appraisal system agree wholeheartedly that the experience is awful. Having passed through several companies, each with their own interpretation of what makes a good appraisal, I have the somewhat dubious pleasure of being able to compare and contrast different systems. Having had my first appraisal at my new company today, here are my findings.

Question 1: A Search Engine Is…?

by on July 5, 2006

I’ve been attending a few of the many think-ins that the publishing industry, pressure groups and various other institutions have been having recently around the subject of The Internet and What Is Means For Us.

Sadly, these have been largely unnoteworthy, although my attendance at the IPPR event last night “The Long Tail: Opportunities in a New Marketplace?” threw up an example of what I hope is not a very wide misconception about Google and search engines in general.

Stovepiping The Future

by on June 24, 2006

Any normal person will of course have heard nothing about the recent merger between LBIcon (business consulting, branding, communication and technology services) with Framfab (web marketing, design and production) into the largest digital design, marcomms, branding and technology firm in Europe. Indeed, the newly-merged entity will rival that of the super giants of Digitas, Omincom and others that currently graze among the lush forests of digital media in the States and Asia. This is surely a tectonic event.

AJAX and Use

by on May 24, 2006

No blog is complete without some stultifying post about AJAX or some other generally asynchronous thing. As a user of the damn stuff it’s beginning to get me riled, but at the risk of adding more guff to the pile, two points occurred to me with some clarity the other day. Firstly, that whenever somebody mentions AJAX out of any context not bound strictly to discussions of the DOM and that godforsaken XMLHttpRequest object etc. etc. they are really talking about rich Internet applications. Secondly, geeks like me that talk from either side of the end-user divide have their glasses steamed up too much to notice that what I think I’d like to call “non-paged interaction” has in fact been known and loved on the web for years.

Even in Texas

by on May 11, 2006

I was in Dallas last week. It’s a big place – it has the second largest airport in the world in terms of square mileage. Even the city is so big it gives you a feeling that hardly anyone’s there. We went there to observe some user testing of a prototype I’d created, and to conduct some marathon meetings with the client. We discussed, amongst other things, the juicy subject of how we’re to engage with the build team, etc.

When the Internet is Gone

by on April 12, 2006

Recent events toward something collectively dubbed the “two-tier Internet” by journos have got me thinking about the future of the Internet again. Bear in mind Clay Shirky’s adage that whenever he thinks about what should happen, it prevents him from thinking about what will. The following is therefore not particularly considered against anything and is doubtless rooted in too many pre-conceptions, but what the hell. See what you think.

Forward into the future by 50 years, when those evil ISPs have squeezed the life out of the Internet. The “commercial network” is an oligopoly of walled gardens, each as dull and boring as one another, having long since raced to the bottom for lowest common denominator appeal. Microsoft controls the EyeCandy Platform on which much of it is based, and most have ditched TPC/IP as being too “outdated.” Content is controlled by a handful of media conglomerates that pump out a methadone metronome of sport, celebrity gossip sites and vapid branding vehicles masquerading as “lifestyle portals.” TV, voice communication and the old Internet have now pretty much melded into one on line. Music on the network is largely the preserve of pre-teen pap pop since DRM is built in to the protocols in use – nothing that isn’t part of the ISP’s kickback deals with music publishers is allowed to play. But music (and print) publishers, as we shall see, have all but died a complete death. The artistic desert of the Old Internet is the only place they can ply a trade.

Thirst for Truth in Card Sorting

by on April 8, 2006

I know the phrase “card sorting” either baffles, bores or does something else beginning with ‘b’ to almost everyone that hears it. Perhaps the most vocal source of information and critique of card sorting techniques recently has been the force that is Maadmob’s Donna Maurer. I recently caught her attention on this subject via comments on the blog of another Australian IA, Leisa Reichelt.

Leisa had been blogging about her negative experience of card sorting in the context of “validating” an information architecture. I’d been thinking about this and the wider issue of whether related techniques might be better or worse, and under which circumstances.

The Pleasure Principle

by on March 24, 2006

Music is like drugs – if you have a relationship with it at all it tends to be at its most intense when you’re young. But in common with most people of my age, I suppose I’ve drifted away from music as a passion to it being merely an occasional pastime. A CD on a Sunday afternoon, some backing music to a kids party… I feel this does most of what I like a huge injustice (and Axel’s friends must be amongst very few toddlers who have played pass the parcel to Killing Joke’s Democracy). I certainly don’t play music any more (well, I was a drummer that couldn’t drive and didn’t own a van – my days in bands were numbered). And in the past five years, it’s all fallen victim to the Three Hour Tyranny.

Social Software, Politics and Getting it Right

by on March 8, 2006

About once every six months or so, somebody on the otherwise excellent SIGIA mailing list posts to say they think there are too many “off topic” posts. This is invariably couched in some painfully lame justification – in this case appealing to us to “respect others” – but more usually assuming the mantle of “the silent majority” or some other hogwash. Naturally, I reminded them in my customarily restrained manner that they were idiots. Nobody took any notice.

Slightly Ironic Burroughs Quotation Farce

by on March 1, 2006

At the beginning of the month, I posted a comment on one of Framfab’s public blog postings. It was, as usual, rather spur of the moment, in between coffee and the next round of application testing we’re doing. In it, I clipped some text I found around a quote from Naked Lunch that I was looking for. I originally just wanted the quote, but the text I found around it served my point rather well. I should have attributed it, but what happened next was interesting.

The Biggest Threat is Obscurity

by on February 23, 2006

I went to see Cory Doctorow and others on a panel organised by Free Culture UK last night. The subject was “Open Content” – a moniker given to the concept of digitisable works of either art or craft distributed under an alternative copyright licence (such as Creative Commons). Inevitably, a lot of ground was covered by the speakers, and one of the hottest topics of the evening was the recently-launched BBC’s Open Archive project. I wasn’t actually aware that they’d launched, but it sounds evil.

Shamisen Trouble

by on February 19, 2006

Somebody at work was asking what they might be able to buy in Japan for £100-200 as a birthday gift. Gagetry of various types was suggested, but I chipped in the idea that for that money they could get a reasonable shamisen. At least, that’s what some friends bought me for my birthday once and I’ve always counted it as one of my prized possessions. It’s a wonder of wooden engineering: collapsible into a small case a bit bigger than a shoebox, and wonderfully made. Kumi doesn’t like Japanese stuff lying about, so the days when it was propped up casually next to the Bang & Olufsen are long gone.

It’s been shut away in its box for at least a year or so, and it occured to me that I’d not given it a pluck for a while. So, while Kumi was at Tescos I took the box out of the cupboard and – horror! It’s warped!

Ubuntu Linux for Me

by on December 13, 2005

Well I finally did it. I had no particular stimulus other than me being on holiday and saw a Slashdot post about a recent review of Linux distros for the desktop. They’d rated Ubuntu highest, so I went along to distrowatch.com and did some reading up. After downloading and burning the (single) ISO, I’m now running it. I always find descriptions of Windows to Linux migrations pretty boring, so I’ll lay off the details about how I got my printer working, etc. but after about 48 hours hacking about, I’ve now got almost everything I need and Windows seems long gone.

fool.co.uk

by on December 5, 2005

I’ve just posted a rant on www.fool.co.uk about their awful site design. Hm. Feel a bit guilty. A bit soiled to be honest… I actually think the site’s content is fantastic. But the form of that content really, really stinks. The last straw was their announcement of some forthcoming “layout changes” which (I assume) have now gone live. In classic 1995 style, they’ve just made things worse. The site needs major surgery.

Words and Pictures

by on November 24, 2005

I just spend my life specifying stuff. There’s just no time for anything else. Creativity, research, even design (always an afterthought…) is pretty much a covert activity when you’ve got the offshore crews to keep happy. But once in a while I feel I’ve made some headway somewhere, however microscopic.

Men In Black – The Conspiracy

by on October 13, 2005

Coming home from work seems to be a time when I can think slightly creatively. This is a pity, since I’m paid to do that while I’m at work, but the sheer cacophony and chaos of the office I work in kills that stone dead about 20 mins after the morning coffee. Today, for instance, somebody’s PC fan started running in emergency cooling mode. This, combined with the telephones, keyboard tapping, seemingly constant car alarms and the (yes) children’s’ playground outside, made it feel like we were all riding a Boeing 747 to hell. None of us did anything about it of course, and least of all IT. If I were managing a company that supposedly traded on creative thinking, I’d… oh, never mind.

Her Heart’s In the Right Place

by on September 6, 2005

This blog post shows how chaotic the discipline of IA is (see the comments in particular). There’s not even a pretense of union, agreement or even polite tolerance of divergent views amongst the practitioners. I look at designs by other people and I feel almost bound by duty to pepper them with criticism. I even expect it in others: a senior colleague recently reviewed some work I’d done and drew large rings around some elements, writing the words “awful” in large red ink next to them. Two months later, and after much fruitless experiment, the same interaction he so abhorred has now been deployed. The belief that there’s a mythical “true way” promotes the idea that the one who puts their idea across with enough force wins. We’re no worse than cowboy builders or politicians. Oh, and Euro IA rejected my application to give a presentation. Bastards.

It’s Difficult – So Let’s Leave the User Out of It.

by on August 29, 2005

For too long, login, registration and online point of sale processes have been designed either by IT business analysts who see users as UML symbols, or worse by developers who don’t want to think about users at all. More often than not, information architects get frozen out. I’ve worked on loads of sites that had ecommerce or registration processes that for some reason were deemed out of our scope for us. So we deliver a great experience up until the point the customer actually wants to engage with the site, whereupon it’s all “enter your 15 digit user name with no spaces or diacritical marks.”

Going Postal

by on July 25, 2005

I’m selling a shower rail on eBay, and a bidder has asked me how much it might be send to Germany. That should be easy to find out (indeed, why don’t they look it up themselves the lazy buggers?) I’ve got a vision of a nice form to fill out: dimensions, weight, destination, insurance, etc. And with this in mind I go to the Royal Mail. I go to City Link. I Google.

Functional Specifications

by on July 6, 2005

I’m three weeks into a brand new project, and my mind is on requirements and specifications. Like every project I’ve ever worked on, this is unique. This time, it’s unique because it was half documented and thought about, and was then mothballed. Now it’s back from the dead a year later, and I’m on the case trying to make sense of what was done. There’s one person in my department who worked on it before it was frozen, but the others (who wrote most of the docs) have gone.

A Trouble with Folksonomies

by on June 29, 2005

Had an informal presentation today about folksonomies. A lot has been said about them recently, and I don’t think anyone’s thinking of them as really serious tools to rival more traditional systems or techniques, but some things that came to mind about the long term future started with that Killing Joke track.

Content Mapping

by on March 8, 2005

Sometimes I think I’m the only person who lies awake at night worrying about content. Well, I don’t literally do that, but it feels like I might be sometimes. I’m certainly gaining broken record status on the issue and thinking crying-in-the-wilderness thoughts at times.

Part of the problem is that it’s hard to articulate what the problem exactly is (well, I find it hard at least). It’s certainly made harder by the fact that according to the content management software industry it’s not a problem that exists if you use a CMS. How could it, since such software “manages” content! And who indeed could possibly have a problem with managing content after they’d spent half a million bucks on the latest enterprise XML format-agnostic end-to-end solution?

Remote Card Sorting

by on February 24, 2005

Back at the grindstone this week with an interesting foray into card sorting, but this time using a web application while facilitating users (one to one) over conference calls. It’s thrown up some issues, and almost fallen apart at the seams at one point, but I think it’s going to be helpful in the next stage of working out the site’s taxonomy.

Friends Provident’s Customer Registration

by on January 15, 2005

When I started this blog I told myself it would be a good place to critique online experiences of various kinds. I’ve actually done very little of this, mainly because it’s unexpectedly difficult: you only realise you’ve got a badly designed experience on your hands when you’re some way into the journey, and back-tracking to record the process is usually not possible. I’ve half caputured this mess of a customer registration journey though – it’s really terrible though.

Illuminated Scrolls

by on November 8, 2004

Busy this last week doing “pixel-perfect wireframes” (don’t ask). I dunno. With seemingly the whole world going with Jakob on this one: low-fidelity, fast iteration prototyping with rapid whatnots; we’re plodding away with Freehand documents and hardly even a whiteboard sketch between them and the A3 colour printer that lovingly prints them out. All this after Visio purgatory and the dreaded “user journeys” as well (the latter not done by me, luckily). All we need now is some site map psychosis and the madness will be complete. Still – if the client’s paying, I’m all for it. And I’m sure it’s good for me to do this… somehow (grits teeth…).

Flow Diagrams

by on October 25, 2004

For the past couple of weeks, I have been doing flow diagrams in Visio. These are supposed to describe the “flow” of pages that a user goes through when ordering certain things on our client’s site. They are exhaustive representations of every permutation of that journey, showing the exceptions, error screens, diversions, etc. that are encountered. And sweet Jesus are they boring to do. Not only that, but they’re frustrating, confusing, relentless and needlessly time-consuming. Let me count the ways…

IA Research Shorts

by on September 28, 2004

There’s some interesting stuff here, including summary of some research showing that changing navigation in subtle ways actually helps users navigate (and aids their understanding of the depth of the site), thereby seeming to contradict the standard guideline that navigation should be kept consistent. Also talks about other things such as classifying information toward the end of the process, not the beginning. It’s a presentation but has some citations worth following.

Then there’s some page-scrolling stuff that’s good to counter the nay-sayers.

Usability and Understanding

by on July 31, 2004

User testing in London and Milan last week. The scripts we’re using for this are pretty complicated, and the client wants us to cover off a lot of very specific questions about the system, which was pretty tough to do while making sure the user was relaxed enough to give us reasonably truthful answers.

Why Doesn’t BBC News Online Understand?

by on July 17, 2004

One thing that gets me irrational about BBC News Online is the glaring lack of any proper back channel. People want to talk, and I for one resent only having half a chance to do so. The “Have your say” links at the bottom of some (but not all) stories, accompanied by the pretty contemptuous small print: “The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published,” works me up even more.

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