World Usability Day At APIIT: the Chicken, the Egg and the Elephant



World Usability Day is one of those holidays that we rarely here about and don’t get a day off from work. However like Pi day, it comes once a year and people celebrate it. This year APIIT Sri Lanka’s School of Computing decided to host an event celebrating it on the 13th of November. According to the keynote speaker Dr. Dhananjay Kulkarni, the head of APIIT School Computing, it was the only one in Sri Lanka AND Asia. We’re a bit late to the proverbial bunch on this one, but better late than never.

Wait, what exactly is usability? Wikipedia has a detailed definition but in simple terms: it’s how easy it is to learn how to use something.

Following Dr. Kulkarni’s keynote speech, we saw the guest of honour Mano Sekaram, CEO of 99XTechnology give an interesting speech – not on usability, but on what is expected from a new graduate. While outside the theme, it was a fitting speech considering the venue and the audience which mostly consisted of APIIT students.

  • Your grades. Do you have a 1st class or a 3rd class?
  • Your communications skills. Can you convince anyone and everyone that you have a good point?
  • Do you have good set of ethics? You better because no company is going to comprise its ethics no matter how good your grades and communication skills are.
  • Your attitude. You’ll be working alongside a lot of people and in teams so it’s important you have a good attitude.
  • You need to understand concepts. Properly understanding concepts is what allows you to jump from one language to another.
  • You should be able to adapt. The industry changes at a rapid pace and you should be able to keep up.

Following Mano’s speech, we saw Anthony Perera from Pearson Lanka take the stage. “Do you think about your users when building your systems?” he began, opening a presentation focused on showing how handicapped people consume digital content.

An example touwould be Android’s Talkback feature which is a feature that literally talks back to users telling them what they selected. But for features such as Talkback to properly work and allow differently abled people to consume digital content, it is important that developers follow proper coding standards.

After that, Ashaff Hussain and Hasanga Abeyratne from 99X Technology and UX Colombo took the stage. Their presentation, titled, “What you don’t see” focused on how to conduct a usability test.

The interesting part about their presentation was when they took a member of the audience (this writer to be precise) on stage, to show how a usability test is conducted. How a worthless usability test is conducted that is.

After that demo Ashaff and Hasanga explained, to properly conduct a usability test you need to take your big questions and break them down into small ones that users understand. Once your questions have been answered then change only what’s needed, nothing more.

Later we saw Michael Lu from Zone 24×7 take the stage. Michael’s presentation was all about user engagement. He began with a chicken and egg UX joke. In Michael’s case, the chicken (UX) comes first and lays the egg (UI).

Afterwards, Michael listed a few ways in which one could increase user engagement. These ways are:

  • Constant development
  • Have great timing
  • Have some mystery and let users explore features of your application
  • Be aesthetically appealing. This means having not just a good UI but a good UX as well.

Michael then moved onto demo a few devices – Google Glass, which is still in the developer preview stages and fits awkwardly if you wear it over your glasses; a Sphero, an interesting little ball that can be used as an alternative input device for your phone apps (as the promotional video shows, it has a lot of uses) and lastly, a Leap Motion device, which in case you didn’t know allows you to use your hand and finger motions as input WITHOUT touching the screen.

The next speaker was Methni Dassanayake from Hemnette Information Technology. Methini’s presentation was titled “Usability in a business perspective” and it focused on is self-explanatory from the title.

Methini began her presentation by talking about how the value of an item is determined by the perceived usability. She went on to explain that the customer is only interested in your product as long as it’s perceived as useful. She used a story to illustrate this: a client – who wantsan elephant. The client described the elephant as having: four legs, has a trunk, tusks, able to carry a man, and being large.

Image: Tarn Pisessith

As all stories go in the tech industry, the man didn’t get an elephant. He got something that was having four legs, has a trunk, tusks, able to carry a man, and large but it wasn’t an elephant. It wasn’t what the customer wanted. What we learned from this story was:

  • You need to properly understand the requirements of the user.
  • You need to focus equally on functional AND non-functional requirements.
  • Use the proper technology correctly, without making bad things worse. Identify the domain and the business requirement of the customer
  • Make sure ALL your stakeholders are engaged.

The final speaker of the day was Javed Ahsan, a lecturer from the APIIT School of Computing. Javed’s presentation focused on designing futuristic interfaces that not only looked cool but were user friendly and rich in user experience as well. He began his presentation by listing the hierarchy of modern user interface needs, which are as follows (in this order):

  • Functional
  • Reliable
  • Usable
  • Pleasurable

He then moved onto explain how designer’s view are completely different from users view and touched on the topic of Plutchik’s three dimensional circumplex model of emotions. Javed concluded his presentation by sharing videos of Tangible User Interfaces (interfaces that allow you to interact with information physically) in action, such as Microsoft’s vision for 2019.

At the end of the day, usability day still isn’t a holiday on the calendar. However the event had an interesting line of speakers who shared a lot of interesting things about usability. Hopefully we’ll see APIIT organize another event celebrating usability day next year with equally interesting speakers.


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