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EasyChart: a Usability Teaching Tool to Demonstrate Interface Design from Hell


Do you have students or programmers who don't quite seem to "get" the importance of following the rules to  make an interface that is easy for the end user to deal with? Maybe you should make them use EasyChart. Created as an educational tool to deliberately break every design usability rule, it just might lead to an "a-ha" awakening. Eliana Stavrou walks you through some telling examples from the program.

Author Info:
By: Eliana Stavrou
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 19
March 08, 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · EasyChart: a Usability Teaching Tool to Demonstrate Interface Design from Hell
  2. · Demonstration
  3. · Help Documentation
  4. · Build a chart

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EasyChart: a Usability Teaching Tool to Demonstrate Interface Design from Hell
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Introduction

Most of the time we hear about disciplines and guidelines that we must use to do this and that, without having any actual proof of the results whatsoever or even an example as to how to apply these practices. Being a computer-science graduate, I hated when I had to learn all the theorems which had no immediate practical applicability, because I could not make an association to help me first to understand and then learn. So I spent hundreds of hours on the Internet looking for information to help me on the subject. It gave me a big headache at the time.

In a previous article titled “Back to school – Design Usability,” I discussed the principles you should keep in mind when designing the interface of your site or application. These principles were based on Nielsen’s Usability Criteria, which I learned in a course I took many years ago. At the time, I had no experience with the usability concepts; I created my websites according to my viewpoint. When we learned about the dos and don’ts of Web design, we concentrated on the theory rather on the practical applicability due to the huge amount of material we had to learn and the lack of time. However, it would have been more useful if we could seen a demonstration of these concepts to better understand their actual meaning.

I came across a tool called EasyChart, which was developed by IBM’s Ease of Use group in Warwick, UK. EasyChart is a charting tool that has been designed to purposefully violate well-known interface design rules of thumb (heuristics) in order to demonstrate the effect they have on the usability of an interface; it is not intended to be used as a professional charting application. Best of all, it is free; just be aware that the application is about 11MB (zipped format).

In this article, I will present to you the EasyChart tool and how you can use it to show the importance of usability concepts.

EasyChart Overview

As I said, EasyChart is a tool that demonstrates how poor interface design affects users’ performance and satisfaction by violating known usability design principles. You may implement various scenarios and observe the violations regarding specific usability design principles. Such demonstrations could be used to highlight the importance of usability to a potential customer, or to a student audience. In addition, the tool can be used for assessment and training purposes to provide knowledge and skills to potential usability evaluators.

In order to run the application, follow the steps:

  • Create a new directory.
  • Extract the EasyChart.zip file into the directory.
  • Run EasyChart.bat to launch the application.


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