Archive for May, 2011

Your Browser is Your New Computer: Google Chrome – the New OS?

Google Chrome Notebook
Order. Yours. Now?

Due out on June 15th, 2011.

What it is:

  • It is a notebook that is essentially a mobile device – uses 3G, mobile data networks, wi-fi
  • It only has the google Chrome browser installed
  • 8 second bootup
  • Cloud-based data storage and syncing – log in from anywhere – your data is the same
  • Sandbox Security – one tab corrupts, the other tabs stay functioning
  • Auto installs updates from the cloud – user does nothing
  • Many apps allow the user to continue working without being online.
  • Restores from the cloud or a “known good backup”….or hardware backed recovery mode
  • Prints using Google Cloud Print
  • Can set up user permissions and guest mode
  • Everything works inside your browser
  • Use the Chrome web store to find new Chrome apps
  • Upon bootup – the system conducts a health check (Verified boot)

The Chrome Lifestyle
It sounds a bit like an extreme version of what Apple’s MobileMe product wanted to do. Once you are committed to the lifestyle – you are really committed! I am personally committed to the MobileMe lifestyle, but it has not been without consequence (see upcoming post).

Think about your current work day. Is there anything that you do that you would absolutely NOT be able to do on the cloud or in Chrome or with Google apps?

Google has cloud-based:

  • document creation
  • storage
  • contacts
  • mail
  • calendars
  • news
  • bookmarks
  • syncing
  • printing

This adds new and deep meaning to the term World Wide Web. Everything in your world is connected back to you INSIDE of GOOGLE. Imagine yourself in a Google bubble, connecting everything that Facebook does not. Facebook does not have an address book, a collaborative document workflow, data storage, contacts, but it can connect independent apps that have such capabilities. The potential of Google acquiring Facebook is potentially a way to marry your Google self (you used to be able to log in to many places using your google ID) to your Facebook social self with an actual single sign-on concept. Facebook however, maintains its independence which, in this scenario that I’ve explained, seems healthy.

So what about you? Are you currently viewing the world through the eyes of Google or Facebook?

More about Google Chromebook
More about Chrome OS Release
More about Google Cloud Printing
What’s Next Google + Facebook

Plain Language and User Experience

Recently I attended Ginny Redish’s Plain language, Web Sites, Documents, and UX: You can do all that!, event hosted by the Usability Professional Association (UPA), DC Chapter.

As usual, when I attend dc events like IXDA and other miscellaneous UX meetups, I am usually the anomaly visual designer in the room.

The thing that I enjoyed about this event was the appreciation and importance of communication and information design and all the people that were there supporting it!

I am probably not alone in thinking that everything that is designed for humans by humans, needs to have some form of thought around communication and information design, whether it’s a website, a book, a pet robot, etc.

Ginny Redish brought up a great point. She mentioned that if you have an FAQ on your website, then you haven’t designed the site correctly, you have not engaged conversationally with the user and have not given them what they came there for – in plain language. If they cannot find what they are looking for and have to resort to an FAQ, it is a failed design.What she said, reminded me of how I think of charts and graphics. If you have to explain a lot and have a lot of text and verbiage, it seems like a failed visual design.

What Happens in an Actual Web Redesign Process…
As a visual designer on a user experience team in enterprise IT consulting, this event made me think about when terminology and language issues surface and then – what happens next….

My experience goes something like this:

a) “Oh you want to focus on the terminology and wording? That’s for the business to figure out. Let’s just get the navigation done and they can populate it with whatever words they want.”

Problem – the words have to be clear on where the user is being taken when clicking on one of those words. Once they get to the target page, the path should make sense to the user.

b) “Oh, let’s create a style guide with visual design guidelines and code snippets.”

Problem – where is the guide for implementing friendly and relevant language the converses with the users, rather than, tells users what the business thinks they need to know. Where is the guideline for developers when new functionality is added. Where are the guidelines for their new verbiage?

c) “We have a content strategy document – this is where we capture words and what goes in a dropdown.”

Problem – this is per piece of functionality , so ultimately who owns the overall language strategy across several apps within a main app? The tone and voice need to remain consistent throughout.

Parallel Redesigning as Part of the Process
Content and plain language are like fraternal twins. When a website is being redesigned after like 15 years of being the same, the conversation between the business and its customers also wants to change, but that is not always realized right away. As the site navigation and processes become redesigned and more efficient – the business may realize that the words and verbiage like instructions and information, can or also need to become more efficient and clear.

So how can we address plain language to improve the user experience in a website redesign project and in consulting? Where does it fit in the process? If it is such a valuable and proven contributing factor to long-term customer relationship success and ROI, why don’t we pay more attention to it?

Obama passed the plain language act in October, 2010 in order to create documents that are digestible. That is the essence of good design. Usability and relevance are key. Just like the accessibility push in government over the last few years at the national level, it seems like the plain language push will also soon come into focus and filter out into the mainstream.






#IdeaNotebook: May is National Inventors’ Month

National Inventors' Month poster

National Inventors' Month

May is National Inventors’ Month. Established in 1998, this celebration of inventors and their contributions to the world had been celebrated in August until this year. The sponsors of the event – Inventors Digest, the Academy of Applied Science, and the United Inventors Association of the USA – decided that May would better coincide with the National Inventors Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and also to occur within the school year to reach out to students to increase awareness and interest. A senate resolution earlier this year officially recognized the change.

Although May is almost over, you still can recognize the accomplishments of inventors. For some quick and amusing insights into inventors and inventions, visit Inventors Digest’s Fun Facts ,’s May Calendar of Famous Inventions, Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents, and, which lists these milestones of invention on this date in history:

  • 1930 Richard Drew invents masking tape
  • 1919 Charles Strite patents pop-up toaster
  • 1895 Birt Acres patents film camera/projector
  • 1844 Samuel F.B. Morse completes the first telegraph line
  • 1796 James S. McLean patents a piano

If you are an inventor, thank you. Please consider sharing what you invented in the comments, and be recognized for your achievements.

Payments using your Smartphone

If there were not enough “ah-ha” type of technologies pushing the sales of smartphones, one that has not received much love was Near Field Communications.  NFC is a technology for data exchange between compatible devices at close range, about 1.5 inches is the maximum distance. Approved as a standard in 2003, it has stood in the shadows of its bigger brother, Bluetooth until handset device makers started embedding the NFC controllers in smartphones in 2007.  If you Google on NFC, you will find a number of examples of how enterprising businesses are starting to take a look at NFC.  For instance, in London, NFC-enabled phones could interact with movie posters at a theater, viewing a preview clip and link to the film’s Facebook page.  However, the capability that has piqued everyone’s interest is payment processing, the ability to pay with your smartphone like you would a debit or credit card. Despite the interest, other than a Starbucks pilot of NFC that received quite a bit of press last year, not much has been done with the NFC capability by developers or businesses.

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Posted in News

A conversation about privacy, security, and UX

Last week, I followed, nearly real time via Twitter, how Sean Power successfully recovered his stolen laptop. The full story is available, but here are a few excerpted tweets from @SeanPower on 13 May 2011:

If you’re getting up to speed:

Laptop with eye filling entire screen

Laptop on the lookout (Image by

Laptop was taken 4 days ago, but I had to fly to Canada the following morning. Filled out an online report w/the result “sorry!”

I have installed on my computer. Today, I saw screenshots of the guy including him doing a bunch of stuff on my computer.

apparently there’s a tweetup at 24 Prince street now (oficina latina) where my laptop is (or maybe it’s “was” now).

Laptop found! woo. HUUUUGE thanks @nickreese

But yes, Internet – I’m about 800km away, and I got my stolen laptop back.

Holy ****. Please send TONS of karma to @girilinpurplesarong and to @nickreese. It’s all them.

(girl in purple sarong isn’t on Twitter)

For the record. How cool is this? I have never met or heard of @nickreese in my life. Karma points for this guy? **** yeah.

Thanks for being there with me, Twitter. Glad it was a happy ending for all involved.

The tools that facilitated this are relatively new: Open source Prey allowed Mr. Power to track the laptop and detect the person who had possession of the laptop. Twitter allowed him to reach out to people willing to help, two of whom tracked the person and the laptop to a public place. It allowed him to also keep in touch with one of those people in the tense time before the person who had the laptop surrendered it. Since reuniting with his laptop, Mr. Power has praised Dropbox for helping him recover his work:

Woo! thanks @dropbox. All my files are syncing now! Your tool saved my butt and days/weeks of headaches. <3

Open source, social networks, and the cloud all contributed to this happy ending. On this blog about innovation, I could probably stop this post right here. Mr. Power, however, rightfully noted that another conversation is needed:

There is a much more important conversation to be had here around privacy, rights, findability in a realtime digital age.

I look forward to reading more of that larger conversation when he continues it. His observation brought a lot of thoughts to mind in the meantime. Read the rest of this post »

Integrating the real world with mobile: Yelp art

Yelp Art

The explosion of smartphone ownership over the past few years has brought with it all manner of software designed to tie mobile devices with a person’s experiences in the real world. I’ve got friends developing some pretty exciting location-based game apps and I’m sure these will get richer and more immersive as more people move through the world equipped with GPS + online devices. “Have Smartphone Will Travel” now reads the card of a man?

I recently visited a tucked-away new restaurant that featured a tie-in back to the mobile world in an interesting way. As the picture shows, the restaurant chose to adorn the entry wall with posterboard-backed blowups of favorable Yelp reviews, some featuring the reviewer’s autograph. While not the most stylish way to decorate a place, it’s just a small non-franchised burger joint that probably wouldn’t ever win people over with ambiance alone, so they felt appropriate hanging there. Of course restaurants have hung up favorable reviews on their walls for years, but I liked the way this specifically addressed the tribe reviewer and took the opportunity to reinforce and encourage information sharing for the masses. I even drafted a brief review while sitting there, something I don’t usually do unless I’m on vacation.

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#IdeaNotebook: The best thing before sliced bread

Bread slicing machine, c. 1930

St. Louis electrical bread slicer, 1930

Sliced bread is the innovation by which all innovations are measured:  “the best thing since sliced bread.” That phrase spawns the question: “What was the best thing before sliced bread?” Attempts to answer that question range from humorous to contemplative. I recently discovered another possible answer: User research! “Slice of Life” in the April 2011 edition of Savuer, reported that Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of the first commercially viable bread slicing machine, “talked to housewives throughout America to determine the desired slice thickness”. The 1928 article “SLICED BREAD IS MADE HERE” in the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune stated: “Considerable research was made in order to arrive at a thickness of slice which would enjoy the widest possible public acceptance and it was decided that a slice, slightly less than one half of an inch would be most suitable.” (Quoted in “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SLICED BREAD!” by Catherine Stortz Ripley Constitution-Tribune, 08 July, 2009) Read the rest of this post »

The Role of Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unmoderated Usability Testing is becoming a very popular tool in the User Experience profession. It allows for design teams to gather feedback from a large pool of people early and often, especially during times where the design team simply doesn’t have direct access to their user base. Yes, there are downsides to doing Unmoderated Testing when considering it as a replacement to  Moderated Testing, but I don’t see Unmoderated Testing as a replacement. I think there is room for both techniques if you use them together, and you use the results from each to inform the other. Unmoderated Testing tools provide several unique advantages that either difficult to collect using traditional methods, or would require so much time that a projects timeline get too large to stomach.

Complementing Traditional Testing

Here at Perficient, performing traditional usability testing methods is part of our design process. We ensure that the designs we create on our projects are exposed to their target audience before ever putting the “Done” stamp on them. Lately, we’ve been pairing up our traditional usability testing methods with an extra round of unmoderated usability testing. We do this to ensure that the final design changes we make really are the most appropriate, but it also allows us validate the design with a larger audience. The benefits of doing this are clear when we get challenged with “But you only tested with 10 users? How do you know that change will work once we go live?” Doing this extra round of testing also allows us to ask different questions and collect a different kind of data.

Combining the Qualitative and the Quantitative

Traditional Usability Testing is all about the qualitative data. Sure we collect some quantitative during a moderated usability test, but nothing on the scale that unmoderated offers. After going through a round of moderated testing, you begin to want to ask different questions of the participants. Or explore different areas of the design that you didn’t get to during the usability tests. Throwing in the extra round of unmoderated testing gives you that chances to focus on s other non-mission critical features of a design, and provides you hard numbers on user path analysis and success/failure/abandonment rates. (And more depending on the tool.) Collecting this type of information from 50-100 additional participants would take weeks using traditional methods, using an unmoderated tool you can do it over a weekend. (Assuming you’ve got a large pool of potential users to recruit from.)

Unmoderated Tools Will Never Replace In-Person Testing

If you’ve even sat in the same room with a “user” and watched them use a product or service, you know that experience will never be replaced by an unmoderated online tool or online web conferencing service. The amount of information you can collect simply by watching a person’s body language can provide the design team with tons of insight and inspiration to improve upon the design that is being tested. We know, and understand, the value of this kind of usability testing. With the introduction to these new unmoderated tools, we are able to build upon the techniques we already know and use to learn more about our “users” and validate our ideas more often. The more we are able to do this, the better the experience will be for users once that design gets released out into the wild.

Resources For Unmoderated Research & Testing

UX Zeitgeist Remote Research Topic –

Remote Research –

Pros and Cons of Remote Usability Testing –

Nate Bolts IxD 10 Remote Research Presentation –

IAS 09 Recording Portable Research: Observing Users on the Go –

Posted in Musings

Progressive Enhancement and Effective Browser Support

I always enjoy Paul Boag’s posts on Boagworld when I get a chance to read them. His most recent post, Where are My Rounded Corners?, includes a great downloadable factsheet that helps explain how static design comps play out in various browsers. Here’s an excerpt:

“One of the biggest areas of confusion among our clients is progressive enhancement. They wonder why the beautiful design they signed off doesn’t look the same in older browsers…” He goes on to say that to address this, one thing they are doing is showing clients the designs in the browser rather than as static images.

Another excerpt:

“For too long we have treated design on the web like designing for print. This is changing. The web is a very different medium to print. When people view your website they do so with a variety of different browsers (from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome) and devices (from laptops to mobile phones). Each device and software version displays websites in subtlety different ways. Where in print you know everybody will see the same thing, on the web there are no such guarantees.”

Now, I’m not a developer so I don’t know exactly how to code for progressive enhancement, but Boagworld has numerous past posts that delve further into the details. I appreciate his conclusion in a related post that, “On projects with limited budget and time, effort is better allocated to important elements such as understanding business objectives or user testing. ”

Need help with any or all aspects of web site or application development, from strategy to construction to maintenance? Perficient has a full suite of offerings. Contact us today.


Mobile Cloud Computing and Corporate IT

Just this morning, I encountered two different articles that discussed the intersection of mobile devices and cloud computing.  At first, I put it down to the accelerated hype that these two technologies have seen over the past couple of years.  The idea that if both are “really good”, then the intersection must be something like “4x good” but couched in terms of vendor-speak like “Today, it’s not just about how quickly a developer can create an experience, but how quickly that developer can build apps that work with unique devices across a dozen platforms” (Jamin Spitzer, Director of Platform Strategies, Microsoft on Microsoft Azure’s integration tools for iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile).

The rise of smartphones and mobile devices cannot be denied as one of the most significant technologies to impact both work and home since the PC.  The pressure that corporate IT is now feeling to roll out smartphone apps for both the customer and internal core IT applications is rising.  But where does “mobile cloud computing” come in?

Mobile cloud computing was first defined back in early 2010 as “the availability of cloud computing services in a mobile ecosystem. This incorporates many elements, including consumer, enterprise, femtocells, transcoding, end-to-end security, home gateways, and mobile broadband-enabled services.”

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Posted in News