Latest Edition of Usability Interface is Live

The latest edition of Usability Interface is published at long last! As editor, I haven’t yet hit the right rhythm of timing. What a learning process this has been!

With this being my third issue I think I now have an idea of how long on average each step takes. Perhaps that will help me with assembling a new timeline moving forward.

Anyhow, this issue talks to usability professionals about the value of words, gives an excerpt from the newly published 5th edition of Designing the User Interface, and explains why I leave my floss on the counter.

If any of this interests you, you can read the latest issue here: http://www.stcsig.org/usability/newsletter/index.html.

Usability at a Glance: WhiteHouse.gov

The new WhiteHouse.gov

The new WhiteHouse.gov

President Barack Obama was sworn in to office at 12:04 p.m. this afternoon by my clock. His web staff has already been hard at work, however, launching a newly designed whitehouse.gov with posts published at 12:01 p.m.

It looks like it has the potential to be a great communications portal.

For this high-level review I am going to start with a list of what this site does right.

  • It is timely. This site was delivered right on time, at the exact moment the President was inaugurated.
  • It is well-organized. The home page touts a few feature articles, the latest blog posts and video, direct links to hot topics, and a search field. The top menu items are intuitive and expand in to drop-down menus with easy to scan sub-topics. Just in case the user has trouble with drop-downs, the menus are repeated in long format at the bottom of every page.
  • The article pages have well-positioned links to other topics in the same category.
  • Placeholders. While perusing the site, you get a peak at things to come. The structure is there with oddly informative text. For example, the Executive Orders page currently says, “The President has not yet issued any Executive Orders.” At least you know where to look for this information next time. The structure is already in place. (Note: This doesn’t work for all sites. Beware “under construction” notices unless you know your visitor will care and needs to be trained.)

What I wish it did better:

  • Make links obvious. Links on the article page menus and along the bottom of the site in black (not-underlined) text just like all of the regular reading text. It makes it hard to see at a glance where you can click. Conversely, the section landing pages (such as the Briefing Room) display links in navy blue. The contrast between the black text and the navy blue links could be a bit more prominent, but it is still a step up from the black text and links on other pages.
  • Offer more navigation options on the blog pages. As it stands, once you are on a blog article page, the only way back to the blog list is via your back button or the house ad style block in the right sidebar. I would like to see Previous and Next buttons at the top and bottom of the post, as well as links to recent posts and related posts.

All in all, I think this site is getting the right information out there at the right time and, at the end of the day, people want to find the information they need quickly and easily. On WhiteHouse.gov, I think they will get just that.

Now for a few screenshots:

The feature tout on the home page

The feature tout on the home page

The Briefing Room drop down menu

The Briefing Room drop down menu

The footer links mimic the drop down menu options

The footer links mimic the drop down menu options

An article page from the Agenda section

An article page from the Agenda section

Hire Alicia Please

So there’s this femme fatale named Alicia who is relocating to Boston. She is a friend of a friend whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting due to locale. But since my friend speaks of Alicia both often and highly, when I had the chance to follow her on Twitter, I thought it a good opportunity to learn more about her.

Today, Alicia tweeted this: “Playing around and exploring Google analytics for www.hirealicia.com.” Since I work in the web world, I’m always interested to see how others promote themselves on the web. I followed the aptly named link.

After spending a few short minutes on her site, I absolutely can’t wait to meet her someday. Why? Because I can ascertain her personality from those pages and she is dynamite. This is a person I would jump to work with were I properly located. Unfortunately, Jersey is a bit far from her wishes of employment in Boston.

Getting back to the web discussion, there are lessons to be learned from Alicia’s site.

  • Know your audience and speak to them. Alicia’s audience is quite obviously potential employers. She speaks directly to the information they want and need to know: what she does, where she is located, what experience she has, who recommends her, and why she is the right person.
  • Don’t just tell what you do, show what you do. Is Alicia a good writer? You bet she is. She doesn’t just tell us she’s a talented writer, she proves it with standout prose. She shows examples of her work. She lets others help paint the full picture.
  • Share your personality. As any good employer can tell you, it’s not just the experience, but the person behind the experience and whether that person will mesh with the rest of the team. Alicia leaves no doubts about her passion, energy, and confidence. Her personality is right there in plain sight.

Alicia has nailed usability with a site that is purposeful, smart, and sassy. Now will somebody please hire Alicia?

Glance at Usability: DailyLit.com

Often good web usability goes unnoticed, as it probably should. At the basic level, a web site is considered good if users can quickly find what they need and easily accomplish their intended task. DailyLit.com does just that.

I just discovered DailyLit a few days ago and I have been impressed with its usability. The site gives users access to books, short stories, and poetry that has been chunked into brief passages which can be read in just a minute or two. These chunks can be read on the site or delivered in daily segments via email or RSS feed.

Immediately upon arrival, I knew what I could do on the site: find books to read online and subscribe to daily readings of my choice. The site design is minimalistic, giving exactly the information their audience needs without any extra distraction.

DailyLit.com home page

DailyLit.com home page

The options for taking action are clear thanks to simple, well-organized navigation headings like Browse Books, Forum, Learn More, Log In, Register. Special emphasis is placed on browsing books with a portion of the navigation dedicated to browsing by Title, Author, Category, or performing a keyword search. So easy.

DailyLit.com navigation

DailyLit.com navigation

I browsed by category and found The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I have never read and which also happened to be free (right in my price range, though many of the titles are quite reasonably priced at $4-8 each). With my selection made, I was presented with the basic specs: number of installments, price, summary of the book, opening passage, and options to subscribe or add it to my “to read” list.

DailyLit.com book description page (<em>The Adventures of Tom Sawyer</em>)

DailyLit.com book description page (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

Then came the part that always makes me wonder if I will want to forget all my work and leave the site: registration. You know how it can be. Some sites want every last detail and you have to weigh your desire for getting the information you want with how much personal information you are willing to divulge. I mean really, what do those companies need a fax number for anyway? DailyLit is spot on. They only ask for a username, a password, your email address, and a check in the box to indicate you accept their terms. That’s it. That’s all you have to tell DailyLit to get your free book. Obviously if you have selected a book that requires purchase, you will have to enter more thorough billing information. I haven’t tried that yet, so I don’t know what the process looks like.

DailyLit.com registration form

DailyLit.com registration form

After this painless registration process, you are able to add more information to your profile if you so desire. If not, carry on with subscribing to your book.

So far I have read a few short stories by Kate Chopin right on their site and now have The Adventures of Tom Sawyer delivered daily to my RSS reader in 91 installments. I can read an entry a day if my time is limited or at the end of an entry I can select an option to have the next installment delivered immediately. At worst, in 91 days I will have completed a classic.

DailyLit has really nailed usability. It has a clear purpose and has developed a streamlined, user-friendly (not to mention stylish) web site. Hats off to their design and development teams.

Updated 10/28/08: I want to add that in order to receive DailyLit readings, you don’t even have to enter a username and password as I mentioned in my original post. If you want to receive your installments by email, you can bypass registration altogether, opting instead to enter only your email address and agree to the Terms & Conditions. One less username and password to remember in this crazy online life. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Why Usability Testing Should Never End

Many companies have realized the value of usability testing prior to a launch or redesign of a product or website, but what about as part of the post-launch maintenance? Continuing to test for usability can offer valuable insights that could improve overall customer satisfaction.

I recently wrote about this topic as my first editorial for Usability Interface, the quarterly newsletter for the Usability and User Experience special interest group of the STC (Society for Technical Communication). You can read it here.

To read more usability articles, go to the full newsletter.

How many places do I need on the web?

I have this blog, a website, a lightly used Twitter account, and a LinkedIn profile. I have accounts on Technorati, BlogHer, Delicious, Boxes and Arrows, and who even remembers where else. Most of the time, I forget about the ones I’ve just listed.

I tried Second Life to see what the buzz was about, but found dressing my avatar and changing hairstyles far more appealing than conversing with any scantily clad habitants or, um, Darth Vadar. I’ve been invited to join MySpace and politely declined (ok, ignored) the offers. I’ve received two invitations to Facebook in the last month.

I even went so far as to search names to see how many other people I might know on Facebook. (A few. Truth be told, I’m more into computers and the internet than most of my friends.) I’ll probably start an account, if for no other reason, to learn about it firsthand. After all, as a web producer, I ought to be familiar with these things. Why haven’t I done it yet? There are just so many accounts to keep track of and update. While my family will groan I spend too much time on the computer, I have activities out there in the real world that need attention, too.

With so many social networking sites and everyone else adding login-required features, how many accounts is enough? Is it even socially acceptable to be offline? When I’m away from my computer, I can’t help but think about the blog posts that need to be written, the emails that are accumulating with more work, the Twitter account which sits awaiting an update for no other reason than to make myself feel like I’m keeping up.

I love the web and I love all the tools out there. I will always be looking for the usefulness of the latest trends. I will always tinker around to see how things work or how I (or my clients) can make use of them.

As for Facebook, I know it’s popularity has probably already peaked, but don’t rule out a fashionably late appearance from me. Anything can happen. (Except for MySpace. I’m still avoiding that one like the plague.)

TV Commercial Set In Online Game World

As more people spend time in online games, online games enter offline arenas.  Even those of us that don’t play World of Warcraft have at least heard of it.  Advertisers like Toyota are now banking on that idea with commercials like this one for their Tacoma pick-up truck.

If this vehicle is good enough to battle in World of Warcraft, surely it can carry you and your stuff from point A to point B.  Toyota probably banked on bloggers like myself turning this into a viral marketing campaign.  I suppose I don’t mind.  I’ll admit when commercials catch my attention- not a minor feat considering my limited television viewing and my joy in skipping commercials (I count the DVR as one of my favorite modern inventions).

Beyond providing a chuckle, though, this commercial is a great example of the blurring lines between online and offline entertainment.  As more of our time is spent in online activities, advertisers must do what they can to catch our attention when we’re not online- and apparently now that means images of those familiar online worlds brought to us in other mediums.

« Older entries