Categories: Web Design, Web Develop, Usability & Accessibility, Server Side Web Development
Review: Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility at WebDD Conference 07 12:00 to 13:00
I got "Don't make me think" for Xmas and so I've become quite interested in the concept of cheap usability testing, I was looking for this talk to give me a fresh perspective on what I'd read.
Zhivko started off with a short introduction on what usability is (ease of use, user efficiency, user satisfaction) and why it's important. Increased user satisfaction leads to:
- Increased sales
- Decreased development costs (more testing means less fire fighting)
- Improved brand image
- Improved user productivity (ie. when using internal applications)
The talk then moved to comparing remote testing (screen sharing over the internet) with 'traditional' testing methods (with usability labs and all the paraphernalia). Remote testing gives you:
- A realistic context of use - you're testing users in a 'real life' environment, where they're more comfortable
- Better geographic representation - with traditional methods it's very expensive to test outside the area where your office is located
- Access to professionals - if you're selling to a certain market, such as software developers, you might not be able to persuade them to travel to your lab
- Lack of non-verbal signals - this is a disadvantage, you don't see the non-verbal cues that indicate users are getting frustrated and so have to depend on what they're telling you
Zhivko discussed some research which demonstrated that, despite being much cheaper than traditional usability testing the results gained with remote testing is at least as effective.
The final part of the talk walked through the process for running usability tests at Telerik, here's a summary:
- Define Objectives & Target Audience
- Set up Test Scenario
- Recruit Test Users
- Carry out Tests
- Analyze Findings
- Design Report & Brief Stakeholders
This was littered with practical advice, such as good software to use (GoToMeeting, Camtasia), what sort of compensation to offer to ensure enough respondents (a little bit more than your target group's average hourly rate), how often to use the same testers (no more than twice a year) and even how to avoid putting testers under unnecessary time pressure (don't tell them in advance how many tasks there are).
An excellent talk, just the sort of thing I was looking for with all sorts of useful tips. The only problem I had was reading the slides off the TV screen (I was unfortunately right at the back) and sometimes hearing what Zhivko was saying (probably the being at the back thing again), . out of 5
I've recently re-installed the file server at home with Fedora Core 6, it all went fairly well apart from some intermittent hardware issues not related to the OS. A few days later, after a
yum update, I started getting an error after logging in to Gnome:
GConf schema installer error, battery_low_percentage cannot be zero
Since this machine is going to spend most of it's life not even plugged into a monitor I didn't consider it a big deal, but as the hardware issues have persisted, and as it therefore continued to use the monitor, power and network connection which are normally plugged in to my main desktop, it's become a bit more of an issue. So this morning I finally got round to researching the solution.
export GCONF_CONFIG_SOURCE=`gconftool-2 --get-default-source`
gconftool-2 --makefile-install-rule /etc/gconf/schemas/gnome-power-manager.schemas
killall -HUP gconfd-2
The difference to the steps described on the mailing list is the second step, it seems the default schemas are in a non-standard place in FC6. That got rid of the error message, but there were still some odd visual effects so I installed the
metacity.schemas. Looks like some sort of upgrade error stopped the default schemas being installed, so I'm guessing any similar errors can be resolved by choosing the relevant file from
/etc/gconf/schemas/ and using the above commands.
Review: Doing it in style: creating beautiful sites, the web standards way at WebDD Conference 07 10:40 to 11:40
Patrick started with an explanation of web standards, what they are and why they're good for you. The list of benefits he gave were fairly standard, but it's always worth reminding yourself:
- Lighter code - your HTML content is more lightweight as it doesn't contain repeated copies of your presentation code
- Ease of maintenance - when HTML is structured semantically it's much easier to make updates without breaking things than in pages built with five levels of table nesting
- Easier to change look and feel - because your look and feel is defined seperately from your content
- Multiple output media - handheld, print etc. from the same content
- Accessibility - reduce the number of potential customers who can't use your site
- SEO - increase the traffic to your site
The second section of the talk covered common pitfalls that CSS noobs fall into (been there, done that was my reaction to most of them, though I'm probably still guilty of some of them on occasion):
- New technology, old habits - the font tags have all gone, but they've been replaced by spans with inline styles
- Meaningless content - the font tags have all gone, but everything (including the headings) is a paragraph with an inline style
- Non-semantic class and id names - people often assume that class and id attributes are just there to hang CSS rules off of, but in fact they are an independent part of the HTML spec, they are a way of adding semantic value to your markup so don't use class names like 'red' when you mean 'important'
- Classitis and Divitis - adding unnecessary classes and ids to every element in your document when you could just use CSS selectors
The third section of the talk was the 'advanced' part where Patrick moved on to some specific CSS techniques. First up he covered tables, pointing out that the goal of standards based developers isn't to eradicate all tables from their markup but to use tables properly. A rule of thumb: if your data is the sort of thing you would lay out in an Excel spreadsheet, then you should probably mark it up as a table. Tables are an excellent way of showing data relationships and screen readers have built in functions for navigating across rows and columns, when designers build 'fake tables' out of
spans then you lose these good properties. These are good points, but I think the whole thing hinges on what your definition of 'tabular data' (or 'Excel-like data') is - my excuse for building 'fake tables' is when I want to lay things out differently on different devices (ie. on a web screen 7 columns and 4 rows, on a handheld device 4 columns and 7 rows, or even just a single column). This section also had some useful examples of the
scope attribute as well as
th in relation to
tbody and how it can styled, stuff which I'd not really appreciated before.
Next up were a number of techniques for 'fluff images' - using CSS background images instead of cluttering up the content with images which are purely presentational followed by a quick demonstration of the sliding doors technique. The talk was already running pretty late by this point so the section on image replacement was rushed through and I had to leave for the next talk I wanted to attend as Patrick moved onto forms, so I missed that, the layout portion and the conclusion.
The presentation was given in an engaging manner, and Patrick clearly has a very deep understanding of his subject, but the main problem was that he was trying to fit enough material for two talks into one hour of presentation. This spoiled a lot of the more advanced stuff, which was my primary interest, because it had to be rushed through. I still learned several useful things, and was given a few timely reminders of stuff I ought to know already, but overall this was the most disappointing talk of the day - . out of 5
Categories: Web Develop, Information Architecure, Front End Web Development, Server Side Web Development
Review: Microformats HTML to API at WebDD Conference 07 9:30 to 10:30
This was the first talk of the day, it was in the smallest room but it was packed to overflowing (people were sitting on the floor!) which is surely a good sign for the future of Microformats. The first part of the talk was a whirlwind tour of Microformats - what they are, how they're used and some examples. I was already familiar with this material so I didn't make any notes. The most interesting bit (for me) was the slide with a quote from Dan Cedarholm which referred to Microformats as 'oblivious development' - by adding semantic value to your markup you allow other to build value on top of it while you remain oblivious. A quick search today reveals I've been a bit oblivious myself, as this term seems to be in quite common use in the community, but at the time I thought it was nice.
In the second half of the talk Glen went on to the API part. His basic premise was that you should just add Microformats randomly to your web app and hope that the seeds would grow, you should think about how developers might want to use the information in your site and organise it in a consistent manner. He listed his REST-like principals for Microformats as API:
- Design URLs for maximum clarity and discoverability
- Design URLs into a schema to act as an API (his term here was 'faceted structures'
- Remember URLs have semantic importance
- Remember URLs can look and act like method calls (ie. composability of URL values, like searching by multiple tags in del.icio.us)
- Use HTTP verbs that work (a la REST, though Glen felt PUT and DELETE were not practical currently and POST should be used for updates)
His final advice for APIs was borrowed from the Microformat ethos: keep it simple. Simplicity gives you a lower barrier to entry which in turn increase the chance of take up. There was quite a long question and answer session after the talk which demonstrated Glen's in depth knowledge of the subject (in fact he appeared, to me, a lot more comfortable and knowledgeable in this interactive role than he had in the first part of the talk).
Overall pretty good, . I think, given the popularity of this talk, there was scope for having an introductory session and one or more advanced sessions rather than having to rush through the first half of it, but I learned a few things and enjoyed it. out of 5
I went to WebDD Conference 07 at the Microsoft Campus in Reading today. This post records my overall impressions, and is also my first attempt at an hReview, which is something I've been meaning to try out for a while. I'm going to do a review of each talk I went to in separate posts (or, I should say, I plan to...).
It was something of a shock to the system when my alarm went off at 7am on a Saturday morning, but I did drag myself out of bed and down to Paddington only a little after I'd hoped to get there. I arrived at Thames Valley Park in plenty of time and was surprised to find breakfast waiting in the form of rolls with either bacon or sausage - usually at Microsoft when I've been it's been coffee and biscuits in the morning, maybe this is a Saturday perk?
There was a choice of three talks in each slot, and five slots through the day, here's the list of talks I attended:
- Microformats HTML to API (Glen Jones)
- Doing it in style: creating beautiful sites, the web standards way (Patrick Lauke)
- Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility (Zhivko Dimitrov)
- Ruby On Rails for .NET Developers (Dave Verwer)
I'll save the details of the talks for later posts, but enough to say they were of a consistently high quality and were more than enough reason, by themselves, to drag me out of bed on a Saturday morning
There were plenty of other highlights - the food continued with pastries and Innocent smoothies at mid-morning, passable packed lunches and warm cookies in the afternoon. There was a guy from Computer Manuals selling books all morning, not the full range but at good discount. Microsoft were pimping their Expression range of web design tools, which included giving each attendee a free copy of Expression Web, and there were samples and free stuff available from most of the other sponsors.
The only disappointing thing was that it all ground to a halt shortly after 4pm, I'd originally planned for it finishing at 5pm and I think I would have preferred the spare hour in bed in the morning rather than at Reading Station in the afternoon. Overall though, an excellent event, , I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in web design or development. out of 5
While the user has the ability to turn off Public Profile publishing altogether, only a small percentage have chosen to do so and with just the information listed [in the Basic View profile], the minimum requirement for hResume is met. In essence, we just launched ~9 million hResumes.
Started up Firefox just now and the automatic updater told me that Firebug 1.0 is now available. Of course, I immediately upgraded. The visual look has definitely seen some work and there are a number of new features - see the screenshot to see a loading time breakdown of all the elements of this page.
This, coupled with the 1.1 release of the Web Developer Toolbar (my favourite new feature - it is now possible to validate local pages) and the release of Prototype 1.5 (now with documentation!) last week, makes it an exciting couple of weeks for web developers everywhere.
Blog posts are a bit like buses, wait for ages for one to turn up then two come along at once! Anyway, Robert X. Cringely has been one of my favourite columnists for a long time and this article is a very interesting analysis of what Google's long term plans might be.
Of course, in true internet tradition, when I say 'world' it means 'the US' If you want a bit of perspective after reading that then let Eric Sink explain to you why that isn't as important as you think it is.
I was surprised today to notice I'd not made a blog post for two weeks, so that's me blowing guideline seven (again). Perhaps if I stopped procrastinating and got stuff done? So here's some anti-procrastination tips from GTD Wannabe that have got to be worth a try:
- Turn off the TV
- Techno Kicks It
- Keep Track of Time
- Start Strong
- Plan Ahead
- Do It Tomorrow
- Your Computer is a Distraction
- Your Desk Can Be A Distraction
- Pretend You Don't Have Wireless
I'm not going to get very far with 'Your Computer is a Distraction', but I can definitely make inroads with 'Start Strong' - I've spent a significant number of mornings doing nothing but reading through articles on reddit...
I came across the Google Co-Op search today and decided to set up a 'search engine' of my own. It allows you to add a list of your favourite web sites (relating to a particular topic) and then either get search results exclusively from those sites or prioritize those sites over the 'standard' Google search results. I've got mine setup in the latter mode at present, because I know I've forgotten some sites. It also wraps up the whole thing into a nice ajaxy interface to embed on your own website - check out the boogdesign Web Technology Search.
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