Saturday, August 20, 2005

China Pulls Ahead of Japan

Content in English or in Japanese is much more common. If you surf the Net (in Chinese), you see a lot of the same stuff over and over again," Yu said. "There's a feeling that there's nothing fresh out there. I think the key to the Internet's development in China is content...cuter games, search engines turning up more sites that were more connected to each other.
Read the full article about the Internet population in China published by ClickZ Network.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Does Design Inform Social Policy?

AIGA London's last event was about design and social policy, - a pannel debate with Richard Eisermann, Director – Design & Innovation, Design Council, James Woudhuysen, Professor of Forecasting and Innovation, De Montfort University, and Ben Rogers, Associate Director/Head of the Democracy team, ippr, chaired by Nico Macdonald, chair of AIGA London.

It was a very inspiring discussion to me as I have never thought of that design could have a role in implementing social policies and political challenges; design methods and way of thinking may offer a new approach to social and political questions. In the US, AIGA's project has had led to re-designing the voting system, but it's impossible in China at the moment. This idea probably is very innovative to Chinese designers and it's still in debate of if it's just naive hubris even in Britain. However, I agree that designers need to think about what are needed in a increasingly compex sociaty. And in terms of China, perhaps the first thing to do is to participate in the e-government compaign that the Chinese government is currently promoting for the digital Olympics!

The event was very successful and well organised in my mind, though David Wilcox may not agree with me ( see his post: Even meetings about design need a designer about the event), at least it inspired David, Ann Light, Kathryn Best and me to do a design salon together. It will certainly be another very intersting place for designers! We will also have a discussion at next year's HCI conference which will be held in Queen Mary University, - also the venue provider for the Salon. I will update information about the Salon here.

Louise Ferguson's reflection on the Design and Social Policy discussion, ‘Who designs if not designers?’ and Ann Light's report can also give you the full story of the AIGA London event.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Does the Future Belong to China?

An interesting article at Newsweek by Fareed Zakaria.
Every businessman these days has a dazzling statistic about China, meant to stun the listener into silence. And they are an impressive set of numbers. China is now the world's largest producer of coal, steel and cement, the second largest consumer of energy and the third largest importer of oil, which is why gas prices are soaring. China's exports to the United States have grown by 1,600 percent over the past 15 years, and U.S. exports to China have grown by 415 percent.


At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Britain was called "the workshop of the world." That title surely belongs to China today. It manufactures two thirds of the world's copiers, microwave ovens, DVD players and shoes. (And toys, my 5-year-old son would surely want me to add. All the world's toys.)


Friday, July 22, 2005

Interview to Don Norman

Don Norman has been very kindly supported uiGarden by offereing his essays being translated and published in Chinese at the webzine free of charge and put a link to uiGarden on his website. He also gave his time generously to the interview - When Norman Meets Chinese... that I did on behalf of uiGarden's editorial team.

uiGarden's readers, - practioners in China and our advisors have also contributed to the questions. In the interview, Don Norman gives his opinion on cross-cultural design and usability especially in the Chinese context.
It is important that a product fit the lives of those who must use it, so products for people in China must fit the Chinese – and because China is such a rich and diverse country, it is wrong to think that a single design can fit everyone. But this is true around the world. It doesn’t matter where a product is designed or manufactured. It does matter that it fits the needs and lives of the people who use it.
and his vision of the relationships between people and technology in the future.
I dream of harmony between the things in our life and the social, emotional, and experiential parts of our lives.
Read the full intervew in English and in Chinese

Ann Light from the usabilitynews has also writen a report for this interview

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Creating Usable and Accessible Web Content

This is the notes taken from Janice (Ginny) Redish's talk at the UK UPA.

People come to web sites for the content. So why is so much content on the web poorly organized, poorly written, poorly designed?

Ginny Redish's had a talk at last month's UK UPA. In her talk, she outlined what users really want from a web page by illustrations of her recent relevent research studies.

She claimed that users go to website because they are goal/task oriented. they don't care how the website is organised. (However, if your site is not well organised, users will not be able to fullfill their tasks.)

There are three types of web pages: home page, pathway pages (where users can scan, select and move on), and destination pages (where users can scan and get information)/form pages (where users can scan and give information).

The web is a conversation started by a very busy user. Therefore, users don't want to read (or think) much before the destination page.

Ginny also pointed out that users want to:
- get the big pucture from the home page by scanning not reading.
- when on destination pages, users don't want to read more than is necessary.

An interesting excercise was used to give explain how web contents writers should follow users' logic. For example, she asked audiences to do draw pictures by listening to her words. She gave descriptions in two ways:
1. Starting with the name of the object, then different parts of it
2. Starting with the parts of the object, then finishe it by saying this is a ...

Whichever way she used, it's always easier if the first description is a very easy word, say circle, rectangular, umbrella, etc. Therefore, she reconed that in web contents writing, we should start with the user already knows or something that lets the users say: "This applys to me.".

In her presetation, she also pointed out that don't just say "click here" or "more" on the page. This has also been pointed out by lots of other accessiblity experts, because for screen reader users because all they can hear is "click here" "click here", "more" "more"...which doesn't make any sense to them. So, provide meaningful contents(links) rather than "click here"!

Some useful references:
On Caroline Jarrerr's three-layer model
Jarrett, Caroline, 2000, Designing usable forms: The three0layer model of the form,

On the concept that web sites have personalities and roles
Coney, M and Steehouder, M., 2000, Role playing on the web: Guildlines for designing and evaluating personas online, Technical Communication, 47 (3), August, 327 - 340.

The AARP study on older adults and the web
Chrisnell, D. and Redish, J. C., 2005, Designing Web Sites for Older Adults: Expert Review of Usability for Older Adults at 50 Web Sites (permanent home will be at; temporarily available from

Chrisnell, D. and Redish, J. C., 2005, Designing Web Sites for Older Adults: A Review of the Recent Research(permanent home will be at; temporarily available from The heuristics used in this study are available as a separate handout from

Recent research on accessibility
Disability Rights Commission, 2004, The web: Acess and Inclusion for Disabled People (report of a formal investigation, let by Prof. Helen Petrie), available at

Theofanos, M. F. and Redish, J. C., 2003, Guidelines for accessible and usable web sites: Observing users who work with screen readers, Interactions, X (6), November-December, 38-51. (

Theofanos, M. F. and Redish, J. C., 2005, Helping low-vision and other users with web sites that meet their needs: Is one site for all feasible, Technical Communication, 52, 1, February, 9 - 20 (

On the IBM tool that lets people set profiles for rendering web sites
Information and a demo can be found at

From Ginny Redish on writing successful web content
Redish, J. C., in preparation, Letting Go of the words, (a book on writing web content that works) San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Redish, J. C, 2004, Writing for the web: Letting go of the words, Intercom, 51 (6), June, 4-10

Redish, J. C., 2005, Lessons Learned from Web Site Usability Testing, handout from a session at the Society for Technical Communication Conference, May 2005,

Friday, March 18, 2005

Current Status of Usability in the Chinese IT industry (Part Two)

(...continuation of part one)

3. Lack of multidisciplinary background.
The majority Chinese practitioners come from graphic design or computer science backgrounds rather than psychology or other disciplines. Therefore, some practitioners still think that UI design is only small GUI, such as icon design. At the same time, most of the HCI research is only concentrate on some limited HCI technologies, such as multimodal interfaces using speech and pen, and software architecture, while paying little attention on usability aspect.

4. Lack of recognitions of the importance and the ROI of UCD from the managing board.
Although communication with users has been assigned high priority, Chinese enterprises rely mainly on accumulation of experience rather than well-disciplined methods for this purpose. Usability practitioners find it is hard to make managing directors to realize that the problem can only be solved by improving the process to make it more user-centred. Designers are not only learning from the west but also teaching them to the business leaders. Therefore, they also require research result in the ROI and instructions on how to popularise usability.

One of the users on uiGarden's English forum asked why there’s so much colourful and animated area, such as moving texts, etc. on lots of Chinese web sites. Are the usability rules different in China? Our Chinese users responded that their boss thought more ads and moving elements meant their companies were more profitable. As the designers usually don’t have rights to make the decision of their design, the only thing they can do is to follow their bosses’ decision. And the Chinese audience seems more tolerant to ads and other annoying stuffs on the website. However, this also raises another question. That is, if users don’t mind, should we still change the design according to usability rules? The discussion continues on the forum.

5. Different preference on communicating methods and interface layout
There are much more users on the Chinese forum than on the English one. Our Chinese users prefer to communicating in public spaces rather than more individually liked spaces, such as mailing list, etc.

Another Difference I want to mention is that left is considered to be more important than right in Chinese people’s mind. Our forum uses a western forum system which has preview button on the left and the post button on the right. However, our Chinese user criticised it as being a usability problem because they are used to click the left button to post.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Current Status of Usability in the Chinese IT industry (Part One)

From the uiGarden project and my previous work experience in China, I have discovered some facts about HCI in the Chinese IT industry. I have been trying to summarise what I have found. I will present them in two parts. Here comes the first part.

1.Lack of expertise for usability and user-centred design methods.

The integral level of usability and user-centred design in China is still at the fledgling stage. Although UCD methodology is introduced by local branches of foreign enterprises in China and has been used in some large-scale domestic companies, such as Lenovo Group, there are still not enough convincing case studies in the industry.

The Chinese IT sector is growing at the rate of 22% under the government policy of promoting industrialization through digitalization. In addition, as the Chinese government gives benefits to software businesses, the Chinese software industry is growing at the high rate of more than 30% every year. Therefore, more and more people are participating in the process of user interface design. The UPA China branch has also formed last year in accordance with the growing demanding of learning usability theories and methods.

However, in contrast to the rising expectation of theory and methodology instruction, there are only about 20 research organisations conducting usability research and there is only limited numbers of dedicated journals or conferences in the subject of usability. The limited existence of this area inevitably had negative influence on the status of usability. Practitioners in the industry are still lack of experience and professional training on integrating UCD methods with the product development cycle. On the Chinese part of the forum at the uiGarden, lots of participators claimed that lacking in specialised publications, swift trade information and lateral communication in the industry, they are finding it difficult moving ahead whilst trying to develop.

In accordance to this situation, our team designed a special column on the Chinese part of the forums called basic knowledge and instructions to user-centred design. This column is now very welcomed by the Chinese users of the forum.

2.Lack of communication between the academic and the industry.

From the survey on uiGarden’s forum, apart from communicating with and having instructions from the west, Chinese practitioners also eager to read research essays and gain instructions from the Chinese academic researchers. They want to not only learn theories and know latest development from the west but also practical instructions on how to do from the Chinese researchers because it’s more fit their circumstances.

As I mentioned before, the big problem in China is that there’s only a small amount of research labs doing usability research. However, the even bigger problem is that the communication between those research labs and the huge number of IT companies is very limited. There is a gap between research and practice in the Chinese usability community.

Apart from foreign enterprises, only some large-scale domestic Chinese companies have connections with researchers in the academic field. Most small to middle-scale IT or Dotcom companies don’t have powerful support from the academic, nor take any research activities in their daily work. Therefore, designers in those companies (and they have taken the majority part of practitioners in China, also the main user of the forums at the uiGarden web site) find very difficult to improve their skills and to meet customers’ needs. They are eager to learn advanced technologies and to develop their skill sets.