Recap: Brad Colbow – It’s the little things

Last week we were lucky enough to have Brad Colbow talk about designing interfaces for mobile devices. Brad has extensive experience explaining usability and produces a Web comic called “The Brads.”

The Presentation

Notes from the meeting:

  • Brad works from home and has a specific routine that he follows every morning. One day that routine was interrupted because his daughter was having friends over. So he decided to work from a friend’s office which was quite some time away.
  • He decided that he would pass the time driving by downloading an audiobook from his local library. He browsed the website and found the book he wanted. He then went on to download the book and found the experience so frustrating that he made it a topic of one of his cartoons: Why DRM Doesn’t Work.
  • He loves to take dense mental model information and turn it in to a comic strip that anyone can understand
  • Brad’s day job was building magazines for iPad and iPhone. They didn’t have an iPad yet, so they started on the iPhone and thought they could scale up from there. They knew that magazines needed to be better digital than print. They started with the user interaction guidelines that are available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, etc.
  • What is the secret to creating a great user experience?
    • Looking at experiences they liked
    • Listed reasons and tried to figure it out
    • When you study a bad experience you can easily figure it out
    • What could they use as a bad experience? The Library
  • The little details matter
    • On the library website when you browse for audiobooks you see and can search the entire selection. But when you decide on one and are ready to download it you get an “Add to SelectList” option. What is a “SelectList?” It’s not even a real word..
    • In a real library if you can see a book on the shelf, you can check it out. That experience isn’t mirror on the library website.
    • Stuff like this is not nitpicking. It’s not the big thing that gets you, it’s all the little things that bother you over time.
  • Brad outlined some great user experiences, for example using Dribbble on an iPad. iOS will auto capitalize the first word typed, usernames are case sensitive, so when you login to the website you have to be sure the first letter of your username is lowercase. This is a minor inconvenience but because these two systems obviously have their own motivations it is justified. But the developers of Dribbble must have experienced this first had and added “autocapitalize=”off”” to their username field. It is these little details that make it such a great experience.
  • Brad then went on to outline a few UI differences between iOS and Android and why designing a single interface won’t delight the users of both OS’s. The users of each OS are use to a certain button placement and experience.
  • Some best practices
    • Don’t let the UI hinder the experience
    • Be Skewmorphic sparsely
    • Elevate the content people care about
    • Mobile websites are to do something one time and be done with it. Don’t put an ad on your site to download the app.
    • Avoid forcing the user to rotate the device
    • Don’t make up new touch gestures
    • Avoid help. If you need an instruction manual, you’re doing it wrong
      • If your app needs help, your app needs help.

Full presentation available at:


Recap: Share Your Favorite Application Night

At tonight’s Refresh Detroit meeting, we had an excellent time talking about and sharing our favorite tools and applications. While we didn’t have big attendance at the meeting, our discussion lasted almost two hours.

We took time to demo several applications and shared our experiences on how the applications improved our workflow. I know I have a few more tools to add to my work toolbox.

Here’s a list of some of the applications we discussed:

  • Evernote: free note taking application that seamlessly synchronizes your notes on the web, desktop, and mobile. It’s easy to take notes, scan images, capture screenshots with the browser Web Clipper, and share notes with others (premium version only). Not sure what to do with all those business cards you collect at events and conferences? Scan them with your phone, add to Evernote with a note. Evernote uses OCR (optical character recognition) to scan the text in the business card so you can easily search at a later time.
  • EchoSign: online electronic signature application built into the free Adobe Reader application. If you’ve ever had to send hard copy contracts back and forth via post, or scan PDF signature pages, this application is for you. Sign your contracts and other documents in minutes with EchoSign. The Federal E-SIGN Act makes online electronic signatures equivalent to a written signature
  • Trello: online project management application that organizes your work into boards. The interface is all visual, updates in real time, and you can easily drag and drop tasks, lists and archive weekly work.
  • Cleo: Cleo (Compact Library Extension Organizer) is a Firefox add-on that allows you to combine themes and extensions into one package. You can easily share your favorite extensions by creating a package. Or install the package in a new Firefox profile.
  • jsFiddle: An online application that allows you to test your HTML, CSS, JavaScript code. While there are many similar online applications, jsFiddle is one of the best-known and most-used.
  • Axure: Desktop application used to create wireframes, mockups and interactive prototypes. Though the cost might be beyond the freelancer, Axure is the tool of choice for many large organizations and corporations.
  • Balsamiq and Mockingbird: Online wireframe and mockup applications. Many web developers and user experience professionals have moved from traditional desktop applications to online applications for ease of use and cost.

Thanks to Washtenaw Community College for hosting our meeting.

Recap: The Tricky Business of Website Testing

You might think software testing would be a bit of dry topic but Christopher Martello’s talk at the November Refresh Detroit meeting was far from it. Chris gave us a look at what website testing is, who does it, why they do it, and numerous excellent resources that everyone can use for testing.

Chris has a lot of experience to draw from. He has been doing software testing for about 12 years. He’s done manual testing, automated testing, been a team leader and a project coordinator. Currently he’s a Build & Deployment Coordinator.

He started with an explanation of why we need testing and what makes testers tick. Testing identifies issues that get missed during development. Tester’s are often in between the developers and the business analysts, making sure the functionality is in balance with the requirements. They can function as the gatekeeper to production, determining when a build is good enough for a release. “The most compelling factor for me as a tester is I want to make sure the customers … have a good experience,” said Chris.

Software testers are the type of people who like to find defects and issues. They identify the intended and unintended ways users can go through an application. They also make sure all the intended scenarios work. They incorporate quality throughout the process. It’s important that IT finds the bugs. “You don’t want the user to find the bugs”.

The testing process consists of planning tests, running through them, and reporting the issues you discover. Chris discussed how testing is one part of the overall quality assurance process for your website or application. “It helps build confidence in your application, the team can say it has been tested.” Chris briefly touched on some of common terms and testing methods used in software testing including functional testing, automated testing and load and performance testing.

He then discussed how NOT to test, which included:

  • Letting the users do the testing
  • Saying “I’ll test later”
  • Saying “Works on my computer.”

He discussed other types of testing including standards and browser testing.
Standards testing involves determining if a web site or application meets HTML, CSS, accessibility, security and the evolving mobile standards.

Browser testing is a very important aspect website testing. Unfortunately its difficult to cover the ever increasing number of web browser and operating system versions. Graded presentation standards are typically developed to determine what browsers your web application works on and to what level. You can base your standards on your own internal application logs and on browser statistics found on sites like Stat Counter’s Global Stats. “You should probably be tailoring your browser standards to what your audience is,” said Chris.

He went on discuss the specialized craft of load and performance testing. “It’s almost like designing a very complex scientific experiment”, Chris explained. Its important for identifying bottlenecks and break points in your application but it can take a great deal of time to set-up.

There’s also manual testing. “You got to have some eyeballs and some hands on”, to test if your application meets the requirements and has the intended functionality. A few examples Chris gave of manual tests included proof reading the site’s fine print, checking if the correct phone number is listed, and making sure a form’s error validation is working correctly.

Chris then provided a list of tools and services that you can use for testing. I’ve listed some of them here but for a complete list I recommend you check out his slides.

  • SnagIt – A handy screen shot tool.
  • IETester – A way to test multiple versions of the Internet Explorer on one machine (free)
  • BrowserStack – A complete cross browser testing service that creates virtual machines for you.
  • Xenu Link Sleuth – For testing links on your site. (free)
  • SQA Forums – Software Quality Assurance forums
  • Cacoo – Free online drawing and wireframe sharing

Some of the Firefox add-ons that Chris suggested we check out are:

Automation is where it’s at in software testing. According to Chris, “if you execute a test case more than three times then you should automate it.” It can save a tremendous amount of time. The downside is sometimes you don’t get support for the tools, the budget, and the training needed. While expensive, Chris likes the
HP QuickTestPro testing tool. Some other automated testing tools are:

Two load and performance testing tools Chris mentioned included Rational Performance Tester and HP LoadRunner.

Some issue and defect tracking tools Chris mentioned are:

Chris wrapped up the talk with some demos of some of the tools he discussed and answered questions from the audience. Throughout the presentation he provided examples, interesting anecdotes, and some fun QA jokes. Refresh Detroit would like to thank Chris for his excellent presentation.

Below are Chris’ slides: