Practice: whiteboard

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 42
Digital Citation

There once was a whiteboard in verse…

Elizabeth Buie

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As I write these words, this column has just marked its fifth anniversary. The first Whiteboard, "That Just Drives Me Nuts!" (January-February 2000), involved a group of contributors who responded to an invitation to write about a software feature that tempted them to scream at the screen or tear their hair out.

For this issue I decided to evoke whimsy instead, and invite poetry—haiku and limericks—about usability or interaction design. The responses fell neatly into six categories, the first of which addresses, serendipitously for the theme of this issue of <interactions>, the clash of professions that contribute to the interactive nature of technology.

From interaction designers (IxD) to user interface (UI) programmers to human factors (HF) engineers to usability testers, the variety of specialties involved in designing, developing, and evaluating interactive technologies inspired these contributions.

  • advanced form controls
  • javascripting hacks abound
  • please extend the set
  • —William Pawlak
  • A designer who hailed from Lahore
  • Found interface work quite a bore.
  • "Enough of this trash!
  • I'll increase my cash—
  • "Interaction Design" brings in more!"
  • —Gerard Torenvliet
  • Is IxD really the rage,
  • Or is HF or UI more sage?
  • Our faces look glum,
  • And we all sound just dumb
  • When our names aren't on the same page.
  • —Gerard Torenvliet

Process. Contributors interested in process focused on the human aspects, primarily on paying appropriate attention to users and to clients.

  • An interface must be defined
  • And created with users in mind.
  • Don't be resistant—
  • Just be more consistent!
  • Then it won't have to be redesigned.
  • —Karen M. Russell
  • Though blessed with tremendous ability,
  • Our designer lacked tact and humility.
  • His work's usability,
  • Was canned, in futility,
  • By clients—with great incivility.
  • —Paul Mills
  • How will it be used?
  • Designers listen and learn—
  • Unlock problems soon.
  • —Paul Mills
  • Impatient clients—
  • Usability takes time.
  • Oyster sand forms pearl.
  • —Paul Mills

Feature Overload. Several contributors wrote about feeling overwhelmed by features, sometimes to the point of being unable to find basic functions and always to the point of being less effective and efficient in doing the work. "Wouldn't it be a better world," they ask, "if our applications were made to do only what we want, instead of everything???" I found it interesting that all of the contributions in this category took the form of haiku.

  • Trying my patience,
  • this tool makes more work for me.
  • I will stop trying.
  • —Gerhard A. Harrop
  • Cannot help thinking:
  • this would have been easy with
  • pencil and paper.
  • —Bruce Allen
  • Customization,
  • Tons of capabilities...
  • Performance problems.
  • —Bonnie Harvey
  • So many options—
  • How will I remember them?
  • Truly, less is more.
  • —Gerhard A. Harrop
  • Buried treasure is
  • fine if you are a pirate,
  • not a computer.
  • —Gerhard A. Harrop
  • Overdone UI
  • Crystal gems and gilded chrome
  • Where's the Help button?
  • —Rick Gutleber

Annoying Features. Sometimes it seems that technology wants to bend us to its will rather than supporting us in achieving our goals.

  • My fingers are tired and bleeding
  • And my interest is quickly receding
  • It makes me so mad, to
  • Skip over this ad so
  • I can get to the story I'm reading
  • —Ralph R. Miller
  • Arrow key, highlight
  • for context-sensitive help;
  • paperclip banished.
  • —Bruce Allen
  • This software product is broken—
  • The programmers had to be jokin'!
  • But if your endeavour
  • Needs a suicide letter,
  • Then Clippy will help you to write one.
  • —Evan Golub

Standards Violation. Other contributors lament that some designers seem clueless about best practice and have a propensity to follow their own whims.

  • There once was a programmer named Fred,
  • Whose backgrounds were all shades of red.
  • But his texts were in green
  • And could barely be seen—
  • He should have used pastels instead.
  • —Robert Mornington
  • A keen young consultant named Dick
  • Loved getting his users to click,
  • He got into trouble:
  • Instead of just double,
  • He'd have them click thrice—what a trick!
  • —Robert Mornington

Results Unexpected. Still, some things do make us want to scream at the screen or tear our hair out...

  • The worst of both worlds:
  • it takes forever to run,
  • then gives wrong results.
  • —Gerhard A. Harrop
  • Hand twitches
  • Pointer wild on screen
  • Cursed mouse!
  • —Al True
  • I punch in my time;
  • My phone will ponder the tones,
  • Then call to China.
  • —Steve Wideman

And Finally, One that Defies Categorization. But I simply couldn't resist it.

  • There was an artiste from Devizes
  • Who built Web sites of various sizes.
  • Some sites were too small,
  • and of no use at all,
  • While others were huge and won prizes.
  • —Ben Hunt

I've been through Devizes; it's on the road from Stonehenge to Avebury.

Next time I won't think of anatomy.

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Elizabeth Buie
Computer Sciences Corporation

About the Author:

Elizabeth Buie is a usability specialist with Computer Sciences Corporation in Rockville, Maryland, where she focuses on Web sites and applications for the U.S. Government. Elizabeth has worked in usability and HCI since 1977, on projects from spacecraft control to mobile phone service provisioning. In her off hours Elizabeth sits at one keyboard seeking to commune with the alto part in the choir's pieces, or at the other seeking to grok the digital images that are mere shadows of her photographs.

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0500  $5.00

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