Wharton Web Symposium 2010

The University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA
July 21-22, 2010

Overall impressions and takeaways

This was an extremely good conference. It was also much more relevant than other technology focused (instead of higher ed focused) conference. I initially went into it thinking it was going to be much like the Penn State Web Conference, but it was very different. In particular, Wharton was able to book two keynote speakers that were worth the price of admission alone – Dr. Donald Normal (founder of the Human Interface Group at Apple among other credentials) and co-founder of Second Life, Cory Ondrejka.

Both keynote speakers gave insight to higher level trends that were both entertaining and thought provoking. However, most of the sessions gave me practical skills and techniques I can put into practice right now.

One surprising take away was about agile development. Cory made references to agile development during the keynote, and the ACU mobile team also talked about SCRUM – a form of agile development. Especially in today’s changing market and environment, agile development intrigued me and I hope to get into some larger projects where we could put some of those principles to use.

Day 1

Keynote 1: Living with Complexity

Don Norman

Complexity is not only good, it is essential. Our lives are complex as are the activities we do. Our tools must match the activities. People think they want simplicity, but they are wrong, as evidenced by the fact that when offered the choice between a very simple product and one with more features, they opt for the feature-laden one. We don’t want simplicity: we want understanding. Complex things can be made understandable: that is the role of good design. One solution is modularity, which is why we have so many different kitchen utensils. Which is why owing a portable computer, a desktop computer, a smart phone, and a pad computer — all of them — makes sense for some people. Each is used for a different reason, in a different setting for different purposes.

Now that material has to be available and usable on a wide variety of devices, what does this mean for designers of electronic media? Answer: It’s a nightmare. You have a challenge ahead of you. It’s better for people, but a nightmare for the design and maintenance staff.


  • Simplicity is in the head
  • Complex vs Complicated (not the same!)
  • GUI – make things visible and discoverable
  • Make it pleasurable.  People will remember pleasure!
  • Memory is more important than actuality; experience is more important
  • Design is powerful
  • Google and Bing homepage have 20-30 clickable things, but they look simple due to design
  • Other devices – very slow refresh rate no matter how fast the connection
  • Make learning feel natural
  • Web browsers – rules of interaction are the same across platforms and devices
  • Smartphones – rules are NOT the same
  • Salt and Pepper picture (one hole vs. many on opening) – it doesn’t matter what I think.  Only matters who filled it!
  • Design the total experience
  • Everything is both a service and a product (don’t try to differentiate)
  • Don’t be too logical – emotions control decisions and memory
  • Logic has to be taught; memory is innate

Designer’s Role

  • Fight extraneous features (featuritis)
  • Modularize
  • Provide good conceptual model; user and designer mental model match, beware of scale (replace folders and files with tags and search)
  • systems thinking – the iPod is great because of the system (device with website with itunes with computer with accessories)


  • Life is complex
  • Tools to match life
  • Understanding, not simplicity
  • Simplicity is in the mind (unix vs GUI)
  • Good design can conquer complexity
  • Skill can conquer well designed complexity
  • Complex = enjoyable


  • What just happened?
  • Where am I?
  • How did I get here?
  • What can I do now?

Smartphone design principles

  • Feeedback
  • Learn by exploration.  No one reads manuals.
  • Visibility
  • Consistency – being consistent is more important than being better (car pedals for example)

Case Study: Mobile App Development in Higher Ed

James Langford & Chad Martin

In 2008, ACU jumped into the world of mobile web application development with a flurry of work over a short few months, with programmers working long hours and weekends to have applications ready for 1000 incoming iPhone- and iPod Touch-toting students. By this fall, the rollout of devices will reach all undergraduates and we’ve identified new application needs based on our two years of experience.

Our case study will compare the two development efforts with primary emphasis on the second project, describing how the involvement of our UI/UX designer from the beginning enabled the vision for a new in-class tool and how the use of SCRUM has re-energized our developers


  • ACU requires an iPod or iPhone for each student
  • They have invested a lot into their website and now investigating other possible uses
  • They demoed a great group discussion app
  • Technology in the classroom should be like a GPS device – you set it and then it’s not the focus anymore (should not be in the way of learning)
  • SCRUM/Agile development was used for 2 week development cycles of “releasable” products

Defining & Measuring Design Principles: How to Quantify User Experience

Andy Jacobson

How do you measure good design? How do you communicate improvement to metrics-driven executives? Showing off a pretty new UI has an impact, but the User Experience team at Blackboard found that it needed more quantifiable data to communicate progress and make the case for investing in user experience.

We will talk about how to define the things that are important to your users and build a model for measuring the quality of the user experience. Context for the discussion will be around developing content (help, documentation, training), but the concepts are applicable across user experience.


  • Provided insight on how Blackboard documentation team quantifies UI for business purposes
  • They use a list of design principles to guide the process and rubric which includes: simple, delightful, engaging, useful, and reliable
  • Not scientific but useful
  • One very useful experience is internal rating/grading and see if there’s a discrepancy with users’ perspective (found out through survey)
  • At the end, we should be able to say, if we do x, y will happen, and it will cost z.

Day 2

Angry Dinosaurs: Accelerating Change and Institutional Incompetence

Cory Ondrejka

The first decade of the 21st century has been a period of rapid change as Moore’s and Metcalfe’s Laws have driven innovation and creative destruction across technology, telecommunications, media, and education. The next decade is going to move even faster. How can institutions and businesses avoid irrelevance as individuals and small teams build on the increasing power and connections available to them? How can lessons from government, the music business and Second Life be applied more broadly in our connected world?


  • He went very, very quickly through reasons why agile development is necessary to survive in today’s market.
  • His talk is worth looking over again.  Mike Brooks has the audio recording.

The Lab, The Web, and the World: User-Centered Design over 20 years

Kevin Knabe

Kevin Knabe presents case studies that illustrate a range of lab-based, web-based, and contextual user research methods. The case studies include:

  • Macintosh out-of-box experience and Mac OS Help
    (laboratory usability testing)
  • Rodale magazine web sites
    (remote usability testing and card sort studies, web analytics)
  • Vanguard’s plan sponsor web site
    (contextual observation and interviews)

Kevin discusses the research methods used on these projects and how the findings helped to shift and shape the perspectives of the design teams.

He presents user-centered design as an ongoing process in which observation informs theory and theory informs observation—a process that produces not only smarter designs, but also smarter designers.


  • Teacher or boss centered design vs. user centered design
  • Audience analysis?
  • A funny illustration he used (from his time at Apple) – a lady was given a computer to set up, she then proceeded to use the mouse upside down and after a few minutes said “It’s easy once you get used to it.”

Engaging the YouTube Generation

Marjorie Hassen, David Toccafondi, Sarah Jacoby, Jesse Turnbull

Penn Libraries’ Weigle Information Commons has assisted faculty and students with course assignments to create video projects since 2007. Our team of presenters will share lessons learned and provide brief demonstrations of the tools of the trade from simple webcam to professional editing software. We will suggest workflows and give examples of student-created video projects in different disciplines.

Presenters will include staff from Weigle Information Commons and Ellen Reynolds from School of Design.


  • View video as a language.
  • Avoid effects to make up for content – it’s like punctuation
  • content trumps production
  • production value influences perception

Web-App Navigation: Makeover Techniques

Hagan Rivers

Has the navigation in your web-based application become a nasty, tangled mess? Are your users complaining how hard it is to find common functions? Are they missing critical features? It’s time to consider a web app navigation makeover.

Hagan Rivers, world-renown expert in web application design, will help you kick your makeover off. She’ll show you how to leverage the major types of navigation systems: global navigation, local navigation, cross navigation, and dashboards. You’ll learn how each type dictates where and how the navigation appears and functions.

Hagan will walk you through the common navigation-system problems and share how she fixes each. Learn how to avoid icons that aren’t contributing to the users’ experience, how to add essential cross navigation, and when to use implementation techniques, such as pull-right menus and flyovers.

Bring a big notebook. You’ll want to capture every tip Hagan has, including how to:

* Use tabs to remove navigation clutter and when they make things more complicated
* Avoid becoming over dependent on trees, by learning when they help the most
* Ensure your local navigation is visible and consistent
* Balance your global navigation, so it doesn’t take over the screen

You’ll leave the seminar bubbling with new ideas, ready to apply them directly into your application.


  • Global navigation – persists in every screen, task initiation, contains all main screens, frequent or recent
  • Local navigation – nav I need here and now
  • cross navigation – not directly related.  like concierge – saves clicks.  don’t overuse – 3-5 max.  must be designed by hand.
  • Dashboard nav – link to screens, not reports.  story telling.  understand what the user wants
  • Icons are better for objects and status
  • most of the time, avoid icons in nav
  • trees – use for hierarchical data
  • pull right menus – buries information. combine items. try to get rid of these and use multi column instead.
  • site map – at bottom, secondary nav, supplement in long pages at bottom
  • tabs – deteriorates as sites get bigger, does NOT scale. color coding doesn’t work.
  • menubar – lessen clicks, down arrow instead of click on tab. well suited for global nav in large apps
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