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Octa's Extra Credit Assignment Page


2. You can discuss three articles from Don Norman's and/or Jacob Nielsen's sites. Pick three articles that you think are the most relevant to either CS majors at Georgia Tech or, more specifically, students in 2340. Link to the articles, summarize them, and explain why you think that these are important.

Article 01: The truth about Google's so-called "simplicity"
Though this was the first article on Don Norman's website, this article I thought was very interesting. Norman critiques the usability issues of Google's "simple" design. Undoubtedly, everyone is probably familiar with the Google search engine. As for myself, it's the only search engine I use.

The biggest point about the article is the issue of excessive navigation to get to places where the user wants to get to that doesn't involve search engine. In terms of object oriented design, the gulf of execution is slightly bigger than that of other search engines such as Yahoo! and MSN. The gulf of execution is the amount of steps that a user has to take to execute a wanted task, in this case, the amount of mouse clicks.

Norman at the same time critiques the hyperlink mappings Google has. Having the user use trial and error to get to a desired feature on Google (maps, Froogle, Google Scholar, etc) can increase the gulf of evaluation. The gulf of evaluation is the margin between what the user thinks a system does or parts of it to what it actually does. This may potentially increase the number of mistakes (user made error to complete a task) from using the system as well as question the reliability of Google's natural mappings (association of functions to the real world, which helps the user correctly figure out the function of certain hyperlinks).

While these are valid points that may decrease the usability of Google's website, there are some points that aren't taken into consideration.

For example, I believe Google (when it first came out) was only a search engine. Yahoo! and MSN are something I'd consider to be a web portal service for users. Google may be keeping this "simplicity" to adhere to the tradition of what Google originally was. While being conservative in user interfaces can have a negative impact, this isn't the only reason why Google would keep the website uncluttered.

In an article by Jakob Nielson (Screen Resolution and Page Layout) combined with an aside he wrote (Why This Site Has Almost No Graphics), provide what i believe to be the meat that makes Google a superior website.

Concerning Jakob Nielson's article I mentioned, he talks about how important it is to design a website that can cater to various screen resolutions since computer users may have varying screen resolutions as not everyone has a 17" or greater monitor to handle the larger resolutions. There's also laptops who have lower resolutions because of their smaller displays. I actually did this test myself... I put my laptop into a resolution of 800x600 and visited Yahoo! and MSN. With the web browser window at maximum size, you can see the entire page layout for both web portal sites. If the web browser is not in maximum size, parts get clipped and the user has to scroll to see the entire page horizontally. The Google website is easily viewable from a lower resolution.

Concerning the aside by Jakob Nielson, because of the lack of content and graphics the Google website has, the webpage loads much faster. Though I couldn't test this personally since the load times are almost negligible through the fast network I'm connected to, I imagine this could be a problem if I was surfing the web from home (that uses a 56k connection). Before MSN and Yahoo! were known as these "all-in-one" websites, I believe they were recognized as search engines (moreover Yahoo! than MSN). This brings me back to the first point in my rebuttal. If someone is thinking "search engine" they may think of Yahoo!, MSN, and Google. The problem here is that if they went to Yahoo! and MSN, the extra clutter increases the loading time and as Nielson points out, "Users do not keep their attention on the page if downloading exceeds 10 seconds."

In addition, Google has been growing to become what Yahoo! and MSN is today. It really isn't de facto that Google are these other things other than a search engine, though that's been changing. Until then, it makes sense that Google has just the search engine displayed because it's what most people know about Google. Others who know better of course would make the extra clicks to get to Google Maps or Froogle.

Should Google really need to adjust its image as an all-in-one web portal, a simple solution would simply to have this following Google page as the main page (The New Google?). This page is more cluttered but retains simplicity and most likely retains faster loading times than the main page of Yahoo! and MSN today.

Article 02: Activity-Centered Design: Why I like my Harmony Remote Control

This article talks about and criticizes the setbacks of universal remotes that make performing actvities in a fully loaded home theater system with the exception of the Logitech Harmony Remote that Norman uses. The design of the remote is activity-centered so it allows the user to perform certain activities with much ease. The Harmony remote is programmed by connecting the device via USB and downloading patches for all the devices owned by the user and the remote is automatically programmed to perform common activities, such as "watch TV", "watch DVD", etc., without hassle of compatibility (granted the device in question can be used by the remote, which for the most part isn't an issue according to Norman) or complexity. The gulf of execution is minimized since the programming part of the remote is almost eliminated by downloading these patches and fewer clicks get you what you want.

Concerning this activity-centered design idea (ACD), I believe that this can very well go hand in hand with user-centered design (UCD) which is more focused on usability, but with the example of this Logitech Harmony remote, because it was activity focused, it had better usability, but to have good usability requires minimizing the gulf of execution/evaluation which can lead to activity-centered design as I've mentioned that the notion of grouping steps into buttons that represented activities, it simplifies what a user has to do in order to get what they want.

Article 03: Emotional Design: People and Things

Now this article got my attention because I'm very well a 1/2 sucker for clocks that have looks over functionality (at least the ease of use)... i.e. Binary Watch and Binary Clock.

So when is emotional design a good thing? Apparently, in the article, the individuals used in the experiment were interested in the weird clock that seemed to have nil functionality but looks good for decoration or a random conversation. In terms of marketing, making a product look good is important. If you can have functionality and usability, it'd be even better. An example of this is the Simon game programmed this semester. The upgraded version of Simon looked a lot cooler (while maintaining functionality) and has more potential to attract people than the old version. In this article, they go to an extreme by totally having the scales unbalanced between functionality and looks.

In software design, I think it's also just as important to have interfaces that look sleek while at the same time retain functionality and usability. I believe also that this is a problem that should be addressed in terms of the maxim "you are not your user". In general, I noticed that programmers are more inclined to choose functionality over looks. It's true that functionality is very important and crucial, but I believe looks can still be improved while maintaining functionality and if done right, speed would be almost negligible which is sometimes the issue with having interfaces look fancy. The way software looks to a user appeals to their "emotions" in a sense. Of course, trying to design "good" looking interfaces can vary greatly from user to user. For example, I like the way Adobe After Effects 7 looks because it feels professional (while professional software tends to be low on the eye candy, it still feels attractive because of the way the layout looks, how the layout is grouped, and that professionalistic feel). Someone might like how MacOS looks because of how the GUI acts, but yet at the same time, MacOS's eye candy doesn't bog down resources.

In the end, it's more realistic that designers that produce commercial software can't ignore how the software interface looks because they are trying to sell the product to audiences that I believe are generally captivated with looks. There is a saying that says "love at first sight". In a way, this is true. In terms of software, if a consumer sees an attractive device or software, chances are they'll pay more attention to it first. Then if the software proves to have just as good functionality, then the consumer is sold on buying the product. This is similar to how advertising works.

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