Sunday, January 20, 2013

Usable Usability Across Virtual and Physical Spaces

Books on usability often focus on either software and web usability or usability in the physical world. In many cases services people use span the two. Physical objects often have a software component and many interactions span physical and virtual spaces. You need to consider usability not only in the context of the thing you are working on, but in the context of the system the person is interacting with. In other words, rather than thinking about the user experience for an application, it's worth thinking about the user experience for a service. Eric Reiss's book, Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better provides you information to understand usability implications of web design, physical design, situations when the two intersect.

While any one book can't fully cover everything you need to know about usability across these spaces, Reiss does a great job job giving an overview of the issues, and pointers for more information Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better reminds me of Donald Norman's Psychology of Everyday Things (newer editions being called The Design of Everyday Things).

The principles of good web design are not that different from good design of physical objects. There are many cases when a user experience spans the two; you may start a transaction online, ask for help on a phone call, and complete the transaction is a physical store.

This is a very readable, entertaining, book which weaves stories of his experiences with both bad and good usability, with actionable advice to help you understand both general principles of usability and specific guideline to employ when designing interfaces. The humorous stories of the effects of poor design will help you to remember what not to do, and the simplicity of the examples of good design will inspire you to aim higher in your projects. This book is especially worth a read if you are building
 software applications or services that have both a software and concrete component.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Pumpkin Plan

From time to time I'll read a book about how to start or grow a business and I realize that there are lessons that apply not only to entrepreneurs, but also to anyone trying to manage their projects. The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field is one of those books. It describes how to transition from an unsustainable situation where the people who start a company are over committed and doing all the work, to a sustainable organization where you can have a reasonable work/life balance, and create systems that allow your company to scale.While the details of the stories and techniques in the book are focused on business owners, there are lessons anyone whose work involves juggling priorities. I was glad to have had the chance to get a review copy of this book.

The Pumpkin Plan is addressed to entrepreneurs who have businesses that may have customers, but which aren't growing. The author delivers on his promise of providing guidance for helping your business grow. Once you read the advice, you may think that some of it is obvious, but the author helps you bridge the gap between knowing what to do and convincing your self you do it. For example, one core bit of advice is to focus on your best customers and spend less (or no) energy on the others. The book provides detailed guidance for how to decide who "the best" customers are and walks you through your reservations about letting (bad) customers slip away. This is a great example of what makes this a great business book: it acknowledges the human side of the decisions an entrepreneur needs to make.

Many of the lessons in the book will be familiar to those familiar with agile and lean methods, or who have read books like The Secrets of Consulting. Michalowicz frames these lessons and provides practical advice to entrepreneurs, with guidelines, examples and real stories.

The book is written in way that allows to to start applying the advice before you finish the book. (After reading the first few chapters I recommended the book to a family member who had been discussing how she was looking for ways to help her small business grow.). As to the title: not only is the metaphor between growing pumpkins and growing a business apt, the author applies it consistently throughout the book, in a way that makes sense.

Reading The Pumpkin Plan will serve you well if you have a business. If you're not a business person, reading book could help inspire you to apply an entrepreneurial approach to the way you work, regardless of your role.

Site Reliability Engineering; The Book and The Practices

Site Reliability Engineering It’s difficult to walk into a software development organization without hearing about the discipline of Site ...