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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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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“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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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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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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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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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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