Tag Archives: UX

Gets Me Some Tech Skills

I was asked for ideas on how someone who has a very strong humanities and social services background could work on “website making/social media/general tech skills” and this was my reply.
As often stated (probably?), I think website design can be broken down – writing copy, writing code, doing graphics/layout and designing experience (UX; a combination of all). You probably don’t need any more practice with the first but the other three have many avenues. UX is worth your while and severely needed in the nonprofit world, but you’ll have to do some translation for many of those folk. Coders don’t exist there. Developers are a rare pink unicorn in one of those scenes from planet earth with millions of birds. Coders often aren’t socialized to do world-saving work, and they get paid gobs in other fields. Graphic design is handy for all of the things (print, web, identity, making, life) but also kinda hard to learn without specific projects. Luckily you have some of the foundational skills, like the ability to notice details or general concepts like negative space.

SO substantive resources:

  • For coding – you could learn HTML/CSS but I think it might be more helpful to learn an introductory language like PHP (and MySQL for databases to go with it – this is what WordPress is based on). There are many free online resources, start with W3C Schools and go to something more serious from there. More hardcore (application-specific) people may tell you to go for Python or something off of this list -> http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/sites-to-learn-coding-online
  • Graphic design – I have a book that’s trapped in storage in Glen Ellyn right now that has a hundred great design challenge prompts. Tasks like make a mail-order army of robots. I’ve done a few and like it, but I think learning how to operate fancy-pants programs is as much of a challenge as figuring out how to make things look good. One route is to learn to make great looking designs using simple tools, like Powerpoint 2010 or 2013 (better the newer you go) or another is to just start following scripted tutorials for Photoshop or Illustrator. Try learning the pen tool to make paper cutting designs, you can make money better than Kay Wahlgren and help dad retire. I can probably get you any Adobe program you like, or try Inkscape or Gimp (the true we-have-no-money route).
  • User Experience – See if you can get into this class -> https://www.coursera.org/course/hci. Don’t bother with the assignments, just watch them. It’ll teach you concepts behind usability and user testing methods. Or you could try reading The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley. My professor uses this to teach composite design in LIS (an interdisciplinary field that likes people!).
I think ‘social media’ skills are a little overrated. It’s worth learning the capabilities and social norms for each network or medium but I encourage people to pick just a couple and commit investment to those. Generally my impression is that what lies beneath them are good writing for the affordances of each and a sense for audience – things I suspect you already have 🙂 But this might also be that I just feel annoyed by continuously hovering over a monitor watching the endless flow of information stream by, with meager attempts to redirect it amongst the flurry of hyperactive internet squirrels. I’d rather be more selective and intentional with my attention, something I think I’d even call a digital literacy. Yes, thank you Howard Rheingold, but I still think meditation is silly.

I’m not sure what general tech skills might be. You can move a mouse and type pretty darned well, and glean information from different screen formats rapidly in a non-linear fashion. Check.

Anyway I think you nailed it. Pick a project. Shattons of nonprofits need help. I just talked to the Urbana Independent Media Center Python Users Group the other day. The Fab Lab has plenty of things they could work on for us – a better sign in system, automated inventory, an interactive project board or hacking the CCK in our broke-ass Drupal install to be friendly for retirees. Or many groups have crappy looking websites or need better flyers or logos or good looking report designs. Perhaps better than this – you could learn video production and help a group produce their image on YouTube by telling a story about the impacts they make (CI Club example – http://youtu.be/_pBjjW2E2Mg), a lot don’t have time or knowledge to do this kind of thing. Or many service users whom they have never tested and may have vastly different understandings of computer interfaces than they do. I learned my friend’s mother doesn’t really know how to save and upload photos of her daughter to Facebook to share so she just tags herself in them instead. This is in part an interface design issue – I’m sure the system could be recreated to facilitate this behavior and perception of use.

If you need projects I have plenty here for you, but I suspect you have a network up there that could use the help 🙂 Hope that helps!

The “Public” Like

Most people know me as a blatant and outgoing extrovert, and, well, I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes become concerned about the impressions others have of me. I’ve found out the hard way a few times over the past few years just how much age and optimism can affect me professionally.

I love social features on websites such as ‘like’ buttons, but I also know they come with a sort of tax. Sure ad robots will track my every move to sell me widgets, but I’m really not all that worried about that. It’s more that if I post a picture on Facebook or let it be known I read a certain article I generally have to assume professors, students and friends of all levels are likely able to see what I’m doing. Take today – I have an old volleyball injury that comes back to bug my knee from time to time. I went to go find some videos on post-injury knee exercises and found a guy who did a great series. He clearly put a lot of time and effort into these videos, and I want to thank him and help promote him with a like. But, GASP, if I like it others will see. Suddenly it’s clear I’m not doing my dissertation, I’m not being a normal scholar (academics don’t exercise, how dare!) and people might suddenly get worried about my knee health when they ought not to.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: just don’t be friends with some people, or manage your contacts into privacy groups. Yes, while that works for those of you with just a few close friends it doesn’t suit my personality – I want to remember all the people I meet and I want to be broadly accessible and friendly! I want to keep track of 1300 some people on Facebook but I don’t want to have to manage each one in terms of exposure risk.

What I would enjoy, instead of complicated and time-intensive policy controls, is the ability to like, read, download or promote something anonymously. Yes, take a walk back to the 1990’s internet, but with a twist.

Why this feature is frequently unavailable seems obvious at first – scam robots would love to inflate like counts and marketers can’t make money off of such general data… BUT:

What if it was just on the public-people side? The marketers can still know I’m liking whatever it is, fine. They already have a gagillion tons of data about me. The sysadmins can block spammer scammers by only allowing you to anonymously like something once when logged in (and therefore only once per account). Just make it a drop-down or check box, simple as that. In the user interface experience people would see that some number of others liked whatever their item was, but just not be able to see who for those who chose to like it anonymously. Anyone else with me?

I imagine not, most of you aren’t sold on the part where the marketers get your data. I just figure we’ve already lost that battle. Ahhh well, happy Monday everyone!

Truly Creative Fonts

Back in 1998 I discovered Word 97’s Symbols font and went totally wild with what I thought could be an excellent secret code. Using font sets as arrays of icons or images is nothing particularly new:

But I’ve discovered some more interesting/innovative uses of fonts lately:

Braille dots - good for a materials printer!

Musical notes - one octave only?

Letter gestures for touch interfaces

For long-form sign-language

Make a picture of a key you type


Usability FAIL: Drupal vs. WordPress Themes

I’m working with the CU Community Fab Lab this summer (oooh, I should post on that!) and we’re working on redoing their website to make it a more rich portrayal of the Fab Lab experience and spirit. In other words their current website is overly complex and lacking in pictures. So I’ve been tinkering with Drupal installs lately… and my conclusion is that the wonderboy CMS somehow manages to offer an overwhelming number of options and yet simultaneously lack the most needed information interfaces.

Say you want to setup Drupal, and like most people, want to check out what it could potentially look like before you do. You Google Drupal Themes and find their theme page:

Note the amazing amount of themes available, with a huge amount of documentation available about each… and NO PICTURES. WHAT? I know many people think that having a wealth of text content and metadata is efficient, but I would argue that in this case the most efficient (functional, effective, enjoyable, usable) way to search for website appearance options is with visual displays of data in the form of pictures.

So I thought, “Well, while that makes it very hard to browse through maybe I can see what they look like individually.” TURNS OUT NO:

Most of the themes have thumbnails that don’t actually show they they look like live. Those that do have pictures typically have very small ones.

I am completely baffled at how such a widely-known and well-supported open source project like Drupal could lack such a basic functionality. I ought not complain too much though, I could personally go through and take screen shots of all of the thousand or so themes on a XAMPP install and send them to their web team. Or, they could do the smart thing, which would be to require all theme authors to post a picture of their theme in action. Distributed work FTW. I don’t brandish enough geek-clout to convince them to do this, sadly.

Luckily, WordPress comes to our rescue:

And on the zoom:

Note the ratings, integrated user support, metadata and the at-this-point beautiful preview button.

Next time I’ll have to compare the two for speed, a contest where Drupal wins hands-down.

Windows 8 Customer Preview Review

I’m in the midst of testing the Windows 8 Customer Preview. Some notes on my experience, in no particular order. Clearly they don’t have power users in mind!


  1. UI needs work but is a good start
  2. Not enough non-MS app support yet
  3. Buggy
  4. Need more ability to customize things
  5. A good OS for tablets, phones, and media centers, not powerful computers

Look and Feel + Interaction

  • Great for everything MS
  • Poor for apps that are not MS
  • Give me more power to customize the Metro UI start screen
  • Show active Metro UI apps in a flyout on the taskbar
  • Right-side gesture options don’t work well if you have a dual-display to the right
  • Why repeat my task bar on both screens?
  • App-switching on the left of the Metro UI is good
  • Make folders on the search menu in Metro UI collapsed by default – I don’t need a screen full of dutch language manuals for Nero
  • Provide more windows-button hotkey bindings and shortcuts (customizable??)
  • Can we integrate the whole control panel into Metro?
  • Overall performance dropped ~10% according to benchmarks, can’t feel it though

MS Apps that are useful

  • Explorer file transfer management is MUCH IMPROVED
  • Internet Explorer’s interface is good…
  • Bing Weather
  • Built-in PDF and ISO readers
  • System Rating – look I’m no longer the fastest possible!

MS Apps that need improvement

  • App store – very little selection, give me the big names
  • Maps – way worse than Google’s, let me manually input my location
  • Photos – let me add/remove sources to my liking, and pick what goes in the live tile
  • Videos/Music – let me control directory sources from Metro UI

Some stuff doesn’t launch

  • Daemon Tools (SPTD 1.8 can’t be layered with 4.10 anymore)
  • PowerDVD 11 (updated to a mid-level patch, probably works with a new one)
  • Can’t recognize my Hercules webcam
  • I’d bet most antivirus won’t work, I’m using AVG

Some stuff crashes

  • Creative volume control (crashes at shutdown, works otherwise)
  • LOL skin changer (.NET framework issues, can’t import skins)

Weird behaviors that have happened randomly, without repeat

  • Drag and drop stopped working
  • Couldn’t see files through Windows Explorer
  • Icon images on Control Panel
  • Bluray burner disconnected randomly while burning with Nero 10, disc toasted

Things they need to put back in

  • Recently used documents as sub-menus on start items
  • Make it easier for me to get to sleep/shutdown/restart

Things I haven’t played much with

  • Anything that makes me sign into a MS Live account
  • MS Email
  • Skydrive
  • Internet Explorer compatibility