Megan Leigh McDonald
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'Don't make me think.' Steve Krug

Megan Leigh McDonald

Parlons-nous…what I learn from trying to speak French…

Last night I attended a French conversation group to get some practice and build some confidence in my speaking abilities. It’s interesting what came out of that for me and how that applies to my normal 9 to 5. Upon reflection afterward and during my long bike ride through the rain back home, I realized that learning another language builds some very important skills.

For example, it challenges one to think on one’s feet. There were a lot of people with different levels of knowledge. Choosing partners to talk with was somewhat challenging in that regard. On top of who looked interesting, I also wanted to choose someone who was at or around the same level as myself, but who would provide a slight challenge. For awhile I spoke to two very lovely ladies, a teacher/artist and an architect. We chatted away half the evening, talking about art and Paris.

Later in the evening, I found myself in a group with the ‘organitrice’ and some actual French people. I was a little surprised that French people would attend, but pleasantly so. At any rate, I found myself needing to strategize the way I phrased my thoughts in order to communicate clearly. Not having as many nouns and verbs in my repetoire meant that I needed to think creatively in order to describe at least the concept of what I was trying to say. I found that the more experienced speakers were more than happy to translate my attempts by reflecting back to me a better way to say it.

I have to say, I left feeling, well a little smarter and a little more practiced. If you’re at all interested in joining this group, here’s the information.

Agile User Experience Design Group – San Francisco – June Meetup

I recently attended the June meetup for the Agile UX Design Group here in SF at Pivotal Labs. It’s always really interesting to me to walk into someone else’s workplace. It’s always palpably different than every other place I’ve worked at or been to.

Flash Tag Cloud

Back in the day, I took a PhD class from an advertising exec who presented us with papers and testing results that suggested people value the concept of ‘gaming’ in their everyday experience. Certianly, Jesse Schell would agree with that premise given his dramatic and engaging speech “When games invade real life“.

Recently, a link to this cool looking interactive flash-based 3D tag cloud was passed my way and it turned out to be a great example that highlights the benefits of adding enjoyment. There was a short debate about its benefits and foibles. It was a bit glitchy when it comes to signaling relevancy by size (the relative size changes depending on user interaction instead of being set).

The thing that occurred to most of the participants in the discussion thread was that it needs to have a good foundation of meta data in the first place…which could be said of either a static or flash-based version. So, my follow on was that the real test here would be to test it for engagement and findability against its static counterpart. Now, that, I would like to see – I’m betting that given equal implementation, users will enjoy the flash-based tag cloud more.

I think it’s more than the fact that it’s fun. It’s also ‘smooth’ or fluid. I couldn’t help but think of Prezi, the presentation software that allows for fluid motion and zoom controls, adding a kind of momentum and fluidity to the art of presentation. It gives the user a sense of velocity or a sense of ‘speed’. If this is done correctly, it doesn’t leave the user feeling out of control. The 3D flash-based tag cloud shared this sense of speed with Prezi by giving me a feeling that I would find my results faster. Intuitively I know when I’m mousing over its topics that I won’t necessarily find what I’m looking for faster, but it felt like it would and the feeling was nice…perhaps something I don’t have an option to feel often throughout my dialy routines, certainly not in drive-time traffic!

So why, in the midst of release cycles and product requirements, do we forgo designing experiences that add these more abstract and nuanced feelings into the mix? It seems like, as UX professionals, we adhere so strictly to the fundamentals that if there’s even one minor problem, we discount it as a viable option. But, here’s the paradox: if we’ve learned anything in the past fifteen years, it’s that consumers are willing to put up with a few minor indiscretions if what they’re getting is better, more engaging or more fun than what they currently have. After all improving a user’s feeling about the product is also supposed to be at the core of what we do.

Usability Testing Tips

Want to learn some nice tricks to get your testing in DIY or guerilla style? Check this article on A List Apart out.

Really informative with lots of juicy links to new and innovative web-ware. I especially liked the demo of Tree Jack, which is ‘like card sorting in reverse’.