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UI design -> human factors engineering?

Does anyone else who's spent some time with UI design find themselves doing human factors engineering with everything? I used to bitch about how design engineers should be forced to use their own products, but now I find I'm paying even more attention to how things are designed (and often coming to the conclusion "what the hell were they thinking?")

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 06, 2004

Agreed.

" used to bitch about how design engineers should be forced to use their own "

Actually my test is:

Use it AT GUN POINT to simulate the fact that REAL users have OTHER things to besides just using this product.

My test for software is "explain it to 1,000 grandmothers".

You'll find that  the programs stops asking to many questions (interogationWARE). Instead of saying "just keep hitting return to take all the defaults" we now have an install that asks UP FRONT "EASY or HARD install?". If EASY, it shows only one or two more screens (including "Finished")

Mr.Analogy
Friday, August 06, 2004

In my opinion, poor UI design is rampant, yet amazingly, it's rarely addressed.  It amazes me that a firm will spend hundreds of thousand of dollars to create custom software, but UI design is rarely a consideration; it's often left to the individual developers. 

I worked on one project where each developer designed the UI for their respective functional area; when all of the pieces were assembled, it was a complete mess that drove the users insane. 

Unfortunately, it seems like many highly technical people don't have any care or concern about good UI or usability.  I've never understood that attitude.

Ewan's Dad
Friday, August 06, 2004

I do this with everything.  I bought a broom the other day which had usability problems... a broom!  It's a stick with a brush attached to it.  In an effort to make the broom look cool and high tech it falls apart after one use.

Every piece of equipment with a clock in it should have a big button that says "set time" there's no excuse to have clocks blinking all over my house because it's too much of a pain to figure out how to set them.

I think UI and human factors are the first thing dropped when schedules get tight.

chris
Friday, August 06, 2004

"many highly technical people don't have any care or concern about good UI "

It's because they make the software, they don't use it, so they don't even know it's bad.

Bob
Friday, August 06, 2004

I think a lot of software practitioners confuse the ability to make MS Studio (or Qt, or whatever toolkit is being used) create a user interface with the ability to design a user interface. In my experience they require very different skills and thought processes (not dissimilar to the differences between writing a spec and requirements gathering).

Definitely an area lacking in appropriate attention...

Jeff Kotula
Friday, August 06, 2004

"I bought a broom the other day which had usability problems... a broom!"

ME TOO!!

Our broom has a matching dustpan that fits neatly on the handle for storage.

But the broom is WIDER than the dustpan!!!  ARggggg!!!

The problem is that most normal people can't even TELL you why something is frustrating them.  And most developers (of software or other products) aren't any better.  And if you don't understand WHY something is annoying, then you can't fix it.

Good useability is a NON TRIVIAL PROBLEM.

Read : The Design of Everyday Things by (Norman?)

Example of a multimillion dollar building with nearly unusable front doors. But they LOOK cool.

Mr.Analogy
Friday, August 06, 2004

Those doors make you feel like an idiot (push or pull?), which is exactly the mentality they want you to have at that point.

Perfect design achieved. ;-)

Edward
Friday, August 06, 2004

And, should I mention the federally mandated low volume toilets that are supposed to save water?  Never mind the fact that you have to flush them two or three times, thus using more water than the old style toilet.

John
Friday, August 06, 2004

UI Design is NOT Human Factors!!

"The difference between design methods and HF methods is that design methods are typically generative and constructive, whereas HF methods are typically analytical and reductive.  Both have their place in the design process.  HF methods are terrific for taking an artifact/system and rigorously analyzing its strengths and weaknesses based on theories deduced from empirical observation.

Design methods do not require an existing artifact/system to analyze (not at first, anyway), and make use of visualization, narrative, and empathic techniques to generate and execute models of experience (concepts) based on previously identified principles and patterns
that may have been arrived at by inspiration/analogy, trial and error, or iteration (and usually some combination of all three).

Design works best as a top-down activity, with successive phases of conceptualization, analysis and refinement.  Designers tend to be strong in concept-generation, and weaker in analysis.  HF folks tend to be the opposite.  Thus the two methods and foci complement each other delightfully."

MT Heart
Friday, August 06, 2004

MT just nailed it. Well done.

jon
Friday, August 06, 2004

That was actually a definition by Robert Riemann, co-author of About Face 2, with Alan Cooper.

MT Heart
Friday, August 06, 2004

I think there's starting to be some hope.  There was a TV ad recently where the feature they were promoting was usability (they didn't say it that way of course).

Somebody opens his closet door to find a monster.  He wants to take a picture of it with his camera phone.  The monster isn't worried because he knows the phone is too complicated to use, so they guy won't succeed in taking the pic.
Cut to the product they're selling, which doesn't have this problem.

I think we're getting to the point where marketers perceive that consumers know the difference between having a feature and being able to use it.

andrewm
Friday, August 06, 2004

John,

I am glad you brought up low flow toilets. I have replaced all the toilets in my house with low flow. I love these new toilets. They flush better than the old ones and use less water.

They are a totally new design with much better suction and attention paid to water momentum. One key is that the inside of the S is glazed. But, you know, only the high end toilets are glazed, that is to say the ones that cost more than $100. Myself, I get super fancy designs that cast $160-$200.

Now most people go to get a toilet and they see a nice good quality toilet that flushes well and will last for centuries and costs $100. But then there is a no-name toilet that is not designed well and not glazed on the inside that costs $47.

So they buy the $47 one.

And after 2 years of frustration, they tear it out and replace it with a $69 toilet, either spending a couple days to do it themself or paying a plumber $300 to do it for them. And after 2 more years of frustration, they tear it out and buy the $100 one that is designed properly.

All during this they shout "The damn government is mandating these crappy crappers!"

Well, no - it is the cheap consumer who doesn't want to pay for a better design that was put together by someone who thought about it a little bit and refused to cut corners just to compete at the low end.

This is also the exact reason why much software has a poor UI.

Scott
Friday, August 06, 2004

"And, should I mention the federally mandated low volume toilets that are supposed to save water?  Never mind the fact that you have to flush them two or three times, thus using more water than the old style toilet. "

The last time was used one, I found that the multi-flush was only required after the once-a-day defecation. The rest of the time, a single-flush was sufficient. By my calculations, this represents a net savings, and I did find that my septic tank needed pumping out less often.

Now I have a marine toilet on that septic tank and pump outs are so far apart that I have to schedule my inspections instead of the pump outs. I'm sure that once I have a few pump outs behind me, I'll be able to go back to scheduling the pump out and forgo the inspection.

Ron Porter
Friday, August 06, 2004

Another great group of books by Edward Tufte (a great speaker if you ever get a chance...) highlight the use of graphical elements in order to convey data, explanations, or informational narratives.  The first one is "The Visual Display
of Quantitative Information".  There are three others and his web page
if  very much worthwhile...
  http://www.edwardtufte.com/
These aren't necessarily about UI design per se but are nonetheless
useful, as is "Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles"
by Don Norman.

Tufte has some interesting things to say about power point, but he has
downright fascinating things to say about Gantt charts... check out:
  http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=000076&topic_id=1&topic=Ask%20E%2eT%2e

I wonder what he'd think of Spolsky's "painless scheduling".

Thomas E. Kammeyer
Friday, August 06, 2004

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is also good.

"The last time was used one, I found that the multi-flush was only required after the once-a-day defecation. The rest of the time, a single-flush was sufficient. By my calculations, this represents a net savings, and I did find that my septic tank needed pumping out less often."

Um... You need more fiber in your diet.

"Does anyone else who's spent some time with UI design find themselves doing human factors engineering with everything?"

Philo, I remember the tag line to your blog "A mule is a horse designed by committee." I often think of this when I see a big budget hollywood movie that spent a great deal of money on the most popular actor and special effects, yet almost no money on hiring someone who knows about plot and character development. I often wonder about the amount of time it took to create the special effects, and the amount of time it would take to write a good story. But, hollywood movies are created by committee, so unless you have a powerhouse director or producer or actor behind it, or happen to stumble upon a good script, the story is gauranteed to suck.

Software is the same way. How much time does it take to think through a product and how people use it, vs. coding the damned thing? But once you start talking about user interface, somehow a committee forms and everyone has to vote on everything and nothing gets done. It's crazy.

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 06, 2004

Mark, that's not actually how movies get made. There is intense focus on the story and the script.

The scriptwriter will be a big cheese for a while, and then the director takes over, and then the actors tell the script writer how to "improve" the script and the cinematographer demands more sunset shots (or something) and a good time is had by all.

SFX guy
Friday, August 06, 2004

"Philo, I remember the tag line to your blog "A mule is a horse designed by committee." "

Actually it's "A camel is a horse designed by committee". The distinction is important because I call that hellhole I worked in "The Camel"

SFX guy - that really your job?
To me, the whole director thing is summed up by three people:
1) John Woo, who finished off the Mission Impossible franchise (dramatically, anyway) by having MI:2 created by listing the stunts he wanted to direct and having a scriptwriter fill in the nasty filler plotty stuff in between.
2) Joel Schumacher, who single-handedly killed a billion dollar Batman franchise with his "vision" (because the previous wildly successful films were too dark for him - he missed the TV show)

3) My hero, Peter Jackson. When Jackson landed the Lord of the Rings job, he had a "vision" for the series. Rumors of his "vision" leaked out and he was BURIED in hate mail from fans of Middle Earth. What did he do? Did he sneer and say the fans didn't know any better?
NO! He took it as a personal and artistic challenge to follow Tolkien's work as faithfully as possible. Result: $300M to make, over a trillion in the bank.

I just wish someone in Hollywood would notice this.

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 06, 2004

LOTR - *B*illion in the bank. With a "B"

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 06, 2004

Philo,

It's always a delicate balance between:
a. Paying attention only to your own vision.
b. Paying attention completely to your audience/customers.

Of course, the best people can do both.  It ain't easy.

Mr.Analogy
Friday, August 06, 2004

"There is intense focus on the story and the script. "

Then why do so many movies suck? Okay, maybe you're right about the way things get done, but take, for example. Leage of Extraordinary Gentleman. That movie was horrible. It had no plot whatsoever, problems were resolved within moments of them being introduced, and the main villian wasn't even hinted at until he revealed his identity. Zero tension whatsoever.

How could a movie like this get made? Was it an untested screenwriter? Someone who was in it just for the money and didn't really care about the quality of the picture? How do such horrible movies get made?

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 06, 2004

Actually I thought LXG was entertaining superhero fluff, if not a great classic.

Next analogy please...

Chris Nahr
Saturday, August 07, 2004

Another example - Thunderbirds.

You make a modern-day adaptation of a show loved and/or fondly remembered by millions of adults between 30 and 60. So what do you do? Do you follow the original formula, updating it to modern dramatic standards?

No! You throw a bunch of kids in and pander it to the wrong audience.

grrr....

Another counter-example - Sam Raimi's Spiderman, which even looks like a comic book. another billion-dollar franchise. How odd that if you stay faithful to the source material which was very popular, then your movie is also very popular. How does that work?

Philo

Philo
Saturday, August 07, 2004

"Actually I thought LXG was entertaining superhero fluff, if not a great classic."

Well, now we're even further out of the realm of logic and completely in the realm of personal opinion. This kind of thing is impossible to argue.

Besides, you're not even the guy I was addressing.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, August 07, 2004

Actually I saw Thunderbirds yesterday, and I, Robot and I was surprised how close they got to the original feel in both cases.

I was expecting to pan both of them out of sight and apart from Lady Penelope's car which is just too narrow, and the Mercedes in I,Robot which _wobbled_ I didn't have a problem with either of them.

And yes I laughed at the inserted puppet strings.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, August 08, 2004

And if the target audience of the Thunderbirds film was folk like me I'd be surprised, its still a kids film.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, August 08, 2004

You might be interested to read an article in this week's Entertainment Weekly discussing how Marvel has been very successful with their film adaptations (X-Men, Spiderman) as compared to Warner Brothers/DC Comics. Apparently they know it and are trying to follow Marvel's formula from now on - and it all starts with getting good writers who understand the subject matter *and* the audience.

  --Josh

JWA
Sunday, August 08, 2004

I haven't seen the thunderbirds movie yet, but the acting in the trailer looked completely faithful to the original show - painfully wooden  :)


Sunday, August 08, 2004

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