Advice on website design…….from the government?!?

21 11 2009

Perhaps you are as surprised as I was when I stumbled across a unique website created by the United States government that provides useful advice on website design tips, tricks and tools?

Who would have thunk.

The website is Usability.gov, which is run by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. I knew this website was a break from the norm when the first title on the homepage reads, “Please don’t make me think!” Along similar lines, the color scheme is vastly different from other government websites I have seen. Instead of relying upon blue hues and shades of white, which tends to be standard government website fare, there is an abundance of orange, raspberry purple, teal, yellow and white. Certainly this is not what I would have expected to see prior to visiting this site.

I find this website encouraging for a variety of reasons.

The Mission: to serve as a hub of resources for government website designers to construct more user-friendly websites

The Content: numerous documents, lessons and pointers of design processes

The Resources: various case studies of improved government websites, free design templates and additional educational tools to further design study

Needless to say, this website is a great resource for presenting and understanding basic website design principles. What really surprises me, besides the fact this information is coming from the United States government, is that this website is not more prominently marketed. I for one had no idea this resource existed online. Did you?

There are many websites that could benefit from the principles and resources discussed on this site, regardless if they are public or private sector related.

The wealth of information presented is impressive and for good reason. Instead of simply stating things should be done one particular way, Usability.gov presents actual case studies conducted by government agencies. Under the Methods section on the homepage, you can view several clearly defined categories of ways to approach website design. The categories are as follows:

> Planning the Project

> Analyze Current Site

> Design New Site

> Test & Refine the Site

> Methods at a Glance

I clicked on the Analyze Current Site option and was presented with six sub-topics, each presented in short one or two sentence summations with an accompanying link for further information. This is designed well as it is easy to read and does not represent a cognitive overload.

At this point, I decided to explore the Personas sub-topic. Clicking on the link loads a page with short but clear explanation of key aspects related to analyzing online user personas. At the bottom of the page, a real   example of a user persona is presented from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.    Additionally, the side bar contains several additional real government agency examples of user personas that can be downloaded as Microsoft Word documents.

The information contained on this page alone is insightful and very relevant. Many people complain or assume that the government operates under a veil or secrecy and the public has no idea what really is going on within the halls of power. To that I say, explore Usability.gov. Here there are not just examples outlining how government entities establish and refine their online presence to better serve constituents but great tools that private individuals can use to make their own personal website more user friendly.

As mentioned earlier, I hope this website gets more publicity, it certainly has earned it. Hopefully, my blog post will divert some folks to look into this resource.





Technology + interactivity in multiple forms

9 11 2009

Today marked the end of an……experience. Era would not work in this sense, so experience it will be. What I am referring to is Face-2-Face Fridays. This experience served as a useful means of sharing some of the latest and greatest interactive media events, tools and resources among our fellow peers, through 90-second presentations each week. Although today is a Monday, since last Friday had scheduling conflicts, it was the last set of weekly presentations. It is fitting therefore to highlight some of the wide-ranging topics that were presented. The following list is not an exhaustive one and is presented in no particular order. Here it goes….

> Twitter Peek
Serving as the first Twitter dedicated mobile device, this is for people who feel the need to Tweet regularly throughout the day or need to monitor other peoples Tweet postings. Although the same can be accomplished via a smart phone, the Twitter Peek enables those without smartphones to actively participate in Twitter from a handheld, mobile platform.

> Rent The Runway (RTR)
Combining the worlds of online commerce and fashion, this site has taken looking good to a new and practical level. Basically, members search through designer dresses, find several they like the have them shipped to be worn for a special event. Afterwards, just return the dresses in a prepaid package to RTR and that is it. It seems pretty painless and offers an alternative to buying something expensive which would otherwise be used online a couple of times.

> “Secret Girlfriend” on Comedy Central
Further proof that television is moving towards greater interactivity comes in the form of a show that is filmed from you the viewer’s perspective. Furthermore, the viewer gets to decide from a series of clips which paths the storyline will take, giving you the viewer some critical decisions to make.

Google Squared
Google is a dominant force online. Ironically, there are features associated with Google that are not well known. One such example is Google Squared. Instead of doing a typical search for user specified information and presenting results in list form, Google Squared presents relevant information in chart form. Though limited in the information it can present, since the topic requires many entries, it serves as one example of presenting information in a unique way that some users may find more appealing for their purposes.

Recyclable Laptops
Many people have laptops these days and many people wear them out, require the purchase of a new one. However, when that happens, where does the old laptop end up? Many times, it goes into landfills. Attempts to remedy this problem have resulted in a type of recyclable laptop. The idea is based upon a laptop being constructed in layers, each layer composed of paper pulp and other recycled material. If one layer wears out, it can be replaced instead of tossing the whole computer. Looking towards the future, it will be interesting to see if more people take note of this possibility and begin combining environmental factors into their computing needs.

There you have it, a snapshot of some topics that were presented earlier today. There were many more but for the sake of brevity, I will spare covering every single one. Just as I learned interesting bits of information on technology and interactivity, hopefully this post will guide others to explore the possibilities that currently exist and those on the horizon.





Unified Concepts of Interactivity through a Toolbox

6 11 2009

How would you conceptualize interactivity as it relates to theory and audiences? That is a question that may seem difficult to answer. Granted, it should be. There is no definitive right answer.

Presented with this challenge of conceptualizing interactivity, I worked alongside several of my peers to devise a means of knowledge conveyance regarding the overarching topic. After some initial brainstorming, we realized that visualizing information was a necessity. However, how could be show the relationships that are woven together that make interactive media work? We literally and figuratively grabbed a toolbox to complete the task.

A toolbox represents many components that parallel the most important ones pertaining to interactive media. A prosumer approach further guided our efforts in that a prosumer is characterized by a producer and audience combined. Hence, making something while absorbing influences from others. A toolbox relates to all of these relationships. Below are some examples:

Choice – user chooses tool to use

Control – user decides on content that is paired with the decided upon tool

Feedback – depending on tool chosen and how it is applied, the response will vary, varied outcome results from these factors

Design and Function – every tool specified for a use or types of uses and must maintain purpose

Trust and Value – needs to be a discernible outcome from a tools use, clear sign that task was accomplished by relying upon chosen tool

Connectivity – each tool plays a role towards the greater function of the toolbox, remove one and everything else can be affected

Time – some tools allow more efficient task completion than others, just as some websites make task completion easier than others

Usability – tool should be structured for wide appeal and application towards chosen task otherwise user will not rely upon it for subsequent uses

Optimization – since some tools apply more easier to specified uses than others, key is for user to realize this and make appropriate decision ahead of time to optimize their experience

Why Factor – many reasons contribute to user decisions but each one contributes to a degree towards why one approach was chosen over another

Learning Curve – learning is ongoing which is why using simpler tools first allows more intricate tools to be used later

I found it really interesting to view a standard toolbox and all its accoutrements in this manner. The similarities of such a non-digital medium with the workings of an electronic medium like the Internet is striking. That is just the point. As humans we have had quite a few of these concepts already working in our daily lives, yet, many people do not realize just how applicable they are in the age of interactive media. Hopefully this little explanation of our group’s efforts help to showcase the connection between a good old toolbox and the interactive media of here and now and beyond.





Interactive Application and Variation

7 09 2009

It is only fitting that my first post relating to my direct classroom experience will touch on a range of material. This is similar to what it can be like when trying to grasp what “interactive media” truly is or how it appears. Rather, it is critical. Follow me here.

Instead of listening to one professor lecture continually for an entire classroom session, wouldn’t the experience be much more engaging if there were other sources of information? Not one voice, but several, in different forms, igniting multiple senses. Sound interesting? That is what we are touching upon in class thus far. Today, there were no whistles or squirt guns as learning props but a video clip humorously predicting what social networking will look like in year 3000. You can thank Conan O’Brien of NBC’s “Tonight Show” fame for that tongue-and-cheek contribution.

Humor aside though, interactive media is going to play a tremendous role in such a wide array of applications, being able to touch on just a small fraction of the possibilities encompasses so much information. Case in point, discussing our individual research proposals in class. My peers were exploring issues such as philanthropy, future of documentaries, Web 3.0, personal branding and marketing. Every one of these topics is and will increasingly become more interactive. The status quo of operating by means traditional media exclusively is quickly disappearing. One example of marketing interactivity was shown in class, our university campus present in the famed Second Life game. I can only imagine what the facial reactions would be if, say 20 years ago, I approached Elon University alumni and stating in total seriousness that their beloved university would have a presence in an electronic world. I get a smile thinking of the bewilderment of people just attempting to understand the meaning of my spoken words.

Arguably to a lesser degree, that bewilderment is present among many facets of society right now when it comes to the changing media landscape. This leads me to my final point. I do not know all the answers regarding interactive media. That is why I am here to learn as much as I can in an intensive year of study and application. Judging by the diversity of interactive media applications my classmates research proposals hint at, there is much to learn. That learning has begun.