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2010 happens to be the 20th anniversary of Improving a Human-Computer Dialogue, the ACM paper by Jakob Neilsen and Rolf Molich that introduced the concept of employing a list of heuristics when assessing the usability of human-computer interfaces. Four years later, Jakob Nielsen made history again with his famous 1994 heuristics, which are heavily used in usability evaluations even today. In the past decade, additional lists of heuristics related to various aspects of typical UX methodologies have been compiled, yet Nielsen's original list continues to defy the usual laws of longevity that typically constrain the web world. Most likely, this has happened due to the generic nature of the 10 heuristics, which provide largely general statements and consequently, most usability problems can be easily molded to fit the items on Nielsen's list.
Early in my 10 year career as a UX professional, I've used Nielsen's 10 heuristics as the de-facto standard whenever I've performed usability evaluations. As time went by, I gradually went away from Nielsen's original list and I've gradually started employing additional heuristics that are less general and allow to clearly identify modern usability / user experience pitfalls of web-based systems. While the number of heuristics I typically use for an expert heuristics evaluation now stands north of 60 and because I believe that some of them are more relevant than others, I've decided to choose my own top 10 as an homage to Nielsen's timeless original list.
If you haven't heard the news yet, Mr. Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet (a.k.a. 'His Clerkiness' for brevity reasons for the duration of this post) recently launched his very own slice of web real estate at http://clerk.gc.ca. Nota Bene: no disrespect is intended by using the term 'His Clerkiness', it is simply a catchy, affectionate term that has been making the rounds on Twitter about a week ago, a day before the official launch of the website.
On its own, the very presence of the site marks a bit of a shift in the way the Government of Canada is interacting with its internal (PS employees) and external audience (the public at-large). A real-time Twitter feed (and not a link to a Twitter account) is prominently featured on the main page. CLF bilingualism requirements are met by way of echoing two different Twitter accounts: @WayneWouters for the English version, and @WayneGWouters for those on the other side of the Alexandria Bridge.
So far, His Clerkiness' newly adopted microblogging persona has been relatively quiet. There are only three tweets in the timeline, one announcing the launch of the website, a link to the Clerk's Annual Report and a Thank You note for those who provided feedback on the website. Well, Your Clerkiness, if you haven't received a lot of responses, consider this article my very own way of providing feedback to your new virtual endeavour.
Another relatively unusual component for a GoC CLF-compliant website that can be found on the main page is the presence of a Flash video introduction. Historically, flash video introductions have been used on social networking and blog landing pages. More recently, flash video intros have become increasingly popular within political websites. They are short, official, effective and easy to create, so kudos to His Clerkiness (and/or his communications team) for broadening the CLF spectrum. For those of you keeping track, you can find a second flash video in the How We Help section.
The first mistake made out there is assuming that wireframes are primarily a design deliverable rather than an information architecture (IA) deliverable. The right interpretation should be self-explanatory. I personally use wireframes to demonstrate information, task flow and page flow rather than branding or graphics design. However, the notion of a wireframe has been expanded lately to include everything from physical hand-drawn paper screen mockups to high-fidelity, fully branded screen designs. This being said, my personal preference is somewhere in the middle as I prefer to use specialized applications to create them as a basis of discussion of content and overall structure rather than visual display.
If anyone's ever looked at a typical wireframe (and i say 'typical' very loosely as everyone personalizes the way they create them), you will notice that it consists of a collection of boxes, controls and annotations that make up the skeleton of an application screen. Each box may be an image, a section, a cell or a placeholder for application content.
When presenting screen design in the form of wireframes, application controls are also included. For example, in the case of a wireframe created for a web application, representations corresponding to HTML form controls will be added to the screen design in order to make the wireframe appear as an early drawing of the final product.
Over the past couple of years I have travelled and worked in some markets that feature an extremely vibrant UX scene. Whether it was New York, Los Angeles or Toronto, all these big cities had an active UX and design community that helps develop, promote and create business for user experience professionals. Meetups, BarCamps, DemoCamps, they happen weekly, so if you want to network with like-minded professionals in your field, there's ample opportunity to do so.
Ottawa on the other hand does not provide any of that 'infrastructure'. There are great UX minds here, from academia (Avi Parush and his team at Carleton's HotLab), to accessibility gurus (Derek Featherstone), to the designers and managers involved with the creation and evolution of most Federal Government websites, they all exist, but they either work and participate elsewhere (who am I to talk right ?) or simply choose not to participate at all.
I'm currently staffed on a huge multi-year project (millions of dollars, a project team of over 100, a UI team in double digits etc.) and I just realized one sad truth. Whenever I'm involved with a large modernization project (or upgrade if you prefer), usability and common sense seem to be thrown out the window.
The fact that we are ultimately talking 1000+ screens (of which not even 10% are already implemented) scares everyone whenever usability flaws are being brought into discussion. I'm not sure if it's a matter of scale, or simply the fear to take risks. Rearchitecting the entire presentation layer would have been the ideal thing to do here, and would've made a huge difference in the quality of the application. My guesstimate is that this would have cost close to $1 million, but either way, that's insignificant compared to the entire cost of the project. So why do technology and functional teams run away from better design ?
accessibility branding business canUX community conference design GoC CLF marketplace ottawa privacy project management public sector research security standards TEDx thoughts usability user experience user interface UX tools UXcamp wireframes
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