Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Usability in practice

Last week I attended a three day intensive camp called "Usability in Practice." This was run by the world-renowned Nielsen Norman Group, a consultancy who work in the field of usability - making tools which are easy for people to use to accomplish their desired task. The group is made up of people who have been working on product design and thinking about the whole user experience for decades, and has the philosophy "to help companies enter the age of the consumer, designing human-centered products and services." That's AlertMe!

I've previously met Don Norman (co-founder of the group) at Intelligent Environments, a Microsoft Research event. He's a really inspiring guy, with a huge range of design and psychology expertise, as well as technical experience (amongst many other things, he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple). Norman recommends companies design the Total User Experience, going beyond just a few nifty features and good engineering to make a product, and we've followed that best practice whilst designing the AlertMe system.

The camp focussed on how to design and test for usability, which is something which has been critical to AlertMe from day one. It was great to build on my previous experience with some more detailed study at the camp, and I'm now planning the next round of user testing for our system.

Jakob Nielsen ran some of the sessions; he's one of the foremost advocates of easy to use websites and a top usability guru. He also founded the "discount usability engineering" movement for fast and cheap improvements of user interfaces. This kind of rapid, responsive technique to create a highly usable, functional and fun-to-use system is at the heart of AlertMe's development.

I'm going to be looking for participants to help AlertMe refine our user interface and website during the summer. If you'd like to be considered, send me an email at usability @ alertme.com or sign up for more information at www.alertme.com. This is a great opportunity to help us make using the AlertMe system a truly straightforward and enjoyable experience.