Good Onya!

On Friday night I was the proud recipient of an ONYA – awarded to this website for ‘Best content (personal)’. The other finalists in the category were Alison Green of  WebWeaver for  The Gathering Archives, and Jared Gulian for  Moon over Martinborough. Sorry guys! What makes the ONYAs  so special is that the  judging panel

The Pollinator

Click Suite // Auckland Museum: The Pollinator from Click Suite on Vimeo. Using touch-screen technology visitors could tap into a world of pollination. Auckland Museum and Click Suite took three common New Zealand insects – the honey bee, monarch and native hoverfly – and set them loose in an amazing virtual rose garden. The Pollinator,

Tap Dancing on Paper

When it comes to creating a user experience specification for a website, it\’s usually a straight forward exercise. You create wireframe diagrams and show the web pages in different states. But how do you specify user interactions for a touch-screen that\’s ever-changing, highly interactive and has unpredictable curious creatures influencing the user navigation? This was

Tsunami Early Warning Information Graphic

 

Yep - they get it in Japan.

When the recent 6 metre tsunami hit the Samoan region, killing 189 people, there unfortunately wasn’t time to warn their people.

But there was time to warn their neighbours in the South Pacific.

We failed.

New Zealand had several hours to crank-up the tsunami warning machine. The police did their best to round up people on the shoreline, but apart from that all we got was out-of-date news reports, government websites which were light on detail and the internet rife with speculation and rumours.

In New Zealand SMS (text) messages warning people in high-risk areas arrived 3 hours too late. How many people on the East Coast of New Zealand could have been killed if this was the big one? Potentially thousands.

My previous article covered how bad the information out there was at representing where the tsunami could strike, the risk and what to do. The graphics which were available were highly technical, easy to misinterpret and in most cases was retrospective data of what had actually occurred – not predictions of what was coming.

And we have to take into account human nature. In New Zealand when we hear a tsunami is coming a fair number of us just assume it’s yet another false alarm. Hundreds even go down to the shoreline to watch it coming in.

Why? Saying “go to higher ground” isn’t specific enough. Some will think that means the big sand-dune a few metres from the shoreline.

I believe we need to give people a clear message at a glance, and just enough detailed information that they’ll take it seriously.

So, while I don’t claim to be a tsunami expert, I decided to have a go at creating a ‘general public’ information graphic which could be populated with data in real-time (or by hand and published online within minutes).

Tsunami of Confusion

The information graphics created to inform people on the Samoan tsunami about to hit New Zealand didn’t send a clear message.

When disaster hits it spreads on the internet like wildfire. But the information graphics the public are served up are next to useless for making an informed decision on whether or not you’re in imminent danger.

Yesterday morning I arrived at work, opened Twitter and found out about the shocking Samoan earthquake – my contacts on the social networking site said the tsunami was heading toward New Zealand and would be here within hours.

So we’ve heard this before – a tsunami is on the way – don’t panic (yet). Do some quick research – so how big is it? 10cm or 10metres? Where will it hit? Should I phone home and warn the family?

The main New Zealand news websites gave conflicting information and seemed at least an hour behind the news on Twitter. Who could I trust? I found a lot of misleading information and hype from both the public and officials.

So I turned to the New Zealand, Australian and US government websites for the facts – they’d be accurate and up to date right?

Get Real!

For years sci-fi movie-set designers and computer nerds have prophesised the advent of augmented reality, data overlaid onto transparent displays and pictures beamed directly onto our retinas.

Well, it’s starting to look like we’re now well on the path, for better or for worse.

A new generation of contact lenses built with very small circuits and LEDs promises bionic eyesight. Photo: University of Washington

I’m worried.

This technology in the hands of an unthinking user interface designer has the potential to hurt, maim or kill people.

Card Sorting Doesn’t Cut the Custard

Where's the custard in your supermarket?

Where's the custard in your supermarket?

Why I don’t use Card Sorting

Card sorting is a simple technique in User Experience Design where a group of   users are guided to arrange subject-headings under pre-determined categories or into groups which make sense to them.

For example, a card labelled “apples” might logically sit under a category labelled “fruit”.

It can be a useful approach for designing menu structures or website navigation paths.

But I haven’t used card-sorting since 1999.

Why? Because since the advent of the Content Management System (CMS) I haven’t needed to. The CMS changed the way I approached information architecture forever. I’ve never again needed to resort to card sorting in order to locate content in a place which is intuitive for ‘most users’.

In my view card sorting is a bit of a hack to resolve the issue of static websites where the content is forced to live in one place.

It’s like going to the supermarket and looking for custard powder. To me it makes sense to look for it within the cooking section next to sugar, baking powder, cornflour etc. But good luck finding it there because you’ll usually find it in the desserts section next to jelly and ice-cream cones.

Tabatha the Service Design Goddess

Business owners, service delivery managers, business analysts and user experience consultants could learn a lot from tacky reality TV shows like ‘Tabatha’s Salon Takeover’.

Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo

Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo

The straight-talking Ozzie, Tabatha Coffey lends her sound advice and styling expertise to help make over America one salon at a time in this new series (Friday’s, 9.30pm on TV3).

In the vein of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Tabatha cleans up failing businesses with a keen eye for the customer experience and broken business processes.

Her formula is simple…

  • For a day she observes the business.
  • She then sends in some mystery customers to gauge their experience.
  • She feeds her observations back to the business owners and staff.
  • She then fixes the broken parts of the business process (in last Fridays show, a phone-book sized staff instruction manual was painfully shredded).
  • Next she hones in on the staff through up-skilling, and gives those who are failing a chance to learn and improve.

What I also like is that she allows staff to have more freedom over how they work, so long as the business benefits and the customer experience is improved.

Later she returns to check if her action plan has worked. She checks the financial performance of the business, staff morale and customer satisfaction.

As a viewer we are enraptured by the sharp-shooting and frank honesty of Tabatha’s whirlwind analysis. It’s all so obvious! We baulk at the abject stupidity of the business owners (usually in tears after Tabatha’s biting analysis), and at the amazing ignorance of the staff who treat their customers as if they are an annoyance and/or a chance to experiment with scissors and hair dye.

But some of us shouldn’t feel so smug at watching these poor people be frazzled and fried in public.

Power to the People!

A presentation from my archives – many of the points made in these slides are still relevant today. Extracts from a workshop at GOVIS 2007. This one-day intensive workshop taught attendees how to incorporate user goals and agency needs into the web design process. Workshop presenters: Zef Fugaz, Bob Medcalf, Elyssa Timmer. Feedback from the