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Sloan Studio http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog Tue, 28 Feb 2012 01:34:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Siri disappoints http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/siri-disappoints http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/siri-disappoints#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2012 18:52:48 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=349 So far, Siri has been pretty great… when it works. The trouble is that I no longer remember to use it or even try because it simply does not work so often whether on WiFi or using cell towers. Especially for voice-to-text it is incredibly frustrating to dictate a couple lines only to have the system work for a few moments and then show nothing. It just blankly fails and tells me nothing. No warning, no error message. So I look down to see my text and I see a blank. That is just awful user experience. If you bring up Siri itself and the service is down it warns you though. The other reliability issue I have is when it comes to using Bluetooth in my car. The whole idea of using hands-free services on my phone to call my wife or pull up directions falls short because Siri barely ever works properly using the car’s built-in speakerphone. Maybe software can help, but for me, right now Siri should be labeled less than a Beta.

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iPad 3 wish list http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/ipad3-wishlist http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/ipad3-wishlist#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 22:38:39 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=334 There is a lot of speculation about the next generation iPad. Quite a few things seem certain such as a double-density screen resolution. With double the resolution, will the touch screen itself have greater fidelity? Perhaps incorporation of haptics» in some fashion? Even optimizing the screen so that finer points could be used via a stylus would be a welcome addition and make the iPad even more useful to me. The other wish is for the iPad to upgrade the experience when connected to a monitor via RGB or HDMI. When a movie is playing, the iPad itself shows just the video player controls. But other programs are simply mirrored. Turning the iPad into a Magic Trackpad» would require the inclusion of a pointer into iOS I think, and that is maybe moving too far into a PC operating system direction. But if Apple could come up with some clever way of sorting that out, I’d love to use my 24 inch monitor and a bluetooth keyboard and replace many of my needs for a laptop. There are other things I’d like as well such as greater iCloud integration, but those are across all iOS devices, not just the iPad.

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Quick iPhone Video Tip http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/quick-iphone-video-tip http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/quick-iphone-video-tip#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2012 20:34:50 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=326 We like to keep our video set up quick and light for user interviews, so we often use an iPhone 4s for recording. What many people forget is that the headphone jack is also a microphone jack. You can use the headphones with the built-in microphone to record cleaner audio, or use a three-stripe adapter like the iLuv Remote Adapter» to allow any audio device to become the input. We use this setup to get wireless audio from our old Samson UHF Micro 32», or use the headphone out jack on our Samson G Track» for cleaner audio into our videos with no extra adapters or cords. The third stripe is what controls the remote and microphone on the iPhone apparently.

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Designing for TV – Part 1 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/designing-for-tv-part-1 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/designing-for-tv-part-1#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2012 19:06:39 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=315 Google TV» (GTV) is a platform that has been out for over a year and has seen a major redesign in that time. Many new manufacturers have announced their own GTV’s at the 2012 CES» as well as their own branches of the Android OS. What is apparent already is that a few basic tenants of designing for TV are being violated. The first that we will address is that TVs are a shared experience and therefore the system should display “live TV” as much as possible. This quick post looks at how Google TV violates this basic concept. 

Home Screen

These images and review are based on the Honeycomb 3.1 update using the Sony Blu-ray player», so the actual TVs that shipped last year may have a few differences, but from what we have seen, these issues exist for both. The main interface for GTV is a revamped Home Screen which now is simply a bar at the bottom plus any widgets the user has selected.

Google TV Home Screen and All Apps

The Home Screen obfuscates the Live TV show playing in the background and then pops fairly useless widgets on top. If the application the user wants is not one of these 7, then the whole screen is taken over by the application browser.

The idea of combining widgets and the Home Screen is odd, it demands more screen pixels at once for what are two different types of content: apps to launch and informational widgets. Even without any widgets on the screen, the video playing in the background is covered with a semi-transparent, blue layer. This means that any other people that are watching the show are now almost completely interrupted while one user searches for the widget they want or the program they want to launch. It is even more difficult to get to recently used applications or an application that is not one of these favorites. There are some simple ways to make sure that the shared TV experience is upheld. First, separate widgets from application launching. Second, remove the transparent layer, it is not necessary anymore for contrast. Third, allow users to choose whether to go into full screen mode to view more applications or to scroll. Fourth, even in full screen mode there should be a Picture-in-Picture (PiP) mode similar to most cable/satellite box guide set ups so that the current video is still viewable. From our review, only the TV and Google Chrome applications allowed PiP, so there appears to be a deeper level problem to be solved by Google here.

Guide and Menus

Similar issues occur when using the built-in guide application TV & Movies. The application takes over the entire screen and then is only able to show 5-10 items at a time. This causes the browsing method to take even longer while interrupting anything other viewers may have wanted to view. Again, PiP combined with a smaller interface would benefit users as well as optimizing the information on the page. Does the default view really need the year and such large poster art? Algorithms exist to detect faces in images and crop and scale appropriately, perhaps this same technique could be applied to make these images more useful.

Google TV - TV and Movies app and Menus

The low information density of the TV & Movies application definitely encourage users to utilize search more, menus appearing in the middle of the screen and adding a transparent layer on top of all content is very inefficient, just look at all the wasted black space for this menu.

The menu system of GTV is perhaps the most annoying element when we have used the system though. They all appear centered and add the same transparent layer over all content. To simply bring up PiP options or other menus takes over the whole screen for something that is often just a simple list. In short, it is hard to tell which of these design choices are due to technical constraints, or are possibly intentional. The result is the same though, an interface that interferes instead of enhances the viewing experience, which is frustrating because some of the features here are potentially really valuable.




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Amazon Kindle Fire http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/amazon-kindle-fire http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/amazon-kindle-fire#comments Sun, 08 Jan 2012 02:51:00 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=265 The Kindle Fire (or Fire for this article) entered the “tablet” market this Fall sporting a tiny package and the full Amazon suite of media products behind it (books, movies, music, apps). With Amazon’s own application store, the Fire has access to Android applications, but not the full suite of the Android Marketplace. Other sites such as Engadget», The Verge», Anandtech», and Arstechnica» are the place to go for detailed analysis of specs and features. They’ve done a great job and there is little to add there. What this review will do is examine the Kindle from a usability perspective, specifically, how easy it is to use the interface and then how easy it is to read typical content. The short answer is that this feels like a new category of device, not a full-fledged tablet.

Starting Up

The first thing that surprised me was I did not know how to turn it on. In fact, I handed the device to five different people and only one of them found the power button in less than five seconds. Then, figuring out how to unlock the device was tricky as well as Amazon uses a subtle yellow triangle pointing to the left to hint at how to unlock it. Part of this is due to patents, but there are other clever designs out there that seem more obvious. Once the device is unlocked, more confusion sets in as the overall mental model seems to be lacking.

Mental Model

The iOS model is fairly simple. The launcher has pages of apps (with folders) that users swipe sideways to access and then launch applications. The applications launch in an animation that reinforces the idea that they open “on top” of the launcher plane. When closed, they shrink back into that same plane. Other parts of the UI such as the lock screen and notifications (as in Android) help reinforce the mental model of planes. The Fire simply is not as refined and the transition animations and UI elements create a bit of confusion instead of helping solidify where you are in the interface, where you are going, and how things are related to one another. The main issues are that the system begins with an interface with large carousel which is unlabeled, with a shelf system below that which is also unlabeled, with what looks like tabs across the top of the screen.

Size Affects Usability

The size is quite smaller than an iPad or the larger Android tablets from Motorola or Samsung. While this appears to be a great form factor for reading standard Kindle formatted books, the diminutive size has limitations for standard applications such as web browsing, email, and reading magazines or newspapers. Part of the fault lies in the size of the screen. At 7 inches, even with 1024×600 pixels providing 169 ppi (pixels per inch), it simply does not provide much room for text to be large enough to be readable. The tradeoff then is less content per screen view for lighter weight, great portability and $199. Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox» has a review of usability based on target sizes and the results were not favorable. In fact, much of what they discovered is that for the Kindle Fire, full scaled websites do not render well at that smaller size.

What we found when looking at websites at default size (partially zoomed), full size, Kindle Books, Magazines, and email is that only Kindle books (at default size) were easily readable and the zoomed default of the New York Times website was just barely readable, even though it has a high resolution screen. There are diminishing returns on resolution density when it comes to the human eye, and at that point, the physical size of the type or object is the limiting factor. In fact, size is a dissociative retinal variable, meaning it affects your ability to see other variables such as character shapes or letters properly.

From left to right: website default, website full page, Kindle book default, magazine, email. Even zoomed out, the size of text for books is dramatically larger than for the other applications.

From left to right: website default, website full page, Kindle book default, magazine, email. Even zoomed out, the size of text for books is dramatically larger than for the other applications.

From left to right: website default, website full page, Kindle book default, magazine, email. 2mm appears to be the minimal readable height, but testing for impaired vision would likely prove even this too small. The default for the iPad 2 on the same website was about 1.9mm.

From left to right: website default, website full page, Kindle book default, magazine, email. 2mm appears to be the minimal readable height, but testing for impaired vision would likely prove even this too small. The default for the iPad 2 on the same website was about 1.9mm.

The quality of the screens themselves are fairly close, though the site Displaymate» goes into a lot of detail about this if you want to learn more, they compare the Fire to the Nook and iPad 2 because they all use IPS technology. Given that Kindles have traditionally trumpeted their lack of reflections and ability to read in daylight, the Fire was surprisingly reflective (we experienced these issues when photographing and filming it) and only average in brightness. We do not have the same depth of tools, so we simply used a cheap USB microscope and zoomed in on each to see how they looked. Up close, at about 400x magnification, you can see a little difference in size and shape, but it was fun to see the difference of the 169ppi of the Fire versus the 132ppi of the iPad2.

Screens at approximately 400x magnification, left Fire, right iPad2

Screens at approximately 400x magnification, left Fire, right iPad2

Tablet or something else?

The consequence of trading portability for size is that now when a user wants to read a news website, or a magazine, they either have to switch to a text based mode (for Kindle magazines), losing the magazine experience, or they must zoom in and out more than they would with a larger screen. This may be a fine trade off for some, but the value proposition is $199 for this tablet, or $269 or more for a larger tablet with a camera, SD slot, full Android Marketplace, etc. And this is the crux of the user experience for such smaller tablets, is the size so limiting that they really are no longer tablets? Amazon has definitely positioned the Fire as more of a consumption device than a full fledged tablet. But this is certainly not a phone sized device. So where does this leave us in terms of defining what the device is? For lack of a better term, maybe we should call these mini-tablets.

This could be a similar situation to how the Mac mini lacks some of the features of larger Macs, but are still valuable and worthy of a place in many homes and businesses. What really struck me when the original iPad came out was the idea of a durable, high-quality alternative to a laptop for kids at $499. The Fire is not that, but for a lot of kids or people that have laptops or desktop computers already, this price point and feature set strikes me as a very large potential market. I do think that screen size prevents it from doing a lot of Tablet type tasks well though, so there is room and a purpose for mini-tablets, tablets, and laptops. A big reason is that the scale of feature set and screen size fits nicely with the increase in prices. What will be interesting is to see if the Fire eats into iPod touch and other product sales at the high end, leaving more room for the cheaper nano and shuffle devices.

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Things that make no sense http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/things-that-make-no-sense http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/things-that-make-no-sense#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 04:46:43 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=280 The world of digital movie purchases is incredibly confusing, especially on iTunes. Why is it I can purchase a movie on my iPad or iPhone in HD, or rent it in HD on Apple TV, but cannot buy it in HD for my computer? This is about selling antiquated disc-based media and all the deals that studios and stores make. To the consumer, it is seemingly random and unnecessary though. I hate Blu-ray discs, they take forever to load, have silly ads I have to fast forward through, and menu systems that get in the way of me enjoying a film or show. The sooner they go away, the happier I will be.

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Android Updates http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/android-updates http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/android-updates#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2011 18:35:32 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=100 The Samsung Galaxy Nexus goes on sale today but software updates for their older handset, Nexus S, is not expected any time soon. Today the clock officially starts for Google to get Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) running on older hardware. The frustration I personally experience is not knowing when they even expect to ship it.

Update on December 30th:

Apparently Google had to pull the Nexus S update as people were having trouble. This is their own phone and they don’t have 4.0 working on it yet? What were they testing on all these months?

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Types of Testing http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/types-of-testing http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/types-of-testing#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2011 00:14:17 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=124 Testing is something that should continue throughout a project. From the very beginning, testing can mean something as simple as putting sketches in front of coworkers, friends, and family to formalized recruitment of actual users with a testing facility. The key is to consistently get feedback, both formal and informal to test your designs (hypothesis) and adjust accordingly. Analyzing the feedback appropriately is often as tricky as setting up the proper testing method in the first place.

Data Source vs Approach vs Context of Product Use by Christian Rohrer

“When to Use Which User Experience Research Methods” is a great article on Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox by Christian Rohrer. It summarizes a variety of research methods into three dimensions and then creates a graph for mapping them out against one another. Even here, the “How to fix” part is not straightforward and often requires multiple designs to determine which is most successful. As seen in Our Methodology, these different tools help us measure SEED (satisfaction, efficiency, effectiveness, desirability). Depending on the project goals, budget and timing, user testing may be of types Exploration, Assessment, or Validation.

Exploration: Focus on learning more about the users and their thought processes. May be in person with a facilitator, remote, or even through use of surveys. Mostly qualitative in nature. Is useful for comparing alternative designs and branding initiatives and may include focus group testing.

Assessment: Determine whether designs are performing adequately, at a level of completion of tasks and general usability of the site. This is typically performed with a prototype that allows users to interact with the system directly, rather than through a facilitator. Captures both qualitative and quantitative data.

Validation: Without preset goals or a baseline, it is difficult to measure improvements. For validation to get the best data, comparing previous design or expectations to new results is most valuable. Ability to measure time-on-task, errors, efficiency and learnability can prove or disprove design patterns.

Testing Methods

The methods and tools that are best for any testing are largely influenced by the testing goals and budget. Three types of methods allow for flexibility in achieving those goals.

Online Survey/Tool: Survey forms provide user self assessment feedback and click/task tracking tools are objective measures of success. Because this can often be implemented via site intercepts, recruitment costs are minimal. Tools can range from $ to $$$$ depending on features.

Online Facilitation: An extension of the online tools, these allow a facilitator to investigate user reactions and/or questions in real time. Often this requires users to have certain software (such as Flash) installed and rarely can facilitator see user body language. Again, this can utilize conference call type software to specialized software ranging from $$ (facilitator time) to $$$$.

In Person Facilitation: This includes one on one and focus group types of testing. Allows facilitator to adapt in real time to users and capture more qualitative information. This often requires recruitment fees as well as facility and travel costs on top of software. Cost $$$ to $$$$.

Comparison of different types of testing

Chart comparing budgets and types of testing


For more information about testing, we recommend the following books:

Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests

Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

Remote Research: Real Users, Real Time, Real Research

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Our Methodology http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/design-goals http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/design-goals#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2011 05:28:48 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=93 We intentionally do not call it a process as we believe adaptability is core to successful projects. We design for a wide breadth of project types, each with their own goals, but our approach always remain the same. We focus on making sure that whatever the case, we create satisfyingefficient, effective, and desirable (SEED) designs. These are all measurable and should be tested because without a way to track if we are actually improving things, how will we know for sure we are doing our job? Here is how we define these terms:

satisfying: self-reported; what users think rather than actual results

efficient: the ability to accomplish tasks quickly

effective: a high rate of success and learnability

desirable: meets self-reported needs and wants of users; some of these may be brand and content focused

Our methodology is structured to ensure that any project will be successful, regardless of platform, target audience, or industry. Essentially, we model our practice on the scientific method, simplifying to only three broad stages: Research, Design, and Test, so our services mirror these three stages as well. These are utilized at both a high and low level, meaning for traditional architecture, design and implementation phases, we still continue to research, design and test, but the execution of these methods are very different given the outputs.


Research, Design and Test: Who, What, Where, Why, When to How, to Test

Research, Design and Test: Who, What, Where, Why, When to How, to Test

The purpose of the first stage is to establish goals and requirements, capturing who, what, where, why and when. This may include in-depth ethnographic research, or if everything is already defined clearly, we conduct a couple sessions to review and clarify everything with the team. No matter how well something is defined, interpretation always occurs, so it is critical that all assumptions are laid out and verified.

Whether we create wireframes, design comps, or prototypes, we are constantly designing solutions for the problems we are given. It is critical that the problem has been defined correctly for this stage to be efficient, effective and as quick as possible. This is the stage where we leverage our experience of design patterns the most, but each project is unique so we always verify our designs.

User Testing
A project is never over because time never stops. The environment in which we define a project often evolves while we design and develop. Once developed and launched, the market and technology may change the opportunities and goals. Verifying a project varies at each stage, based on scale and scope. Often the early stages are measured by focus groups or surveys while the later may be live site data or one- on-one user testing of a prototype. The key is to never assume you have the right answer, no matter how much experience and confidence you have. We take the time to do even simple verification and reduce risk immensely.

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Recent Reads http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/recent-reads http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/recent-reads#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2011 05:18:16 +0000 http://www.sloanstudio.com/blog/?p=87 A recent issue of Cognitive Psychology journal (Volume 63, Issue 3, November 2011) discusses metacognition, intuition and reasoning in an article by Thompson, Turner, and Pennycook. What really jumped out at me was the concept of “Feeling of Rightness” (“FOR”), a way of trying to self-evaluate intuition. Many times on projects team members argue over ideas and often reach an impasse. The last thing we want is for the loudest, or most pushy person to always win. We are now trying to assign our own value of FOR to help us resolve these conflicts in a less inflammatory manner. We will let you know how it goes.

I also recently picked up the seminal work Semiology of Graphics by Jacques Bertin. One of my all time favorite UX Design books, Designing Visual Interfaces by Mullet and Sano references this book often so I finally got it and am glad I did. If you are interested in the core principles behind information graphics, then pick it up, it is an excellent reference if nothing else.

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