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Author: 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.
Earlier this month I opened CREATE 2009, a forum for academics and practitioners to share creative and innovative ideas for human computer interaction (HCI).
The conference's theme was ‘Creative inventions and innovations for everyday HCI’ so to start things off I outlined my four step approach to help designers find more creative solutions to their problems.
From worrying if Twitter really is a useful business tool, to getting a pain in your neck from using your laptop in bed, we are all affected by socio-technical systems.
I recently contributed to the Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems, a book focusing on how we combine our knowledge of technology and society to improve both technical performance and personal wellbeing.
There are no easy answers to how you design socio-technical systems, and this book presents an invaluable and unique overview of a vast and confusing field. But one reason why I think it is particularly difficult nowadays is that social relationships are so much more complex than they appear on the surface. Arguably all behaviour is social, as we observe ourselves and form opinions about how others see us.
Many of the big newspapers have launched sites specifically for mobile users, Graham Charlton has recently reviewed several of them here. But are duplicate sites really the way to go? How do you work out what to include? Above all, what happens if after all your efforts a mobile user decides to access your standard site and gets a poor user experience there?
One of the first lessons in usability is that people vary and that designing for ‘average’ doesn’t work. Nowhere is this more true than in the highly competitive world of mobile phone design.
Actually I don’t want a new mobile because I have an iPhone and I love it. Of course, it’s not perfect but once again Apple has demonstrated that it understands the importance of the ‘user experience’. Even its cardboard box is beautiful.
The study of the relationship between people and technology has been called a variety of names over the years - from computer ergonomics, human computer interaction and usability to, more recently, human-centred design and user experience.
I have just given my annual lectures to some postgraduate students about what it’s like doing usability in the real world (i.e. the world where you can’t spend three months redesigning the perfect interface to a toaster).
And one of the issues I cover is why it seems to be so difficult to design usable products. It must be difficult - there are lots of clever designers and few really usable products.
Once again, Apple has started a new year by announcing a plethora of exciting goodies for technophiles, with the long anticipated iPhone taking centre stage.
As a fairly committed early adopter (I have not used a paper diary since 21st December 1996 – yes I do know the date exactly, because my latest Palm based PDA has all my diary entries since then), I am already drooling.
Last November, I sounded off about two things – one was that I did not like the tag line for World Usability Day 2005 – Making IT easy - and the other was that I didn’t think we had much good usability to celebrate.
I have recently returned from an international standards meeting in Washington (and that is a story in itself – I nearly had to fly without my laptop and Treo – aargh!) where we were discussing the revision of the human centred design standard ISO 13407.
So I am now officially a blogger. Indeed, I am an expert blogger. At this point, I’d like to forget that ex- means ‘has been’ and ‘spurt’ is a ‘drip under pressure’. But back to the point, once again my capacity for inaccurate prediction has struck gold.
In my mind, blogging was always for other people – people with nothing better to do than fill the ether with their ramblings. Not for people like me with valuable contributions to make to the digital world. And yet here I am blogging away (on a late train home from work, in fact).