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Usability Interface

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Add New Tricks to Your Performance

One of the things I noticed about circus performers was that they are always practicing and always learning. Why? Because audiences demand acts that delight them. Therefore, to keep their routines fresh and interesting to themselves as well as to the audience, performers are always learning something new, something more difficult, or something fresh. You, as a technical communicator, need to have the same passion for adding new tricks to your performance. A great place to start is with usability: design, testing, and analysis. Why? If you make sure that your documents are well written, doesn’t that automatically make them usable? Of course not. Well-written documents are simply that—well written. Your prose may be technically accurate, clear, and succinct, but if people can’t find it, or don’t know about it, or if it documents a hard-to-use product, then no one will use it. As Judy Glick-Smith says: 'It’s communication, not literature.'

Wise, Mary. Usability Interface (2000). Articles>Usability


Analyzing and Reporting Usability Data

The Just-In-Time (JIT) method of data analysis has the virtue of immediacy, rapid turn-around, and team involvement; however there are several disadvantages. First, this type of analysis is problem-focused, rather than goal-focused. Long lists of problems are generated, but there is no clear relation to specific usability goals. Second, developers may not be able to fix things immediately so the context of the problem may be lost when it is time to fix the problem. Third, the JIT analysis requires that the entire development team observe the testing sessions since problems may occur that are the responsibility of different developers.

Wilson, Chauncey E. Usability Interface (1997). Articles>Usability>Testing>Reports


Applied Theory: Working Toward an Accessible Web Site

With the passage of Section 508 and the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), interest in Web site accessibility continues to increase. Web designers and Web content developers are finding that knowledge in Web accessibility is becoming essential to be marketable to government contracts and private industry since accessibility is becoming a best practice, and in some cases a legal requirement, in Web development. This article is written for those who already have a general knowledge about the reasons for, and the techniques of, designing accessible Web sites. In this article, I will share the steps that I have taken to work toward transforming a Web site that I manage to one that is accessible according to the W3C recommendations.

McConnell, Kim. Usability Interface (2003). Design>Web Design>Accessibility>Section 508


Are Organizations Doing Enough to Improve Customer Satisfaction

Time-to-market pressure can diminish product testing time and quality. The results are product recalls, shoddy merchandise, and apologies by CEOs about poor quality. The consequence is the loss of consumer confidence. Don’t these companies realise that there’s no compromise on quality? I’m sure that these companies are ISO 9000 certified or have a Total Quality Management (TQM) program, so what is the problem? Perhaps the problem is not with ISO 9000 or TQM but with the way it is used.

Dick, David J. and Shelby Rosiak. Usability Interface (2000). Articles>Usability>Assessment>ISO 9000


Are You Satisfied with Online Shopping?

How many of you use the Internet to order merchandise? Many consumers are choosing the Internet to order merchandise rather than brave the crowds and traffic snarls at shopping malls. I don’t know if you have noticed it, but the order process and ease of use varies from one web site to another. The often-confusing process is enough to make you bail out and shop elsewhere. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, 'E-tailers Try to Keep Shoppers From Bolting at Checkout Point,' (1) usability, technology, and e-commerce issues are stopping shoppers from completing their purchases. The article states that about 65% of shoppers bail out at the checkout point. Poor design has cost E-tailers over $6.1 billion in potential sales.

Dick, David J. Usability Interface (2001). Design>Web Design>Usability


Attending an STC Conference on a Shoestring Budget

Companies are reducing their training budgets. During these austere times, the technical writer must get more creative than ever to participate in the annual conference. An informal survey of attendees at the 50th Annual Conference in Dallas showed that many people paid their own way to the conference. There are numerous ways to reduce the cost to attend the conference.

Bine, Katharyn. Usability Interface (2003). Articles>TC>Professionalism>STC


Review: Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies

If your Web site is not designed for or understood by a global audience, you are excluding an estimated 200 million people, according to John Yunker in Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies.

Staples, Jeff. Usability Interface (2004). Resources>Reviews>Web Design>Localization


Bridging Usability and Aesthetic Design of Wheelchairs

A wheelchair provides transportation for the disabled, independence and self-sufficiency to someone who would otherwise be completely dependent on others. But is functionality the only aspect of a wheelchair worth contemplation? Should we not evaluate the design aesthetic of wheelchairs to the same extent that we analyze the design of other useful and purposeful objects?

Fields, Betsy. Usability Interface (2003). Design>Usability>Accessibility


Bringing Usability to the Front Lines of Medicine

Will Emergency Medical Records (EMRs) make our delivery of medical care more usable?

Whitney, Hunter. Usability Interface (2008). Articles>Usability>Biomedical


Building Blocks to a Body of Knowledge for User-Centered Design: To Certify or Not to Certify

For the past nine months the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) participated in a project to investigate the feasibility of certifying usability (or user-centered design) professionals. The project was kicked off in Salt Lake City last November when a group of people from many organizations, countries and associations met for three days. That meeting ended with a sense of enthusiasm for creating a certification program based on the international standard for a human-centered design process, ISO 13407. The group planned activities to survey professionals to determine the level of support for certification, and to understand the benefits and drawbacks seen by stakeholders.

Quesenbery, Whitney. Usability Interface (2002). Careers>Certification>Usability>Body of Knowledge


Review: Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories

Donna Spencer's new book, Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories (2009, Rosenfeld Media) may be a breeze-through read, but don't be fooled by the direct, plain-language style into thinking that you can skim it and walk away a card-sorting expert. The book is meant to be read, used, then read again as a follow-along guide.

Bailie, Rahel Anne. Usability Interface (2009). Articles>Reviews>Usability>Card Sorting


The Career Path for Usability Professionals: A Review of the UPA DC June 7, 2006

Learn about the career path of usability professionals from three speakers who have extensive experience in the usability profession, including managers of usability departments and independent consultants.

Dick, David J. Usability Interface (2006). Careers>Usability


Cognitive Behavior Learning Disabilities: Being Different Shouldn't Mean Being Discriminated Against

I view my son's early school years in the 90s as a nightmare. I asked if my son could submit homework done on the computer due to his awful handwriting - weren't his ideas the key issue? - and 'NO!' was the reply.

Mardahl, Karen. Usability Interface (2003). Design>Usability>Accessibility


Communities of Practice: Dealing with the Changes in the Technical Communication Field

STC has been challenged by the changing economy and the evolving nature of our work and career development. These challenges have required Society leaders to look carefully into how the STC should change to better serve a diverse and global membership.

Bachmann, Karen L. Usability Interface (2004). Articles>TC>Community Building>STC


Convincing the Skeptics

People unfamiliar with usability think that it's cosmetic and can be combined with other phases of development when time is available. It's often difficult to educate them, especially if they are more senior than you are and consider it a waste of time. They will not be convinced by statistics from anywhere other than outside the organization. What should you do next? You may be able to say something like 'It seems your only objection is [whatever], so if we can resolve this issue, do you have any other reasons why we shouldn't do usability testing?' This way, you have their agreement to do usability just as soon as you have resolved the issue.

Dick, David J. Usability Interface (1999). Careers>Usability>Management


Creating a Usable Electronic Newsletter In House

Many organizations are opting to convert existing print publications into electronic newsletters (e-newsletters)—and for good reason. E-newsletters can be developed for a fraction of the cost of their print counterparts and delivered to a global audience instantly. While marketers are discovering the ease of reaching a target audience with e-mail, many e-mail users are frustrated by the barrage of e-newsletters that muddle their inboxes monthly, weekly, or even daily. An onslaught of unsolicited commercial e-mail (spam) has made readers wary of marketing attempts. To reach these wary readers, companies need to create e-newsletters that respond to their audience’s specific needs—namely usability and trust. By following a few guidelines, you can launch a usable and successful e-newsletter.

Lawless, Amy. Usability Interface (2003). Design>Publishing>Web Design>Usability


Creating Standards and Strategies

I have been asked to document the standards and strategies of usability. Given my company's interest to achieve ISO 9000 certification, I thought of the benefits to have a standard and strategy that conform to an ISO standard. My research led to two standards, ISO 13407 and ISO 9241, which have become invaluable to me.

Dick, David J. Usability Interface (1998). Articles>Usability>Standards>ISO 9000


Crisis in the Profession

There are fewer projects in development and that means less work for us. That issue will resolve itself as the recession eases and will reduce some of the pain. I do not believe, as some have suggested, that our work has become irrelevant because programmers have learned how to design usable interfaces. That just isnâ*™t the case. True there are more models to imitate, but every day I see miserably-designed products fielded. And user frustration is hardly a thing of the past. At the core of the problem, I believe, is a truth we must face: we have failed to establish our value to the business community. And if we want to survive and prosper, we must correct that. I doubt that there is a member of this profession who does not believe passionately that the work we do is a major facilitator of success in technology development projects.

Kreitzberg, Charles B. Usability Interface (2002). Articles>Usability


Cross-Referencing Step Numbers in Word

If you are like most technical writers, your procedures have automatically numbered steps (whether in tables or text), Microsoft Word provides two relatively simple ways for you to cross-reference a step number.

McConnell, Gloria. Usability Interface (2004). Articles>Documentation>Software>Microsoft Word


Defining an Effective Electronic Performance Support System

Most businesses have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of information employees require to perform tasks. Traditional approaches to training such as paper documentation, instructor-led training, or computer-based training (CBT) may have been effective in the past, but are not suitable to respond to the rapid changes in time, cost, and delivery of information today’s marketplace requires. At Unisys Corporation we have piloted an electronic performance support system that provides self-instruction for our clients at their point of need.

Racine, Sam J., Kristen E. Kralick and Sathya Yesuraja. Usability Interface (2004). Articles>User Interface>Usability>EPSS


Review: Design is the Problem: The Future Must Be Sustainable

The book is both idealistic about what people need to do and realistic about the complex, daunting tasks we face. Somehow, an optimistic tone emerged, perhaps due to Shedroff's enthusiasm, fresh perspective, and suggestions for moving toward solutions. His high expectations for designers and developers were especially evident when discussing their roles in creating products and improving their sustainability.

MacDowell, Kathleen. Usability Interface (2009). Articles>Reviews>Design>Environmental


Designing High Fidelity Home Pages

A high fidelity home page is one that simply and clearly communicates an accurate, complete, and favorable impression of your organization and its products. An effective home page will also display your intimate understanding of, and desire to fully accommodate, the actual needs and interests of users.

Streight, Steven. Usability Interface (2004). Design>Web Design>Usability


Designing Online Help for Pocket PCs

Advances in technology in the last ten years have created an emerging category of portable online computers (Pocket PCs or PPCs) that offer a wide range of product features comparable to Personal Computers (PCs). Improvements in PPC hardware specifications and the growing numbers of compatible software applications are resulting in an increased (and multi-faceted) user base. Increasing technical capabilities, advanced product features, and a diversified user base are creating new challenges to design online Help systems that can satisfy user needs and requirements effectively.

Natarajan, Prashant. Usability Interface (2004). Articles>Documentation>Help>PDA


Review: Designing Web Sites for Every Audience

Author Ilise Benun looks at the web from a refreshing perspective, tying marketing and usability together through a common interest in understanding the people who use a web site.

Quesenbery, Whitney. Usability Interface (2004). Resources>Reviews>Web Design


Designs We Love To Hate!

Selections of 'least favorite' designs from graduate students of the George Mason University Department of Psychology.

Mintz, Farilee. Usability Interface (2006). Design>User Interface>Human Computer Interaction>User Centered Design



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