World Usability Day in Boston

Sock Sorting Activity at World Usability Day

Sock Sorting Activity at World Usability Day

Unbeknownst to many of us, last week, we celebrated World Usability Day. While I suspected it was going to be an industry-centric, jargon-filled event, it turned out to be quite the opposite. Three cheers to the Usability Professionals Association Boston Chapter for putting on an engaging and accessible exhibit in the lobby of South Station.

I first participated in a “sock sorting” event, in which two people simultaneously sort their own individual basket of mismatched socks according to an organizational scheme of their own choosing and stick them to velcro boards. At the end of the activity, the two participants look at the other’s board to see that there are various ways of organizing a collection of data, menus, or in this case, socks. The volunteer running the booth then related the activity to the information architecture practice of card sorting.

On one table sat five alarm clocks – some new, some old, and a volunteer challenging participants to pick a clock, estimate the difficulty in setting either the time or the alarm, and then set it while being timed.

Another volunteer demonstrated the concept of affordances with a series of large posters of doors on foam core panels – large enough that one could imagine being confronted with the door and its knob / handle / push bar and guess which how it should be operated.

A station with three voting booth style partitioned areas challenged participants to follow instructions to build a Lego construction. Each of them was timed, and each got one of three modalities of instructions:

Text only – usually performed the slowest
Combined text and images – usually finished second
Images only – usually finished the fastest

What impressed me the most was that people were there – not for any purposes of self-interest, but with a sense of mission to spread the understanding of usability principals to the public, to share that revelation prompted when Donald Norman wrote, “When you have trouble with things… Don’t blame yourself: blame the designer.”

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