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Dec 2005 Contents

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World Usability Day in Boston

by Judy Blostein, Editor-in-Chief of the UPA Voice and the UPA Boston Board Members:
Chauncey Wilson, President
Susan Rice, Vice President
Susie Robson, Treasurer
Chris Hass, Secretary.

Setting Up for World Usability Day at the Museum of Science
Setting up for World Usability Day at the Museum of Science.

Boston's little-known secret is that regardless of how renowned its citizens are for their literacy and tech savvy, we find consumer electronics just as hard to use as everyone else. The World Usability Day planning committee knew that as we raised awareness of usability and its related fields we had to communicate a secondary message: "If it's hard to use, it's not your fault." Who better to help illuminate that message than the Museum of Science, Boston? An early supporter for our World Usability Day planning efforts, the Museum not only volunteered to help envision event activities but to host them. Thus, when November 3 brought clear-blue skies and chilly winds to Boston, the Museum, the World Usability Day team of UPA Boston, Boston CHI and our corporate sponsors brought interactive and educational fun to the Museum's visitors.

The Broken Signs display at the reception desk was a big hit with many of the museum visitors.
The Broken Signs display at the reception desk was a big hit
with many of the museum visitors.

Attendees were greeted in the lobby of the museum by UPA volunteers and got their first look at a display of Broken Signs (thanks to Mark Hurst, www.thisisbroken.com).

In addition, visitors challenged the clock and each other in The Alarm Clock Alley Rally, examined life-sized photos of doors to predict which way they opened in MITRE's Doors Exhibit, evaluated touch-screen voting systems in MIT Media Lab's AccuVote Demonstration Ballot, and watched teams of usability professionals review the websites and software products in LabFest. Moreover, some usability researchers put Boston's signage and cell-phone use to the test during the World Usability Day Field Events. Visitors and volunteers recapped the day's events at the Evening Gala overlooking the Charles River.

The event was an unprecedented success. Over 1000 people attended the event and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston issued a Mayoral Proclamation declaring the day "World Usability Day'" in Boston. The framed proclamation was on view throughout the day. View the proclamation.

A special thanks to our sponsors, who included Staples, Inc., Lycos, Bentley College Design and Usability Center, Molecular, and BostonCHI. All made the most of the day and reported afterwards that it was time and support well spent. Lycos displayed "Angelfire" a new social networking feature of Planet Lycos, and other sponsors used their booths, signage and banners to showcase the importance of usability to their organizations. Susan Rice, Boston UPA Vice President, was instrumental in obtaining our sponsors for this event.

LabFest

Local usability professionals work diligently with product developers to provide recommendations for improving a website application.
Local usability professionals work diligently with product developers
to provide recommendations for improving a website application.

Eight Boston companies, non-profit and for-profit, were invited to have their web sites or web applications undergo a quick usability evaluation from local usability professionals. Each session lasted one hour and produced a list of things that currently worked well as well as a list of potential problems and some possible solutions.

Non-profit companies, such as The Home for Little Wanderers, got a better understanding of what can make a better, more intuitive, usable web site. For-profit companies, such as Streambase, Inc. also received the same type of information for their web applications.

All companies were extremely pleased with the information they received and were very excited to begin making the suggested changes. By the end of the day, some reviewers had volunteered their expertise to help the non-profits with further usability expertise to take their web sites to the next level. LabFest was designed and organized by Susie Robson, Boston UPA Treasurer.

World Usability Day Field Events
During the usability field events, two cross-disciplinary teams of volunteers roamed the streets surrounding the Museum of Science. One team interviewed people at a nearby subway station about their cell phones and the other team observed signage and examined way finding around the area. Both teams provided their insight during the evening reception.

These two field events were designed and organized by Chris Hass, Boston UPA Secretary and Chauncey Wilson, Boston UPA President.

Alarm Clock Alley Rally

Museum guests are challenged with the task of setting various alarm clocks.
Museum guests are challenged with the task of setting various alarm clocks.

This exhibit challenged people to set either the time or alarm for five styles of digital alarm clocks and decide how easy or hard to use the clocks were.

Designed like a typical usability study, participants were asked to predict how easy the clock would be to use on a scale of one to five before beginning. Moderators recorded the time it took participants to set the clock or alarm. After the study, participants were asked to rank how easy the clock was to use and for feedback about the experience.

The exhibit was designed by Chris Hass of the American Institute of Research (AIR) in Concord, MA.

How Does This Door Open Anyway?

Using hand-held voting devices, museum guests vote for which way
Using hand-held voting devices, museum guests vote for which way
they think the door opens.

Participants were shown a series of greatly enlarged photos of doors and asked to predict if the door opened by pushing or pulling on the left-hand or right-hand side. Children (and adults) loved this exhibit because it let them vote on how doors opened.

After voting, the results displayed instantly in a horizontal bar graph on a laptop. The voting device, provided by Dream Machines, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN, was about the size of a TV remote with a keypad and had a small LCD display.

This exhibit was designed and supervised by Bryn Dews, Project Manager at the Mitre Corporation. She was assisted by Stan Drozdetski, Human Factors Engineer at Mitre. When asked about the impact of this exhibit on the participants Stan said, "It's getting the message out that if you run into things that are hard to use, it's not you!"

AccuVote Demonstration Ballot
Jointly developed by MIT and Caltech, this exhibit displayed two touch-screen voting systems. Participants were invited to answer questions about what they liked and did not like about each system by using each application.

Allie Jacobs from MIT, a student of Ted Selker, MIT Media Lab professor and co-Director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Project, was on-hand to answer questions about the exhibit.

See www.vote.caltech.edu for information about this 10 year project to correct the problems that threatened the 2000 U.S. Presidential election.

Star Wars: Directions Make a Difference
Boston's Museum of Science is one of the few museums in the country that has a Research Department. This three person group, headed by Christine Reich, ensures that the Museum's exhibits follow good universal design principles and tests the exhibits extensively to ensure that the public can use them easily.

The Research group is especially concerned about making their exhibits accessible to users who may be blind or have low vision, low mobility, or learning disabilities. Elissa Chin, one of the department member's proudly said, "We're up and coming!"

Elissa explained that the Star Wars: Directions Make a Difference exhibit was a prototype. It had a set of directions to help determine which set of direction helped the participants the most. The team evaluated three contexts (set of directions) and evaluated how the contexts impacted the learning of the 12 families who were participants, and selected the best one for their display at World Usability Day.

Common Household Items

Common household exhibit designed by the Museum of Science.
Common household exhibit designed by the Museum of Science.

The Research Department's third member, Liz Kunz, monitored the other Museum of Science exhibit, a table covered with common household objects, such as pots, potato mashers, phones and more. The object of this exhibit, Liz explained, was to show how products should be designed for people of all ages, including older adults. Some items on this table are easier to use than others," she said, and "good design can help someone perform an everyday task more easily."

Evening Festivities

The evening reception included food, raffles, presentations, and interactivity.
The evening reception included food, raffles, presentations, and interactivity.

The evening gala reception, held at the Museum of Science, was attended by over 80 usability professionals.

The night started with a review of the day's events. Elizabeth Rosenzweig, one of the people who initially thought up World Usability Day, gave an overview of what happened worldwide during the 36 hour event, a timeline, and how Boston fit in to the timeline.

Ted Selker then gave a 30 minute presentation about the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project, describing the current state of the (un-)reliability and (non-)uniformity of the U.S. voting system.

Lastly, we interactively reviewed the results of the LabFest and Usability Field Events using Dream Machine's handheld voting devices, which were distributed to the audience. The audience voted on what they thought the results would be. Their results displayed instantly in a PowerPoint bar graph, so we could see how they compared to the actual results of the people in both activities.

A local television news station took interest in the World Usability Day - Boston story.
A local television news station took interest in the
World Usability Day - Boston story.

Looking back on the event, we're hard pressed to say which set of activities we are proudest of, the children and parents we introduced to usability, the socially-important websites we helped to improve (which included the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston), the research data we collected, or the publicity the event generated as online, TV, and print media reported on it. Of course there's no reason to choose between them at all, and we're proud of each.

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