Blog Category: design

Revealing details

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Thanks to Mor Namaan, I came across an interesting blog post by Justin O’Beirne that analyzed the graphic design of several different maps — Google, Bing, and Yahoo — to show why Google maps tend appear easier to read and to use. The gist of the analysis is that legibility is improved through a number of graphical techniques that in combination produce a significant visual effect.

And of course knowing Google, this stuff was tested and tested and tested to get the right margins around text, the right gray scale for the labels, the right label density, etc.

So why did Justin have to reverse-engineer this work to understand it?

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Rumor and inference have it that Apple will release the next generation iPad next spring. The new device is expected to have two cameras (front and back), and may be able to work with multiple carriers, rather than just AT&T. These seem like obvious enhancements, which makes me wonder if the press has thought this up, or if Apple is really not worried about the competition.

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the problem with paper

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A writer for the TC blog, Erick Schonfeld, recently posted a description of an encounter he had with a Stanford student at a drug store trying to recruit users to experiment with a paper prototype. The prototype and study were being carried out as a requirement for an HCI course the student is taking. The TC writer, in short, found the whole experience ridiculous, especially with respect to all of the whiz-bang, interactive demos he is used to seeing. While, as many point out, paper prototyping is a standard technique in HCI, that does not mean that it always works or is always appropriate. In fact, in my experience with early stage prototypes I was overall underwhelmed with paper prototyping. But I realized over time that experience did not reflect a problem with the prototyping tool per se, but rather a lack of understanding of the context of the user.

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Norman and Nielsen’s critique of gestural interfaces


The September-October issue of ACM interactions includes an essay by Don Norman and Jacob Nielsen in which they critique various aspects of gestural interactions as implemented on the new crop of touch-enabled devices: the iPhone, iPad, the Android family, and the like. The gist of their concern is that the design of these interfaces, while incorporating useful and pleasurable interactions based on touch (swipe, pinch, etc.) also introduce a range of usability problems well known to the HCI community.

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A User’s Special Touch


Yesterday Volker Roth came back for a visit and to give us a preview of the talk he will give next week at UIST 2010 on his work with Philipp Schmidt and Benjamin Güldenring on The IR Ring: Authenticating users’ touches on a multi-touch display. The work supports multiple users interacting with the same screen at the same time with different access and control permissions. For example, you may want to show me a document on a multi-touch display, but that does not mean you want me to be able to delete that document. Similarly, I may want to show you a particular e-mail I received, without giving you the ability to access my other e-mail messages, or to send one in my name. Roth et al. implemented hardware and software add-ons for a multi-touch display that restrict certain actions to the user wearing the IR ring emitting the appropriate signal. Users wearing different rings have different access and control privileges. In this way, only you can delete your document, and only I can access my other e-mail messages.

Roth and his coauthors frame their work as preventing “pranksters and miscreants” from carrying out “their schemes of fraud and malice.” To me, the work is most compelling as a means to avoid mistakes and to frustrate human curiosity. Continue Reading

Joining the e-book annals: Alice on iPad

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A lot of people (like me) will use the iPad as an e-reader, among other things. It’s a good opportunity to play around with what a e-book actually can be, since the iPad offers things that Kindle can’t (color, animation…). I vote for more like this, please:

It’s in the iTunes store here.

Help isn’t all we need

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Jeremy scooped me in his recent post where he commented on a recent SXSW panel on social search that included Marc Vermut, Brynn Evans, Max Ventilla, Ash Rust, and Scott Prindle. Jeremy pointed out that in addition to asking for help and embarking on a solitary search, was the possibility (discussed many times on this blog) of embarking on (an exploratory) search together. Searching together, collaboratively, is often appropriate when faced with exploratory (rather than known-item, factiod, or trending topic) information needs. Collaboration works best when information needs are shared, and when the results need to be created rather than merely re-discovered.

In an exchange on Twitter, Brynn pointed out that instances of true collaborative search comprised less than 10% of the instances she and colleagues had recorded in their study of Mechanical Turk respondents. But that argument misses the point.

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pCubee: a interactive cubic display

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Our friend Takashi Matsumoto, (who built the Post-Bit system with us here at FXPAL) built a cubic display called Z-agon with colleagues at the Keio Media Design Laboratory. Takashi points us at this video of a very nicely realized cubic display (well, five-sided, but still). It’s called pCubee: a Perspective-Corrected Handheld Cubic Display and it comes from the Human Communications Technology Lab at the University of British Columbia. Some of you may have seen a version of this demoed at ACM Multimedia 2009; it will also be at CHI 2010. Longer and more detailed video is here.

Should IR Objective Functions be Obfuscated?

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I have a question. It’s a general question, directed at anyone and everyone.

When one is building an Information Retrieval system, one uses target objective function(s) that give an indication of the performance of the system, and designs the system (algorithms, interfaces, etc.) toward those targets.  Sometimes, those functions are open and well understood.  Other times, those functions are proprietary and hidden.

My question is: Does it do the users of an IR system a service or disservice to hide from them the function that is being optimized?  Or is it completely neutral?  In other words, does the user have to understand, or at least be given the chance to understand, what it is that the system is trying to do for them in order to get the best value out of that system?  Or can a user get results just as good without having to have a clear mental model of what the retrieval engine is trying to do?  In short, does it matter if the user does not understand what the system is trying to do for him or her?

Can someone point me to research that may have looked at this question?  If one were trying to publish original research on the topic, how would one go about designing an experiment in which both (1) this hypothesis is tested, and (2) done so in a way that generalizes, or at least hints at possible generalization?

Tangible Tools for Design


We are happy to see that the summer issue of the AIEDAM journal is now published (editors:  Ellen Yi-Luen Do and Mark D. Gross). It contains our article on the electronic-paper-based Post-Bits system, “Prototyping a tangible tool for design: Multimedia e-paper sticky notes.”

So, what are Post-Bits? We were looking for new ways to use e-paper, and at the same time, we were (and are) very interested in tangible tools for enhancing all kinds of work. This project started when Takashi Matsumoto interned here at FXPAL.  You can see Takashi talking about Post-Bits in the video below the fold:

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