The Five most Influential Papers in Usability

The list have been compiled by Jeff Sauro and published on Mesiuring Usuability blog on 7th of July 2010. The article is worth reading as I'm posting here only excerpts without any comments and descriptions.

1. Designing for usability: key principles and what designers think. Gould, J. D. and Lewis, C. (1985) View Paper [pdf]

Two honorable mentions for pioneering work include:

Al-Awar, J., Chapanis, A., and Ford, R.  (1981).  Tutorials for the first-time computer user.  IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 24, 30-37. This is one of the first descriptions of formative usability testing. Prior to this paper most user testing efforts were more summative (benchmark testing).

Shackel, B.  (1990).  Human factors and usability.  In J. Preece and L. Keller (Eds.), /Human-Computer Interaction, Selected Readings/ (pp. 27-41).  This paper defined usability as a function of efficiency, effectiveness & satisfaction (the ISO 9241 pt 11 standard). Despite many proposed extensions, we still think of usability in terms of these three aspects.

2. Heuristic evaluation of user interfaces, Nielsen, J., and Molich, R. (1990) View Paper[pdf]

3. Damaged merchandise? A review of experiments that compare usability evaluation methods.  Gray, W. D., and Salzman, M. C.  (1998). View Paper[pdf]

4. Refining the test phase of usability evaluation: how many subjects is enough?. Virzi, R. A. (1992) View Paper [Paid Link]

Other Honorable mentions in this category include:

Lewis, James (1982) "Testing Small System Customer Setup [pdf]" in Proceedings of the Human Factors Society 26th Annual Meeting p. 718-720 (1982).This is probably the first to use the binomial for usability problem discovery.

Nielsen, Jakob and Thomas K. Landauer (1993) "A mathematical model of the finding of usability problems [paid link]" Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, p.206-213, April 24-29. This paper shows how the Poisson distribution can also be used for usability problem discovery. The Poisson and Binomial generate the same results.

5. Comparative Evaluation of Usability Tests Molich et al  (1998). View Paper [pdf]

Jacobsen, N. E., Hertzum, M., & John, B. E. (1998) "The Evaluator Effect in Usability Tests [pdf]: Problem Detection & Severity Judgments" in Proceedings of the Human Factors Society 42nd  Annual Meeting p. 1336-1340

Note taking and information scraps applications

There has always been a need to write notes and store these unconventional information scraps. Post-it has been long upgraded from a paper version to computer, smart phone and web applications for note taking and reminding while software packages like word or any other text writing application are not suitable of storing such information. 

Such information needs to store more than just plain text. Simplenote recently added tags, collaboration and version history to notes. Of course there are several other, like the more bloated everything basket Evernote.

More exciting are probably research prototypes like Jurknow (development unfortunately ceased) which is capturing time, location, context (thumbnails, web browsing, music listening), and other clues that might help us return to their notes.

Another tool from the same group is It is basically a simple note taking add-on for Firefox which can help with regular note taking and web browsing (a note taking bookmarking). The tool has a place to grow and I recently gave some suggestions to their team:

  • Two way links.
    When a user visits a web site that is saved in a, it could give some visual clue (maybe a floating window, like the one to quickly enter notes) and the possibility to jump to that note. I often revisit sites and such feature could help reminding how and why I saved it. Right now links work only one way - a click in a note opens a web page.
  • Integration with a bookmark manager.
    Similar to the above. If there is a saved bookmark, that happens to be also on a list of notes, there should be a link from a bookmark manager to a note to see maybe a longer description of why it was saved. When deleting a note, a bookmark could be deleted as well (with a consent of a user).
  • URLs in notes. right now saves whole URLs which can span even over 10 lines and take the whole vertical screen estate of notes (when they are expanded). Writing a clickable web page title instead of the whole URL would also give a nicer look to links (URL usually don't tell much about the content).
  • Due dates (reminders, alarms).
    Providing a due date (something like the approaching bar used in Bellotti's TaskMaster or TV-ACTA would be nice.
  • Thumbnails of linked pages.
    Not really necessary but a little thumbnail (or snippet as used in MS research would be nice in providing additional clues to a link.

These are on their to-do list as well (except for the last one) :). I'm eager to see one of the most usable research prototype (the development of such prototypes is usually a very hard one man job) growing.

FormulatePro - add an image to a PDF file

In a previous post I explained how to add an image to a PDF in OS X Preview. That procedure involves converting a PDF to an image and than back to a PDF which looses all the PDF benefits. I needed a quick and dirty solution and I did not dig into other applications which could do a better job. I posted the tip to Mac OS X Hints which received a lot of negative comments :) and a lot of better solutions and I learned about better ways of achieving this.

Among all, I liked best the application called FormulatePro which even provides a simpler solution. 

1. Download the FormulatePro

2. Open the PDF

3. Select File -> Place Image, choose the image and move it to a desired place.

4. Select File -> Save and the job is done.

Thanks all for the suggestions in comments at Mac OS X Hints.

OS X Preview - add an image to a PDF file

EDIT 18. 12. 2010: I posted a better solution with FormulatePro

EDIT 17. 12. 2010: Before commenting - As said at the end, this procedure is quick and dirty adding an image to an existing PDF AND the end result is an image converted to PDF which has lost all PDF advantages and benefits! Such documents are fine for e.g. quick printing. For better results try the command line tool pdftk (options stamp or multistamp), Formulate Pro,  or Acrobat Pro.

I wanted to add a logo of a university (a PNG image) on a document I had in PDF. It is fairly simple to do this in Preview:


1. Convert the PDF to an image with File -> Save As -> ... Choose PNG as a Format and change Resolution as desired


2. Switch to the logo image and select the whole image with Edit -> Select All (Command+A) (or select just a part of it with a mouse if you wish)

3. Copy the selection Edit -> Copy (Command+C)


4. Back on the document (which is now the PNG image!) paste the selection with Edit -> Paste (Command+V) and resize it as you wish

5. Save it as PDF with File -> Save As -> ... Choose PDF as Format (rename it if the original PDF needs to be preserved!!!!).

There are some drawbacks in this procedure (a PDF made from an image is not searchable), but that's another story :).

Hard to download Picasa?

I tried to download and install Google Picasa on Windows XP. It is not such an easy process as it seems at the beggining.

I used Firefox 3.6.8 on Windows XP and launched the Google search engine. I typed the word Picasa in the search box. The Google Picasa was the third hit but unfortunately for the Mac OS X. The fourth hit was Picasa for Linux. I clicked on the plus sign below the third link to show more results from the same server.

The third result on the expanded list (the 5th result from the same server and the 7th result of all results) was which would let me download Picasa for Windows. But I didn't click on it. Instead I went to the page of Picasa for Mac where I tried to find the option/link for other operating systems.

As expected, it is hard to find a download link for other operating systems on the Picasa for Mac site. The link is located on the bottom of the page in a small print. I would not expect it there. I understand why not highlighting it on a page for Mac users, but putting it in the footer (where copyright and similar legal stuff is)!?! And only an option for Windows is available in the small print; why not Linux?

I know Google can do better :). A better example is Gimp search result (which uses Google's capabilities anyway!):

PS: for anyone wondering - the FF and Google are in Slovenian language.