Archive for March, 2015

Designing for the most common use cases: sometimes the outliers really do bite

In my job as a software user interface designer,  I  try to design for the most common use cases — so that the most frequent (or most important) are the ones that are easiest to accomplish.  Sometimes I really do decide that a user has to go to another screen  make additional clicks to get a rare task completed.

With this in mind, I worked with the people installing our hot tub a few years ago. The Sales person recommended that we put it as close to the house as possible. “The closer to the house, the more often used” was his adage.  So we decided to place it about 4 feet from the “human” (not car) garage door.

It worked well for several years. Our favorite time of year to sit in the tub is winter. We get a great view of the starts, and there’s nothing like  sitting in the tub and watching light snowflakes fall.

Until this winter.

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We just had too much snow. And no place to put it.  I dreaded cleaning off the hot tub, and the reward of sitting it in almost did not make up for it.

I questioned whether I’d made the right decision to put it just behind the garage. Especially when snow from the roof fell on the path I had just cleared to the tub.  This winter, the location was bad.  And I was really annoyed.  I had to pause and think about the other, less harsh winters and how we hand’t had such an issue. I am sure that many users of the software I’ve designed have felt similar emotions when they’d have to go to a different area for preferences, or find an “Advanced” button.

In the long run, the placement of the hot tub has been good compared to the 10 years that we’ve been using it.  It was worth the annoyance of the snow this winter.

I hope that most of the users can understand that when it comes to an annoying moment or two when using software.


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Innovation is Alive and Well in Education

Last night I had the opportunity to be a “UX Expert” at an “Expert-a-thon” arranged by the Boston area User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA) and LearnLaunch. What a fun evening! There were 8 education-related start-ups there, I got to choose 2  for whom to be a UX expert.  That meant I heard their general pitch and then we talked about ways to improve various aspects of the user experience for their product.

I was able to spend some detailed time with Authess and Ni-O toys.   Authess is interested in authentic assessment (beyond multiple-choice tests), and  might focus first on university education, while Ni-O was at the other end of the spectrum, making hardware development kits for kids and leveraging 3-D printing.

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CEO Paul Crockett of Authess

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CEO Nadav Liebermann and CPO Geut Gonen of Ni-O Toys

About 30 other “UX experts” showed up as well, and I even got to re-connect with some former colleagues.

I also had the opportunity to meet and chat with Asad Butt, the Operations director of the LearnLaunch Accelerator.  He gave me more background on how the accelerator is assisting education-related start-ups. I think this is really cool stuff.  Asad mentioned that they are always looking for UX mentors. This could be a commitment of visiting the accelerator in downtown Boston a few times, or participating via web conference to provide feedback on product design. If you are interested, feel free to drop him a note at

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