September, 2007

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Bill Buxton: Designing User Experience

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    Recently Bill Buxton sat down with Charles Torre from Channel 9 talking about Designing User Experience . It's an fascinating interview on design thinking and how design, technology and business interlink together focusing on end users. Bill Buxton joined Microsoft Research as a Principle Researcher two years ago to help foster a design oriented culture at Microsoft.

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    The interview consists of fundamental questions we ask as designers everyday, so it's very inspiring to hear from design guru like Bill.  For example, how do you know what you designed will be loved by people, what makes a great design? Bill points out that first you need to be very clear on what you are designing. Is it the software, mobile phone, pair of glasses you are designing? Not really! They are the things in packaged boxes that companies sell. What designers are designing is really the experience that these products bring. It's the whole experience of opening the packages to using the products. That's why the design terminology has changed from User Interface Design to Interaction Design to User Experience Design.

    Some great quotes also came out from the interview:

      "Be bold with design." "Paranoia is a wonderful thing."

      "If you are not failing consistently and regularly, you are not pushing yourself enough."

      "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." original quote by Harry S. Truman

    Bill Buxton will be keynoting at our Expression Around the Clock event this Thursday. Hope to see you there!

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    SWF to XAML Converter

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    he's my hero!Some of the scenarios for Flash and Silverlight usage are similar, such as rich media/video within websites, or interactive rich content for e-commerce, e-learning, or advertising. As interactive designers, you may want to reuse and repurpose the Flash assets that you built before. Here is a SWF to XAML converter called "The Converted" created by Debreuil Digital Works, a Canadian company. You can see a list of demos they've converted to XAML from SWF. Electric Rain also announced a project called Harmony that converts SWF based Flash files into Silverlight based XAML files. Stay tuned!

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    [Guest Blogger] Casual gamers, your life is getting easier!

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    Continuing with Halo 3 launch excitement, Peter talks about the popular game from the game play experience for players with different skill levels.

    guestblogger Peter McLachlan, PhD Student, University of British Columbia

    I haven't played Halo 3 yet, though by all accounts it looks like a winner. I have, however, played and enjoyed Halo 1 & 2. One design aspect of the Halo series that interests me is the way the in-game challenge level associated with player designated difficulty settings has evolved. Halo 1 (and sequels) present the player with four options which vary from soothing to alarming: Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. This is a bit like a 4 point Likert scale - although the name "Normal" gives the player the illusion of a middle option, in fact, no such option has been provided. Although Normal in fact represents Medium-easy, it evokes a pleasing sensation for novice players that they are completing the game fairly at a Normal level of difficulty. There's a good set of examples of changes between various difficulty levels of Halo 2 available on IGN's XBOX site, and here's direct links to Quicktime movie clips of Easy, Normal, Heroic and Legendary.

    For players with experience in first person shooter (FPS) games, Halo 1 in Normal mode presented only a modest challenge. Even so, the challenge level of Normal mode declined in Halo 2 and early reports are that this trend has continued in Halo 3, for example as discussed in the IGN video review of Halo 3. The reason for this almost certainly lies in the evolving demographic of gamers, and the emergence of a significant casual gamer marketplace.

    It is true that any FPS requires a certain level of dedication to master even enough skill to navigate the environment, well above the commitment required to obtain basic proficiency in the average Wii console game for example. (Most new players I've observed seem to experience the most problems with the two-thumbstick navigation, where one controls movement and the other camera/head movement. With a combined four degrees of freedom this interface takes considerable play time to master, but is a transferable skill amongst most console FPS games.) The Easy and Normal modes of Halo attempt to compensate for this, especially in early game play, by providing AI controlled allies who are in some cases able to defeat the AI opponents without assistance from the player. Given the challenge of learning basic navigation skills, this is definitely a requirement to avoid player frustration when learning in the early levels. My experience is that players become desensitized to having their in game character “die” as the game progresses, with the highest penalties in player frustration coming early in the game.

    But what about gameplay for experienced or expert players? I believe that in a perfect world, where the challenge levels were ideally designed, the difficulty curves for a console game that didn't have the initial startup cost of an FPS and those that did should merge. I'm sure it would be both fun and informative to pick out some exemplars from different platforms and game-types, and do a head-to-head comparison on the number of hours required to achieve "expert" status. (Determining precisely when a player has reached "expert" status is left as an exercise to the reader. ;)) However, the degree to which experts are challenging game based AI is also increasing. The most difficult setting in Halo 2 is considerably more difficult than in Halo 1 - and it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues. As the Halo franchise can now draw on a large pool of players with finely honed play skills, keeping these players interested requires more effort in tricky opponent AI.

    Games present many unique design problems, of which determining appropriate difficulty levels is just one aspect. I can say one thing with certainty: game challenge should not be the result of difficulty with the interface. Examples of games where game challenge is significantly dependent on interface design problems are innumerable, but I’ll pick on one egregious example: the purely gesture-based interface of Black & White, which caused nearly head-popping frustration. The game design community has been getting better at recognizing some of these issues, and designing interfaces that are less frustrating and less of a barrier to play. The improved usability of each new generation of games is continually widening the gaming demographic.

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    clip_image003 Peter McLachlan is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia. His current work involves designing and evaluating usable information visualization systems. Over the years, he has sacrificed many hours to gaming on multiple platforms.

     

     

     

     

  • Canadian UX Blog

    User Experience for Architects - Briefing Presentation

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    Yesterday I was in Montreal to give a briefing on User Experience for an audience of Architects.  It was a fantastic experience and I met a number of great people in the process. 

    The fundamental moral of the presentation was that User Experience is important to the process of designing software solutions.  To that effect, Architects are a very large part in ensuring an application has the appropriate user experience to make their customers happy and productive.

    As I promised during my session, I have provided a download link for the presentation I gave.  The briefing can be found here.  It's in Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 format (Microsoft Office Open XML format), so if you use a previous version of Microsoft Office, you need the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats, which you can download here for free. 

    To those of you who attended, it was a pleasure to present the briefing and meet you!  Feel free to post your thoughts on how architects fit into the process of designing effective user experiences in software solutions on this site  - I would be very happy to have a dialogue started!

    Paul

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Halo 3 and Silverlight

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    For all the die-heart Halo 3 fans out there, check out the Halo 3 online manual powered by Silverlight!

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    • The Halo 3 Online Manual includes a video introduction and an interactive menu with character overviews, an explanation of game controls, equipment descriptions and more.

     

    • The video promos – which are available exclusively through MSN/Silverlight – showcase the media experiences that Silverlight delivers, including full HD quality.

     

     

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    What does it take be a UX designer?

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    I went to the season kick-off of Waterloo User Experience Group meeting last night. The session is called "UX ChitChat" - cute! One topic we chitchatted was what takes someone to be a UX designer? This is a popular question and have been asked by people not only try to get into the field but also asked by people who have been doing UX design for years. The latter takes one step further and asks the question: what does it take to be a great UX designer.

    This is certainly a topic that closes my heart. I'll link my opinion with some inspiring resources on the topic. The most important trait (or UXNA) I think for a UX designer to have is compassion for users.  You need to be the advocate for users and it comes very naturally. For example, if you hit a confusing road sign, a hard to navigate website, or even those teapots in Chinese restaurants that are so hard to pour out tea without spilling it, you think about the poor experience users suffer. You also feel strongly that there should be a better design for this! Richard Ziade describes very nicely in his post (i.e. Design is...) about what separates a good design from a bad design.

    Everyone is a designer in a sense. But what separates good design from bad design?...Good design is about taking the time and energy to see through another's eyes and create something that sympathizes with how they think. At the risk of sounding hokey: Good design is thoughtful and compassionate. The beneficiary of a good design experiences something very unique. A good interaction experience creates an emotional bond and loyalty to the creation that is really, if you stop and think about, a bond with it's creator. "Someone took the time to think about what I need and worry about how I think."

    With the UXNA, you also need proper training and experience to be a UX designer. Dan Saffer from Adaptive Path has a great article on how to be an interaction designer. It gives an overview of the profession, necessary training and experience you need with lots of great resources listed in the article. I think there are three skill areas for UX design:

    • User research: researching both users and markets through focused groups, interviews, filed investigation, scenario analysis, problem definition, brainstorming, requirements gathering
    • Interaction design: storyboarding, wireframing, prototyping, visual design
    • Usability testing: designing usability tests, data gathering and analysis, reporting testing results and design recommendation

    A good designer will have experience in all these areas and is an expert in one or two areas. Many UX designer job posts list these similar skills. Form my experience, in grad level CS Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field, we are trained in all these skill areas but focusing less on how to use different design tools in the Interaction Design phrase. Whereas college/university level multimedia design programs have more hands-on practice on tools such as Adobe CS3. However, they usually don't teach various user research methods and how to conduct formal usability study. The missing skills can be learnt from either taking a specialized course or on job training.

    Here are some of my favorite UX blogs:

  • Basement.org by Rich Ziade

    This is my favorite blog. This blog talks about Web 2.0 technologies and the importance of good experience design. The blog has influenced a lot on the way I'm thinking about design and how technology trends influence our lives. One nice feature of the blog is that the author has a column which provides a brief description of cool design tools and news from other blogs.

  • Functioning Form by Luke Wroblewski

    This is a very visionary blog and a must read among designers. The blog often interviews the experts in interface design and and asks about their design vision. The blog helps me to think about the big picture and the direction of user experience. It also offers very well written articles about technology and design.

  • Adaptive Path Blog and Essay Archives

    Not much description is needed here since Adaptive Path is the UX consulting group in the field. Each designer in Adaptive Path also has a great personal blog.

  • Future Perfect by Jan Chipchase

    "A picture is worth a thousand words." The old saying would be the best description for the blog. Jan is a user researcher at Nokia, and he travels all over the world and takes great photos of how people use telephones or just everyday things. An excellent portrait of "design of everyday things." This blog is great to read even on a 30 sec break.

  • Usability In The News by Usernomics

    This blog offers very practical tips on user-centered design and introduces new usability research findings that may surprise us designers.

  • IxDA Discussion List by Interaction Design Association (IxDA)

    This is not a blog but has daily active discussions on topics related to interaction design. It's a great UX expert pool and very welcoming.  

  • Design Critique: Products for People by Tim and Tom

    This is a podcast blog that consists of reviews of popular products such as IPod, alarm clocks, and etc.

     

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Experiencing Surface

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    Earlier this year I introduced you to Surface and its finally came to Toronto over the weekend! David posted the notice last week that there were three surfaces showing at Sheraton hotel.  It was interesting to discover that the "surface" of the surface is actually not as smooth as I expected.  However, it gives a very nice tactile sensation and apparently can stand up to anything short of a bottle of remover.  I've recorded some short videos on my camera so I can share it with you. Enjoy!

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    The Ultimate Steal

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    Check out this deal (launched yesterday) for Office if you haven't seen it. For Canadian university and college students, you can get Office 2007 Ultimate for just $64 CAD. There is also a more flexible way to acquire Office, which is to get the one year subscription license for only $22 CAD. I'm excited about the low price and flexibility we are offering to students.

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    I've been using Office 2007 since I joined in March. The new Ribbon interface helped me to discover some new features in Office that I wasn't aware they existed before. There are two applications within Office that I never used before are now the heavy weights of my daily usage. One I really enjoy is the Office Groove. Our team use it to collaborate with one another, and I personally use it to synchronize my files between laptops. The other one Office OneNote. I use it as my information organizer: taking meeting notes (both text and drawings), reviewing papers and presentations (i.e. there is a print function to layout your doc or ppt for review in OneNote), recording links and websites that I found interesting. The main thing is you never need to save in OneNote. Everything you add is automatically saved and you can use search to find it. Since I use a tablet PC,I can use my stylus to handwrite notes and convert them to text.

    I hope this deal will provide an easy and affordable way for our students to enjoy Office at home, and I'm looking forward to hearing your stories of using Office 2007.

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    Canadian Focused UX Events

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    As I'm filling up my calendar with UX related events coming up in the next year, I can't help to notice that we have a lot going on in Canada. I'm sure my list is not complete, so feel free to add.

    October 4: Expression Around the Clock, Toronto

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    October 10 -11: Explore Design, Toronto

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    October 14 - 17: Associate of Canadian Ergonomics (ACE)’s 38th annual conference, Toronto

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    November 8: Design Camp Waterloo, Waterloo

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    October 17 - 19: Design Thinkers, Toronto

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    October 22 - 25: IBM CASCON (Annual International Conference on Computer Science and Software Engineering), Toronto

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    November 8: World Usability Day

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    November 12 - 15: Adaptive Path > UX Intensive, Vancouver

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    November 25 - 28: CanUX, Banff

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    January 28 - February 2: Web Directions North, Vancouver

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    The following three events are not in Canada but have a large Canadian presence.

    March 5 - 7: MIX08, Las Vegas

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    March 7 - 16: SXSW, Austin

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    April 10 - 14: IA Summit, Miami

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    April 20 -22: FITC (Flash In The Can) Toronto, Toronto

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    Expression Around the Clock

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    As we are kicking off the fall season at Microsoft, we have an exciting global design event, called  "Expression Around the Clock" planed for Thursday, October 4.  That's right! Expression Around the Clock: the whole event is within 24 hours covering 10 countries. We starts off at Auckland, New Zealand and finishes at our own Toronto, Canada. Other cities include: Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Zurich, Milan, Cairo, Moscow, Bangalore, and Seoul.

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    Through this event, we hope to connect with you in the design community and share our future trends of digital design.  Bill Buxton from Microsoft Research will be our keynote speaker for the event. He will talk about findings from his new book Sketching User Experiences:  Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. David and I will be there to chat with you about Microsoft's investment in the UX area including our UX platform, tools, and design partner program. Finally, we have Jon Lax, from teehan+Lax, to link culture, design, business, and technology all together and share his experience of current design process.

    I want to give you a heads-up and update you with more information as the event getting close.

    What: Expression Around the Clock (Register here)

    When: Oct. 4 starts at 12:30pm

    Where: The Second City

    Hope to see you there!

    Qixing

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    Silverlight 1.0 and Expression Media Encoder Launched!

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    Along with many others, I'm happy to announce that Silverlight 1.0 and Expression Media Encoder are officially released to web (RTW). Since Silverlight Beta was announced at MIX07 in April, it has been getting so much attention. Just a quick recap of what is Silverlight:

    Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering richer user experiences on the Web. Silverlight significantly reduces development and deployment costs and provides enhanced Web audio and video streaming and playback using industry-leading Windows Media® Technologies.

    To make delivering Silverlight experiences easier, we are also announcing the RTW of Expression Encoder 1.0. External and internal customers are ready to light up their web with Silverlight. I listed some of them in my previous post. Other external customers include “Entertainment Tonight,” Home Shopping Network, and

    World Wrestling Entertainment.

    Another part of the exciting news is that we are partnering with Novell to deliver an implementation of Silverlight for Linux called Moonlight. By expanding the cross platform support, now users can experience the benefits of Silverlight regardless of the operating systems.

    Excited? I came across this tool recently which will make your life much easier if you want to include a Silverlight application in your blog. For Live Writer users, you  can download the “Insert Silverlight App” plug-in from the LiveWriter Gallery.

    More information on Silverlight 1.0 RTW news:

    Qixing

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