Usability at Work: Instant Oatmeal


A lot of people ask me what I study in school.  Usually, I just say, "Web design."  But that's not quite right.  What I should start saying is "user experience research."

What is user experience?  Everything.  It's about how you experience the world around you, and for my part, I like to find out how.  How do people use things?  How do people use Web sites?  How do people find information, and how do they process it?  Why do people look for certain information in the first place, and what are they expecting to get out of it?  Are there problems with the way a particular product is designed that makes people frustrated whenever they use it?  What could make the experience better?

Those are the questions I ask in my research, and those are the questions that bleed into nearly every part of my life.  So when I opened my new box of Quaker Instant Oatmeal (maple and brown sugar, thankyouverymuch), I immediately noticed that people had been doing their user experience research.  Do you see the 3/4 cup fill line at the top of the packet?  Quaker turned the natural affordance of a folded piece of paper into a piece of user experience brilliance!  IT'S A CUP!  A cup for people who don't have a measuring cup lying around!  A cup for people who don't want to use their cup for measuring water!  A cup for people who just don't want to bother!

It's products such as this that make me smile.  Maybe I'll apply for a job at Pepsico, maker of Quaker Oats.  :)


(Originally published at Busy Nothings on March 11, 2013.)

Excellent User Experience!

While doing some shopping at Wal-Mart, I noticed this excellent example of good user experience:


Here, take a closer look:


Pretty cool, huh?  Just a little extra effort goes a long way to making the shopping experience better, and if Wal-Mart can consistently make that happen, more people will shop there.  And they'll make more money.  And everybody will be happy.

Welcome to what I want to do when I grow up.  :)

 Want more?  Here's A Study in Usability.


(Originally posted at Busy Nothings on June 3, 2012.)

Shopping Baskets: A Study in Usability

Usability is a term that refers to how easy an object is to use or learn to use. The object can be an everyday thing, like a toothbrush, a chair, a shopping cart, or a measuring cup. It can be something complex, such as a computer or an airplane. It can also be a virtual space, such as a Web site, a smartphone application, or a search engine.

In school, I'm focusing on how to make the last group of objects usable, but right now, I want to take a break from homework and tell you about an everyday object I discovered recently that I found to be extremely usable.

That's right; it's just a shopping basket. BUT! Target has re-designed it to make their customers' shopping experience who knows how many times better! Instead of being square, it curves to the contours of your legs. The orientation of the handle is such that you don't have to hold the basket far away from you to keep it from hitting your knees. Lastly, the handle itself is thick, so that when you have heavy items in your basket, it doesn't cut into your hand.

I love noticing usable things.

Thanks, Target!


(Originally published at Busy Nothings on February 16, 2011.)

Usability 101

I don't have to have my masters in HCI at Georgia Tech yet to know user-unfriendly design when I see it.

I was using Lauren's rather expensive Bissell Cleanview PowerTrak Revolution Deluxe vacuum cleaner last night and today, and let me tell you -- for over $200, that thing should be usable. Oh, it cleans fine, and it's got this red light/green light feature that lets you know when your carpet is still dirty or clean, respectively. But the cord is in the wrong place! It's on the right side of the vacuum, which means that, if you're right-handed, you've got a lot of unnecessary fiddling with the cord to do. I guess it's great for Lefties. But what Bissell and other vacuum companies ought to do is either make two versions of each vacuum or come up with a portable cord case thing. OR put the cord in the back and centered.

Anyway, I just thought I'd mention it because it's those little things in life that sometimes feel like they matter the most. Annoyances here and there that, when you live with them for a long time and then have a chance to live without, you're amazed at how much more relaxing life becomes!

The opposite is also true. For example, who knew I would be so thankful for a dry refrigerator? Well, in my apartment, the fridge leaks all over the food. So I open the fridge doors to soggy egg cartons and small puddles. I have to keep my containers perfectly level until I get to the kitchen sink, where I can dispense of the water, but inevitably, some of it always spills onto the floor. It's absolutely rudiculus.


(Originally published at Busy Nothings on September 14, 2006.)

Don't Make Me Think

I'm currently reading Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. (You'd be surprised at how many people see this book sitting on my desk, laugh, and say, "Don't make me think?! What's that?")

It's a really great and rather slim book on how we use the Web. A lot of the ideas are probably things you've subconsciously thought before, but with this book, Krug makes sure you consciously think about them. The section I've enjoyed most so far is one on Web site navigation. Krug says "the Web experience is missing many of the cues we've relied on all our lives to negotiate spaces," like sense of space, direction, and location. "On the Web," he writes, "your feet never touch the ground; instead, you make your way around by clicking on links."

"When we want to return to something on a Web site, instead of relying on a physical sense of where it is we have to remember where it is in the conceptual hierarchy and retrace our steps. This is one reason why bookmarks -- stored personal shortcuts -- are so important, and why the Back button accounts for somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of all Web clicks."

"This lack of physicality is both good and bad. On the plus side, the sense of weightlessness can be exhilarating, and partly explains why it's so easy to lose track of time on the Web -- the same as when we're 'lost' in a good book."

So there you have it. That's the reason we can spend hours online and not realize we've been sitting in front of the computer for so long. And who knew the Back button was one of the most used buttons on the internet?


(Originally published at Busy Nothings on January 23, 2006.)