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DUX 2005
Designing for User eXperience
By John Latta, WAVE 0546 11/18/05

San Francisco , CA
November 4 – 5, 2005

It sold out over a month ago. There are 500 professionals here from all over the world. The sessions are well attended and the event is well managed and many of the presentations and keynotes are both interesting and entertaining. Considerable effort has gone into this conference. The venue at Fort Mason at the Presidio in San Francisco is one of the best.

The professionals here are experienced in the design for users of technology. This forum provides a common ground to meet and discuss technologies and tools for doing better designs which create a user experience.

The WAVE spoke with Brian Blau, conference organizer. He provided further perspective on the event.

This event is focused on the practicing human interface designer. The structure of the conference is in a case study format. It is not research oriented, such as CHI. The intent was that professionals in the field could use what they learned here in their day to day life. We sought to make the information timely and useful.

The event was organized to provide wide diversity of user interface issues but the individual session chair had considerable latitude. All the papers were peer reviewed and we received many more than could be accommodated.

We also wanted for this conference to be different. This was the case in the plenary talks which both informed and entertained.

This conference is intended to be held every 2 years and it will be assessed after this one.

15 countries were represented here.


Is it possible to Optimize the User Experience?

Most of the presentations were about the desktop experience and specifically designing for the web with the objective of improving usability.

Bank of America spoke of the issues of balancing the user experience with business realities when integrating web sites after a merger. Only anecdotal data was presented on the user response.

Howard Tiersky, Capgemini, described an extensive evaluation of GM’s web sites worldwide. This created a large data base of how GM’s web sites compared to competition against many evaluation factors. Missing was any discussion of the impact of this work on web site redesign and how this impacted usability and the end benefits, including buying automobiles.

Amazon described an interesting project to make the purchase of loose diamonds for an engagement ring as easy as possible. Excellent piece of retail research into buying for this special product. The techniques used and user feedback was interesting but no quantitative assessment was presented.

Behr Paint has a kiosk deployed in 1,700 retail locations, mostly Home Depot, to make the selection of paint for home easier. This combines a kiosk and a web based tool to do color selection for the home. The design of the kiosk and user interaction was well done. But the assessment of its value was left as:

High user satisfaction in the online version
Lift in intent to purchase Behr paint.

David Cronin, of Cooper, described the complexities of working with clients to create web pages. His bottom line is that collaboration with the client improves the process. Yet, there was a consistent theme in this and other talks by the consultants doing design – cost constraints frequently limit what can be done and how effective the design is. Design effectiveness appeared to be largely an artistic and An execution issue in the context of budgets.

Verisign discussed how it improved the online SSL Certification enrollment process. A question from the audience – was “What is new here? These are standard techniques.”

Fred Dust of IDEO gave one of the more interesting talks. He stated that one of the problems in the design of end use products is knowing who the user is. His premise is that it is important to find out customer behavior and this crosses many demographic groups. The examples he gave were more ethnographic research based where IDEO actually observed in the homes. When behavior is understood this provides a much better understanding of who is buying products and why. Frequently this is a surprise because the target audience is not the one buying a product. Fred’s talk reinforced the current notion that ethnographic research has become valuable in determining how consumers actually use products and the practical issues in the home.


User Experience beyond the Desktop

The presentations covered a broader range of devices and user experiences. Here are highlights of a number of the talks.

Frog Design was given a project to design a product with a simple premise – ease stress. It must be portable and that was the extent of the product definition. The name was Stresseraser. What resulted was a hand held product which runs off standard batteries. It allows for the monitoring of heart rate and helps the individual adjust breathing to reduce stress – a la yoga. The device also monitors long term performance in reducing stress. The user response was interesting – “The device has become a true friend.”

Carnegie Mellon University HCII and School of Design developed the concept of a “Sense Chair” for elderly individuals. The intent is that such a device could allow an individual to remain in their home and be more self sufficient. The chair is a monitor of the state of the individual who occupies it. It has pressure sensors, lights and vibrators. The chair has a range of notifications from what it senses. The design is continuing. It was another example of responding to the needs of the aging population with ambient intelligence.

Microsoft Research Asia presented the results of work to support the migrant worker. These individuals frequently leave the rural areas to gain jobs in the large cities. There are 120m such workers. Their children usually stay at home and they cannot go back to visit the village but once a year. What Microsoft sought to understand is how technology could help in communicating between family members. They used ethnographic research to understand the cultural issues, family relationships, literacy, privacy and the role of shared displays. The assessment was quite interesting, from a non-Chinese perspective., for example, family mail is really public mail that all in the village can read. A kiosk was suggested and a table PC was used to evaluate the concept. It was surprising to hear how well this was accepted and used, in spite of most having no experience with technology.

Intuit described the development of a new product – Rental Manager. This was quite different in that with 20 years in its core products, such as QuickBooks, there have been no V 1.0 products for many years. As a result, the definition of a new product was unusual. Basically this product played a role in helping change the culture of the company. Areas which helped this be successful were:

Limit the product scope;
Concepts first, then MRD;
Robust prototypes early on and
Mandate customer contac.

This effort was quite unusual in that the company had to reinvent itself to create new products. But it was successful, in part, because there was strong support by the CEO. There are now 8 new products in the pipeline.

The University of Melbourne developed SyncoMate a device for enhancing intimacy. Intimacy is a broad term which applies to the relations between any two individuals that are close – including children with parents. The customer research included observations over 7 weeks and many interactions with the 6 couples studies, 3 of which had children, that were studied. One assessment shown was a chart on the dimensions of intimacy. From this came the notion of Phatic Interactions. These are interactions that do not inform, do not exchange facts, and do not express thoughts. But they  strengthen social bonds, maintain social contact and reaffirm connectedness. As a result of a design workshop they developed the concept for a Synchromate which supports on going connectedness which meets the phatic interaction need.

Nokia User Experience User Research described research on how to improve what individuals carry with them. They studied 17 individuals in 4 cities around the world. At the center of what individuals carry are money, keys and phone. The extended mobile essentials include: ID, payments, medical, appearance and entertainment but the use varies by individual and time. One of the issues is that individuals forget the mobile essentials. From this work Nokia created a concept which helps individuals remember items. This is like a shelf but it has a display and can communicate with the cell phone.

Microsoft Research, Cambridge England, has studied the uses of large displays for shared and social spaces. This project is called Dynamo and it explores informal interaction in shared social spaces. During the design process user were exposed to lab studies, field studies and demos. The tests included: single and multiple uses, mouse and keyboardinput, privacy and access control. Many of the social interaction techniques using the display were interesting in showing how individuals can participate socially. The research showed varying levels of engagement by the users, there was some knowledge transfer and social conventions formed around the digital surface.


WAVE Comments

We were hoping to find the keys to the magic kingdom of user experience optimization at DUX. There were no keys. Instead this conference exposed mini-steps. In context though, it is important that the issue is getting posed.  That is, how to maximize what users get from technology?

The concept is pretty simple – listen to one’s customers. But this trivializes what is going on. There are multiple dynamics that emerged in the many discussions and presentations.  Overall, we were left with the realization that there is no answer to user experience optimization.  Rather, this is the beginning of a journey to find how technology can be made more relevant.

As we listened to many of the presentations, it became evident that one of the tallest barriers are the companies themselves. Bank of American had important limitations on what it could do in integrating the online banking web sites for Bank of America and Fleet Bank. Other presenters described how the business process or culture limited what could be done to improve the user experience. Further, the cell phone industry focuses on user optimization to the extent that it enhances revenue. Thus, there is no clear path to improving the user experience and what can actually be accomplished is moderated by many factors, including the business itself.

Reflecting on DUX, one has a better understanding about the efforts to improve the user experience. But there are significant limitations:

The lack of quantitative results.

We found it frustrating that the scientific method was lacking. Yet, one has to keep in mind that many of the participants are from the arts and their work is about creating art which others can use.

How does the new and old mix?

That is, where is it best to apply traditional means for improving the user experience with the new methods of understanding the customer.

Is there a best goal?

Will user experience or value creation be a never ending goal not to be reached but sought after or an achievable target. The Draconian evolution of markets and technology would say there is no achievable end goal. Efficient markets would indicate just the opposite.


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Page updated 1/24/07
Copyright 4th Wave Inc, 2007