User Experience 2004, AmsterdamNielsenNormanGroup User Experience 2004 – Trip Report

Amsterdam, Nov 1-3, 2004

 Interaction Design

Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini, two-day tutorial, Nov 1-2, 2004


Spend two days with this world-renowned user interface guru, designer, writer, and film and video producer, drinking in a distillation of his 25 years of human-computer interaction (HCI) design experience. This two-day tutorial walks through the entire product or service life cycle–from initial information gathering through iterative design, testing, and follow-ups once the product is released.

Upon completing this tutorial, participants will understand the basic principles of effective interaction design and be prepared to apply them in real-world design work. Participants will work through many of the life-cycle steps in the extensive workshop sessions. As importantly, they'll know how to establish an organizational structure that ensures products that work. Participants will walk away secure in their knowledge of a validated methodology that guarantees superior products or services, while reducing time-to-market and overall development costs for their company.

Course Outline

  • Introduction
  • Choosing organizational structures that work
  • Increasing the power and visibility of HCI and your HCI group
  • The fast track methodology: Reduce time-to-market by up to 75%
  • The counterpoint technique: Avoid chaos while speeding process
  • The iterative design process: The inner loop of HCI design
  • Gathering requirements
  • Interviewing clients
  • Shadowing workers
  • Let's do it! Workshop session on interviewing and shadowing
  • Future proofing: Ensuring that today's designs will fill tomorrow's needs
  • Project launch: How to choose and engage an effective project team
  • Task analysis: Identify "low-hanging fruit" for maximum impact, minimum time to market
  • Let's do it! Project-launch workshop session on task analysis
  • Fast, informal prototyping approaches
  • Choosing your medium
  • Constructing an effective design
  • Let's do it! Workshop session on creating initial designs
  • Usability testing that's fast and cheap
  • Case study: Color or black and white?
  • Principles of interaction design
  • Useful theories and practical observations
  • Let's do it! Presentation and critique of workshop designs
  • "Selling" your designs and your department
  • The covert strategy: An under-the-radar approach that can turn things around so your company not only accepts good design, but demands it
  • Post-release follow-up: Designing the future by learning from the past
  • Case study: The impossible problem and its rodentiary solution


    This two-day tutorial features lectures and workshop exercises.

    Who Should Attend

    This is an ideal course for engineers, graphic designers, engineering and design managers, and other professionals who would like to increase their understanding of or skills in user-centered interaction design. This is a basic course; there are no prerequisites. You can elect to take the first half of the course this year and the second, next year. It is, however, a contiguous, two-day course.

Some notes and highlights

Tog was a little jet-lagged. On the flight to Europe his wife ordered the pilot to go down in Shannon Airport, rather than London Heathrow. Mrs. Tognazzini is a doctor, hence she has the mandate for such orders in emergency cases. The sick passenger was saved – and Tog was deeply impressed by his wife.

On Monday morning nearly 40 participants showed up to attend Tog's tutorial on Interaction Design.

The hand-out contains more than 430 slides. An electronic version would be great, but is not available for the audience.

Weekly Design Meetings

Weekly design meetings are means to make decentralized HCI organization work better. Nonetheless, they are also important for centralized groups. Weekly design meetings are not business meetings. They are a place to go for real help. They focus on design problems and use the forum of experts to toss ideas to and fro.
Example: One-or-more buttons
Tog wanted to create a widget similar to check boxes and radio controls. The rule is that the user should be able to choose one ore more items of the option list. It should not be possible to switch off all options. Finally in a weekly design meeting, Frank Ludolph came up with the solution to make the last mark jump to an adjacent option. [Tog on Interface, pp. 267]

Fast track methodology – instead of slow waterfall methodology:

  1. Team-based
    • Day-one full team, including
      • Project leader
      • Product marketer(s)
      • Content expert(s)
      • Interaction architect(s)
      • Engineer(s)
      • Information architect(s)
      • Visual (graphic) designer(s)
      • Writer(s)
      • etc.
      • Simultaneous
        • Everyone works on everything simultaneously
        • No chaos because of counterpoint technique
          • Designers stay one and only one step ahead of the engineers.
          • Designers start on second release while engineers still complete first release
          • Taking the first step [but don’t tell a living soul]:
            • Talk to engineers, "What do you need first?"
            • Do the design, come back, and ask: "What do you need next?"
      • Cooperative
      • Fast: Project Coordination
      • Fast: Prototyping
      • Fast: Testing

Time Estimations

  1. Ask how long something will take.
  2. Double the value.
  3. Move to the next time unit.

Example: A task estimated to 2 hours is likely to take 4 days to be completed.


Begin by understanding:
  • Your competitor’s products
    • Product features: Sit down and use them
    • Do field and/or lab studies on users
    • Get the budget! (There is no point in saving some dollars not buying the competitor's product)
  • Your previous releases
    • Arrange for a benchmark test of your current product
    • Watch experienced users
    • Use it yourself, observing your own
      • Misconceptions
      • Mistakes
      • Strategies
  • Other products your users likely experienced

Information Theory

HCI-Design is not about human-computer interaction. It is about human-to-human transfer of information. A design model needs to be communicated via a system model to the user who can build her own user model. Designers and users engage in a time-shifted communication. [see also Tog on Interface, chapter 17 Conceptual Models, pp. 129]

Redundancy is key to transfer information without data loss.

  • (e.g.) add parity bit to 7 data bits
  • (e.g.) use of check-sums
Example: What element tells you that a certain control element on MacOS X is a grow box?
screenshot of window on MacOS X
  • bottom right position in window
  • same width and height as scrollbars
  • a squared shape
  • located in the vicinity of scrollbars
  • the pattern indicates an arrow
  • it uses to be there
The redundancy could even be more improved by the use of tool tips.
Balancing Redundancy
Noise vs. Signal
Preposition: Ambiguity is noise.
Example from a (fake) Nuclear Reactor manual:

When removing the rods, one can’t remove them too quickly.

The authors of such ambiguities can't spot them. If they could, they wouldn’t have written them. Such ambiguities are typically found through

  • User testing
  • Nuclear meltdown.

[see also Tog on Interface, chapter 16 Information Theory, pp. 115]

Multi-Channel Communication

  • Verbal – your words
  • Non-Verbal (affective communication)
    • Vocal – tone of voice; how you say them
    • Visual – body language; how you appear at the time

When affective conflict exists between the three channels, listeners put their faith in

  • Visual: 55% of the time
  • Vocal: 38% of the time
  • Verbal: 7% of the time

Imagine what this means for chat rooms and e-mail communication. Just the weakest channel of all is used here. Ergo, the next huge technological revolution of interest will be human-human communication.

Design Process

If you want an interactive product use an interactive process.


Magic and Software Design

Theo van Gogh

On Tuesday morning, Nov 2nd 2004, Theo van Gogh – a distant relative of Vincent van Gogh – was murdered in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist. Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker. His last short movie Submission tells the story of a Muslim woman in the Netherlands.

Workshop Sessions

During the two days we worked on a special demo case. Private pilots drop out and stop flying. We did interviews with our client (Tog as person from private airport, "I want a Windows-based air traffic anti-collision system"), with a user (Tog as a private pilot, "I enjoyed flying a lot, but I dropped out because my spouse thinks its boring"), did brainstorming on tasks and scenarios. In small teams we built a paper prototype of a system (well, part of it) to ease the experience of flying for the pilot and his spouse. We even conducted a little usability test session on our prototype.


2 days worth the money and the time. Especially the given examples are a valuable addition to Tog’s book Tog on Interface and his webzine AskTog.