Sunday, September 11, 2011

Opera Talks: Yenny Otero

Usability is a hot topic these days – the word alone gets over 48 million hits on Google. But what does it really mean? We decided to go to Opera's resident usability guru Yenny Otero to get the lowdown on human-computer interaction. Our conversation ranged well into other media, however, including the future of TV!
Anna: Hola Yenny! Could you tell us your official title at Opera and what is it that you do?
Yenny: Hi there. My title is Senior Interaction Designer, which means that my job involves trying to understand how non-technical people use the Internet, and how to make a better browser for them.
Yenny Otero at her desk.
Yenny being non-technical at her desk.
Anna: What does usability mean to you as an interaction designer?
Yenny: It's a popular term among technical people at the moment as the new “solution to everything.” But usability is only one part of the whole picture. Before making something easy to use you should be sure that your product is useful and desirable in the first place.
The Man Remote.
The Man Remote. The Ultimate Usability Tool to control your man.

Anna: What is involved for you in making Opera more usable, especially for people who aren't that tech-savvy?
Yenny: We are doing a variety of usability activities, including testing, as well as undertaking research and making observations, all in an effort to try to understand users.
Doing usability testing is really fun! You invite a person to give you their opinion about a new product, give them some tasks to complete and observe all details about what they do and say to get an insight into how they understand the system. Very often their understanding of the system (Internet, the browser, the computer) is completely different than yours and developers are always surprised to discover that something that seemed obvious to them is not understandable for less technical people.
The hardest part is to try to keep a "poker face" because you cannot give testers hints about how the system work so you have to pretend that you also don't know it well and they have to explain it to you, this is always really fun!
And it's really challenging because when you sit with someone in a testing situation, they want to know whether they are doing it “right,” but you can't coach them because your job is just to observe. Sometimes you have to tell someone, “I can't answer that question,” or “I'll tell you afterwards,” because you have to see how they would solve the problem on their own.
Anna: How have you seen usability evolve at Opera over time?
Yenny: There has been a big change – usability was something relatively unknown when I started at Opera 9 years ago. It went from being something that developers were supposed to know about, to something that individuals had responsibility for, to actually having a whole team dedicated to it with all the necessary resources.
Anna: What's your main focus at the moment?
Yenny: For me the biggest thing right now in usability is to understand the first impressions of all products we have: TV, desktop and mobile. Apart from usability, I am also working on the design of our new browser for TV which is lots of fun! I am also doing bits of work here and there for a mobile store and the desktop add-ons repository.
Icon categories.
Designing icons. What should a category icon look like? Here are three versions.
Anna: Why do we need a special version of the browser just for TV?
Yenny: There are a number of reasons, but it really comes down to the fact that TV and Internet are very different media in terms of interaction. TV wasn't developed as a medium for interaction at all beyond changing channels! And now we have put the Internet in the TV, which raises a couple of big issues.
One, there is the factor of physical distance. With a computer, you sit very close to the screen and feedback comes to you almost instantly – it's the opposite for TV. The next issue is related to distance, and that is input. It's really difficult to type into a TV screen, and with the remote control all you can do is go up, down, left, right or use the numbers.
There is also the different use of TV and desktop. A TV is mostly used for entertainment and not much interaction while a PC is to "get things done" ... the current Internet is more designed for PCs than for idle TV entertainment.
Finally, there's the question of public and private. Computers were made for one person (that's why they're called PC's – personal computers) whereas TV is made for an audience of multiple people; a family group or bigger. How do you share the Internet in a group, for example? Alternately, as an individual user, how can you keep your own content private within a public space like a television? So all these questions make it challenging to bring TV and Internet together.
Kung Fu Spank.
The Kung Fu Paddle. Smacks bugs away.
Anna: How do you see TV evolving with technology – as, presumably, it will have to?
Yenny: The use of a TV is already changing as users are no longer waiting for the TV show to be broadcast, but they want to decide what to watch and at what time... we will probably tell our children about those times where you had to follow the TV schedule or wait for the advertisement to finish! smile Internet brings to TV much more interesting and personal content as you will be able to follow what your friends like or even watch it together from different locations. Internet will make our TVs more social, more personal... more useful smile
Anna: Last but not least, the traditional question in any Opera Talks interview. What's your favorite feature in Opera?
Yenny: I discovered that it is making keywords for searches, and works like this:
  • Right click on a search field on a page where you search often, for example I use often tiny URL for making addresses shorter
  • Select the option "Create search"
  • Add as keyword something that reminds you of the action, for example "tiny"
  • Press OK
You will then be able to do a search on the page from the URL bar. For example, I just have to type "tiny" and paste a long URL and it brings me to the short URL result. Anna: Thank you, Yenny!

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