Archive for the 'identity' Category

Women in tech, inclusive design, and the lesson Apple learned today

Women are clearly a minority in tech fields, both in education and in the workforce.  There are a number of reasons why this might be the case, including cultural attitudes, lack of mentorship and outright hostility to women in tech. This post isn’t about the cause of having so few women in tech, though–it’s about the results. People tend to design for themselves, particularly in tech–and this is perfectly expected, but it does mean that with the paucity of women in tech fields, the design work in tech is not often done with women in mind. Testing on people not-like-designers who use or might use the thing you design is pretty much the core of usability.  Given that women do purchase and use technology, if possible it’s worth including some of us in any design team and it’s always worth including them in the testing phase of any product they might use, because they might just see it differently (this principle also applies to products that might be used by children or the elderly or anyone who is a target market for any product, particularly where they are not represented on the design team).  Back to women, though: today Apple has learned about including woment he hard way.

Today Apple announced their much awaited new toy.  As many people predicted, it is a tablet, and they have called it the iPad.  The name has problems, including the phonemic similarity to iPod which one of my workmates pointed out, but more embarrassingly for Apple the connotations that immediately led to not Apple, nor iPad, but iTampon being a trending topic on Twitter and some pretty vicious skwereing on sites like adfreak

Apple's iPad spoof advertisement showing feminine hygiene product

This isn’t the first time Apple has forgotten women in it’s design process, I’ve already blogged about the direction of the clip on the iPod shuffle. Despite the free publicity, though, this is the one they might learn from–being ridiculed all over the internet probably wasn’t what they hoped for with this announcement. Apple may well have had women in their design process (there is a strange kind of groupthink that goes on on team-based design where people miss things that would bee seen by anyone outside the team), but they clearly didn’t test on a diversity of women.

The name of this product shows it wasn’t designed with me in mind, and makes me a little less likely to buy it as a result–this design, like the clip on the shuffle isn’t inclusive.  Obviously not enough people complained about the shuffle, and Apple didn’t understand the need to include women in design and testing.  I bet they will next time, though, and I hope other companies have seen Apple’s mistake and learned something too.

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Social usability, acquaintances, and spam

Despite my many years of internet use, I have only rarely had those moments where I stumbled across something I really wasn’t looking for and didn’t want (and usually because I typed something foolish into Google Images without the safe search turned on). Invariably, what I have seen has been thumbnails and relatively inoffensive–insofar as any adult content you weren’t looking for can be inoffensive (as for what people are looking for…that is neither for me to comment on, nor a topic for this blog).

Like Sara, though, my first experience of the true “Can. not. un. see” moment has come as a result of the 23 Things. I was checking my blog over the weekend, and saw I had a comment stuck in moderation. It was on a post I wrote early in the 23 Things, about anonymity online, and said merely “thanks”. Normally, I would delete such a post as spam outright, but given that I know many people are freshly beginning 23 Things, and I didn’t want to discourage a new user, I thought I better make sure that it wasn’t a 23 Things fellow traveller. I didn’t recognise the email address, but that isn’t anything new, and the link wasn’t obvoiusly spammy, so I clicked on it to see the person’s blog. Bad idea. What I saw was a large, outright obscene image and I couldn’t close the browser tab fast enough.

So here we have a very specific set of social circumstances that led me to an unlikely behaviour, and had decidedly unpleasant results–it is easy to see how spammers, scammers, and phishers do their nefarious work. Trust and identity are important features of online social media, but it they are a hard thing to negotiate, and breaking this trust (as my commenter did over the weekend) has severely negative consequences. These negative consequences include the personal negative responses like I had yesterday, the time many of us (including me) spend moderating their blogs so other people don’t have to be offended, and so that such material is not linked from a professional platform, and the bandwidth cost associated with viewing unwanted images or other media.

What is the solution to these antisocial behaviours leading to bad user experience? One possibility is to never click on or approve anything from anyone we don’t know for certain, but to me this denies one of the more interesting possibilities on the web: meeting new people and ideas. Alternatively we could decide not to moderate, and risk unsavoury links being added to our social spaces without our permission, however this gives the spammers even more advertising (and I’m glad I am the only person who had to see what I saw). Being careful seems a happy medium, with a low rate of failure, but it is not always effective, and it would be nice if some of it could be automated. Since it isn’t, though, I urge all my readers to be careful out there, because once something is seen, you can’t unsee it. Does anyone have any better suggestions for dealing with this problem?


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If it is your first time posting, your comment will automatically be held for my moderation -- I try get to these as soon as possible. After that, your comments will appear automatically. If your comment is on-topic and isn't abusing me or anyone else who comments, chances are I'll leave it alone. That said, I reserve the right to delete (or infinitely moderate) any comments that are abusive, spammy or otherwise irelevant.