Monday, December 18, 2006

Audibility - Decibles and Frequency

I am doing some research to help define a standard for the audible interactions of a handheld device. The sound is used to create a confirmation of an action, to remind the patient of an action they are or should perform or a warning that they need to take action. I have reviewed what similiar products are doing and also what normal everyday things sound like.
Here is a list from of the approx. decibel rating of common sounds from

30 Soft whisper
35 Noise may prevent the listener from falling asleep
40 Quiet office noise level
50 Quiet conversation
60 Average television volume, sewing machine, lively conversation
70 Busy traffic, noisy restaurant, alarms of medical equipment
80 Heavy city traffic, factory noise, alarm clock
90 Cocktail party, lawn mower
100 Pneumatic drill
120 Sandblasting, thunder
140 Jet airplane
180 Rocket launching pad

Above 110 decibels, hearing may become painful
Above 120 decibels is considered deafening
Above 135 decibels, hearing will become extremely painful and hearing loss may result if exposure is prolonged
Above 180 decibels, hearing loss is almost certain with any exposure

It is important to understand that sound is measured in both decibles and frequency. Decibles(dB) is the strength of the sound, while frequency(Hz) is the cycles per second of the sound. Each person will respond to the combinations of dBa + Hz with the perception of some being louder than others. You can test your hearing at The University of New South Wales - Music Accoustics site.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Features a user may not have thought to ask for

My family and I have been fascinated by the videos you can find at YouTube.
My Jeep Liberty lease is coming up in 2007 and I have my eye on a Lexus. Lexus came up with a car that parallel parks by itself. I wonder if market research data determined that someone like me is often a terrible parallel parker. I can't imagine saying in a user interview, "I stink at parallel parking." But, if you had time to do some contextual inquiry and you went for a drive with me downtown where we had to park, you again would not see me struggle to parallel park, I would rather pay to park in a ramp than to make the attempt. The point is that interviews and contextual inquiry get a good glimpse of a user's reality, but there is always so much more to discover and design sometimes needs to back away from what we see users doing and be inspired by the problems that have not been solved yet.

Lexus LS460 Parallel Parking

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Process Research via Focus Groups

I don't recommend using focus groups to gather your user research, but I do recommend using them to provide clarification and expansion of the data you have gathered during site visits. After conducting a site visit study at a handful of sites in your target population, hosting a focus group will help you to validate what you observed and be able to define patterns of behaviour across the wider audience.

If you are designing a product for a process that may have a variety of users and protocols when using the product, you will never be able to see the scope of that variation by doing site visits alone. This is when a focus group of subject matter experts may help you validate, while further defining, and describing the processes that will have the most predictable and successful results with the product.

This kind of focus group will generate the best results when you do some upfront planning and make sure you have a support team with you when facilitating.

  • Invite the right people (leaders, practioners, researchers)

  • Provide the proper incentive (status, cash, opportunity to influence and learn)

  • Provide enough information for them to come prepared. (schedules, agendas, notes)

  • Location, facility and materials (near attendees, comfort and AV/whiteboards)

  • Create a facilitation team (product leader/expert, facilitator, notetakers)

  • Roles and responsibility assignments for the facilitation team

  • Record the session objectives. Ensures capturing data needed to make design decisions

  • Structure the agenda of the session around meeting the objectives

  • Remember that we are human and need frequent breaks to stay engaged

  • Make sure the group understands what you hope to learn during the session

  • Always start the session by introducing everyone and their role

  • Begin with what you currently know about the process and product

  • Ask them to challenge any of these assumption and clarify anything that isn't quite right or may be different in their experience

  • Next ask them to help you fill in the blanks of your knowledge. What don't we know about the process, what are we missing?

  • Lastly, allow them to describe their likes and dislikes of the product.

  • If you already have some early concepts, you might want to share them and ask the team to help you fix or refine these concepts, now that you have a deeper and more accurate understanding of the complexity of the project

  • The most important factor in getting good data from a focus group is having a facilitator the understands and acheives the objectives of the session. The facilitator must also be very good at introducing the agenda segments and facilitating the conversation to keep it moving, keep it on track and to engage all attendeees.

    If the process and product are very complex, I have heard of having multiple notetakers that focus their attention on one or two of attendees. This way none of the conversation is missed. I haven't tried this yet, but I intend to soon.

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Augmented Reality

    While watching Monday Night Football with my family, I realize how much I like the yellow first down marker that is digitally overlaid over the video feed. I wonder what technology makes that happen and what do you call that?

    They do it by combing an image of the real environment with an image that is virtually created but intended to give the user more perceptive understanding of the real image. You call it Augmented Reality and J. Vallino has written about it extensively during his PhD research. Anytime you combine virtual reality with true reality you get this augmentation, a combination of truth with embelishments.

    A good example of this is when a MRI image of your knee is annotated by the radiologist directly onto the image. The doctor might circle the area of interest and indicate their diagnosis. The surgeon may than take a look at the MRI image with and without the annotation. The surgeon may add their own annotation to indicate the angle at which they intend to reattach an injured ligament. The intention of augmenting the image is to provide more perceptive detail that improves the performance or understanding by all of those who view the augmented image, not only can you see the injury, but you can see the surgical repair intention. It will be much easier for the next person to recognize the injury and suggested treatment than just looking at the original MRI image alone.

    Find ways to augment your reality!

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    Interactive Web TV

    Have you played along with a game that is being televised? My teenage boys like to watch the Game Show Network (GSN)and I was intrigued by the variety of interactive play formats.

    My son played along with Playmania with his cell phone. He texted a message to a number displayed on the screen and then waited for the gameshow to call him back. I wasn't too impressed at 0.99 cents a text and no one called him back to play.

    The other interactive formats have more appeal and no cost. The two games I tried to play along with were Lingo and Chain Reaction. They both were modifications to the games on screen, but you are solving the puzzles televised on screen at the same time. The response time was quite good, but you could only use your mouse as an input device for the words games. It would have been a lot more efficient for me to type my 5 letter responses for LINGO.

    I am always pleased to see the gaming industry push the envelope and taking advantage of new technology techniques. It gives us a chance to dream of how we might apply it to productivity gains in non-entertainment products.

    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Web Technology Trends

    I enjoy randomly surfing the web to stay on top of how new technologies are being used successfully on sites and new technologies that are still in exploratory phase.

    Successful use of AJAX
    I like the new design of the SimonDelivers online grocery store. They have made their shopping cart and recommended items present on every page while shopping in a very clean and streamlined manner. Probably not 508 compliant, but the design intention is good.

    Interesting new technology with Blaze
    Take a look at this 3D Mizuno wedge golf club animation by Holomatix. Wow! Realistic and the ability to manipulate by panning, zooming, rotating in 3D space is great. I can think of lots of opportunities for providing these interactive images. I wonder how effective these are in helping a person make a purchasing decision? Does it matter what the product is? What types of products would this be most effective with? How could this be used in the education, training and support field? Great potential opportunities here.

    Sunday, August 27, 2006

    Usability Test Facilitation Techniques

    A great usability test facilitator does more than just show up on the day of the test, they spend some time making sure they understand the product, objectives of the business and concerns from the project team. A great facilitator participates in the test planning process so they understand and help define the learning objectives for the test session.

    There are many test methods to choose from, but I really like, especially for low-fidelity or limited functionality prototypes is the interview guided task protocol. In this method, a task list is prepared in advance with usability objectives defined for each task. But the session starts with a conversation with the participant to understand how they currently use the product and in which situations. Then we have them do the pre-prepared tasks they identified that they perform during the interview, plus any other tasks the participant identified that we, the project team had not identified during the planning phase. BONUS - more user and task analysis input at a usability testing session.

    I have observed and coached many great facilitators. Some of these tips may seem so basic, but you wouldn't believe how often I need to remind myself of these during the course of a test day, especially on the last day.......

    Greet and Set at Ease
  • Set the participant at ease, by making friendly conversation, smile :)

  • Remind the participant that they are not being tested, the product is, anytime they seem to be getting frustrated

  • Interview
  • Use eye contact and share information about yourself

  • Start your interview questions with the least personal to most personal, you need to earn their trust

  • Task Testing
  • Let the participant know that you won't answer their questions, but you would still like them to ask them out loud and be prepared to answer them at the end of the test session

  • Position yourself out of the line of site when transitioning to the task portion of the test session

  • Never lead the participant, be very careful of any words or body language you use

  • Save all of your questions until the end, but bring the participant back to areas you have questions about

  • Probe only at the end of the test session, not after each task

  • Avoid "training" the user, unless the project team feels compelled to, then only after the post testing questionnaire is complete
  • Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Resist Clutter and Digital imagery that pops

    I, like so many people, receive way too many interesting email newsletters, magazines and professional journals. I do try to scan as many as possible and read at least one article of interest. If I scan and don't find one of interest or the day is just to0 hectic, I toss. I will be getting another edition in a couple of weeks anyways and if I didn't toss it, the clutter in my house would be too much. I have also learned that once I file a digital newsletter in my computer, I will never have time to look at it again.

    This being said, I do want to share an article from one of my favorite digital design newsletters, SitePoint Design View, about creating better digital images in Photoshop. I had never heard about HDR, so this was eye opening to me.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Humor from Blimps are Cool

    I was randomly listening to MP3's at ODEO today and ran across the Blimps are Cool blog. I don't normally support developer bashing, because developers help me bring many of my designs to life, but this was just too funny. If you want to tickle your funny bone, take a read.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Interactive Architecture - Urinal Video Games

    I found a great site today on interactive architecture.

    They had a funny article with video clip about a project at the MIT Media Lab on an interactive urinal. The combination of the virtual with the physical is what intriqued me the most. The stream producer was able to fire the stream at different areas of the backsplash in an attempt to hit the corresponding images on the video screen.

    Take a look at the video, don't worry you won't see anything objectionable.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Playaway Digital

    On my trip to the UPA 2006 conference, I purchased a nifty little audio book, Cell by Stephen King that came with its own player, earphones and batteries. The player details and other book titles can be found at

    All you had to do to get started was pull the battery protector out and hit play. The user interface is intuitive and easy to control, but the simplicity and completeness of the product is what really impressed me.

    I am nearing the end of the book and hear are some things I determined are not as good as they could be:

  • battery consumption, the player came with two batteries and I am now on battery number four.

  • If the battery does run out, the player doesn't always remember where you left off. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't. Not sure why.

  • The black and white LCD display is very hard to read in bright light or no-light.

  • The book chapter identified by the narrator is not the same as the chapter number display on the player. They should come up with a chapter mapping, so if the narrator says "Part 2, Chapter 1" the player displays something like "P2, CH 1".

  • The play button is easily depressed when bumping along in my laptop bag, thus the need for some extra batteries. ;)

  • Overall, a great product and I can't wait to start my own collection! In fact, the playaway website even had suggestions for how to share your titles with others. If you want to swap titles sometime, drop me line - paying shipping is a lot cheaper than buying a new book all the time.

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Power Outage

    As I was working from home this morning, the power suddenly went out. It wasn't raining, nor could I hear thunder and lightning. There is construction out behind our house, so I figured I would don my walking shoes and investigate.

    All the houses along my street were dark, but the construction area was quiet today. The heavy rains last night and sprinkles yet this morning were keeping the heavy equipment parked on higher ground.

    I walked around the block and more quiet houses. A neighbor I hadn't met before was standing at the end of his driveway and asking a question. I held up the universal sign for "just a sec", one finger slightly raised and my hand moving in and out from my body, while I pressed the stop button on my mp3 book, "Cell" by Stephen King.
    Have you seen these new audio books yet? They are basically a mp3 player with one full length book, ear phones, lanyard and triple A batteries. Amazing! If only I could download these books to my iPod, it might be a little cheaper. Removing the plugs from my ears, my neighbor and I confirmed each others suspicions, it wasn't just our own house without power, the whole neighborhood was impacted.

    We stood at the end of his driveway talking about working from home and what we did for a living. He is a main frame, C programmer and he let me know that he thought Java was a waste of time and money when xml, C and others could do the job with a lot less lines of codes. As we were standing there, the Xcel Energy truck pulled up to his power pole, and the neighbor asked jokingly if he had too many computers running. The lineman jumped down from his truck, walked to the base of the pole and lifted a very stiff squirrel by the tail and said "Nope, this thing did it."

    So here we were, standing at the end of the neighbor's driveway, wondering what could of caused this outage, when just 50 feet away, in almost plain sight, lay the answer. The neighbor and I are fairly intelligent human life forms, but we didn't know that the second most common cause of power outage was squirrels, so we didn't look for it or see it. We were also only casually observing the outcome of the outage because there was nothing we could do to fix it.

    I see relationships between daily life and product design all the time. Here is what I learned from discovering that squirrels have a mysterious obsession with transformers:
  • If the user knows a products purpose and use, they will find the features they need in it.

  • The user must feel that the product is something they own or have control of or they will only use your product casually.

  • Make a product self evident and allow it to instruct the user as they are able to tackle more complex features.

  • Make a product personalizable and alllow the user to feel in control of the product.
  • Friday, June 09, 2006

    UPA 2006 International Conference

    Carol Smith and I have been working with a great remote team to plan and present the UPA 2006 conference in Colorado this year. The conference registration desk officially opens on Sunday June 11, with tutorials, workshops, special sessions and the experienced practioner track on June 12 & 13th. The opening reception is Tuesday evening and the regular sessions begin on Wednesday June 14th and run through Friday June 16th.

    This is an annual event that many folks in the field of usability and design anticipate and participate in. It is great opportunity to learn from, be inspired by and motivate others in our profession.

    We have exceeded our goals for attendance this year and expect to be rubbing shoulders with 575+ usability professionals.

    If you are coming to the conference, look for me! I would like to meet you.

    Tuesday, May 30, 2006

    Remote Interviews

    Remote interviews are contextual inquiry sessions without the context. It is not as good as being there, but it is better than guessing or only talking to subject matter experts. We also have great tools to get closer to the participant without really being there. I use a phone line to ask questions and a WebEx Meeting so the participant can show me what they do with a specific software application or website. [I haven't been able to use Video yet, because most of my users don't have webcams.] WebEx does require some education for the participant. I usually send instructions for calling in and starting a WebEx session a week in advance. I also request that they go to the WebEx site before our interview to get the latest WebEx components.

    A remote user interview starts off like most interviews, obtain some basic profile information and make sure they meet the selection criteria you have identified. Once you have the basics, ask questions that deal more with their job function and goals rather than their use of a specific tool. Allow the initial questions to personalize the interview when asking questions specific to the use of the tool, you can ask clarifying questions related to the users job function and whether the tool is helping them to meet the job goals they stated. It is important to have the participant show you how they use the tool to accomplish common tasks. I often start off by asking them how they get started, what is the first thing they do when opening up the tool. This usually gets them into the "instructor" mode, where they are teaching me what they do and sets a nice tone for the rest of the session.

    Always end a session by thanking the participant and giving them additional contact information if they would like to follow-up with feedback. I encourage you to still use gratuities of some sort. I have found electronic gift certificates to be popular.

    Thursday, May 11, 2006


    I have been creating some draft concepts of an incredibly complicated feature and I have drawn hundreds of pictures to determine what WON'T work and have come to the realization that sometimes it is still an important enough feature for some users that we need to do it, somehow. I am going to apply several progressive disclosure principals:
  • Allow the feature to be suppressed if the administrator doesn't want to use it with their user(s)
  • Make a new object type that will be visually distinct so the user is aware of which objects the feature can be performed on
  • Mimic a wizard metaphor that would allow the user to step through the complicated process

    So now I am trying to come up with some elegant storyboards that help the development and marketing team to:
  • See how valuable this feature will be for a percentage of the population
  • Explain the difficulties of providing the feature in the constraints of the current hardware and software
  • Depict the screens and flows present to allow the feature to be exposed and utilized

    I usally like to stay low tech for as long as possible, but I am using Microsoft Visio and Macromedia Fireworks to mock up the screens and flow. I haven't found any tool that allows me to show flow better than Visio. I started using the Macromedia suite for an old client, so I know it better than Adobe Photoshop. I would like to a graphics art class and I might just do that this summer - if I can take a break long enough to see if there is anything offered at night.

    Glenn L. Ray, Ph.D, from University of Pittsburgh has a powerpoint about the benefits of storyboards.
  • Sunday, April 30, 2006

    Free PC Check Up Online

    I just spent an entire Sunday fixing my Toshiba Protege Tablet PC. I uninstalled some competing anti-virus software and then I went to PC PitStop to get an idea about what else I could do to aid my ailing pc that was hurking and jerking and sluggishly moving along.

    If you haven't tried it, go there and give it a try. I learned a few more tricks and I am happily using my TabletPC to create this Posting.

    Monday, April 24, 2006

    The Traveling Experience

    I was in Spain for a spanish trip tour with my son in March and April for 2 weeks of pleasure.

    I was in Florida, Texas and Indiana in April for 2 weeks of work.

    The experience of those two itineraries and expectations of each are highly shaped by my preparedness for each trip. In the first, I just packed a bag and was along for the ride. In the second, I had a cajillion loop holes, scheduling nightmares and contractual obligations to meet to pull it off. Guess which one met my expectations?

    In the pleasure trip, all kinds of little nuisances bothered me, while some of the surprises thrilled me. It was a beautiful country and a wonderful trip.

    On the work trip, surprises were not thrilling, but rather something to deal with. There weren't any nuisances, I was too tired to be bothered by nuisances!

    The more empowered I was, the more positive my experience as a whole. Not to say that Spain wasn't absolutely wonderful, but the more control I had in what I did each day made me feel more at ease. This type of empowerment is something more products, applications and websites are building.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    User Experience is about providing Strategic Design

    High quality products that exceed user's expectations will always be winners in the marketplace. In order to produce these products, the right team needs to be in place to make it happen. One of the members of that team should have user experience (UX) expertise. A UX designer will focus on the strategic concepts, keep it cohesive and contribute to the design as the product matures.

    Read Why UX Should Matter to Software Companies
    By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    And the Acadamy Award goes too...

    I rely on others to pull off the finishing touches of a design, a design that will go nowhere without their input. I am capable of deciding the architecture, importance of information and the layout of pages that lie consistently from page to page, but without a visual designer my ideas would fall flat. I am an expert at understanding the needs of users while accomplishing business objectives, but I couldn't sell the design at all without the help of a visionary with style.

    I am watching the Academy Awards tonight and I desire to be so much more than I am. I really am just the technical support team who needs the the actors to breathe life into the still forms.

    Read the article at UX Magazine to better understand how these discipline work together and rely on one another to get it right.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Recommendation and Rating Engines

    I am researching recommender and rating systems for two clients at the same time for completely different reasons. One client wants to be able to be at a single or list of products or categories and recommend similiar or logical cross selling opportunities. The other client wants to be able to allow a user to define a setting that is ok and then give the user alternate settings that are algorithmically similiar but possibly superior to the original settings.

    Here are some things I have run into while taking a quick look on the web.
    (Common terminology: Recommendation Engine, Recommender Engine, Collaborative Filtering)

    If you are trying to get targeted recommendations and cross selling products these two products are interesting to look at:
    SUGGEST Karypis lab at the Univ. of MN (like Amazon's, "You might also like" engine)

    If you are trying to build a user defined rating of products or services take a look at:
    CoFE IIS Research Group of Oregon State(like Yahoo's news article ranking system)

    Often companies will combine these two technologies to allow users to refine the products and services recommended to them.

    For example: A baker views flour and sugar and is recommended yeast, flavorings and preservatives. Let's say the baker is an all natural baker and can rate the preservatives as something he would never use.

    To see a site that uses both go to
    The home page has recommendations based on user ratings. If you click on a specific artist or album you will see a list of Similar Music. This site uses a content based recommendation engine from Loomia.

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    Authentic User Experience Design

    A Viewpoint article posted on the Design Management Institute website by Peter H. Jones, had one of the best sentences to describe the importantance of contextual inquiry: "the opportunity for designing from understanding the user’s authentic experience. Innovation emerges from truly understanding the fit between product and person."

    I have never been able to describe the importance of getting early user data to help design the right product, even if the user doesn't know what that is yet. Read the article. It is worth your time!

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Product Viability Indicator Tool

    The Federal Government of Australia uses Product Experience research to market and forecast the international and domestic tourism market in their country. Their research measures interest and motivation of 200 key experiences and activities that could be visited while on vacation in Australia.

    The Product Viability Indicator tool is a database that the research interview findings are logged in. It allows the Australia Tourism organization to search through the findings and offer ways to market and prioritize the travel experience offering in their area of the country and which audiences to focus on.

    They don't actually show the tool or the information that could be used but the slide deck showing some of the research artifacts are interesting. Good to see Australia recognizing that holiday travel is a product and treated as such.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    FDA guidelines for Unexpected Experiences

    The US Food and Drug Administration has a webpage titled "Guideline for Adverse Experience Reporting for Licensed Biological Products"
    This guide is to be used by clinicians when reporting any adverse effects from biological products they have administered or prescribed to their patients.

    Upon reading this page, I came across two terms:
    "Expected Experience" and "Unexpected Experience".

  • The expected experience basically means the adverse effect named in the labeling or information was experienced by the user.

  • The unexpected experience means the patient had an adverse effect that was greater in severity of the expected experience or not listed in the labeling or information at all

  • If I apply this to designing a product, I would record anticipated adverse effects based on usability testing and clinical studies. If the product is launched with these known adverse effects we would expect to see a certain number of our user having the expected experience. These expected experiences would be tolerable as long as they didn't exceed the number of anticipated occurences in our target market. This would require one to be prepared to carefully track the expected experience occurences once the product is launched. In the case of an unexpected experience each one would have to evaluated.

    For a simple example: Say that only 75% of tested participants were able to successfully achieve the desired outcome with the product because they were unable to complete one of the more difficult tasks. Patient eduction was performed during clinical studies and they indicate that 85% of the participants achieved the desired outcome. How do we see if that number actually plays out in the market?