Cambridge University Design / UX group

Review: A Project Guide to UX Design

Published in March this year, Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler’s book, “A Project Guide to UX Desgin”, and less than £14 on Amazon, is well worth a look.

A Project Guide to UX Design (book cover)

A Project Guide to UX Design (book cover)

The back cover synopsis reads as follows:

User experience design is the discipline of creating a useful and usable Web site or application—one that’s easily navigated and meets the needs of both the site owner and its users. But there’s a lot more to successful UX design than knowing the latest Web technologies or design trends: It takes diplomacy, project management skills, and business savvy. That’s where this book comes in. Authors Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler show you how to integrate UX principles into your project from start to finish.

It is modern, well laid-out, and fresh. I have only begun reading it, really, and scanned through the rest, but it is great so far. I have skipped ahead to the authors’ thoughts on integrating user-centred design principles with existing project practices, and there are similarly good sections on how to place yourself as a designer within a project.

The chapters on gathering requirements and user research also look especially good. At first glance, the authors arent simply propounding yet another way of tackling issues; they are considering the best practices that exist, and building on them, which looks good to me.

Check it out.

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Jakob Nielsen: Guesses vs. Data

In a fine article from Jakob Nielsen’s website, UseIt, Nielsen discusses the wisdom of making design decisions based on guesses and personal preference, versus basing them on data and facts. It makes for interesting reading. (thanks for the heads-up, Helen)

Even the tiniest amount of empirical facts (say, observing 2 users) vastly improves the probability of making correct UI design decisions.

Filed under: News, Review

Design with agility

I have been thinking recently about the approach that I take to running a project. Not necessarily project management as such, but the sort of processes or methodology that I apply to going from initial scoping to the end product. It is something worth considering, particularly if you are going to be working as part of a team, where a specific development process is already well-established.

Now, this isn’t the place to discuss all those different models for development processes, so if you want to know the difference between “pigs” and “chickens”, you can read all about it on Wikipedia!

Anyway, if you have any familiarity with this stuff already, you will know that the Agile model is a popular one amongst development teams. I spotted a couple of good presentations that cover the realities of Agile processes, the pros and cons, and how to fit and design and UX work in with an Agile process.

Here goes with two embedded presentations…

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Designing the Details (reprise)

You might remember that I wrote something a little while ago about spending time on the details of your design, and trying to make sure that aesthetics are not overlooked in a project. The form of your design shouldn’t be just a pretty skin that fits over all the functionality – the two things should be combined into one product.

Well, the guy who gave the presentation that I referred to in that article, one Stephen P. Anderson, has written about the same thing (with pictures!) in A List Apart.

Well worth reading.

Filed under: Review

Is interaction necessary?

Sarah Humbert, Librarian, Dept of Earth Sciences

Lately, on my bus journeys home, I’ve been listening to a lot of the podcasts from the IA Summit 09 (available at boxes and arrows and slideshare) . One which has particularly struck me, and spurred me on to further reading is Karl Fast‘s talk which asks ‘Is interaction necessary?’ ( )

In this talk, Fast takes us on a journey that challenges what he calls our assumptions on interaction. For instance, we tend now to think of the use of a mouse as natural, intuitive almost. Fast argues that this is wrong, we only think of it that way because of the mouse’s prevalence and ubiquity. Drawing heavily on the work of Kirsch and Maglio in the field of Cognitive Science, he explores the two types of actions; pragmatic and epistemic.

The former, pragmatic action, changes the world around us, brings us closer to a given goal. While the latter; epistemic action, changes the nature of our mental tasks, it allows us to work out the best way to carry out a task in the physical world.

Although short the talk covers a lot, which certainly made me think and read further. In the end he answers his own question with a resounding yes, however, he turns this into a two part query by adding: ‘to what purpose?’. Perhaps we think the days of dreadful websites are over, but are we sure we’re not committing similar crimes against the user but with 2.0 rounded corners?

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Write-up: Caroline Jarrett – “Label placement in forms”

Caroline Jarrett, usable form guru, gave a 45-minute talk on “Label placement in forms (and other time-consuming controversies)“, over at Microsoft Research. She was introduced by Carl Myhill, who helps to coordinate the Cambridge branch of the Usability Professionals Association (UPA). There was time at the end for a few questions, and Caroline was joined by Steve Krug, who had popped up from London, where he is holding a workshop this week.

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“Inclusive Design” write-up

Prof Patrick Jordan gave a fascinating talk at the Engineering Dept, on April 29th. In it, he discussed inlcusive design, and specifically “The Four Pleasures – Designing for Inclusive Emotional Engagment“.

But what is inclusive design?

Prof Roger Coleman at the Royal College of Art describes it like this:

Inclusive design is not a new genre of design, nor a separate specialism, but an approach to design in general and an element of business strategy that seeks to ensure that mainstream products, services and environments are accessible to the largest number of people.

Hmmm. Accessibility… usability… sound familiar?

Pat Jordan didn’t mention websites or anything like that once in his talk; it was all about products and consumers. But when you get down to it, the parallels are obvious – we are, after all, producing products that people consume, use, interact with, and so on.

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Computational Information Design write-up

Ben Fry – Computational Information Design

Making sense of huge datasets! (Microsoft Research, Cambridge, 23.04.2009)

Well, that was a pretty impressive talk. Visualising the information contained within massive sets of data is a big challenege, and something that researchers in a range of fields face every day. Designers can help to bridge the gap between aesthetics and functionality, and help make information usable.

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In an admittedly geeky way, I really like good infographics. I actually read those leaflets on planes and trains!

A project in New York has produced a series of quite extensive infographics which seek to explain various complicated things using minimum text.

The example I looked at covers information for street vendors [PDF] in the city -  the different kinds, licensing, the law, history, etc. A significant part of the target audience is foreign, so conveying information effectively using imagery was very important for the project.

It crossed my mind that this might be good here, to explain different aspects of the University. Staff and students get LOTS of [textual] information when they arrive, and for non-native English speakers, parts of it must be a challenge. Could some of that information communicated using infographics? It makes me wonder…

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Designing the details

I found a presentation given last year for the Dallas Fort Worth chapter of the UPA that I thought people might get something from. The speaker, Stephen Anderson, presented “a discussion on how eye candy (or aesthetics) is a business requirement“. Only the slides are available (so no sound), but those are good enough to get the point across.

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