Tag Archives: User-centered

Travel with Flexible Dates: Flight Search Should Help You

The more I browse other flight booking websites, the more I like StudentUniverse.

People always have the chance to travel with flexible dates: say, you have a 7-day Spring break, you aren’t really strict about which day to depart and which day to return; rather, the flight cost often plays a big role in helping you to decide the traveling date, since it varies depending on different dates.

When searching for flights, if you check the “my travel dates are flexible” box, StudentUniverse wisely offers a 7×7 metrics of prices, corresponding to different combinations of departure and return days that are within 3 days of your pre-set dates. In this metrics, pre-set departure and return date combination is in the middle, highlighted with dark blue color; and the cheapest prices are also highlighted with light blue color, trying to catch attention. With this metrics, you could easily decide which combination fits you the best, in terms of both price and schedule.

StudentUniverse: Search Results of Flexible Dates

Compared to StudentUniverse, other traveling agents’ websites are not so considerate over the flexible traveling needs. They only provide the results of exact dates you offered in the search engine. Want to check adjacent dates to see if there are cheaper options? You really need to work hard: each cell in the above metrics means one round of search(change departing and/or returning dates and search again), plus needs to jot down search history so that you don’t forget after so many rounds. User-centered design is small, but it is everywhere.

Search Result from other Websites

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[Reading Reflections] Use-centered Approach: What and Why?

Reading Material: Chapter 1 of  About Face 3, Measuring the User Experience, Design of Everyday things, and Designing Web Usability.

I appreciate these reading materials since they define the key concept — usability and/ or user-centered design — from different aspects. Why I said it is the key concept for this course as well as for today’s design? Because we don’t lack emerging designs and products in our life, but we DO lack good designs that make us just feel happy when we use them.

So, first, what exactly is user-centered approach? Different authors have slightly different definition fitted into different context. But I think we can put it as simple as “the design that makes people happy”. So just as Steve Krug put it, “get rid of the question mark”! Compared to the bad designs that based on designers’ or programmers’ own view, this approach focused on the ease of use rather than ease of make or ease of code. Thus, it requires designers to understand users’ desires, needs, motivations, and contexts, and put them in the center of the design strategies. Among these readings, I personally like the Cooper’s interpretation using goal-directed approach the best, because it offers a higher and broader point of view to direct our focus, instead of focusing on single task or activity (which might also be called user-centered design!).

Of course, things are always easy to say than done. In order to use this approach in our future design, we need to fall to utilizing the principles in a systematical way. Another good point about these reading materials is that they offer scientific methodologies that we could follow. For example, in About Face 3, Cooper brought up the design process based on goal-directed design; also in Measuring the User Experience, I am glad to find the quantitative way to support design decision.

In the end, I would like to share why usability matters. As we can image, usability is everywhere in our life. From playing a smart phone, or using a microwave at home, to operating a high-speed rail, usability is not only about pleasure but could be about life or death (if you have heard about the tragic high-speed rail accident just happened in China, partly because of bad design of communication system). As an engineer planning a career in usability research and interaction design, I believe it is never too careful about usability. It is about the success of your product, it is about revenue for a business, and it is also about changing the way people interact with the world.