This is 5 days of in-depth, full-day courses on broad range of design topics by NN/g expert trainers. Founded in 1998, Nielsen Norman Group has been one of leading organisation in the user experience field: conducting high-quality user experience research and provide interface design recommendations based on empirical evidence. During this conference, I attended UX Basic Training, Interaction Design, Human Mind and Usability and obtained UX Certification with Interaction Design Specialties.

UX Basic Training by Garrett Goldfield

Garrett delivered thorough overview of the user experience field and its many elements, such as foundations and principles of UX, incorporating UX activities at every stage of a project; establishing UX teams and roles as well as establishing user-centered organization maturity. He shared various methods to integrate users in design process such as Behavioral (what people do), Attitudinal (what people say), Empirical and Experience-based (guidelines, heuristic evaluation, etc.). He also highlighted important values of prototyping for organisation: to communicate, test, or impress. Another takeaway to address trendy new devices or visual design styles is to leverage human behavior and cognitive (e.g. Perception, Memory, Attention, Language processing) guidelines due to its durability and relevance.

What I found insightful is that Garrett approached User Experience as “totality of the technology, content, interaction, and aesthetics that people experience from all touch points”. It’s about asking (and solving) the right questions at the right time because if you solve the wrong problem, it doesn’t matter how well you solve it.

Interaction Design by Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini

Bruce is the third principal, along with Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman, at the Nielsen Norman Group. He previously founded the Apple Human Interface Group and played an important role in the direction of Apple’s product line from the early days of Apple into the 1990s. His 3-days course covered wide-range theoretical and practical applications of principles, processes, and techniques of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

He advised designers not only coming up with successful designs, but also to develop ability influence and “sell” them to engineering and management. He shared how to establish effective HCI organization structure, increase power and visibility of the group as well as engage in engineering process, methodology & strategy. He explained HCI Quality, Iterative Design Process and Fast Track methodology to reduce time-to-market, without creating chaos while speeding up the process.

What’s enlightening are his explanation on Norman’s Conceptual Model, Information Theory, Fitts’s Law and other scientific HCI underpinning for effective design. Tog highlighted the essence of Interaction Design is Human-to-Human transfer of information in which designer & users engage in a time-shifted conversation. However, such conversation and understanding (i.e. User Models) are often incomplete (users learn “just enough for now”) , unstable (people forget), insufficient firm boundaries (similar devices and operations leading to confusion), unscientific (interpretation often superstitious), and parsimonious (favored extra physical actions for reduced mental complexity). He then explained his Design Model Guideline to reflect user needs, rather than limitations of the hardware or the difficulty of the coding process.

I found Tog’s concept about “Designers as Builders of Illusions” where user experience is formed from an illusion we create, not riveted to the “reality” of the underlying system - memorable. Here, the objective is to achieve “Threshold of Believability” as the point at which careful design and meticulous attention to detail have been sufficient in order to arouse in the spectator or user an conscious or unconscious belief that the illusion is real.

He cautioned against “Average User Syndrome” because such typical users don’t exist and I’m glad that he highlighted the “Great Usability-Testing Misconception” in which testing isn’t to see if you did a good job, but to help you do a good job.

The Human Mind and Usability by Raluca Budiu

Raluca presented her psychology concepts to help predict what people will do and explain why they do it. She demonstrated “False consensus effect” where we have tendency to overestimate how much other people share our own beliefs and behaviors. Fortunately, although behavior is strongly influenced by unconscious thought, it is often more predictable than we might expect. This can be achieved by understanding foundations of human cognition such as:

  • Perception and attention
  • Memory and knowledge
  • Mental Models
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Emotions and design

Those elements could be used to help us explain and anticipate user behavior as well as evaluate which designs work best. In her opinion, one important underlying principle that we can leverage upon is the “Principle of Least Effort”: given several ways of achieving the same goal, people will choose the least demanding course of action and minimize interaction costs in term of Attention, Interaction, Reading, Thinking.