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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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