Cultural probes are quick and dirty way to get inside the users’ minds in a way that standard user testing doesn’t. Probes can take the form of diaries or blogs and are easy to put together using open-ended questions which encourage users to say all the things they never would during a testing session. With this insight into users thoughts and feelings, usability consultants can identify behavioural patterns and design better products which satisfy user needs (even ones they didn’t know they had). Probes go beyond the ‘know thy user’ rule to read the user’s mind.
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Last month, at the Architectural Association
, Bill Hillier
described how English Heritage
often want to reinstate the paths and roads of the historic sites they are trying to preserve. Hillier argued that these sites need new pathways as the way people interact with them now is not the same as when they were built. One example of this is Rievaulx Abbey
. It was once a place where monks lived and worshipped, until Henry VIII dissolved the monastries to get his hands on their money.
Today, Rievaulx is a tourist attraction, which is occasionally used as a place of worship and the change in its functionality is reflected in the pathways around it. They can be described as paths of desire, which have come about because visitors wander across the grass or clamber over a wall to get to a specific part of the abbey instead of walking about retracing the routes the Cistercians may have used, which would give visitors a better insight into the way the abbey and its inhabitants behaved. Continue reading “Design using function, behaviour, structure”
My mate Wayne is the kind of programmer who loves to program. I am not. I think of programming as a means to an end. Something I have to do if I can’t find what I need – which, thanks to the old internet, is rare these days. Wayne writes his own version because he can, because – like Everest – the challenge is there.
I am convinced that the day he takes up blogging he will, of course, write his own blogging software before sharing his thoughts with the world. I am very excited by this prospect and will be on standby to dish out usability advice. Until this fateful day (and probably even after), I will be sticking with WordPress. I am a WordPress groupie.
Continue reading “WordPress groupie: blogging, fiddling, loving it”
In the 1990s, Erich Gamma changed the way I thought about software engineering forever! Gamma visited the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne where I was a PhD student, in order to give a seminar on design patterns.
The idea of extracting a solution template from a piece of software to turn it into a pattern which can be reused, was to me, an exciting step forward in software engineering. Instead of reusing software from a library that needs to be maintained and ported as necessary, abstracting the solution and creating a pattern repository gives software engineers a toolbox of meta-level solutions.
Continue reading “Using patterns to shape our world”
In 1996, I listened to Lofty Zadeh, the daddy of fuzzy logic, give his keynote speech at the ‘Artificial Intelligence in Design’ conference, Stanford University. He described the excitment of artificial intelligence in the 1950s and how Marvin Minsky, father of frames, told a press conference that 50 years on, computers would read and understand Shakespeare. When Zadeh asked Minsky what possessed him make such a claim, Minsky said that he didn’t know, he had just gotten carried away.
Continue reading “Are computers making us stupid?”