Cambridge University Design / UX group


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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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!).

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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?

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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.

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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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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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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.  🙂

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Consistent user experience

Not long ago, I wrote something that mentioned the idea of creating and re-using components in a website or other design project, the idea being that once you have come up with something that really works, don’t just bin it when the project is finished. With a bit of re-styling, that same component (a search box, a “Go to the to of the page” button, a tabbed navigation menu, etc) might come in handy again.

This makes us more efficient… why reinvent the cup of tea every time?

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Ben Fry – “Exploring the role of visualisation in research”

A bit last minute, but Ben Fry is giving a talk over at Microsoft Research (on JJ Thompson Ave, just off Madingley Rd… you can take the Uni 4 bus there) this Thursday, at 11am. The large lecture theatre there has 126 seats, so lots of space – no need to register, I am assured: just turn up.

I think this talk is part of the Joined-Up Ecology seminar, which is running this week. From the abstract, this talk looks really interesting, and although it doesn’t mention ecology, it does mention data visualisation, design, and bringing together disparate approaches…
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The Survey for People Who Make Websites (2008)

A List Apart : Survey for People Who Make Websites (2008)Yesterday, the mighty A List Apart released the results of the latest sensibly-named Survey for People Who Make Websites. The survey allows you to get a very good overview of what is happening in the web design industry, with statistics about things like what kind of web work people do, how that breaks down, ideas of pay, peoples’ aspirations… all sorts of things.

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