An affordance is a property of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action.

The Fallacy of User Error

On Monday, Feb 3rd we all witnessed a glitch associated with a very high profile app--the counting of votes in the Iowa Caucuses.

In reading various news sources about the glitch, we've noticed all too many people blaming themselves for not being tech-savy. In a recent #HITsm tweetchat, a similar discussion emerged.

People are all too quick to blame themselves for not being able to use a poorly designed (or tested) system. We call this the "Fallacy of User Error."

Usability and User eXperience (UX) from A to Z


An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action.

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Benchmarking can mean either measuring the benchmark of usability of a system, then measuring performance over time to gauge improvements, or using desk-based or user research to compare a candidate site or system against several competitors using a list of relevant attributes.

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Card Sorting

Card Sorting is an important technique where UX professionals engage end users to organize content electronically, on 3x5 cards or "Post-it" notes to identify potential information organization schemes for a site.

Distributed Cognition

Distributed cognition is a notion of people thinking and solving problems collectively, rather than simply as isolated individuals. Those interested in distributed cognition are interested in how people communicate and jointly use artifacts to accomplish joint work.

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Ethnography or ethnographic research, is a holistic qualitative observational study of users in the broad context of their real-world environment over a period of time. This gives insight into behaviors, relationships and other artifacts that affect user interactions with a system. Ethnographic principles have been adapted into other contextual research techniques that require less time to complete. Without an understanding of the broad context of user behavior in a context of use, any user experience cannot be optimal.

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Focus Group

A Focus group is a moderated discussion between a small group of pre-selected users to understand their needs, attitudes, behaviors and get feedback on existing systems, products or concepts.

Graphical User Interface (GUI)

A graphical user interface (GUI), is the visual interface that allows a user to interact with a system using a pointing device such as a mouse or your finger.

Heuristic Review

A Heuristic (or Expert) review is the study of a system’s usability by a user experience professional, judging its performance against predefined rule-of-thumb measures, such as find-ability and learnability. Many Heuristic reviews use the 10 rules popularized by Jakob Nielsen. Heuristic review can be a cost-effective measure used can find a number of potential usability issues in the formative stages of product design/development.

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Information Architecture

Information Architecture (IA) is cornerstone of User Experience. Information Architects create the structural design of shared information environments. Information Architects combine the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and user experience. IAs are often mis-defined by the products of their work (user flows, wireframes, diagrams) and not by the processes by which they create them.


Javascript has changed the web by providing client-side functionality, such as field validation in browsers. User Experience people need to understand javascript, but you DO NOT need to know how to program. In one of our blog posts, we even say, "don't let them know that you can code.

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Keyboard Accelerator

A keyboard shortcut or keyboard mnemonic; a key that acts as a shortcut for a command, such as command key combinations and control key combinations. For instance, CMD-X (or CTRL-X) usually refers to the Cut command. There are significant differences between the interface needs of novice, intermediate and expert users. These shortcuts are often provided to satisfy the needs of "expert" users. See our blog post Shoot for the middle.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

A Low-Fidelity Prototype is a low- cost, simple illustration of a design or concept, usually laid out on paper or mocked up as ‘flat’ screens, used to gather user feedback at the very early stages of design.

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Mental Model

A Mental Model is a user’s internal representation and perception of how something works in the real world. Understanding the mental model of a system users is key to understanding how to design a user interface. An example mental model could be based upon user expectations of how an online shopping cart might work.

Natural language interface

A Natural language interface is a user interface that allows people to interact using a human language, such as English, as opposed to a computer language, command line interface, or graphical user interface. Siri on the iPhone is a popular example.

Out of the box experience (OOTBE)

Like the popular toothpaste commercial says, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." The OOTBE are the interactions and first impressions a user has with technology when first opening the box it comes in and installing it, as opposed to the point-of-sale experience or the interaction experience of an expert user.

The out-of-box experience affects one of the potentially most difficult and stressful interactions a user will have with the product, when the least is known about the product’s capabilities and interaction style. It can also be one of the most likely points at which a user will call customer support, so that improvements in this experience may result in significant cost savings in customer support and reduction in customer complaints.

See our blog post about features carousels -- Does Pavlov Ring a bell?


A persona constitutes the combined characteristics of users rolled into a fictional character.
Based on field research, observations and interviews we create a well-defined portrait of what each member of your target audience is like.

They put a human face on your anonymous user base and promote empathic decision-making that leads to better user experiences.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Qualitative Research is the study of human behavior focused on context and observed behavior rather than numerical trends, while Quantitative Research involves the numerical measurement of information around human attitudes and behavior (both actual and stated).

Remote testing

Remote testing is usability testing undertaken by a participant who is located away from a testing facility.

Summative Usability Evaluations

A Summative Usability evaluation involves recruiting targeted users as test participants and asking these users to complete a set of pre-defined tasks. An expert test facilitator conducts the testing via an established test protocol while the test sessions are recorded and later analyzed.

EHR vendors are required to conduct and report on a Summative Usability Evaluation of their system as part of the 2014 Meaningful Use Certification

A Summative evaluation is conducted towards the end of the project to validate the design against specific goals.

Task Analysis

Task Analysis involves the study of tasks performed by users, including task details, dependencies and frequency. Often referred to as hierarchical task analysis (HTA), its origins are in psychology and ergonomics. The key point is that these analyses are focused upon user tasks, and that the subsequent design should be focused upon solving these tasks.


The ISO 9241-11 definition of Usability refers to the The effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments (ISO 9241-11).

Effectiveness The accuracy and completeness with which specified users can achieve specified goals in particular environments.
Efficiency The resources expended in relation to the accuracy and completeness of goals achieved.
Satisfaction - The comfort and acceptability of the work system to its users and other people affected by its use.

Usability Starts with You. (That's our "Tag Line")

Visual Design

In the context of web design, Visual Design is the practice of applying corporate identity, style, imagery, iconography, typography and animation to an interface.

User Interfaces are more satisfying when a visual designer is integrated early in the design process. Not at the last minute to "make it pretty."

World Wide Web Consortium

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where member organizations and the public work together to develop web standards. It includes the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which focuses on making the web accessible to people with disabilities, including the provision of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which cover a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible.

Xerox PARC

Now know as PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated), Xerox PARC was founded in 1970 as a division of Xerox Corporation, PARC has been responsible for such well known and important developments as laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming, ubiquitous computing, amorphous silicon (a-Si) applications, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI) for semiconductors. This is where it all started!


You can help to improve the usability of all of the products and services that you interact with. Speak up, provide feedback, and support those companies/products that understand the importance of the User-centered Design philosophy. Usability starts with you.


We struggled to find something that started with a "Z" but decided to go with Zoom. With the proliferation of multi-touch devices Zoom interactions have become quite popular. Users will will expect to be able to zoom in using a simple hand gesture, in addition to the standard keyboard shortcuts.

For information about any of these and other User Experience services that we can provide to your organization:

Affordances as perceived action possibilities

Have you ever walked up to a building and looked at the door and not known whether you should push or pull the door to get in? Have you ever pulled on a door only to find out that it was a “push” door?” Have you ever looked at a website or a web application and said to yourself, “Now what?”

“OK-Cancel” or “Cancel-OK?” How about both!

For the majority of my career I have worked on enterprise class software applications and websites that were built on, built for, and built with the Microsoft Windows operating system. Dialog boxes (and other user interactions), in this environment typically have an “OK-Cancel” at the bottom.