Join WIC in fighting cancer!

IMPORTANT: Online registration ends on 4/17, so please contact me ASAP! I can be reached at jlb3@indiana.edu.

bands

The annual Coach Hep Cancer Challenge will take place Saturday, May 1 at the IU Stadium in Bloomington, and Women in Informatics and Computing has formed a team for it.

runners

There are five different events you can choose: a 2K Family Walk, a 5K Run, a 25K Family Cycle, a 50K Cycle and a 100K Cycle. You can choose to do just one, or a combination of those events.

walkers

ANYONE can join our team…we encourage participation from women, men, undergraduates, graduates, faculty, staff, and friends.

With the  the $5 discount you’ll get for being on our team, the cost is $30 per staff/faculty/general public and $25 per student.  And “participants receive a free pair of red shoelaces to remind friends and family members that we are all tied to the fight against cancer.”

Red Shoelaces

Thanks!
WIC

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Seeking technical inspiration

I am on the advisory board for Indiana University’s Women in Informatics and Computing, whose mission is “to provide support and information to further enhance the education of women in computing and information technology at Indiana University.”

For my take on why this organization is important, see my previous blog post, Why WIC?

My role is  “IT Professional Liaison”.  It’s a position that was recently created.  The goal is to engage more IT professionals with this student organization.  As I stated in the Why WIC post, there is a shortage of women in IT, and one way to overcome that shortage is to provide role models to women who are thinking of entering, or who have recently entered, the IT field.  Currently most role models associated with WIC are in the academic arena of technology.

So, my goal is to find some role models in the professional technology fields.  I would like to put together a panel of IT professionals this spring.  The people on the panel would be current IT professionals who would be willing to talk about things like why they chose their career, what challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them, who their role models were and why, why they believe women are important in IT, any advice they can offer to current IU students who are studying technology…and whatever else we think of between now and then 😉

I’d like to cover as many areas of IT as possible…government, entrepreneurs, software, programming, design, gaming, etc. etc.

The only requirement for the speakers would be that they support increasing the number of women in the IT field.  The panelist do NOT have to be women. We would, of course, want women on the panel.  But, I want to be very clear that we also want men on the panel!  It’s important that this conversation take place between both genders.  (Likewise, we hope that both men and women will attend the panel.)

I do not have a date set, and will try to be flexible.  The panel will take place on the IU Bloomington campus.  The panelist will be volunteering their time, but it will be a great opportunity to network with future IT professionals!

So, now I come to the point of this post.  I need ideas for people to contact about this panel.  If you are someone who thinks they would be able to contribute to this panel, or if you know someone who you think would be a good panelist, please send me an email with a name and contact information.

Also, I am soliciting ideas for questions we can ask the panelist.  I mentioned some topics a few paragraphs above.  Are there others that you recommend?  Feel free to email me at the above link, or leave a comment on this post.

Thanks in advance for any and all help!

Jakob Nielson’s take on intuition

I subscribe to Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox. Today’s email contained an ‘extra’ article that I found very interesting.  While all of his Alertbox articles are online and can be found at his website, the twice-monthly email usually contains some other information that is not included in the Alertbox article.

Usually, they’re plugs for upcoming workshops and conferences (all of which I would love to attend).  Today, the email had a blurb about a workshop called “Usability and the Human Mind: How Your Customers Think“, for which he explains why it is important to conduct “observational research of actual, empirical behavior”.

One of my biggest pet peeves is cell phone use while driving.

I never can understand why otherwise normally reasonable people put their lives, and the lives of the other people on the road, in danger by using a cell phone when driving, especially when many of these same people admit to the dangers of driving while drunk and say they’d NEVER do that. Yet, they think nothing of talking or texting while driving, even though study after study has proven that is just as dangerous — if not more so — as driving while drunk.

This extra little article in the email I received today addresses that pet peeve of mine.  Plus, it’s very relevant to the work I do.  So, I wanted to share it.  I am unable to find this small snippet anywhere online, so I am copying and pasting it here.  These are Jakob Nielson’s words, not mine:

INTUITIONS OFTEN WRONG

I can’t count how many times I have said that what people say and what they do are different things, but here’s very striking evidence of this old lesson:

In an opinion poll, the New York Times asked whether Americans wanted to outlaw mobile phone use while driving.

80% of respondents said that using a HAND-HELD cellphone while driving should be illegal.

But almost 90% said that it should be legal to talk on a HANDS-FREE cellphone.

Completely OPPOSITE INTUITIONS about the danger of these two ways of using a mobile phone. This despite the fact that all studies show that it’s EQUALLY DANGEROUS to use hands-free and hand-held mobile phones while driving.

Research has found that the danger comes from the cognitive distraction of carrying out a conversation with somebody who’s not in the car. The problem is not holding the phone with one hand while driving with the other. The problem is the conversation and the way it lays claim to limited cognitive resources.

This finding is completely counter-intuitive: how can it endanger your life to carry on a simple, everyday task like a conversation? The survey clearly demonstrates that people’s perception of danger is completely divorced from the actual danger.

This, of course, is why we need observational research of actual, empirical behavior. Please don’t just ask users. Watch them.

Here, Here, Mr. Nielson!! 🙂

Stand up and Speak Out!

I’m constantly scouring the ‘net for UX resources.  One of the tools I use is Twitter. Several UX practitioners tweet daily with links to UX-related articles, studies, and even humor.

Last night, one of the UX practitioners I follow tweeted a link to a JPG of “If Browsers were Women”.  (I am NOT going to post the link.  If you’re interested in seeing it, a quick google search will find it for you.  But, my posting it here will defeat the purpose of this post.)  This JPG consisted of images of buxom, scantily-dressed women and descriptions relating their physical appearance and bedroom skills to the features of different browsers.

I was appalled that someone tweeting in a professional manner would promote the sexual objectification of women. Of course, I am opposed to such objectification of any sex (which is why I also chose not to post a link to the response I found, “If Browsers were Men”).  And, I realize that blatant sexism and misogyny is pretty rampant on the ‘net. As a ‘net junkie, I see it every single day. But, to see that come through a resource that I consider professional was shocking to me.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was shocked.  About a month ago, I had the same feeling when I read this description of what happened during the keynote at the Flashbelt Flash developers’ conference. The field of technology is male-dominated and has its roots in the beliefs of white males.  Since misogyny is, sadly, a historical male value*, I should expect that that such sexism is going to rear its ugly head at some point.

(* NOTE:  I do not believe that all white males who work in technology hold sexist/misogynistic values, and I honestly believe that the majority of people I personally know who work in technology are fair-minded, decent humans. But, we cannot deny the history. See all of my previous posts on Gender and Computerization for more of my opinions on this topic.)

Anyway…after seeing that tweet, I immediately un-followed the poster, replied via tweet, and went to his website and sent him a message. The message I sent him via email turned out to be a little harsher than I would have liked–the danger of writing when you are caught up in the heat of the moment. But, I did try not to come off as some “feminazi bitch” (as I have been called before). I then came here to my blog and wrote a post about the sexual objectification of women.

Blogging is a way for me to make sense of what’s in my head, and I find it very useful when I’m especially emotional, whether happy or angry.  But, that emotion has a way of making me irrational.  See, I was convinced that, since many of my previous attempts to call out folks on sexism and misogyny had been met with being called a “feninazi bitch” that the same thing would happen in this instance.  So, I published the angry post without waiting for his response.

And, then I saw his email.  The person had responded rather quickly to my message. He sincerely apologized to me, deleted his tweet, and publicly apologized to his other followers.  He then thanked me for bringing it to his attention.  He had no intent of promoting the objectification of women. He just thought it was funny and wanted to inject some humor into his daily tweeting.

I immediately deleted my angry blog post (though some may have seen a link to it, as I couldn’t stop my auto-feed to twitter in time.  Sorry about any confusion that may have caused!), re-followed him, and emailed him back to thank him.

Now, arguing if it this JPG is funny or not is a completely different post.  I didn’t think so, and I believe that if you do, then you harbor sexist beliefs.  But, don’t we all harbor beliefs that, at some point later in life, we wish we hadn’t? That’s what I want this blog post to be about.

Example:  I was born and raised near the Mason-Dixon line.  Many of my family are extremely racist.  It was normal for me to hear black people be called the “N word”. I think that I may have at some point, believed some of the stereotypes about black people, simple because it was all I was ever told.  But, then I went out and faced the real world, and had my own experiences that made me begin to think that some of the things I used to believe just didn’t add up. And, quite a few times, it had to be pointed out to me that something I said or something I had done could be viewed as being racist by others.

It was only when I became aware of my words and actions when I could do something about them.

I think sexism is the same, in that regard. It used to be commonly accepted by the general public that women are the weaker sex, just as it used to be accepted that black people are inferior. But, as more people began to question these beliefs and stand up for black people, the less accepted those beliefs became. Of course, racism is still alive and well today, but it is nowhere near the level of the pre-Civil Rights era. I think (hope) sexism and misogyny can benefit from the same fate.

But, it’s going to take people like me, and like you, to (in the words of my favorite Star Trek captain) Make It So. Whenever we see cases of sexism and misogyny (as well as racism and homophobia…and many other injustices in this world), we need to stand up and speak out. Yeah, it’s likely that we’re going to get scorned.  But, it might just open someone’s eyes.

I just want to end this post with a heart-felt thank you to the person with whom I had this exchange yesterday. I thank him for his open-mindedness, responsiveness, professionalism, and for teaching me a lesson about making rash judgments.

Usability and Respect

I recently wrote about the display board outside our office on which I post inspirational UX and usability quotes.  Shortly after I published that post, I discovered that someone had scrawled “waste of time” and “waste of money” on some of the peices of paper I had posted on the board.

At first, I was really bothered that this childish act of vandalism and cowardice occurred in a secure, professional building.  But, the more I thought about it, the more saddened I became that people really believe that usability is a waste of time and money.

I tweeted and Facebooked about the defacing of our display, and I received tons of support from my online social network.  But, that is to be expected because a large number of my online social network are professionals in the web design/UX/IxD/IA/usability fields, so they already get it.  It’s a lot like complaining to other women about being a victim of sexism.

I answered the coward by posting real-life examples of positive ROI of usability:

Since then, I’ve come across some other items that reinforce the fact that, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, usability gets no respect.

On 7/1, Dilbert did a pretty good job of summing up what it’s like to have the higher ups not understand and respect it:

And, just today, usability guru Jakob Nielsen published an EXCELLENT Alertbox titled “Building Respect for Usability Expertise“!

So, why isn’t the field of usability respected by many?  I think part of it has to do with the fact that humans have fragile egos.  As a usability consultant, I frequently have to tell programmers and managers that the website or system on which they’ve just put in many hours of hard work isn’t usable.  That’s not something they want to hear.  Some (thankfully not all) of those managers and programmers respond to this constructive criticism by rationalizing that usability is a “waste of time” and “waste of money” because it’s easier than facing the fact that what they designed isn’t perfect.

Now, that’s my personal opinion.  Jon Meads has a much better explanation, that he succinctly described in his paper “Laid-off usability engineer, or why we don’t get no respect“:

Software engineering got no respect in the early 1970s. Companies were incorporating minicomputers into their systems. Software was a necessary evil, but what was needed was usually simple to program. Anyone could be a “software engineer” even if the code he produced was structurally isomorphic to a common Italian dinner. Few software managers would insist on having systematic development processes. It added cost, and software had only to be good enough.

Usability engineering is now in a similar situation. Systematic process isn’t needed, according to management. Nor are professional knowledge and experience—that would add cost. Designing the user interface according to guidelines is sufficient, they claim.

Jakob Nielsen used the term “user advocate” to describe usability practitioners.  And, a very apt term it is.  We are advocating for more usable systems for all users.

However, we must also be usability advocates.  Both Nielsen and Meads suggest that to build respect for usability, we practitioners need to preach the benefits of usability.

I hope I’m doing my part with this blog. 🙂

Follow-up to “Women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t”

In March, I blogged about some ‘controversy’ regarding the fitness of Michelle Obama’s arms.

Yesterday, one of my favorite ‘news’ sources, The Onion, published a great article on the topic of said arms, so I thought I’d share it here.

Michelle Obama’s arms meet with Sri Lankan Refugees

Some of my favorite UX quotes

I work in a usability lab at a large university. We are part of the IT department, which is the largest department of the school. Our lab sits among many cube farms, and I can’t tell you how many people have stopped me as I’m walking into the lab to ask me what we do. When I try to explain it, some people get it, but many’s eyes just glaze over.

So, I started trying to use quotes from some of the big names in the field (Buxton, Normal, Neilsen, Krug, Jobs, Bruner, etc.) to help give people a sense of what we are about. Every Friday, (okay, not EVERY Friday, but most Fridays) I post 3 or 4 quotes that discuss HCI, User Experience (UX), or Interaction Design on the bulletin board in the hallway outside our door.

InspireUX1[1]

I started writing down quotes as I was reading books and online articles. But, thanks to an awesome blog, Inspire UX, I have been able to collect many great quotes. Some of them have really struck me lately, and I wanted to share them here. Below are some of my current favorite UX quotes, because they poignantly speak to why I chose to go into this career:

I dream of a day when products fulfill my needs without a glitch, when I am being served swiftly, compassionately and with understanding, by humans and computers alike. Not because I’m a designer and I like good experiences, but because good experiences make the world a better place. –Niko Nyman

An experience designer must love and care about the people and the world in which we all live. It’s his mission in the world to proudly spread love and happiness through his creations. –Andre Braz

What makes people passionate, pure and simple, is great experiences. If they have great experience with your product [and] they have great experiences with your service, they’re going to be passionate about your brand, they’re going to be committed to it. That’s how you build that kind of commitment. –Jesse James Garrett

It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives. –Don Norman

Experience design is more about the kind of experience users actually have than about controlling the experience you try to give them. –Robin Good

Design creates stories, and stories create memorable experiences, and great experiences have this innate ability to change the way in which we view our world. –Christian Saylor

It is far better to adapt the technology to the user than to force the user to adapt to the technology. –Larry Marine

People should never feel like a failure when using technology. Like the customer, the user is always right. If software crashes, it is the software designer’s fault. if someone can’t find something on a web site, it is the web designer’s fault… The big difference between good and bad designers is how they handle people struggling with their design. Technology serves humans. Humans do not serve technology. –Joshua Porter

BTW, if anyone has any other resources for other inspirational quotes related to the HCI fields, please post them in a comment. Thanks!