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Dec 2005 Contents

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World Usability Day in North Carolina

by Rick Cecil

We had nearly 50 people attend World Usability Day here in the Triangle, a great turn-out for the area. For our event, we planned an interactionary design competition between rivals University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University as well as a review of items that had been ticketed as usability violations throughout the week.

After pizza and drinks, we started with the interactionary. We had four students from NC State's Human Factors program and four students from UNC's SILS program. Both teams had 20 minutes to design a remote control for a digital video recorder. It was, seemingly, a fairly simple design problem, but one that no company has been able to do well. However, there was a twist: three minutes into the contest, the teams were told that they needed to design the remote for far-sighted people with mild-to-severe arthritis in their hands.

Both teams immediately started with user research, interviewing audience members and asking questions of the judges. The big difference between the two teams: UNC moved quickly to design, adjusting their concept based on audience feedback; NC State, however, focused on requirements gathering for nearly 18 minutes and spent the last few minutes designing-watching those last few minutes of State's turn were nerve-wracking.

The two teams developed similar products, which is to be expected given the familiarity of the product, but there were some notable differences:

  • The NC State team developed a wheel on the side of the remote that could be used to scroll through the guide.
  • UNC created an on-screen display of commands to compensate for the user's far-sightedness.

After the designs were presented, the judges had a few minutes to make their final scores. UNC won with a narrow margin.

We had also planned to review some usability tickets, but the interactionary went longer than expected, so we ran out of time. However, we did have two winners in our ticketing contest: Jackson Fox and Tim McMackin both won $50.

Tim ticketed a light switch; the off button on the light switch glowed when it was turned off, Standing in the dark, you could see a tiny light illuminating an "off" button. When the lights were on, the "on" button lit up.

Jackson ticketed several things, including a telephone that needed four key presses to load your voicemail - certainly another common product that companies have yet to get right!

World Usability Day 2005 was a great success here in the Triangle and we're definitely looking forward to World Usability Day 2006!

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