Monday, June 15, 2009

Le Mans 24 Heures 2009

Just back at the hotel (Sable Sur Sarthe) from the Le Mans 24 Heures race - Peugot 1st and 2nd, Audi 3rd, and Lola Aston Martin 4th. Well done Peugot.

The changes here since I used to come with the TR lot in the late 80's / 90's are considerable. The fair ground has moved down the hill, no longer up by Dunlop Bridge. The amount of French people attending has really increased, Parking Bleu used to be filled with classics and supercars, not many there now, the fields behind were just that - fields, now more camping and parking, and a huge prevalence of ordinary cars, followed by performance cars.

We went to the Great British Welcome on Friday, first time attending this part of the event, very good, lots more classics to look at, with a Morgan celebration / anniversary. Missed the town centre parade unfortunately, stopped at Arnage instead and watched the general buzz and queue of interesting cars / vehicles feed by.

Photos on FlickR

Off to the cottage tomorrow in the Marcos, hope the rain stays at bay.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thoughts on user behaviour with websites and multimedia applications

User behaviour is continuously being researched for web applications by experts such as Bruce Tognazzini, Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug who have been testing consumer usability since the 1990’s. The research into Web usability appears to have high importance, and justifiably so. There is a rich resource of articles online, blogs and web sites regarding this, as well as books. With the web constantly evolving and changing, the primary resource for exploring this area in more depth, needs to be as up to date as possible, books by the time they are printed are often outdated. Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability (2000) has been updated recently with his book Prioritising Web Usability (2006). Reading the two books, it is very interesting to note the predictions and how Nielsen’s view of web usability has evolved with the faster technology available, especially in the area of video and rich media, but it is still primarily web based.

The importance of understanding how the user works with websites seems to be accepted by the majority of good web design companies. What I have found difficult to ascertain is the difference in user behaviour with websites and multimedia applications. In the various articles and books researched in regard to usability, the platform is invariably the World Wide Web and the sites designed have been done with the knowledge that most users are information foragers, snackers, people with little time to find the information they require.

The Talking Walls® as a multi-platform multimedia application does not quite fit with regards to some of the web usability guidelines, as will other heritage applications on offer at museums and historical sites. This may be due to the primary goal to be enjoyable learning, entertaining, fun, aesthetically pleasing and informative in a specific cultural heritage context, but still a ‘snacking’ tool and possibly to more than one user at a time.

The visitor using the kiosk application will use it in perhaps a very different way to how they would use the web at home / work. They may want to see what it does, how much content there is, if there is any entertainment on offer and what they may learn from it, but it will be closed off to information relevant only to the heritage site, the visitor will not be able to jump to non-relevant areas, as they can with the web. There are constraints. Then, instead of a solitary session on the web, they may be with a partner, their family or friends so the interaction of the group, their interaction with the application and their surroundings will be different to that of the web and therefore important to discover and analyse. This is really user performance, how they interact and their experience.

There is a further issue of the same content being displayed for a mobile / handheld device. It is predicted that the mobile phone will become an ‘entertainment device’ (Loader 2006) that will consist of communication, navigation, TV, music, radio, camera / video, games, web, GPS technology, and more including paying for your shopping (Hanlon 2008). The future of the mobile phone as an all inclusive device is already becoming a reality although the ultimate success relies heavily on a number of issues: technology, creative content, a simple interface and consumer’s acceptance of the new technology (Brill 2007).

Designing for mobile has a number of issues that need consideration. Having created web usability standards, designers need to explore the best way of creating the same content on a much smaller screen. There has been a lot of progress over the last year or two with several successful interfaces appearing such as the iPhone and Google’s Android interface, both of which have been possible with new technology and new ways of interaction with the interface, such as TouchFlo 3D.

The problem here is that this creates another style – one for print, one for mobile, one for web. The same issue appeared in the early days of the web, when people were redesigning their printed brochures to become web pages (Web 1). With the development of the internet, the designs for web became more animated, more information appeared in formats unachievable via print, and with Web 2 there are users as well as designers creating content and uploading to template interfaces or personal blog sites. It is a general concern as to how the majority of web sites and user generated content will translate to the small screen devices that are becoming ever popular. There will need to be new guidelines / standards developed for designing for new platforms such as the mobile device, in fact the mobile could be considered the new web for how content should be designed i.e designing for the lowest common denominator.

There is then the issue of the type of content to be designed. A cultural heritage application is likely to be designed very differently to football club site or a shopping site application through how it is used and the typical type of content expected, required or desired.

Part of my research will observe user behaviour, types of audiences, how they will perceive and use the application, their choice of platform and technology and how this may reflect their age and gender, how they will interact with the software and technology during their visit, singly or in groups and how this will impact on their experience, their involvement and buy-in to the learning narrative and imagery.