Susan J Michael

Bolt Peters User Research Friday

In Product Design, User Research on 20/02/2010 at 2:42 pm

Yesterday I attended a fun event at Bolt Peters entitled “Advanced User Research Methods and Cocktails”. (Tweet #URF10)  Nate Bolt is a bright guy who knows how to put the fun in any gathering.

Many of the speakers were graduates of the UC San Diego Cognitive Science program. The site describes the program as “study of how people, animals and computers think, act and learn.” I didn’t know computers could think, but that’s what’s so cool about this, I guess.

I enjoyed the thoughts put forth by Brynn Evans about social search. The idea that search is a social activity that is improved by social networks and inputs is intriguing. Evans uses a variant of the CIT – Critical Incident Technique to understand the context of a user interaction.

Ed Langstroth gave a fun talk about working for both VW and Nissan. His comparisons of working for a German (Bob the Builder) company versus a Japanese (Curious George) company were entertaining and insightful. It was interesting to hear about the loooong development cycles and waterfall methods used to develop automobiles. Explains a lot. Ed and his team may have conducted research and strategy 5 years before a car goes on the market. Due to distinct phases of development (Research, Design, Manufacturing, Marketing) it is difficult to be Agile.

Thus, features like the “Party Mode” button in the 2010 Toyota Forerunner. This feature evolved in response to a request for expanded audio settings to be applied when the rear hatch of the vehicle was open. According to Toyota, “raises the bass and transfers the equalization to the rear of the vehicle.” Guess partying is a requirement for that mode. Why not label it with more info about its function, such as “Audio Boost”?

Rob Aseron from Zygna games talked about a research project he did at Yahoo! regarding how users perceive what is and isn’t clickable. In summary, due to cognitive load, an underlined link is 30% faster to perceive and act upon. However, non-underlined links were still correctly perceived 80% of the time, so there is not a huge difference.

My only complaint about the workshop was the low usability of the meeting environment and presentation visuals. The room was long and narrow, with a giant screen at the end.

User Research Friday 2010 -4 by bolt | peters.

So, unless you were sitting in the front row, you could not see the entire screen. To add to the frustration, many of the presenters had designed PPT screens that had low contrast between type and background, too much information, and other sins that would drive Tufte to drink. Physically, because of the shape and set-up of the room, 125 people had to squeeze down a narrow aisle between folding chairs (think airplane aisle) whenever a break was called. I think Nate got enough feedback to convince him that a larger venue will be better next time. And maybe some of his designer friends can review/improve the slides before the presenters show them.

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