Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tension between simplicity and complexity

A blog about “The Dirtiest Word in UX: Complexity” may not sound like something related to our work on Synote, but it came to me via the JISC  Rave-in-Context group discussion list.  There are nuggets of interest around usability and learnability and the acronym stands for ‘User Experience‘ design.  Scroll down the page and you will find an interesting comment:

“Removing that layer of confusion to make the user’s goals easy to achieve means making things simple and clear. However, removing confusion doesn’t always mean removing complexity—it’s somewhat of a grey area. Sometimes complexity actually isn’t such a bad thing.”

Later the author writes…”Comparing the context and purpose to other sites reveals more about the apparent simplicity of Google. Google is a search engine whereas Yahoo! and MSN are Web directories—two different types of tool that require two different approaches to the UI.[2] Donald Norman explains why these other tools seem more complex than Google:

“Why are Yahoo! and MSN such complex-looking places? Because their systems are easier to use. Not because they are complex, but because they simplify the life of their users by letting them see their choices on the home page: news, alternative searches, other items of interest.[3]”


There is then a discussion around the concept of ‘Adjacent in Space and Stacked in Time’ by Edward Tufte


adjacent in space and stacked in time

“Adjacent in space is taking elements of an application and positioning them all on the same screen. Depending on the information and number of features an application has, it can make the screen appear more, or less, complex…

Stacked in time is splitting the functionality up into several screens or layers, like a story being spread across pages in a book rather than crammed into a single long page… ”

The discussion for us is possible around another point…

“Using techniques like onboarding to simplify an experience are important, but should be carefully implemented. There should be consideration for the posture of the application or website. If the user is going to be using it often and for longer periods of time (sovereign), then the onboarding help should be able to be turned off or gradually be removed as the user grows. If users rarely visit and only for a short period (transient) this type of interface would continue to be helpful, rather than a hindrance.”

Update on work in hand

Whilst going over the decisions made at the previous meeting it was clear that many issues were arising and Yunji mentioned that it would be helpful to divide up the concerns under Look&Feel  and Functionality.   The resulting picture developed with the priority being set to find an easier way of uploading media.

aluiar plan

Synote - possible changes

This is to be followed by a way of making it easier to work within the Player, first as someone who is just viewing, listening, annotating and exporting media and then, as a separate process, as one who edits and analyses media.   This is where the colour coding, conventions and more detailed transcript editing takes place.

The look and feel changes include a step by step approach beginning with instructions appearing on the home page.  Better filters for search and more guidance on other pages as the user progresses.  Page name changes and other items are going to be added as we work through each section in a similar fashion to the way the interviews were carried out.

Changes will be shown at the design stage on the blog so they can be agreed by members of the team and others using Synote.

2nd ALUIAR meeting, 11th July 2011

Those attending were Mike Wald(MW) Lester Gilbert (LG), Garry Wills (GW), Seb Skuse (SS), Yunjia Li (YL), Mary Gobbi (MG), Lisa Roberts (LR), Debbie Thackray (DT) and E.A. Draffan (EA)


Apologies were received from Lisa Harris

Review of work to date

In the interim EA has met up with 5 Synote users (3 from the team) and collected the scores mentioned in the previous blog along with issues that particularly worried most researchers. More interviews are planned.

Synote page scores

Synote page scores 1-6 (excellent) completed by 4 users

There was a lively debate around these issues and it was agreed that the key problem was the uploading of media such as video and audio files ready for transcription. DT had had a particularly difficult time with her research material that needed to be secure as it related to patient data and setting aside an area which allowed DT to make a URL to go into the Synote ‘create recording’ area had proved to be quite difficult. YL agreed to look into this and help Debbie as well as plan a way of solving the problem – initially for Southampton researchers.

Uploading a file to a server and Synote

Uploading a file to a server and Synote

It is also possible to install Synote on an organisation’s server to solve the problem of sensitive data – MG has agreed to check the possibility of using a Virtual Private Network to access the department’s secure server. There was also the debate about using the ePrints API.

There needs to be guidance visible on the Synote interface such as clear steps for file uploads and better error and login feedback notification.


EA will contact Ed Fynn to help with easy guidance for uploading media files.

Transcriptions – Conventions

transcription conventions

Transcription conventions

MG provided the team with three documents to explain why it would be helpful to have some conventions available within Synote as well as the ability to colour code transcriptions.

Different colours for the various speakers may be difficult if required automatically.  Colours options for various themes was another request.
Synote can achieve the pausing in the annotations and comments



Terms and conditions – need to have different permissions for public and private data – check box.


miifigureThis persona (KT) has been built up from the comments gained from the interviews.

KT wishes to cut down the time spent on transcriptions when using Synote and finds the present design is hampering progress. Relatively accurate transcriptions  are required and a way of exporting  text and audio sections to make them accessible to all.  Ideally there needs to be a way of seeing who is speaking with colour coding and to be able to save annotations with some conventions to a different file format.   The annotations need to be tagged for the various themes and linked in some way to other interviews so that when a search is undertaken the various themes appear as a collection.  KT admitted finding the uploading of files difficult and felt that each time the system was visited there was some learning to be done!

Storyboarding new ideas for Synote

MG to storyboard qualitative methods and send them to us for plan views.
SS and YL to to storyboard initial interface ideas.


Holiday times discussed

Next Meeting

Doodle URL to be sent to the team.

Agenda for the 2nd ALUIAR meeting

The second ALUIAR meeting will be held at 09.30 on July 11th and the Agenda is fairly brief.

  • Apologies
  • Review of work to date
  • Transcriptions – Conventions – Mary Gobbi
  • Persona
  • Storyboarding new ideas for Synote
  • AOB
  • Next Meeting.

So far the results from the System Usability Scale (SUS) – “the ten-item attitude Likert scale giving a global view of subjective assessments of usability” (wikipedia) have given Synote a score of 50 where 100 is best.  The interviewees have also provided scores for the usability of several of the web pages that make up the service.   Score were 1 for hard to use/ awful  and 6 for easy to use / excellent – the average was 2.5 in terms of usability but many commented on the clean looking design. There is a clear need to improve the usability for researchers and the learnability.

The challenge is to solve the issues around comments such as these…

“Definitely not learnable!”  every time you go to it you have to think about it all over again – you have to work out where you are going all over again!”

“It looks nice but not very helpful… I still do not know what I am meant to be searching…. Or what do I do with the advanced search…. Why search when I need to create a recording?”

“Goes to Show recording and it does not click – but I can replay and I have not even seen it for the first time?”

” There seems to be some unnecessary jargon – don’t know what private, read write, tags?  Language – what is an XML file?  Automatic transcription? Raised expectations – press converter and magically it will do it all with no work?”

“What does the ID mean? – this does not actually describe what the recording is about – just says a name… you do not know what it is – but we are not looking for any of this as we want to create a recording.”

“Some of it is there… but you do know you have three steps and these should be clearly visible as per the Olympics – or booking a airline ticket on line”.