Hi Mum!


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Cure for Tech Frustrations

Someone should probably sell these. (via Swiss Miss)

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Tuesday Tab Sweep

Nine Essential Characteristics of Good UX Designers - Passion should be a the top of the list.

Book review: Wrench in the System by Harold Hambrose – Might be a good read for the executive in your life who hasn’t yet seen the light.

Refreshing Three HCI Laws: If you’ve never heard of Fitts' Law, Hick's Law, and the Power Law of Practice, here’s a quick recap.

Front End Concerns When Implementing Faceted Search - Part 1 - Daniel Tunkelang, Chief Scientist at Endeca, walks you through implementing a Faceted Search.

Managing UI complexity – An interaction designer discusses the various techniques he’s used to reduced the visual complexity of the application he’s designing.

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Restarting the New Zealand Calendar of UX Events

I’ve been talking to a few Auckland-based User Experience (UX) folk recently - discussing how we can better connect, network, learn and be inspired.

In my talks, I’ve noticed that not everyone is necessarily aware of all the various UX-related events already happening in Auckland, so I thought it would be a good idea to restart my UX Calendar of Events.

The UX Calendar lists each event individually, but here’s a brief overview of what’s already happening in Auckland:

  • Auckland Web Meetup - John Ballinger & friends organise a great event, typically with 3 speakers each time, so there's usually at least one topic of interest. And there's free beer and pizza,  and drinks afterwards - good opportunity for networking.
  • Auckland UX Book Club – Two books successfully discussed so far, and the group is growing. Thanks to Peter Grierson for kicking this off this year!
  • Auckland Pecha Kucha – Initially started by the Architecture crowd in Auckland, but topics vary and provide a great insight into how other creatives work and think. I love the format: 6 minute presentation means you never get bored.
  • Girl Geek Dinners – Monthly dinners for the more geeky women amongst us, but I’m sure they’re welcoming to everyone...
  • DINZ run occasional events, such as Designers Speak Plurals. The next one is in Auckland on 29th July. Looks like a great line-up of speakers.
  • YMedia are currently running the YMediaChallenge.
  • Design Assembly  put together an evening of talks and discussion for Graphic Designers four times a year. The next one is on 30th September. 
  • There are even rumours of an upcoming TEDx event in Auckland (Oct 1?). More info shortly. 

Let me know if I’ve missed any…

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Stalking Your Users: How to Conduct User Research in the Real World

As part of the Webstock Master Class series of workshops, Alex Wright will be presenting a workshop on 'Stalking Your Users: How to Conduct User Research in the Real World' on Wednesday 19 August.

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Some links of interest…

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Bibliography of multi-touch interaction research

Given the recent interest in multi-touch interaction following the announcement of the iPhone, I thought I would point to Bill Buxton's brief history of multi-touch interaction research. There's also some background in the Fastcompany interview of Jeff Han.

By the way, I much prefer this latest video of Jeff Han's work than his TED presentation.

Apparently you can make your own multi-touch screen (by following Jeff's original paper) but it would appear the real wizardry is in the software...

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Best Interaction Design Blogs 2006

Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path has posted his 2006 list of best interaction design blogs.

I'd add two more to the list: Christopher Fahey's Graphpaper and Humanized.

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Building web apps: don't start with the home page

Great advice from Cameron Moll over at Authentic Boredom - When building web apps, don't start with the home page ....

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Interaction Design in Europe

Convivio - the European Network for the Human-Centered Design of Interactive Technologies - has kicked off a series of interviews with leading voices in the field of human-centred design. Interviews will feature people from all over the world, but with an emphasis on European voices (and I'm biased, but it's wonderfully refreshing to have a European perspective on all things HCI).

The first interview is with Jan Chipchase, Principal Researcher at Nokia, who maintains a photo-blog at Future Perfect.

The second interview is with Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing.

Adam finishes with some great advice for designers who are interested in getting involved with 'ubiquitous computing':

"[...] I’d imagine that getting comfortable with user observation and ethnography, contextual inquiry, and other techniques for the qualitative understanding of the experience of use will stand you in good stead. And if neither of these two suggestions appeal, about all I can say is sit just where you are - because it seems fairly likely to me that some kind of Everyware will come to you."

In a related vein, and also from Europe, Nat Torkington blogs about his conversation with Matt Webb, who works for creative design consultancy Schulze & Webb.

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The perfect wall for information architects

Ooh - this post-it notes wall works for me. Can I get it in orange?

Duncan Wilson and Sirkka Hammer's Pixelnotes (via Swissmiss)

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Usability Man sighting in London

Reported sightings of a previously little know superhero, Usability Man, in the streets of London....

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Usability Posters

A few usability posters to brighten up your cubicle and celebrate World Usability Day next week:

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Designing Web Applications - Structure and Flows

User Interface Engineering (UIE) have released a 54 page report called The Designer's Guide to Web Applications, Part I - Structure and Flows . It's US$35 - but there's a free chapter available for download.

I've read the free chapter, and it's very good. It helps conceptualise how most web applications should be structured - useful if you're struggling to envisage how screens should 'flow' from one to the other.

In a similar vein, there is Bob Baxley's Task Flow for Web Applications, part 1 - Views & Forms and Task Flow for Web Applications, part 2 - Wizards & Guides.

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Two great events in Auckland for World Usability Day

There will two events in Auckland for World Usability Day on Tuesday 14th November.

At lunchtime, we will be making some (visual) noise with some red balloons in the streets of Auckland, highlighting good and bad examples of user experience.

In the evening, Shona Bishop, GM of Marketing & Business Development at the Bank of New Zealand, and Natasha Hall from Trade Me will be talking about how they've introduced usability into their organisations.

Find out how you can get take part in the events calendar.

I'm hoping for lots of people at lunchtime (and in the evening too, of course). We've ordered 100 balloons so there should be enough to go around....! Don't be shy - come along!

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World Usability Day 2006 and Making Life Easy

World Usability Day 2006 is only 20-odd days away on Tuesday 14th November.

UPA Auckland is putting the finishing touches to what promises to be an evening of great speakers and activities - more details anon.

In the meantime, here's another great opportunity for you to get involved in World Usability Day.

Leisa over at Disambiguity and the guys at Flow Interactive have put together a great a little project called MakingLifeEasy.org.

The aim is to get people to make some noise about the things that make their life needlessly difficult.

Confusing cash machines, unclear signs, frustrating websites - poor usability is everywhere and it gets in the way of life. Sometimes it is just annoying. At other times it stops us doing what we need to do.

World Usability Day and MakingLifeEasy is about promoting the value of user-centered design, and every user's right to ask for things that work better.

I'm thrilled about both initiatves and have contributed a few of my Auckland pet-peeves to the project. Here's how you can get involved too:

1. Help get more people involved! If you have a blog, give us a shout out and send people to www.MakingLifeEasy.org to participate. If you have a Flickr account, join the Making Life Easy group and invite all your friends!

2. Share your examples of the best and the worst of usability where you live (or visit or holiday!). Add photos to the group and your submission will be added to the website and potentially to the Hall of Fame or Shame.

3. Cast your vote! Take a look at the website and have your say in what *really* drives you crazy and what you really love.

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'Usability Techniques' Workshop Slides and Notes

Here are the presentations slides and notes for the workshop I gave to TCANZ members this month.

TCANZ Workshop - Usability Techniques: Slides (zipped PDF, 4MB)

TCANZ Workshop - Usability Techniques: Workbook (PDF, 240 KB)

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Usability Techniques Workshops

The Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand (TCANZ) has asked me to run some Usability Techniques workshops at the end of the month.

Full details and registration at the TCANZ website: http://www.tcanz.org.nz/Events/Workshops/UsabilityWorkshop2006.htm

I'm really looking forward to running these workshops. I'm aiming to make them as practical and hands-on as possible. There'll be some "theory" of course, but mostly I want to give participants the opportunity to practice some core usability/user centred design methods.

We'll create some user profiles (personas), carry out a card-sorting exercise, develop some paper prototypes and practice running some usability evaluations.

If you are thinking of attending the workshop, feel free to leave a comment as to what would make the workshop really useful and relevant for you.

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The Future of UK marketplace for usability services

Usability News - E-Consultancy's Friedlein predicts the Future of UK Usability Consultancy

Ashley Friedlein, CEO of E-consultancy.com, about the future of the UK marketplace for usability services and how he expects usability agencies to evolve.

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Fonts & Typography for the Web

Richard Rutter of Clagnut has launched his The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web - a practical guide to web typography, based on Robert Bringhurst’s classic book The Elements of Typographic Style.

Richard states that it is a "work in progress. I am adding to the site in the order presented in Bringhurst’s book, one principle at a time. You can subscribe to an RSS feed for notification of new additions."

I am looking forward to the next installments.

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Intranet Review Toolkit

Step Two Designs, in conjunction with the IA Institute, have just released a free Intranet Review Toolkit

This toolkit provides intranet managers and designers with an easy-to-use method to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their intranets.

While I don't necessarily agree with all of the guidelines (or applying them blindly without considering your specific circumstances), it's a good starting point to get you thinking about the various aspects of your intranet.

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Web 2.0 Reference Center

Handy reference site pointing to all the essential technologies and concepts for understanding the Web as a Platform: Web 2.0 Reference Center

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Auckland World Usability Day Celebration

World Usability Day logo

As part of World Usability Day, the Auckland UPA invites you to Open Your Eyes to Usability:

Ever felt frustated, confused or lost when surfing the web? Ever wondered how your visitors really 'see' and experience your website?

If so, join us for an evening of activities designed to increase awareness of usability and user-centred design.

Presentations will include "Internet Usability", and a live usability evaluation of a popular website. You will also be able to view examples of eye-tracking research, and experience how blind people 'see' your website using screen readers.

A number of usability experts will be on hand to give advice on any aspect of usability.

Plus: Remote Control Shootout! How many buttons are there on your remote control? Do you know what they all do? How many do you actually *use*? Bring your remote control along and help us find the worst offending example of poor design and usability. We have spot prizes for the best (the worst?) examples.

This event is being organised as part of the first World usability Day, with more than 70 events planned in 35 countries around the globe, starting (naturally) in New Zealand. Visit www.worldusabilityday.org and be amazed by how many people, places and groups are taking part. Come along and be part of the celebration.

Date: Thursday 3rd November

Time: 6.00pm to 8.0pm

Venue: Bank of New Zealand, 3rd floor, 125 Queen Street (Map showing location of building - but we are on the 3rd floor)

Cost: Free - Drinks & nibbles will be provided so please register so that we can order enough wine! And don't forget your remote!

Please RVSP to auckland@upa.org.nz

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Tom Peters interviews Jason Fried of 37 Signals

Tom Peters interviews Jason Fried of 37 Signals (the makers of Basecamp, Ta-Da and Backpack) and talks about their design and software development philosophy. Read the interview.

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Software-Bases Usability Labs

Harry Brignull has put together a comparison of software-based usability video labs

Morae and VisualMark are part of a new breed of software-based Usability Video labs, that run on your plain vanilla PC or Mac. What makes them special is that you don't have to buy any new hardware, you just install the software, grab your webcams and other bits of kit off the shelf and off you go. Also, if running on a laptop, you are highly mobile and can carry the lab around in a bag that wont break your back. Plus you never have to look at another tape, scan converter, or sit around digitising content ever again.

(via City of Bits)

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Designing grid systems

Mark Boulton has started an excellent series of articles on designing grid systems: Five simple steps to designing grid systems

The grid is a regulatory system which pre-empts the basic formal decisions in the design process. it's preconditions help in the structuring, division and ordering or content. I'm not saying a well designed grid will solve all of your compositional problems, far from it, but it goes some way in creating a coherent structure in design which in turn creates the aesthetic values all of us are after in our designs.

(via design Principles)

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AJAX: Use only as indicated

More good conversation over at Asterisk about AJAX: AJAX: Your Take

AJAX offers us some nice options when it comes to user interface. The yellow fade technique, to site an example, is neat, simple and useful. However, as with any technology it should be used only when it’s needed. Well, unless you’re just messing around with it of course. Start with the problem, then apply the solution and all that.

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Usability of University Websites

The Guardian reports on a usability study of UK university websites:

As universities begin to gear up for this summer's Clearing season, when they hope to field inquiries from thousands of candidates still without a place, a piece of market research shows just how out of touch many of them are. They are, in a word, too academic, full of swaths of information that leave web-surfing students bored and irritated. That is the verdict, at least, of a company that sat down two groups of first-year sixth formers and asked them to find information on university and college websites."

Read the article (via Louise Ferguson).

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Don't Click It

I don't usually like Flash, but this is brilliant: Don't Click It. Very hard to resist the urge to click at first, but a wonderful interactive experience once you get used to it... (via Bokardo)

Filed in Interaction Design | Permanent Link |

AJAX Interaction Demos

More on the opportunities and interaction challenges of AJAX via Jeffrey Veen.

Jeffrey points to the work of Bill Scott of Sabre Airline Solutions who have put some code and demos online at OpenRico.org.

By the way, if anyone is doing this kind of work in NZ, get in touch. I'd be keen to get involved from a usability and interface design perspective (as in: I'd be happy to offer my services for *cough* free in return for a good case study).

Filed in Interaction Design | Permanent Link |

The danger of too many features

Another great article and illustration from the folks at Creating Passionate Users about the dangers of featuritis:

What if instead of adding new features, a company concentrated on making the service or product much easier to use? Or making it much easier to access the advanced features it already has, but that few can master? Maybe what they lose in market share in one area will be more than compensated for in another area. In a lot of markets, it's gotten so bad out there that simply being usable is enough to make a product truly remarkable.

Filed in Usability | Permanent Link |

Accessibility - Myths and Misconceptions

There are so many things I would like to address about accessibility, and I will get round to it eventually, but in the meantime here's a good roundup of the issues, and some good reference sites: Accessibility myths and misconceptions (456 Berea Street).

One of my favourite resources to better understand the issues (instead of focusing on scoring items off a checklist) is Skills For Access: the Comprehensive Guide to Creating Accessible Multimedia for E-Learning

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ROI of user-centred design

The following article is a nice little case study demonstrating the value of using a user-centred approach to software development. The Return on Investment (ROI): 90% less calls to the support centre, and as the articles describes:

No matter how trivial, every support call has some costs associated with it. Installation should be easy, and initial use should be intuitive."

The bottom line [...] is straightforward: focusing on the design of the product had a significant impact on the cost of supporting the product.

Of course, there's a very positive sales benefit to this, too: ProtectionPilot's UI design has already generated favorable reviews in the U.S. and Europe, with ease of use a common theme.

Read the article: Clean, Cutting-edge UI Design Cuts McAfee's Support Calls by 90%

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Potential User Interface Issues with Ajax

More on Ajax Interface Design: AJAX Interface Design

...and a list of potential user interface issues with Ajax: Ajax Mistakes

Filed in Usability | Permanent Link |

Usability Implications of Ajax

Like Angie said, this article makes the implications of Ajax a lot clearer to me now: Ajax, Ajax Everywhere

Ajax, and the pile of techniques and technologies that get lumped in with it, are all about breaking that page-by-page web experience into smaller chunks. If the traditional web was letter writing, Ajax is instant messaging.

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Innovation through people-centred design

The UK government Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Global Watch Service provides funds to assist small groups of technical experts from UK companies and academia to visit other countries for short, fact finding missions. And this is their latest report: Innovation through people-centred design - lessons from the USA (PDF - free registration required).

I guess you could argue that the local Department of Trade and Enterprise is doing something similar, but in reverse: bringing the likes of IDEO President Tim Brown for the upcoming Better by Design Conference in March 2005 (people-centred design, design-led business - we're all fundamentally talking about the same thing...)

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The difference between the alt and title attributes

456 Berea Street provides a good summary of the difference between the alt and title attributes

Alt text is not meant to be used as a tool tip, or more specifically, to provide additional information about an image. The title attribute, on the other hand, is meant to provide additional information about an element. That information is displayed as a tooltip by most graphical browsers, though manufacturers are free to render title text in other ways.

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Bridging the gap between User and Business Goals

Keith Robinson expands on his ideas about bridging the gap between User and Business Goals in a new article over at Digital Web.

Once you’ve altered your process to help align business and user goals, look for ways to show the value of your efforts in business terms. You can start slowly by holding a postmortem with your client and/or stakeholders to discuss how the project went. Gather success stories that show how user-centered design actually helps meet business goals and go out there and evangelize those to the people who count.

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Best Software Essays of 2004

Joel Spolsky is editing a new book: a collection of the best software essays published anywhere - on the web or in print - during 2004. Nominations are now closed, but the list will make for great Christmas reading.

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Work in Progress

I'm making some changes to the website today, so some things might be broken.

Please check back later if things do not work as they should.

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Creative Design in New Zealand

Microsoft today announced that New Zealand-based Ambient Design Ltd, creator of ArtRage, is the $100,000 grand prize winner of the Microsoft(R) Tablet PC Does Your Application Think in Ink? contest, a competition challenging developers to utilize the Windows(R) XP Tablet PC Edition Software Developer Kit (SDK) 1.7 to create new applications or ink-enable existing Windows XP-based applications.

Read the full press release.

Congratulations guys!

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Designing Navigation Systems

The SAP Design Guild has a good series on hierarchies: what they are, why users find them confusing, and how best to design and present them.

[...] hierarchies come in many guises and are present nearly everywhere: you find them in applications, hypertexts, Websites, portals, operating systems, or data collections. For example, files on a hard disk, documents in a Website, functions and options in an application, as well as a computerized part list can be organized as a hierarchy. Despite this ubiquity, many users are not as experienced with hierarchies as some developers might believe; in general people have problems understanding and using hierarchies, which are essentially an abstract notion and not a "real life" object.

(via Adam Kalsey)

Filed in Information Architecture | Permanent Link |

How and Why People Use Camera Phones

Microsoft has researched How and Why People Use Camera Phones. One of their conclusions:

A second important finding was the recognition that capturing and sending has the first glimmerings of a new and compelling genre of communication which, at this point, is fraught with problems. There are obvious implications to deal with barriers to use including the elimination of technical complexity, lowering cost, and improving image quality. Unless and until this happens, it may be some time before a critical mass of users sees picture messaging traffic increase.

(via UI Designer)

Filed in Usability | Permanent Link |

Design Checklists for Online Help

Michelle Corbin provides some Design Checklists for Online Help (via InfoDesign)

Online help systems have evolved over the past 20 years to meet the needs of our users. Designers must consider the content, format, presentation, navigation, and access methods of online help systems. A series of design checklists based on the past 20 years of research are presented in this paper, which summarizes a journal article currently being considered for publication.

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Usability: Business Needs AND User Needs

Keith Robinson talks about the challenges of marrying both the business needs of a website (e.g. branding) with the more tangible user needs (e.g. getting a task done):

One thing that came up last week was the challenge of being able to meet all of the users needs. We work with companies who are trying, much of the time, to satisfy business goals that relate to marketing and branding. Sometimes it’s not clear exactly how tangible user needs relate to those goals as they are often more tied to what I’m calling emotional needs.

Read the full post: Meeting a User's Emotional Needs

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Make it Simple


The economic costs of IT complexity are hard to quantify but probably exorbitant. The Standish Group, a research outfit that tracks corporate IT purchases, has found that 66% of all IT projects either fail outright or take much longer to install than expected because of their complexity. Among very big IT projects—those costing over $10m apiece—98% fall short. (The Economist)

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Achieving a strategic advantage through user centred design

So what is UCD and why should NZ business start to take serious notice? UCD is both a philosophy and a process that places the end user at the heart of the design process.

Read the rest of the article.

(from the latest designindustry newsletter).

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Usability & Web Forms

Creating Bulletproof and Easy to Complete Web Forms

A sample chapter from Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points by Jason Fried and Matthew Linderman.

Filed in Usability | Permanent Link |

Getting creative with use-cases and scenarios

An entertaining insight from Adam Greenfield in the latest Vodafone Receiver magazine in which he argues that use-cases may not always predict the myriad ways in which new technology will be 'perverted' by users...:

The use cases I've seen at work over the last ten years invariably start with a neatly conventional circumstance ("Jill wants to buy a new ringtone") and end in a similarly pat fulfillment ("Jill successfully downloads and installs the ringtone").

I have never seen a use case that starts with a proposition like "Greta wants to sneak out and meet her lover Patrick, without making her husband Bertrand suspicious." Or "Kenji wants his private contact information to be more available to his close friends than the random boys he picks up clubbing." Or "Claudia wants to IM and play games on her computer at work, while making it seem as if she's busy getting things done.""


A basic problem with use cases, and the entire product development mindset in which they are embedded, is that they generally fail to anticipate the larger social context inside which all technology exists.

Greenfield concludes that use-cases are still valuable, but would like to see a "more robust appreciation of everyday life and its foibles". Some creative brainstorming is required. Straightforward use-cases based on existing functionality, or on how *you* think users will interact with the product, may mean that you miss out on some innovative functionality. Go beyond "Jill, the housewife" and "Bill, the businessman". Instead, try creating use-cases and scenarios for "Juliette, the jilted lover", or "Bevan, the office bore".

(via Clagnut)

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