Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tickling the Brain: Sharing Ideas in Memorable Ways

Adam Rubin, from Groupon, is giving the Wednesday afternoon keynote speech.

Subtitle is "Why Amazing Matters"

Your brain trusts your eyes more than your ears.

Every so often you'll see something that's astonishing. Then you go back to your adult life.

We remember novelty, we remember drama. When something wows us, we can't wait to tell someone about it. If you can create a great idea in someone's mind, they will remember it.

How do we design amazing things? 5 categories, 5 tools, we can use: surprise, contrast, tension, rhythm, and style.

When you have limitations, when you face adversity, you become more creative.

"Wield your feather": stay curious, use your whole brain, get offline, f*** fear. The last is the biggest thing; fear is the enemy.

Part of being creative is that you're going to be frustrated most of the time.

Automated Customized Documents with DITA

This one is by one of my favorite speakers, Dave Gash.

You should have some experience with DITA for this session (uh oh), but this session will focus on conrefs and conitionalizing. This is a case study.

Problem is, client sells website software, that integrates into existing website. For each customer, client provides installation instructions document (IID). IIDs are customized for each costumer. New docs are created by hand, cut & paste, very error prone. Speedy--and accurate--IIDs are a huge advantage.

Old process, take some Word docs, info from sales, and information form a customer database, pull it into Word, and create a new document.

Goal was to create a read-only master template that works for all combinations of documents and is customizable for any customer. Also to automate the document production process. And make the proces easily usable by installation managers.

DITA excels at insertion of customer-specific information, called conrefs, pr replacing of variable data, and inclusion/exclusion of content blocks, or build conditions.

Content references (conrefs) insert dynamic data.

Tool used includes DITA Open Tookkit, XMLmind XXE Editor Personal Edition, WinANT Echidna and build GUI, and a lightweight web server. What does all this cost? $0. Able to learn if it would all work in the proof of concept by spending nothing at all on software.

Language in Software User Interfaces

Originally was going to the session about DITA, but again, it was in the room with no tables. Also saw a session on API docs, but it turns out it wasn't about creating them, but about how to use a specific too. So I wound up in this session, by Laura Bergstrom of Microsoft.

Which all meant I got in a bit late and missed the opening remarks. So I'll catch up as best I can.

The language in software interfaces is about building a story, about developing a "voice" based on branding. An end-to-end experience team works on the whole process, from high-level messaging and stories down to guidelines and catalogs of assets for messaging and design.

Some early steps include scenario-based engineering and writing, the value proposition for customers a "listening tour" with the leadership team, and looking at trends into the near future.

The goal for scenario-focused engineering is customer-focused. Planning, designing, and building is a daily iterative process. What they call "scenarios" looks very similar to personas. Scenarios are important because technology changes, but people don't. It give you understanding of users. When yo focus on what people value, it drives innovation. Also, you can predict what users will and won't do in a situation.

Use a story structure to create your scenario.

It takes more time to write something in a friendly tone than by pre-set guidelines. A good tone is friendly, empathetic, everyday language.

It's OK to use contractions. It's even encouraged. Use them when it feels natural, but dont' force it or use uncommon ones. Ask yourself "does it sound harsh" if you don't use one.

Use second voice, even in the UI. Speaking directly to the person can be very friendly.

Why have a dedicated resource for UI content? Well, a user assistance developer (writer) is trained in the subject. They understand conceptual models. They understand user empathy. Yet they also have deep experience working in an engineering environment. And taxonomy, style, and so on will be consistent. It's a good argument for not letting programmers or managers handle the task. Dedicate the proper experience to the task and your users' experience will be much, much better.

Conversational tones are harder to translate.

Tone matters because people want to scan, not read.

Interaction Design for DOOH (Digital Out Of Home) UA

Doug Bolin talks about digital signage and other digital interactions out of the home, from signs to kiosks to monitors to digital signage. I's using digital technology and content do whatever you want to do. When it works, in informs, it involves, and it entertains.

Information about the location and information about the user all combined to provide useful information.

It's gone from standalone players and signs with static content, to content that relies on servers or other media repository. Can administer it locally or remotely.

You could put a camera on top of an interactive kiosk and do usability testing 24/7, to see how people fail and succeed.

A single system to manage and publish content into all sort of venes at any time at any geography, and publish any content.

With DOOH interaction design best practices, we can offer contextual user assistance, dynamic, interactive support in public places. Some ideas: make it clear that interactivity is possible. Create an "attract state" that demonstrates interactivity when no one is using the device. People will learn over time that screens are touchable.

Make touchable things look touchable. Design for fingers. Don't cover up information or controls. Remember accessibility!

Best Practices for Embedded UA

Although I always like to hear Dave Gash speak, the physical layout of the room they gave him, with no tables, drove me away. It's just unworkable for taking notes. So instead I'm in the Embedded UA session, by Scott DeLoach--which isn't at all a bad thing.

The early points that Scott makes include the notion that the writing you do, even in a user interface, needs to persuade, motivate, and communicate. It has to anticipate the real questions users will have. For example, in a web form, it's obvious that a name and address needs to be put in the fields. But users also want to know why they would want to give that information.

It's useful to allow users to add their own content. Comments can be a very useful thing, especially when attached to specific topics created by you.

You can provide other UA options. Many web forms are cutting edge with their UA. Some sites offer a "live' chat. But some also know when chat or suport is available, and change the button or link. For example, at night, the button may be to sent email.

It's good to actively request feedback. But limit the number of questions you ask. A lot of people want to have a voice, especially when they are dissatisfied. Important to have a thick skin; 90% of the comments will be negative.

Allow users to customize your embedded content. Let them select a language, ask their own questions, reuse content, and turn off features.  Travel sites are a good example of offering content in multiple languages. Would rather see poor translation than no translation. Better 10% usable than 0% usable. Technology translation is getting better and better. Nerver be good as a person, but it is improving.

Many places are now adding links so you can post content to Twitter or Facebook. On eBay, you can turn off user assistance poop-ups. It does frustrate some people when you force help on them. Some people just don't want to admit they need help.

Turning to user learning guidelines, encourage success encourage exploration, and challenge users.

When users are new to a product, if they are successful immediately, they will be happy. They will give it a chance. But if they have trouble in the beginning, that sets their expectation of the entire experience with the product. Their first interaction is key.

Scott showed off some HTML5 techniques for embedded UA. First up, adding subtitles to instructional videos. YOu can use the contenteditable attribute on a tag to allow users to edit content. And you can use the WebStorage API to save user-edited content.

HTML5 provides many built-in assistance methods for forms. You can require input on form fields. HTML5 has some built-in validation, for email addresses and URLs. You can even spell check user input.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making Your UA Accessible to All

The conference's first keynote session is this afternoon, presented by Shawn Henry.

Material at

If one thing could do to improve people's lives around the world, your customers, would advance your career, help your business, and if you don't do it, the opposite? Accessibility.

When we think of accessibility, we think of checklist. But it doesn't have to be dull & boring.

Accessibility not primarily about website code, evaluation tool results, conforming to local standards.

W3C defines standards for the web.

Step 1 isn't to look at standards & guidelines. Overwhelming & too much. Important to start with basics of how real people with real disabilities in real situations use your products. Accessibility is about people.

Screen readers only work when a page is structured properly.

A lot of work in accessibility is around people who are blind, but can't get caught up in the idea that blind people are the only people accessibility addresses.

Many types of disabilities: auditory, cognitive, and more. See How People with Disabilities Use the Web, on the W3C site.

Disabilities can be congenital, form disease, from illness, from accidents, from aging.  We're all aging. So accessibility isn't about "them," it's about us.

When you design for accessibility, you make things not only better for aging people, you make things better for a wide variety of people.

When we look at accessibility, we look at a broad range of people. So what's the business case? See Resources for Developing an Accessibility Business Case, by the W3C.

When you design products to be accessible, they are more usable for everyone, not just those with disabilities.

Check out the book "Just Ask," available online free here.

Suite of guidelines. Most well known is WCAG, the web content accessibility guidelines. Designed to be stable, apply to range of web technologies. Referenced in many laws. Also UAAG, or user agent accessibility guidelines, outlining assistive technologies and whet they need to do to support accessibility.  For creating content, there's ATAG, or authoring tool accessibility guidelines. From tools such as Facebook to Flikr to wikis, all used to create content for the web. Tools need to be accessible themselves, and also make the content they create accessible. Tools can support you adding accessibility information.

Accessibility isn't black & white, either bad or good. There's a huge gray area. But don't get lost in the gray area. Don't need to make accessibility perfect (unless you're an accessibility site), but make it decent & move on, maybe improve later. And make sure your'e doing the easy things, the low-hanging frui. Many accessibility things easy to do, so make sure your'e ding them. don't get stuck in the hard stuff and miss out on getting the easy stuff done.

Bottom line, accessibility is an act of enlightened self-interest.

An Introduction to Video Editing

Well, I was thinking of going to the wiki session, but (a) the room has no tables, making it difficult to take notes, and (b) one of the presentes is fromLinden Labs, makers of Second Life, and that's a product that seems to be turning into yesterday, so I came here, my second choice for the time slot. And it's conference organizer Joe Welinske presenting this one.

Important inflection point. The cost of software for working with video and the storage to host it has dropped precipitously, sometimes even free.

Video should be part of UA deliverables. It's attractive to growing number of consumers, especially younger demographic.

At AutoDesk, they are hosting their video on YouTube. It's free! Used to be video hosted on your corporate server. By hosting on YouTube, you're taking advantage of Google always indexing this information, making it easy to find. It's a great way to get users to your information.

Use many tools. Haven't found one tool that does everything. A camera is good because live action adds something to web video. Lighting is always a big issue.

One tool used is called Power Director, and it's available for less than $100. The same power a couple of decades ago would cost $10,000 and require lots and lots of expensive hardware.

One area of video editing software is a library of media elements. In a project, you bring them in from other sources. Key part to put it all together is the timeline. On he timeline are thumbnails representing media elements, which you can drag and drop and they become linked. You can create multiple tracks, such as one for music and one for narration.

Don't try and make your video capture your final place. So many people try to make the capture process perfect. Better to just let the camera run, and edit it later.  OTOH, you want to capture audio in one session, including multiple takes, so all are based on same ambient room pressure, background noise, etc.

Use an eBay lighting box kit, makes a huge difference in making the subject glow. All folds up into  little packet.

Many different video formats. They are supported in different environments, and they also affect speed, quality, and size. Formats include .avi, .mpegx, .H.264, .wmv, ,mov, and .swf. Learing all the issues with all the different formats takes some research.