Archive for March, 2013


I have to do what?

March 27, 2013

Sometimes things just work and you get a good feeling from the website — as though the owners cared enough about their customers to take the time to make the user experience friendly and useful (see yesterday’s post:

Then on other days you get something like this:


I have to press ‘Cancel’ on the next screen to view the offer? What the…?

You know what the worst of it was? There was NO ‘Cancel’ button AT ALL on the next screen. And you had no choice but to click OK here and get taken to the offers screen… the one you couldn’t cancel out of.

Then there’s the odd mix of sentence and title case… and the Warning symbol…

Talk about frustrating!


Thoughtful and useful response to a web form

March 26, 2013

I used the ‘Contact us’ form on Rosenfeld Media’s website, and got this as soon as I clicked the Submit button:


Within seconds I had my email too.

Nice. And useful. Too many times you have no record of what you wrote on a web form, unless you had the presence of mind to copy/paste it into another application before clicking Submit.


Telstra to T-Mobile settings on phone

March 21, 2013

This post is for me, in case I ever lose the notebook in which this information is jotted down! And for anyone else in Australia who has a Telstra HTC Sensation phone who is going to the US and wants to purchase a US SIM card from T-Mobile so they can use their own phone while away.

For the past two years, I have purchased a ‘pay per day’ SIM from T-Mobile for the short trips I’ve made to the US (see for these plans). For just $2 or $3 per day, I get unlimited calls, texts, and internet while in the US. A 14-day US trip at $3 per day costs me less than $50, compared to potentially $1000 or more if I use my Telstra SIM and global roaming in the US. (See this horror story of a $12,000 Telstra global roaming bill for 13 days in Thailand:

The biggest disadvantage is that I ‘lose’ my own phone number for the time I’m away (I get allocated a new US number each visit), and I have to find a T-Mobile store. Finding a T-Mobile store is not difficult as there are many of them. I believe you can get the ‘pay per day’ SIM activation kit from other locations, such as supermarkets, but I choose to get it direct from a T-Mobile store so that the store person can set everything up and test it all before I leave the store. A supermarket is unlikely to give you that sort of assistance.

Here’s what will happen in the T-Mobile store

After you’ve purchased the ‘pay per day’ kit (just ask for it — it’s not a box on the shelf), the store assistant will take out your HTC battery and Telstra SIM (DO NOT LOSE YOUR SIM!!! You’ll need it when you get back to Australia, so store it in a safe place, such as in a little zip lock bag placed near your passport or in your wallet). They will then insert the T-Mobile SIM and replace your battery and turn on the phone. They may also have to call a T-Mobile head office number and give/get a code to activate the phone.

Test that your phone can call out by calling the store’s landline number from your phone, then get the assistant to use the landline to call your new number. That’s all pretty straightforward and should work straight away. Likewise, you should get a text message or two from T-Mobile within minutes, welcoming you to their service and telling you how much balance you have on your plan. To test that you can send texts, SMS a US friend or the T-Mobile assistant who is serving you. Your phone and SMS are now working — so far, so good…

The final test is to see if you can get internet connection, so open the browser on your phone and do a search. However, if my experience is anything to go by, it’s unlikely you’ll connect as there are a couple of things you/the assistant may still have to do (see below), and because it can take a couple of hours for the internet connection to work properly (or so I’ve been told at two different T-Mobile locations in two different states in two different years; my experience has been that after the settings are entered, I can usually get internet connection within a minute or so).

If you can get a connection straight away, you’re done and don’t need to read any further. Enjoy your cheap US phone/text/internet time in the US, and don’t forget you can now use your ‘US’ HTC/Android phone as a tethered modem to avoid exorbitant hotel charges for internet access (these only seem to occur in the expensive hotels — most mid-range hotels in the US have free internet/WiFi).

If you can’t get internet connection, make sure the assistant enters the information below into your phone (or do it yourself if you’ve already left the store).

HTC/Android settings for internet connection via T-Mobile

  1. Turn off WiFi for now (Settings > WiFi > Off).
  2. Go to: Settings > Mobile Network > Access Point Names.
  3. Tap the menu icon on the APNs screen then tap New APN. Complete the following details:
  4. Name: tmobile (NO hyphen) (see notes below if this doesn’t work)
  5. APN: (see notes below if this doesn’t work)
  6. Proxy:
  7. Port: 8080
  8. MMSC:
  9. MMSC proxy (you may not need this one):
  10. MMS port (you may not need this one either): 8080
  11. Save the settings. Your internet connection should now work (though it may take a few minutes or up to an hour to do so, according to T-Mobile)

NOTE: If these settings don’t work, try changing:

  • the APN to and removing the proxy and port numbers
  • the name to T-Mobile US LTE
  • If you can’t get it to work, call 611 in the US to speak to a T-Mobile support person.

Changing back to your Telstra settings

  1. Before the plane takes off for Australia, switch your phone to Airplane mode, then turn it off as required by the FAA. By putting it into Airplane mode before you leave, when you turn it back on it won’t try to make any sort of connection to T-Mobile (or to Telstra once you’ve got their SIM back in).
  2. Once you’re in the air (or on the ground when you arrive if you forgot to put your Telstra SIM into your carry-on luggage!), remove the cover from your phone and flip out the battery.
  3. Remove the T-Mobile SIM and replace it with your Telstra SIM. (You can throw the T-Mobile SIM away when you get home as it’s useless unless activated and you’ve probably only purchased and activated enough days for your trip.)
  4. When you arrive back in Australia, turn the phone back on and switch off Airplane mode. It should all work as normal, as the Telstra APN settings are the default and should reset automatically once your phone picks up that you’re in Australia. At least, that’s how it’s been for me for the past two years — even though I wrote down all the Telstra APN settings, I’ve never had to change them back as they’ve automatically reset themselves.

Happy travelling!

See also:

[Links last checked April 2013]


Hard-hitting message in one simple poster

March 18, 2013

I spotted this poster at a rest area on the drive north on Interstate 35 from Texas Hill Country back to Dallas. I liked its simple message, so effectively communicated in both words and pictures. It packed a punch. It’s such a shame that the organization that commissioned/created  this poster probably can’t afford to put it on those HUGE billboards that pepper US highways, where the message needs to be communicated the most.

(Click the photo to view it larger.)



WritersUA Conference: Day 2: 8 March 2013

March 9, 2013

The second and final day of the WritersUA conference started with breakfast at 8:00am and the first of nine sessions at 8:30am. As for yesterday, I’ll summarize MY opinions on the talks I heard today.

Controlling the formatting of EPUB files

Robert Desprez’ session was my first of the day. He confirmed that EPUB creation was much easier today than it was only two years ago. Recent versions of Help Authoring Tools (HATs), such as RoboHelp 10, can do the whole process. One of the disadvantages of EPUBs is that the consumer has to have eReader software of some sort installed on their device, and different eReader software renders the file differently.

There are two ways to revise an EPUB file: do it in the HAT used to create it, or use the HAT to create, then unzip the package and modify CSS files etc. directly. He opts for the second options as HATs only go so far in modifying files.

The anatomy of an EPUB file: Mimetype file (don’t touch); META-INF folder (XML container file; don’t touch); OEPBS folder (this is where most of the stuff is and where you may want to modify settings; e.g. CSS, OPF, manifest; _TOC_NCX, etc.).

Text reflow is based on the device, and can be odd; however, there are things you can do in the CSS etc. post-processing that can alleviate some of the odd reflow behavior and make the EPUB display as you want it to display. The areas he focused on were:

  • Embedding fonts: Download fonts to a folder in the EPUB directory, declare the font in the CSS, change the contents of the OPF file to add the font.
  • Aligning text: Can use CSS, but eReader may not recognize this setting (e.g. iPad default setting will override CSS); possible solutions: tell users to change the default iPad setting, or author can add <span> tags.
  • Controlling page breaks: Do in CSS. Can control page breaks for tables too, but not useful for long tables, only short ones to avoid splitting table onto a new page.
  • Controlling widows and orphans: CSS setting works in some eReaders, but not all. Cannot do in the HAT. CSS: p{widows:2;}, p{orphans:2;} where ‘2’ in the number of lines at least.
  • Adding images: Do in the HAT if you can, and change % sizing in the HAT in preference to CSS.
  • Tables: Effective width of entire table is 530px for decent display.
  • Fixed layout EPUBs: Can give you exact control over presentation (e.g. instructions one side, image on the other); not aware of any HAT that does this out of the box; has good videos on fixed layout EPUBs.

After finish modifying, sequence for rezipping files is important otherwise it can all go pear-shaped:

  1. Create empty zip file.
  2. Drag folders/files into empty zip file.
  3. Change the zip file’s extension to EPUB.

Validate the EPUB file — various tools for doing this; e.g. Google’s EPUB checker, Robohelp.

Preview the EPUB file: Robert’s website/blog has details on doing this on the iPad (see

This was a really comprehensive overview in 35 minutes, and I got a lot out of his talk. Hamish — this is for you! ;-)

Effective techniques for supporting customers with video tutorials

Andrea Perry from TechSmith was next. My notes:

  • Video can provide an alternative to text, with content that is fun and engaging.
  • “Vision trumps all the other senses” (sorry, I didn’t catch the author of the quote).
  • Visuals include screenshots, screen casts, and sketches.
  • Content is NOT synonymous with text, or with visuals, or anything else: Content is IDEAS.
  • Document/demo the experience/tell the story, not the feature.
  • Use video to share the experience.

Best practices:

  • Audience: attention span 2 to 5.5 minutes; internet connection speed; quality of video/audio; viewing device; end goal; if for a wide audience, then make it more formal and use better equipment
  • Size: It’s safer to make the video larger (min 720px) than smaller, as a large video will rescale to a small device, but a small one won’t rescale well to a large device
  • Script and storyboard the video first.
  • Don’t be afraid of your own voice.
  • Start on a low-stakes project.
  • Users like continuity — keep the same narrator and consistent branding to build trust.

Voice Help

Joe Welinske talked about voice commands and voice activation and their possible application in Help:

  • New interactions require new technique and processes.
  • Proprietary interactions (e.g. Siri, automotive manufacturers) make software development hard.
  • We need APIs: Android Google Voice, iOS Siri, Windows Phone API.
  • Automotive companies may lead with voice-activated audio systems and controls as these are happening now, but these are very proprietary and customized to the manufacturer.
  • Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone 8 (free) — API is available to all developers; there’s no API for Siri, and thus Siri only works with a few applications.
  • Voice Command Definition file in Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone 8 is an XML file and this is the file most likely to be used by tech communicators in detailing the voice commands and responses, phrases, keywords to listen for etc.
  • Accents aren’t an area that can be easily dealt with yet.

Projecting the user’s cost benefit analysis

David Farkas gave a great talk on how to do a cost benefit analysis with both team members and users to find out what means of delivering user assistance cost the least yet give the best return. I have very few notes from this session as quite a bit of it was example matrices etc.

CSS3 for Help authors

Tony Self listed some of the things that are/were wrong with CSS2 (most were minor shortcomings) and outlined the main changes and the swag of additions in CSS3. The problem is that no browsers support all elements of CSS3, most support very little at this stage (though Tony predicts that will be very different within two years); he also advises that you check matrices of feature support before deciding to implement a CSS3 feature or not. And he advised us to check W3Schools, which has a great CSS reference area.

Areas that he summarized are:

  • More precise selectors
  • Box properties
  • Transitions and animations (animation properties are all new)
  • Namespaces/prefixes (e.g. -webkit [Safari, Chrome, Kindle, Android], -moz [Firefox], -ms [Internet Explorer), which add vendor-specific instructions for specific browsers
  • Conditions
  • Border properties
  • Font stuff (e.g. embedded fonts… sort of…)
  • Columns
  • Template layouts
  • Page media for very sophisticated print output
  • Transforms
  • Speech.

What’s ahead? Tony’s final words and advice were to not change for change’s sake; the personal computing and web is changing to support smaller and larger devices; related technologies are changing. For those involved in user assistance: wait until these things are integrated into the HATs (just as DHTML ultimately was integrated into HATs), and continue to separate form from content.

Modern assistance for Windows Store Apps

Paul O’Rear spoke about how assistance can be integrated with Window Store Apps (there is no Help API, so it’s pretty much ‘roll your own’). Much of this was a bit techie for me, but what I did take away was that Microsoft will no longer be developing any new Help technologies (no surprises there — it’s just taken a long time to hear it ‘officially’), and that HTML Help/CHMs will continue to work with Windows 8.

Smart ways to re-use content

Matthew Ellison’s presentation started with a discussion of the types of scenarios that suit single-sourcing: variations on a product (pro vs lite version); different target audience; different countries/locations; variations in platforms.

Successful information re-use tips:

  • Don’t measure success by the amount of re-use.
  • Focus on the primary output type.
  • Use context-agnostic output types.
  • Only re-use self-contained chunks of information.
  • If you’re using conditions, keep it simple!

Leveraging UA content for corporate deliverables

Beth Gerber demonstrated how her team had leveraged the Help content for a large organization to provide training materials for both leaders and participants. They used RoboHelp’s conditional build tags to separate out the information for each group, content filters for the employees, and embedded training videos (with scoring capabilities) into the Help.

Trends in mobile user assistance

The final session of the conference was a plenary session where Joe Welinske summarized many of the discussions and sessions held over the past two days relating to mobile devices.


Then it was all over for another year.

Some final comments from me:

  • Thanks to Joe and his team for another great conference.
  • I appreciated the 35 minute time slots for sessions — it kept the presentations focused on the key points.
  • A note to presenters: PLEASE DO NOT use lime green and white in your slides if white is your background color. It just doesn’t work and is really hard to read. Same goes for light gray font on white, and for small fonts. Bump up the font size to at least 20 pts in PowerPoint and make sure your slides have great contrast — black and white is GOOD.
  • Thanks also to the banquet team at Hyatt at Olive8 in Seattle for some great meals and good service.

Food etc.

  • Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs with Roasted Peppers & Spinach; Sliced Fruit; The Day’s Pastry; Diced Potatoes
  • Lunch: Herb Roasted Chicken Breast with Garlic Jus; Hearty Mashed Potatoes; Steamed Green Beans; Lemon Tarts
  • Closing Session Snack: Local Treats: Chukar Cherries; Kukuruza Popcorn; Sahale Snacks; Dry Sodas

WritersUA Conference: Day 1: 7 March 2013

March 8, 2013

This year’s WritersUA Conference is only for two days instead of the usual three; there are two streams of sessions instead of up to five; and all sessions are just over 30 minutes long. Day 1 had eight sessions (plus the welcome session and the evening ‘networking mixer’) so I’ll only summarize each session I attended very briefly. Remember, these comments are my opinion ONLY.

Life after PDF

Bob Boiko asserted that PDF’s day is over as it isn’t the right sort of deliverable for chunked and structured content, and is a hangover from a pervasive ‘print’ attitude. It may be suitable for narrative documents, but that’s about all. With the introduction of the internet and chunked/linked/re-used content, PDF should have disappeared. He suggested that we should either destroy the document or redefine it. Destroying the document paradigm is what component content management is all about, but he suggested that redefining the document is a better way to go. Bob used the Bible as an example of chunked AND narrative content.

I really wasn’t sure of the point he was trying to make about the destroy/redefine paradigm.

Evaluating the ROI of user assistance assets

I really felt for Tom Woolums — by his own admission he wasn’t used to public speaking and didn’t like it, and then about 5 minutes into his presentation, the audio system started playing up. I’ve been there, and it’s not easy to keep on going and not fall apart. Eventually the audio got sorted and he could continue.

Tom gave a LOT of information on his slides about treating our documentation as a business asset with value propositions, KPIs, ROI etc. and showed us some examples of how to calculate these and communicate the results to our teams and managers. I wasn’t quite sure what the point of the links to various support websites (including Microsoft’s and Java’s) were all about, except to make us aware that many of these support pages were actually directing us to buy more products.

Engaging users with attractive and inviting Help deliverables

I’d seen Steve Stegelin speak a couple of days earlier and had difficulty in hearing/understanding him then. I thought it was the audio system, but I think it was his speaking style. I had as much trouble understanding his presentation this time too, which was a shame as I was quite interested in what they were doing in his company to use various visual styles to make the Help more attractive and engaging, especially as he stated that 60% of the population are visual learners.

Applying a customer experience focus to user assistance

Michelle Despres is obviously passionate about her role in the company she works for, and it shows. She gave a very engaging presentation on how she has taken a focus on customer experience in providing user assistance and support to her company’s clients. The customer experience (CX) is what your customers think about you, and it should be the same for every interaction your customer has with your company (e.g. sales, support, etc.). The ideal CX progression is from a consistently satisfied customer to a confident one, to a loyal one, to one who recommends your company, to an unpaid evangelist for your company. You need to identify the journey a customer takes with your company, and for each part of that journey, identify how customers interact with you. Identify the pain points in those interactions and address those first. Create listening posts to hear what customers are saying.

Explanatory animation

Nancy Wirsig McClure showed us how motion graphics can be applied to simple diagrams, charts etc. ‘Explanatory animation’ is really just a mashup of infographics and motion graphics (as used in animations). The essence of motion graphics is ‘change over time’.

Only add animation where it tells the story better than just the words or a static image. Options for animation include sound, pacing, branching, and user controls. Technologies include Flash (not suitable for iOS), video, and even animated GIFs. Be aware of file sizes and whether the output is shareable online. Development tools that Nancy uses include Adobe Illustrator,  Photoshop, and After Effects (for applying timelines, key frames, and interpolation to the illustration and graphic assets). The authoring phases are: think, write and draw, prepare the digital assets, produce ‘the show’, and test with users. I thought that Nancy explained the Adobe After Effects really well and very simply — with graphics of course!

Embedding instructional content into the software UI

Sandra Chinoporus is a Content Strategist with eBay, and the focus of her team is on eBay small business sellers. Her talk was about how they have approached writing for their users using a friendly, informal, conversational style and how that builds trust in the small business seller community. Her talk was interesting and delivered well, but her slides were impossible to read from the back of the room (small gray text), as were her screenshot examples.

Balancing structured needs with ‘unstructured’ authors

Maxwell Hoffmann is a fast-talking, funny, self-deprecating speaker, who got through a LOT of content in a short amount of time. I wasn’t quite sure what this session would be about based on the title; it was about the current version of FrameMaker and how there are various viewing modes in FM that can hide the XML code and/or structural views from authors who don’t want to see them. I’ve never used FM, so I didn’t know whether I’d get much out of this session; however, Maxwell also showed us how to import Word content (using Smart Paste), which preserves the structure of the Word document, including tables, graphics, etc. — that was pretty neat!

His advice for dealing with a reluctant team was to cleanse the content first; start with a small project; use FM as a container; make use of custom DITA workspaces, authoring view and WYSWYG view to create a rewarding experience; and customize FM structapps to apply as much automatic insertion as possible.

Moving to specialized roles in UA development

The last speaker of the sessions I attended today was Mysti Berry from Salesforce. When a team gets large, implementing specialized roles may be a way to keep focused on issues that span groups, releases, and attention spans. Some example specialized roles include: knowledge manager, content strategist, information architect, tools developers and QA, UA specialist, video specialist, as well as informal specializations (e.g. Bob knows DITA, Shirley knows grammar, etc.). Changing to incorporate specialized roles can be both challenging and rewarding. Specialized roles will need help to succeed — training, realistic expectations (failure may be needed before success can occur). Recipes for success include: job descriptions, clear priorities, 30/60/90 day plans, keep the new role in the information loop, use goal-based reporting and frequent check-ins, give people a path back if the role doesn’t fit but don’t let them give up too early.

Mysti finished early, which was a nice bonus!

Food and drink

  • Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Carmelized Onions; Sliced Fruit; The Day’s Pastry; Home Fries
  • Lunch: Roasted Marinated Flat Iron Steak over bed of arugula salad, marinated tomatoes, black olives, and red onions; Choice of Balsamic Dressing or Blue Cheese; Malted Brownies
  • Networking Mixer at the Elephant & Castle Pub: Bangers in a Blanket; Veggie Spring Rolls; Potato Skins; Fresh Vegetable Platter; Bruschetta

ConveyUX Conference 2013: Day 3: 6 March 2013

March 7, 2013

What a big day! We had some seriously big names presenting today — Luke Wroblewski, Jared Spool, and Dana Chisnell, all of whom did plenary sessions.

The morning kicked off with an earlier breakfast than the past two days, which took a lot of people by surprise, so we ended up running a bit behind time for the rest of the day. For those without a plane to catch, this wasn’t an issue, but may have been for some others.

Only one time slot had break-out sessions, where we had a choice of three to go to.

Designing for touch

I was looking forward to hearing Luke speak again — I last heard him at one of the WritersUA Conferences in Seattle (2009? 2010?) and was most impressed with his knowledge, his presentation skills, and the quality of his presentation slides. I was not disappointed this time either.

Luke started off with an overview of the device landscape, and the assertion that touch was becoming ubiquitous on all devices — large and small.

Touch allows us to directly interact with the content, whereas keyboard/mouse tends forces us to interact with the chrome surrounding the content. With touch, we need to consider human ergonomics and design, such as finger pad and finger tip size variations. The average finger pad is 10 to 14 mm, finger tip is around 10 mm, and index finger width is about 11 mm. Microsoft touch guidelines work on a minimum of 10 mm.

As Luke stated, big targets will work with a mouse, but small targets won’t work with fingers. And big screens invite big gestures (swipe and paw).

The touch paradigm is:

  • content
  • direct manipulation
  • gestures
  • feedback (respond to the touch immediately — e.g. move the screen/picture; make content follow the finger action).

Touch forces you to simplify and reduce — need to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Just-in-time user assistance is best way to learn various gestures/controls.

Rethinking user research and usability testing

Dana Chisnell started her talk with some anecdotes from her usability testing, emphasizing how usability labs are not suitable for the social web — people don’t live in the world doing one task on one device at a time. Instead, we have human to human interactions mediated by technology.

Instead of measuring user satisfaction, we should be measuring user engagement.

We only find things in testing that we are looking for, not the unknowns.

Current usability testing methods are not robust enough for testing the usability of the social web; for understanding context and relationships. we need to add field testing methods as well to the traditional lab testing. This takes more time, requires more deep thinking, requires strong research design, and requires studying cohesiveness dynamics.

In rethinking user research:

  • We’re not getting the answers we need.
  • Experimenting is limited because we’re pressured to go to market.
  • We’re looking for things we know about, using old fashioned tools.

And therefore we’re missing the things we don’t know about.

The curious properties of intuitive web pages

Jared Spool used lots of examples (including a very real example using a long piece of string and wool ties of how much money a business was losing every day, when they thought they were doing well!) in his presentation. Some of the takeaways from his talk:

  • Cardinal rule of design: Don’t make me (the user) feel stupid.
  • If you have to use user assistance, the design is NOT intuitive.
  • Intuitive design happens when current knowledge equals target knowledge; i.e. what I know matches what I need to know to get the job done.
  • Intuitive redesigns are invisible (e.g. Amazon — small incremental changes to website, not wholesale changes that stop existing users from using the site).
  • Socially transmitted functionality (i.e. someone has to show you how to use the thing) is NOT intuitive design.
  • Definition of ‘clusterfuck’: Microsoft SharePoint! ;-)
  • “We’ll be successful if the day we go live nobody notices” (product development manager)
  • All users are NOT equal. Understand who we’re really designing for (80/20 rule)
  • Our most important users (the 20%) need to most intuitive experiences to keep them on the site and keep them purchasing from us. These are also the highest risk users, because if you lose them, you lose 80% of your revenue!
  • Intuitive design is how we give our users superpowers.
  • Look at your user’s entire journey through your site (e.g. purchasing chain) for sources of innovation.

Organizing mobile web experiences

I went to Luke Wroblewski’s break-out session after lunch. Some takeaways from his excellent presentation include:

  • Know what mobile is uniquely good at and understand what users are doing on mobile devices: finding, exploring/playing, checking statuses, editing/creating.
  • How will your content/services align with mobile behaviors.
  • Content first, navigation second. Focus on what matters most. Use analytics to find out what your users are looking at and what they are ignoring. Adjust site organization accordingly. Use minimal space for navigation; maximum for content.
  • Mobile experience is about 1.5x slower than desktop.
  • Navigation options to gradually reveal site: nested doll, hub and spoke, bento box, filtered view.
  • Consider human ergonomics in how users hold mobile/tablet devices. Hot zones are lower right and left; hard-to-reach zones are center top.
  • Responsive web design: fluid grids, flexible images, media queries.
  • Responsive navigation patterns: footer anchor, toggle menu, select menu, top navigation. Luke also listed the pros and cons of each as well as showing us lots of examples.
  • Responsive multilevel navigation: accordion expansions, sideways panels, hubs not subs.
  • Navigation elements (summary): avoid excessive navigation menus, top navigation for quick access, bottom menu for pivoting/exploring, adapt as more screen space becomes available (i.e. as devices become larger), but design for mobile first.

The prediction show

And it was almost all over… The final session was a prediction show using the interactive devices and voting on predictions made by conference attendees. Joe thanked us all for coming and indicated that there would be a ConveyUX conference again next year.

Thanks Joe and Shannon and the Blink team, and the sponsors, for putting on a great conference!


I can’t finish without mentioning today’s food and and thanking the hotel staff for some wonderful meals and snacks:

  • Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs with Cured Tomatoes and Ricotta; Sliced Fruit; The Day’s Muffin; Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes with Onions
  • Lunch: Traditional Caesar Salad; Dinner Rolls and Creamy Butter; Herb Roasted Chicken Breast with Garlic Jus; Hearty Mashed Potatoes; Steamed Green Beans; Lemon Tarts
  • Snacks: Chukar choc-coated cherries (YUMMO!); Kukuruza popcorn; Sahale snacks

ConveyUX Conference 2013: Day 2: 5 March 2013

March 6, 2013

As for yesterday, we started the day with breakfast at 8:30 am (such a civilized hour for breakfast!), then the first session at 9 am. First up was a general session with Carol Barnum, then followed two break-out sessions before lunch, a single session after lunch, a session at the Seattle Central Public Library, followed by a tour of the library, then a networking mixer with food and drinks at the Blink offices down on the Seattle waterfront. It was a busy day for all those who participated in everything.

Content strategy: How to get it, how to test it

Carol Barnum was our keynote speaker for today. She talked about what content strategy (CS) is, highlighted the explosion in CS books and resources in the past year or so, and detailed the major steps in CS (audit, plan, manage, create).

Testing is the only way to find out if the content is useful and usable to the audience it serves. The top findings (from the research) in testing are:

  • findability
  • navigation
  • terminology
  • page design
  • mental model.

She offered three reasons for why content matters:

  • increases sales
  • increases user satisfaction (both internal and external users)
  • reduces support calls.

The remainder of her talk focused on two case studies she’s been involved in — one for an international hotel chain’s green/sustainability program, and one for a sports shoe retailer’s website.

She finished by emphasizing that content strategy plus usability testing equals good business.

Communicating with users around the world: Understanding culture’s impact on user experience (Parts 1 and 2)

I had a morning full of Carol ;-) I also attended her two-part session on communicating with users outside your own country. In the first half she looked at some of the work done by Hall and Hofstede in the 1950s to 1970s on how different cultures have different behaviors and values.

Essentially, Hall’s categories can be condensed into the following:

  • perceptions of space — some cultures are more territorial than others; some have more or less personal space than we do
  • perceptions of time — polychronic time (people more important than the schedule — tends to be the hotter regions of the world); monochronic (schedule more important — tends to be the colder regions of the world)
  • high-context — information is obtained from the physical context or internalized; affiliations and relationships are most important; typically Asian and southern European nations
  • low-context — information is explicit (typically in words); achievement of goals is most important; typically North American, northern European nations

The implications of these differences are important in communication — communication in high-context cultures depends on sub-text for meaning (i.e. more indirect messages); communication in low-context cultures relies on clarity/explicitness (i.e. more direct messages).

Hofstede’s categories are:

  • power distance (authoritarian hierarchies or decentralization of authority/teamwork)
  • individualism vs collectivism (‘I’ culture [Australia and US the highest] vs unquestioning loyalty to the group)
  • uncertainty avoidance (those cultures that avoid uncertainty accept formal procedures and highly structured organizations; those that accept uncertainty take each day as it comes and don’t view rules as sacred)
  • masculine vs feminine, which had nothing to do with the gender of the user, only the culture’s role (masculine cultures focus on performance, while feminine cultures focus on relationships)
  • long-term vs short-term.

After the theory part, Carol got us to look at various McDonalds websites for different countries and asked us to notice how some focused on people, and some had no people in them. And where there were people (there were none on the US McDonalds home page), to notice how they were portrayed — whether they looked at the camera or away from it, whether they looked like they were in charge or not.

In relation to communication, culture affects:

  • learning styles
  • reading patterns
  • relationships
  • trust
  • face.

She then focused on various cultural studies related to trust of websites based on country, how the information architecture varied in differed countries (e.g. Chinese website design favored a portal model filled with every possible link on the one long page), how card sorting results varied for the same activity between Danes and Chinese, ATM studies in China, banking studies in India, mobile phone issue in Ghana, healthcare information for bilingual US users, etc.

One thing to come out of the studies was that users tend to perform better at information-seeking tasks when site designers are from the same culture.

There was a lot more, but we ran out of time. However, her slides are comprehensive and there’s enough information for us to follow-up on various studies if we’re interested.

A graphical approach to Help info in a mobile app

I was quite looking forward to Steve Segelin’s session, as he’s a cartoonist as well as an information architect. He was speaking on how his company — Blackbaud — have used graphics to communicate succinctly. However, whether it was where I was sitting, or the microphone, or the position of the clip-on mike on Steve’s shirt, or my hearing, I could hardly make out what he was saying. I do have his slides, so I’ll look at them in my own time and hope that I can get the information from them.

As an aside, one thing I noticed in many presentations, including Steve’s, is the predominance of applications with lime green (or other shades of green) for buttons, nav bars etc., some also with white text. Not once did this green project well on screen at the conference — each time there was lime green in a presentation, it was hard to read.

HTML5 for a better UX

The final session of the day was at the Seattle Central Public Library, about 8 blocks or so from the hotel. Peter Lubbers from Google was the presenter and he talked about and demonstrated lots of cool new things in HTML5. Like really cool! Many are not available in most browsers yet, but Peter’s assessment is that within two years most browsers will be able to do them. There was some amazing stuff he showed us.

Seattle Central Public Library Tour

The highlight of my day today was the Seattle Central Public Library tour.  As an ex-librarian, I have a soft spot for libraries, and had hoped we would see some of the behind-the-scenes areas, but alas, this tour didn’t include those. However, it was still a great tour of a most amazing building. Here are some photos; click on a photo to view it larger.





Amazing floor made of maple and the first sentences of the foreign language books - back-to-front

Amazing floor made of maple and the first sentences of the foreign language books – back-to-front like a printing press

Down two floors to the auditorium

Down two floors to the auditorium

Fiction and magazines; escalator to the meeting rooms

New books; escalator to the meeting rooms

Young adult area

Young adult area

Meeting rooms are in the gray cube above; non-fiction spiral floors are above the black

Meeting rooms are in the gray cube above; non-fiction spiral floors are above the black

Outside the meeting rooms on the 4th floor everything is RED

Outside the meeting rooms on the 4th floor everything is RED

Non-fiction spirals down four floors from 999 to 000

Non-fiction spirals down four floors from 999 to 000


Catalogue card drawers as art

Catalogue card drawers as art

Two two-storey yellow escalators

Two two-storey yellow escalators

One of the many computer areas for the public

One of the many computer areas for the public

Visual representation of the subject headings of the materials borrowed in the past few hours

Visual representation of the subject headings of the materials borrowed in the past few hours

Visual representation of the titles of the materials borrowed in the past few hours

Visual representation of the titles of the materials borrowed in the past few hours

I wonder what that is?

I wonder what that is?

Black fire-proofing material on steel pillars

Black fire-proofing material on steel pillars

Food and drink

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese, fresh fruit, orange juice, etc.
  • Lunch: On our own. I joined two others at a tiny French bakery close to the hotel where we each had one of their baguette sandwiches. Yummy!
  • Networking mixer at the Blink offices: Drinks in mason jars, heaps of hot and cold food, terrific location, interesting lab setups. Thank you for hosting our noisy mob, Blink! (Here’s what the hot and cold food consisted of: Molasses BBQ Pulled Pork on a Chip [16-hour pulled pork, russet potato chip, pickled shallots, big b’s bbq sauce]; Risotto Bites w/ Spiced Butternut Squash [Puree: roasted butternut squash, allspice, lemon, grana padano cheese]; Beet Lollipop Bites w/ Pistachio Dust [roasted golden beets, pistachio dust, piquillo pepper, sea salt, evoo]; Roasted Mushroom Duxelle Pinwheel [puff pastry, red wine, garlic, mushroom duxelle, herbs]; Fruit and Cheese Platters [with heaps of bread rounds and crackers]
A usability lab at Blink -- note the cameras for tracking user actions

A usability lab at Blink — note the cameras for tracking user actions


ConveyUX Conference 2013: Day 1: 4 March 2013

March 5, 2013

This is a new conference hosted by Joe Welinske (of WritersUA Conference fame) and Blink. For its inaugural year, there are about 130 attendees here in Seattle. This three-day conference will be followed by two days of the WritersUA Conference. I’m attending both, but I’m not speaking this year, which is actually quite a relief as a lot of stress was taken away and a lot of hours were freed up over the past few months ;-).

Attendees came from far and wide. While most were from the US (particularly Seattle and the west coast), others came from Moscow, Brazil, the UK, and Australia (that’d be me!). Many were working in the user experience (UX) field, either formally or informally (e.g. tech writers and editors who had taken on the mantle of UX person), while others were involved in areas that overlapped UX. Not all were from software companies — some of the industries I heard about included biomedical, oil and gas, educational assessment, education delivery, diabetic care, etc. Others were from  more traditional software/web companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Rhapsody, NEC, Amazon etc.

Here’s my summary of the sessions I attended on Day 1. Any opinions expressed are mine alone. You can find out more by following the ConveyUX Twitter hash tag, or by reading the official blog posts at


Kelly Franznick (Blink) and Joe Welinkse welcomed us to the conference. After some housekeeping information, Joe introduced geek comedian, Heather Gold. For 9 am on a Monday in a room full of strangers, Heather was a bit full-on ;-). She got down into the audience and challenged various people to reveal stuff about themselves. I wasn’t quite sure how to react — for me, this was something quite unexpected for a conference. Heather is a fast-talking, in-your-face type of gal, who has a scattergun approach and a fairly dominating personality. However, I did warm to her after a while — she sure knows how to get people talking, even if you don’t like her in-your-face manner.

Joe ran his interactive ‘who are we?’ session, with Heather adding side commentary. He’s done this the past few years at WritersUA and it often reveals some interesting trends in the audience. Some of the results that stuck in my head were: fewer than 9% of the audience were telecommuting 3 or more days a week; 61% of people used trial and error as their preferred learning method for software; Apple still dominates the smartphone market, but Android and Windows Phone aren’t too far away, with Blackberry WAY behind.

A cross-disciplinary approach to content clarity

After a short tea/coffee break, Erika Hall (@mulegirl) talked about how to achieve content clarity. Your approach has to be intentional, critical, and effective. And how you do it is to let go (of existing baggage), take charge, and work together. The baggage you need to let go is: ‘The web is a publication’; ‘Anyone can write’; and ‘Content is text’.

Content creation includes: writing, composing, illustrating, filming, commenting, curating. Content consumption (i.e what users are doing with the content) includes: reading, playing, watching, listening, exploring.

Ask ‘Why?’. If you can’t answer ‘why’ you are doing something, then you shouldn’t be working on the ‘what’. Be very specific about what you are doing and why.

Remember that not all content is text, and not all text is content.

Instead of design muscling out content or vice versa (e.g. ‘design is king’, ‘content is king’) in a territorial war, a cross-disciplinary approach will achieve more. Cross-disciplinary has three facets:

  • Research and strategy (the story): Understanding and articulating (e.g. user research, business strategy, content audits, gap analysis, editorial strategy, marketing strategy, technology strategy)
  • Design (the system): Specifying the system and its rules (e.g. identity design, visual design, interaction design [incl. interface language], information architecture, nomenclature, systems architecture, metadata, content specifications, style guidelines)
  • Production (the stuff): Creating the assets (e.g. writing, photography, video, illustrating, coding, curating)

When working together, mind your Ps and Qs: purpose (what is the goal), process (how is that done), practice (what do you bring to it), problems (what is getting in your way), questions (what to ask), and quality (what to fight for).

Purpose can vary. For example:

  • Informing: An informational website
  • Enabling: A tool/application
  • Entertaining: A pleasant diversion
  • Pursuading: A marketing website
  • Vending: An online store.

Erika concluded with an excellent analogy of meercat behavior, where a sentry watches out for dangers (e.g. scope creep, resourcing issues, shifts in strategy) and informs the workers so that they are alert to it too. But the workers don’t have to be on the lookout all the time — they leave that to the one or two sentries keeping watch, and hold group meetings as necessary.

At the conclusion of Erika’s presentation, she and Heather adjourned to the couch, where Heather interviewed her. While this was potentially an interesting strategy, I found Heather’s questions to be quite rambling and confusing. Erika did an excellent job of distilling and answering them.

Big picture UX

After the morning tea break, Nick Finck looked at where we are now with technology, what we should be designing for, and potential directions that technology can go. He emphasized creating cross-channel and holistic experiences — from mobile devices to large screen TVs, to automotive technologies. The experience for the customer/consumer/user must be seamless between all channels. Having different or varying content between channels is confusing and harms the business.

The rhetoric of design

We returned from lunch to an engaging talk by Charlie Claxton. While the session title didn’t look particularly interesting, Charlie’s content and examples were. He started by talking about habit and how habitual behavior is a good thing. After a swing through rhetorical theory, he focused on these aspects, using some compelling examples:

  • cognitive biases
  • authority and trust (cheap and expensive watch website examples)
  • halo effect (Richard Branson, trustworthy/famous people using the product)
  • framing (pricing structure to make you buy the middle one — that one was scary!)
  • social proof (influence of user comments/reviews)
  • loss aversion (only 5 left! buy now!)
  • operant conditioning (paint the Seattle Public Library male toilets bright green to prevent people from spending hours in there to keep warm)
  • focusing effect (put in really high prices to make people choose a middle option and think they’ve got a good deal)

Finally, he finished with a call to ‘listen to your audience’: Who are they? (definitely not ‘everyone’); how do they behave?

Creating effective interface language (parts 1 and 2)

The afternoon sessions were divided into two time slots, with three presenters in each. I chose to do the two-part session with Erika Hall on creating effective interface language. While I’ve presented several sessions on reviewing and editing user interface text, Erika took a different tack. It was a little more theoretical at first, and she showed and discussed some excellent examples. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time for her to cover all her material fully, but she did give us a sweeping overview of the last sets of slides.

To summarize her session:

  • All interfaces require thoughtful language choices. All interfaces are conversations — a user interface is a conversation that takes places between a human and a machine. You (as the writer) are the soul of the machine. Be polite.
  • Language is the ultimate interface. We aren’t writing — we are speaking in (interface) text.
  • Interfaces fail when they are written to be read rather than interacted with.
  • All language choices flow from the role the website or application plays for the business and the user. The brand strategy and business model determine the role. The appropriate conversational style is the one matches the role; the role determines the voice. Even though multiple devices and delivery mechanisms, the role (and therefore the voice) should not change.
  • Avoid labeling with ‘my’ (e.g. ‘My Yahoo!’) as it confuses the relationship between the user and the system.
  • Whether text or images are the correct choice depends on several factors, including constraints, conventions, and user needs.
  • Language can support these core purposes in an interactive system: salutation (introducing the system), orientation and navigation, action, instruction, service.
  • Nouns are information architecture; verbs are interaction design.
  • Be conventional in navigation naming, and innovative for actions.
  • Identify areas where text is used as a crutch for bad design.
  • Interface language fails when it is: oblivious to context, inconsistent, presumptuous, unnatural, vague, too clever, or rude. Remember, be polite!

As part of this session, each group assessed a web page from the Bank of America website.

Food and drink

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with hash browns, and a DELICIOUS pumpkin/sunflower seed muffin.
  • Morning tea: Fresh-baked cookies and muffins
  • Lunch: Pumpkin soup, dinner roll, make-your-own Cobb salad with heaps of all sorts of salad goodies
  • Afternoon tea: More cookies and muffins
  • Networking mixer: Raw vegetable crudites and dips, various crackers, artichoke and smoked bacon on small toast pieces, smoked salmon on small rye toast pieces

We ate well all day!


Help should be at the point of need

March 5, 2013

I’m staying in a hotel in Seattle right now. I checked in on Saturday night, and as there’s free WiFi in all conference attendee’s rooms, I asked for and got the password. But I couldn’t connect — there were three WiFi connection options in the list and the password didn’t work for two of them. The other option was an unsecured network for the hotel, so I didn’t try any further than the message about it being an insecure connection (in hindsight, I should have as that’s where it was all along).

I called Reception who gave me a basic instruction that didn’t work, and who then transferred me to the tech support people at RoomNet. The person who answered my call couldn’t help and transferred me to someone who could. That person didn’t respond so she said she’d pass on my details and the tech support person would get back to me. He never did. Meantime, I had no connection. I rebooted my computer in the hope that it might be a wireless glitch, checked all my settings, then in desperation I used my phone as a modem, but the 3G connection was flaky too (in downtown Seattle???), so I gave up and went to bed.

Now, as a technical writer, I think it’s professional courtesy for me to read the room’s manual ;-). And in the manual I found a basic instruction for connection that had been missing from the hotel guy I spoke with and the only RoomNet person I spoke to. I tried the instruction next morning and everything worked perfectly.

So the instructions were in the room all along, but in the room’s manual, NOT on the tent card about internet connection that was on the desk!! This was a classic case of putting instructions right where people are going to need them, not hiding them away inside a manual several feet from the location and deep inside a manual that most people probably don’t read.

One other thing… this manual was difficult to read as they’d used a light brown font on a beige/tan paper. Talk about a readability issue! Even for good eyes, it was hard to read.