Cambridge University Design / UX group

Donation Usability

Helen Sargan sent out a link to a really interesting usability article yesterday, in which Jakob Nielsen presents research that demonstrates the [in]effectiveness of many NGO websites where users are asked for donations. They fall down when the content of the site doesn’t tell the user enough to help them decide whether or not to make a donation.

Helen said,

“I know there are a number of websites in the University and Colleges who have online donation pages – this is an interesting article that might give you constructive ideas on how to present your requests for donations in order to increase donations.”

Usability is of course part of user experience, which is what we are interested in here. If I were to review the UX for a particular website, then “content” would be one of the areas I’d concentrate on. This article illustrates why that is important… in terms of revenue, in this case.


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Four questions every software user interface designer and usability professional should be thinking about

These aren’t my questions – it is the title of an interesting little article I was reading this morning.

The author, Russell Wilson, poses the following questions:

  1. What is the best way for user interface design and usability to integrate with software engineering processes, specifically Agile processes?
  2. How can we better quantify the value of design and usability (ROI)?
  3. Where does design and usability belong within an organization?
  4. What’s next for software user interfaces?

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Periodic Table of Typefaces

Maybe not hugely intersting to all of you, but I think this is lovely… and a good example of an alternative way of visualising information. The Periodic Table of Typefaces uses the familiar layout of the periodic table of chemical elements, and uses it to display groups and species of typeface. Periodic Table of Typefaces graphic

Each cell of the table lists the typeface and a one or two character “symbol” (made up by me simply based on logic), the designer, year designed and a ranking of 1 through 100.

The layout and ranking of all the typefaces is based on research on a number of typography websites, looking at popularity and style. Something a bit different, that’s for sure, and different ways of looking at things can inspire us, I hope.

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Onwards and upwards

I had a good little meeting with Barney Brown (Digital Communications) and Helen Sargan (University webmaster), both of whom had wanted to come along to the first meeting we had on March 19th, but couldn’t make it in the end.

We got straight into discussing how the Design/UX group could play a useful role across the University. Obviously, there are other groups and departments who are involved in similar [web] design work, so it makes sense to aim to coordinate and unify activity.

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First meeting write-up

Meeting: 14h30, March 19, 2009
Location: Dept of Earth Sciences

Thanks to everyone who came along. We had 10 attendees, from across the University, and with a wide range of experience and expertise amongst them.

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“Information Visualization for Knowledge Discovery”

Professor Ben Schneiderman speaking at Microsoft Research Cambridge, March 5th, 2009.

Here’s a bit of background:

The audience at Ben Schneiderman's talk

The audience at Ben Schneiderman's talk (photo {cc} from Tim Regan's photostream, Flickr)

I was lucky to have been quick-off-the-mark, and get my name down to go to this talk, since it sold out very quickly, apparently. I say sold out, but by some miracle of sponsorship or goodwill, it was entirely free! Lucky us. I found it very engaging, and it gave me lots to think about. And I spell visualisation with an “s”, OK? It just doesn’t seem right with a “z”!

I was able to scribble down a few notes and interesting quotes, and if anything, they might be enough to encourage you to go off and read more about the subject. How it all applies to your web site / app / interface / whatever… well, that’s up to you to think about!  🙂

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Some great Firefox add-ons

Firefox logoFor general web stuff, I exclusively use the Firefox web browser. It’s reliable, much more secure than the most popular browser, and thanks to its add-ons, is a pleasure to use. Just because I was chatting to a couple of friends about it recently, I thought I’d share some recent finds.

There are already lots of sites and blogs out there, with lists of “10 best Firefox add-ons”, but it kind of depends what you’re doing. Since I am a web designer, I have lots of geeky add-ons: essential things like the Web Developer’s Toolbar and Firebug.

Some more that I have really been enjoying recently are Style Sheet Chooser Plus and GridFox, and the not-strictly-web-design-related Show Parent Folder.

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Microformatting WordPress posts

Microformats allow you to add more semantic meaning to your page content. Using exiting HTML elements in standardised ways, you can “microformat” things like contact details and event summaries, giving them extra “value”. Microformats are still a young technology, but last year, both Google and Yahoo configured their search engines to look for microformatted content. Get noticed!

There are a range of Microformat-related plugins available, but one that I liked the look of is Micro Anywhere, which gives you a WYSIWYG way to add hCard or hEvent formatting and data.

However, with blogs hosted (for free) on, you’re not able to install any plugins. Sensibly enough, this is for security reasons, since we’re all sharing a big server here.

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First get-together arranged!


The first Cambridge University Design / UX group get-together has been arranged. We plan to meet at 14h30, March 19, in the Harker 1 lecture theatre, Department of Earth Sciences.

When I set up the meeting, I said that I hoped it would be

“A chance for us to meet face-to-face, interact, see what we’re working on, find out who has which skills, and so on.

I would like to try a “show & tell” session, at least for starters. So pick a web site, application, or whatever, that you’re working, and spend a few minutes introducing us to it.”

So let’s see how it goes.

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