Archive for May 2006

HTML DOM visualizer

Here’s a great HTML DOM visualizer applet that lets you view the structure of a web page in a beautiful, almost organic way. Suddenly, this site looks very pretty indeed:

HTML DOM visualisation of

Here’s the key to the colours:

User testing : quick-and-dirty picture-in-picture

A simple usability testing tip : if you have access to a PC projector, simply project the user’s monitor onto the wall behind you. By doing this you can record both the screen and the user in real time using only a conventional camcorder. There’s no need for post-processing or specialist equipment such as scan converters and mixers. Obviously the quality isn’t as good, but it’s quick, easy and cheap.

User testing with a PC projector

Design funnels: order out of chaos

Here’s a beautiful graphical representation from the Central Office of Design (via Noise Between Stations) showing the conceptual transition from a state of design uncertainty (with multiple possible solutions), through to a single, clear design solution. It’s actually a very similar concept to Bill Buxton’s design funnel; see What Sketches (and Prototypes) Are and Are Not (PDF, 37K).

The great thing about both of these concepts is that they explicitly show that there are mutiple possibilities in design space; that there are dead ends as well as exciting innovations, and that we need to invest in research and prototyping to help us to reach the best possible design.

Punctuated equilibrium in product development?

I’m intrigued to see that there’s a new holding page on IAWiki for Punctuated Equilibrium. Punctuated Equilibiurm is the theory proposed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould that evolutionary change happens in small bursts of rapid change, interspersed by periods of relatively little change (or stasis).

I’ve never heard of this theory being explicitly applied to anything in the field of IA/design/development/technology before, but I’d definitely say that something akin to Punctuated Equilibrium happens in product development iterations. When I’m working on a prototype website or application, it often stays the same for a while, with only relatively minor tweaks and adjustments. Then suddenly (and usually for reasons entirely unknown to me), my whole view of the design can change. The bigger picture suddenly emerges, the loose ends connect, and the prototype is transformed into a very different (and hopefully a simpler and more elegant) beast. This idea also ties in nicely with Dan Ward’s Simplicity Cycle concept; left unchecked, products tend to slowly, inevitably become larger, more complex and more unwieldy over time as features are added. A rapid design revolution or breakthrough is needed to steer them back towards a “simple-but-good” trajectory.

It’s not just about product development either. Bigger cultural technological changes such as Web2.0, or the iPod appear (superficially at least) to follow this pattern of punctuated equilibrium, although in these cases the change is based on a rapid spread of memes.

Update: I’ve just found reference to Punctuated Equilibrium in Jeff Sutherland’s Agile development: lessons learned from the first scrum (PDF, 137K). The relevant passage is:

The most interesting effect of Scrum on Easels development environment was an observed ‘punctuated equilibrium’ effect. This occurs in biological evolution when a species is stable for long periods of time and then undergoes a sudden jump in capability. During the long period of apparent stability, many internal changes in the organism are reconfigured that cannot be observed externally. When all pieces are in place to allow a significant jump in functionality, external change occurs suddenly. A fully integrated component design environment leads to unexpected, rapid evolution of a software system with emergent, adaptive properties resembling the process of punctuated equilibrium observed in biological species. Sudden leaps in functionality resulted in earlier than expected delivery of software in the first Scrum.

I don’t think I agree with his description of Punctuated Equilibrium, though – there aren’t hidden internal changes in organisms that drive external changes. It’s more to do with sudden external changes (e.g. climate, disruption, isolation) driving rapid genetic change within a gene pool. I’d say the analogy between the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium and product development lies entirely in the rate of change and nothing else.

Cahoot redesign

It’s nice to see that Cahoot have produced a decent redesign for their website.

This was the old site:

The old Cahoot home page

And this is the new:

The new Cahoot home page

What I like about the new site is:


I'm Stuart Church, a user experience consultant with Pure Usability in Bristol, UK. Sensorydrive is my personal blog and covers user experience design, information architecture, product design, psychology, research methods, perception and pretty much anything else that takes my fancy! You can find out a bit more about me if you want...