Tom Chi  

Woah, this is Awesome. (TUBA Update)

October 19th, 2003 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

So a number of people have weighed in on my TUBA model including Don Norman himself(!) Here is a digest of the points so far:Timing plays a critical role in the evalution of the TUBA axes.
As noted by Don, beauty/aesthetics may not be important in selecting web servers today, but if the market were to evolve to a point where there were 50 available options, then beauty may begin to matter. Similarly on the early end of the timeline when a new type of product is being created, you can get away with poor usability and aesthetics (VisiCalc).

To these points, I would also add another. Fashion. Even good products can go out of fashion in exchange for something that is different and not always better. Although some engineers would deny it (they’d rather believe that they have objectively picked the best product) fashion is very much a part of the technology world. Six years ago it was “Push” web content, Digital Convergence and Java. Three years ago it was all about WAP, 3G and P2P. Nowadays it is WiFi, Linux, etc. It’s not that any of these are bad ideas (really any of them could be huge and pervasive), but momentum for a technology comes and goes, just as desire for stone-washed jeans and day-glo tops comes and goes.

Emotions play an important role in selecting a product
This is very much the case, and I had hoped by including (B)eauty and (A)dvertising, that I could capture some bits of emotional response into the score. It is certainly an oversimplification, but it is one that underscores a larger and more interesting conundrum. The whole point behind developing scales and scores of this sort is to take something which is fundamentally qualitative (i.e. emotion), and make it into something quantitative. Quantitative works well for scientific inquiry and product design, because it allows us to measure progress and iteratively improve our designs.

Really it is not useful to say that emotion is a critical part of product design if there is not subsequently a way to use this fact to systematically improve our designs. This is an emerging field, blending aspects of psychology, game theory, usability, etc. Recent efforts to revise game theory to include concepts of fairness have shown that there are significant differences based on cultural factors. Psychology has also produced relevant results, some of which have been subsequently rolled up into advertising parlor tricks. But as for a concrete system of incorporating emotional factors into design. We are definitely not there yet. Maybe Norman’s new book will help.

Advertising exists outside of a company’s efforts to advertise
Frank’s point about viral marketing (and other indirect forms of advertising) is well taken. We didn’t intend to advertise this site until between the 12th-16th week: instead we’re getting a ton of hits which has exposed a number of usability errors (whoops). When I made up the scale, I intended the (A)dvertising axis to represent the advertising effort that a company puts forth to expose their product. In reality, advertising is much more complex than this, and oftentimes is dominated by social effects which are out of a company’s control. Perhaps we need a new term to differentiate what can be controlled by a company from social advertising effects. Companies that have tried to blur the line by sponsoring bloggers to hawk their products have pretty much failed because they are trying to create a social phenemonon. That is something which is beyond their full control.

5 Responses to “Woah, this is Awesome. (TUBA Update)”
Sam wrote:

just something about site usability:

hide/show is a nice gimmick, but did you ever do some hallway usability testing for it?

I had to search, and the only other person whom I saw visiting your page did search, too, for your hidden content “where is this text about the four programmer types…”.


Kevin Cheng wrote:

We added the feature really last minute to manage the large amount of content we were writing for the site and unfortunately, hadn’t time to test it. Hypocritical for a usability site? Perhaps, but we also take reader feedback very seriously. I’m not sure making the link into a separate article will solve the problem, as is seems that people are having trouble even noticing the link at all so I’ll try to make it more obvious.

Thanks for your feedback!


PS. The four programmer types, by the way, is in the previous issue ( here ) in case you hadn’t found it yet.

Sam wrote:

yep, the problem was finding the thing, not using it.

So making it more visible should help a lot.


Sam wrote:

(PS: oh, and we did find it, it’s just seeing that someone else had the same problem like me finding the hidden text made me suspicious - I wouldnt had mentioned it if it only were me :)

SN wrote:

Clayton Christensen (Innovator’s dilemma) has an interesting way of looking at how products evolve.. I believe it went something like “functionality”, “convenience”, “price”.. His hypothesis was that initially people buy products because of technical features (your T) — then when competition appears and the product space matures.. start considering other dimensions such as convenience (he has interesting examples of insulin injectors, disk drives, excavators etc. etc.). Point being, that you should include “price”! Everything costs something to build, and users are willing only to pay so much :)

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?