Alertbox Reviews June & July

Finally got round to commenting on Jakob’s ‘Usability: Empiricism or Ideology’ alertbox. I do generally feel a sense of disappointment when opening Jakob’s emails. A bit like watching Top Gear on a Sunday. I look forward to it quite a bit and it takes the wind out of my sails when I discover he’s not covering a topic I’m interested in or, in the case of TG, Clarkson & Co. are looking at a Hyundai instead of a DB9. On June 27th though, Jakob’s mail was a good one.

I remember going to a UK UPA event a year or so ago where Marty Carroll, a charismatic advocate of results-led usability and Director at The Usability Company, talked passionately about having to prove measurable benefit to a business of employing user-centric development. To me this blended my academic perspective with my emerging awareness of the world of business. Until that point I’d assumed that academic usability study, in a sense the pursuit of purely empirical assessments, was not really relevant to the world of commercial web and interaction design. What Jakob describes in his alertbox is that usability is only non-scientific in the sense that it produces guidelines as opposed to exact formulae. In essence usability is still the result of empirical observation upon which conclusions are drawn. Makes for interesting reading.

His alertbox this week ('Scrolling and Scrollbars') is another common-sense statement (makes me assume he writes these pages simply to increase his hit count from Google … ) on usability, covering ground he’s covered before. The article is – amazingly for Jakob – illustrated with examples of scrollbars that work and those that didn’t. I don’t know how much he fussed over which examples to use, but the ones he’s chosen perfectly illustrate his point. There are exceptions to his guidelines (there invariably are) but as a quick reference for the interaction designer this is a good stab.

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