Thursday, April 29, 2010

Evil interfaces

The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls out Facebook for its deliberate attempts to compromise its users' privacy. Good for EFF for taking the fight to Facebook.

I've complained before about mis-designed interfaces that are used to extract money from consumers. This sort of stuff gives interface designers a bad name.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Usability, Scott Adams style

Here's another good strip about usability from Scott Adams. Some of his previous strips have described usability testing as well. It's interesting that he keeps working this topic.

Monday, April 19, 2010

They didn't give us good requirements

"They didn't give us good requirements" is an explanation that I sometimes hear from IT people to explain why a certain system turned out to be unusable. "They" are the business people who were asking for the system in question. In fact, "giving requirements" is a fact of life in a lot of companies. Business people furnish requirements and IT people develop the applications.

The thing is, IT people complain often about people consulted too late or not at all on the purpose and function of new applications. Well, if you sit around and wait for someone to "give you requirements," you've assigned yourself a pretty junior position on a development team. If IT people would actively engage in helping to define the application purpose and scope in a positive way, business people would be more inclined to treat them as partners. And everyone would win.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Innovate Carolina 2010: review

I attended the Innovate Carolina conference yesterday at the Kenan Flagler business school at UNC Chapel Hill. (Full disclosure: I was on the conference committee.) The sessions were excellent. The best part of a small conference like that is the chance to talk to the speakers and attendees. I collected cards from people I'll be talking business with in the next few weeks.

By the way, if anyone wants to work on next year's event, please contact me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Generate me some alternatives"

Executives' requests for "design alternatives" has lead a lot of designers to engage in an elaborate ritual for the purpose of managing the executives. It works like this.

Execs make decisions. That's what they do. So rather than asking that a product be developed, they ask for "alternatives" so that they can make a decision. Because, as any exec will tell you, making decisions is the hard stuff, and that's what they get paid to do. Generating alternatives is the easy stuff, they believe. So it's up to the designers to generate a lot of alternatives and allow the execs to choose one.

Designers don't see things exactly that way. Designing a really good product is hard work. And once a great alternative is designed it's relatively easy to pick a good one out of competing alternatives. In fact, experienced designers regularly generate alternatives early in the design process as a way of expanding their own space of possible solutions. They'll then try to work the best features of each alternative into a final design.

Do you think the execs get to see these early concepts? Well, only if the designer is inexperienced or wants to see disaster strike. No, experienced designers will drive toward a good design from among several alternatives, then generate some relatively bad "alternatives" for a dog-and-pony show with the execs. Unless lightning strikes the d&p show, the good design is chosen from among the alternatives. Designers get their solution chosen, and the execs get to make a decision. Everyone goes home happy.