World Usability Day 2010 – Part One

World Usability Day logo

It has a taken a couple of weeks to get to writing this, but back on Nov. 11th @caitlinpotts and I had the opportunity to head out to Lansing for the day and soak in some mobile devices information at World Usability Day (#wud2010). I’ve realized in pulling together my notes that this would be awfully long as one post, so this’ll be a two parter.

We started off our day with a quick stop at Panera bread for breakfast and coffee before heading over to the Kellogg Center on Michigan State’s campus. Once there we met up with our friend Mike (@UXmikebeasley) and settled in for the day.

On to the presentations…

Talking Points

While our first speaker’s topic had absolutely nothing to do with the mobile apps we’re currently considering at work, Mark Newman of the University of Michigan gave a fascinating presentation.

‘I can get where I need to be and if I get lost I can find my way out.”
-Talking Points Test Participant

Talking Points is a research project they’re working on to use smartphone technology with gesture-based interactions to help visually impaired people learn about their surroundings.

Basically, the project uses GPS outside and, eventually, wi-fi tri-lateration inside to provide visually impaired people with information on their surroundings with community gathered GPS/wi-fi tags. These tags would be for paths, areas, points of interest, path intersections/decision points and functional elements like entrances or restrooms.

The goal of this project is to not only foster spatial awareness in navigation, but also comfort, security, exploration, improvisation and the discovery of new resources (aka independence). You can find out more information on the project at

The Art of Mobile User Experience Research

The second presentation was by Kris Mihalic (@suikris) from Nokia. He started out talking about the division in understanding humans that occurs in the technological workplace between market research and UX research.

Market research tends to focus on opinions and quantitative data gathered from focus groups, surveys and ideation sessions while UX research is usually more interested in behaviors and qualitative analyzing behaviors and anthropological studies for insights into why people do what they do. UX is also usually closer to product & design than market research.

There are three pillars that Mihalic focused on for Mobile UX – speed, flexibility and context.

Speed refers to all of the things involved in having a high speed of execution including fast prototyping, recruiting and delivering results, which includes involving stakeholders early.

One quick prototyping method that I’ve not used but sounded fun was sharpie movies, which is sketching in sharpie then compiling it into a movie. Being imbedded with a development team, his suggestion to become BFFs with the developers to gain their investment in prototyping was amusing. Cookies are generally a great form of bribery ;)

Flexibility referred in large part to platforms (focus on the important ones), interaction and hardware. He specifically mentioned being prepared and informed about the situation you’re working in and making sure that your stakeholders understand the constraints of what you are and are not able to do.

The last pillar of context stressed the timing within the development cycle, use vs. research, support/vendors and being contextually aware of your team, business, users and research partners. One suggestion he made was using video diaries from testers which put the device into a real life context and also powerful with stakeholders.

Milahic’s last point was that the greatest return on investment (ROI) of UX research is to take the information gathered and optimize your product’s ‘sweet spot’. You can’t do everything, but optimize that which you do well.

Building Mobile Experiences

The next presentation was by Frank Bentley of Motorola Mobility. He had some great visual examples that I unfortunately do not have to share with you, but there are some great points event without them.

The first and very important point is that while there is a good bit of similarity phones and computers, especially smartphones, but they are used very differently.

This point is so important because it goes back to the context that Mihalic mentioned and that testing in a lab alone won’t give you the whole story. You get the basic data from lab tests, but it doesn’t answer the question of how it’s really used and misses all of the creative ways that people use their devices in real life.

Because of the shortfalls of lab testing, their goal is to have a functional prototype that they can put out for field evaluations with beta testers in 1-2 weeks.

With these prototypes he emphasized building only what you need (!!!!!), focus on the experience instead of the technology and make sure that your prototype is sturdy enough to survive testing

He also emphasized the importance of recruiting according to your goals for testing and that the device needs to be their primary device to truly understand the context and how they are used. With the recruiting, it is best to recruit a diverse testing population so that similarities are less likely to be coincidental.

Lastly, the first prototype doesn’t need to be complete or fancy. The faster that a prototype exists – even if it doesn’t have all the polish – the sooner you can get real feedback to see if the project is going in the right direction.

That’s it for World Usability Day – Part One. Keep watch for Part Two. I promise it won’t take as long to get out as this first one did. I failed at that one… but Part Two is now up!


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