Strategic Web Usability

A Usability Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, on a small island in the middle of the sea, there lived a princess named Kala. She was about to celebrate her 18th birthday, on which she would have to take the traditional test of princessdom. A small pea would be placed under her mattress; if, in her refinement and sensitivity, she sensed the pea, Kala would officially be a princess. Kala's father, the King, was concerned; being islanders, even royalty on their island preferred to sleep on hammocks, so Kala had no experience with mattresses. The King decided it would be prudent to order a mattress early and let Kala get accustomed to it.

After the first night sleeping on the new mattress, the King came to check on Kala. "How did you sleep, daughter?", he asked. "Not very well, father." answered Kala, "I kept rolling off of it." The King looked at the mattress and shook his head; Kala had placed it on its side and had been sleeping on the edge. "People traditionally sleep on the wider part, Kala." "Oh," said Kala, "that's how they brought it in, so I just assumed that was the proper way."

The second night passed and the King once again went to check in on the princess. "How did you sleep, daughter?" he inquired. "Poorly, father. I couldn't balance properly and kept spinning off onto the floor." Confused, the King looked, and realized the princess had tied the mattress to her hammock posts. "Kala," he said, shaking his head again, "the mattress should be placed on the floor. You use the piece against the wall; it's called a boxspring." "I see..." said Kala, a bit frustrated at this entire mattress experience.

On the morning after the third night, the King again went to visit the princess. "How did you sleep, daughter?" he asked again. "Worse than ever, father." replied Kala "This boxspring is very hard and something kept poking me in the back." Looking closer, the King realized Kala had placed the boxspring on top of the mattress. Patiently, he showed her the proper way.

The fourth night was the eve of the princess' birthday, and the King decided it was time for the test. He placed the mattress properly and then, while Kala was away, put a small pea under the boxspring. The next morning he returned. "How did you sleep, daughter?" asked the King. "Very well, father." replied Kala. The King was concerned, as the princess test was not to be taken lightly. Probing a little, he asked "Are you certain? Nothing seemed wrong?" Kala replied, "Well, there was that pea that kept poking me in the back, but compared to the last three nights..."

Mike Maddaloni

 · Monday, March 12
Cute story, but it proves you should never make assumptions with something you understand well but is new to others.

Or, something that is common to all. My first ever writing assignment in high school was to write the directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When we handed them in, the teacher put them in a pile on his desk, then opened it and pulled out a loaf of bread, PB, J, a plate and a knife, then proceeded to - at least try to - make sandwiches according to the specifications. It was hilarious, except for when he was following your own directions.

mp/m

Dr. Pete

 · Monday, March 12
Brilliant; I'll have to try that one sometime. On the flip side, though, it reminds of Wonko the Sane from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, who instituionalized the entire world (by building an inside-out house) after he saw instructions on a box of toothpicks.

Ron Denholm

 · Monday, March 12
And that nicely segues into the wobbly world of instruction manuals, mostly written by boffins too close to the brilliance of the product to understand how to describe its usability. Then, when instructions are translated into English, the fun begins. 'Danger, Will Roninson!' if the first sentence goes something like this:'Thanks you for the purchased of this excellence audio produce.'

Pete, your pea story Cones very low at 34%, because that's what it is: narrative. Humour genre never rose above 55% in our sampling of 150 examples. But that's the point. Humour is storytelling and Coning identifies genre very well.
Yet, if I wanted to know what the pea story was about, its nice executive summary in paragraph one tells me, because it has the highest Coned result(sans the fun):

55%] Once upon a time, on a small island in the middle of the sea, there lived a princess named Kala. She was about to celebrate her 18th birthday, on which she would have to take the traditional test of princessdom. A small pea would be placed under her mattress; if, in her refinement and sensitivity, she sensed the pea, Kala would officially be a princess. Kala's father, the King, was concerned; being islanders, even royalty on their island preferred to sleep on hammocks, so Kala had no experience with mattresses. The King decided it would be prudent to order a mattress early and let Kala get accustomed to it.

23%] After the first night sleeping on the new mattress, the King came to check on Kala. "How did you sleep, daughter?", he asked. "Not very well, father." answered Kala, "I kept rolling off of it." The King looked at the mattress and shook his head; Kala had placed it on its side and had been sleeping on the edge. "People traditionally sleep on the wider part, Kala." "Oh," said Kala, "that's how they brought it in, so I just assumed that was the proper way."

36%] The second night passed and the King once again went to check in on the princess. "How did you sleep, daughter?" he inquired. "Poorly, father. I couldn't balance properly and kept spinning off onto the floor." Confused, the King looked, and realized the princess had tied the mattress to her hammock posts. "Kala," he said, shaking his head again, "the mattress should be placed on the floor. You use the piece against the wall; it's called a boxspring." "I see..." said Kala, a bit frustrated at this entire mattress experience.

30%] On the morning after the third night, the King again went to visit the princess. "How did you sleep, daughter?" he asked again. "Worse than ever, father." replied Kala "This boxspring is very hard and something kept poking me in the back." Looking closer, the King realized Kala had placed the boxspring on top of the mattress. Patiently, he showed her the proper way.

24%] The fourth night was the eve of the princess' birthday, and the King decided it was time for the test. He placed the mattress properly and then, while Kala was away, put a small pea under the boxspring. The next morning he returned. "How did you sleep, daughter?" asked the King. "Very well, father." replied Kala. The King was concerned, as the princess test was not to be taken lightly. Probing a little, he asked "Are you certain? Nothing seemed wrong?" Kala replied, "Well, there was that pea that kept poking me in the back, but compared to the last three nights..."

Greg Scowen - Usability Consultant

 · Friday, March 16
Nice story Peter, really gets you thinking.

Ron, your coning technology is interesting, but how does one get you to apply it their writing? I visited your site, but it gives me very limited information about what I can do with your system.

Ron Denholm

 · Friday, March 16
Greg, we are at 'proof of concept' stage and will release a demo in a few weeks. Coning is being developed as a reading and writing tool as well as an adjunct to search. We have been deluged with enquiries, but as a taster, we can Cone
Word documents you send to info@oracep.com and return them to you with analysis graphs.
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