More Axure Fun

So I have been using repeaters in a couple of prototypes in Axure. Repeaters allow creating a single element that then is linked to a data table and will repeat content based on how many rows are in the data table. This can make it much easier to automatically simulate a list/grid of search results with real content. You can also then add controls to filter and sort and paginate the list. There is also the ability to dynamically load images from an external source. All of this awesome functionality was making it fun to build out some prototypes that I had intended to do some remote/unmoderated usability testing.

Unfortunately, complex repeaters (6+ columns, external images, links/refernce pages, etc) with more than around 12 rows can substantially slow down the loading of a prototype in a browser. It gets even worse from the axshare server. Also, having more than 1 repeater widget on a page can also slow down a prototype to make it basically unusable. So I fell back to using dynamic panels with states to represent more limited simulation of filtering.

There are some ways to optimize repeaters including using the pagination functionality to load a smaller set of content. However, even after this optimization I still found my prototype pages with repeaters taking upwards of 8-10 seconds to load locally. Viewing pages from the axshare server which can be slow on its own, was often pushing 20+ seconds to load a page. For all the power they offer it was a big dissappointment to not be able to use repeaters in the prototypes for the usability testing. I am still looking further in to how to optimize things. I think it would be helpful if we could make a repeater load asynchronously and perhaps have a place holder image or group of elements.

Axure Interactions on Grouped Elements Reminder

This is a note to remind myself that interactions applied to a group folder do not work if any of the enclosed elements have an interaction. Also AxureEx is an incredibly useful set of methods for including javascript in an Axure file:

AxureEx can be found here:

And the downloadable file is here:

Credit to Sam Hepworth

Google’s Chrome cr-48 Notebook

I signed up for the beta version of the Chrome OS notebook from google. I am not expecting that they will send it to me as I would be surprised if they have not already sent out all 60,000 beta models. Nonetheless, I would be very excited to get one as I think this is the future of computing and user experience. Between the google cr-48 and the Macbook Air the future of desktop/laptop experience is in these streamlined mobile/cloud based UIs. I think the one thing that google needs to port to the Chrome OS is the Android store. Just as Apple is releasing the App Store to the laptop/desktop, so should google allow users to run android apps in the Chrome OS. It is the perfect blend of an internet based experience and an app/platform focused experience.

I really love my iPad despite the numerous short comings and currently have a Macbook pro 15″ for work. However, I am really sold on the more portable computing functionality. Having transitioned from a desktop to a laptop to an ipad for most of my daily computing needs, it seems clear that the future will be more powerful yet more portable devices. The UI of these experiences will have to accommodate a variety of screen formats and sizes. If I don’t get a Cr-48 I will save my $ for a Macbook Air.

Section 508 – more than compliance

While you can use automated validators to measure whether you meet section 508 and WCAG accessibility guidelines, often making the interface usable for screen readers requires more. The validators simply tell you if you have violated one of the standard rules. It does not tell you if the user can make sense of whatever it is that has been written.

Also it should be noted that while section 508 seems mostly focused on users who use screen readers, there are a number of other disabilities that are covered as well including cognitive and other various forms of visual impairments. To truly satisfy users who need section 508 assistance you need to test with users who represent those types of users. Truthfully with many eCommerce sites failing at this, sadly the bar is set pretty low to meet their needs.

If your site has a global presence then you really need to meet the WCAG Level A or priority 1 requirements at the least. As WCAG is the standard set forth by the W3C it is best to follow what is set as a standard by this group. A great article on the differences between the two can be found here;

Other Accessibility resources are here;
Section 508

The Emotion of User Experience

Originally, I set out to write up the differences between user experience and graphic design as there are many web designers who promote themselves as experts in usability. I was enlarging it to cover pretty much all other participants in a web project, from product owners, marketers, to developers. Many of whom speak about the importance of user experience and usability, but do not understand how to actually ensure that it is incorporated into their process. Many more of whom who have never observed anyone using the product they create. However, I am going in another direction with this post as I find myself somewhat at odds with folks in my own profession, who after years of research have finally come to view users as people. The new buzz is creating interfaces/interactions that connect to a user’s emotions.

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The Fold Zone

More and more web designers are seeking to dispel the notion of the browser fold. Yet there is still the reality that users can not see all of a page’s content if it is taller than a browser window and they will potentially leave the page before discovering the additional content. There is often an email sent from the CEO or other senior manager stating that they want some graphic or link moved above the fold. This typically ruins the layout or requires major reworking to get things to fit.

I guess I should back up a bit and explain that the fold is an invisible line where the content of the page is not visible below the bottom of your browser window (and/or to the right side if there is also more content than can fit into one screen horizontally). It is borrowed from the print world where certain print formats such as newspapers and brochures are folded. The content that was most important appears on the front page before the fold to be sure that the consumer would notice it.

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Recording and conducting usability tests on the Mac

As of late I have been looking into what ways that I could record a usability session of an application on a Mac. Windows definitely has an edge here with the Morae application from techsmith. This is a feature rich application that captures a usability session as well as make it easy to produce some nice reports. It captures both the screen and if you have a web cam, the subject. There is nothing equivalent for the Mac. However, there are a number of tools available for Mac OS X that can perform most of the functions of Morae separately.

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