Program dedicated to redesigning everyday things

Rebecca Moidel

A chair. A Web site. A match.

Items most people take for granted. When they stop working, however, it can lead to catastrophe.

Information Architecture and Knowledge Management held an event for World Usability Day yesterday. World Usability Day is a worldwide movement that encourages people to develop new, more advanced ways to improve everyday objects. The promotion aims to make life easier by fixing design flaws.

David Robins, associate professor in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, said the program is about creating awareness of the design of everyday things, from doors to armrests on chairs.

“We’re looking at how you can improve how a person interacts with things in everyday life,” he said. “It’s ergonomics, but it’s also usability.”

The program featured an eye-tracking system. Robins said the system measures how people react to online search engines. The system conducts a series of tests, finding pupil diameter, fixation, XY coordinates of each eye and hot spot analysis. The results reflect common patterns in individuals. For example, when a person logs onto a Web site, his or her eye is first drawn to an image of a human face.

Stuart Gibbs, graduate student in library science, heard about the event from a poster advertisement. He said the poster caught his attention because it showed the user-friendly difference between a long match versus a short one — a short match burns the person who lights it.

He thought the eye-tracking software was interesting and educational.

“I learned that my eyes go all over the place,” he said. “This could help people create Web sites that are in a more user-friendly format, making things easier to use.”

Janna Korzenko, academic program coordinator for Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, said she became involved in the program because world usability is one of the departments’ tracks of study.

“It only made sense that we did something and joined the world,” she said. “It’s hard not to stop and look and understand what’s going on.”

Korzenko said a company that works on increasing usability is Progressive Auto Insurance, which practices it consistently and has developed a successful Web site.

Robins became involved in World Usability Day by teaching usability courses about Web site design and computer software. He said it’s important to ask questions such as, “How easy is it to use a word processor?” and “How easy is it to learn?”

He said it’s essential to figure out how effective the tool is and to make sure it’s an element of fun.

“This is a great field to be a part of,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re now at a point where we can make better designs to tell how people interact with things.”

Robins said he looks at statistics and pulls things to the surface so people can navigate Web sites more easily. He hopes World Usability Day will get people thinking and talking about things they use in life and get people involved in information use, possibly as a career.

Contact Library and Media Services reporter Rebecca Moidel at [email protected].