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Interview: Teaching Software Engineers at Michigan Tech

Logo for Michigan Tech

Tim and Tom discuss the Speaking of Software project at Michigan Tech and interview professors Chuck Wallace, Bob Johnson, and Ann Brady about improving the training of software engineers at the undergraduate level. If you’re an educator or industry professional curious about innovations in teaching software engineering, this episode is for you.

Before you listen to the interview, we encourage you to read the article as published in Technical Communication, Volume 53, Number 3, August 2006, pp. 317-325. Unfortunately, as of this writing the Society for Technical Communication does not sell this article online. If you do not subscribe to the journal, check a local college library.

Ann, Bob, and Chuck would like to hear from you. Replace [AT] with the @ sign (and eliminate spaces on either side) to send them email at the addresses below.
Ann: mabrady [AT]
Bob: rrjohnso [AT]
Chuck: wallace [AT]

The project’s website (and this summer’s Chautauqua invitation) is at

Read some history of the Chautauqua Movement at

House band Peter Grey sings “This One” to round things out.

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Critique: Rice Cookers

Photo montage of rice cooker user interfacesTim and Tom critique rice cooker designs. Cookers from Oster, Aroma, and Panasonic are discussed. As always, you can find pictures of the user interfaces critiqued at (as well as in the artwork for this MP3 file). Jen’s “InTheNo” podcast can be found at Everybody head over there pronto to hear one of the best new podcasts ever. In her own words, “…we speak with people whose experiences give them an interesting perspective on what happens, and what to do, when life confronts you with ‘No.’ As many of our guests will tell you, ‘No’ is often just the beginning of the story.” Cashew the Clown can be found at House band Peter Grey sings “Without My Girl”.

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Critique: iRiver IFP Series of MP3 Player/Recorders

Photos of iRiver IFP 700 and 800

What happens when a secondary function of a product is so good that it becomes the primary reason for purchase among a customer demographic? Tim is joined by special guests Mike and Keith for a discussion of iRiver’s IFP-800 (top of photo) and IFP-700 series (bottom) of digital audio players/recorders. iRiver designed the MP3 recording for these units so well that many people use them purely as portable MP3 recorders, not players.

iRiver also created two form factors for one product with the IFP series, so we discuss each industrial designs’ relative merits. As always, you can find pictures of the designs discussed at (Note: the wide angle lens made the 700 look wider than the 800. It isn’t.)

Colorado Video Impressions is at
Mystic River is at
Hydrogen Audio is at

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Wordcast: Information Architecture

Chalkboard image of phrase Information Architecture

Tim and Tom are joined by guest Chris Farnum for a wordcast episode about Information Architecture. What is it, where did it come from, and how does IA contribute to a great customer experience?
While presenting at Michigan’s World Usability Day event, Tim and Tom met Dennis and Ross from the podcast WebAxe, which deals with web accessibility. Take a listen by going to

Lastly, house band Peter Grey sings “Sweet Unknown”. And in addition to Edward Tufte’s books, here are the books and authors mentioned in this episode:

* Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld

*Usability for the Web: Designing Web Sites that Work by Tom Brinck, Darren Gergle, and Scott D. Wood

*How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand

* The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

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Interview: User Interface Design with Menlo Innovations

Officer in a police car using a laptop.

Tim and Tom interview Carissa and Carol from Menlo Innovations. Menlo recently completed a user interface design project for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department in Michigan, and observing users in the context of their work environnment was crucial to the design process.
Tim reminds listeners about World Usability Day coming up on Tuesday, November 14th, and Peter Grey sings “Frozen Girl”.

Menlo’s website is at

World Usability Day news is at

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World Usability Day is November 14th!

Banner for World Usability Day 2006 image

Guest Dave Mitropoulos-Rundus joins Timto promote World Usability Day 2006 while Tom takes care of business in an undisclosed location. Just like MacArthur, Tom shall return.
Dave describes what Michigan did on the first World Usability Day in 2005, then tells us what’s coming up on November 14th, 2006. Tim and Dave encourage listeners to check out the World Usability Day website at

to learn which WUD events will occur in their areas all around the world. For those of you who may not live near an event, webcasts will be available from many of them.

Finally, house band Peter Grey performs “Lagrimas”–it’s dark, brooding, and hauntingly appropriate for the Halloween season.

P.S. Check out Gerry’s UXpod episode about World Usability Day at

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Critique: Alarm Clock Designs

Photo of terrible GE alarm clock UI

Tim and Tom are joined by guest Larry Rusinski for a critique of alarm clock designs. As always, how a product meets each user’s habits, needs, and wants determines whether a design is successful. Tim, Tom, and Larry haven’t had much luck with bedside alarm clocks, including models from Panasonic, GE, and Sony that they have owned for years and years. But they do have some fun discussions on what makes a good alarm clock design.

CONGRATULATIONS to Larry and his bride, Marci, who were married a month after this episode was recorded. Tim and Tom wish them many healthy years of marital bliss surrounded by well-designed wedding gifts.

NOTE: The GE model is the subject of this episode’s artwork. Also, Tim accidentally threw out the articles discussed in this episode during a frenzy of autumn cleaning and thus cannot provide article links in these show notes.

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Critique: Wristwatch Designs

Photo of four wristwatches discussed in episode.

Tim and Tom discuss the origin, design, and use of wristwatches. Due to their function as fashion accessories as well as timepieces, wristwatch designs are extraordinarily diverse. The guys discuss very different examples from their personal collections, and Tim fondly reminisces about the most usable feature he ever had in a watch: tritium backlighting, which required no power and no button-pressing to use.
NEWS FLASH: apparently tritium watches are still made, although Tim still wonders why they aren’t common. See Fred’s excellent Luminox review at GeekHideout –he’s a tritium fan as passionate as Tim, which we didn’t think possible.

Citizen’s website explains Eco-Drive (if you can get their site to work).

And here’s a tangentially related article about the percentage of left-handed people in various cultures. Interesting how it varies so widely…email us if you have a theory or a comment on designing for this segment of a population.

Finally, house band Peter Grey sings “Fade”.

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WordCast: Plain Language

Chalk board image of Plain Language written down.

Whitney Quesenbery of Whitney Interactive Design joins Tim and Tom for a wordcast episode on the plain language movement. Language is a crucial part of most user interface designs, from hardware, to software, to websites, to that oldest of interfaces, the printed page. What is plain language and how can it help us design more usable communication for products and services? Professions, companies, and governments should embrace plain language to communicate effectively with their customers, employees, and citizens. Websites we mention include:

After our half-hour discussion, Tim promotes Gerry Gaffney’s excellent User Experience Podcast. Congratulations, Gerry! Everyone go listen!
Next, Tim reads listener feedback from John at the Smorgasbord Design blog regarding Sennheiser’s admirable commitment to superior customer experience. Sennheiser, Design Critique salutes you!
Last but never least, house band Peter Grey sings “Without My Girl”.

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Welcome, Bigfoot! The MacBook’s Industrial Design Analyzed

Photo of MacBook feet compared with iBook feet.

Join us for a solo perspective on Tom’s new MacBook, a.k.a. “Bigfoot”! Losing tiny rubber feet at the bottom corners may be a thing of the past, thanks to wider, flush-mounted feet. But wait, there’s more…

We don’t talk about the MacBook’s new Intel processor, perceived speed, or included software in this episode–just its industrial design, which is so impressive that it deserves its own episode. Lest you think we’re Apple apologists, let it be known this episode was delayed several weeks due to the MacBook’s hard drive failing two days after Tom received it, and a very sluggish repair period on Apple’s part.

FYI, solo perspective episodes occur when one of us cannot lend a product to the other for “mission critical” reasons. This is Tom’s new primary computer, and he reflects on the continuous improvement of Apple’s laptop designs. (Tim still prefers his 12″ PowerBook G4 for portability.)

Finally, Peter Grey, our house band, sings “Sweet Unknown”.

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