back from the m+c 06

14 September 2006, 15:50

I came back from holiday at the end of August, and could dive straight into the final preparations for my tutorial session for the usability professionals’ track of the mensch und computer 2006.

For a practical example to illustrate the tutorial with, I selected the tv‑browser. I had already developed the product vision and the user scenarios together with the project team. An hour and a half session flies by once you get a discussion going, so I had to allocate most of the available time to the essentials:

  • show how I developed the product vision with the project team;
  • explore with the audience new interaction designs, based on the product vision.

so, how did it go?

A big surprise was that the hands‑on practical sessions were hosted in a steep lecture theatre. So I could forget about my idea of letting the people sketch interaction for 15 minutes while I walked around and coached them. Also because of the steepness of the theatre, I could only see the first two rows of people, the rest where already too high up to see their reaction and to communicate.

I asked all the audience to sit in the first three and a half rows, to be able to discuss without the need for a microphone. I really enjoyed the discussion, and I could see that there was a resonance with the dyed‐in‐the‐wool usability practitioners who have been struggling with projects where defined goals where a luxury. The technique of kicking off a project by writing down a product vision was an eye‐opener for them.

any revelations?

One thing I learned to stress more when exchanging thoughts with usability people, is that sandwiched between the user centred phase of surveying and observing users to get a feel for the domain, and the user centred phase of usability testing to validate and incrementally improve the software prototype, there is the not user centred phase of creating the concept for the interaction.

In the concept phase the value and the inner strengths of the software project team have to be expressed. It is the interaction architect who guides the development and graphics team to achieve this.

I noticed in my—and also in other—sessions, that for many usability professionals the concept phase is a black hole in the middle of their user centred process where they lose their footing, and try to regain a sense of security by employing user involved brainstorming and sketching techniques. This passes the creativity buck to the user group. Alas, where it comes to interaction, users are a most reactionary force.

other sessions

The day after my session I had time to attend some lectures, and of course I had to see usability of presentation software by Meinald Thielsch, having done the openOffice Impress redesign project last year—see our lecture. The gist of the session and the big surprise: there is almost no published usability research available on powerpoint & co. I was surprised to learn that by performing the expert evaluation and redesign of Impress, I obtained some pretty rare expertise.

So it turned out that with Meinald, Matthias Müller-Prove from Sun (starOffice/openOffice) and me in the room, we had a remarkable high concentration of worldwide presentation software experts. Meinald is in Berlin regularly, so we’ll have the chance to meet up and swap stories.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for more episodes in the users, vision + architects series.

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