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  1. #1
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    Are all "usability guru's" quacks?

    Let me preface by saying that most self proclaimed usability guru's have many valid points and I find myself executing on those points daily in my design and development. However...

    Everytime I read an interview or new piece written by a UI geek I get the same feeling everytime. These guys are always about 2-3 years out of the picture. Today I was prompted to come here and vent my fustration with my latest reading. New.Architect's most recent issue hit my mailbox today, in it another interview with a UI consultant type. Disapointing Excerpt as follows:

    Interviewer: Give me an example of a good UI.

    Interviewee: The interface at www.time.gov is one example of how to do things right. It uses a very small amount of screen real estate to provide a substantial number of choices in a way that is instnatly obvious. What's not to like?... - (New.Architect, October 02' Page 8)
    What's not to like he says? For starters lets talk about the horrible use of color? This thing looks as if it hadn't been touched for 2+ years. This is the best example of good UI this expert could come up with? Sure, he has some valid points, it navigates alright and is straight forward, but the content here is also so simple that any fool should be able to make the UI work. It's and old and cruddy looking site though!

    Sorry for the long banter, I guess I'm just putting forth my opinion and want to see what others think. I'd like to read or hear about a UI designer coming out with some modern outstanding examples and speaking on some cutting edge stuff. Not pounding out the Nielsen garbage from the 90's
    Feel free to e-mail me any questions, jobs rants, whatever...

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy Jeremy W.'s Avatar
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    I think the site's fine. The teal isn't my choice of colour, but there's nothing wrong with it.

    Remember, UI isn't design. It's about how best to allow the user to get to where they want to go.

    In this respect, the teal doesn't distract at all, so he's right. The user knows how to get to where they want to go nearly instantly. The fact that it is simple is besides the point.

    Personally I like Zeldman, but that's only since I interviewed him

    J
    SVP Marketing, SoCast SRM
    Personal blog: Strategerize
    Twitter: @jeremywright

  3. #3
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jeremy W.
    Remember, UI isn't design.
    It is design; at least, it's a large part of it.

    I think it's more accurate to say "UI isn't graphic design."

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy Jeremy W.'s Avatar
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    I stand by my statement. When I am in "design mode", I am mainly thinking about appeal, attraction, impact, etc. I'm not thinking about the user so much as the user's reaction and emotions while viewing my stuff.

    When I'm in UI mode though, it's all about the user's actions.

    They're different, even if UI does affect the end "design" (product).
    SVP Marketing, SoCast SRM
    Personal blog: Strategerize
    Twitter: @jeremywright

  5. #5
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    The interviewee was a gentlemen named Tim Bray
    Feel free to e-mail me any questions, jobs rants, whatever...

  6. #6
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Re: Are all "usability guru's" quacks?

    Originally posted by nollieflip
    What's not to like he says? For starters lets talk about the horrible use of color? This thing looks as if it hadn't been touched for 2+ years. This is the best example of good UI this expert could come up with? Sure, he has some valid points, it navigates alright and is straight forward, but the content here is also so simple that any fool should be able to make the UI work. It's and old and cruddy looking site though!
    You're confusing usability with graphic design. You can still have a fugly site that's highly usable. Of course, it would be even more usable if it was attractive, or at least just "plain."

  7. #7
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    Perhaps my statement was just off. I understand the lines between graphic design and usability. However, I was pointing out the fact that this "expert's" good example of site usability is something with an outdated look and feel, much like all of the other material I've read. Maybe they can prove that all modern looking sites have bad UI? I don't know.
    Feel free to e-mail me any questions, jobs rants, whatever...

  8. #8
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jeremy W.
    I stand by my statement. When I am in "design mode", I am mainly thinking about appeal, attraction, impact, etc. I'm not thinking about the user so much as the user's reaction and emotions while viewing my stuff.

    When I'm in UI mode though, it's all about the user's actions.

    They're different, even if UI does affect the end "design" (product).
    But "design" is broader and deeper than that. Design involves structure, layout, how features work together, usability, graphic design, etc...

    You say one mode is viewing and the other is using... Those both fall under "design" in the broad sense, regardless of what you call it.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy Jeremy W.'s Avatar
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    True, but he was talking the design aspect of design. Anyways, I see we're basically agreeing *L*
    SVP Marketing, SoCast SRM
    Personal blog: Strategerize
    Twitter: @jeremywright

  10. #10
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by nollieflip
    Perhaps my statement was just off. I understand the lines between graphic design and usability. However, I was pointing out the fact that this "expert's" good example of site usability is something with an outdated look and feel, much like all of the other material I've read. Maybe they can prove that all modern looking sites have bad UI? I don't know.
    The reason a lot of the examples seem "outdated" might be because there's a fundamental element to usability that doesn't change as fast as the flashy technology that often breaks it. Standards move slower than creativity. It's finding the balance that's tricky.

    These guys point to these examples because they're often showing just raw usability at a basic level. High tech, flashy sites are often victims of their own style. These sites can be great for specific purposes, ie an artist's portfolio site, web designer's show-off sites, etc... But these are people pushing the envelope without a need to adhere to standards.

    That's not to say you can't have a modern, hip, glitzy and innovative site that's usable, but some "designers" are too clever for their own good, often doing things just because they can and because it's new, at the expense of usability. Reminds me of Photoshop kids throwing every effect imaginable on their site graphics just to show they can. But usability doesn't have to be a concern for some sites. It all depends on the audience.

  11. #11
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jeremy W.
    True, but he was talking the design aspect of design. Anyways, I see we're basically agreeing *L*
    I agree.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Zealot GregShasta's Avatar
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    I would say usability puritans are more irrelevant than 'quacky'. 'Oh no my site won't display well on a nepalese tribesman's palm pilot'--much handwringing ensues. In short trying to satisfy everyone on every possible display or device is self defeating. Most of the big sites(non internet related) either ignore the aforementioned gurus or apply the 'lessons' in a half-assed way.

    For small sites just do what you think is fine.

    Greg
    'I guess that my ambition was to be a bum'--robert mitchum

  13. #13
    SitePoint Wizard Ian Glass's Avatar
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    May be usable ('cause it's easy), but it doesn't seem so accessible (because all the site's information is held in graphics), and Greg, you're alluding to compatibility (because you're getting things to work cross platforms)--there's a difference between the three, so don't confuse 'em. ;-)

    I'm curious why you think this qualifies Bray for quackdom? To me, Yahoo!, oft heralded as a great example of usability, is worse design-wise (hey this has antialiased text at least!). Amazon's design isn't much better, aesthetically, than Yahoo! but you have to admit both are dead simple. The site isn't particularly ugly, isn't the best the world has to offer either but it's pretty sufficient, so I was just wondering what's so objectionable about time.gov.

    Also, I bet you that site reaches a lot of users (kids in school?) who're at least two years behind the latest technologies, too.

    ~~Ian

  14. #14
    SitePoint Wizard iTec's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jeremy W.
    Remember, UI isn't design.
    what is design? its been my beliefe for a while that design is more then just the "look" (aka style?) design is the way we present the information and that goes way beyond throwing a pretty picture up and choosing a nice colour scheme, the way the user interacts, both visually and physically with an object all have to be considered in the design of that object, same thing applies with designing a website. You can design to accomodate accessibility and usability or you can design to make your site as confusing and un readable.

    As for usability experts. There all nutcases with absolutely no taste when it comes to design, but (theres all ways a but), they have managed to do 1 thing considerably well over the last few years and that is to raise the awareness of usability, something wich in the long run has made the net slightly more usable for most of us.

    Should your site look and feel like amazon? no, but it should be just as easy to use as amazons. and that is the issue that they are trying to get thru. Amazon has probably spent more money then any other net company on usability testing, so taking a few leafs out of there book probably isnt going to hurt there bottom line.

  15. #15
    ********* Callithumpian silver trophy freakysid's Avatar
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    It took me one click (and no scrolling on a 800x600 screen) to find out what the US EDT was. That is good application design. Too many "designers" forget that a heck of a lot of the web is made up of web-base applications and the aethics paly just one part in the overal user interface that makes up the design of an application.

    When I go to my bank online to transfer money between accoutns, pay bills, etc - I am worried about security and integrity of the application. Good design plays a part in my overall impression of the integrity of the system.

  16. #16
    SitePoint Zealot GregShasta's Avatar
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    Designers often design sites that are 'unusable'(for the hypothetical simpletons who are mystified by links that aren't blue) because companies like 'flashy' sites. Other reasons of course exist: designers like to 'show' off and some actually like to incorporate -gasp- art(or the site itself could be art) into their designs.

    Visitor's to Moma's site dont expect or desire Amazon.com. Surfers are much savvier than advertised. One imagines a bunch of slingblade clones surfing if you read too many 'usability' articles. Again, design how you want and include a feedback button. Too much fretting about various menus and soforce is tedium defined.

    Greg
    'I guess that my ambition was to be a bum'--robert mitchum

  17. #17
    SitePoint Wizard Ian Glass's Avatar
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    Two Points:
    1. Feedback is of course vital to the success of a web site, however e-mails with subject lines with more than eight exclamation points needn't be part of it if you do a little preplanning first. It doesn't take too long to find out where you've screwed up if you just sit a few people down and say, "wha'cha think?" ;-)
    2. I think about usability a lot, but I don't think people are simpletons, I just think they're not me and have no interest in learning to think like me. Designers get wrapped up in, well designing and start thinking of their site in isolation. No site lives in isolation, and while I think every site should be unique (arguably any "guru" would suggest the same), there are basic things that shouldn't change too much because people do have certain expectations.
    ~~Ian

  18. #18
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    Hmm, I thought the map on the front page was kinda small at 1024 x 768, one unintentionally moves up to the screen to see what timezone what state is in exactly. If that's usability...
    Half the page is unused... "It uses a very small amount of screen real estate..."
    That's certainly true, but why that is a good thing in this case is beyond me...

  19. #19
    SitePoint Zealot lutrov's Avatar
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    Hmmm...

    Interesting observation by nollieflip that "these guys are always about 2-3 years out of the picture". From what I can conclude about user interface and general usability experts, that is precisely their point! That is, you should not be designing with bleeding-edge technology because your users couldn't (and shouldn't) care less about how clever and hip you are with your graphic artistry. The only reason your website exists is to solve their goal!


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