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January 29, 2007

Ask Q & A: Michael Ferguson, Senior User Experience Analyst (Part Two)

In Part One, Michael told us about his path to Ask.com, what a Senior User Experience Analyst does, and gave us examples of good and bad User Experience. Today, we're going to find out his favorite examples of offline usability, who he considers authorities in the field, and what's the most usable thing in his home (hint: it has an "i" in its name).

What's the most annoying usability mistake you see on the Web?
Using "Click Here" makes me go kookaburra. Just have the link text describe what's behind it! It's like having a note on a door that says, "Turn the doorknob below and push to get into the kitchen," instead of a sign just saying "Kitchen."

Who is/are your User Experience guru/s?
Of course I started out reading some of the canonical stuff from Dan Norman and Brenda Laurel and a host of others, but now there's so many people doing good work. Now you buy a coffee maker and there's this whole unboxing experience that sets a mood, gives you history and tips, and propels you into the using of the thing, wrapped in a warmly branded context.


You started building sites at a time that many consider to be the "beginning" of the Web. Any favorite projects from the early days?
Joel's Gizmonic Antsite (archived site), comes to mind. I did that with Mystery Science Theatre 3000's Joel Hodgson. He was always asking things like "How can we get an ant to jump out of the screen into a user's lap?"

What are your rules for Web usability?
Usability's not really governed by rules. People tried that a bit in the mid-90s and they just don't apply universally--it's more "what works for this user and this business in this situation." Some general themes I keep in mind:
1. Speak clearly: use direct and simple language.
2. Make it clear where someone is in the experience and what their choices are. Make the choices distinct from each other.
3. Reduce work on the user's part wherever you can. Less to think about, with fewer clicks, keeps them in the flow.

What have you not seen in search that you think should be incorporated?
I don't know how we'll do it, but when I search I'd like to have a sense of where else there'd be good information. Offline resources like libraries and social groups that meet and exchange information or online services that may be behind registration systems. The interface now implies "this is it, we've searched the whole of everything and here's what you get."

Any "out-there" user experiences (online or off) that you think will make their way into the mainstream?
From an urban planning and environmental standpoint, I hope shared car services (like Zipcar and City CarShare), which are a hit in a few urban areas, can scale to less physically dense communities. There's a lot of relief in having access to a gassed up, insured car with parking only when you need it. This feels obvious to city-dwellers, but I expect some suburbs will want to share resources sooner rather than later.

User experience is your primary field of expertise. What's your secondary?
Probably enjoying music. I go to lots of shows and have been known to do a form of "dancing."

What's the most usable thing in your home?
My bike. It does just what it should and delights me.

What books or sites would you recommend for someone interested in user experience?
As far as blogs, I'd say Adaptive Path's blog, Kathy Sierra and Dan Russell's Creating Passionate Users, Christina Wodtke's Boxes and Arrows, and Luke Wroblewski's Functioning Form are good places to learn more about current issues in user experience design. A great, fast, entertaining overview of usability is the book Don't Make Me Think! by Steve Krug. If you have anything to do with making Web sites, at least read that.

Also check out Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer. It breaks down the process of collecting user needs, creating and testing great experiences, and doesn't focus just on the Web. Design issues for physical devices and spaces are covered as well.

Beyond that, it's always good to read stuff from fields outside of your business to get ideas.

What would you do to make this Q & A more user-friendly?
I'm highly satisfied. I'll definitely recommend it to friends.

 

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager
Ask.com
 

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Comments

Both articles (parts) are very useful, specially Web usability paragraph, I follow or better trying to follow :) same rules. Thank you very much guys.

Posted by: Ivan | Feb 1, 2007 8:47:38 AM

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Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not of IAC Search & Media and may not have been reviewed in advance.

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