Rules to Live By

I was reading Jim Morris’ web page the other day when I happened upon his listing of the rules/heuristics that he believes Allan Newell lived by.

Do what you love, love what you do.

Help others to find a similar state, no matter how different their choices might be.

Don’t worry about how intrinsically smart you are or anyone is.

Be intellectually tough—uniformly on everyone

Be careful about what you commit to do, and then really do it.

Jim explains how and why Allen applied these heuristics. If these rules can work so well for one of the greatest computer/cognitive scientists in history, I think I need to find a way to apply them to my work.

GroupWise = GroupDumber

Limiting features because they don’t match the real-world use, GroupWise demonstrates that its’ address book is no better than the hard copy white pages.

Why not allow users to search by first name?

What happened

I met a colleague this week, and promised to send him a follow up email. I opened GroupWise to send him an email. I selected the “Address” function (which is an entirely different problem, I’ll address in the future). The GroupWise Address Book only allows users to search for users by last name. I figured I just enter his name “Johnathan” and narrow the search based on his first name.

Why is this bad? It’s as if…

The GroupWise folks ignored all of the benefits of database technology to limit me to searching only by last name, just like in my hard copy version of the whitepages.

Simple solutions to this problem

Change the search parse function to a contains, instead of a starts with. This would allow users to search for people by name, partial name, partial last name, etc. It is a much better tool. Even better would be to provide a Soundex lookup matching either last name or first name.

Emotions and Design

I respect Don Norman for his contribution to human-computer interaction and bringing user-centered design to the masses. His early research on human memory, human error and good design is still core readings for students. His work at Apple and HP brought his methods to the research and development groups, and as part of Neilsen Norman Group he has championed our cause to the public. He also correctly identifies that as product designers we need to understand the design, the human, the business and the development/production of the products we are building which has been a major down fall of the human factors/usability movements.

In a recent interview with New Scientist he gets it all wrong. Don’s latest kick has been about the role that emotions play in product design. Companies like Apple and Sony have been very effective in making products that people love. I agree that designing products to evoke an emotion can help impact the final success. This is often an overlooked part of the user experience.

But do I really want my computer to have emotions?

I want to use the computer to complete tasks, accomplish goals, not tell me how it is feeling. I just want it to work. I don’t want to have a conversation with it to find out that "It’s feeling bad" I want the computer to understand my emotions not be an emotional object.

Screen Layout and Information Theory

Fidelity gets 75% of it’s customer interactions from Wow!

An article in Business 2.0 talking about Tom Tullis and the usability facilities at Fidelity. Tom Tullis did some seminal work on predicting the usability of alphanumeric screens back in the early 1980s. His work looked at 4 characteristics of visual information including:

1. Overall density – the number of characters displayed

2. Local density – the number of characters near each character

3. Grouping – the extent to which characters on the display form well defined perceptual groups

4. Layout complexity – the extent to which the arrangement of items on the display follows a predictable visual scheme

His work was fundamental in providing a tool to quantify the information and layout of screen elements. His research subjective opinion of screen layout could be quantified and measured using informaiton theory. Many of the guidelines and principles about whitespace, chunking, and alignment are based directly in the research conducted by Dr. Tullis.

GroupWise = GroupDumb

Using vocabulary and actions that are not consistent with other mail, calendaring and collaboration tools, GroupWise demonstrates that user experience with other software is no help for basic messaging and scheduling tasks.

Resolve the email addresses
What’s wrong with the email address?

What happened

I tried to send email to a colleague using GroupWise to inform him about my new contact information. The colleague is at another organization and reads his email using either Apple’s Mail or Qualcomm’s Eudora. I open GroupWise and create a new message. I enter my friends email address correctly as A dialogue box appears indicating the address can not be resolved. To be able to send email to friends and colleagues not on the GroupWise systm (or in the GroupWise address book), you must enter “”.


Dial "Internet" to get an outside line

Why is this bad? It’s as if…

I pick up the phone and dial the number but instead of being connected I am told that the number is unreachable and I should consult the phone book to resolve the problem. But the phone book only contains phone numbers for people in my organization, and doesn’t tell me how to contact individuals outside of the organization.

Simple solutions to this problem

Parse the address on the backend. If the address matches a valid internet address try to send, else if it matches an address in the GroupWise address book use it. This would allow users to enter valid email address or use the address look up function, which is a behaviour that can be found in Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.

What if?

It’s a very simple question, but one that can have a profound impact.

What if…

Computers did just provide access to information, but improved the “processes of thought”

What if…

You could carry around all of the data that I would ever need or process

What if…

When’s the last time you asked your self this question. Even more important, what did you answer.

Information Rights Salon

Ana Viseu’s Privacy Lecture Series has morphed in to the Information Rights Salon. The Information Rights Salon is an open forum dedicated to the discussion and analysis of privacy, information rights issues including freedom of information, copyright, intellectual property, digital identity and civil liberties.

PRIVATERRA: Securing Human Rights through Privacy Technology

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Robert Guerra and Caryn Mladen


140 St. George, Room 728

Faculty of Information Studies (Bissell building adjacent to Robarts Library)

University of Toronto

The lectures are free of charge, and there is NO need for registration.


Robert and Caryn will talk about Privaterra’s work protecting human rights workers throughout the world by offering and implementing privacy and security technology, technological education and support. This work helps ensure human rights workers have the ability to communicate and conduct their activities in greater safety against the dangers of spying eyes and
ears that may limit their effectiveness, infringe their rights, and endanger their lives.


Robert Guerra is a leading privacy advocate based in Palo Alto, California and Toronto, Canada. After working for several years in the medial research field he dedicated his focus to the emerging field of medical privacy consulting. For the past two years he has been involved in numerous privacy initiatives to help NGOs both preserve and protect their data. He currently sits on the board of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Caryn Mladen is a writer, consultant and educator based in Toronto, Canada.

After a career as an intellectual property lawyer, she established a consulting practice in strategic planning for high tech projects and companies. She has co-authored five books, including the Canadian Computer Handbook, and is a columnist and journalist for major computer publications, writing, among other columns, the None of Your Business
privacy column under her pseudonym Venomgirl. She also teaches at the University of Toronto and has frequently appeared on television, radio and at conferences about issues of privacy, intellectual property and emerging technology.

The Humane Environment

Jef Raskin started the Macintosh project at Apple to design a product to meet the needs of computer users. The needs included the human-computer interface and the need to have a product that was within budget of the newly developing home computer market. Raskin has proposed that Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and their style of interaction are inappropriate for new devices, such as cell phones and and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Raskin provides examples how computers can be made easier to learn and understand in his book, The Human Interface. Ever wonder why Windows or the Mac OS takes so long to boot up? Palm Pilots, your telephone, and other devices are instant on. The Humane Environment Project was created to "build better, faster to learn, easier to use, more efficient and lower cost ways to access the power of computing technology".

And I think that he is correct!

We need to understand the limitation of human cognition and memory, the needs of the users, and the context that devices are used we can build better software. When we look at innovators like IDEO and their holistic methods of problem definition, user observation, interface prototyping, and project evaluation, we can see that the human experience is a vital part of any product, service or environment.

Multi-channel customer experience

If Apple is a religion, then Apple stores are the temple. Business Week has a question-and-answer session with Paco Underhill about his opinions of the Apple Store. Apple understands the need to improve the retail experience. By providing a controlled retail experience, Apple has given it’s customers and potential customers a positive environment to interact and explore the newest Apple equipment. The retail store supports Apple’s online store but allowing customers to explore, touch, feel, experience Apple. Online shopping supports different customer goals than retail shopping. By understanding the goals of customers Apple has developed both a retail and an online presence that helps meet new customer goals.

Apple has focused on advertising to new Apple owners and Windows users, the Switch campaign, they have realized that most Mac users own multiple Apple machines. The needs of these customers are very different than potential Apple owners. Offering software upgrades, access to Mac Experts, and upgrades/add-ons, Apple is working on creating an experience to meet the needs of it’s existing customers.

As Dr. Underhill notes Apple can improve their retail experience by understanding their customer demographics and by observing their behaviour.

“Part of what I said is that they need to sit on a skateboard and look at the store from a vantage point of a baby stroller or a five-year-old.”

Customer observation can improve both the Apple Store experience but also how customers integrate the Online Store and Retail Store in their shopping behaviour. Apple is working to understand their multi-channel customer service.

Paco Underhill’s book Why We Buy is now available in paperback. It is mandatory reading for anyone developing customer experiences. It provides tools, techniques and vignettes about the value of customer observation in the improvement of the shopping experience.