Friday, January 30, 2009

Driving and Usability (Loosely)

After a frustrating drive home yesterday, I started thinking about turn signals, why they're important, and why people use (or don't use) them. So, I did a highly informal survey with a very small pool (okay, 5 people that I know personally). Here are the results:

Of the people surveyed:
  • 20% claim to use turn signals all the time (Group A)
  • 80% admit to not using them all the time (Group B)
  • 0% claim to never use them (Group C)
When asked why they don't use turn signals all the time, those in Group B responded that they usually just forget.

Now, I believe there are people in Group C, though I haven't met any (self-admitted, that is). I also believe the pool I found is somewhat skewed, because these are all people close to me, and I usually hang out with considerate people who drive reasonable vehicles and understand that the road and everything on it does not belong to them.

I also searched to see what had been written already about this topic. I should have known that Don Norman had an article about signals. His take is more on how we might get our machines to be as expressive as human faces, but I was intrigued by the bits about the importance of signals in communication and understanding.

When I cycled to work the last two summers, I noticed that the other cyclists smile, wave and greet each other while commuting. I had people ask if I need help when I was fixing a chain. I remember growing up in small-ish towns where people would drive down the main streets and wave to each other.

This doesn't happen in our cars any more. Our obscenely big-assed cars have so many amenities that we have grown accustomed to treating them as isolated bubbles of human existence--an extension of our private living space.

But they're not. We are interacting with the world when we are piloting a moving vehicle among moving vehicles with other pilots.

So, dude: use your turn signal.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

PDA Wishlist

I've owned several PDAs: a Psion, two Handspring Visors, a Palm Treo, a Windows Treo, a Dell Axim, a PPC6700 and now an iPod Touch. Here's one more blog from one more blogger about the perfect device.

The next one I buy should have (not in preference order):
  • Touchscreen: So far, the iPod Touch wins. Except for the keyboard part (see below).
  • Bluetooth: for an external keyboard or file transfers.
  • Camera: frankly, this is a "nice-to-have" for me, but it would be nice to have. Doesn't have to be great, but should take photos of whiteboards in meetings or the position of your vehicles after the accident.
  • Real GPS: Not that half-assed wi-fi-dealy that the iPod uses. There's not quite enough public wi-fi around where I hang out. It's just not good enough for the potential of the location-based applications. Google Earth and Urban Spoon rock! But not on the half-assed wi-fi-dealy.
  • Wi-Fi: duh. Good-enough wi-fi that I can use the PDA as a Skype or Fring device.
  • A tactile (even external) keyboard (like the Psion Siena or PPC6700): Remember the folding keyboards for Handsprings? AWESOME. I can total imagine docking my iPod Touch on one of those puppies and being able to ACTUALLY TYPE. And, if it's a keyboard on the device, it needs to have a tiny depression in the center for a stylus to settle so you can type with a stylus if you had too many french fries last night. (This is not my idea, but I don't remember who suggested it to me. I'll give credit if I can remember.) My PPC6700 had a really nice keyboard, but the stylus would slip off of the smooth, rounded keys. I really dislike the Touch keyboard. (Yes, I practice, and yes, I have small fingers, and yes, it's gotten better, but why not make it easy to use out of the box? The auto-complete helps, for sure.)
  • External speaker with hardware control (Apple figured this out in the second generation Touch): I can't tell you how annoying it is to either be deafened, or to not be able to hear something, and have to type in my security password, find the app and then move the volume slider.
  • A solar battery. Just kidding, but wouldn't that be great? Or how about one that lasts a couple of days even when wi-fi and Bluetooth are on?
  • Ability to copy and paste text: Zowie...I can't tell you how frustrating this is on the Touch. And how simple it is on the PPC.
  • A phone with voice and data plan for way less than $70/month, and multiple provider choices: Come ON, Apple/AT&T!!! Is that really necessary? I won't do it, as long as this is my only choice. How about pre-paid plans?
  • Graffiti-like character recognition (or handwriting recognition): Yes, and I still think WordPerfect 5.1 was the greatest word processor EVER. But Graffiti rocks if you have a sucky keyboard like on the Touch.
  • Easy-to-use syncing software: Apple does really with iTunes and the Application Store. I was pretty happy with ActiveSync but not so much the Vista Version. At some point, Microsoft lost the ability for a one-way sync, which is important when you want to have a sad, old device that is simply a consumer of the calendar and contact information. (I still have a Handspring Visor that pulls contact information from Outlook 2007, which pulls from AirSet, which is pushed by Outlook 2003 and acts as an address book in our family room.)
  • Ability to customize the user interface: I LOVED the theme generators for PPC. I don't like the inability to easily group my applications on the Touch. It's just a big, black board with a bunch of sticky notes on it that I have to move one at a time. I'd like to be able to, say, arrange alphabetically or categorize. The drag and drop is clever and intuitive, but somewhat cumbersome if you have a lot of apps.
I dig my first generation iPod Touch; I really do. The second gen has added some of my wishlist items, but not quite enough for me to justify the couple-plus-hundred bucks.

Maybe the next generation of the iPod Touch, or maybe a new Google PDA?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Usability: Age 6

My six-year-old was making a book by gluing pictures back to back. He put the glue in the center of the pages so the edges were loose. I suggested that he glue the edges together, as well. He didn't understand why it was important, so I asked him to try to "read" his book by turning the pages. He had to turn two edges to see the next page, so he then understood the user experience that needed to improve.

Test, test, test. And catch 'em young, that's what I say.

On Design

From Leah Buley, via Jeff Patton via Twitter:

"[UX] design isn't something designers produce, design is a process that desigers facilitate."

What I Learned This Weekend

1) If you decide to leave the frozen goods out in the garage at 0 degrees while you make room in the freezer, make sure the garage door is closed.

2) Squirrels like soy corn dogs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What to say first?

I thought a lot about what to say before creating this blog. What's the draw? What can I contribute? What can I say that someone else hasn't already said? And who cares?

Well, there's no telling, yet, now is there?

The description of the blog includes a reference to one of my great aunts, Virginia:

She was one of six children, three boys and three girls, all of whom went to college when women didn't. She became an English teacher at a public school in Honolulu and wrote and travelled all her life. When as a child I wrote her a letter, she would send it back with corrections ("Don't write on the last line of the stationery." "'Stationery' has an 'e' as in 'letter', while 'stationary' has an 'a' as in 'stand'.") She visited us frequently between her world travels to see starving children in third-world countries (no joke). During one visit (I must have been 8 or 10) she asked what I had been doing. I replied, "Oh, going to school and stuff like like that." She asked, "What kind of 'stuff like that'?" I responded, "Well, piano lessons, playing with my friends, and stuff like that." She asked further, "What kind of 'stuff like that'?" After three or four iterations of this, running out of 'stuff like that' to explain, I realized that she didn't want me to keep talking. She was pointing out that I should be clear and concise in my communication and put language to good use.

So, here goes.