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The most popular stuff from 2012 at ConeTrees

I wish you, my dear readers, a wonderful 2013. Here is what I wrote about and posted in 2012 which was the most popular with you all.

  1. The Difference Between a Heuristic Evaluation and an Expert Review
  2. Future Healthcare Concepts
  3. When Introducing UCD in an Organinzation, Technical Capability is Only Half the Story
  4. Karen McGrane on Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content
  5. RIP Bill Boddgride of IDEO (1943-2012)

Runne(a)r phones- if you run, you need one (earphone mounted rotary knob volume control)

This is a product idea I have submitted on Quirky targeted at runners.
Changing the music volume (because of traffic, changing environmental noise) while running is always a hassle. Well, not any more, Runne(a)rphone’s here.
Vote here: (if you like it, and tell your friends about it too)

Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes

The Problem

This product is a solution to a very specific problem- changing the volume of your music device while running.

When running, we often have to change the volume over the course of the run, especially if we’re running in the city. We come across different volumes of environmental noise (running by a busy road, passing by a construction site, what have you). This means we need to turn the music volume up and down quite a few times throughout the run.

Now changing the volume can be a pain, depending on where we’ve placed our music device. If we’re not using a remote control earphone, then we need to take it out of the pocket and change it, which means slowing down and distracting ourselves from simply enjoying our run. Even using an armband requires us to slow down or bit, or stop moving the arm its on to change the volume… not something we like to do when all we want to do is zone out.

A remote controlled earphone is no better (something I personally use) because we still need to temporarily slow our speed down and get hold of the volume control on the earphone wire. I certainly don’t enjoy it, and believe you don’t too.

The Solution

My solution to the volume changing hassle is an easy, ‘don’t make me think’ one. It is an earphone for runners, where the volume is controlled through the earphone itself rather than the music device.
The difference is that the volume is controlled through a rotary knob (just like those on the old television sets) and this knob is placed on the earphones itself (as you can see in the picture I’ve attached- the extruded portion is supposed to be the rotary knob).

Changing volume is as easy as rotating the knob on either headphone. This means we no longer have to slow down while running. We no longer have to get distracted from having to cumbersomely change the volume. It’s as simple as volume changing should be while running.

Key Features

The product is an earphone targeted at runners and joggers. It solves the specific issue of the cumbersome process of changing the volume of music over the course of a run. It is special because I believe there is no other solution out there which makes it as easy as the this product.

Product Comparison

I am aware of none at the moment

The best of Cone Trees for 2011

2011 has ended and has been a rather good year for me. I know I have not been writing this year, but work has kept me very occupied, and happy.

I left Delhi and moved to Singapore early in the year to join PebbleRoad and have since then had a great time working on a whole lot of digital strategy, user research, information architecture, mobile and social interaction design, usability testing and competitive evaluations for websites and intranets for both the government and corporations such as IE Singapore, Tourism Australia, Visa, SMU, Guiness, Singtel, DHL and more. And the projects went well, nothing like getting repeat proejcts from happy clients. Great team, great fun.

I plan to get back to writing again this year, so you can expect more articles on ConeTrees this year. It’s February already and it is a little late for new year greetings, none the less, I hope you have a wonderful 2012.

Most viewed

The UX Bookmark- the best UX links for the smartest User Experience practitioners
Videos from UX Week 2011
UX Quotes- Quotes on User Experience

Suggested viewing

A Quick Look into IDEO’s Design Process- Designing a Shopping Cart in 5 days
Alan Siegel on simplifying legal jargon (simple language)
Alexis Lloyd on new interactions with news

The best content at Cone Trees for 2010

2010 has been a good year. Besides improving products through usability testing and user research at work, I gave an expert tutorial at The India HCI/ IDID 2010 conference at IIT IDC, Mumbai in March and the book I contributed to, UX Storytellers: Connecting the dots was published in November.

Most viewed content

From the Downloads section- The Usability Testing Process (diagram)
From the (new) UX Glossary section- Post-Study System Usability Questionnaire (PSSUQ)
From the Quick Posts section- Rohan Shravan on the Adam tablet featuring tech specs better than the iPad

Suggested reading

From the Blog section- My chapter in the book: UX Storytellers – Connecting the Dots
From the (new) Tutorials section- How to create active and inactive tabs in Axure
From the Blog section- The official definition(s) of Usability

My chapter in the book: UX Storytellers – Connecting the Dots

UX Storytellers book cover snap shot

As a contributing author and an industry practitioner, I am happy to see the book, UX Storytellers- Connecting the dots, finally out and it looks great. The book is a collection of forty two stories contributed by various user experience experts from around the globe, each of whom share a particular real (or based on a real) experience of theirs working in their respective areas of expertise within the UX domain. Some of my favorite authors in the book include Deborah Mayhew (author of Cost-Justifying Usability and The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook among many others ) and Aaron Marcus (author of The Cross-GUI Handbook for Multi-Platform User-Interface Design and Mobile TV: Customizing Content and Experience among others).

If you work in user experience at any level, this book will offer you some fantastic takeaways, the kinds you are lucky to get when you come across someone really experienced at a conference or even professional meet ups.

Jan Jura (@IATV) did a fantastic job of conceptualizing, coordinating and putting all of this together, which took him over a year. And judging the success of the book by the buzz in the UX community since it came out a week ago, it definitely looks like its been worth all the effort he put in.

My chapter in the book is a story which aims at helping user experience professionals understand the real challenges involved when trying to introduce User-Centered Design (UCD) techniques in your organization where your goal is to ultimately integrate UCD into your organization’s Product Development Life Cycle (PDLC). It talks about how arming ones self with technical capability is only half the story, the other half being a team’s ability to effectively deal with soft issues and successfully engage with stakeholders. I hope you will learn from it and be able to put it to good use if you come across such a situation or are already in such a (tricky) situation.

You can download or view the book online at: A paid print version will follow, I’ve read quite a bit of it, and from all the value it provides, it definitely will be worth buying.

You can also read the book below. My story begins from page 412 of the Srcibd reader or page 434 of the book.

The official definition(s) of Usability

What is the official definition of usability? Well, the International Standards Organization (ISO) offers not one but two definitions of usability. One definition describes usability as quality of use and the other describes usability as a software quality.

Usability as quality of use

According to part 11 titled ‘Guidance on Usability’ of the ISO 9241 standard (1998), usability is the:

Extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

ISO 9241 is a standard covering a number of aspects for people working with computers. Currently titled ‘Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDT), it will be available as ‘Ergonomics of Human System Interaction’ in the near future.

Usability as a software quality

Part 1 of ISO/IEC 9126 (1992) defines Usability as one of the six characteristics to describe software quality as:

A set of attributes of software which bear on the effort needed for use and on the individual assessment of such use by a stated or implied set of users.

ISO/IEC 9126 is superseded since 2005 by ISO/IEC 25000, the latest being ISO/IEC TR 25021:2007, ‘Software engineering- Software product Quality Requirements and Evaluation (SQuaRE)- Quality measure elements’.

The Usability Testing Process (diagram)

The usability testing process

Chinese translation of the diagram and article (by Ryana). Russian translation of the diagram and article (by Dmitry Satin).

Usability Testing Process Poster (A4 PDF) (3565 downloads)

Send me a pic: Did you put it up at work? Is it looking good? Take a pic and mail it to me or upload the pic and send me a link. I’d love to know where you’ve put it up and how it looks. You can mail me at hello at conetrees dot com

A usability test consists of the following steps:

1- Usability test planning
2.1- Participant Recruitment
2.2 Scenario & Task creation
3- Execute the usability test/ conduct usability test sessions
4- Data Analysis
5- Reporting
6- Usability test recommendation incorporation checkpoint

I will follow up with another post to explain the steps in detail, but for now, here is some detail on step 6. Step 6 is not mentioned in most generic usability testing processes, but I want to stress upon it since it is plays a good role in optimizing the usability test process.

After you report the usability test findings and recommendations, stakeholders will agree to incorporate a certain number of recommendations. After the period for incorporating usability test recommendations has passed, you should hold a checkpoint meeting for the following purpose:

  • To see how many of those suggestions agreed upon have actually been incorporated. There is no point of conducting usability test after test if recommendations (that everyone agrees will improve the usability of the product tested) are not incorporated. You don’t want to keep conducting usability tests where you come out with recommendations, stakeholders agree on incorporating some, and then everybody forgets about it. And in the next test, you come out with many of them same old ones— this is simply not a very optimal way of doing things. This checkpoint thus helps you mitigate what I think is a concern worth addressing.
  • Using data, conclude whether those suggestions did or did not improved the usability of your product (or the portion/ section you tested upon), recommendation by recommendation. In case they did, you may want to find out if there is any further scope of improvement. And in case they did not, you may want to understand what wrong assumptions were made while giving particular recommendations and learn from them so you can avoid them in similar cases in the future.
Creative Commons License
The Usability Testing Process Diagram by Abhay Rautela is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

The only derivative work that I allow of this diagram is translation. Once you are done, let me know and I’ll link back to it.

This Was The Most Popular Content on Cone Trees in 2009

Out of the near 50 posts that were made at Cone Trees in 2009, here is a compilation of what was most popular with you, dear readers. You will also find my list of suggested readings for each section (except for the articles section, where there were only three posts I made in the year).

Top 3 Articles

Most popular

  1. Tips for effective DIY Participant Recruitment for Usability Testing
  2. Increase Conversions in Long Web Forms by Resolving the Accidental Back Button Activation Issue
  3. Guidelines for conducting Effective and Efficient Meetings

Top 3 Blog Posts

Most popular

  1. jQuery Masked Input Plugin- Increase usability, input masks for text fields
  2. A Review of the Balsamiq Mockups wireframing application
  3. Usability spotter #5- HP laptop touch pads with scroll zones- absence of tactile cue

Suggested reading

  1. Usability Spotter #6- The Twitter login page password revelation issue
  2. Web Accessibility- our responsibility as Web Industry Professionals
  3. Usability Spotter #4: A Usability issue- Google Chrome Tab selection through the mouse

Top 3 Downloads

Most popular

  1. Download Axure ‘Clear input field value on focus’ prototype/ widget library
  2. Download Axure Touch Screen Hand Gestures Stencils
  3. 15 Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India

Suggested Downloads

  1. SEO through Accessibility- How designing accessible websites leads to automatic SEO
  2. A free Minutes of Meeting (MOM) template
  3. Cone Trees Wallpaper #2- Regenerate

Top 3 ‘News & Resources’

Most popular

  1. Pranav Mistry’s “Sixth Sense”, game-changing wearable technology- a talk by Patties Maes
  2. Web Accessibility- our responsibility as Web Industry Professionals
  3. Dan Roam on “The Way of the Whiteboard: Persuading with Pictures”

Suggested Viewing

  1. Don Norman on the three ways that good design makes you happy
  2. Kim Goodwin on designing a Unified User Experience- integrating Interaction, Visual & Industrial design
  3. Barry Schwartz talks about “The Paradox of Choice- Why Less is More”

I’m presenting a tutorial at the India HCI 2010 conference, IIT Mumbai, March 21

I am pleased to let you know that my tutorial proposal for India HCI 2010 has been accepted. I will be presenting a slide based interactive lecture/ tutorial on ‘Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India’ in the morning on 21 March, Sunday at the India HCI 2010 conference and would like to invite you to attend it.

Who should attend: Usability engineers and user experience practitioners who conduct usability testing of all experience levels, though this will be especially beneficial for those who work in a organization with an nascent usability engineering. or user research team or interested in creating one.

Registration: You can register for my tutorial using the online registration form (choose T 16).

Fees: Rs. 3000.

Here is a detailed description of the tutorial at the conference website. Details about the tutorial are also given below.

India HCI 2010- tutorial 16: Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India

Duration: Half day
Schedule: Sunday, 21st March 2010, Morning
Fee: Rs. 3,000
Participants: 10-25


‘Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India’ is based upon my experience working in an agile setting in an Indian organization that is set in stage 3 of Nielsen’s Corporate Usability Maturity description. The organization I work in creates Alexa Top 200 consumer websites where I conduct field and lab-based and summative and formative usability tests on both prototypes and the released product.

Cultural differences

  1. India has a different cultural system as compared to the west. Its culture, values and language and ways of working and interfacing with people are different from those in the west. The difference is illustrated through Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
  2. No book written on usability testing in India- All of the popular books on usability testing are written by western counterparts and understandably so, these are written in context of western users.

Organization differences

  1. As an industry member, I would estimate that the vast majority of Indian organizations are between stages 1 to 4 of Nielsen’s Corporate Usability Maturity description.
  2. At a stage where usability testing is not formally integrated into the product development lifecycle, technical capability is only half the contributing factor to successfully establishing the usability practice as an essential organ of the company. The ability to engage with stakeholders in a way that they continually offer support to the usability initiative is the other half contributing factor to maturing the usability practice within the organization. It is therefore necessary that technical knowledge has to be supplemented by the addressing of ‘soft’ issues that to tackle organization bottlenecks in order to successfully execute usability testing so that value may be derived from it that is recognizable by stakeholders.


Specific to usability testing in India, the tutorial in particular talks about various practical tips dealing with usability test moderation to avoid introduction of bias that may occur because of the PDI dimension (moderator-participant) of Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.

Usability testing can only take place if concerned stakeholders realize its value and see it as an integral part of the SDLC. They ultimately hold the key to deciding how much of a role will usability testing play in the SDLC. Since Indian organizations have a different way of working from MNC’s and foreign firms, the other half of the tutorial will talk about how to work towards successfully demonstrating the value of usability testing into Indian organizations (set in stages 2 to 4 or Nielsen’s Corporate Usability Maturity description). It will talk about what challenges may be faced, what mistakes should one avoid, about why business cases and generic deliverable templates don’t work, how to deal with time and budget constraints, and how to deal with attitudes and successfully connect with stakeholders.

Please go through my presentation: Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India (slide 13 onwards) to get a brief idea of what the presentation will contain which will not be limited to the content in this presentation.

Who should attend?

Usability engineers and any user experience practitioners who conduct usability testing of all experience levels.

A short biography of the tutor

Abhay Rautela works as Senior Human Factors Engineer at a leading internet services company in Noida and is responsible for planning, execution and oversight of user research and usability evaluation across projects that mostly include Alexa Top 200 websites. He has conducted formative and summative usability evaluations on low (paper) to high fidelity prototypes and the actual product in all phases of the SDLC. He has also authored usability testing deliverable templates and guidelines and has defined an optimized usability testing process to streamline the usability testing process in his current organization, in addition to authoring other user research deliverable templates.

Abhay has a BA (hons) Multimedia Arts degree with specialization in usability and accessibility from Middlesex University, UK in which he was batch topper. He has around 5 years of experience working in different areas of user experience, most of it being focused on interaction design and usability evaluations and user research. He has conducted trainings in the past on accessibility, streamlining the usability testing process and card sorting at Sapient (a leading international IT consultancy) and InfoEdge (a leading Indian internet services company) in addition to presenting at Bar Camp on usability testing in India.

Abhay has also recently been requested to contribute a chapter for a book on user experience which includes other known contributors who have authored and co-authored UX books. Abhay runs a website on usability engineering that is featured in AllTop along with other authoritative websites on user experience. His articles, posts, UI prototyping libraries and website visual design have been published, featured, included, pointed and showcased in Usability News (BCSCHI), Wireframes magazine, Evolt, Axure prototyping application website, SlideShare front page, Business Week’s Business Exchange and WaSP Interact among other places (links here).

He also runs two websites (that are slowly gaining popularity) for the User Experience community- The UX Bookmark and UX Quotes which he conceptualized, designed and now curates content on. In the past, he was manager of FlashMove, Singapore (world’s first Flash special user group) and presently heads The New Delhi UX Book Club and the SlideShare Web Accessibility group.

Usability Spotter #6- The Twitter login page password revelation issue

On its login page, Twitter uses JavaScript to set focus on the user name text field so the user can sign in to the account with least effort possible.

However, due to the incompleteness and the placement of the JavaScript, there is a possibility that the user’s password may get revealed (in the user name text field of the login form) if the user attempts to enter their account details before the login page completely loads. The description of the usability issue and solution are discussed ahead.

Update (Jan 20, 2010): I informed Twitter about it and Anamitra Banerji from Twitter product got back letting me know he has someone working on fixing it.

Update (Mar 28, 2010): I noticed today that they (finally, one and a half months later) fixed up the issue.

The Issue

Setting focus on text field to increase usability

In order to make the login form easy to use, the technical team at Twitter uses JavaScript to set focus on the user name text field upon loading of the login page. The user is saved time and effort of either:

  1. Having to tab through elements on the page (using the keyboard) in order to set focus upon the ‘username’ input field.
  2. Or moving the mouse to position it over the user name text field and clicking upon it in order to begin entering account details.

Placing JavaScript at the bottom to decrease page loading speed

The team also chose to place this ‘text field focus’ JavaScript at the bottom of the page code right before the closing tag. This makes sense since placing JavaScript at the bottom of the page helps decrease page loading time.

This is because when scripts download, nothing else can be downloaded along with it in parallel (in contrast, multiple images could have come through at the same time). So that is why moving them to the bottom gives a chance for the rest of the page to load up faster.

The above two combined form the issue

The ‘text field focus’ JavaScript, as discusses above, is a good idea, but would however only be effective if the JavaScript loads and sets focus upon the input field before the user manually does so.

And in the case of slower internet connections, since the JavaScript code is placed at the bottom of the page, there is a high possibility that the user may begin to enter their account details before the page fully loads and as a consequence, their password could gets partially or completely revealed.

So lets look at three cases- one where the JavaScript loads on time (before the user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field) and the other two, where the JavaScript does not load on time.

1. JavaScript loads before user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field and begins typing username

Twitter login form
Everything is fine and as intended. Focus is set on ‘username’ text field. The user can proceed to typing in credentials.

2. JavaScript loads after user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field and user is about to begin typing or is already typing in the user name.

If the user is typing in username when JavaScipt loads, there are no problems

The script does not achieve its goal since it failed at setting focus on the ‘username’ text field for the user who had to do so manually. Before the user begins to type in the user name or during the process of doing so, the JavaScript sets focus on an already focused ‘username’ text field. This does not affect the user in any way who can type in the user name without any issues.

3. JavaScript loads after user sets focus manually on the ‘username’ text field, completes typing in username, and now sets focus on the ‘password’ text field, and is either:

  1. Beginning to type in the password
    In the lesser probable case of the two, if the JavaScript loads just when the user is about to begin typing in the password, the JavaScript will shift focus to the ‘username’ field and the while the user begins entering the password, the password will get revealed in the ‘username’ text field since the focus has shifted to it.
    If the JavaScript loads when the user is just beginning to typing in the password, then there is a big issue
    But won’t users notice their password appearing in the username text field? Most probably not until most of or the complete password has been revealed- novice to intermediate computer users will look at the keyboard while typing in the password. Expert users may not have to do so, but since there is also a possibility that expert users will choose complex passwords as compared to novice users, it is probable that they will look at the keyboard too while they type in the password too.
  2. Already typing in password

    If the JavaScript loads when the user is typing in the password, there is a problem
    If the JavaScript loads while the user is already typing in the password in the ‘password’ field, then the focus will shift to the ‘username’ field in between and the password will partially be revealed in the ‘username’ text field as illustrated in the example below.

Severity of the issue

This could be labeled as a usability issue medium to high error severity since the issue translates to a security concern.

Having the password reveal itself without the wishes of the user is bad usability because the application is not behaving as the user expects it to. When a user enters data in a text box, the user expects the data being filled to appear in the text box- either masked or as is depending on whether it is a password text field or not. What the user does not expect is to see the focus of the text box change to another and their password get revealed.

Of equally serious concern is the consequence of the issue- the user’s password is partially or completely revealed, without their intentions of the user wanting to do so. This password may be observed by a passerby who the user does or does not notice, who may then go on to compromise the account.

The Solution

This issue is certainly something Twitter should fix immediately considering low level of effort (LOE) required to plug it up. There are two solutions to the issue, both very simple both with their pros and cons.

Solution 1

By shifting the code and placing it above the ‘username’ field of the login form, it is guaranteed that the script will load before the form loads. And thus, the focus will always be set on the ‘username’ text field.

Pro: Focus will always set on ‘username’ field before the user can attempt to do so
Con: Page loading speed may however be compromised.

Solution 2

This solution mitigates the issue in a different sense. It does not ensure that the goal of the text field focus’ JavaScript is met (which is to manage to always set focus upon the ‘username’ text field before the user can attempt to do so) but ensures that the unintended consequence of password revelation will never occur.

The solution is to modify the code logic and keep it at the position it is currently at- so page loading speed is uncompromised and the issue is not caused either.

Currently, the script simply sets focus on the username text field when the script loads. The script may be modified to set up a condition where the script first checks if the focus is already set on either the ‘username’ or ‘password’ text field of the login form. If so, we do nothing since we can assume that the user is busy entering account details. But if the focus is not set upon either of the fields, then we can, as the script, earlier did, set focus upon the ‘username’ text field.

The advantage here is that we do not compromise page loading speed. We also ensure that the user’s password does not accidentally get revealed. What we don’t ensure is the fact that the user may set focus manually upon the ‘username’ text field before the script does so.

Pro: Page loading speed remains uncompromised and the unintended consequence of password revelation can never occur.
Con: The goal of the ‘text field focus’ solution which was to always set focus on ‘username’ before user can attempt to do so is not met.

Your thoughts?

Here’s hoping to see Twitter patch this up as soon as possible. What are your thoughts?