World Usability Day 2005 was a smashing success. Our own community knows how important usability is, but we didn’t predict how much of a chord we could strike—all around the world—outside our usual circle. That was the primary goal of World Usability Day: to reach out to new audiences about the importance of improving the user experience.
As of late November 2005, data was collected from 77 events, reporting a total of eight thousand attendees or participants. On the www.worldusabiltyday.org website, more than 115 locations in 35 countries showed events scheduled for the day. None of this would have been possible without thousands of hours of volunteer work, not only on the day but also in the months leading up to November 3. Hundreds of volunteers around the world came together to create an extraordinary day: Local leaders ran events. Website editors reviewed and posted massive amounts of information starting when the planning began. These volunteers continued their efforts during the countdown and then steadily throughout the thirty-six-hour day. Webcast volunteers found a new way to create communities with online conferences and discussions across sixteen countries. The webcasts allowed those who couldn’t travel to learn and share knowledge about accessibility. Media coverage included dominant publications and broadcasts in Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, North and South America, and all over Europe and Asia. There were hundreds of mentions in local publications, and probably thousands of blog and website listings.
The Stories We Told
One of the most important tools we have for broadening our audience is great stories. Here are some of them:
- In Philadelphia, Fidelity’s Tom Tullis told attendees about the evolution of usability in elevators. He was inspired to tell this story after encountering an elevator so confusing that the building managers supplied users with instruction manuals and handy tear-off wallet reminder cards.
- In Chicago, Human Factor International’s Susan Weinschenk talked about presenting the case for a $40,000 usability test that could save $11 million. When the executive responded, “Three,” Susan wondered whether he was telling her she had three minutes to get out of the building. Actually, the executive was thinking, “If one usability test will save us $11 million, then we should do three usability tests and save $33 million.”
- In Magdeburg, Germany, Professor Carol Zwick described the Mirra office chair experience (from Herman Miller), with colorful details about why it took more than four years to develop this very successful product.
- In East Lansing, Michigan, U.S., Laura Vennie and Sara Ulius Sabel, usability specialists at Whirlpool Corporation, demonstrated how a user-centered research and design process put the Duet®
washer and dryer products on a pedestal.
- In Hyderabad, India, a usability cartoon contest sponsored by UsabilityMatters.Org demonstrated the storytelling power of pictures. This contest drew 250 entries from at least eight different countries. The Hyderabad session also ran a “Boycott Bad Design” contest.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., Susan Dray illustrated imaginative solutions to the digital divide: a PDA interface for illiterate Bushmen allowed them to transmit their exquisite knowledge of animal habits to wildlife managers. She also saw South African tuberculosis patients with cell phones receive text messages that reminded them to take their medications on time and for the full course. More patients stayed healthy, and the system helped stop the development of drug-resistant TB strains in South Africa.
- Auckland, New Zealand, sent a story of their “remote control shootout.” Eight attendees vied for the title of “Owner of the Most Unusable Remote Control.” The winner was the one who accidentally managed to switch off all the electrical equipment in the room.
In Beijing, Sean Liu from the uiGarden (http://www.uigarden.net) described usability and accessibility problems with public equipment such as information kiosks, ATMs, and telephone booths. One of the highlights of the discussion was about ATMs. In almost all Western countries, users have to take the card out first before the money will come out of the machine. However, in China, the steps are reversed—first you take out the money and then the card. Many audience members complained that, many times, they forgot to take their cards. As a result, they lost the cards, and some of them even lost money because of this design failure.
- Noldus InformationTechnology organized a series of free events in their offices in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Usability expert Gerard van Os (Glacimonto) conducted two expert reviews of websites. One was of a new Dutch site (www.bouwjeeigenbrug.nl) designed for municipal officials who plan and construct bridges to help them estimate total costs. The second was of a Spanish technology institute site (www.iti.upv.es). This was a special challenge for Gerard, but it turns out a true expert can review a site even in a language he doesn’t speak. He found issues that were universal and independent of language or culture.
- Visitors to the Stuttgart, Germany, Adventure Park participated in World Usability Day by operating a high-tech oven, having a go with a driving simulator, and evaluating websites using eye trackers and other usability testing methods. Simulated barriers illustrated the difficulties that physically handicapped and elderly people have in their everyday lives: eye complaints were mimicked with modified spectacles and the immobility of elderly peoples’ hands with gloves.
Tomorrow’s Usability Practitioners
One audience that World Usability Day planners hoped to reach was young children and students, and they succeeded:
- Five hundred Faulkner University Students in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., watched a demonstration of the principles of usability done in the style of the “Props” segment from the television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
- A high school class in Tucson, Arizona, U.S., went on a field trip to an event at IBM’s usability lab; a Limerick, Ireland, elementary classroom learned about usability and got t-shirts, too!
- In Durham, North Carolina, U.S., students from two local universi- ties competed in an interactive design trial of a remote control for a far-sighted customer with arthritis. The two design solutions included a wheel on the side of the remote that could be used to scroll through the guide, and an on-screen display of commands to compensate for the user’s farsightedness.
- In Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., a $500 scholarship was awarded to the winner of a student poster contest sponsored by the local ACM SIGCHI group.
- In Curitiba, Brazil, university students prepared displays analyzing the usability of ten different products, including car dashboards, video games, and digital cameras. Dr. Larry Constantine lectured at Pontifical University Catholic of Paraná, visited CITS (International Center for Software Technology), spoke to members of FIEP (Federation of Industries of State of Paraná), Bematech and UNINDUS (Industry University), and gave a full-day tutorial at CIETEP (Integrated Centre of Entrepreneurs and Workers of the Industries of the State of Paraná).
- In the U.S., Resource Interactive hosted an open house and live test demonstration for students, recent graduates, and faculty members from Wright State University, Ohio State University, and Columbus State Community College.
Access for All
Travel presents an insurmountable physical and fiscal challenge for many in the accessibility community. The Accessibility Channel created unprecedented opportunities for worldwide participants to share knowledge and ideas with presenters from six countries. The participants commented via online chat during all twenty-six presentations. See http://www.inclusive.com/WUD_access/index.htm for details.
Other accessibility-related user experiences of the day were:
- In Barcelona, Spain, one of the most popular features was an exhibit in which participants could try to browse the Internet as blind people do.
- All over Poland, government workers were happy to have basic accessibility and usability information presented during a webcast and on a new web site,www.wud.pl. The webcast was so popular that a second session is being scheduled.
Bigger than Expected
Dozens of reports described far larger numbers of attendees than expected. Many others expressed surprise at finding a much larger usability community around them than they anticipated:
- At the University of Wollongong, in Australia, an open house drew forty people who did not previously know they shared an interest in usability.
- From Curitiba, Brazil: “Speaking to the attendees afterwards, we really opened their eyes and encouraged them to feel they were not alone.”
- In Overland Park, Kansas, U.S., Sprint Nextel’s open lab attracted many internal customers who were thrilled to discover their reor- ganized company’s resources for usability testing. They were also pleased to connect with so many others from other organizations around the area (a total of about seventy-five).
- In Dayton, Ohio, U.S., LexisNexis hosted a reception for area aca- demics and professionals invited by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Among the eighty attendees were the HFES President, Marv Dainoff, and a very surprised and delighted Vanessa Kirby, the London-based User Experience Group Manager for LexisNexis. The event also included twenty-three exhibitors.
Another interesting aspect was the “viral” effect reported by several e-government groups:
- Organizers in Wellington, New Zealand, said twice as many people turned up than they were expecting, mostly because of viral e-mails among industry groups in the region. They set up presentations from both government and civilian agencies about usability for their websites and services.
- An organizer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said, “a blanket invitation to all staff made its way out to the real world, to staff from sister agencies…. It was interesting to see how word spread.”
- Organizers in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., reported that a few days before their event, several companies that “nobody knew even had an interest in UCD” made contact to see how they could participate.
Usability in e-government was of worldwide interest:
- At Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S., the websites of both candidates for governor of the state were evaluated for usability. While no clear winner emerged, the participants identified and discussed many opportunities to improve usability.
- Quebec, Canada, coordinated a luncheon presentation at the INTRACOM 2005 conference. That evening, the government Delegate Minister, M. Henri-François Gautrin, spoke about World Usability Day in his address.
- Singapore provided attendees with tours and live tests of government sites. Attendees could be either participants or observers of a usability test in a usability lab. This allowed people to get a real feel, some for the first time, of what usability really is and how they can use it to create better websites and services.
- The Washington, D.C., U.S., chapter of UPA sponsored a panel discussion notable for the breadth of government agencies involved: U.S. Election Assistance Commission, U.S. Treasury Department, FirstGov.gov, U.S. Census Bureau, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and U.S. Social Security
Administration. Also on hand was Whitney Quesenbery, president of UPA, who talked about our organization’s part in the Design for Democracy voting project.
- In Belgium, one of the highlights of the day was a speech by Mrs. Patricia Ceysens, former Flemish minister of Economics, and present leader of the Flemish par- liamentary fraction of the VLD (the Liberal Party). She wrote the book E-mama, on women who combine work and motherhood more easily thanks to technology. As head of the committee for Digital Flanders of the Flemish Parliament. Ceysens had quite a few ideas about how information technology can be used to make our lives easier. Also highlighted were the special World Usability Day t-shirts which, said one of the organizers, “were clearly, judging by size, sent from America.”
- IsraChi sponsored a full-day media event in Tel Aviv, Israel, inviting the minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Matan Vilnai, as the guest of honor.
Finally, the stores could not have been told and the events could not have been coordinated without the generous support of our sponsors.
- Human Factors International (HFI), our title sponsor, provided much more than we expected. HFI came forward in many ways including creating the World Usability Day calendars and presentation DVDs which they made globally available. With TechSmith and Michigan State University, HFI announced a usability study of online travel sites. HFI also provided support to several local events by sending their staff to assist in both preparation and keynotes, and they also conducted a global color survey on websites.
- TechSmith also went beyond the role of supporting sponsor by providing t-shirts to all the local events, as well as working with HFI on the usabilty study of online travel sites.
- Apogee supported our work through generous design contributions. Intuit and User Interface Design GMBH were participating sponsors. Several large companies, including LexisNexis, IBM, Lillly, and Sabre, generously opened events to usability professionals. Others, such as Tekla, Sprint Nextel, and Safeco organized events that reached many new internal customers.
World Usability Day 2005 succeeeded because everyone worked as a team. International and state boundaries, job descriptions, class levels, and political issues were put aside in the name of a greater cause. The message was clear, and it resounded around the world: technology, products, and services can be better, and we can help.
Above all, the sheer globalness of this effort underscores the global nature of the challenges of usability. There were reporst from three cities in Sweden, three in India, three in China, five in Germany, three in the UK, three in Brazil, and four in New Zealand.
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