UX & IxD news - 23 November 2009

I follow a set of RSS feeds related to user experience and interaction design. Until now, I have been reading them for my own benefit; but with my new job, it makes sense to pick a few interesting pieces of information for Wikimedians who want to better understand the work of the Wikimedia usability team(s).

For a few months now, I have been maintaining a newsletter in French called "Actualités Wikimedia"; it consists typically of very short stories and links about news of the Wikimedia universe that I find noteworthy. Part of these news come from RSS feeds in English that I follow; I summarize them in French in order to bring them to a larger audience.

Other topics I follow are User experience (UX), Interaction design (IxD) and Usability in general; I'm pondering starting a similar newsletter on this topic for the benefit of Wikimedians, and this article is a first attempt.

User research

What is the point of user experience research? It may seem obvious to any designer, but it is harder to explain to clients or, in my case, to the Wikimedia community. People who are not familiar with interaction design and product development in general often have a hard time understanding why it is critical to "lose" time in research (it is really "invest") at the early stages, even when the course of action looks so obvious. David Sherwin provides a "cheat sheet" to explain the value of user experience research in plain English.

What are the benefits of using personas in product design? Personas are fictional model users based on behavioral patterns and goals of real users that we have studied. More than just stereotypes with a stock photograph stuck on a board, they are very much like other scientific models based on experimental data. As a trained scientist and a follower of the Cooper methodology, I make an intensive use of personas for my work on the Wikimedia Multimedia Usability project. Despite their broad use in design teams, few studies have tried to assess the actual effectiveness of personas; Frank Long has now published such a study.

Design principles

Let users explore and discover your website. There is a trap MediaWiki developers easily fall into: the interface of MediaWiki (and, as a consequence, the one you see on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons) is cluttered by dozens of unnecessary links and verbose descriptions. On the other hand, the software is so complex that a lot of features remain hidden even to established participants. What we need is a simpler interface that provides the relevant links and hints when appropriate, and at the same time empowers and encourages users to be bold and explore the interface. Amber Simmons provides a few pieces of advice on how to improve discoverability in order to make websites more explorable.

Product implementation

A babelfish for designers and developers. In the world of software and website development, it is not uncommon to find designers and developers working together. This is for instance the case with the Multimedia Usability project, where the core team is comprised of two people: me and a software developer. However, communication between designers and developers is not always easy, because of their different backgrounds and perspectives; it could be compared to chatting in a foreign language. This is something I have also experienced during my previous work as an interdisciplinary researcher: I was a physicist and microtechnologist working closely with chemists and biologists. In her latest article, Theresa Neil provides some good advice in order to facilitate the communication and collaboration between designers and developers.