Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Usability for the Planet: World Usability Day 2005

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.

The Numbers

As of late November 2005, data was collected from 77 events, reporting a total of eight thousand attendees or participants. On the 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 ( 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 ( designed for municipal officials who plan and construct bridges to help them estimate total costs. The second was of a Spanish technology institute site (  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 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, 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.

Viral Marketing

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,,  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.