Posts Tagged ‘usability’

Everyday Usability 38 – Usable doors, an up to date topic since 25 years

Don Norman recently shared a video, featuring him, about a very classic object of usability discussion – the door (see Don’s Website or the creator’s podcast). Don used doors as practical explanation for usability and why it is important to apply human-centered design in his book “The design of everyday things” 25 years ago (revision in 2013). Still some door designs confuses users (not to say cause much frustration) while applying a good design could be so easy. See the funny video:


Paper prototyping – 2D and 3D

February 21, 2016 Leave a comment

What is it

Paper prototyping is a classic method for usability testing, specifically in the early stages of the product development process. Jakob Nielsen described the method in his blog as one of the fastest and cheapest rapid prototyping methods in the design process. All it needs is an idea for the conceptual interface design, paper, scissors, and glue. The conceptual design of an interface is sketched on paper. The paper sketches are shown to a user who is then asked to fulfil a task on the interface. The user then e.g., presses a button and in consequence the designer (playing the “computer) changes the picture in front of the user. Users can interact with the paper interface as they would do with a real product. It is an easy method to compare different conceptual designs without worrying about the implementation. Paper prototypes should be simple and should not include a finalised colour concept or high quality graphics as that is not what a paper prototype helps to evaluate. At best it is simply a sketch. The following characteristics of an interface can be evaluated with a paper prototype:

  • General Concept
  • Understandability
  • Navigation
  • Information Architecture
  • Functional Requirements (test if complete to fulfil the task)

How does it work in general

The video shows how a paper prototype and interaction with it look like. Different menus, tool tips and pop-ups, all that can be designed. Remember to think about which tasks you want to evaluate and how they can be achieved in the interface. What interactions does the user need to make? For each interaction an according change in the paper needs to be prepared. Users might take different interactions then expected. So prepare paper prototype “reactions” for unexpected interactions as well. That could be a site with “lorem ipsum” or just a blank page with “under construction”. Those preparations help to let the user explore the interface and helps you to see where users have difficulties in getting along with the interface. Are the actions might want to take to fulfil the task clearly presented in the interface? Does the user get apropriate feedback for each interaction he/she does on the interface?

The advantage of a paper prototype is that it can be easy redesigned. In the next iteration you could, e.g., try a different concept or rename a menu and see if that supports the user to better fulfil the task. You do not need many users for a usability test. According to Jakob Nielsen about 85% of usability faults can be found with about 5 users (“Why you need to test with 5 users”).

If you want to read more about paper prototyping, Carolyn Snyder wrote a book about it.

Paper prototypes in 3D

I recently came over an article were paper prototyping is applied to a 3D design. The article from Säde et al. (1998) is quite old, but because of the 3D paper prototype I thought of it worth explaining herein. They used a paper prototype to test a design for a drink can refund machine. The prototype was build out of foamcore cardboard, glued together with a glue pistol. The interface was represented by coloured print-outs. Lights in the interface were represented as coloured paper attached to the panel. To design 3D paper prototypes it is way to look at industrial designers. Here is another example for a 3D paper prototype of a toaster (yes, a toaster):

Last but not least you find some tools for paper prototypes on the bottom of this website. More information of how to to design 3D paper prototypes with cardboard can be found on this website.

Other Sources:

Säde, S., Nieminen, M., and Riihiaho, S. (1998). “Testing usability with 3D paper prototypes – Case Halton System”

Jakob Nielsen (2003). “Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code”. (online)

Everyday Usability 37: Portable Bench

Just seen today in an old abbey:  a bench combined with a wheel. The bench could be even more functional if the wheel could be turned to 90 degree and be used as a table next to the bench.

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Everyday Usability 36: Electronic Locks

Lately an electronic lock confused me, but to my rescue I have to say that it managed to confuse a friend of mine as well. The photo below shows the lock. Where would you place your key to open the door?

For me there appeared to be just one option, the metal circle below the handle. Unfortunately nothing happened when the key was pressed against it. Instead it turned out, after several trials, that the plastic structure on top was not only an aesthetic element but also the proper device to open the door. Rethinking the design I remember some electronic doors with a similar plastic device, but in my memory they have a small lamp indicating them as a device. Besides to add a lamp as visual cue it would have been much easier to open the door without the visually dominant metal circle below the handle. A company logo could have been integrated as engraving.

Electronic lock


Everyday Usability 35: Taxonomy of search terms

Searching for flights in the holiday season maybe a bit tedious. Luckily there are meta search engines which search through and compare the results of different travel agencies. We wanted to find flights to the Seychelles. As we had no knowledge about towns and airports we simply typed in Seychelles. As result the website returned that nothing was found. Interestingly, a second try with Mahe, the island with the capital city Victoria and location of the main airport, returned flights.


usability fault


Everyday Usability 34: Resealable can

Lately I discovered a very interesting design of a can closure. Typically a can is opened and cannot be closed again, so one needs to hurry to empty it. I found a resealable can.

As you can see from the photos below there is a little plastic slider instead of the typical metal hole. To open the can for the first time, the little part with the stripes needs to be pushed up. It is not an easy task for a finger, I ended up using a ballpoint pen instead. If the striped part is pulled up, the rest of the closure slides back and the can is open. To close the can the part with the stripe, now upright, is grabbed and with a move the closure slides back into its original position. As far as I can tell no fluid comes out when the closure is in a closed position after being opened.

The can design belongs to an energy drink. Specifically for an energy drink a resealable can is nice. I tend to drink most cans of energy drinks over a time frame of 1-2 days. With a resealed can the content is safe and cannot be accidentally spilled. I wish this kind of closure would be sold with all cans.

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Usable microwave

February 16, 2015 Leave a comment

I cannot tell anything about the controls of this new microwave – if they are intuitive and easy to use -, but it has an interesting new feature. Often I have the problem that I need several tries to get my food ready in the microwave. I put it in for several minutes. As I’m afraid it turns into uneatable coal I rather prefer short times. So often I end up putting the food in the microwave, waiting, checking the food, discovering the food is not ready and starting the microwave again for 3-4 times.

Now, is the idea to implement an LED screen on the microwave’s door with X’Ray vision. With the LED screen you can see when the food is warm. Ideally the screen’s red color would match the ideal temperature (or adjusted temperature) for your food. At Dailymail you can see  the video. However, currently it is just a creative idea from a designer and not a ready to buy product.