Saturday, April 30, 2005

Usability in practice?

At my university students get the chance to offer courses in which they teach others things they have extra knowledge of or are especially interested in. The topics usually deal with "Programming with the penguin", "Developing an OpenGL game", "PHP + MySQL", "XML for Beginners", "Linux for Switchers" and the like. Since the software ergonomics lectures the students have to attend here cover pretty dry and old stuff Tina and I thought it may be a good idea to offer a course "Usability in Practice" to give others insight about how usability is done in practice. The proposal was accepted, and we started preparing the course.

While other courses normally get crowded in no time, exactly three (3) people showed interest and registered for "Usability in Practice". We postponed the date, prolonged the registration time and tried a more offensive approach by sticking posters everywhere. In the end it's four (4) people (whoohoo! one more! :-)) who will finally listen to what we have to say about the usability lifecycle, card sorting, paper prototyping and heuristic evaluation. The not so overwhelming interest may have to do with how usability is perceived among the students at my university. It's still considered as boring and unnecessary.

Anyway, during the course the current usability efforts of open source software in general and KDE in particular will be covered as well. So who knows... maybe one of the participants gets interested and wants to get involved and contribute.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Kpdf usability inspection

I just finished my first usability inspection on Kpdf. It is a really enjoyable PDF Viewer for KDE. Despite of its -compared to that commercial beast acroread- fairly early state of development KPDF is already quite usable. So the issues that were discovered mainly dealt with naming/wording/sorting of menu and toolbar entries. Another problem I found was the similarity of icons. It is difficult to differentiate "Previous Page" from "Back" visually if their toolbar icons look the same.

An old notorious friend crossed my path while going through the various actions: the menubar hiding issue. There must be an easy way to recover the menubar in every view/tool/mouse mode apart from "ctrl+m". Otherwise users may feel stupid and blame themselves for losing "that thing with the names at the top of the window". I hope there will be a KDE wide solution for the menubar issue some day, so users can transport the knowledge they gathered from one KDE application to the next.

Now I am looking forward to discussing the findings with the Kpdf developers. It's a gift from god for openusability engineers to get involved in software development at such an early stage. Usability engineers of commercial products can usually only dream of that ;-)