Cambridge University Design / UX group

Keep on reading…

This blog still has some activity from readers, but since I have left the University, I am no longer writing for it. No-one else has taken it on, so it has somewhat withered!

However, you can keep on reading about UX design, data visualization, usability, etc, especially as applied to scientific web sites and applications, over at the EBI Interfaces blog, where I write a lot thesedays.

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A friend of mine was chatting me recently about her frustration at using a new system (a server farm, in fact) where she works as a scientific researcher. The server farm gives her access to lots of computer processing power, so that she can run big data queries and calculations. The system that she and her colleagues were using before was very user-friendly, with logical naming of stuff, good network access, helpful administrators, etc. But the new system… well, that’s a bit of a usability nightmare!

OK, so I am not talking about issues of web design here, but some of the features of this new system have clearly degraded the user experience, so I think it is worth considering as an example.

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COI usability toolkit

This toolkit looks like a great resource to delve into. Nicely presented and a sensible set of secions to explore. I’m going to whizz through it when I get a moment and report back here.

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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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Talk: Prof. Pat Jordan, July 7th


Sorry, but this talk is cancelled.


Prof. Jordan’s other engagments fell through, so he won’t be in Cambridge next week,  unfortunately. However, he has kindly offered to come and give a talk on some other date, so watch this space (er… or maybe watch the space on the Cambridge UPA website!).

Filed under: News

So long, farewell, goodbye

I am leaving at the end of July. I have received an offer I can’t refuse from an employer I already really wanted to work for. So that’s that. It has been fun (if a little short-lived!) and I am very pleased that some useful connections were made between design people in the University, via this group.

The news may not quite have you sobbing into the latest Sitepoint book you’re reading, but it does mean that if you, dear readers, want the Cambridge University Design and User Experience Group to keep going, someone needs to take over its co-ordination.

It is not an onerous task, and blogging is optional, I guess. I will contact everyone via the University mailing list, and see if there are any enthusiastic volunteers.

Here’s an idea, for anyone who might take over:

Why not contact the people who run the web and graphic design courses at ARU, and see if you can forge some links there?

Filed under: News

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

Prof Patrick Jordan, July 7th

It has been confirmed that Patrick will make another official visit to the University of Cambridge on 7 July. Times and location are yet to be sorted out, but I will post the details as soon as they are arranged.

He will meet with researchers with the intention of future cooperation in the area of inclusive design and give a lecture to the Cambridge University Design and User Experience Group. That’s us!  🙂

Patrick said, “Cambridge University are world leaders in the area of designing for people with disabilities. The aim is to bring together my commercial experience with their academic excellence in order to help to continue to move this very important field forward.”

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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