Category Archives: usability

  1. Quora: My few cents for non-designers moving towards interaction design

    Read Quote of Shiva Kumar’s answer to Interaction Design: What is the first thing to do for non-designer becoming Interaction designer? on Quora

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  2. Quora: Will Smart TV user experience be different? Do we know the answer yet?

    Read Quote of Shiva Kumar’s answer to Smart TV UX Design: How would user experience design for smart TV be different or similar as designing for mobile and PC? on Quora

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  3. Quora: Trying to guide a product manager across the user experience chasm

    Read Quote of Shiva Kumar’s answer to Product Management: As a first-time Product Manager with no design experience, what is the best way to learn everything about UI/UX design in mobile? on Quora

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  4. Reviewing Maily: A mail app for children to handpaint and send mails

    To all those who complain about the death of snail mail, there is yet another virtual product to swing in (or out) kids early.

    Maily is an iPad app for children and tweens to legally use email riding on a parent’s account. The app has been designed to be readied by the parent for young children to use. As a parent I could add mail addresses into the fixed contact list. The child cannot add a contact of their own.

    The mail itself is done on an artboard with tools to write, draw or shoot. It has graphic templates, crayons and the camera, of course. The navigation between these tools are a bit cumbersome with multiple levels shown as individual docks over the artboard. The photo addition is exciting and the tool is cool. It allows scaling and rotation of the picture taken from the gallery or shot.

    The overall experience is simple and children love it. However I will reconsider the parent dashboard and a few icons that the kid needs to get used to. They are fast learners, aren’t they?

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  5. Let the Games Begin! The glare and the clash of Olympic impressions

    The Olympics are supposed be a carnival, I know – ‘Triumph of Human Spirit’ and what have you. And truly, the spirit and the excitement have been high and contagious this time round. The carnival carousel has been turning smooth and well-oiled thus far.

    So I make a side trip to their official website – First off, you have that London 2012 logo, which reminds you of a falling rocks warning (and mildly reminiscent of Thing, the stone-clad superhero from the Fantastic Four). The web design tries to carry this visual metaphor of the angular forms into it. Visually, It’s colorful and carnival-ish, bright and gay (gay as in celebratory) but the forms look so sharp you could cut your eye-fingers just looking at them. So you wonder about this overt celebration of masculinity – what happened to grace, rhythm and elegance, those reportedly feminine qualities!? The whole experience seems driven by testosterone without any estrogen to bring about a balance.

    The carnival

    Anyway, the carnival goes on – and it’s more akin to a village Markt – the page literally Teeming with stuff. If there is a sense of organization, it seems to lose out in the breathless cacophony of a hundred things screaming for attention. For a bit of respite, scroll down the page – where things get a bit calmer and white space finds a hesitant voice.

    The site, by its own admission, tries to cater to all – the ‘normal’, the visually impaired, the dyslexics and the non-English speakers. ‘For all Humanity’, cries out the Olympic spirit. But you can’t escape the feeling that these noble and worthwhile sentiments have found only a partial translation in terms of sites structure, page organization and elemental focus.

    Style sheet for dyslexics

    Right at the top, an icon call’s itself the ‘dyslexic style sheet’ and when you switch to it, all those loud-mouthed colors quieten down into a muted beige palette. This brings the text and links into sharper contrast – fair enough – but dyslexic friendly? I am not so sure. I get the feeling that dyslexics are perhaps better served by increasing the font size, increasing the character tracking and making everything else more subdued. But that too would be a compromise – they would probability find a less crowded, more organized page with higher figure-ground contrast more fit to their needs.

    The tool

    And lastly, those much celebrated international sports symbols come to the rescue of non-English speaking audiences – like the way finders they are supposed to be. Although, what exactly these non-English speakers lose out in experience by not knowing the language, only they can tell in their native tongues. Not to crib too much, but here too the colors are high-strung. I am sure those who designed the site carefully chose to place bright pinks and active blues next to each other and gleefully watched their cockfight. They are obviously intended to jar and clash in their high chromatic screams. May be the designers thought it’s an apt metaphor for the competitive spirit of the Olympics. But I don’t have to like it, and I don’t.

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  6. A Brief History of Internet and people like us: The machine is using the users

    I found this inspiring video on evolution of web technology and user interactions. I thought it was important to share this with you all.

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  7. History of browsers: How have we been getting to the Internet all this while?

    I got into designing for web in early 1998 and since then there has been a flurry of browsers. We have used them to interact or consume information on the Internet. Some of them died an early death. A few survived and a few late entrants have proved stellar.

    Browse more infographics.

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  8. Flash Dev: Nordstrom Innovation Lab builds app in the store

    Nordstrom Innovation Lab created a sunglasses try-out app for shoppers at their flagship store in Seattle, WA. This was done with user experience designers and developers in situ at the store. They tested and tweaked with live user feedback over a week building the ‘just right’ app. We would love to be a part of such process in India. Anyone game?

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  9. Apple and I: A long love affair

    In early eighties small town India, like my hometown, had not seen computers. The closest that you came to one was when you booked a railway ticket and it was across the glass in the booth. It was most often operated by bored mid-size government workers in synthetic bush shirts, buttoned down till the vest and a handkerchief dipped in talc around their neck. Or by women nibbling fried snacks from their cold press molded stainless steel ‘eversilver’ tiffin boxes next to perennially plastic covered keyboards.



    I have to describe these machines to you. They were behemoth grey boxes with a pixel screen, slightly larger than a Tamil pocket crime novel encased in an oversized dull monitor. The CPU looked like a part of a menacing Russian tank and the monitor was made of discarded plastic buckets. The keyboard had their tab keys jammed often and the lady operator was screaming for help in a fit, kicking her snacks of her table while the cursor did a wild tra-la-la jig across form fields on that minuscule window. And I was waiting with my filled form. Always.

    I never understood how they can make us more productive.

    A little later when my father bought an AppleIIc for a publisher friend of his from Singapore (the farthest idea of a foreign land for a Tamil boy) I was amazed that computers can look good. My dad had meticulously unpacked and assembled it with great care. The machine, if I can call it, looked like million suns of gypsies’ ice a la Marquez.

    Call it love at first sight. Apple it was – hook, line and sinker. I was a convert, a self-confessed fanboy and hopelessly smitten for life.

    At college they taught me BASIC on an Apple. I met a Macintosh at a design school. Not that we were allowed to use it freely. We used to set type in Aldus Pagemaker, take prints and paste it on our artworks with rubber cement. That was quite a promotion from hot metal where we have to set type laterally inverted or phototypesetting where we pretended to solve a thermodynamics problem on a blue screen and got a small piece of photo paper with type exposed on it. We loved and grew on Macs.

    Then came the candy colored eMac at home, a Powerbook G4, an early iPod, more Macbooks, an iPhone and a strong affinity for a brand that thought of people who used their product more than the machine itself. An affinity to the creator of this brand – Steve Jobs.

    More on Mac and me soon.

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  10. Relevance of Relevance

    Scratch any designer worth his (her) professional salt, and you will find the chief deity of his profession, the User. This User – the ubiquitous and the all pervasive phenomenon who is ‘virajman’ in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple of design – demands, drives and possesses the design practitioner and his priestcraft.

    The User also defines the sacred liturgy of the design profession – user, user profile, usage, use cases, usability, usefulness, user-centricity, user advocacy, user context, user relevance…

    Just pick the last one, Relevance. It’s something of a sacred notion – after all, you want every schema and artifact you analyze and produce as a designer to be Relevant to the User. And of course Relevance is not a thing, it’s relationship term, a kind of a kinship term, it’s not a thing that exists by itself.  Is the downgrading of the US debt rating to AA+ less or more relevant than Kate Middleton’s rumored anorexia? Throw a User (consumer of information) into the mix and only then can you talk about Relevance.

    But does this principle of Relevance have no down side to it? Alas, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Eli Pariser’s book ‘Filter Bubble – What The Internet Is Hiding From You’ explores the search and personalization algorithms used by the Internet Big Boys (Yahoos!, Googles, and Facebooks of the world) that filter information and give you what is Relevant to You (based on your personal history and past searches). This, argues Pariser, creates the phenomenon of a closed bubble arising out of the relevance paradox where the more you find some things relevant, the more you are served similar things – effectively cutting you off from alternate perspectives, ideas, opinions, practices or world views. If effect, by serving you with dishes drawn from the menu you like over and over, you are prevented from experiencing new cuisines and tastes that might (potentially) enlarge your palette and make you a better connoisseur.

    Is there an alternative? Would you always want to be served with what you know you like, or would you, once in a while, want the waiter to suggest you ‘something different’?

    Some of these Internet Big Boys have a system where the personalization algorithms can be overridden by humans (waiters!) who decide a link to a story is important enough to be served to you even if the algorithm thinks that it ‘ranks low in relevance going by user’s history’. But, of course, in this case, it is a human deciding what choices to give you. Either way, your curry is rated, ranked, curated and served hot!

    The larger question is, is this such a unique phenomenon wrought by exploding information technologies OR is this a more normal and natural paradox, a part of what we are and how we function in the world? The fact is, most things we see, do or experience – are done by choice. (I am not talking about acts of nature and coincidence here). You read a book, you watch a movie, you eat a meal, you share a photo, you discuss a topic – all out of the choices you make, from an innate sense of what is meaningful and interesting to you. This obviously precludes your inner experience from the book you haven’t read, the movie you haven’t seen or the topic you haven’t discussed. Thats’s a fact of life. Every choice you make is a tradeoff between it and the choices you haven’t made.

    But it does not mean you cannot peek outside the filter bubble, outside the algorithm, when you really want to. That too is a choice, and sometimes, it can be a stronger force than Relevance.

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