Mark Your PDFs: Followup

Following my rant about marking links to PDF files clearly I have decided that it is only right to offer some solutions to those of you who may need them. As such I am including a number of options for the icon I recommended using next to PDF links and a CSS solution for placing them there easily. The icons are: In order to get them to display properly you can add some simple css to your style sheet and a class to the PDF links. (Or to a div containing many PDF links) a.pdf:link{ background-image: url(../images/icon_pdf.gif); background-repeat: no-repeat; padding-left: 18px; background-position: left center; } This will set the background image of a link with the class of “pdf” to […]

Mark Your PDFs

I am so sick of clicking on a link thinking it will take me to another web page only to have Adobe Acrobat pop up and force me to wait for 20-30 seconds while it freezes my browser and starts up. So please, I beg of you, before I have to punch somebody in the neck, mark your PDF files clearly. Whenever I post a link to a PDF file I always, ALWAYS include an icon to the left of the link and a note at the end indicating that it is a PDF file and giving the file size. If you’re feeling really nice you can throw in an estimated time to download to help people with slow connections. […]

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 […]

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. […]


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 […]

Finding Time For Theory

I had an interesting discussion today where the topic of theory and practice came up. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day practice of our jobs that we forget to spend time on research and theory. When we are pressed to meet deadlines and produce results quickly we find ourselves with little time for reading, hypothesizing, and experimentation. I think that is a shame. I have been fortunate in the last few years to be both working and going to school so I have been able to balance learning and exploration with practical application. In looking for full time employment I’ve discovered that some companies recognize the value of exploring new ideas while others […]