Sunday, September 30, 2007

Visual Personality Tests

Random personality tests of recent discovery: tests that rely only on visuals. Or, kind of.

This first one is "psychogeometrics." Go here and pick the shape you are most drawn to. If you want to really test the test, before you click on it to read about yourself (!), take a short questionnaire (not visual) here and see if the shape it picks for you matches what you chose by look alone. (Mine: "You appear to be a complex personality. Or perhaps you didn't take the questions seriously.")

Then, for a really visual one, take the Dewey color test. This one is entirely based on response to colors, and comes with an interesting color chart for the month, kind of like biorhythms in flavor but all in hues.

I found out about the latter because another former colleague of mine dropped out of interface design management to become a color and interior design consultant, and she uses the Dewey system. She says she got sick of fighting for good software. That makes 4 colleagues (2 junior, 2 exec level) who have quit the UI design fight in mid-career. Who's next? Are other software professions like this?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stats on Remote Viewing Tests

There are lots of bogus stats studies on parapsychology tests, but this looks more promising: UC Davis statistician analyzes validity of paranormal predictions. Pity it's in something called "The California Aggie."
In 1995, Utts was hired by the American Institutes of Research, an independent research firm, along with psychologist Ray Hyman from the University of Oregon to analyze data from a 20-year research program sponsored by the U.S. government to investigate paranormal activity.

After doing initial research, Hyman and Utts found statistical support, she said.

"The two of us did this review and we both concluded that there were really strong statistical results there, but [Hyman] still didn't believe that it could be explained by something psychic - he thought there would be some explanation [that he] can't provide," Utts said.

The research program involved remote viewing, in which test subjects were asked to describe or draw an unknown target. The target could be anything and could be located anywhere. According to Utts' meta-analysis of the 966 studies performed at Stanford Research Institute, subjects could identify the target correctly 34 percent of the time. The probability of these results occurring by chance is .000000000043.

In contrast, statistical support for the effect of aspirin on heart attacks: "The results demonstrated that aspirin reduced the number of heart attacks in people likely to have heart disease by 25 percent, with a probability of it occurring by chance equaling .0003."

Hyman's concern is valid, of course; the stats don't tell us causation, just that there's a pattern in the data that's unlikely to be due to chance. All sorts of biases could have been introduced during the experiments to produce the results.

But it's still provocative!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

BostonCHI Panel: User Experience Organizations

There was a good cross-company discussion of organizational models for User Experience (UX) teams at Boston CHI on Sept 11 (check that link for full bios on the speakers). Companies represented by managers, directors, and VPs of UX: EMC, Oracle, Symantec, and Fidelity (with Sun and others in the audience).

Some themes that emerged:

  • Need to maintaining standards and cross-company guidelines requires having high level management or at least view that spans the organization — with creative org charts and management across sites often happening as well;
  • Difficulty getting enough staff to meet demand (settle instead on doing fewer things well rather than over-extending, and making the case for more people that way);
  • Organizations have more interaction designers than usability, by 2-to-1 or more (again, a separation of design from testing roles);
  • Assumption that "good user experience" is no longer something that has to be argued for, it's seen as an obvious competitive advantage (the only mild disagreement from Fred at Fidelity);
  • Engineering pay scale for their UX staff (common except for Fidelity, where pay didn't come up — since Fidelity hires a lot of low-paid contractors, I suspect they don't pay their internal folks by engineering scales ).
  • Get the design right up front, or pay for it later. Very broadly assumed to be understood here!
Less obvious themes that resonated from my past few years in the field as manager and individual:
  • UX people can get bored working on the same thing, or the thing with too small a scope. Being able to move across projects will help with this issue.
  • Not having to be accountable for all your project time means being able to do cross-product things and user studies that will improve design work downstream (it doesn't mean goofing off on long lunch breaks!).
  • Long-distance management working remarkably well with the right management attitude.
  • From Oracle, being responsible for good products, not just good specs (teamwork in an organization). [Adobe, while I was there, was terribly concerned with the checkoff that UI had delivered a spec on time and were not "blockers" on the product schedule; this was an ill of centralized UI management that wasn't very flexible in the development process or in terms of their deliverables on each team.]
  • Value of being managed and reviewed by people who know what you do, not being dependent on managers who don't understand your process, contributions, and work products.
  • Investment in prototyping and development.

Relevant past post on my blog: my study of the job postings for UX folks on the BayCHI mailing list for 3 years. Oracle, Symantec, and EMC are on the graphs, but not very high in terms of number advertised for relative to overall size of the company. Fidelity doesn't appear at all, but it hires mainly in MA, I believe.

I have a full report (albeit sketchy) from the panel and the questions posted here. Scroll down to get past this recap on the top!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Infovis at Yahoo

Apparently infovis is the new design black -- except design always had black, so that's not quite right. In any case, the new Yahoo Design Innovation Team site features more infovis displays than actual design work. By this I mean it features projects that display nice visuals of data, usually over time, in the form of movies. There is a lot of rhetoric in the intros about "unexpected patterns," but I must admit to finding a lot of them a little opaque. Only one of the projects is interactive, a cute but not very compelling "design a plant" flash application.

There seems to be an explosion of information visualization artwork suddenly, I suppose because the tools to create it are ripe and available. (Data is available as well, especially if you work inside a Yahoo or Google, but that's not even necessary.) But, curmudgeonly, I'm irritable at it, because so few of them feel polished into usefulness or offer useful interactivity. Infovis needs usability (and evaluation), too, like other design artifacts.

Other observations on infovis displays of recent months: time series data is the current black of infovis -- showing changes over time, usually in animation format. Perhaps it was last season's black, because it's everywhere in the current crop of visualizations, including those on Yahoo's design site (traffic issues in LA, trips -- similar to the beautiful one in processing of airline flight patterns). This makes tremendous sense -- as humans we live in 4 dimensions and it's nice to get information about that 4th one. However, just because it's visible, doesn't make the story it's telling useful. Sometimes you want to take an insight from the time progression you watched and flatten it back into 2 or 3 dimensions to get the story summarized in a form that's useful without it disappearing in time. I don't see this option to convert easily from "playback" to flat summary of a time window in most time series animations, and would often like it. (Bar charts that move over time aren't what I'm talking about, because those are still moving!) Notice that this request asks for not just visualization, but actual interactive tools to play with the data and explore it!

The other thing many folks are exploring, and I think less successfully, is text data. Unstructured text offers a few obvious and old hooks: context around specific words and word or phrase frequencies. Beyond that, things get hard fast, because you have to think about parsers or other complex data mining models. Text vis is the ultra-violet of infovis. There are a couple projects on Yahoo's page that inspect word use at the basic level: the pronoun context display, and the answer cloud frequency display (why are piercings and hysterectomies showing up so often? Is this an artifact of the time window she looked at or something about the user populations issues?).

Regardless of the curmudgeony post, it's nice to know where Joy Mountford is these days.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pavel's Puzzles

Thank goodness, just when I was dreading starting my post about strategy and tactics, Pavel Curtis gave me a good excuse to avoid it: he's launched an online puzzle shop! Since I'm currently reading the slightly evil yet fascinating The 4 Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich which describes many such businesses, I'll be fascinated to watch his progress. (Updated to add: Here's his announcement post about it, on his regular blog.)

Pavel is not only a Lisp hacker with mathematical talents, ex-PARC denizen, and founder of famous online community LambdaMOO, he's a gentleman who co-hosts an annual games party on New Year's that attracts an interesting crowd. I went once attached to one of his invitees, and it was more fun than I would have expected, being your typical uncompetitive, non-gamer who freezes under public performance pressure. His and other puzzles dotted the house, I recall. That was back in the hills of Palo Alto, before the more recent Seattle move! We are all getting old and moving too often.

If you like puzzles with interesting stories, go help Pavel retire from the Evil Seattle Empire and become the new rich!