Userfocus Usability Newsletter, October 2016

Welcome to the October edition of the Userfocus usability and user experience newsletter!

Message from the Editor

A long time ago, I had the pleasure of working with Bill Buxton. I remember him saying that the best way to predict the future is to live there. So about 10 years ago, before the Internet of Things was a thing, I decided to play with home automation. I’ve always enjoyed programming a computer to make something happen in the real world (rather than just make things happen on screen), so I bought some motion detectors, some special bulbs and even a unit than could make a realistic sound of a dog barking. I put a Mac Mini in the loft and created lots of if-then contingencies that would make the virtual dog bark loudly if someone came to the door and I was out, or that announced “Welcome home” when I got back from work, or that would turn lights on and off at various times. Clearly, I was a man with too much time on his hands.

After a few months, and several forced-restarts of the Mac Mini, I just stopped. It was a bit like a pot boiler that I’d read, enjoyed and then put back on the shelf. It was fun while it lasted but it was overwhelmingly' pointless.

I returned to the future last week when my Amazon Echo arrived. It’s certainly easier to program than my earlier attempt. The voice recognition and speech synthesis is outstanding. And it’s still fun to play with. I like the way I can say, “Alexa, good morning,” and it tells me a random fact of the day. I enjoy seeing the faces of people who work outside the IT industry when they see it demonstrated. But I’m still left with this empty feeling, like after eating junk food. (And have you heard Alexa’s dog impersonation? “Bow wow wow”. A real step backwards.)

I’m not especially good at predicting the future. (In the early days of mobile phones, I remember working with one client who was creating a ring tone store. “What a crazy idea,” I thought at the beginning of the project. “Who would buy a ringtone when they can record their own?” A few months of user research later and it was grossing millions.) And I’m aware that in addition to Amazon, both Apple and Google have plans for this space too. But without meeting a real user need, I can see this technology going the same way as Google Glass or the Apple Watch. It’s fun, it feels like the future and it will get lots of publicity… but there’s a gaping hole where the user research should be.

David Travis

What do we mean by user experience leadership?

As winter begins to approach, there's not much to beat a pint at the local pub in front of a roaring fire. So Philip Hodgson, Todd Zazelenchuk and I headed to a pub in Staffordshire for a drink. Over three pints of fine ale, we relaxed into a discussion about user experience leadership. Like most discussions in the pub, I realised this one would be lost in the mists of time by morning, so I decided to turn on a voice recorder… Read the article in full: What do we mean by user experience leadership?.

From our archives: A CRAP way to improve usability

Visual design is often dismissed as eye candy. In fact, we can use four key principles of visual design to create more usable interfaces. These principles are Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Read the article in full: A CRAP way to improve usability.

What we’re reading

Some interesting usability-related articles that got our attention over the last month:

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User Experience quotation of the month

“‘You press the button and we do the rest’ is a tragic slogan, destructive of the concept of a controlled craft and the functions of imagination.” — Ansel Adams.

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