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Posts written by kristin

Book Clubs for User Experience Professionals

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Design,Events,Networking,Technology,Usability

UX Book ClubsI’m sure quite of few of you are already in book clubs, but I wanted to recommend one you might want to consider. In your current book club, you probably get together with your friends every so often as an excuse to drink wine while chatting about the plot and characters. But what if you had that same experience except you discussed professional books? Check out a new site the organizes book clubs for user experience professionals.

I work in online user experience for Barnes & Noble, so this is right up my alley. Plus, I’m always hesitant to join book clubs with friends because I can be a little particular about which fiction books I read. This is why the idea of a professional book club appeals to me so much. I have an ever growing list of fiction books I want to one day get to, but I wouldn’t mind a little help from my peers in choosing which books on user experience are the most relevant at this very moment. And I’d be thrilled if a group of peers wanted to read it at the same time and then link up to discuss—especially if it’s done leisurely over a glass of wine.

It looks like I’m not the only one excited about this idea. UX Book Clubs have sprouted in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, and all over North and South America.

Boxes and Arrows, which features articles on information architecture and design, recently had an article profiling UX Book Clubs. In the article, the founder, Steve Baty writes, “In early Nov 2008, I started to talk to a few people about the idea of a book club in Sydney to discuss User Experience (UX) books….And then something surprising happened, people liked the idea so much that they started doing things to make it happen.”

Even if you don’t have one in your area, or if you can’t attend, you can still benefit. Each group gets an individual page on the site to post its mission and the list of books the group has read. Not every group has a robust page up yet, but still the rest of us can get ideas by digging through the various lists. It’s also interesting to see what the hot UX topic is in different parts of the world.

Here’s how the group describes itself on the website:

The UX Book Club seeks to enhance the abilities and knowledge of user experience professionals from information architects and interaction designers to visual designers and usability specialists to augment their understanding for excellence in UX practice, ixd design theory while building a passionate local community. Subjects of interest to this club span design theory, design research and user experience research practices and processes. The books include the strategy and business of design, UX design theory and history, methodology, usability research, and the ethics of UX professionals, while networking and having some fun….

And if you don’t see your city on the list, go to the UX Book Club site to start your own!

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Turn Your Craziest Thoughts into Songs

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Social Media,Webgrrls' Finds

songs to wear pants to logo

Today I came across a site that made me incredibly happy. It’s called Songs to Wear Pants To.

Andrew, a writer and composer, creates full songs based on ideas users submit on his site. He rummages through the requests and picks ideas he wants to turn into songs. Of course, for a fee, you can make sure your idea gets lyrics and a melody. He then sells his original works for 99 cents each. You can buy entire CDs for $10. The albums are appropriately named GREEN PANTS, BLUE PANTS, and PINK PANTS.

Here are just a few examples of user requests:

  • Can you write a really Bass guitar filler song about being a fish that is learning everything about the world around him from his tank?
  • i think you should make a song about see-through grumpy unicorns.
  • Write a song about why Finland is super-cool, with a little guitar solo!
  • Compose a jingle to a product, real or imaginary, that should NEVER have been invented, but somehow has gotten popular. It would probably be like 10 seconds or so.
  • How ’bout a rap song in which none of the lyrics contain the letter “e” ? (You can check the lyrics).

So dream up something cool and make your request as specific or open-ended as you like. And as Andrew says, “Get your own song!”

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Best New Tool for User Testing: The Flip

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Tech Tools,Technology,Usability

You probably know someone with a Flip, the pocket-size camera that lets people shoot a video with the push of a button. It’s small enough to carry with you at all times, and it has a USB plug built in that lets you quickly upload content to the web. I’ve heard people refer to it as the “YouTube Camera” because this small device enables any average joe to easily get content published for the world to see.

I recently discovered a wonderful new use for the Flip: user testing. The small device allows user experience professionals to effortlessly capture user tests while allowing them to go to the participant. Until now, I’ve found it cumbersome and expensive to record any sort of usability session. But now, for around $200, you can have a portable video recorder to bring with you—in your pocket. This lets you go to the user and observe them in their natural environment—something that has previously been challenging.

When I was at IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab about four years ago, we had a usability lab with a not-so-inconspicuous “tree cam” that supposedly made people less conscious of the fact that we were filming them. Like participants didn’t notice a big fake potted plant with a 10-inch camcorder and wires hanging down! (I’m sure they’ve upgraded since then.)

I’ve also been on teams where we’ve rented out usability labs with sophisticated equipment that recorded both the participant and the screen itself. That nifty set up is great for us researches, but I’ve heard users say that it makes them uncomfortable because so many large device are pointing at them and recording their faces.

Last week while we were observing shoppers on Barnes & Noble.com, all we had to do was sit the phone-sized camera on the desk and aim it at the computer screen. The most AV set up we ever needed to do was to prop the camera up on a book if we needed to raise it an inch to better capture the screen.

user test set up with flip

You just push that big red button to start recording, and then you push it again to stop. Only the participant’s voice, not face, was captured.

I was skeptical about the quality of the video. One warning is that you’ve got to remember to speak up and keep reminding your participant to speak up. The mic isn’t the best. But the screen was clear to see. And we also were able to capture when people pointed at areas of the screen, (something I’ve lost in the past when the screen is recorded by software).  Here’s a screen cap from what we recorded during testing:

screen cap of user testing with flip

This small and relatively inexpensive device has removed most barriers that have inhibited us from doing more user testing in the past.

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Better Experiences for Online Games

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Design,Technology,Usability

Online gaming is huge. I tried to find out just how huge is huge, but I had a hard time getting up-to-date statistics. According to an article on BNET about online gaming statistics, 200 million people were playing online games in August of 2007. Most of those people were playing action/adventure/roll-playing games, puzzles, and sports.

But with so many companies climbing on board to produce games, many end up with sub-par user experiences. Mark Hurst of Creative Good started a list of games with great user experiences. It’s a lengthy list of games ranging from 2005 to present. He has even taken the time to jot down if the game has a long or quick playtime.

There are of course the classics, like Hearts. But Mark has taken the time to identify his favorite version of online Hearts: Yahoo! Hearts. But Mark has also found odd games like Fishing Girl. As the site describes, in this game you get to “[r]eel in those fish one by one as you attempt to save a boy who’s trapped on the other side of the ocean.” Here’s what Mark says about this game: “Very nicely designed fishing game with a clever payoff.”

For anyone thinking of following the trend, take a look to see what sets some online games apart.

Fishing Girl game

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Experience Last Month’s IA Summit Online

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Design,Education,Events,Usability,Work-Life Balance

In today’s world, it’s hard to take time out of work and life to attend conferences. And in today’s economy, many of us are opting to save the money needed to attend these conferences. But for anyone who missed the 10th Anniversary IA Summit that was held in Memphis, TN on March 20 through 22, you can still catch some of the sessions online.

Several of the staff at Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main sessions and posted them on their site. As of now, they seem to have posted everything except Days 2 and 3. But they have a message up saying that more sessions should be rolling in over the next two weeks, so hopefully those will get filled in soon. The conference theme was “Expanding Our Horizons”.

Michael Wesch opened the conference with a keynote address about “fresh and ambitious direction for all designers”. I also like how Boxes and Arrows embedded the IA Summit’s music theme at the top of each page. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conference (at least not a usability conference) with it’s own jingle.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the IA Summit, here’s a brief description from the summit’s website:

The Information Architecture Summit is the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals. It’s grown from a special interest group’s efforts to define an emerging field, to a rich and expanding community of practice shaping and informing multiple disciplines. You don’t have to be an IA or User Experience professional to enjoy the Summit. You simply have to love the art and science of structuring information.

View a full schedule of the 2009 IA Summit.

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