Friday, October 31, 2014

World Usability Day

I wanted to share this update from the Usability team where I work, at the University of Minnesota. World Usability Day is November 13, 2014. As in past years, the University of Minnesota is sponsoring an event to celebrate. This year the programming is centered around the theme of “Engagement” and will include panels such as:
  • “Engagement: What Does it Mean to Engage? What are we Working on?”
  • “Let’s Face It, We’re Not 16 Anymore: How Teenagers Read (and Misread) Higher Ed Home Pages” - Red Stapler winner for Best in Track at HighEdWeb 2014
  • “Lessons Learned about Engagement: Failures and Successes”
  • “Methods, Techniques, and Tools to Measure Engagement”

World Usability Day is sponsored by University of Minnesota’s IT@UMN User Experience Team, Libraries, and CLA Department of Writing Studies have partnered with The Nerdery, Macalester College, Metropolitan State University, and Thomson Reuters.

Friday, October 10, 2014

GNOME and Wayland

At GUADEC this year, I attended a great presentation about GNOME and Wayland. If you aren't aware, Wayland is an open source software project that manages communication between client programs and the display. In that respect, Wayland aims to replace X as the standard window system on Linux and Unix. Wayland also promises increased performance and security. While many complain that "Wayland doesn't respect network transparency," for most users I argue that network transparency doesn't matter so much. (But that's a debate for another forum.)

Fedora Magazine recently posted a review of GNOME on Wayland in Fedora 21. Fedora 21 will come with GNOME 3.14, which already runs reasonably well on Wayland.

Wayland isn't really part of usability, so I won't dwell on this topic here. Rather, please visit the article and comment on it there.
image: Wayland

Anyone in the Bay Area?

A reader contacted me, and expressed an interest in learning more about Usability and UX Design in Open Source projects but doesn't have any connections in the Bay Area. I volunteered to do some kind of remote presentation (I'm in the US Midwest, in Minnesota) but I wanted to take an extra step to see if there are any of my readers who could speak at a design group on the topic of UI Design in the Open Source community and/or provide some guidance on getting involved.

If you are in (or near) the Bay Area, and are willing to talk on this topic, I'll leave it to you to get connected via the comments.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Outreach Program for Women

I am proud to be part of the Outreach Program for Women ("OPW"). In this cycle of the program, I will be mentoring participants in usability testing. You can find a list of project ideas in the GNOME Wiki.

Interested in getting involved in usability testing? Maybe the OPW is for you! Here are the details for the usability project:
Usability testing (mentor: JimHall)

Benefits: By conducting usability tests of GNOME, you can help find areas in GNOME that can be improved, to make GNOME even easier for people to use.

Importance: GNOME needs to be an easy and elegant way to use your computer. With good usability, GNOME will be easy for everyone to use.

Requirements: Usability testing is not difficult, and anyone can do it, even if you have never done usability testing before. Conducting your own usability test will require you to meet with people, to ask questions. You can re-use the usability test scenarios we used in previous usability tests, or you can write your own (for example, to cover new functionality or programs not previously covered). You will need access to at least two computers: a desktop or laptop for testers to use, and another (preferably a laptop) for you to take notes on. Usability testing is best done in a quiet space away from other distractions; for example, you might use a classroom or meeting room.

Mentorship style: You'll be working independently, but I can help! We'll do online chat to help you learn about usability testing, and to get started with your own usability test. As you get ready for your usability test, I can help you to prepare materials and questions, and offer coaching on what to expect. Afterwards, I can help you to analyze the test results using a "heat map" method.

Project team: I would be happy to meet with you via online chat (video, voice, or text).

Note: My Master's capstone was the Usability of Open Source Software, in which I analyzed and discussed the usability of GNOME. I gave a keynote at GUADEC'14 on GNOME usability, and I have written several articles on usability for Linux Journal.
Usability is about how real people use software. It's not about how the program wants people to do things, but how people actually use the program to get things done. Good usability in GNOME means that the people who use GNOME can do so quickly and easily to accomplish their own tasks. It's important for us to occasionally go back to do usability testing on GNOME to make sure that new versions of GNOME remain easy for people to use.

Doing a usability test is basically about sitting down with people, one at a time, and asking them to do a few specific tasks in GNOME. Then you observe how these testers actually use GNOME, and make notes on what they say, where they are looking for features, and how easily they can accomplish the tasks. In a usability test, you aren't testing the user, but you are watching the user to see how easily they can use GNOME to do their work.

Usability is a great way to contribute to GNOME. With good usability, everybody wins!

If you have some time and would like to learn more about usability testing (and my usability tests with GNOME), you might be interested in reading my Master's capstone about usability themes in open source software (available in PDF or ebook formats.) It's kind of long, but if you want to get involved in usability testing and just want to basics, the sections that will interest you most are:

  • I. What is usability
  • IV. Usability test design
  • V. Usability test findings.
  • Appendix: Scenario tasks

Joining the OPW requires making a small contribution, which helps you to learn what the project would be like. I think a good first assignment would be to do a 1-person usability test, with a friend, using GNOME 3.14. This will help you understand how to do a usability test, and get a feel for the effort that goes into it. A full usability test would require at least five people (for my usability test, I included 12 people) but for a first experiment to get started, you can do a usability test with a friend. Preferably one who hasn't used GNOME before - or at least, not the latest release of GNOME.

You can use the questionnaire and scenario tasks from the appendix in my capstone paper, and the GNOME 3.14 test ISO image. (This is a test image, so you may experience problems .. you may want to run through the scenarios yourself before asking a friend to do the usability test.)

Begin the usability test by "setting the stage," and explain that the usability test is not testing your friend but instead is testing the software. So if they have problems doing the test, that's okay. Also explain that you will be taking notes throughout the test, so your friend should speak aloud what he or she is trying to do, and looking for. See pages 18-19 in the capstone paper. The test will probably take about an hour.

You may find the most difficult part of the test for you is to not give hints to what to do. If your friend gets confused and (for example) isn't able to find the Preferences, you can't suggest what to do. Just take notes on how difficult it was to find, and where your friend was looking for the feature. If your friend gets frustrated, that's okay - just make a note and move on to the next task or the next program.

The full project for OPW would use more testers. You would also construct a "heat map" analysis of the results, and write up a conclusion with the "themes" of your usability test findings. And you would need to create a presentation about your work, a few slides that you might share at a conference.
image: Outreach Program for Women