Dec 2006 Contents
Making Mortals into Super Users at Bostonís World Usability Day
By Chris Hass
Chris Hass is the president of the UPA Boston Chapter, and is a usability consultant for the Bentley College Design and Usability Testing Center.
Disaster is in the air!
A stuffed cat dangles precipitously from a fake palm tree frond, a scant sixty seconds away from falling to the earth. A few feet away, unbeknownst to its hypothetical passengers, a cardboard train is about to encounter an enormous boulder lying in its path. Who could avert one, let alone both, of these impending catastrophes?
Activities like “Remote Control SuperUser” encouraged children to make design choices and field test them:
SuperUser stands patiently. Her red cape, thrown casually over her ten-year old frame, is resplendently asparkle in the unforgiving lights of the Museum of Science, Boston. SuperUser is calm, unfazed. Next to her, her brother works feverishly, knowing he has only seconds to devise a single solution to both dilemmas. Finally, Post-It flags dripping from his fingers, he shouts: “I got it!”
In a flash, he turns to the blueprint remote control drawn on a nearby whiteboard and begins to “press” the buttons he has labeled, one by one. “Walk Forward! . . . Stop! . . . Turn right! . . . Reach Forward!” SuperUser moves with controlled precision in accordance with his “button” presses. With every instruction she follows, disaster grows further away. Thirty seconds later the cat is safe. Another ten and the boulder has been removed. Both children are loopy with happiness, shouting: “We did it! We did it!”
With humble pride, the UPA Boston chapter Advisory Board can observe that turning a child into a superhero takes some planning. And turning a thousand children into superheroes takes just a bit more.
In honor of the second annual World Usability Day, the UPA Boston chapter Advisory Board and teams of volunteers worked tirelessly to support a November 14th event at the Museum of Science, Boston. In 2006 we produced twice the number of activities that we hosted in 2005, utilized over a hundred volunteers, and educated and made our activities available to nearly 3000 museum visitors in a single day.
Activities, like the “Remote Control Super User” (described above and brought to life by MetLife volunteers), the “Evaluation Station,” “the Great Sock Sort,” and “Instruction Blocks,” among others, proved to be fun and innovative ways to share User Centered Design techniques with children and adults. In an event that stretched from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., we offered walking tours of Boston’s public signs, evaluated sixteen non-profit organization’s websites, demonstrated touch screen voting machines, offered ten interactive activities, created podcast videos to post on YouTube.com, sorted mismatched socks to teach affinity diagramming, and saved a stranded stuffed cat countless times.
Most exciting, we put our entire suite of activities online to support educators and event planners worldwide. This archive, located at: http://www.upaboston.org/wud/, contains full descriptions of every World Usability Day activity we have hosted over the last two years. Each is is supported by downloadable step-by-step instructions, moderator’s guides, activity signs, tally sheets, video clips, and other materials.
We encourage you to try one or more of the activities and to let us know how they work for you. We’ll add any variants or modifications we receive to the website.
How 2006 Differed from 2005
With great success, we appointed a chapter member with volunteer coordination expertise to communicate with and schedule the 100+ volunteers that were drawn from over fifty companies from Boston, MA to Portland, ME.
To ensure that every activity had an artful and attention-getting sign, Hot Knife Design donated a graphic designer to draft activity and event signs, and the Mitre Corporation donated facilities and materials to print and mount them. (You may download modifiable versions at no cost from our website for your own use.)
On the day of the event we asked on-site volunteers to wear white shirts and tan pants to help our crew stand out from the crowd, and to hand out a tri-fold brochure that introduced the event, our learning goals, and the activities.
To ensure that the event supported international outreach, we engaged a volunteer with video production expertise to film and edit on-site vignettes in English and Spanish that he posted during the day to YouTube.com. Collectively, the ten videos have received over a thousand views and are slated to be broadcast on Chinese television, per the request of a UPA China member.
Though educating individuals about usability was a key focus of the event, activities like the “Evaluation Station” gave our event a conscience. We invited area non-profit organizations to attend one-hour sessions where a team of usability pros provided advice for enhancing their websites. Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., sixteen non-profits received personalized reviews from teams supporting two simultaneous tracks. The participating organizations gave the process rave reviews.
Outreach and Next Steps
World Usability Day is a model that works well for technology museums with an education mandate, and our ability to bear the burdens of designing, implementing, and showcasing activities has clear appeal. In response, they are working with us to adapt the activities into a more permanent part of the museum’s offerings, and into outreach activities that encourage other museums to do the same. Our website contains a letter from the Museum further enumerating the positive benefits of the event.
We hope that the lessons we’ve learned, the activities we’ve created, and the successes we’ve had will support you in your own efforts to take part in World Usability Day!
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