My thoughts on work and life

Category: My News

UPA Presenation: Future of HCI: Intelligent User Interfaces as Agents of Change

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) to come and talk at their 2nd anniversary party. alongside the excellent Cameron Adams who talked about the design of Google Wave.

It was a fantastic event, with an amazing turn out, so thanks to all involved in organising it.

Copies of my presentation can be found on ‘The Future of HCI: Intelligent User Interfaces as Agents of Change” can be found on SlideShare.

Launch of ‘The Punch’

Last week saw the launch of a project I’ve been working on called “The Punch”.  It was a great project to work on with some really talented people.

The Punch logo

The Punch is an Australian opinion-driven news and current affairs site, that aims to engage its audience in discussion on the topics of the day.  I won’t dwell too long on its raison d’être as David Penberthy has already given a very eloquant explanation for this.

However, I thought it would be worthwhile briefly outlining some of the user experience/ interaction design and visual design decisions we made:

  • The site is about discussion and opinion, so a simple blog format was the obvious direction to take.
  • The classic blog format is one that clearly, in most peoples minds, communicates the fact that the content is opinion based rather than, say, news.
  • It has the virtue of giving the homepage a certain dynamism, as it’s constantly in a state of flux as new posts very prominently replace older ones.
  • It gives the reader a chance to explore, and find out more about, the content of a post on the homepage itself.  This is due to the the introductory paragraphs of the post being visible on the homepage.  The aim here, then, is to help the reader decide whether they wish to read more based on what they’ve read, and consequently give great content the best chance to shine. This is as opposed to, say, a classic news site design in which a brief headline link performs the job of communicating the content.  Furthermore, it’s less apparent change is happening on a site when simple textual, headline links change.   They are less strong, visually, than the large headline/images/content format of a blog post segment.
  • A blog format allows large, engaging images, media (video) etc to be shown on the homepage, further driving engagement.  Again, this provision allows the reader to experience these elements rather than hide them behind a link.
  • The stripped back visual design was very deliberate.  We have a great team of journalists and contributors with really interesting things to say, and we wanted to provide them with the best possible platform with which to have a voice.  Content is King, and we didn’t want lots of unnecessary visual elements compete or detracting from it.
  • Comments were showcased on the homepage, allowing readers to get a feeling for the conversations happening ‘under the bonnet’.
  • Most Commented and Recent Posts modules on the post pages provide an alternative navigation for those reader entering from search etc.
  • The Hot Topics bar is another form of navigation.  It’s an adaptive nav that aims to surface the zeitgeist topics of the day and is an alternative to the standard static global navigation

There is plenty more that could be said, but I think that’s enough to be going on.  I’d suggest taking a look around the site itself.

I’d really welcome any comment or feedback you have on the design, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Oh, and by the way, the editorial team humoured me by putting up a post I wrote on how Google Maps allows you to plot a route from Australia to the US and suggests you kayak over the pacific ocean to get there!

It wasn’t really possible, in the Punch post itself, to give credit to the person who actually discovered this.  Dianne Knott, a friend of mine, was looking this up with me and came across it, so huge credit to her!

The new digital ethnographers toolkit: capturing the participants lifestream

I’m pleased to say that my proposed presentation for UX Australia 09 has been accepted. It looks like this is going to be an exciting conference and I look forward to making my maiden trip to Canberra. The speaker lineup looks great and good to see fellow NDM UX USiT team members Patrick Kennedy and Stephen Cox also made the cut.

The abstract has yet to be posted to the UX Australia 09 site, but here is my preliminary description


The talk will explain what the ‘new ethnographer’s toolkit’ is, and how it can be used to reconstruct user behaviour and thus enable better-informed design decisions.

A great user experience is grounded in the insights gained from understanding users’ needs, behaviours and motivations. One powerful way of gaining this insight is by simply observing users in their natural environment, often over a long period utilizing ethnographic research.

However, this isn’t always possible due to factors such as a lack of time or resources.  In these circumstances, a good alternative is to use a Cultural Probe. A Cultural Probe often simply takes the form of a paper diary that the participant uses daily to record their thoughts.

In this talk, Christopher Khalil of News Digital Media (NDM) will explain how NDM are using an innovative web/mobile-based approach to Cultural Probes (digital scrapbooks) and other research tools, utilising an array of low-cost and freely available web and mobile applications such as Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Dial2Do. He’ll step through a specific case study based on one of Australia’s largest transactional websites, taking the audience through some of the lessons learnt and giving examples of some of the actual digital scrapbooks generated. Advice will be offered on how to analyse and mine such rich information resources.

Full Abstract

Digital cultural probes give participants the platform with which to capture events in their lifestream whilst they happen and also offer a self-reporting diary/blog tool. (Instead of the traditional, more asynchronous method of filling out a paper diary at the end of the day) This ‘as live’ capture ensures a more realistic, natural record of the participant’s life than asking them to fill out a diary entry alone. Furthermore, it closely connects the researcher to the participant since the researcher can also monitor updates to the probe as they happen. Having a digital-only record also facilitates easier analysis, versioning and distribution

An example of this type of study might start with the researcher recruiting a participant straight from the site they are working on (using Ethnio). The participant is then issued with a login to a Tumblr and is asked to use this to record anything they find interesting on the web during the following week.

A special property of Tumblr is that it offers a very simple mechanism for the user to capture videos, emails, images, text, audio and IM conversations as they engage in their normal online behaviour. It also facilitates simple aggregation allowing Tumblr to integrate other feeds such as their Twitter or Flickr streams. The participant can then, optionally, add commentary around any of the items they log or posts they make. In this way, the researcher is capturing the participant’s digital fingerprints in the form of a digital scrapbook or diary.

Away from recording their online life, the participant can capture events on their mobile phone via voice recordings, SMS, MMS or email. These are all sent to the single Tumblr, giving the researcher an unprecedentedly rich tapestry of contextual, in situ information about the participant. NDM are using this knowledge to improve the user experience around several major online presences. Christopher will take the audience through real-life case studies, making available some of these digital scrapbooks and illustrating how powerful their use is, and offering advice on how to analyse and mine such rich resources

digital ethnographers toolkit

digital ethnographers toolkit


Paper or Video diaries and other traditional forms of Cultural Probe are not ideal because they are primarily asynchronous (from real life) and self-referential (i.e. I talk about my day through a frame I think is essential). For example, in a traditional probe, the participant would go about their everyday life and then at the end of the day, reflect back on the significant events that have taken place. The issue with this is that the minutiae and richness of the everyday (despite being potentially significant) is often lost in the edited and processed view the participant takes in their diary entry.

In this talk, we look at ways technology can help capture many of these moments, recording events in the participant’s lifestream as they happen using mobile and web applications. In other words, we are capturing their digital fingerprints. The advantage of this approach is that the recording mechanism is often in the same medium and context the researcher is trying to find out more about (the web).

These tools allow the participants to quickly capture videos/photos/text snippets/instant message conversations/emails/audio etc, they have found interesting and put some commentary around them. This lifestream data can then be used as a moodboard/scrapbook, giving the participant the ability at the end of the day to look back on what they have recorded and make sense of it.

Since many researchers don’t have the time or money to setup bespoke solutions or understand technical details, this study focuses on products which are mainly free or inexpensive and which can be easily configured and setup by even the less technologically savvy researchers.

Redesign of

This weekend saw the relaunch of the new

This is a project we’ve been working on for quite some time.  I’m really proud of the way it’s turned out, and it introduces a whole raft of new features not seen on any Australian media site before. These include:

  • Personalisation through drag’n’drop
  • Cookie based Personalisation, so no need to register
  • Ability to dynamically open sub-sections within the page (for instance you can now have a ‘Movies & Television’ content area show on the homepage itself)
  • A visual take on the news (click on the News Visualiser tab)
  • Improved page layout
  • Rationalised and simplified Information Architecture
  • Dynamic infotips and help
  • Improved, higher contrast font colours and typography
  • National & World sections which showcase the best news from around the world (we aggregate from other news sites)
  • Faster page load times
  • Improved navigation
  • Story pages which use highly contextualised linking to give you access to related stories
  • Story pages which include new site-wide navigational footers
  • Cleaner visual design
  • Improved Search form placement and optimised search results page

I’d like to hear any feedback you have on what we’ve done (both positive and negative welcome!)

Please, either reply here or on the editorial blog.

The Big Move: Melbourne to Sydney

After 2 fantastic years in Melbourne, it is with great sadness that I leave that amazing city and move on. A brilliant job opportunity at News Digital Media arose in Sydney that I just couldn’t resist. So, after a stressful few weeks of packing and saying my goodbyes, I got in the car and did the long and reflective drive to Sydney.

So here I am, I’ve managed to find somewhere to live in Pyrmont (see some pics), a few minutes walk from the new job and am slowly adjusting to my new surroundings. Sydney is a truly beautiful city, but it has its downsides. Transportation seems a bit less efficient than Melbourne, and the bars seem to close early (maybe I’ve been going to the wrong places!). Anyway, it’s early days yet, I’m hopeful that it will come to feel like home.