Author: Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is the founder of System Concepts. He was an original member of the Human Sciences and Advanced Technology (HUSAT) Research group at Loughborough University in 1970. In 1979, he joined the management consultancy Butler Cox and Partners and worked on assignments in Europe, North America and Australia where he was mainly concerned with making computer systems usable by and acceptable to non-computer staff at all levels.

He joined System Concepts in 1983, became Managing Director in 1986 and Executive Chairman in 2008 and has managed the growth of the company to become one of the largest independent ergonomics, usability and user experience consultancies in Europe. He is active in British, European and International ergonomics and usability standards and chairs the ISO committee responsible for the ergonomics of human-system interaction (including ISO 9241). Tom is a past President of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors.

DIY usability assessments for expert users

I firmly believe that observing real users doing real tasks is the 'gold standard' for usability testing, particularly when the designers observe it themselves and see the problems only real users can find. 

However, sometimes full user testing falls outside the budget and the project manager will decide to use an expert usability assessment instead. 

This works well for websites where an expert usability consultant can put themselves in the shoes of the user and work through typical tasks identifying critical usability issues.

But what if the system supports far more complex tasks, which users take years to learn?


Who needs an iPad?

In my Econsultancy blog in January 2010, I said that the newly announced iPad would succeed because of its usability.  At that time, the technology press was undecided about whether the iPad would succeed and I was accused of being a ‘dribbling Mac fanboy’.


Five accessibility myths demolished

I was pleased my grumpy old man blog post on usability myths really sparked some interest, with most people agreeing, although a few seemed eager to point out that I’d just ‘critiqued’ them rather than ‘demolished’ them. 

I guess I’ll be similarly accused of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story this time.  Still, I’ll take the risk and attempt to knock some accessibility myths on the head.


Top five usability myths demolished

I guess it’s grumpy old man time but I am really beginning to get hacked off with general ignorance (with apologies to Stephen Fry) about usability. 

So rather than just grumble in the corner, I have decided to demolish five of the most persistent myths about usability.


The iPad as a serious business tool for toddlers

Finley with iPadThe iPad is being promoted as a product for all the family, so how does it perform against standard usability criteria when the user is just 17 months old?

Having recently spent a fortnight with my young grandson, Finley, in the USA, we offered to share our experience of the iPad as a serious business tool for toddlers with the UK Usability Professionals Association at their recent PechaKucha Night


Usability or interaction design: who does what

I was recently asked about the apparent confusion in the digital design community about who does what. I mainly talk about usability and user experience as I believe these best encapsulate what matters to users – the total experience with a product, system or service.

However,  other agencies see interaction design as the core service, which only bothers me because I think it runs the risk of confusing clients. In my view, it’s really quite straightforward.


Tips for usability testing with children

child with laptopChildren represent a huge market for digital products yet most are designed by and for adults.  Even those which are targeted at children often get it embarrassingly wrong – like dads trying to be ‘cool’.  But all is not lost.  We have found that user research and testing with children opens up a whole new perspective, helping adult designers to see the world through the eyes of a child.

Our user research with children has ranged from social networking and mobile phones to online games and websites targeted at everyone from toddlers to teens. 

Here we share some of the lessons we have learnt in adapting our usability research and testing methods for children...


Usability, usability, usability: why the iPad will succeed

Steve Jobs with Apple iPadLike a staggeringly large number of people round the world, I have been eagerly awaiting the launch of what is now the Apple iPad.  I even followed a live blog to get the latest blow by blow account of Steve Job’s presentation.

Of course tablets are not new but there are three reasons why I think Apple will succeed this time and they all link to usability.  Not the ‘usability is just making it easy’ type of usability but the ISO 9241-11 version, where usability is defined as: effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction.


World Usability Day 2009 - OK It's my fault!

World Usability Day LogoI was delighted when the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) chose sustainability as the theme for World Usability Day 2009 (WUD 2009).  They even quoted the revised human-centred design standard, which I helped to draft, explaining how human-centred design can have a positive impact on sustainability.

Recently we have been talking to some key people working in design and usability about how sustainability might influence design in the future.

Here I summarise some of the main themes that have emerged. We will be sharing the highlights of the interviews as a podcast to celebrate World Usability Day.

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Something else you can do with a spreadsheet

I recently visited Professor Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland, arguably the world’s leading expert on user interface design, and talked to him about human computer interaction, sustainability, social network analysis and spreadsheets.

Ben's most recent book, Designing the User Interface, with co-author Catherine Plaisant, is in its fifth edition and has lots of compelling new material especially in visualisation and social network technology.

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Don’t blame social media for bad behaviour

One of the questions I often get asked by journalists, who know I’m interested in the psychology of technology, is how social media like Facebook and Twitter change the way we communicate.  Being journalists, they usually want me to say that we can no longer interact properly with each other thanks to technology. 

I know some brain researchers have made some scary claims about social media but all the evidence I have seen suggests that it is just another way of keeping in touch.


The workaround: technology strikes back

People have been finding workarounds for poorly designed systems for many years.  Although both the technology and the workarounds have become more sophisticated, the problem, and its solution, remains the same.

Many years ago, before web-based interfaces, we were asked to investigate why an online ordering system wasn’t delivering the promised productivity benefits.  Our research, which involved videoing staff dealing with telephone orders and then interviewing them about the process, soon revealed the problem.