Cambridge University Design / UX group

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?

Filed under: Review, , , ,

Usability testing

On Wednesday, I went to a good TechLink talk on the University’s Streaming Media Service (SMS). Julian King explained how he and his team manage this service, and what we can expect from it.
If you want to know more about the SMS, Julian’s presentation is available online [PDF].

Something that got me really interested, though, is that staff who want to make their own video or audio recordings can unofficially borrow recording kit from UCS as part of a pilot scheme. The thing is that the kit looked perfect for carrying out some simple usability testing…

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Filed under: News, Resources, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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Filed under: Events, Review, , , , , , ,

Conference: “Accessibility in Technical Communication and the Workplace” June 13/14, Cambridge

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) are holding their 2009 UK Conference at Churchill College, Cambridge, in the middle of June. There are still places available, and full details are available on the event web page.

The blurb for the conference reads:

Are you reaching all your customers?

Are your documents ignoring an important market sector?

How do we make our communications usable by people with hearing and sight difficulties?

How do we work with colleagues and customers who have hearing and sight difficulties?

Book at

So this may be a useful and affordable conference for those of us who are particularly interested in accessibility.

Among the speakers is Leonie Watson, from website accessibility experts, Nomensa, and Richard Hodgkinson, who will talk about upcoming “assessibility” [sic] standards in Europe and the USA. Probably, that will be about accessibility, too.  🙂

Filed under: Events, News, , , ,

Running Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously

If we are developing websites and applications, we test them in different browsers, and on different platforms, right? So you might have a couple of machines in another room where you work, and you’ve agreed with your IT guys that you want to leave Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5 or 2 running on them, so that you can test your creations.

Just for example.

But then, someone helpful upgrades to the latest versions, and your ad hoc testing envrionment is no more. Yes, there are better ways to set things up  –  I could run Parallels on my Mac, install Windows, and then have whatever dodgy old web browsers I want on there. But for various reasons, I don’t.

Anyway, it came to pass that I wanted to run Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously on my Mac. I was already running  Firefox 3, and I knew that if I simply downloaded the installer for v.2, I would overwrite what is there already. Hmmm. So now what?

Answer 1: create a new Firefox profile, install both versions of Firefox, and use the command line (from Terminal [Mac] or Run… [Windows]) to control which version of Firefox you open

Answer 2: create a new Profile, and install the MultiFirefox app [Mac OS X only] to control it all.

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Filed under: Tips, , , , , , ,

Events coming soon

I’ve been busy with work, so I haven’t had time to post anything for a couple of weeks now, but here are a couple of tips/reminders for upcoming events:

Talk: Caroline Jarrett, “Label Placement in Forms”, Cambridge, May 19th

I have blogged about this talk already, and some of you may remember that Helen Sargan mentioned it again at the University Web Liaison meeting on May 6th.

Caroline Jarrett is the leading expert in good design of forms on webpages. They are a ubiquitous feature of websites, but it is hard to get them right, and make them usable and intuitive. Come along to find out what you need to know.

Venue: Needham Building, Microsoft Research, JJ Thompson Ave, Cambridge

Workshop: Steve Krug and Lou Rosenfeld, London, May 21st/22nd

If you can get someone to pay for you to go, there are still tickets available for these two day-long workshops, being held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

On May 20th, Lou Rosenfeld looks at interpreting and using site search analytics, but the one that I think would really appeal to you, dear reader, is Steve Krug’s one-day “Don’t Make Me Think” workshop, on Thursday, May 22nd, where he will explain discount usability testing. It looks great, and I wish I could go… but no money.

If people know of more events, please do let me know, and I will post details here for all to see.

Filed under: Events, , , , , , ,