Monday, April 02, 2007

Web Standards Group meeting on the user exepreince

The 28 March 2007 meeting of the WSG was the first at the National Library of Australia, rather than the usual Bunker Theater in Canberra. This was the least successful WSG meeting I have attended, but still worthwhile.

Shane Morris, User Experience Evangelist, Microsoft:

The talk did not start well, with a noisy joke video from Microsoft. This probably goes down well at Microsoft staff meetings, but was inappropriate for showing to potential customers.

Mr. Morris tried to define the distinction between designers and developers. He did not make it clear, but seemed to be talking about web or user interface "designers" versus ICT "developers". Mr. Morris' view of designers versus developers seems to be based on the obsolete idea that "designers" come from a arts/humanities background and learn nothing about IT and "developers" are scientist/engineers learning only IT with no design. Software Engineers are now trained to have user interface designers within their teams. Graphic and user interface designers now learn IT (at least at the ANU). About half the students I teach web design and eCommerce to are arts/humanities people and half engineering/computer science.

Mr. Morris said that Microsoft were developing a "User Experience Maturity Model", analogous to the "Capability Maturity Model" for software engineering. This sounded interesting, but he did not explain further. There are details on his blog. From reading his blog, Shane has some deep insights and considerable experience at user interface design. Unfortunately little of this came across in his talk.

Another problem was factually incorrect statements. As an example Mr. Morris claimed that Microsoft started in business making compilers. But according to the Wikipeida, Microsoft was "Originally founded to develop and sell BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800 ..." . The average member of the public may not know the difference between a compiler and an interpreter, but someone from Microsoft should.

A third problem were gratuitous comments denigrating Microsoft. Mr. Morris claimed Microsoft had not acknowledged design as a part of development until recently and until recently the only tool Microsoft had for design was MS Paint. These seemed ill considered comments, even if they were true (which I doubt). Perhaps people with "Evangelist" in their job title have to make exaggerated and inaccurate claims to galvanize an audience. But Microsoft might want to limit its evangelists to giving internal corporate presentations and keep them away from potential customers.

One point of Mr. Morris' talk I found useful was the last one, which was the lack of usability stands for rich Internet applications. Unfortunately he didn't expand on this. Had he given a presentation on that, it may have been useful.

Craig Errey, Managing Director and psychologist, PTG Global:

Mr. Errey argued that a rigorous process was needed for a defensible user interface design. You may not agree with his engineering approach to design, but at least he gave a clear and useful vision of how to do it (unlike the previous speaker). Craig is taking on a large task to teach software engineering techniques to web designers. But at least he is applying known, well established software and user interface development techniques (some of which I recognise from my training 20 years ago).


This was the least successful of the WSG meetings I have attended. This one was still equal to the average presentation I attend, but not to the excellent standard of previous meetings. It perhaps strayed too far from the topic of web standards. The previous format has tended to be to have one "user" presentation, usually from a government agency, and one "company" presentation. Having two vendor talks was one too many. Mr. Morris seemed to be trying to give a user presentation; but a straight sales demonstration of Microsoft's new web tool would have been more useful. Craig's overview of his product was good, but I would have liked to hear from a user of the tool.


One issue which might be addressed by a future meeting is how many web designers are needed by the Australian Government: perhaps less than a dozen. It used to be that graphic designer was needed to design a logo for each government agency. Most agencies are now required to use the one Commonwealth logo, recognizing they are all part of the one organisation. Perhaps it is time all agencies were required to use the same integrated web design. This would make it easier for the users and lessen the number of designers needed.

Previous WSG Meetings:

1 comment:

Shane Morris said...

Hi Tom, useful feedback for me. I agree I could have taken more time to define the (narrowing?) distinction between designer and developer - it's a meaty topic in itself!

One of the advantages of being an evangelist at MS is that you're not there to sell product, which is why I avoided a product demo at this talk. Perhaps another time...

Even though I am new at MS I did know that MS started in interpreters, not compilers, but I confess the distinction didn't even occur to me in the cut and thrust of the presentation. Duly noted.

I'll try and incorporate some of your impressions in the Sydney version of my talk. Although I think I'll keep the video - I kinda like it.

Cheers, Shane. (Not Mr Morris - that's my Dad!)