Tuesday, November 14, 2006
When was the last time you visited a website where you couldn't find what you wanted? Happens way too often, doesn't it? Or perhaps you've recently had a bad experience with another piece of technology -- a mobile phone, DVD player, or household appliance that you just couldn't figure out how to use. Well, there is a whole group of people called "user experience professionals" who sit up late at night thinking about naughty technology and how to make it better for you -- and there's even a whole day dedicated to improving technology.
World Usability Day is an annual event that highlights the fact that millions of people around the world encounter technology problems every day, and so promotes the work that user experience professionals do to make technology easier to use. The day starts at midday NZST in New Zealand and ends 32 hours later at 11PM PST in California, with events on every continent (except maybe Antarctica!).
Events focus on a wide range of technologies and users: Not only do we work on travel websites, search engines, and email programs, but we also study how to best support people with special needs (from jet pilots to people with visual impairments) and improve the usability of everything from ATMs to operating rooms.
Google has a sizable team of user experience professionals who are constantly working to improve the usability of our products. We test them in lots of ways, like doing statistical analyses of which of two versions of a webpage gets more clicks and usage. Another one of our favorite techniques is inviting people to come into our labs to give us feedback in person. Sometimes, we ask them to sit in front of an eye tracker so we can follow where they are looking on the screen. We continually take the results of all these study types and make changes in the way our software behaves. For instance, we recently made changes to Google Base and Google Groups specifically to make those products easier to use. But while we pride ourselves on the usability of our products, we know that there's always more to be done. Whenever you have a question or complaint about the usability of one of Google's products, we want to hear about it! Use the "contact us" feedback link within a product's help center, and send us the details.
If you're a user experience professional or student interested in working here, please check out our jobs page and get in touch. And lastly, here are some World Usability Day events which caught our eye:
MakingLifeEasy.Org and Red Balloons on the Streets of Auckland & Wellington (New Zealand)
Navigation in the operating room. An example of a successful design process (Switzerland)
Usability Make-over for Nonprofit Websites (USA)
Access to Books for People with Print Disabilities (USA)
Dia Mundial da Usabilidade em Brasília (Brazil)
Exploring methods for promoting usability testing with elderly people and people with disabilities (Japan)