Wave ahhoi

Google will stop developing Wave. Wasn’t it a bit 90ies anyway? Why converging different communication applications into one while the Web appears to disintegrate into discrete apps (and a walled garden called facebook)? It appears that people prefer using dedicated channels depending on recipients, contexts, topics … One person alone might already have many personas with different communication needs. So not really a surprise that people considered Wave to be clumsy, incomprehensible, and rather pointless.

Simplifying sensibly

Simplicity is a prime user experience principle. Making simple things, however, is actually quite difficult. Particularly because most clients usually are not willing to compromise on features and functionality. Instead of building simple things from scratch, more often than not, I find myself making things difficult first. Then I simplify carefully and (to the best of my knowledge) sensibly. This gives me sufficient control over trade-offs and design decisions to be made. Also, a simplified version can easily be scaled back to its original size, if necessary (there is still a client).

This is how it works for me:

  1. Get a complete picture of business requirements, user needs, context, specified functionality, given dependencies, and core content/data objects.
  2. Establish priorities for user experience, functionality, and content. Find out what users consider as ‘simple’ for this particular product.
  3. Design a high level model that fully accommodates the needs. Quickly prototype the application.
  4. Review the prototype. Identify potential for simplifying things: secondary content/data/functionality; unnecessary hierarchies; competing calls to action and interaction paradigms. Then get out your tools:
  • Discard: Remove irrelevant content, functionality, menus, items.
  • Consolidate: Merge content, calls to action, sections. Be careful not to create unwanted new hierarchies.
  • Streamline: Declare primary mission of a product/section/screen and make everything support this mission.
  • Flatten: Remove doorsteps, speed bumps, and stairs. Example: Navigation tabs are only necessary, if you have more than three navigation items. If it’s two, use a toggle button.

BBC news redesign – the verdict

Ok, I’ve used the site for a couple of weeks now. Here’s my verdict:

  • It works. But I cannot say it works better than the previous design.
  • Where is the style sheet? The site needs skinning. Looks like high def wireframes went online. White space is useful if employed in a controlled manner.
  • Definitely have a problem with top navigation. Why having UK and England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales as top labels?? (Ok, I know why, but I don’t agree.) Also: if I’d come up with the labels ‘Sci/Environment’ and ‘Entertainment & Arts’ I’d most probably got sent back to my desk.

I still find it kind of embarassing to see BBC news with an inconsistent global BBC banner.

Biased answers in usability testing

Self-reported data is typically three steps removed from the truth:

  • In answering questions (particularly in a focus group), people bend the truth to be closer to what they think you want to hear or what’s socially acceptable.
  • In telling you what they do, people are really telling you what they remember doing. Human memory is very fallible, especially regarding the small details that are crucial for interface design. Users cannot remember some details at all, such as interface elements that they didn’t see.
  • In reporting what they do remember, people rationalize their behavior. Countless times I have heard statements like “I would have seen the button if it had been bigger.” Maybe. All we know is that the user didn’t see the button.

Jakob Nielsen (2001): First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users