I’ve enabled MT-Blacklist to deal with a rash of comment spam I’ve been seeing here of late. Hopefully this will cut down on links to porn sites and online casinos in the comments… if you have any problems with getting legit comments through just follow the contact link at the top of the page and let me know. Thanks to Jay Allen for the fine work on this plug-in.

The Business Case for Usability

I have been thinking about the reasons why usability is valuable to an organization. Why should a business invest a bunch of time and money into testing and designing systems? I don’t see a lot of discussion of this among designers but it seems like we should be able to articulate our value to others better than we do. How do you explain to a manager or a client that doesn’t understand that spending two days doing job shadowing that it is not just you sitting around for two days? How do you convince them that getting real users to test a system is need in addition to the user personas that you created? I have seen a number of […]


I spoke with a man the other day who described the job of a usability specialist as someone who creates a systems that are brutally simple, efficient, and intuitive without sacrificing functionality. I then spent three days at Menlo seeing people who do that day in and day out at a rapid clip. At the School of Information, where I’ve studied the last two years, we moved through projects at a slower, more deliberate pace. What I observed at Menlo was something very similar yet somehow qualitatively different. They believe in rapid development and rapidly changing iterations of designs. By getting a start quickly and then proceeding quickly through each iteration they are able to achieve rapid growth and improvement. […]

Menlo: Day 1

Today was my first day of Menlo’s High Tech Anthropology 101 course. I have to say it was well worth the time. It covered some ideas and techniques that I was familiar with and others I was not. In both cases I learned something new. We looked a variety of methods for conducting user interviews, job shadowing, creating use cases and scenarios, and modeling information for later use. It was great to hear both the new perspective provided by the instructor and the different experiences of the other participants in the workshop. Additionally, there was a great deal of practical advice based on Menlo’s extensive work experience that provided insights into how to best communicate with users, developers, and customers. […]

3 Days at Menlo

I will spending the next three days at Menlo Innovations High Tech Anthropology 101 course. It covers a great deal of information related to gathering information about users and using it in product and system development. It covers information modeling using UML, which is relatively new for me, and a variety of ways to apply some HCI and usability techniques in a corporate development setting. From what I’ve seen of Menlo this should be well worth the time. I’ll post more on this soon to talk about what I’ve learned, my thoughts on Menlo, and anything else I take away from the experience.


I had an interesting experience today trying to define and describe usability, usability testing, interface design, user testing, and other related terms. It was actually rather difficult for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t have any feedback on the level of detail to which I should delve. Should I go for a top level, non-technical definition or a detailed, lengthy exploration of all the subcategories and related ideas that go fall under the broad categories of usability and user testing? It’s odd, I have a really good understanding of what usability and testing and such things are about, but I have not forced myself to succinctly define or describe what I do for others. Sometimes I ramble about various […]

Follow Up: Small Change…

Over at Whitespace there was a recent discussion about the communication breakdown between Movable Type and their users. I think that this could help inform my post about small changes. I use Movable Type to publish this blog and I’ve been pretty happy with it. However, their many loyal users were largely kept in the dark about the new licensing scheme for version 3.0. I don’t really want this to be about Movable Type. I want to think about what we can learn from their mistake. Anyone can learn from their mistakes, but a wise man learns from other people’s. In this case Movable Type was planning a change to their licensing scheme that was potentially disruptive, confusing, and upsetting […]

Small Change, Big Impact

I’ve been looking at jobs at some very large places of late and I’ve been spending some time thinking about how small changes to an interface that is used by many thousands of people for a long time can cause large problems. I don’t mean changes that are bad, I mean really well thought out, well conceived changes that we perceive as ‘fixes’. If many users, who are uncomfortable with technology and computers in general, are accustomed to ambiguous labels or seemingly random icons they may react very badly to a change, even one that seems to be for the better. Some of this can be fixed with training, but one of the goals of a good interface designer and […]

Stupid Users

The recent discussion of RSS readers run amok got me to thinking about how much of such a problem is the fault of the user and how much is due to bad design or default configurations. With any good design there is a trade off between simplicity and functionality and we rely on users to have a certain level of competence. The trick is to make the system work well without placing an undue burden on users to be experts from the start. So the question we have to ask is if we should blame or punish users who cause problems as a result of ignorance or incompetence. Perhaps our design was too complicated and they couldn’t figure out how […]

RSS IP Blocking

Nick Bradbury brought up the problem of RSS readers that are checking in too often and using up valuable bandwidth. So here is my clever idea that I don’t know how to implement just yet. RSS feeds are almost all dynamically generated (who would code that by hand with every update?). If you know the IPs that are causing problems you should be able to append a notice to only those feeds that politely tells them that they are checking for updates too often, why it is a problem, and how to correct it. In many cases this may just be a case of people not understanding that there is a problem at all or how to fix it.