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A Conversation with Bill Buxton and Albert Shum; Microsoft's UX Gurus

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With less than one week to go until MIX10, I sit down with Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher for Microsoft Research and Albert Shum, Director of Mobile Experience Design for Windows Phone 7 Series to talk about creating compelling user experiences, how developers and designers can work together in harmony and random Canadian trivia.

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  • Nikita PolyakovNikitaP Nikita​Polyakov.com | MVP

    I wish I could go to MIX just to have a chance to talk to Bill and Albert about some of my personal natural experience dreams for mobile experiences.

     

    Things that have been bugging me for years that are every day things that people want to do with their phone when they take it out of their pocket. Wonder where to have those conversations outside of MIX? 

     

    Nikita

  • I agree with quite a number of the things the designers said. I however don't agree with Bill Buxton's assessment of virtual keyboards. I think virtual keyboards can significantly advance the computing experience by doing effective word predictions, allowing users to easily create programmable keys, and allowing special virtual controllers (such as virtual mice, paint surfaces, etc.) to be created to provide experiences not possible with physical keyboards, etc. Regarding the example of a couple of girls texting on physical keyboards, or people generally desiring more than just visual feedback while using virtual keyboards, these issues could be addressed using audio feedback. E.g. if a user is working on a large desksize touch screen, the user could tripple tap on the screen with his left little finger, and the virtual keyboard could appear under his fingers. Each key could generate a unique note as the user types, and this whole audio experience could work independent of the computer's general audio experience. On smaller screens, the user could tripple tap the screen, then slide his little left finger around the bottom of the screen, and audio feedback could signal him as he moves towards the correct position, and then when he has reached it. I personally think that the tactile feedback of physical keyboards is overated. I think migrating to virtual keyboards can result in user experiences many of us have not even considered.

     

    Notwithstanding what I wrote above, I think the two designers did a fantastic job on the Windows Phone 7 Series. I also agree with Bill Buxton's claim, that you don't really know something well, until you know its limits.

  • Nic Fillinghamnic Easily Distracted

    @NikitaP Make sure you stay tuned to Channel 9 for our Live coverage of MIX10. We'll be speaking with Bill Buxton and Albert Shum again plus lots of other interesting people about design, NUI and everything in between. Also if you have any questions for Bill (or Albert) please send them in to us (ch9live [AT] microsoft [dot] com or @ch9live on Twitter) and we will endeavour to ask them on your behalf as part of the live broadcast.

     

    @PDoug - Interesting idea. If you have any questions you'd like us to ask Bill or Albert on your behalf at MIX10 please let us know (ch9live [AT] microsoft [dot] com or @ch9live on Twitter)

  • I have to say, that was one of the best discussions on design I've ever heard. My background is in mech eng, and this talk brought me back to the excitement I used to have when talking about how to tackle a design problem. I can't wait to hear more from two fellow Canadians next week.

  • Bill BuxtonBill Buxton Bill Buxton

    Hi

    I suspect that we agree more than you think.  My cardinal rule is that everything is best for something and worst for something else.  That certainly goes for soft keyboards (graphical touch screen keyboards and controls).  The limitation that I was pointing out was the general inability of them to support touch typing, i.e., to enter text eyes free.  The reality is that this is sometimes important.  But by the same token, yes, there are lots of advantages.  Thanks for keeping me on my toes.  Smiley

     

    Bill

  • Wow! It's great being able to speak with you.

     

    I believe physical keyboards are great for old CLI and newer GUI computers. I believe however if you want the best touch user experience on larger devices, virtual keyboards are best. A user can have a clean, simple experience, contending with only one main input / output device - his computer screen. I think having audio feedback will allow users to arguably better touch type on virtual keyboards than on physical keyboards. Users could go into Windows settings, and specify that their virtual keyboards supply audio feedback, and then set the parameters for that feedback. (Parameters could include volume, sound types, etc.) Maybe touch PCs could ship with special, cheap ear buds, that allow only the user to hear audio feedback as he types - and not disturb people around him?

     

    Beyond the above, having virtual keyboards in a touch experience opens up so many new possibilites. (E.g. please see here - which I referenced in my previous message.) The user could e.g. use a wizard to easily define a variety of keyboard layouts. The user could use a wizard to create programable keys that define the keys, and the macros they run. The user could easily gain access to different character sets - e.g. Roman, Asian, Russian character sets. Non-Roman character sets could be more effectively laid out for the user - rather than be shoe horned into physical keyboard layouts designed for Roman letters. The user could eaily include custom key characters into a virtual keyboard layout. I could go on and on.

     

    I'm glad to see design finally reaching prominence at MS. I believe design (around touch computing) is MS' best hope to re-vitalize its Windows and other platforms in the eyes of users, making it also the preferred platform for developing applications by programmers - over the browser.

  • Bent Rasmussenexoteric stuck in a loop, for a while

    I'm very much looking forward to seeing what these wizards have done with Windows Mobile 7 hands-on and what they will do with Windows 8. I'm only sorry that the slow phones we have at work will not be up to spec with Windows Mobile 7; but it's great that Microsoft will set good hardware requirements; it just plain sucks to get an under spec'd phone with great software - there has to be a shared responsibility between hardware and software. In general I like the trend Microsoft is laying out wrt requirements and measuring performance. Both for things like audio quality, driver verification, windows experience index (lowest common denominator - no bottlenecks allowed), etc. It's really great to see that Microsoft stimulates quality and measures performance something that is often lacking in this fast-paced world of ours.

  • It was great seeing Bill at MIX this year.  I sat in on the Hour with Bill Buxton session and walked away with a lot of great concepts.  I was hoping to hear a little bit more about the BXT (Business, Experience, and Technology) concept though.  I see a lot of design done before technology is ever pulled into the mix and many projects seem to fail because of it (I would imagine that the opposite would be true at a technology company like Microsoft where technology may come first).

    I am hoping that Bill reads this and can clarify a few things for me.  These were some of the questions I came up with thinking through everything said.

    What does the collaboration process look like using a BXT approach?  Would you say that all three of those disciplines are included on the design team? If not, where do they fit into the design process?

    Hearing more about design at MIX, it seems to raise a bigger question in my mind about who the designer actually is.  At the conference and in the context of most website projects, the designer seems to be the person who has an art background and essentially creates the visual and verbal message communicated on a website.

    When developing enterprise applications where an established look and feel is already in place, who is the designer on that project? The only roles I see are the business stakeholders, business or systems analyst, and technology.  The business analyst would be the one gathering the requirements, writing out the business rules, and designing a solution.  Would they be considered a designer?  The Software Engineers create system designs, class/object design, etc… On a purely technical project, would they be the designer? Is the term designer used too loosely in general with web projects? Should we be calling them artistic designers instead?

    An article (http://betterthanarobot.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/bill-buxtons-advice/) that quotes one of your session’s at MIX starts by saying, “Designers are owners of product and negotiators”.  On most projects, I have seen the project manager being in the neutral position playing the role as negotiator and the business as the true product owner deciding product features based on resources and needs.  All specialties seem to have their bias being the most important or leading role in a project.  Aren’t designers just as lowly as everyone else?

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