Adventures at the Spring 2017 Library Hackathon

This year I participated in an event called HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, which was organized by the University Library. This interdisciplinary hackathon brought together participants and judges from a variety of fields.

This event is different than your average campus hackathon. For one, it’s about expanding humanities knowledge. In this event, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — typically affiliated with the iSchool in some way — spend a few weeks working on data-driven projects related to humanities research topics. This year, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we looked at data about a variety of facets of university life provided by the University Archives.

This was a good experience. We got firsthand experience working with data; though my teammates and I struggled with OpenRefine and so we ended up coding data by hand. I now way too much about the majors that are available at UIUC and how many majors have only come into existence in the last thirty years. It is always cool to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

The other big challenge we had was not everyone on the team had experience with design, and trying to convince folks not to fall into certain traps was tricky.

For an idea of how our group functioned, I outlined how we were feeling during the various checkpoints across the process.

Opening:

We had grand plans and great dreams and all kinds of data to work with. How young and naive we were.

Midpoint Check:

Laura was working on the Python script and sent a well-timed email about what was and wasn’t possible to get done in the time we were given. I find public speaking challenging so that was not my favorite workshop. I would say it went alright.

Final:

We prevailed and presented something that worked in public. Laura wrote a great Python script and cleaned up a lot of the data. You can even find it here. One day in the near future it will be in IDEALS as well where you can already check out projects from our fellow humanities hackers.

Key takeaways:

  • Choose your teammates wisely; try to pick a team of folks you’ve worked with in advance. Working with a mix of new and not-so-new people in a short time frame is hard.
  • Talk to your potential client base! This was definitely something we should have done more of.
  • Go to workshops and ask for help. I wish we had asked for more help.
  • Practicing your presentation in advance as well as usability testing is key. Yes, using the actual Usability Lab at Scholarly Commons is ideal but at the very least take time to make sure the instructions for using what you created are accurate. It’s amazing what steps you will leave off when you have used an app more than twice. Similarly make sure that you can run your program and another program at the same time because if you can’t chances are it means you might crash someone’s browser when they use it.

Overall, if you get a chance to participate in a library hackathon, go for it, it’s a great way to do a cool project and get more experience working with data!

Review: Don’t Make Me Think Revisited

Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug  is yet another updated classic available at Scholarly Commons and online as an e-book. Steve Krug of Advanced Common Sense talks about usability, which he defines as when “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” (Krug 2014). Clearly inspired by The Design of Everyday Thingsthis short book is funny, full of examples, and easy to read. Throughout this book, Krug hopes to convince you that usability is an important aspect of web design and that doing usability testing can help you create better websites and apps.

Despite the title, this book made me re-think about websites, both with practical advice such as:

His “Facts of Life”:

  1. “We don’t read pages. We scan them.
  2. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
  3. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

(Krug 2014)

As well as his Three Laws of Usability:

  1. “Don’t make me think!”
  2. “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”
  3. “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”

(Krug 2014)

And after insisting that what will work for a website really depends on the context throughout the book,  he did provide a few usability definitive answers such as:

“Don’t use small, low-contrast type.”

“Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.” (Krug, 2014)

What’s more, in this book about website development, he emphasizes empathy and being a decent human being. He describes people who create poorly designed webpages with: “There’s almost always a plausible rationale – and a good, if misguided, intention -behind every usability flaw” (Krug, 2014) He also says that web developers should work harder to make websites more accessible and that  “ …the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives…How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it” (Krug, 2014).

Convinced you need to start doing usability studies? Scholarly Commons can help! Check out more information about conducting usability studies at our Usability Studies page, and feel free to email us to learn more about getting started.

This is definitely a quick introductory read on the topic of usability but throughout Krug recommends a lot of further reading available online through the library! Don’t forget to take a look at some of these other titles:

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works  by Ginny Redish.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett.

“Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” by Gitte Lindgaard, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek, and J. Brown.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers  by Mary Frances Theofanos and Janice (Ginny) Redish.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbery.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.

It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-In for User Experience Research Projects by Tomer Sharon.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

Designer, psychologist, and respected industry expert Don Norman wants to change your life and the way you see the world and his classic book The Design of Everyday Things might just do that. This book is available for reading in the Scholarly Commons and online through the University Library Catalog.

“People are flexible, versatile, and creative. Machines are rigid, precise, and relatively fixed in their operations. There is a mismatch between the two, one that can lead to enhanced capability if used properly” –  (Norman, 2013)

An update on his 1988 book, The Psychology of Everyday Things, this book continues on the themes of designing for human imperfection and imprecision with new examples. Norman makes a clear, concise, if a little repetitive at times, argument for how we can make the world a better place through better design through a combination of psychology research, jokes, anecdotes, and serious industry examples, peppered with Norman’s rules to live by from his years of design experience, such as his rule of consulting: “I never solve the problem I am asked to solve. Why such a counter-intuitive rule? Because, invariably, the problem I am asked to solve is not the real, fundamental, root problem. It is usually a symptom.” (Norman, 2013)

Undergraduate Library

This book is the reason why doors that don’t work the way we expect them to are now called “Norman doors.”  This blog post was made in loving memory of campus’s favorite “Norman doors,” the former UGL Doors, 1969-2016.

He combines psychology and technology in design principles emphasized throughout the book such as:

  • Don’t force people to rely on their memory, which is limited and easily distracted, to be able to use a machine or system
  • Try to make what the technology does make sense to people so they can figure out what it can be used for from the way it is built and what they would know about other technologies
  • Give people ways to figure out if they are using the machine for what they think they are using the machine for
  • Instead of punishing people for making errors we should find ways to figure out why such an error was possible and how to prevent the same errors from being made again

Some questions this book raises include:

  • What factors contribute to creating positive user experience and how can a designer improve products to make them work better for people?
  • To what extent are problems attributed to human error really examples of bad design?
  • How do we better design the tools that shape our lives so that they can be used by a wider variety of people despite differences in ability and culture?
  • How do we counteract a culture that rewards dangerous behavior and punishes people who make mistakes when trying to develop safer technologies? Why don’t more industries have a semi-anonymous self-reporting system for errors like the airline industry and NASA to find problems that pilots are having and improve designs and systems?
  • How do we best combine best practices for human-centered design, a circular process of observation, idea generation, prototyping, and testing, with the realities of the difficulties of product development, including Don Norman’s Law of Product Development: “The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget” (Norman, 2013) as well as managing interdisciplinary teams, which prefer a more linear process?
  • And more!

Feeling inspired yet? Want to innovate the way things are done in your field or at least think about new ways of looking at problems? Here at Scholarly Commons we have books, and workshops, as well as consultations with the experts you need to find the tools you need to clarify and answer your research questions!

Bowker discusses “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World”

On Tuesday, September 20th, Geoffrey C. Bowker, professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, delivered the second lecture in the Design Dialogues Speakers Series at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Bowker’s talk, titled, “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World,” discussed the ways in which Big Data is affecting not only our lives, but is reshaping what it means to be human.

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Bowker discussed many examples of ways in which Big Data impacts modern life. These included:

Despite expressing some concerns about the ways in which Big Data are used, Bowker appeared by and large optimistic about the possibilities that Big Data and design education can bring into reality. Moreover, Bowker suggested that humanists and social scientists, as well as members of the STEM fields have much to offer as we improve our understanding and use of data and design.

To learn more about design at Illinois, visit the webpage for the planned Illinois Design Center, a central component of a campus wide multidisciplinary initiative. The page includes details about the center, information about related events, and opportunities to provide your own feedback.

You can also browse the reference collection in the Scholarly Commons, which includes books on design, Big Data, and many other topics.

-post co-authored with Jasmine Kirby