Dec 2006 Contents
World Usability Day Philadelphia: User Experience Beyond The Web
By Mike Madaio
Mike Madaio is currently the Chief IA for QVC.com and the Secretary of PHICHI, the Philadelphia Chapter of the ACM SIGCHI. He also keeps a user experience-related blog at http://mikemadaio.com.
Because many of the local UPA members work in Internet-related fields, Philadelphia’s 2nd Annual World Usability Day looked to broaden horizons by focusing on “User Experience Beyond the Web.”
Although the speakers, Hal Rosenbluth, co-founder of Take Care Health Systems; James Mitchell, Associate Professor and Director of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at Drexel University; and Stephen Wilcox, Principal of Design Science, spoke extensively about the differences between their work and that of web professionals, the pervasive theme throughout each presentation was that we actually have a lot in common.
As in web-related user experience design, off-line usability experts focus on satisfying user needs, creating usable experiences, and maintaining focus on usability throughout the design lifecycle.
Take Care Health Systems: Satisfying User Needs
TCHS uses several tactics to create enhance this experience:
To ensure a complete experience, a nurse also calls each and every patient the day after an appointment to see how they are feeling.
Drexel University: Creating Usable Experiences
Mitchell pointed to Drexel’s new showcase building, the Bossone Research Center, as a perfect example. Designed by world-renowned firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the structure is a stunning addition to campus but still suffers from several usability problems.
A narrowly-pointed corner at the front of the building, for example, is visually appealing but completely unusable, wasting a large amount of space on an expensive block in the city.
Once inside (if you can get past the hidden ID scanner to open the doors), trash cans mar the beautifully designed interior – a great example of how actual usage was overlooked during the design phase. The designers failed to take provisions for trash, something generated by users of every building.
Design Science: Keeping Focus on Usability
In addition to usability testing, Wilcox preached the virtues of several other research tools, also available in poster form:
Lastly, Wilcox made an interesting point about the need to test extensively before bringing a product to market. Such “validation” testing is required in the medical field, which is akin to legally requiring usability testing for products.
Differences Between Online & Offline
Buildings also, at least for the time being, use more senses than web designs; a person can’t (currently) walk into a website. Also, due to the nature of the design, it is impossible to create a building prototype and have users test it, so architects must rely only on past experience, building codes, and sketches to create the most usable building possible.
In the end, although there will continue to be differences between the varied and diverse fields that employ user-centric design principles, Philadelphia’s 2006 World Usability Day proved that there is much to be learned by sharing information with each other. As technology improves, it will bring us even closer together by playing a larger role in the design of tangible products and by allowing designers of technology to create experiences that more closely mirror the products and experiences that occurs offline.
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