Can’t get there from here

Earlier this week I presented a very influential paper to our reading group: Damaged Merchandise? A Review of Experiments that Compare Usability Evaluation Methods, by Wayne Gray and Marilyn Salzman. Reading it again reminded me why it had such an impact on me first time around, and I thought I’d share my views on why I think it’s such a worthwhile read, even 11 years after it was published.

The paper critiques 5 prominent (i.e. published in prominent academic publications and subsequently cited) studies that compared different Usability Evaluation Methodologies (UEMs). It found that for each study the experimental design casts doubt over the validity of the conclusions made.

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Living well is the best revenge

Last week I gave a session to third year HCI students on the relationship between accessibility, usability and aesthetics. Part of this session was to explore how aesthetic appeal can override apparent usability limitations in influencing the success of a product or interface; and we also explored the extent to which accessibility and aesthetic appeal can co-exist.

One of the discussion topics was “do accessibility and usability advocates lead by example?” Do their web sites exist as inspiring examples of good design? We had a good laugh finding examples of where that answer was a resounding ‘no’ – although disability charity web sites are certainly improving in terms of design quality – and I pointed students to the fantastic Design Eye for a Usability Guy makeover of Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com web site. The serious point was that if people wish to inspire designers to think about accessibility while maintaining creativity and design appeal, we need to show that it can be done. Not all accessibility advocates are talented designers (I wish I was), but we recognise the importance of getting the message over in an appealing way.

Continue reading Living well is the best revenge

Beat a drum

Education, Education, Education. Much of the buzz filtering back through Twitter from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) surrounded the launch of the Web Standards Project’s InterAct Curriculum.  It builds on the efforts of Chris Mills and colleagues at Opera in developing their Web Standards Curriculum, and, while it’s still work in progress it looks – from a first glance – like it will grow to be an excellent set of resources to promote the teaching of best practice in web design.

These initiatives are all evidence of a brighter horizon, the product of efforts by web standards advocates to improve the quality of web design education, and thus the skillset of people entering the web design industry. This follows criticism of the standard of web design education, particularly at university level.

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Sweetness follows?

There have been reports in the UK press of plans to reduce the speed limit of traffic on rural roads from 60 to 50 miles per hour (96 to 80km/h). The main argument, of course, is to improve road safety, but there is also an argument that speed limits on their own do not necessarily lead to safer drivers:

  • a speed limit may imply that driving at, or just below, that limit automatically means ‘safe’.
  • a safe driving speed depends on context – weather, time, road condition, surrounding environment, visibility, to name but a few factors.

Continue reading Sweetness follows?