Kevin Cheng  

Usabilidade.com Interview with OK/Cancel

April 9th, 2004 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

The following interview was done for usabilidade.com, a portuguese site on usability. They will be providing portuguese translations of OK/Cancel from now on! We will also be providing other languages such as Russian and Chinese shortly. If you want to do a translation for us, let us know.

Here is the interview’s English version.1) Please introduce yourselves

Tom: I’m tomchi — the coloring mastermind behind OK/Cancel. I also write the music and occasionally draw.

KC: This is KC in the UK. I draw and occasionally color OK/Cancel. We both write the scripts.

Tom: KC writes the funny ones, I write the ones that pretty much no one gets.

2) How do you first began to gain interest on the usability issues?

KC: Actually, I started thinking about design as more than just aesthetics way back in the days of the ‘high5′ web awards. These were web designs awards handed out on a weekly basis to sites that put effort into creating an entire experience.

Tom: For me, OK/Cancel was the culmination of my lifelong interest in cognitive psychology. As with many academics, my work led naturally into coloring usability comics.

3) What was your motivation to start a usability-related comic?

KC: I’ve been trying to do comic books for years with various collaborators. In the end, I could never get past the first few pages. Finally, I decided that a comic strip would be more achievable. I had to choose a topic and decided it should be about something I knew well. Not that I think I know a lot about HCI, but I knew more about it than say, cooking.

Anyway, I probably would have procrastinated on the idea forever. I messaged Tom with the idea in the summer of 03 just to get some ideas. A month later, he messaged me with, “Yo, so when are we gonna start this comic?”

“‘We?’” I thought… and then a split second later followed with, “um, how about now?”

So Tom basically kicked it into gear and made the concept into reality.

Tom: Actually our cooking comic was a total flop. Also, I originally wanted to call our HCI comic: USATRON3000, which makes no sense.

4) Have you got interesting feedback on a particular strip?

KC: Joel Spolsky from joelonsoftware.com was the first big name to give us feedback on our site but Don Norman was the first to actually leave a comment.

Tom: Also the first to argue with us! He debated a new product evaluation methodology that I developed.

KC: Since then, we’ve had input from many industry people. Notably, my four-part article on HCI gurus brought in some interesting feedback. Probably the most amusing was my claim that Nielly (a.k.a. Jakob Nielsen) used a bunch of random statistics, which he replied to, with… a bunch of random statistics!

5) What are your favourite or funniest strips?

Tom: The ones which exhibit excellent color, light and mood.

KC: He means the ones with astounding line work and camera angles. Hehe. More seriously though, I like a lot of them for different reasons. I think the “Budget Usability” and “First Things First” are our funniest but I’m proud of some others for the art or satire aspects.

Tom: Humor-wise, I think we have an advantage since the entire idea of making a comic strip completely devoted to usability is already pretty ridiculous.

6) You have been adding a series of features to the site lately, such as news, jobs and forums. What are you trying to turn www.ok-cancel.com into?

Tom: OK/Cancel is clearly a portal play: your one-stop-shop-on-the-net!

KC: I thought we were a social network.

Tom: Oh. That too… A social portal play network.

KC: We’re not trying to be anything more than a place for HCI to have
fun. People have associated usability with a lot of things, but fun isn’t one of them. I started working in this field because I was excited by it and I think we want to give that excitement back and laugh at ourselves at the same time.

7) How did you feel when you first entered the realms of userati?

Tom: Quite l33t.

KC: We’re at the bottom of it so I don’t know that we feel all that great about it. In fact, we’re sending a nasty letter to Mcevoy now …

8) What do you think of usabilty gurus?

KC: Well ….

Tom: Here we go again ….

KC: The horse is dead, yet I still hear the beat. It’s probably better for you to check out our “Nothin’ But a UCD Thang” series. It sounds better as a comic.

9) Are you particulary fond of a usability guru’s view?

KC: I’m a big fan of Tomís views.

Tom: KC is a usability guru that I rarely disagree with… since he has the password to our server.

10) What lies ahead of you? Where are you heading?

Tom: I’ve been working on our global marketing and branding strategy. I was going to say that we would become a huge multinational conglomerate … but I suppose we already are multinational. I guess we just need to work on the conglomerating. All in all, we definitely have a lot of ideas for OK/Cancel… like reducing costs by hiring low-cost Asian versions of ourselves. Actually that makes no sense, because we already ARE low-cost Asian versions of ourselves. As for where we are headed: we are headed to CHI2004 next month in Vienna. Everyone should come meet us!

11) Where do you think usability as an engineering science is going?

KC: I think the industry will continue to gain recognition as an important part of designing a product, whether it’s a car or a software application. The pure usability professional will become increasingly rare and we’ll find a lot of designers and even developers with knowledge in the usability domain. The field is also going to become less academic. There will always be a place for academic research but as companies start including usability, more pragmatic views to the industry will be sought after.

Tom: I predict that usability will come to the fore when people stop complaining about the “hackability” of voting machines and realize that the problems in usability create statistical deviations of +/- 10%. More generally, as technology becomes integrated into our lives, usability concerns will become more prominent, as they may factor into massive social changes and/or life-and-death situations. Somehow we’ll cover the funny part of that.

One Response to “Usabilidade.com Interview with OK/Cancel”
Roomba Review wrote:

Tom said:

“I predict that usability will come to the fore when people stop complaining about the “hackability” of voting machines and realize that the problems in usability create statistical deviations of +/- 10%.”

I think the one thing that can definitely be said about the 2000 voting fiasco in Florida is that the whole motivation to switching to electronic voting machines was to improve usability. Even still I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. Usability might account for a statistical devation of +/- 10%, but as we witnessed just this weekend with the new Internet Explorer exploit that was used to take over thousands of websites and potentially millions of computers - a lone hacker could potentially cause a deviation of 100% of the results.


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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) ?