NN/g News

Websites on Handhelds and Interactive TV?

November 30, 2000

By Kara Pernice

World Tour audience in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane


LONDON, England, November 30, 2000.  In London, more than 350 people attended the Main Event at the World Tour. Like in New York and Chicago, we talked with attendees to see what they are working on and issues they face. In London, one theme that surfaced was similar one we heard before. In New York, people discussed the notion of designing for print media versus designing for the Web. In London, people talked about designing websites for handheld devices.

Emma Charles, a Web Producer at TWI Interactive, a major sports Web site production company in London, said, "We've done some investigation in WAP. [There are] not really enough people with WAP phones. They are expensive and they're difficult to use ." She explained that people are not willing to spend the time trying to learn how to navigate the Web using a phone that wasn't designed for that purpose. She said, "A lot of people are techno-phobic. They want a phone, and they want to be able to use a phone. People outside the Internet production industry don't really appreciate it. They couldn't be bothered."

Charles said that designing for WAP is "not economically viable" because the usability is poor, so there are not enough people using the WAP phones. Thus, the company cannot sell advertising, which drives their own costs up. So, they have moved on from WAP. "We're starting to do some work now with Palm devices," she said. "It does offer the things we can't get out of WAP--advertising and commercial opportunity."

A graphic designer at a Communications Company near Leeds also talks about the issues that occur when the technology is underused, resulting in the inability to sell advertising. The technology they are working with will display Web sites on the television . "TV is going to be sent over telephone lines...a new DSL line, so it doesn't affect the telephone," she said. "Can get their Internet through the TV, though a lower standard." A major challenge she discussed is the connection speed, and no less important is how this will affect pricing, potential revenue, and how these relate to usability. "They've got a whole area dedicated to shops. People have become advertising numb. It's going to be a challenge because a large amount of money comes from advertising."

In addition to these monetary issues, a usability engineer at a communications company in the London area learned some interesting things about usability of the WAP technologies. "We deal with all communication tools within the European region. What I've done is developed WAP guidelines." Based on her criteria, she said, "We evaluated a few WAP phones...We haven't found anything too positive. It wasn't too promising." She explained why one of the phones was difficult to use. "On the Sony phone, the navigation is the jog dial and it's hard to use because of the placement of the jog dial and the size of the phone. The phone is very small. Small has a hindrance on the use of the Web. Because it's so small, you have to use two hands...and there are other problems. Deciding the content structure accessing via WAP is quite complex, at the moment, hard for users to understand."

While substandard usability was the norm, she did find a few positive things "On the Sony phone the font is clear. It's fast. There are good things. Really attractive phone...nifty and cute." But, like Emma Charles' team, they too have moved on from WAP. "We just completed the WAP study and we're on to PDA's now. We've just really started that study. PDA's are really two-handed devices as opposed one handed, and we really want a one-handed device."

While several more people talked about the challenges with designing Web sites for devices other than the traditional PC, these same people are still able to effectively apply proven usability methods to their design processes. The most common method discussed was very early and frequent prototyping and lab testing . Marianne Johansen, a project leader and senior consultant at Objectware AS, a software consulting company in Norway says early prototyping is the key to delivering products on time and motivating her team. "They [the team-members] feel content because they are not afraid about the user. We will finish the project in time because we did this testing. We presented the prototype early and tested it. So they are sure that the user will be excited, that they will take it and buy it. And that is motivating." she said. It was difficult to get the momentum going in the beginning, however. She explained, "With the first prototype, he [the developer] wanted to wait and wait. He kept wanting to fix things. I said, 'No, we are testing.' In the first test, in fifteen minutes, he saw a solution to a problem he had been having. You have to drag the first prototype, but after the first one, it got very easy. He was thinking, 'Will the user do that or that?'"


Alfred Himmelweiss, Lead interface designer at Intershop, an e-commerce software company in Berlin has also had much success with early prototypes. "We just start with paper because it is so easy. You can print it out. Then we do a Flash prototype. I see benefits in doing paper and in Flash. Flash is more real and you have to think deeper to make it. In paper, you can say to the user 'it will work.' In Flash you have to think about it." After they build the prototype, paper or electronic, they test it. "We make something, we test, we discuss it with developers, then we change it. It's a process. We make something, we look at it, we make use cases, we make test tasks, test, then change the design--again and again."