Nick Ragouzis -- Selected List Contributions

From designing for experience to strategic innovation, from at-fault users to marketing-challenged usability, here are some of postings to ACM SIGCHI CHI-WEB (there's no more active list concerning design for the web in the ACM or the IEEE) and the AIGA's Advance for Design effort (involving the leading iBuilders and web designers).

The more formal writings are indexed at These include the popular Ten Design-less Rules for Successful Web Design.

Please contact me with any comments, questions or specific requests:

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Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000 22:08:15 -0800
Subject: Re: [aiga-advance] Meta-designing Information
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
To: Astrida Valigorsky ,

"Astrida Valigorsky"  wrote:
> Aren't the best Information Architects not only designing the information,
> but consulting on designing the process to fit the project?  (How rarely that
> seems to occur? How rarely do we give ourselves the time to properly develop
> our own cognition of the task at hand.)

Astrida ... It's a big bite you've taken here.

Here's a meta-observation. Complex systems exhibit phase shifts or
boundaries. Sometimes it's not clear that the conditions predetermining a
phase shift have been passed until the phase shift occurs. Sometimes it's
not possible to "recover" the previous phase.

Perhaps we've finally passed such a boundary? The new phase I'm referring to
is that which values:

 * opportunity creation over rote (re-)execution,
 * acceleration and agility over speed and focus,
 * reconciliation (of seemingly conflicting demands -- design and commerce,
   for just one example) over fealty.

Not that we've consciously chosen this or are yet aware ... but I'm
wondering: Has the insidious nature of the interactive environment that is
the Internet and the connected systems has finally locked in the
fundamentals so that one day, soon perhaps?, we'll be forced to make the
reconciling adjustments?

What would an example be of such an adjustment?

I think you hit one:

  that the practices of information architecture, interaction design,
  experience design, ..., infoactivence, aechseeyeing, delightification,
  usabilitinism, whatever, motivate and lead in creating an 8.0 earthquake
  in organization processes.

Modern organization process is now still so ... 1980s. Peter Drucker and Tom
Peters may have new books, and new ideas even, but their earlier writings
reflected the shift to the phase we're still in. For example, it's just
yesterday that we finally cast off "customer-focused" (Peter's original
wrong-headed idea) and moved to "customer-centered". And that's already
obviously too limited (despite general design practice's suffocating embrace
of the idea). No one's really had an incentive to change anything
fundamental despite recent writings, observations, and experiences.

This is where I hope Advance can make a difference. Perhaps. But we'd have
to be ready to shake things up. And for a lot of us to do it persistently in
a variety of ways that are fundamentally reconciled if apparently

For example, we'd have to be ready to shake up curricula so that they:
 * favor messy cross-disciplinary work and not just set-piece multi-topic
   mechanic-in-training course threads (messy for certification),
 * insists on minors in organizational and economic issues,
 * demands that the programs specify and execute their own
   engines of change (structure, qualifications, etc.)
 * and are fundamentally subject to (by way, for instance, of an ongoing
   open standards process to effect local programs) meddling from industry
   and professional practice on par with the inertia of academia and
just to name a few that I've babbled about before.

Ah, but I do dream.

Nick Ragouzis

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Date: Wed, 02 Feb 2000 10:23:54 -0800
Subject: Re: [aiga-advance] Re: right-hand nav
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
To: "" 
CC: Hal Shubin ,
	Leslie Fandrich ,
	"Jared M. Spool" 

Leslie, Hal,

At the risk of turning this forum into CHI-WEB I'd like to note:

1. Leslie: Thanks for quoting the entire UIEtip ... when taken in its
   entirety it provides enough "information" for questioning the study
   as it does for questioning our practices ... and for adjusting both.

2. Hal: Couldn't agree more, except to underline that if we intend
   such studies to inform our designs so that we may enable users
   to have great experiences ... then we will have to do better at
   qualifying who it is that we are studying and what we study.

   One immediate question (asked to the UIEtips report):

      What was the distribution of these users with respect
      to other information tasks? entertainment tasks?

   If it was to any level of significance uniform with respect to
   watching TV, newspaper reading, advertising in general, book reading,
   shopping, computer-based application history, etc., and, yes,
   self-reported (or free-activity) web browsing in work or play,
   and in respect to their consciousness of their approaches to these
   then that is the limited extent to which this report or any
   like it can be taken seriously.

   If such criteria and elements of study design are not reported
   then we should view the report as suspect, even if it may comport
   with our "intuition" or local results about online or offline
   (new or legacy) behavior.

Which brings me to a question:

  Anybody have any information about the independent components of
  a user's media and real-life history and awareness and it's relevance
  to performance or experience and interactive products?

  You know, a nifty PCA or ICA resulting in a nifty and elegant
  separation? And, while you're at it, one that continues to evolve
  as users gain experience?

Even a study (or perhaps a theory?) looking for relevance from media or
marketing theory and criticism would be great.

Alright, a bit much, but parts of it are probably out there; I just don't
know of it (or if I've come across them they haven't stuck).

(Of course it's "Out There;" and, as well, it's obviously there from all of
our experiences and readings ... but I've not found it collected and
validated. And if it's there and UIE isn't using it ... :-) ... and we are
enforcing its use ... :-)) then that's not so good.)

Nick Ragouzis

>> At 10:34 AM 2/2/00 , Leslie Fandrich  wrote:
>> This was passed down to me through a number of people, but I believe it
>> originated at User Interface Engineering, a product usability consulting 
>> firm based in North Andover, MA. Visit the web site at
>> Hope this helps!!
> At Wed, 02 Feb 2000 11:56:21 -0500, Hal Shubin  wrote:
> This is interesting work, but I wouldn't take it at face value without 
> knowing more about the test design and seeing more controlled testing. 
> I think it's incomplete advice.

> For example, this excerpt (see below): "This argues against the design
> strategy of using a consistent grid on all pages. It may cause users to miss
> content of interest." I don't agree with that. They tested changing the grid
> *and* changing the font size. What about keeping the grid constant and
> changing the presentation of the content (fonts, font weight, graphics, 
> color, etc)? Minimizing the changes between pages could still improve 
> usability while keeping the appearance right.

> Another problem with changing the grid size is that people probably come to
> learn where to find common content areas from page to page. For example, if
> I'm reading something in the center area (like a story at
>  ) and the left area changes its width, it'll be
> harder for me to find the continuation on subsequent pages because the text
> I'm looking for is moving around. I haven't done any eye-tracking studies, 
> but I'd want to see things like this ruled out before anyone "argues against"
> long-established practice.
>                                         -- hs

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Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 08:10:26 -0800
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
To: Lisa Strausfeld 
Subject: [aiga-advance] Re: capitulation or a brilliant critique?

The new Word! Oh ... I love it.

Let's not homogenize or flatten our experiences from our "Encounter with
art." These are complex affairs, they take a multitude of forms; each one
takes many forms. As viewer, as an experiencer, experience is (finally) what
we make out of it; sometimes we're helped, sometimes it's a tough job.

Such is the case here. The Art Director's claim that "every single thing I
said in this letter is true, and not a joke or an irony" does not make our
job any easier. But ... how easily we fall into believing that by this, it
is meant that The Word has finally decided to de-emphasize and background
the interface and interaction in order to bring to the foreground the
writing. To let the world wash over. To fall in line. Pish posh. Almost
every element on the Yahoo!-ized implementation is a complaint ... from the
"Dead Word" (compare to Yahoo!) to the, say, Diner's Club bit (nice work!)
or the constantly running content.

But there's at least one other meaning in that  letter (and its too
prominently placed link), the recognition that, we, indeed not just the
unwashed but even The Word's friends, have high expectations. And that, just
now, The Word is disappointed in itself for not fulfilling those
expectations. With this ostensible capitulation the site and the letter is
revealed as (also) an apology.

Apology for what? Few significant artists have produced innovation in an
unbroken stream, climbing to new heights with each phase ... while also
bringing along their audience. Audiences tend to be confused by the changes,
believing the artist has abandoned them, has lost his/her empathy for them
... just when they, the audience, have come to understand. But have they
come to understand? From tins of human excrement to a "merely" gesso-ed
white canvas, artists have moved into new phases through abusing their
audiences, making them aware that they aren't working hard enough. The
apology here (and the plea -- "Please don't expect much from us for a while
...") can be seen as the artist's soul, reaching out to pat us on the back,
(to make us feel as though) sharing our pain. Or a passive-aggressive
version of spurring an audience on to new achievements.

The indictment of HTML and Dynamic HTML is a clever device. Whether
conscious or not (and when hasn't the audience also contributed to the
artist's experience?; when hasn't the artist discovered something about a
transformational piece _after_ it is done?) this is a wonderfully indirect
indictment of other artists (and audiences). It isn't, of course, HTML or
Dynamic HTML, which isn't the art, of course; these are "merely" charcoal,
oil, clay. It _is_ a lack of imagination, a lack of vision, a lacking in
execution. And, again, a lacking in the audience who say, for example, that
they want, really want, great experiences, but won't spend 10 minutes
upgrading their effin' browser.

Also, did you notice the amusing indictment of a special component of the
audience (and _not_ creators) -- the critic, the arbiter, the pundit, the
itinerant-traveling-and-propounding-expert -- that is contained in the
reference to the everything-must-be-the-same blandness, and the
just-want-to-be-a-regular-guy (read, also, popular) stuff? It's wonderful.

Of course, if "every single thing ... said in [the] letter is true" then we
must also believe that this particular design team is, indeed, exhausted in
pursuing it's _own_ expectations. This foretells of the time to come when
they will pursue those expectations. But as to exhaustion; who isn't? We
are, just now, in a dead calm. _CALM_?! where? Deadly calm might be a better
phrase -- having climbed a treacherous incline we have reached a phase where
we could sustain, for quite a while, with just what we have learned to do.
"Ah, Commerce, We Have Found The Formula. Now Produce More Of That. The Web
Is Successful!" Those who have endured the entire climb are exhausted not so
much from the past, but from the recognition that the incline before us
appears exponentially more difficult. Euphoria thwarted. The frightening
thing, the thing that appears to frighten The Word, is that we've been
scouting that new frontier, and we've failed and failed and failed to gain
the same level of execution that we've achieved in our journey to here. Ack!
we're beginning all over?! Yes. Plus, just now, our climbing partners, our
sponsors, our sherpa, are becoming indifferent, blase', phlegmatic --
deceived by the mirage of accomplishment. But warning (Will Robinson) there
are others who are jammin' and they are gonna run us over if we don't get
our butts up and movin'.

Finally, in trying to understand Word!, did you check out the source? The
meta content? Just like learning that a painter has scrawled something on
the back of the canvas, used a certain object for the armature of a
sculpture, has hidden something among the strokes of a painting ... the
source is an integral part of the art (and the Art Director has said as
much). Check it out ... nothing huge, just another part of the experience.

My enthusiastic applause to The Word for a wonderful piece. It is a great
execution of a standard piece: the artist as critic of his/her perceivers
and time.

[ BTW: Despite the Yahoo!-ized Word's claim, there's at least one forum
where the folks from The Word would readily claim the site a parody: the
forum of law. For if it were not, the site (it seems to me) would be
considered a full-on violation of Yahoo!'s trade dress. ]

Nick Ragouzis

> i'm curious about your thoughts on the new
> make sure you read the letter from the art director
> lisa

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Date: Fri, 31 Dec 1999 13:46:30 -0800
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
Subject: [aiga-advance] Re: DRAFT: Curriculum statement

> preliminary draft of a curriculum statement for experience design,
> courtesy of Meredith Davis, North Carolina State University


I've skimmed, and just now read-through, your draft curriculum statement. I
think it's a great start.

I will ( I will, I say, I will ) ... I will go through it again and consider
how, if at all, I may make a useful contribution.

In saying it's a "start" I'm only reflecting the tentative sense in which
Denise's email introduced the piece. It seems to me a pretty good finish
just as it is ... especially if we adjust our expectations.

I think we should expect to write several such templates (most not as
complete as yours, I'm sure), and incorporate by reference (existing or
future) the many efforts by others outside this circle. The assembly of
which would serve as a rich source for every institution's effort to shape
its own statement.

This leads me to note two things. One is concerning assumed characteristics
of curricula (curricula relevance horizon, the delay in curricula approval).
The other is the role of interaction itself.

The overall sense that I get of your CS is that of "grappling:" with the
technology, with the conveyance  of experience (representing and
transporting to a user).

The overall CS is well-balanced, so I'm not sure how I come to this --
except to observe that most of the specific objectives and their most
formally-stated components seem to me to be of this "grappling" type. For
example, in the first item, the sense in which designing experiences remains
more like (the older) designing objects and grappling with a medium. I was
thinking that we need to call attention to the more reflexive and extensive,
and indirect challenge, that of:

  designing the possibility for interactions which lead to experiences.

The import of getting this wrong is that we would be perpetuating
designer-centeredness, where the designer's intent (and her client's) is
paramount, and interaction by and from the user is accommodated, managed,
incorporated, ..., grappled with. Now this last implication isn't forgone,
but it is all too common now, and it is all to easy to make, and, as we've
seen in the difficulty encountered in trying to move designers to the
simpler form, that of "merely" user-centered design, it is all to easy to be
satisfied with these lower results for users.

[ Historical note relative to how we tend, easily, to lose focus on an
essential feature and to be satisfied with less. Interview your favorite
interactive and hypermedia expert and ask him: What is the essential feature
of modern interactive media? Links, right? You know, the things users can
click on to get to content of all types, from all sources, etc. Hum.
Vannevar Bush said, in As We May Think: "This is the essential feature of
the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing."
That is -- NOT the FOLLOWING of links, BUT the MAKING of links. BY THE USER;
not merely by the (original) authors; the user isn't building a "trail"
merely by following options chosen by someone else, but is rather MAKING the
trail. Few have captured this: Both Engelbart and Nelsen missed this element
in their early writing and work, emphasizing the "following" aspect by all
other than the "author". And we have continued their error. We are still so
very far, so very very far, from being able to do this. (And no, XML is not
almost ready to delivery this, and is, rather, for now, moving away from
this ability.) ]

Once we find a way in the curriculum to elevate interaction itself, the
expression of the user as paramount, over, even, explicit intent of the
designer and her client, then we get a much more useful curriculum. (In part
because it will drive many other disciplines and practices.) But we also get
a much more dynamic curriculum. Why? Because a curriculum of this sort would
be founded on something that will change faster and in more ways than any
other component. As such, it would, indeed, put something at the center that
would be the focus of "social and technological invention over a longer
period of time" ... but rather than providing a static anchor, it would be a
generator of obsolescence.

This is where I connect the other note, regarding curricula, made more
explicit by Denise's preamble. I take it as a clear lesson from Computer
Science, from Economics, from Chemistry, from Biosciences, ..., (need I go
on?) that we cannot and should not tolerate (let alone condition our
proposals on) the idea that we are designing curricula suitable for the
world described in that preamble. These disciplines carry many examples
where they've learned that they must take up today's innovations into the
curriculum itself, even if it might turn out that those specific innovations
might soon be obsolete. The need to innovate, and to communicate about
innovations, and therefore be advantageously-positioned for the next
innovation, has been taken above stability in the curriculum. The
too-long-needed and long-fought-for opening of the cross-disciplinary gates
is one such case of overcoming curriculum inertia.

(I'm reminded of one hilariously and circularly wrong-headed contra-example
cited in a recent Science re: Bayesian analysis, with at least one educator
explaining that they don't teach the "new" and "speculative" methods
because, well, when students get to industry such methods may not be widely
used ... ! ... Such educators may understand their specific subject, but
they need undergraduate work on innovation and systems of change, at the
least. A refresher course on the fundamental existence argument for liberal
arts education, that of teaching learning, not of merely being a trade
school, might also be in order.)

I take it as a given that many institutions will continue to opt for a
theoretical basis (which can infer immunity to change, and leaves
implementation details to individual programs), others for a
discipline/apprentice/practice approach (which provides it's own immunity,
by disallowing "speculative" techniques). By themselves, neither of these
are relevant or adequate for this new practice of design, or, rather, they
are merely thinly preparatory. Other institutions will arise and meet this
need, at the four year and graduate levels. We should make it possible and
easy for them to do so. Indeed, our curricula should carry within itself the
mechanisms for integration and evolution, for requiring change within and
across boundaries. We should call for faster adoption and faster changes,
requiring adoption of methods that accelerate revision and rollout (making
the most-effective use possible of then-current technology to do so along
with the required bureaucratic changes).

Now We Play By OUR Rules
- - - - - - - - - - - -
We are playing the game over a wider field and at a faster pace (or, at
least, preparing to). We also should be changing the rules. Once we truly
grasp how fundamental the change is, and the new role which such design will
take, in this new era of design, we will be able to effect this, and defend
it, properly.

Nick Ragouzis

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Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:57:41 -0700
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
Subject: [aiga-advance] Re: Advance for Design mission

Chris Pacione wrote:

> Not sure if we are looking for a consensus or not, So here are my 2
> con-cents-sus: (ha ha, get it! ok, I'll keep my day job)
> "A forum for the advance of experience design in the network economy. "
> I LOVE IT!! This statement more than anything else I've heard over the years
> captures the spirit and intentions of what I see myself and others doing in
> this field.
> I do prefer Bob's suggestion that we use society instead of economy. It is
> more inclusive.
> Regarding Marc's email, I also agree and acknowledge that "experience
> design" is a bit ambiguous. But I like it too. By way of analogy, Carl Jung
> has a model of fate which I think we could use to understand what WE mean by
> experience. It goes something like this: Life is a raging river, (sounds
> corny I know, but stay with me) and you're in it heading downstream. This is
> fate. (Experience, in general, happens) However we are not at the complete
> mercy of the waters. We do have some control over the quality of experience.
> For example, there is a huge rock in the middle of the river, its coming up
> fast and we are headed right for it. Now while I can't completely alter the
> situation (Swimming upstream is futile, and getting out of the river is not
> an option because this is a metaphor for life, and not real life) I can
> choose and take decisive action to; A. Go to the left of the rock, B. Go to
> the right of it C. Try and go over the rock or D. Just say fuck it, and slam
> right into it. The point is this. We have to clarify to folks that while
> experience happens, and we are not the initiators of experience per say, we
> can affect the quality of those experiences, and sometimes create whole new
> ones. This is our expertise.
> That said, I love the vagueness the term experience implies. In fact, Its
> broadness is quite telling.
> Herb Simon said, "Everyone deigns who devises courses of action aimed at
> changing existing situation into preferred ones. The intellectual activity
> that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one
> that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new
> sales plan for a company or social welfare policy for a state."
> What I think I hear some people saying is this. Experience Design is not an
> offshoot of the traditional design disciplines, but a much broader, newer
> and different approach to the meta task of inventing our world. It has to
> be. The minute we begin to acknowledge that designed artifacts are NOT the
> point, but rather the new and hopefully positive experiences they enable,
> who is not an experience designer? Well, only the people not engaged in the
> explicit process of altering the way people do things. That excites me
> immensely. To me this isn't merely a redefinition of interaction design.
> This sort of philosophical perspective has more to do with economics,
> computer science and anthropology (to name a few) than it does with the
> AIGA. It has more to do with redefining the way we as a networked society go
> about the task of inventing our world. It has more to do with "when is
> design" than "what is design".
> blah blah blah. I'll shut up now. :)
> Chris Pacione

I like Chris' contributions here.

Especially their overall spirit of excitement and inclusion.

And also in their specifics, since Chris' comments point out clearly how
difficult it is to talk about emergent phenomenon, such as I view

Fate is an interesting wonderful foil for this discussion. In Western
philosophy it is often approached as singular (you get only one, but you
might get to choose which) and objective (although different for each of us,
it is something other than what we are before _it_) in characteristic.

This line of thinking leads very naturally to thinking that we design
Experience. Or that we all, each of us, are Experience designers. And that
Experience design is an elevated, enlightened form of interaction design.
But we don't, we aren't (any of us), and it isn't. Do we all design, in the
Simon/Dewey/etc. vein, probably; but designers of Experience (in the same
causes/effects sense), probably not, I think.

When understood as an emergent phenomenon, Experience is recognized as
something for which we can merely hope to find a knob or two, and to hope to
fiddle with in some interesting way. Experience is something we are, to the
extent we humans can track, explain, and assign its origins, subjected to.

From this form of understanding we can try to understand, and explain,
Experience following Nashida, in his meld of Western and Eastern philosophy,
as something that happens BEFORE the conscious separation of self and other,
and WITHOUT recognizing a before and after (suggesting a way around, btw,
the long-thorny idea that something 'experienced' again is not Experience).
And ... we can recognize that Experience is something APART from designs and

That last bit is a tricky area, but it is fundamental to emergent
phenomenon: you can't directly access those phenomenon -- you must work in
the small in the greater system, complex and adaptive as it is. Your work,
performed through the knobs with which you may fiddle, is not ON the
emergent phenomenon, but rather on the things of which it is an aggregate.
This things, btw, often aggregate in unexpected ways, exhibit unexpected
dynamics, are often non-linear (the software rant, again, this time merged
with catastrophe theory), and co-evolve in unexpected ways. The emergent
phenomenon seems separated in fundamental ways from the small models, the
knobs, that we _can_ fiddle with.

I think this defines Experience.

This is why I believe that it would be a truly different approach to
changing our world if we said, sorta (adapting from the Santa Fe and
Nantucket group work, as captured in two Manifestos):
   We believe that Experience is the fundamental force of our time. We
believe that it is an emergent phenomenon, thus we recognize that we can't
work on it directly. We will dedicate some not-insignificant energy to
helping discover and advance the understanding of Experience.
   We also recognize that although we can't work on Experience directly,
Experience is ultimately made up of lots of individual experiences. And
those things, individual experiences, we can design. All of us design them,
all of the time; but with mostly only limited attention to how these
experiences work to become Experience for each and every one of us.
   As Designers, however, we intend to think about, practice, and advance
Design in that way: to design experiences so as to impact Experience.

Thus I suggest that we must work on the two separately and together;
co-evolving our own sense of both.

Often we will find that the proper dialog in the Design thrust has little
apparent relevance to Experience. Simple utility, profitability, ethics,
meaning, for example, might dominate. As for the Experience thrust: I think
we will find it very interesting and informative to consider such a large
concept, the dialog for which is possibly beyond our ability to contain or
properly direct (not in the least because it extends so far back!). I also
think we will find that it, Experience, has a lot to do with markets ...
certainly including but not necessarily limited to capitalist exchanges, but
including any creation of exchange of meaning and value.

If we follow this route our success will be measured by how seriously we
pursed Design as the most important discipline, and how far we pushed our
practice of design into the domain of Experience.

. . . . .

Well, as Chris says, blah blah blah ... I think I see the hook coming to
save me from myself.

For the record: Of the mission statements put before the group and that are
gathering consensus, my vote still remains unswervingly and resolutely with
#4, or with Fred's :-)

Nick Ragouzis

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Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 11:00:51 -0700
Subject: [aiga-advance] bold?!
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
CC: Marijke Rijsberman 

> From thread beginning with
> bold

I have this odd feeling that I'm in/watching some low-fidelity 1970's
flashback -- midwesterners (where I'm from, btw) sitting around smoking
oregano and drinking cracked/hard cider and saying things like: "Whoa, I'm
hammered." and "That's some smoooth stuff, man!"


Bold would be to recognize that what we want to do is to elevate the
discipline of design to be THE omnibus discipline.

In this respect I think architectural criticism is doing a far more for our
cause than is the design profession itself ... and certainly our modest
mission statement.

Bold would be to take up the challenge and, so to speak, push by
architecture as the grand discipline. (I happen to think that architecture
is ripe for "disassembling," reversing its essentially circumstantial and
_not_ fundamental rise as the grand-daddy of aesthetic practice.)

Bold would be to recognize that although (in this age, especially) profit is
great and important (and by proxy, a relevance to business is great and
important), profit is actually a side effect.

Bold would be to just say out loud that software is not so special (sorry
Jonathan). That software and etc. is just shoelaces ... you can't hike far
without them or their equivalent function ... but they aren't "IT". (more at
footnote). Certainly this is true for "business managers:" Software is just
another in a long line of difficult to create and difficult to manage
machines that, when mastered in concept and implementation can be the engine
that produces and nurtures those most prized of things: customers. Who, in
turn, if you're really good at it, are fairly happy to deliver profits at
your doorstep.

Bold would be to say that as far as the stakes for design, network(ed) and
economies hold little sway. Most of the designs we've discussed, most
designs, period, can claim little in this regard. In reference to economics
and in reference to the network(ed) world, one design could just as well be
substituted by another. It seems to me that this is not so much a fault as a
wonderful thing.

Besides, design can do little about it ... the power to change this, to know
when one's designed _the_ truly network(ed)- or economically-relevant thing
(artifact, tangible or otherwise) resides not in design but in the
network(ed)- and economics-driven sphere. The power resides in the receivers
of the design artifacts. And they aren't likely any time soon to explicitly
define the necessary criteria with which to judge and bless each the
definitive designs in each arena. We all know this ... and we know about the
fickleness and capriciousness of our societies (oops, back on the software
rant!) ... yet we pretend that we are designing _for business_. Design, just
as much as the businesses that pay for designs, struggle to "manage" that
most-difficult last step to complete the circle, people, ... and we're not
very good at it.

From the above we might, in reflection, think that it would be bold to say
that we believe design must be economically and socially relevant ... but
then that's not such a new idea ... and we've danced that dance before and
it wasn't so pleasant.

Bold would be, instead, to admit that we want to push past those artifacts
of human existence. That we expect to do our bit, and that we expect that
the results of us doing our bit will, transitively, lead to these other
things. It would be bold to suggest that there is a "thing" that not just
design but every discipline and practice and profession should look to ...
and that we mean to help define it and to help raise it in prominence. That
we will lead if necessary, and join wherever possible.

The "thing"? Experience. Not "design of experience", not "experience
design", not "experience_s_". Experience. Unqualified, non-specific,

Not solely in the frame of design. Certainly not solely as a thing, as in
any other thing, to be designed. It is, rather, as recognition that
experience is to social being as osmosis is to corporeal being. This is the
thing we mean to advance the understanding of.

And when we do both, take on and struggle under the responsibility of being
omnibus, AND take on defining and advancing this understanding of
experience, well then we'll have done something grand, and bold.

All of which leads me to this unsatisfactory suggestion:

 "We are a forum dedicated to advancing design as the omnibus profession
  and to advancing experience as the fundamental force of social exchange."

(To the extent that this phrase is cohesive I thank Marijke Rijsberman, my
partner and chief do-er at Interfacility.)

Pass the cider, man.

Nick Ragouzis

I've long thought that those in the software professions (I was one, I've
managed them, etc.) suffer from the same disease as do the rest of us -- we,
none of us, get out enough.
   Take mode-changing, for example. Operating a combine is a thrilling and
powerful thing, even for long-time farmers. Even before computers (and
software, frozen or otherwise) these monster machines could, at the flick of
a lever start doing a completely different thing than you might have
expected. This nature was/is in part what makes it thrilling--it can kill
you. (Which is true of the means of living in many spheres.) Which is not
unlike dealing with some of those animals ... who have their own
counter-intuitive and conflicting (when brought together) characteristics.
   Which is not unlike medicine, where the likelihood that doing one thing
will bring forth a sea of un-thought-of (and possibly deadly!) consequences.
   Which is not unrelated to the entirely unexpected way that people behave
... "I've said/done that a hundred times ... and he's never reacted like
THAT before." Personality (the accidental program) is perhaps the greatest
dominion of modeshifting, cognitive friction, equivocating, inverted
(bringing complexity to the simple, and perverseness.
   This isn't to say that we must limit ourselves to the social and medical
arena for such examples. Great art has long been defined by the
craftsmanship of managing materials at difficult and even dangerous
(mode-changing) phase boundaries. etc.
   Which IS to say: we've all got to get around more! Perhaps what we need
is more field trips for adults, I'd sign up!

Previous  | Next
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 08:37:48 -0700
From: "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
Subject: [aiga-advance] Re: Advance for Design mission


Gee ... I'm sorry that I'm coming in late to the effort of building this.

And at first glance ... it seems fine enough. Nothing to repel those who we
hope to encourage to participate. So, fine, I'll participate with #4 as the

> 4. (A forum) to advance the design of human-centered experiences
      in the networked economy"

The same goes for Fred's contribution last night.

>    A forum for the advance of experience design
      in the network economy.

I prefer Fred's cut ... as it gets to some of the things that I had already
written, below, by that time.

. . . .

But at a further look ... I'm getting the feeling that we're rather missing
something. Below I prattle about this ... and make a suggestion (at about
80-some lines below).

I've been noodling on this since late this afternoon when I had a chance to
quickly review the emails that Terry sent me on the subject. So I'm still in
the formulation stage ... and may decide/discover that I"m wrong about this

The locus of my troubling seems to be the simultaneously non-driven and
exclusionary nature of the proposed (and the selected) mission statement(s).
I can imagine someone saying:
? What _are_ they going to _do_, anyway?
? So I only need apply if I parlez "human-centered experiences" or
  "experience design" in the context of "networked economy"?

In simple language, the mission might attempt to
1. Speak to the world about the intention of the effort.
   To help them (those in the world who are not "us") understand and accept
   our mission, to make our mission something they're interested in learning
   about and something they will assess as having consequence and that such
   consequences can positively impact them
2. Attract like-minded souls willing to toil on the question and results
3. For us, provide a touchstone. For testing the quality and
   trueness-to-our-chosen-nature of our wild ideas; and likewise the
   continued validity of the mission itself

And simple language is appropriate. Not incidentally because it improves
communication, but precisely because it improves communications.

But, and here's the rub, the proposed (decided?) mission (#4) isn't simple
language. Nor are any of missions #1, #2, or #3. I like Fred's suggestion
more in part because on scanning it appears to be simpler. And I'm cautious

The meat of the phrase (both predicates, aren't they?) is carried by, well,
jargon ... or at least that's what seems to me to be the conclusion likely
drawn by most observers (2/3 of the audience classes as proposed above).

In the least, the objective complement (I think that's what it is!) of
human-centered experiences, or, alternately, experience design viz, "the
networked economy," will leave any outsiders scratching their heads
(figuratively): "Networked economy? What's their definition of that?" (I
noticed that _we've_ been having this discussion already.). "So they mean
that as in NOW, and not the Industrial economy (or age)? Okay then, I
suppose. But how would they do anything else, anyway?"

Then there's that whole "human-centered experience" thing that starts off
the whole complement (insert the same disclaimer vis-a-vis grammar!) "What's
the big diff between a human-centered experience, and, say, a human
experience?" "And what about those experiences that I (think I) have that
aren't "in" the "economy" but rather just human-to-human?" "By the way, did
you think that I'd think you were going to be serious about designing
experiences for non-humans?"

(John's comments about other-centered experiences is relevant here too. As
is the understanding that a dialog about things that are
"(anything)-centered" is actually a dialog about frames, esp. about how to
create the frame (i.e., how to put the human in the center of an
experience). I submit that dialogs about frames are not what we are trying
to initiate/accomplish, and suggest that it is possibly pretty far from what
we're trying to do.)

And I'm cautious against accepting "experience design" because although I
agree with Fred's and Frank's observations about it, and have a personal
attraction to it for those reasons and others, I observe that too often that
phrase leads to discussions (debates!) about designed experiences, where,
instead, I'd prefer to have the discussion about the design of

The thing I'm thinking about here is that outsiders are critically important
to our success. Simple, yet change-the-world communication to outsiders is
what we need. Sure, we can elaborate on the subtleties of the above, but why
should they care on first hearing?

In the selection of email's that Terry sent me I notice that several have
touched on every aspect that I've mention above. I don't know why or how
those points where tabled/incorporated or otherwise handled.

Coming in late on this I realize that my suggestions must stay somewhat
within the confines of the direction set thus far. So I shouldn't try to
derive something entirely different. Besides I haven't yet thought through
the other issues I have with the current lineup. But I suppose I should
suggest something.

To that end, and within (most of) the parameters thus far discussed may I
nominate (or re-nominate, if it has already been considered ... and in that
case I apologize for taking up your bandwidth on the regression!):

   "To advance the design of experience in the Network Age"

Notes to explicate and reconcile will follow as necessary :-) but here are a

* Terry wrote in her 22July 3:40pm note something referring to Gitta's
contribution re: focus on the nature of design and designers. I'd like to
see Gitta's note. In general ... I think she's got something there. My
reflection on Terry's response in that para is in two parts.
   One, <>: yes, BUT it doesn't relate to Gitta's comment
as you've abstracted it. I can see how mentioning the nature of design and
designers would IMPROVE the quality of speech and understanding (of the
mission, and of the results) to those OUTSIDE.
   Two, <>: Interesting that
that pronoun, "we", really seems useful in explaining this, yes? More
important, I think, is Terry's suggestion that the _focus_ of the message
(as casually viewed, I'm assuming; not just by us) is an important attribute
of the message.
   The upshot, I would support arguments that we must be clear in our
mission statement that we are acting to alter those who practice and who
receive design. It's implicit inclusion is not powerful enough, I think. My
suggestion, above, does not attempt to accomplish much in this vein.

* <> It is perhaps true that in the
previous versions "economy" is pretty much the only indication that we "mean
business," so to speak. More significantly that we are hanging such an
important aspect on that one word shows how weakly the entire phrase serves
to explain who we are, what we'll be doing and why it's relevant, who we'll
be doing it with, and who we'll be doing it for. So I'd say that our
satisfaction in demonstrating our economic relevance is only
self-satisfaction. Which led me to conclude that we expand that aspect, or
substitute something that meant or appealed to a larger social context.
   Oh, by the way, wasn't it just last year that we were in the Information
Economy? It might serve us better, in the long run (2-3 years :-) ) to pick
or establish something more enduring.

* <> This phrase is troubling me. For one, it brings in the
discussion about in/out. That is, to outsiders must first parse the several
meanings of advance ... to locate the sense we mean. And, I'll opine, that
they'll get it wrong on first scan.
   Again, the lack of WHO makes it not quite clear if we mean transitive
(which I suggest we do!) or intransitive form ... and the "the" just makes
it worse.
   Fred's version, even though I vote for it above #4, transgresses even
further in this regard.
   Having "advance" in the title might accomplish what we want ... perhaps
we can be more direct and concrete in the mission statement?

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sat, 26 Feb 2000 10:57:21 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)"
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
X-cc:         Kathy Gill 
Subject:      Re: Underlines, etc.

Kathy Gill  wrote:
>> ----------
>> From:         Joe Clark
>> Text should be in text as the default mode, and rendered as graphics
>> only if we can really justify it.
> no argument here.
>> Underlines? Turn them off with CSS.
> how am I to know which "colored words" are links and which "colored words"
> are colored because the designer wanted some color other than black? only by
> mousing over.
> underlines are part of the navigation system -- the communicate "link" in a
> way that color alone does not.
> until all the browsers support user-styles to override designer decisions
> that make sites unusable, i cannot recommend turning off underlines *as a
> general statement*. *IF* the links are solely in a clear navigation
> structure (ie, a horizontal or vertical navigation 'bar') then my opposition
> is lessened.
> Kathy


I'm thinking that you might have an appropriate perspective to propose a
guideline for when removing underlines _is_ appropriate. A guideline that
addressed issues such as constructs, presentation (e.g., in graphics, not),
functional/operational purposes, aesthetics, model-compliance, etc. The
conservative approach, sort of a: "if you _must_ then ..."

I am not convinced that it's all that clear, one way or another.

Among the things I have high confidence about is that we will look back at
the underlined-link stage as part of a Brechtian-esk "designation" period,
with things like the underlines, and the "reactive" pointers, and the "link
here" text and icons being among the leading ornaments and signatures of our
"quaint" time.

These things will probably disappear in a few years. Maybe by 2004, to pick
a to-despair-over date. And they'll probably have their own "retro" periods,
with the first around ... 2008?

At some point we'll probably wonder why we didn't spend more efforts,
jointly, making sure everything is linked to meaningful things (among other
user-serving disciplines we didn't practice much "back then"), and teaching
everybody about that simple, easy-to-follow and easy-to-remember rule.

But I am serious in wondering if, for now, such a guideline, conservative in
demands on the user, might be helpful. Such a guideline might inform
practice for the period we're about to enter ... that of links with multiple
starting or multiple ending resources, or both, just to name one new

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sat, 19 Feb 2000 08:33:17 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
X-cc:         Dan Brown 
Subject:      Re: A Step in the Right Direction?

Dan Brown  wrote:
> On, I saw the following message on their log-in page:
> *Note: You may have been directed here from another area of
> that requires registration or login to myUniverse. If you are new to
>, please take a moment to sign up with us. If you are a
> returning member, please log in to continue.


Good catch, this.

First-off, though, in my tour of I was having a hard time
finding the pages containing the outbound links which arc to the sign-in
page, the object of your email. Every link but one that I followed in that
website went directly to where I would expect, and without gatekeeping. That
included the "myUniverse," which goes to the sign-in page (since at that
time I wasn't signed in).

The one exception was the "Shopping Cart" link (a small, secondary text
link). The surprise was minor, and the text you quote serviceable. Note
however, that you may shop and select books to purchase (clicking the BIG
navigation-style tab BOOKSTORE) without sign-in.

That brings up a couple of points:

1. I agree with your implications that it would have been better to be more
   elegant, user-friendly, and proactive (to have set expectations) ... but
   it's a well-executed site. Another site having achieved as much might not
   have included the extra text, and probably wouldn't suffer for the
   omission. To their credit iUniverse went farther.

2. They could improve that sign-in page's attempt to help users.

3. The clue that leads to candidate improvements is to classify the
   text that you cite as an example of post-event expectation marketing
   to realign the actual experience with what the user might have
   expected. That is, to ameliorate a break in comportment.

4. That clue, or even without it, leads a designer to think of reinforcing
   on the sign-in page the page the user just left and the link just

5. But the clue helps move us beyond that. First, to making a list of
   the _other_ places FROM WHICH the user can reach this page (condition
   future expectations, continuing to introduce the [new, un-cookied,
   uncommitted or confused (they didn't select sign-in themselves)]
   user to the site) ...

6. ... and next, to marketing the special advantages of places TO WHICH
   the user may want to go after sign-in. (The "membership gives you
   access to..." text on that page aspires to far less.)

7. Of course there are the other alternatives, including establishing
   a nomenclature intended to signal the potential diversion for what
   the user might expect. This extends to conditioning on sign-in status
   the display text of all such links (which brings up other special
   challenges ... can we say "caching"?).

Nick Ragouzis 

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sat, 19 Feb 2000 10:48:05 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
X-cc:         Kayla Block 
Subject:      Re: Innovate, or follow

On Wed, 16 Feb 2000, as part of the "click cost" thread Kayla Block
> Interesting because it looks like the new redesign
> is going for the Yahoo portal look.

I'd like to make an observation in this context regarding strategic
following, as I discussed 13 Dec 99 in the post: Innovate, or follow.

As background, I'm not quite ready to conclude as Kayla does, that Amazon is
going for the Yahoo portal look. But I'll agree with her that Amazon has
made a change away from the "accretive design" that they had been tending

. . . .
   BTW: A head's up to all of us who look at and comment on our
   experiences with websites. Be careful when making conclusions
   based on your experience at a website for which you may hold
   a cookie, or are otherwise likely to get customized content,
   e.g., having followed a link from elsewhere. In the
   case it makes a noticeable change, but not as much as in many
. . . .

What we can notice here is a failure among online bookstores, say Barnes and
Noble for example, to be strategic followers. (I visited 25 websites,
including the other top providers, from the over 254 listings for
booksellers with an online presence delivered by one search engine. It is
experience numbing. B&N is far from unique in this respect.)

The short version (and my comments are limited in relevance to the website
appearance issues):

   by not establishing a strategic differentiation from
   their most serious competitor, such sites
   have left open the field of innovation for

One place to pick up in the referenced post is the list beginning with
"One complication in following is ..." Conditioned on delivering
improvements in customer's perceived value, it was (and is) incumbent on
these followers to purposefully seek to violate the de facto standards of
the space they are in. To violate Amazon's "standard," for a specific

The companies whose executive teams do not inspire their designers, who in
turn must recruit their usability teams, to identify and execute a
value-providing AND DIFFERENTIATED interface, are ceding the market battle

"But this is a bet-your-company proposition! We might pick wrong." some
might complain.

The short answer to _this_ is: Duh.

Several roads lie open to the followers. One is, perhaps surprisingly, to
jump over Amazon's head fake or indifferent tendency towards Yahoo! and do
the Yahoo thing.

I'd guess that Amazon considered the Yahoo form merely as one of several
archetypes defining a space in which they wanted to remain. This challenges
strategic followers to guess at the identity and then extrapolate the
direction of those archetypes. Then to establish a position in that future
path. Or, better, to add a dimension to the space by taking up another

(Note that the former requires a different kind and strength of website
execution and marketing than the latter. It's instructive to consider that
Amazon may be seen as having moved towards B&N in interface design. This
underscores the need to move strongly when attempting to follow
strategically. B&N followed meekly. Marketing _may_ have helped them claim
their design as distinctive and _may_ have resulted in pushing Amazon away.
But I, for one marketeer, would have not advised spending money doing that,
given the minor distinctions in the interface in this case.)

But neither of these are as effective as first determining the
perceived-value proposition of Amazon's website presence, and finding a new
(higher?) proposition for _your_ customers (who are, right now, _their_
customers because of your failure to follow strategically in interface
design, in the least). Part of this exercise requires study of the Amazon
execution for the de facto standards they've embraced or proposed, and to
consider how to respond.

Not wanting to give away all my secrets :-) I'll leave this and expand on
something only touched on in the above. It moves beyond website experience.

In everyday corporate life front line teams are called on to make decisions
that have outscaled impacts. Decide to disappoint a customer who may have
been a new high-growth account. Decide to accept a design because of
schedules rather than fight the corporate battle for a (well-thought-out,
mind you) higher objective. One scale on which to gauge this might be:
$50,000 salary; $500,000 decisions.

This fact of life is one reason why I so often advise that design teams for
interactive products and their usability experts must become more versant
and practiced in corporate issues: marketing, sales, economics, to name
three. And to educate these other disciplines

Because even this is so difficult it tends to hide another crucial, even
more difficult component: executive performance. $200,000 salary; $2,000,000
decisions, to set a very low multiple threshold. Executives must be equally
ready to make and lead on these strategic following decisions: It's your job
to risk the company, so do it.

For the executive, leading is really the most difficult part -- in no small
part because it involves pushing marketing professionals and design teams
for interactive products and their usability experts out of their
so-carefully-acquired comfort zones, well-marked by the de facto standards
of accepted practice, "do what everyone else does"-following, and
obfuscating jargon.

It's a kind of co-dependency thing. It seems to work well ... until someone
else ignores this poorly-set "perimeter" and busts out, taking everybody's
"lunch" with them.

Nick Ragouzis 

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sat, 12 Feb 2000 09:28:01 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
X-cc:         Bill Dehora ,
              Pascal MAGNENAT ,
              Al Gilman 
Subject:      Re: Browser 'back' isa undo

I'm starting to come around to Bill Dehora's preference on this:

> 1. Get rid of the back and forward buttons,
>    they're just too confusing.
> My preference is for 1

but principally because I believe it's absence will force us, as an
industry, to come to a 'real' standard about such things.

Bill's further comments point to the deeper problem:

> Distributing navigation between the browser and the page
> is like splitting the brake system between a car and the road.

But this is exactly how braking is implemented -- split between decelerating
the wheels, the power train (which offers two forms of deceleration), and
dependence on the ever-present (but variable) deceleration that friction
provides. Knowledgeable drivers depend on all four in varying degrees (and
not exclusively) according to the situation. Or should I say according to
context, goals, actions, etc.

Al's observations bring us to the problem that every researcher faces: yet
another consistent finding. How shall we view this? Is our study design
appropriate? Is our analysis flawed? Shall we take it as confirmation of our
model? Or is our model robust enough, discriminating enough, fundamental
enough? Or general enough?

Pascal's report (btw, Pascal, thanks for sharing the full report) is such a
case: it is consistent, confirming.

But what are we to make of these observations? Perhaps, in generalization of
Al's comments, tempered by Bill's excellent points:

 * Handling of the Back button requires our attention
 * Undo encompasses a large category of user goals
 * Users want their actions to perform their intent

Reinforcing what Bill pointedly asserts: nothing in Al's comments or
Pascal's report allows us to the conclude that users don't want several
kinds of undo, with different scope and different consequence. Or the
possibility that those different kinds of undo, scope, and consequence may
be afforded them at various levels and points in the interfaces and

Perhaps surprisingly, neither should their comments lead us directly to
conclude that we must do anything special with the Back button itself. Bill
says the browser wars are over. Perhaps ... but it's important that we don't
wait until we can do something with the Back button (e.g., script it, remove
it (which we know some designers will do in solution!), move it, etc.) or
add an Undo button before we can do something to help the users.

Al says this precisely:

> We need to make sure that all these flavors of "undo" blend smoothly
> so that the user is not surprised by what they do.

What we must do is recognize that it isn't simply and solely the
reconciliation and coordination of all operators in the interface ... but
the user's expectations themselves that we must satisfy.

No doubt, doing all of that reconciliation and coordination would IMMENSELY
help the user. But OUR first step is paying attention to OUR own designs.

For example, Pascal's CFF example, the Swiss Federal Railroad ticket
purchase pages would still be a rather typical hashup even with an undo in
the browser interface or if the back button were moved off the browser and
forced onto the page.

The site is simply poorly designed for first-time ticket purchasers. It
reminded me of my own hilarious first experience buying tickets on the local
rapid transit (BART) -- and observing others experiencing the horrible
industrial, graphic, and environmental designs in the ticket purchasing and
fare addition machines and the surrounding and supporting stuff.

Bill says:

> we're not at the mindreading stage yet with software

... and thank goodness!

But, that statement ignores just how much we ARE at the MIND-SETTING stage.
Our designs and the things that surround them have a strong influence in
setting user expectations.

For example, in the BART case, they actually don't sell tickets
(itinerary-based and event-based things) but passes (mileage-based debit
cards). But somebody decided it would confuse cityfolk to call them "passes"
-- let's call them "tickets." (Overlooking opportunities such as "BARTPass"
for such beauties as "BART Blue High Value Tickets".) And ever since this is
one of the first things a novice supplicant must come to understand:
although every machine and every activity is designed the way you'd expect
for selling passes, they call them tickets. The BART ticket sales website
follows this same pattern (even in it's name), but in recognition of the
problem adds a couple explanatory sentences to the purchasing start page :-)
. Of course this isn't a problem at all once you've bought one, gone through
the turnstiles, and made your return trip (especially if you end up with a
few pennies left on your pass, er ticket).

I suggest that the direct conclusions from Pascal's study (as from other's)
and from Al's and Bill's comments are regarding COMPORTMENT:

1. What we add to an environment must establish an expectation, and the
established expectation must comport with what our users a priori believe.
(These a priori beliefs are malleable, subject to formation by prior
experiences, including those from the earlier "pages" and interactions.)

2. When we build a stream of possible actions meant to allow a user to
accomplish _that user's_ desired task it must comport with that user's
goals, etc.

3. When we make an environment and a task stream _appear_ to the user to be
dynamic and accommodative, we must make the actual environment and task
stream comport. That is, don't lead the user on. This simpler form will
likely lead to a too-narrow conclusion, however. The issue is not only that
we need to design properly, which is also handled in numbers 1. and 2.,
above. Item 3. also addresses the promise itself, and the interdependency of
the promise and the design. This is made explicit in the GOMS model (for
one) which notes that operators are not only dedicated to changing the task
environment but may also be directed at changing the user's mental state.

4. Experience is global, the user interface is local.

In other words, to underscore Al's point "the user doesn't want to know" ...
but the user is constantly learning, experimenting and adjusting based on
what we do and say, and what we allow the user to do and "say".

Indeed the CFF ticket service, and hundreds of other sites should be

But that's not the only thing. To reinforce the above points about
comportment, consider this: these sites _could_ choose to remain
_functionally_ the same and, instead:

* Do expectation marketing
* Add instructions and guides
* Add capabilities that respond when users are having difficulties
  (simple capabilities for the worst troubles would contribute
  quite a lot, not all environments need "Clippit" or "Power Pup")
* Use that derived information to "sweeten" the experience

Ask any experienced "marketeer."  One with retail experience, for example,
will know immediately how to capitalize on each of these. And not all of it
is done online, nor beforehand. The absence of explicit accounting and
extensive elaboration for these in usability doctrine, and in standards such
as ISO 9241-11, points to how far interactive design has to go before it
substantially addresses user experience.

. . . .

By the way: What about CFF's "chariot d'achat"? The French "chariot" is so
evocative of what I really want all of those mere "shopping carts" and
"trolleys" to be. But, alas, it's just a wagon.

Au revoir,
Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sat, 12 Feb 2000 10:36:50 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-cc:         Pascal MAGNENAT 
Subject:      Re: 61% of users could not buy train tickets on the Swiss Federal
              Railways site

On Fri, 4 Feb 2000 10:57:55 +0100 Pascal MAGNENAT wrote:
> 61% of users could not buy train tickets on the Swiss Federal Railways site


Did you give your test users a funds budget and reward them for having funds

Observing a colleague's experience confirmed my own exploration of the CFF
site: you've got to care about the price of your tickets.

Although your report discussed several aspects of the test's protocol, your
report didn't mention this. And although you may have done this, it is often
overlooked in usability testing. If you did include a funds budget, great,
but your report is weaker for not having been explicit in mentioning it.

All usability testing faces this problem: a single change in the protocol
might induce an important change in user's objectives, which, as in the CFF
site design, might propel the user past one or more of the challenging

More complete test designs, and more complete reporting (including detailed
descriptions of the test designs and protocols, and the raw data) are
required if usability is going to advance design. Shocking headlines are not
going to be enough.

Nick Ragouzis 

Previous  | Next
Date:         Wed, 2 Feb 2000 07:57:47 -0800
Reply-To:     "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-cc:         mischa 
Subject:      Re: Why "redesign" at all??

At Tue, 1 Feb 2000 00:19:28 -0600 mischa  wrote:
> If I have to explain what a ligature is
> to one more UI/UCD designer, I'm going to go nuts!


I hear you here.

OTOH, I just had an experience that somewhat reversed that.

As an advisor and observer to a project, I recommended a wonderful designer
(who is at base an illustrator but is formally trained in design) who has
had a couple high-profile gigs in print and TV. I suppose because those
where related to Internet companies, and his training included UI design,
(and besides it's fun!) he had taken the plunge -- plying his design trade
in interactive systems. Among the few such projects are a couple gems.

The job given him _wasn't_ interaction ... but his approach was a "rich
reduction" (yes, that's a cooking ref) of what is bad and insular in
interaction design practice.

The essence: he did not know how
    to ask questions of his customer and users,
    to listen to the answers, and
    to translate those into results.

It got so bad that at one point, in his version of "listening," he was going
on explaining typography and yadda yadda when "ligature" popped out. At that
instant I had one of the strongest visuals that I had had in a long time --
applying a LIGATURE around his neck!

And indeed, it was so powerful that I had to act on it. To stop and redirect
the conversation I got up, went over, put my hand on his shoulder, and
called for a break.

He never understood (even after pointed feedback from the customer), getting
worse with each round. (He was NOT on the project at it's completion.)

I think we, graphic designers, interaction designers, usability specialists,
HCI practitioners in all guises, programmers,  ..., clients, we all, make a
fundamental error in communications when we try to talk across the gulf
while using language that, mostly, demonstrates how different we are from
each other.

I think that we should view use of the word "ligature" and a hundred like it
in a conversation such as you describe as _our_ error.

For example, I propose these as the most powerful words a usability
specialist can say to those who are responsible for designing interactive
systems aren't about GOMS, pointing, eye tracking, navigation, GIFs, tabs,
HTML text, CSS, browsers, experience, context, etc., even "user-centered",

    "I am here to introduce you to your users,
     to help you ask them questions,
     and to help you interpret their answers."

And to say this often, comparing (and limiting) everything done to that

In this role, the usability specialist has the hardest job of all, to avoid
her own affinities, prejudices and jargon (and to avoid each party's own
such practices) while teaching them about each other's and their common
customer's needs, beliefs, desires, behaviors, ..., values. A new kind of
rhetorician; sort of.

Moving it up a notch, I believe that each of us practicing HCI must make a
significant investment in transferring our knowledge and perspectives into
the language and context of those we wish to influence: our partners in
creating interactive products, _and_ our customers. We must entice _them_
into desiring the knowledge, and then help _them_ become the HCI experts.
Only then will we come close to producing products that are "useful, usable,
and desirable," to name one casting of the experiences we seek to invoke.

On that note, for reflection and discussion, it might be appropriate to
conduct this mental experiment: How welcomed or, more importantly,
catered-to and differentially-enabled, would a [ user | economist | marketer
:-) | artist | writer | programmer | advertiser | operations manager |
salesman | controller | ... ] feel in the CHI-WEB community or even the
conferences we create and attend? My own guess is that they'd feel distanced
from it. (Or, in the least, reluctant to "de-cloak" ... oops, there's that
jargon again).

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sun, 30 Jan 2000 13:59:01 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-To:         Kathy Gill 
X-cc:         Cameron Hayne 
Subject:      Re: To check or not to check?

Kathy Gill's questions [Fri, 28 Jan 2000] (hi kathy) foreground two global

1. How shall we transfer to the discipline of designing interactive products
the theoretical and applied knowledge and the practical experience (ours,
the user's) from other domains? Especially relevant to Kathy's questions is
that knowledge and experience related to user behaviors.


2. How shall we accommodate and account for user performance on tasks in
unbounded execution domains?

In short and to both I answer "Generously."

. . . . . .

Her question

> ... how [is the baking example]  a "usability" test

directly leads us to both concerns.

We all know of the many sources in the the HCI- and usability-related
literature of instructive examples from other domains. My unproductive
search in the ACM Library and HCIBIB for a developed contribution from the
baking domain reminded me of just how many there are.

Just as with other important examples that have informed the design of
interactive systems (and I picked hammering in my earlier email as a
reference to one such famous source, several participants on this list have
contributed even more examples in their publications, perhaps including
baking) the baking domain has much to offer us. It is a specialized
environment using highly-engineered products with direct and indirect
coordination among many loosely- and tightly-coupled participants. For
bakers (i.e., users) it offers all of the components of performance that,
for example, Shneiderman, Beyer/Holtzblatt, or Nielsen mention. From
Nielsen's Usability Engineering, for example this short list: learnability,
efficiency, memorability, errors, satisfaction. And it offers significant
opportunities for the design practices these sources describe. That much of
the specialization and engineering is transparent to most home bakers using
such products speaks highly of the success in design (and is a remarkable
demonstration of emergence and convergence) -- doubly-so since many bakers
have inappropriate expectations and have learned poor techniques, even
before encountering homeec/modernlife/whatever courses.

Okay, so the baking system is subject to usability concerns. But how is the
scenario I described a test of usability? I view it as qualifying through
two paths. One, the product and the user; two, the test itself. Having the
advantage of making up the scenario, I appealed to the widely-known required
qualifications, which Cameron concisely summarized in his email: I
identified an intended user with a designed-for goal and a designed-for task
sequence, and a designed product. As to the test itself, we have a field
observation of user performance, a result, and a report. These latter two
elements are assumed in my scenario as they are the well-known results of
such additions/substitutions (both the condition of the result -- visit
Child or Rombauer, or McGee -- and the satisfaction of the baker). If, after
making the appropriate substitutions, one takes this imaginary baker through
an ordinary interaction/usability interview, the QUIS for example (although
it's univalent scales don't map too well to such environments), few areas
would be inappropriate. We are left with a poor result and a dissatisfied
baker. Who is responsible? Whose owns the fault?

The effort to understand the result, and it's impact on designer and user,
takes us to Global Concern #2 :-) and another of Kathy's questions:

> ... [what is] the nexus between becoming a good cook and designing 
> a usable interface, web or otherwise.

Here, and in all transfers across domains, we must be careful in our
mapping. Kathy matches an emphasis on the user in one domain (baking), and
an emphasis on the design of a system in another domain (a usable
interface). My question mapped a user-system pair in baking to a user-system
pair in computer-based interactive systems. The nexus in my mapping is that,
in unbounded execution domains, users might do _anything_ with their
systems. And among these things users might do are things which produce
failures, among which are some failures for which they, the user (and not
the corresponding system and it's design) bear primary responsibility.

To buttress the basis in logic, and in experience, from which this
conclusion may be drawn, I'll mention from the literature, without favor,
one model that recognizes this conclusion. This one is summarized in
Shneiderman (p 58, with a fundamental implication to the introduction to
Chapter 3, Managing Design Processes, and particularly p 97, which sets up
the basis for the text that follows concerning support for usability in an
organization). In the context of Norman's stages-of-action model, Ben,
citing Polson and Lewis, and Franzke, provides the list of

> "four critical points where user failures can occur."

Of this list of four

> "the latter three may be prevented by improved design
> or overcome by time-consuming experience with the interface."

Now I take this latter observation as not quite correct, but the error is
only that in most of the systems we are discussing, and provided the
called-for "improved design"s are delivered, not merely the last three but
all four user failures can be overcome by USER EXPERIENCE.

What is that one critical point where user failures can occur that CANNOT be
corrected by DESIGN? -- number one:

>  "(1) Users can form an inadequate goal."

And, indeed, this is the condition I set up in my scenario when mapping from
the interactive domain to the baking domain.

I suggest that it would help if we could form a theoretical basis from which
we could identify, in advance, likely cases where "users ... form an
inadequate goal."

I think such a theoretical basis exists. And Kathy's further comments point
us to it: Self-efficacy.

Using self-efficacy as a basis we might, for example, understand that a user
wishing to print something may wish to open Word or IE and then want to go
directly to the Print command. The design doesn't accommodate this; the user
fails in executing the task (takes longer, resorts to help (hah!), etc.).
Whose fault? I claim that as much as any research area, self-efficacy's
terms of reference help us understand that this is a perfectly reasonable
user action as a consequence of an entirely adequate goal. The design should
accommodate this, then offer to create a new document (and inform the user
that the system remembers that printing was the goal) or open (and print) an
existing document or URL.

From self-efficacy's basis, Kathy's "net veterans" lack primary standing,
similarly with producer cost considerations; her question regarding the
transferring "norms" is answered directly; and her questions regarding how
we "hear,", "do," and "process," things are also addressed. (Even Kathy's
mention of Dale Carnegie's motivational and transformation practice is
accommodated, and explained.)

The literature on self-efficacy and the HCI literature that touches on the
same area tells us how important user's pre-conceptions (including a wide
range of components, such as unrealistic expectations of early efficacy) are
to their performance and satisfaction. This research- and applied-
literature tells us how Kathy's "don't slice" _and_ "hit the ball straight"
are _both_ appropriate, which work very well for, respectively, "strivers"
and "expecters," but very poorly for the reverse (see Bandura). This helps
us to understand that when transferring domains to our interactive products,
it is _our_ burden to prove that anything that challenges these
pre-conceptions actually produces something better. Further, our "better"
cannot be just for a single, isolated, task that a single idealized user
carries out (whether "verified" in execution time, post-execution
interrogation, or pointing-/eye-tracking), but for the entire messy system
in which it was rooted and to which it is in part now being transformed and
fitted. Add to this the observation that a large number of the gatekeepers
for such a change are inertially-grounded in this "past" domain. It is a
very complicated job for designers and their usability team, no? Thus,
conservation of Kathy's "analog world" is a first principle.

. . . . .

All of which leads us back to understanding how broadly we must seek and
demonstrate support when, for example, wishing to alter decades of
presumptive, and explicit (sometimes acquired only after remedy to law!),
negative-opt-out have worked.

To reiterate: the onus is on us.

To extend: I desire and prefer positive-opt-in. I gave several supporting
reasons and global scenarios. But, if we wish to advance practices related
to designing for usability, we must be as suspect (and be seen as such) of
the changes we propose as we are of those we wish to influence and change or
that come at us unfounded. And we must give recognition to what the folks we
wish to influence "know": users bare some responsibility for faults. These
are social aspects of our practices that are necessary if we wish to build
support in our organizations for designing _for_ users.

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Sun, 23 Jan 2000 09:16:23 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-To:         Cameron Hayne 
Subject:      Re: To check or not to check?

> Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group) at wrote:
>> Usability is not solely the responsibility of the interaction designer and
>> the rest of the design and implementation team. The user has a significant
>> role in usability -- and if they don't fulfill their responsibility it is
>> not entirely the fault of the product and its designers.
> Sorry, but I can't let this go without comment. You seem to be saying
> (confirmed by the rest of your posting which I don't copy here) that some
> usability problems are the fault of the users - they didn't learn enough
> about the system they are using, or they didn't think hard enough before
> choosing an action.
> I disagree completely.
> When designing for usability, the problem statement is:
> Given the users (with all their weaknesses) and their tasks, find the design
> which is most usable (for stated goals).


I share your difficulty here.

Indeed I _am_ saying that

> some usability problems are the fault of the users

and, indeed, so have you.

If I were to look for the highest principle in common I'd certainly choose
that of the responsibility of the designer "when designing for usability."
They, ah, _we_, are more likely to get it MORE wrong, to be MORE "sloppy,
lazy, inattentive; unprepared" than are MOST of the targeted users (and our
attention to properly defining the audience is important to achieving the
necessary or desired level of usability).

This principle we have in common, that of degrees, helps set clarify the
terms of the debate. The terms are _wholly_ set in degree. Even your posting
points to this basic nature: "the users" and "their tasks" (which is
grammatically and semantically different than _all_ users and _all_ tasks),
"most usable," and "stated goals" (which is the true killer, undermining
everything else).

With just the three degrees of freedom that you identify there are, for
every design, plenty of users, plenty of tasks, plenty of goals (three
degrees) ... for which a product that otherwise meets the specific "most
usable" definition (the fourth degree of freedom you identify) will have
noticeable, non-zero, usability faults for some users, some tasks, some

I'm not talking here of using a hammer for a screwdriver (although even
that's possible to design for, and it has been done, but it makes the
fastener less appropriate for other tasks ... which creates a difficulty in
segregating elective use on a mixed-use job site). No, indeed I'm talking of
the practical tradeoffs involved in making products.

To continue the cooking metaphor from my posting. Can we agree that product
line extensions are expensive and that there is _some_ limit (somewhere
between research lab to distribution and retail to customer's cupboard) to
such extensions? If so, then we have set the stage for a fault.

In my experience it is not uncommon for an uneducated baker to believe they
can add pineapple or simply substitute honey for sugar to a box cake mix, or
a from-scratch recipe, respectively. Although most box cakes and the cake
recipes in most of the more-popular cookbooks are very robust, allowing for
many variations in ingredients, handling, even atmospheric conditions,
(_and_ the baker's expertise) no recipe not otherwise intended for these
alterations will do well with them.

Is the failed result due to a usability, or a user, fault?

In my earlier post I added and reviewed in detail several situations where
even marketers (let alone designers and usability teams) should elect to set
and seek _higher_ usability goals. This is what I believe. I also believe
that in seeking high, and ever-higher, usability goals we (designers and our
usability team) must be anchored in the real world and we must speak clearly
and specifically about our expectations.

I later visited the source of William's frustration, the Guardian
subscription form. I was amused to see the actual form. The final
implementation muffs the design of a straight-forward negative-op-out
question. The fault isn't the question itself, although the addition of the
bold style is an error. The fault in executing well-understood (de facto)
negative-opt-out form is in including the positive-opt-in question nearby,
especially following, and in the same emphasis and form, etc. Through these
"violations" they've made the negative-opt-out harder for users, and opened
up the possibility that the users will actually read and execute it to

(Who of us can't imagine a scenario for how the final design came to pass?
Here's one: The designers and usability team put together a form where both
are positive-opt-in. During internal review, the marketers, the advertising,
the distribution folks, and the IT department, all point out that the
question isn't formed in the same way as it is in the print edition.
Horrors! -- confused users, confused databases, etc. The word comes down:
"Just add/move/change ..."; usability battle lost.)

The canonical long-used negative-opt-in form is:

   ___ Do not send me information / Do not share my name / etc.

Placement and presentation of this item is integral to the canonical form. I
reviewed some of these in the earlier email. Ironic, or not, when properly
implemented this form is easily executed by users ... it is highly usable:
without in-depth parsing of the instructions they know that they must act --
marking the box, toggling the field, whatever. (And, as William's test
showed, the canonical form is fairly robust to variations and errors in

This canonical form is eminently usable _only_ because "users" have become
trained -- it is an idiom of the media age. When designers and our usability
teams approach these things we must understand that idiom trumps our ideas
and ideals: idioms are the language of the user to which we must bend, _or_
demonstrate that our new designs perform incredibly better.

So while in my prior email I support the positive form, the onus is on us to
demonstrate that the form

   ___ Send me information

works just as well. Note that our challenge isn't wholly to demonstrate the
performance of users in a usability test -- the terms "perform incredibly
better" and "works" include achieving marketing's (and other's) goals. It is
our increased recognition and grappling with this larger context that will
lend our efforts a seriousness and practical-ness that will be recognized
and supported by the rest of the team in which we work. (Revisit my response
earlier this month to T.V.Gopal's "Is content and interface too?" for
discussion of the agenda we might follow to accomplish this.)

In that vein, notice that

   _X_ Send me information

will divide any group of marketers into (at least) two camps. For some it is
the preferred form; for others (because it presumes preference in the
offerer's favor) it violates a principle of trust with the user, bringing
into question all other trust contracts with the product/service. The extent
to which this is serious depends in large part on the product or service,
and the audience. If we wish to be seen as anchored in the real world, and
to be speaking clearly and specifically about our work as a discipline of
"science", then we must be cognizant of and anticipate such situations ...
which _seem_ to be "outside" of usability ... before making pronouncements.

I note that users themselves demonstrate an awareness that they bear some of
the responsibility for poor execution. I find that they routinely and
readily take (way!) too much of the share of blame, believing their
knowledge, their execution, to be the major fault: "It's my fault, I just
don't understand," or some such. I find that overcoming this barrier is an
important step in helping users with the challenges that interactive
products present. An important step is convincing them that their lack of
understanding derives in significant part from the failed performance of a
designer, which adds to their challenge a component of solving a mystery.
(Although we know, however, that in some spaces, game space for example, the
targeted audience looks at this differently and such a step is not
appreciated!) I also find their willingness to take responsibility a sign of
hope ... that the user believes that with effort, higher levels of
performance are possible.

Good cooks believe that good ingredients and good tools _and_ much study and
much effort will lead to better performance. Why should we not have the same
expectation, i.e., that user performance (thinking, learning) are an
integral part, for interactive products?

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Fri, 21 Jan 2000 10:23:49 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-cc:         William Hudson , Kathy Gill 
Subject:      Re: To check or not to check?

William Hudson wrote:
> I came across this instruction on a web site today and I wondered if it was
> just me that had to reread it several times.  So I thought I would conduct a
> brief usability study.  Please look at the instruction that follows and
> pretend that you *do not* want to be notified about new site launches.  Then
> select either the "checked" or "unchecked" email address (depending on what
> you think the appropriate state of the described checkbox should be).
> "Please uncheck the box if you do not want to be notified about new site
> launches."
> Checked:
> Unchecked:
> I will summarize the results to the list.

Kathy Gill wrote:
> Followup -- I re-registered for WebTechniques magazine today.
> Their "check/uncheck" instructions left me going 'huh' also, because it's
> "backwards" from the normal "check if you WANT" info. Of course, I can't
> give you a link to the page, because it is the last page of a complex (ie,
> long) subscription process. If I remember correctly, the instructions read:
> "Check the boxes if you do not want to receive information from..."
> _  WebTechniques
> _ Related Vendors
> _ ??
> Anyway, it felt "backwards" to me -- to check a box so that I was not added
> to a list. Comments?

This doesn't seem confusing to me.

I see it as following a long tradition of negative-opt-out approaches. But
then there I go again, talking about marketing. It also shows how designers
and users share responsibilities in creating and using this media.

William's test question, and results, fail to be relevant because it doesn't
construct the proper context. Kathy's question presents more clearly one
proper context.

In both cases, William's and Kathy's, the thinking user knows exactly what
to do ... AND WITHOUT STUDYING THE QUESTION. (Answer given below.)

Whether writ in small type, hidden, or cast in the negative, these opt-outs
are intended to be difficult to execute. This is contrasted to the
all-too-well-executed sweepstakes question (rephrased here):

  ____ Check here if you want free stuff.

Not that I support the logic behind negative-out-out, which belies a
discrediting of the offered information (see at ***, below the signature).
When filling out a magazine/publication renewal, one is already agreeing to
get tons of hussied-up press releases and regurgitated information from
vendors, along with advertising: that's what these magazines are. And thank
goodness too, for it would take me way, way, much longer to find a nugget of
useful information if I had to look through the junk that these editors do!

Instead, a magazine _might_ get more mileage by taking a positive approach
to the opt-out question. I mean, since there's more space available for the
web version of the registration, they might try to tell the subscriber,
especially the RE-subscriber, why that additional information will be so
valuable, so useful -- so much more in depth, relevant, expansive, than the
coverage in the publication. Heck, the magazine might even create a new
class of "related vendors" -- knighting them as producing particularly
relevant and cogent materials and emails which the subscriber will, it is
promised, find REALLY useful.

In the general, the user and the interactive designer both carry a common
responsibility. That is: to think about what they are doing. Usability, nor
usability standards for interaction (e.g., avoid negatives), can absolve
them of that.

In the "check the box" case, the interactive designer is responsible for
thinking out the entire picture, including understanding, and pitching, and
proving, better results from the MARKETING perspective.

Sure, the recommendation:

    "State actions and choices in the positive"

has a certain (E.B.White-ian) sense about it. And it may test, in usability,
as better. But that's not enough.

(btw, William, did you notice the negative structure of your recommendation?

> the recommendation is to avoid using negatives at all

:-) )

By saying "that's not enough" I'm also referring to the user's
responsibility. And those are not minor responsibilities.

In the negative-opt-out case the user is facing a situation similar to
thousands of commands and appeals received every day. Understanding media
_requires_ that the user be thinking, thinking in the moment, and thinking
forward in the moment.

Usability is not solely the responsibility of the interaction designer and
the rest of the design and implementation team. The user has a significant
role in usability -- and if they don't fulfill their responsibility it is
not entirely the fault of the product and its designers.

This isn't limited to media. Here's an example that points to how usability
is a shared affair, and that some usability faults are SIMPLY USER ERRORS
(of sloppiness, laziness, inattention; of being unprepared). (It might help
if one thinks of Bill Dehora's encounter with the back button a few months

To switch domains to one in the spirit of the holiday season just past: It's
as if a cook was complaining that whenever he uses his oven the food comes
out charred. Turns out the cook is always selecting Broil, not Bake.
Usability Error? Of course, but calling it that as it's primary name
improperly limits our (designers) thinking and response. In consumer space,
no matter how well the interface is designed there is a non-zero probability
that this sort of error will occur. After other amelioration, narrowing that
last stretch of occurrence requires user awareness and action -- of looking
and thinking forward in the moment.

Yes ... interfaces for electric ovens and ranges do remain horrible, with
more emphasis on how adding/removing a button can achieve model
differentiation than on improving user interaction. The irony seems lost on
that industry -- that in-manufacturer model differentiation on user
interaction might raise perceived value. Which might, when coupled with
capacity, finishes, designer options, achieve an even more powerful
differentiation. Designing a value-delivering interface customized for each
of the major cook/chef types (defined on their value equations) might be
more expensive than designing a single interface to which, to achieve model
differentiation, a designer simply adds or deletes a button. (The real
danger might be more and new stick-vs-automatic transmission debates on
CHI-WEB.) But what is really important vis-a-vis economics is whether the
price point and the margins (incl assy and service) will sustain at minimum
the same net returns throughout the channel while sustaining competitive
advantage. Well, at least this lesson has been learned in design of the web
technology and web content. :-) But now I've drifted off into the
"popular=good" thread.

Here is foward-looking behavior in the cooking domain.

Two behaviors that every cook should know:
  (1) NEVER measure directly over your batter;
  (2) You can ALWAYS fix hollandaise sauce,
      you can NEVER un-stiffen your cake batter,
      and most cases are in between the two.

Here is forward-looking behavior in the web domain.

Two behaviors that every web surfer should know:
  (1) If you're not comfortably certain what will happen
       _after_ you click, NEVER activate a link or submit* a form
      if the page you are leaving has special value to you.
      (There's an economics to apply here, but who cares);
  (2) Some kinds of surfing are "more reversible" than others.

[* A fine-enough word, btw; revisit "user" from Dykstra down to
today. ]

Some user specifics. In the case of
  (1), every surfer should know and regularly use
       "new window with link", "copy link" into new
       blank window, or "open page in new window (IE)".
In the case of
  (2), every surfer should routinely predict the class
       of their next action.

Now I can just hear the howling ... "Where in the world are such users?!"
Fair-enough. Even in the desktop world it's rare among ordinary users to
find one who can properly spawn a window, etc.

But indeed there are such users. The ones I have in mind are the same ones
that routinely do NOT 'get' the web interface, are flustered when they see a
plug-in download window, do not understand the forward or reply features of
their mail client, etc., and although they now understand cut-and-paste,
they still can't manage desktop windows. But ... I've noticed that when they
are using  to monitor, analyze, and adjust their portfolios
they come to understand that they get better results (e.g., in adjusting
their portfolio**) by NOT using the back button, but by choosing the desired
state (or is that nagivation?) from the (!gasp!) tabs. Not that
has made it all that easy ... intuitive? ... but they are getting there.

[** Or should I say shopping cart? ]

If Bill's example user had been practicing these basic "cooking" skills, the
errors would not have happened ... the errors are that basic.

Back to the check-the-box case, if the user is thinking in the moment and
aware that this is that sort of question, they will know and execute the
simple rule:

   I must take an action to prevent something I don't want.

Whatever the preexisting state, they must take action. No reading or
deciphering involved.

(The context is important: a singular presentation (not two separate
choices, two boxes to chose between, as in William's test); a placement that
is out of line, separate, secondary; an action needed to protect interest; a
readily-recognized contra-interest on the part of the other party; something
which will be hard to change another time; etc. All of which point to ways
that such negative-opt-outs could be made confusing such that users would
actually have to read them before attempting to use them. William's test
form of the question was an simple example of how to do that.)

In this view, in reference to Bill's examples a few months back with the
back buttons, the conclusion: "The results in this case of using the back
button demonstrate a usability error" is as invalid as the conclusion: "The
fire resulting from drying clothes in the microwave demonstrate a usability
error." (Okay, I exaggerate ... do people actually do that?).

Likewise, few media-savvy people are going to have real trouble with the
"properly" executed negative-opt-out question. It's natural, understood,
easy to execute, doesn't even require reading ... in other words, highly

And, to say the least, ironic.

Nick Ragouzis

(*** By using the negative-opt-in, what they can be interpreted as saying
is: "We know that you know that this is just junk mail ... but if you're not
sharp-enough to tell us not to share your name, we'll do so. It might make
it possible for us to send more of this magazine to more subscribers, to
keep you (with your low or falsely-represented related spending budget) on
as a subscriber, to add another signature to the length, to charge more for
advertising ... some of which might benefit you. But, mostly, we don't want
you to think about it much, or, especially, tell us not to share your

Previous  | Next
Date:         Fri, 31 Dec 1999 08:21:16 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
Subject:      Re: Is 'content' an 'Interface' too ?


I think the question "Is content an interface too ?" _is_ a naive question,
of precisely the type that talented and serious designers continually seek.
These are among the most difficult questions to form, the riskiest to ask
aloud, and for which the answers are most inconclusive and unsatisfactory.
Which is pretty close to the essence of design, no?

Below is one specimen "unsatisfactory" answer. In the course of trying show
that HCI practitioners have got a much, much, wider challenge to attend to
than, say, policing browser window widths, or tabs, for that matter, I felt
it necessary:
- to ground the expansionist agenda in a broader interpretation of HCI, and
- to identify a design philosophy which can include both that broader
interpretation and the Web itself as instances.

Add a constraint that the whole exercise needed to fit on to two pages for
possible publication ... and you have a pretty inconclusive and
unsatisfactory answer.

The two-pager pretty-print version (which is recommended over what follows!)
is at:

Oh, and yes,there are several interesting points of comparison and contrast
between connectionist networks and Connectionism design philosophy.

btw: Isn't is funny that "Is content an interface too ?", if answered
affirmatively, demands of us again (!) that, across an even broader horizon,
we successfully deliver on the questions of accommodation,
internationalization, localization, and etc., of recent discussion on this
list (and in many other forums as well). Connectionism design philosophy
leads to an understand that our ideal of a global village was and is
incorrect -- we must cater to local, personal, differences first (some of
which are simply delayed or commuted global artifacts ... but their primary
characteristic is now local). Beyond giving up and seeking the ground-state
of homogeneity, _and_ beyond mere catering, we must identify these
differences and crystallize them in many designs ... and thereby not simply
serve an audience, but actually give a better expression of our intended

Nick Ragouzis

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Everywhere We Look
The Web Challenges HCI to Expand Its Scope

Nick Ragouzis, October, 1998

HCI's Scope?
- - - - - -
Whether we consider the Web good news or bad, it is a catalyst for
transforming the practice of the human-computer interaction
disciplines. More forcefully and more urgently than ever before, the
Web invokes the perennial question to HCI practitioners: Shall we
restrict our work to the direct interactions of humans with
computers? Or shall we challenge ourselves, expanding our scope to
include the entirety of social organization and enterprise? I
believe we must take up the latter challenge.

The mandate to expand the scope of HCI is delivered through the
interpretation of human artifacts and actions that finds expression
in Gillian Crampton Smith's maxim, "The form of the device is the
interface". To realize the force of this maxim and to see how the
Web lends a new urgency to the question, we must consider its

First, we have the corollary that the interface, as determined by
the form of the device, is the device.

Second, there is the similarity, even identity, of all
devices-irrespective of their source or purpose-whose apparent
interfaces are similar. If the user interprets the interface of two
devices as similar in some respect, then the devices are also

Third, there is the insight that all human artifacts, including our
social and commercial organizations, are also devices presenting an
interface: their form, too, is their interface. Although it is mere
recapitulation to say that an interface is the point of interaction
between one thing and another, it is important to note that the
interface of the organization will mediate in both directions,
outward and inward, communicating function and values, and not
necessarily symmetrically. Further, the form of the device that is
the organization determines the interface not simply for that single
organization but also for all that it consumes and produces, all its

If I now seem far afield of my original objective, consider that an
organization's constituency has engaged in human-computer
interaction since the dawn of computers (even of the human kind).
The forms our customers fill in, for example, have always been
determined by the ability of the forms-enabling and -generating
humans (in modern times extending from the computer engineers and
programmers to the application users) to specify and process forms.
Filling in a printed form is human-computer interaction, once
removed. First-order and second-order human-computer interaction,
whether related to investments, product development, human
relations, or customer service, has long determined the form of our
organizations, and therefore the interface with and between our

Connectionist Design
- - - - - - - - - -
Long before the Web, many modern organizations recognized that they
are defined by their interface. These organizations sought to
transform their every aspect (from marketing systems through
materials process to organizational management) so as to become
accessible to, even subject to command by, their constituencies.
Their interface has been crucial to their success in forging new
services and alliances.

The attempt to transform the organization's interface is an
expression of a design philosophy I call Connectionism.
Connectionist design promises and demonstrates connections, whether
through the shared identities of, say, interface components or
through the promised or realized interaction with other individuals,
organizations, or other artifacts. Connectionist design can occur as
part of design at all levels and in all disciplines, encompassing,
for example, management, engineering, sales, user interface, and,
yes, Web page design. Connectionism's drive for more, and more
individualized, connection does not necessarily limit itself to
computer-enabled implementations, but it does push computers into an
ever more prominent and more visible role. Like it or not, HCI is
sucked along in Connectionism's wake.

Connectionism guides the social as well as the functional. It
embraces, simultaneously, separateness and nexus (in the sense that
something new is created in the connection-as a knot is different
from the ropes of which it is made). It recognizes the realized and
the potential as equals.

Ironically, in Connectionism difference comes first. Connectionist
design protects, elevates, even celebrates individual
characteristics (of, say individual people, disciplines, products,
organizations, or web pages), to the extent that its collected
artifacts are criticized as instances of tribalism or Balkanism.

The Web is one Connectionist design, perhaps the most visible. It
transcends the divisions of data forms and access types, while
protecting their differences. The Web's content always promises and
often delivers connections. The multi-lingual vocabulary of Web page
design, user interface, and ornamentation exemplifies this design
philosophy. Although the dominant, even paradigmatic, Connectionist
design, the Web is just one element in a larger Connectionist
environment. The Web's connectionless protocol, for example, is
subject to myriad efforts to provide "connection-full" closure. More
significantly, the devices that aim to deliver this larger
environment operate both inside and outside the realm of the Web.

Since a similarity in apparent interfaces is enough to establish a
similarity in the devices, we must recognize that such devices as
static magazine advertising, a medical practice, a book, or a
machinist's hand tool, while perhaps not electronically connected to
the Web, nevertheless share a common domain(Connectionism.

HCI as Organizational Transformation
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Under the aegis of Connectionism, the emergence of the Web forces
the human-computer interaction disciplines to the very core of
organizations, willingly or not. In the enterprise this may be seen
as similar to the transformation of quality control from a
functional backwater to Quality, a powerful part of the CEO's agenda
and an enabler of organizational transformation.

Are HCI professionals up to the challenge facing them? Meeting it
will require a shift of focus from the current debates about
architecture-is a philosophy or a process? does it produce an
artifact?-to pursuing the architecture of enterprises and markets.
We must look beyond product management meeting pleas about cost
avoidance or marginal returns to boardroom discussions about
enterprise financial structures, management efficiencies, and sales
strategies. To usability measurements, we must add a practice of
imagination-a practice that, based on our understanding of
human-computer interaction, will change the dynamics of entire

The Agenda
- - - - -
The transformation of HCI will require significant effort among its
practitioners and a change in how the HCI disciplines are structured
and executed. Such efforts are necessary if we are to transition HCI
into a bona fide profession. The ACM SIGCHI community can place
itself at the center of this transformation.

One, we must raise the threshold for science and research within
HCI. We must demand a higher standard for reconciliation with prior
works, not only with work in the HCI disciplines but also with work
in other fields. Following the example of another discipline with
which it shares many characteristics, behavioral psychology, we
should require release of the underlying data with the publication
of research conclusions. These higher standards should be applied to
tutorials, to papers, and especially to Connectionist work, such as
that relating to the Web.

Two, we must create a bridge with those from the enterprise (that
is, the people on whom we wish to press the larger scope of HCI) and
with those who are subject to the results of the HCI disciplines.
That effort requires a direct connection-not one mediated by
consultants and study reports. And to be effective, the activities
and forums that comprise the bridge must make it possible for all
involved to contribute meaning and realize benefits, a
characteristic that implies ongoing rather than one-time

Three, we must mount a serious effort to advance the knowledge and
practice of HCI in other professions and practices. Our current
efforts to educate computer science students in HCI are miniscule by
comparison to what is required to meet the challenge presented by
the Web and other Connectionist designs. Part of the effort will be
to orient the practices of HCI to the individual perspectives of
other professions: a one-size-fits-all curriculum doesn't. The
result will be a transformation of HCI itself. Further, HCI
professional organizations must build forums that are specialized
for newcomers and their separate interests.

Finally, we must make significant investments in experimenting with
dynamic, multi-constituency communities focused on exploring and
undertaking the challenges discussed here. Such communities must be
able to sustain a rich dialogue among their various constituencies
so as to build the community's knowledge and share this knowledge
with other communities. What we need is the capacity for continual
improvement and renewal of a kingpin profession.

About the Author
- - - - - - - -
Nick Ragouzis is the founder of Enosis Group, a business and
technology consulting firm. Nick's experience includes industrial
and graphic design as well as technology design and development.
Author's Address
Nick Ragouzis
Tel: +1 415 922 3463

Previous  | Next
Date:         Mon, 13 Dec 1999 07:16:26 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Interfacility)" 
X-cc:         Jakob Nielsen , Don Norman ,
              Hal Shubin 
Subject:      Innovate, or follow

I've been catching up on my CHI-WEB reading ... during which I came
across a few cases where several different threads seem to be about
the same thing. Suurpriiise!

Here are some thoughts about one such bundle, that concerning the
challenge of designing interactive environments for an unconstrained
audience in the presence of de facto standards.

What better place to start than with Jakob Nielsen? Here's his own
summary of his November 14, 1999, article:


> Anything done by more than 90% of big sites becomes a de-facto
> design standard that must be followed unless an alternative design
> achieves 100% increased usability. Anything done by 60-90% of big sites
> is a convention that should be followed unless an alternative achieves
> 50% better measured usability.

Now, it is a logical impossibility to follow this advice precisely.
(Of the several routes to such an understanding one may start with:
the number of dimensions in the compound qualifier "anything done";
or with the disinterested unqualified determination of "100%
increased usability" in the presence of an unconstrained audience.)
It is also a practical impossibility. But we've managed to grasp a
rule, it seems, as reflected in Hal Shubin's summary of Jakob's

> do what everyone else does, unless there's a measurable benefit to
> violating the status quo

This isn't quite the same thing, and in practice would be much worse
(as far as logical impossibility goes, and as far as the impact on
design). The practical impact, given the challenges in making the
required distinction, would be to vote for inertia in the design
discipline, as in this rule:


Any takers for this exhortation? Didn't think so. So, if we need a
rule, then we need a better rule.

I think Jakob's actual post (not his attention-grabbing email
summary quoted above, and not his above-the-fold summary in the
Alertbox article itself, which suffers from the same logical
impossibility) is better summarized as:

  Follow, Innovatively

Does this seem better? It's probably more in line with Jakob's
intention, especially when taking into account his November 28,
1999, Alertbox "Usability as a Barrier to Entry". Although this
title is itself illogical and violates de facto standards of
another sort -- perhaps he meant one of these:
  "Poor Usability is an Impediment to Profitability";
  "Investment in Usability provides a Barrier to Entry"
      (speaking of competitors);
  "Poor Usability Turns Users (and Revenue) Away".

At the end of that piece, Jokob addresses a subject that will, I
suggest, help us even further. He says:

> You get two lines to explain your value proposition.

This is longhand for the long-known:

  "Capture their attention"

Now this latter and shorter statement is better, if only because it
recognizes that as product creators we mostly fail when we try,
directly, to "tell the user" about their values. This is why
"signaling" and "convey" and etc., through their connotation of
indirection, are better words. And because both the "capture" and
the indirection require a commitment to several considerations that
are more important to us: innovation and testing.

Leading me to a suggestion that I'm more comfortable with:

  Innovate, or follow

If we do need such guidelines (and I maintain that we, HCI
professionals, practiced interaction designers, etc, shouldn't!)
then this is closer to what we want. I'm certain that it's closer to
what we want in general practice -- as it commands practitioners to
heel to a higher standard, higher than merely "Following".

The threshold for the advised innovation is very high:

  You must deliver improvements in your customer's perceived value.

In that statement we have everything we need. It supports
innovation, variety, fun and useful experiences, results, ...,
actual standards, and de facto standards, all available to the
designer for arriving at the appropriate balance.

I'm tempted to stop there.

The temptation to continue comes from the conjunction of this thread
with other threads on design for accessibility and etc. Taken
together they reflect a serious fault or gap in the usability, HCI,
and even all computer-related design professions:

  We lack an adequate practical understanding of marketing

Marketing is just one of several practices in which we are in need
of remediation , but it is particularly relevant to this thread, and
to usability.

A case in point comes from the "I prefer ... harder to use" thread
and includes things like Don's mention of the Grips products.

It's instructive to recognize that the Grips products (for example,
the peeler) are not better products for chefs.  For one, they impede
dexterity. (This is of course just my opinion, but a not
in-experienced one.) This is not to single out Grips, which Don
mentioned, but rather to point out that with kitchen gadgets we
have, one again, the phenomenon of hope prevailing over experience.

This is hope borne of communication, of marketing, of:

  Catering over accommodation

The challenge of signaling catering over accommodation is widely
known in marketing. From hotel service to materials in industrial
products to clothes, marketers have long faced the challenge that
they cannot "simply" tell the customer "This is better for you" but
rather must signal the customer that (to summarize horribly!) "Your
friends think this is better for them, better even than that other

Or, in the Grips example, to strategically position the product in
the retail product space (colors, packaging, distribution, staging,
pricing, etc.) as something that _successful_ chefs want and use.

It is amazing (or simply fun) to hear people talk about products
such as these ... in the store and otherwise. Without direct use,
without specific experience, etc., the "buzz" gives them the idea
that these are better. Or at least, without better information, and
lacking self-confidence in a knowing judgement, a safer choice for
placing a bet. Such it is with kitchen gadgets, as it was with for
years with IBM, for example. And with accessibility.

These considerations, of innovation, of perceived value, and, btw,
of the challenges in the larger context of bringing e-world
activities to bear in r-world, _may_ provide valid reasons for
variance from de facto standards. That is, for not following.

Strategic reasons. These arises because, through a mapping of
intent, interactions, and impact, one can see that:

  All branding is usability.

The inverse isn't quite true, as usability (in the larger defining,
spanning industrial design, architecture, etc) has a role in making
transparent certain aspects of the related product. But much of
usability creates, contributes to, or is branding. So, in the spirit
of the weak law of large numbers, we might reach for this:

  All usability is branding.

The relationship of branding and usability is all the more evident
in those products and services where the user's experience is among
the dominant deliverables. As in websites.

It is through this lens, of strategic implications, that we can
understand the reluctance of some to follow others. Especially for
those who view any and every "perception" and action at the
interface as giving rise to usability concerns. The understanding?:

  Following is a complex affair.

How should one follow? It isn't easy. For one, the choice of "the
obvious" de facto standard concerning some feature (nit or
otherwise) is complicated by the complexities of cooperation and

It is not easy, but it is an opportunity. For interaction designers,
while following the advice of their usability advisors, and while
setting aside their personal affinities and building codes, this is
an opportunity to demonstrate that they are sensitive to, and can
advance or even shape, corporate and marketing strategies.

One complication in following is that a strategic follower won't
follow their most serious rival. Whether it is in battles in and
between standards bodies (eer, I mean, recommendation consortia), or
technologies (incl aspects of standards or common platforms), or
interface features ... a strategic follower will choose how to
follow in order to maximize:

  * differentiation from their most serious competitor

  * affinities with competitors and partners with similar
    differentiation requirements

  * competitive power of the explicit or tacit market group to
    which the follower belongs

  * de facto considerations, where differentiation isn't relatively
    valuable (a special case here is coattails-following, where in
    reference to a follower, there is an unassailably dominant

  * follower-specific pathologies (in our current era of web
    development this achieves a special status because it is the
    dominant characteristic when, for example, the follower's only
    web technologies expert decides to do everything in Flash)

For a strategic follower, these considerations simple-minded
building-codes following-the-leader impractical. Ill-advised,

Does this all seem a bit abstract? Consider the "tabs vs button"
debate on this list -- a flux between: "some marketing people ...
who think that sort of design is great"; pet peeves (sub-tabs);
(categorically) bad design; dominant de facto standard; functional
metaphor (action type, of physical); etc. The debate exhibited all
of the maximization vectors ... but without an explicit statement
that one might decide on grounds that include strategies for
following. On marketing and competitive strategy.

Although I suspect that marketing folks would be alarmed if
interaction designers start asking them about the strategic
implications of every pixel they intend to affix to the interface, I
have hope that the same marketing folks would respond eagerly to
interaction designers who add to their recommendations a critical
review of, and prediction of, the strategic following implications.

This latter component, prediction, adds a significant piece to the
"following" puzzle. It is the prediction piece that provides the
valid justification to innovate. Sure, having fun, experimenting;
these are valid and important reasons ... but they don't get far as

Predicting how differentiation will evolve (and remember that's
differentiation in perceived value by the customers, not simply
first-order differentiation in look-and-feel) _should_ drive
strategic followers (and leaders, who follow somebody, often
everybody!) to try new things. That is, to:

  Purposefully seek to violate de facto standards

So ... strategic differentiation in your customer's perceived value
provides a legitimate, non-technical imperative to knowingly and
thoughtfully violate de facto standards.

(Just in case, and before hearing from the all corners: de facto
standards are distinctly different from actual standards. In
particular, an interface standard established for a product line.
This is not to disqualify "Innovate, or follow," which is sorely
needed in the presence of actual standards -- but rather to
deprecate the "violate" rule, or to heighten the bar for violating
those standards. The span and depth, the completeness, of such
standards signal an important attribute to designers: "this cost
lots of money and we will be sure to leverage our investment". On
detecting such a message, designers must be certain of higher
utility (all the way-round) from any violation.

Hal Shubin's comments about the Java Look and Feel is a useful
example. It is important because it moves in the contrary direction:
Because designers readily understand that Sun's standard is not up
to par, they believe (baring the roles of inattention and of
incompetence) that Sun is signaling that this wasn't very important
to them. Thus designers will readily violate this actual (and not de
facto) standard.)

I'd like to propose another reason to knowingly and thoughtfully
violate de facto standards. This one is not based on following or
strategies (although it could be motivated by such) ... but rather
on understanding our place in the firmament.

I feel that an important, even primary, reason to violate de facto
standards, is learning. By developers, by users. This view is
derived from my own feeling that we haven't reached an inflection
point in _any_ significant domain of creating or using the web.

Identifying and relying on de facto standards is essentially a
regressive methodology -- it presses on those who pursue and apply
them, relieving them of the challenge of innovation. It's also a
progressive disease -- extending from application in the corners of
a design, to application in the center and whole. And, by the way,
in the larger picture, it doesn't serve customers.

Thanks for staying with me ... your thoughts?

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Tue, 30 Nov 1999 16:30:53 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-cc:         Belinda Smith 
Subject:      Re: Problems with the word "Register"


- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Have you tested a revised flow of purchase?

All other steps in the flow remaining the same (an assumption I would not
advise; further I noticed that not all searches that I tested followed the
flow you described), the registration for new users (or anyone not wanting
the benefit of their prior visits) should happen _only_ _after_ they
"receive list of matching entries."

From purchase patterns in physical space ... retailers would prefer to have
the testers tested, and the buyers' choices tagged and bagged, and have the
buyers out of the store, before taking their money. :-)  So should you.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
You (or others in your org) might argue that even the search has a cost (to
you), and a benefit (to the searcher). Indeed. This is an all-to-familiar
argument from the 'bad old days' of online database access and sales. As in
the old days, such an argument lacks an understanding of the costs of
getting customers to your site. These costs are not to be thought of as
'transportation' (getting potential customers to your site) costs intended
to be offset on a single visit's purchases, but rather understood as your
investment in opportunity.

In that light, every effort should be expended to convince every visitor
that you have the precise information that they want and _will ever_ want.

No plain "information" home page, no "one quick question". Having arrived at
a DB list and selected one to begin a search, no fake input box, etc. All
features I experienced on your site.

Instead, visitors should encounter lists of popular searches and a result
profile, immediate searching with interesting profiles and aggregates of
results, lists of auto-notify 'searches', typical related searches, etc.,
all before registering, and certainly before buying.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
An example of one type of sequence that seems flawed is the DBA-type search.
The fork-in-the-flow choice (click-to-purchase-single-record vs.
click-to-purchase-entire-list) is a reflection of the "they're registered",
even of the "already purchased the search" (although not in this case),

Without addressing other opportunities you may have to motivate the user
(such as aggregating, profiling, etc the results), the proper options might
include more consideration of the purchaser's experience:
click-to-purchase-single coupled with a notice that if unsuccessful they can
revert to the entire-list option for a small additional $; or with an
unsuccessful click-to-purchase-single offer to extend the search to
neighboring states for reduced amount/free; offering bundles of typically
related searches/records with the record choice; incentives for notice of
incorrect/invalid information, when a chosen record turns out to be wrong.

I included this latter option because I suspect that it is reflective of the
options that might be seen as valuable by the type of user you are having
problems with (the "...asking for their information to add to our
databases." type). This option, of offering to compensate for notice for
incorrect/invalid information, introduces an opportunity (with heightened
attention) for you to tell the story of where you do get your information:
"We can't use any new information, we get that from ... etc ... but we do
want to be able to flag the record as possibly out-of-date."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
So I'd suggest that to find ideas to solve the registration abandonment,
consider a substantial redesign the user experience.

> I work for an e-commerce site, http:/  Our specialty is
> selling public records.  One of our on-going usability problems has been
> narrowed down to the use of the word "register".   The flow of purchase on
> our site is as follows:
> Register to gain access to databases (personal info, credit card, choose
> userid and password)
> Automatic login after registration
> Select desired database
> Enter info to be searched
> Receive price for search -- agree or not to continue the purchase
> Upon purchase, receive list of matching entries in the database.  Option to
> purchase details of any of the matches.
> One of the major stumbling blocks seems to occur as soon as the user enters
> the Registration page.  A large percentage of our tested users feel we are
> asking for their information to add to our databases.  We've tried some
> alternative lingo ... sign in, set up your account, become a member...all
> seem to lead to the same assumption.  We've even included a line on the
> registration page telling customers that their information does not get
> integrated into our databases.

The first line of this paragraph, followed by the remaining content, is, to
me, quite suggestive. Here you've provided evidence that collecting their
information is not their true objection (after all, you intimate that you've
tried everything). The suggestion arises in the first sentence: perhaps the
mode for failure is set up by what has happened just before the user enters
the Registration page. After touring the site, I'd say the early stages of
the experience establish a pattern of barriers, not access; the registration
information request is one more barrier and it is quite personal. Given that
experience, I wouldn't find it surprising that users abandon registration,
regardless of the site's purpose. And regardless of what you call it.

You intimate some testing. Here's a few tests for your lab: Put the
registration and purchase "after" the record has been delivered/printed.
Compare attitudes with a control group. Do the same testing design, but
without the 'impediments' -- start right at the DB's list (even if still
designed the current way). Compare again. I'd reserve any test concerning
the word "registration" until after completing these tests and even more
inventive or important tests. And until after designing new service options,
and ways to abbreviate and aggregate entries, etc.

> Have any of you experienced this or something similar?  I'd love some
> feedback on this as we are turning away so many visitors.  Comments on the
> site in general are welcome as well.
> Also, if anyone is interested in aswering our usability survey, I can give
> you a $25 voucher to try out  Just let me know if you're
> intersted.  Thanks.
> _____________________________
> B e l i n d a   S m i t h   |   K n o w X  . c o m
>   U s e r   E x p e r i e n c e   D e s i g n e r
>                          ---
>            ph / fx :  7 7 0 - 5 1 8 7 9 4 3
> _____________________________

Nick Ragouzis

Previous  | Next
Date:         Wed, 18 Nov 1998 12:00:08 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
X-cc:         Peter Merholz 
Subject:      Re: Origin of the phrase "User Experience"


Once again you open an interesting dialogue.

The earliest example I can find (sorry, only by mere brain recall
sending me to mere physical volumes) is Brenda K. Laurel in "Interface
as Mimesis" (in Norman & Draper's User Centered Design, 1986). It
appears as "the user's experience" in the last para of the sectioned
titled "Interactive Aspects of First Personness."

This first-person possessive use may not be strictly compatible with
your project, especially if it is in the lines of "user experience
designer/engineer" where the use is of the experience as an event or
object, something to be crafted.

I feel, however, that Brenda's use is much more powerful. Here are three
of my reasons. First is the obvious - the experience is arises from and
because of use - it is one of action and participation, of interaction
by someone, not by "user". Second comes her placement of this phrase
within an inquiry concerning meaning, consequences, and significance -
of goals and results. Third, she helps in the thinking about this by
contrasting this first-person perspective to those of second- and
third-person experiences. Related, the entire volume (which may indeed
contain the magical phrase) is a paean to user experience. From the
introduction, including, of course, Don's contribution, and John Seely
Brown's entry, which takes up even social transformation following (the
popularized view of) Bauhaus. Even the glossary of that volume comes
tantalizing close. I'd wager the term might appear within its covers.

(When the above-referenced volume was published even the title spoke of
the transformation. I was elated to see in print something that indicted
what I considered (consider) a significant error in understanding how we
approach those who purshase and use our products, and those who populate
our organizations. It was then popular to talk about customer-focused,
user-focused, employee-focused perspectives. Tom Peter's 1982 book "In
Search of Excellence" was one such (misunderstood and misapplied)
discourse. I'm amazed that even today people still act in that way, much
as a lighthouse is boat-focused: telling, telling, telling, their users
and customers what they (the developers and the companies) what them to

I also checked a few other sources. I had some amusing results.

Of course I went to Vannevar Bush (in the AP volume ed. by Nyce and
Kahn, "From Memex to Hypertext"). Although indeed he is much concerned
with the experience of the user, my eye could not find the place where
he (I swear it's there!, but I must be wrong) uses the term. More on
this below.

I also visited Edsger Dijkstra (in the SV volume "Selected Writings on
Computing" covering from approx. 1968 to 1978-ish). Why? For one, it
always amazes me what he has casually written or talked about. In this
instance his "EWD618 On Webster, Users, Bugs, and Aristotle" (undated)
was informative (and fun). In it he includes a short discussion relevant
to how the work "user" had lost its original meaning, and in the
process, was attaining a new meaning with a special status. Spanning
even across languages.

Another reference point, a silly one. I have a copy of the "IBM Jargon
and General Computing Dictionary, Ninth Edition" (1988). It's an
hilarious document. I have many favorites, one of which is "80-column
mind." (Think about it; ask your parents :-) young fella.) It is made
all the more hilarious precisely because it is dated. In certain
situations I may even say it aloud without fear of recrimination.
(There's a postscript to the definition: "It is said that these people
will be buried "FACE DOWN, 9-EDGE FORWARD."")

The dictionary does not include your phrase. It does include this
tongue-in-cheek entry: "User-Friendly: 1. adj.  ... A program that was
used by more than twenty people (whose comments were acted upon) before
being distributed. 2. n. Of hardware or software: not easy to use, but
needing to be sold."

Enough fooling around.

The question I'd have is this: for what purpose do you seek the
provenience of this phrase?

It occurs to me that we could view the emergence of this phrase as not
marking the dawn of a certain enlightenment, but rather the sunset of
enlightenment and the beginning of a journey into the dark. Prior works,
such as Bush's, Engelbarts, Nelson's, Card-Moran-Newell's, Norman's,
Laurel's, Seely Brown's, Suchman's, etc. are great examples of the
emergence of the idea of the precedence of those who will use the system
in the creation of the computing systems. (And I've purposefully avoided
the wider fields of practice of architecture, design, etc.) In these
writings the user isn't routinely relegated to that anonymous being,
with, often indistinct needs, characteristics, etc. Rather, they retain
their individualism: scientist, engineer, artist, operator, designer,
architect, librarian, boat-maker, game-player, writer, playwright, etc.

Jumping into the past and moving forward, then, we can see how these
individuals have lost their identity. The concept of individual, real,
experience, has transformed into some sort of generalized result. This
transformation was a real, tangible, journey. As we see reflected in
Dijkstra, many (me included) had real problems allowing the
depersonalization of the folks who would use a given system or product
into, generically, "users." (Others, who didn't get it, militated
against the use because of the drugs connotation. Talk about missing the
point big time!) These were daily struggles played out in the creation
of product ideas, their specifications, their testing, and the
associated documentation and training. From this viewpoint, you might
more profitably look not to HCI but to the proceedings from SHARE and
other forums and writings of the time and place where this battle was
being discussed and played out.

The battles to which I refer above continue today, of course. But many
don't see them as a marker (as in gravestone) of the decline of the
individual. In that case, the roots of "user experience" would, indeed,
represent emergence into enlightenment. And it is an enlightenment for
many. I'm sure we share the experience of talking with clients and
getting no response, or lip-service, to discussions focused on the
experience that this or another intended user will garner while using a
Website or multimedia product.

They think you must have just arrived from Burbank. "Experience indeed,
this is a serious site where users must find information in .569 seconds
from first hitting the site." Or, "We must produce $12,000,000 from this
site in the first year or our whole division will tank. We don't have
time for *xshpeerienceee*! (you dweeb)." Or, from those helpful
'designers' who emerge from the depths of the corporate meeting mill:
"All links must be the same, the standard, color. I read that somewhere.
It's what users want. We don't want to experiment with that experience
artsy-fartsy stuff." In these cases (and many more, don't you agree?)
it's great to have an emerging body of thinking and work that
demonstrates the fullness, and the reality, of "user experience."

Maybe you can achieve a melding of these two perspectives. THAT would be
very helpful.

I look forward to hearing from others on this. I hope you'll share your
result (at least on I look forward to it.

Nick Ragouzis 


>I'm doing a little research, and trying to find the origin of the term "User
>Experience" as a discipline with software (and now Web) design.
>The earliest I've come up with is this 1995 proceedings from CHI:
>If anyone knows of earlier citings (maybe someone has access to nice
>University database, yes?) I would be most happy to hear of them. Thanks!
>Peter Merholz, Problem Solver
>The Brand:
>ICQ: 7631566

Previous  | Next
Date:         Fri, 30 Oct 1998 16:05:05 -0800
Sender:       "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" 
From:         "Nick RAGOUZIS (Enosis Group)" 
Subject:      Re: steep learning curves

re: Steep learning curves

A steep learning curve is a experience-centric phenomenon that is
relative in nature.

To get a proper parameterization of the quite-correct description
of the learning experience in challenging conditions
we must properly interpret the factors involved:

The fundamental phenomenon is:
  A learner's need to achieve specified levels of learning within a time 

  To qualify for the assessment "steep learning curve" the target time 
  period is considered (by the learner but perhaps imposed on the learner) 
  to be accelerated relative to the desired/specified/required learning levels.

  The above establishes both an 'normal' curve and an "expectation" curve
  (the "steep" one). To travel the "expectation" curve the learner must
  achieve each learning level, L, at a time, T, that is earlier than for their
  'normal' curve.

  Thus, by advancing the time T when a level L must be learned,
  the slope of the curve that the learner expected to ascend is indeed steeper.
  And the learner must learn more sooner than usual, i.e., work harder,
  to stay on that slope.

Adjunct points:
  * In my experience this assessment most often arises in reference
    to the learner's expectation in reference to another experience.
    E.g., A target level of expertise where the target expertise
    is intended to replace an an existing expertise. In such a case
    the learner often targets the time T too early, forgetting the
    the time it actually took to gain the to-be-replaced expertise.
    This can make every "get up to speed" learning situation a
    steep learning curve, with the fact of it becoming more noticeable
    as the learning rate (learned/time) drops below the planned curve's
    slope and the amount that remains to be learned drops less slowly
    as the time remaining gets closer.

  * Related is an error in understanding how (when) increments of learning
    will arrive. A difficult subject is often introduced at a rate
    slower than the mean for the entire program. This can lead the
    learner to assess the learning curve as steep, esp. if they already
    expect that they will have a difficult time achieving the learning
    level by the target time. Also the learning curve can be said to be
    steep  "drinking from a fire hose," "swimming upstream," etc. because
    if the rate of learning had been achieved at normal rates (increments
    arriving at the 'normal' rate) the specified level of learning would
    have been achieved at a much later time. Both of these point to the
    dynamics that arise when learner expectations change (are changed!)
    during learning: the high learning levels *and* the accelerated time
    may remain as they were at the beginning, yet the learners expectations
    are altered and, voila, the learning curve isn't so steep any more.

    (In my opinion this is one of the bases for presenting easy and early
    things very fast; and, as a matter of personal style (and against the
    fundamentals/first-things-first camp), presenting payoffs early).
  * Garnering incremental utility from learning fits under these same
    interpretations. If the learner demands early (partial) utility,
    any subject may be cause for the learner to expend considerable
    effort in an (relatively) accelerated time period in order
    to gain a substantial footing in the subject (to achieve substantial
    levels in L). Here the curve was artificially made steeper by
    accelerating the time -- something that can present a SLC for even
    an 'easy' subject. (Of course, since the time element is 'simply'
    a perception, performance stress and environmental uncertainty
    can alter the learners assessment of the learning curve's slope.
    Likewise with risk.)

It is easy to construct many other versions of this. One is helped
in such inventions by adopting a Law of Effect perspective. Such an exercise
can lead to understanding why some learners will not take the time to learn
a subject unless the learning target and the allowed time create a certain
type of learning curve (the most obvious in our business being that it's
only fun when the SLC is near vertical!)

. . . .

Difficulty is not an appropriate substitute for the SLC phenomenon.
A learning challenge can be difficult relative to other learning
situations yet, in the experiencer's assessment, occur in 'normal'
time. In this sense learning the learner considers difficult will have
a 'normal' learning curve.

Time on other-than-the vertical is not uncommon in many analytic
practices. Here it doesn't help explain the learner's meaning.
The additional shift in interpretation required is away from
the empirical/observational frame (viz. "it took a longer amount
of time to learn a short amount of material") to the
expectation/relative frame. For example, to: "if they are going
to learn the expected amount of material they are really going
to have to learn faster" (i.e., learn more per time unit, climb onto
a steeper learning curve). This doesn't require us to swap the axes.
In fact, keeping time on the abscissa makes it clearer in this case
that it is time that is the primary basis for the phenomenon.

A related fault arises in thinking of the SLC in the retrospective.
If one learns more per time period, or learned the same in a shorter
time period, we do have an increased slope in the plot. But this is
not the SLC. By omitting the relative perspective behind the phrases
"learns more per time period" or "learned the same in a shorter
time period" we miss the underlying elementary statement: "I expected
to have to learn a lot in a very short time period." We need to include
the relative for a valid assessment. We must add a retrospective plot,
another curve showing the target learning levels in their target time
periods according to expectation. If that expectation plot turns out
to have a lesser slope than the curve we (retrospectively) traversed,
then we traversed a learning curve that was steep (viz. steeper than
we had expected).

Also, the interpretation given here places the "once you get going
it gets easier" utterance clearly as a separate, post-SLC phenomenon.
The SLC exists without the need for the "once you get going" aspect. But
indeed the "once you get going" utterance requires something like an SLC
under the proposed interpretation: after the time traversing the SLC,
you will from then on be able to reach your expected levels of learning
(even on your own, etc) within the expected time increment.

. . .

Metaphors are important (if over invested). At the least, if a metaphor
rises into common use, it can be revealing of the domain in which it is
applied (even as that domain changes) to discover as many meanings as
possible. Therefore there is not likely to be such a thing as a bad metaphor:
at the least a 'bad' metaphor reveals something about those who use it which
otherwise might not be available. (e.g., indicating a tendency to
pre-fabricated thought).

Nick Ragouzis 

Nick Ragouzis
Enosis Group
San Francisco, CA   415-022-3463
Last modified: Wed, 22 March 2000