Software development that uses a waterfall method is likely to deliver the wrong thing, too late. The intent of the Agile method is to deliver working software sooner, so the intended users—our clients and their customers—can provide feedback that steers us to deliver the right thing.
A few days ago, I tried to pump up my bicycle. I knew what to do: add air to inflate the inner-tubes. And I knew that I’d need a pump. I had to borrow one.
The connectors and attachments suggested this pump would fit two types of inner-tube valve as well as valves for air mattresses, footballs, and basketballs. So, an all-round useful pump.
But the thing is, neither the pump’s owner nor I were able to make it work. We couldn’t connect the pump to the valve. So i wondered, did the manufacturer test this product by putting it in the hands of first-time and occasional users, to see how it performed?
If you’ve worked in software development for a while, you may have noticed that work on usability gets postponed more often than work on new features and functions. You could see this as a form of tech debt. It accumulates with every release.
What contributes to this accumulation?
Timing. Some usability issues aren’t identified until Alpha testing with customers begins, or until after the product is released.
Competition. There’s often pressure to leap ahead or catch up with competitors by adding new features and functions.
Budgeting. If multiple teams compete for a share of the development budget, something shiny and new may attract more funding than boring old maintenance, upgrades, and tech debt.
It’s not an either/or proposition. With every release you can give your product a bit more usability. And you can do this at a low-to-moderate cost and low-to-moderate risk.
If your website lets visitors sign up, join in, or add comments and reviews, then—in addition to the legitimate details you want people to contribute—you’re getting some garbage. Some of this garbage is sent by spam bots.
Spam bots post content that detracts from your website. Spam lowers your site’s perceived quality. Spam posts may include links that pull traffic to competing sites or trick your visitors into a scam. The cost of spam is hard to quantify.
Plenty of experts recommend methods to avoid spam. But in a series of user research studies, I observed that anti-spam measures impose a cost of their own. They can add friction that causes visitor abandonment and attrition. The cost of this is easier to quantify.
Some anti-spam measures impose more pain than others. I decided to assess and compare them.
In my day-to-day life, I often think about design problems as I encounter them. I find myself wondering about information that I don’t have—details that would help me solve the problem I noticed. And I wonder: faced with the same constraints, would I have come up with the same solution? Here’s one I encountered that involved avoiding a long wait.
The purpose of a user interface is not to explain how a product works. Instead, the interface is to help people use the product. Here’s an idea: if someone can use your product without understanding how it works, that’s probably just fine.
What model does the user interface reflect?
Models are useful to help people make sense of ideas and things.
I recently moved into a home where the light switches are all wrong. I was able to fix one problem, and the rest is a daily reminder that usability doesn’t just happen—it takes planning.
On one wall, a pair of light switches was poorly mapped. The left switch operated a lamp to the right, and the right switch operated a lamp to the left. The previous resident’s solution to this confusing mapping was to put a red dot on one of the switches, presumably as a reminder. I put up with that for about three days. Continue reading “Natural mapping of light switches”
We don’t always know what a design is intended to convey. We don’t always recognise or relate to a design’s intended user groups. But we don’t have to know everything that an object’s design is intended to do, in order to make effective use of the object.
I imagine the metal inserts in the wooden banister (see the video, above) are detectable warnings for people who are visually impaired, but that’s only a guess. If you watch the video again, you’ll see that the metal inserts do not occur at every bend in the staircase.
Whatever the intent, the banister fully met my needs.
Last week, while waiting for friends, I picked up a community newspaper in hopes of finding a puzzle to help me pass the time. I found a sudoku puzzle.
A sudoku puzzle consists of nine 3×3 squares, sprinkled with a few starter numbers. The player must fill in all the blanks by referring to the numbers that are already filled. A number can only occur once in each row of 9, each column of 9, and each 3×3 square.
I regularly complete difficult sudoku puzzles, but this easy one—more starter numbers makes the puzzle easier—was taking much longer than I expected.
I soon realised that my slow performance was due to a design decision by the graphic artist!