Holidays time offers a chance to catch up on some user experience and user assistance related material. So, two short book reviews (which I considered using my new Tumblr blog for. More about that another time) coming up.
The Art of Community by Jono Bacon
Excellent starting point for anyone wanting to get going in the community software (FLOSS, for example) space or understand how to set up, manage, and leverage the collective intelligence of communities for whatever ends. The book is a little too long in my opinion, and of course, usage of what Jono is recommending needs to be nuanced and adapted for enterprise applications space (hardly surprising there is a lot about Ubuntu, Lug Radio, and so on given Jono's interests). Shame there wasn't more information on international, non-English community considerations too. Still, some great ideas and insight into setting up and managing communities that I will leverage (watch out for the results on this blog, later in 2011).
One section, on collaborative writing really jumped out. It reinforced the whole idea that to successful community initiatives are based on instigators knowing what makes the community tick in the first place. How about this for insight into user profiles for people who write community user assistance (OK then, "doc") and what tools they might use (in this case, we're talking about Jokosher):
"Most people who write documentation for open source software projects would fall into the category of power user. They are technology enthusiasts who are not interested in the super-technical avenues of programming, but want to help out. Many of these people have good writing skills and a good knowledge of using the software, so the documentation fit is natural. With Jokosher we wanted to acknowledge this profile of user. As such, instead of focussing on complex text processing tools, we encouraged our documentation contributors to use a wiki."
The book is available for free here, and well as being available from usual sources.
Eyetracking Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Kara Prentice
Another fine book by established experts. I have some field experience of eyetracking studies myself --in the user assistance for enterprise applications space--though Jakob and Kara concentrate on websites for their research here. I would caution how much about websites transfers easily to the applications space, especially enterprise applications, as claimed in the book too.
However, Jakob and Kara do make the case very well that understanding design goals (for example, productivity improvement in the case of applications) and the context of the software use is critical. Executing a study using eyetracking technology requires that you know what you want to test, can set up realistic tasks for testing by representative testers, and then analyze the results. Be precise, as lots of data will be generated (I think the authors underplay the effort in analyzing data too).
What I found disappointing was the lack of emphasis on eyetracking as only part of the usability solution. It's really for fine-tuning designs in my opinion, and should be used after other design reviews. I also wasn't that crazy about the level of disengagement between the qualitative and quantitative side of this kind of testing that the book indicated. I think it is useful to have testers verbalize their thoughts and for test engineers to prompt, intervene, or guide as necessary. More on cultural or international aspects to usability testing might have been included too (websites are available to everyone).
To conclude, I enjoyed the book, took on board some key takeaways about methodologies and found the recommendations sensible and easy to follow (for example about Forms layouts). Applying enterprise applications requirements such as those relating to user profiles, design goals, and overall context of use in conjunction with what's in this book would be the way to go here. It also made me think of how interesting it would be to compare eyetracking findings between website and enterprise applications usage.