PulseUX Blog

Theory, Analysis and Reviews on UX User Experience Research and Design


Google Freaks… Usability Speaks


Of late, Google’s quarterly reports are not looking so great. To be clear, I am a loyal user of Google Adwords and have been one since the beginning. Also, in the interest of further transparency, I have spent the past 35 years in man-machine systems design, having worked on reducing the complexity of devices and software from Wall Street to Main Street. As technology has become more integrated (squeezed) into our daily lives, certain patterns have become apparent to those tasked with wringing some small measure of usability out of otherwise increasingly opaque user experiences (UX).

When engaged with such problems in the real world, I have reached the conclusion that companies fall into two categories when it comes to their attitudes toward actually understanding their users and creating systems which are in fact useable. The first type I label the INCLUDERS; they condition (design) their technology with an understanding that not everyone has a computer science degree and endless time to randomly walk their system’s user interface.

The second type are those I call the EXCLUDERS. These are companies that completely disregard any consideration for the well understood cognitive processes of their customers and proceed willy-nilly with the design of products/software that are inexplicably based on the opinions and concepts of a team of CS wonks with a room full of whiteboards and scooters.

This second group (EXCLUDERS) are actually great fun to work with because they do things that are so far off-the-grid in terms of matching system design to basic human cognitive processes that it is positively mind-bending. Things like entirely removing the “back” button from a browserand watching literally hundreds of millions of users search high and low for that critical little morsel of functionality, or simply piling massive features sets on top of other feature sets that are already so difficult to understand that the user experience UX resembles a Russian nesting doll, which under software control, eventually delivers to the user a final little smiling face that says: yes, you have a reward…never mind that you spent your summer vacation figuring it out.

Some of these EXCLUDERS engineer and launch their products with such wrong-headed intensity and so much funding that to observe this from the vantage point of a human factors specialist is like sitting at the bend of a high speed train route and waiting for the train wreck…nothing to be done, just wait and watch. After over 3 decades working with some of the world’s best high-tech companies, I now know that such systems can and do take a long time to run off the rails. This is especially true if the company is a tech darling of the highest order.

However, when these oncoming train wrecks are at the core of a very successful company’s business model, they can and do wreak all manner of havoc. The point of this story? Google Adwords, the very heart of the Google profit structure, is a train wreck of usability. How do I know? There are two reference points. First, I have attempted over the past 3 years to use our firm’s Adwords account to actually manage how ads are displayed and how our firm is billed. What other business do you know of where millions of companies simply give over their credit cards and say, “bill us what you like, I have no idea what is going on but everyone else is doing it, so proceed.” This is like Google having an ATM stuck on withdraw, the cash just piled up on the curb. This is a well known example of converting complexity to cash. Wall Street does it every day, as does Google with Adwords.

Up until very recently, this worked well for Google. The more complexity that the Adwords developers piled onto the basic interaction framework of the system, the more users let it go… up to a point. Users like myself (no stranger to the complexity problem) accepted Adwords’ massively confusing interface without much complaint. Almost every update ignored the most fundamental aspects of man-machine science: No learning transfer from prior updates, unconventional interaction schemes, twisted mental models linked to even more twisted new feature sets, arcane and obtuse terminology, constant moving of basic features, sales and marketing popups that could not be dismissed without selection of unwanted content, multiple navigation schemes within one task sequence, no selective access to functions based on expertise level, no embedded help system, visualization patterns and performance tracking displays that have become so complex as to be positively opaque, combining functions into setup displays that do not match the user’s mental model of the process, a recommendation engine that appears to have no real impact on actual conversions (it does, however, increase your ad spend). If this was not enough, these problems were repeated with most major updates. A train wreck? For sure.

Does this impact Google’s bottom line? Yes, and suddenly in a big way. Recently, we cut our firm’s Adwords budget and began tracking impact… almost no change… cut it back further… still no change. I tried repeatedly to glean what was happening by using Adwords’ reporting system… not a chance… started receiving emails and calls from the Google Adwords sales team offering to help optimize our account (translation: boost my spending). Cut it back further… got more calls from Google’s sales team. My bet… I am not alone. Usability matters and now it matters a lot to Google’s bottom line. Ignoring the usability of a system that drives 80% of one’s revenue is a train wreck by any measure.

Charles L Mauro CHFP


Twitter: @PulseUX

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User Interface Design and UX Design: 70 Important Research Papers Covering Peer-Reviewed and Informal Studies

Important peer-reviewed and informally published recent research on user interface design and user experience (UX) design.

For the benefit of clients and colleagues we have culled a list of approximately 70 curated recent research publications dealing with user interface design, UX design and e-commerce optimization.

In our opinion these publications represent some of the best formal research thinking on UI and UX design. These papers are also among the most widely downloaded and cited formal research on UI / UX design. We have referenced many of these studies in our work at MauroNewMedia.

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30+ Best UX Design and Research Books of All Time

The “A” List: We frequently receive requests from colleagues, clients and journalists for recommended reading lists on topics covering our expertise in UX design, usability research and human factors engineering. These requests prompted us to pull from our research library (yes, we still have real books) 30+ books which our professional staff felt should be considered primary conceptual literature for anyone well-read in the theory and practice of UX design and research.

A Surprising List: When we pooled the selected books for inclusion, we were a bit surprised. Most of the selected texts were published some time ago… in some cases our selections were out of print. This set us to thinking: Why did we end up with books representing the best theory on UX design published before the term was even invented?

The answer resides in the fact that UX design, as we define it, encompasses a vast field of human-machine interaction variables covering cognitive processes, decision-making, task design, information architecture, graphic design, interactive brand development, market research, retail store design, product design, web design and at least a dozen other primary fields of expertise.

Where to Start: UX design is by definition a vast and overlapping set of expertise areas that find focus based on the nature of a specific UX design problem.  Therefore, to be well-read on this subject actually requires reading very diverse professional literature. The following 30+ books are those we consider the best general expositions on a given topic area that we know from professional experience is functionally or theoretically applicable to UX Design and Research.

It may come as a surprise to those of you who came to UX in the last decade that there was a vast and teeming world of man-machine science and related research before there was anything like the iPhone or even the Internet. Our list is as much about the history of man-machine design as it is about the future of UX.

Please Note: We have reviewed many UX-specific books for this list but have found that most of the new texts, including several popular books on UX design, are not nearly as useful as the original texts on which they are based. Most of the books on our list can be easily found online at Amazon.com or at other online sources. Many are out of print but not out of sight. If you purchase any of these books from Amazon or any other source, we do not receive any compensation. If you have books you feel we missed, send us a comment and if we agree with your suggestion it will be added to the list with a citation. We view our list, like our associated list of important recent papers on UX, as a living entity. Finally, if you are an author and your book(s) is not on the list, please do not send us a snarky comment. We will simply ignore it.

Thank you,

Charles L Mauro CHFP
Mauro New Media


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An Open Letter in Response to CNET’s Larry Downes’ Deceptive Article “Fighting over scraps in Apple’s withering patent war with Samsung” Related to the Recent Filing of Amicus Briefs in Affirmance

NOTE: This comment was originally posted on Larry Downes’ August 7, 2014 article on CNET but was removed after 10 hours from the comments section of the article. Our comment is included here to clarify a series of inaccuracies and biases present in the Downes article. Click here to verify original posted comment on CNET.

For proof, click here.


Larry: not so fast. Your article on this matter lacks basic journalistic rigor.

Specifically, your references to the various amicus briefs filed in the case are not accurate. For starters, the 27 Law Professors brief filed by Lemley is based on opinions of a group of academics with no experience in product design and its related business impact. The Lemley brief fails entirely to provide any references or support for the role of design in consumer purchase decisions and related variables. Had you actually taken the time to read the Lemley brief, you would have discovered such inconsistencies and lack of support running through the entire argument.

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Amicus Briefs Filed in Opposition to Samsung/Lemley Positions for the Recent Apple v. Samsung Matter

The following links provide access to two of the major opposition amicus briefs filed on 8/4/2014 in the Apple v. Samsung matter. These briefs represent the combined support of 54 Distinguished Design Professionals and 26 Distinguished Design Educators. These two amicus briefs are in opposition to the Samsung/Lemley position calling for massive changes to the US Design Patent system.

  1. Amici Curiae Brief of 54 Distinguished Industrial Design Professionals in Support of Affirmance
  2. Brief of 26 Design Educators as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellee Apple Inc.

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Look Before You Leap…Intellectual Property and Crowd-Funding: Why Major Crowd Funding Sites Couldn’t Care Less About Protecting Your Ideas and How to Deal with It


1Recently, I was invited to speak at the Northeast Conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America on intellectual property and crowd-funding (CF). I am not a lawyer but I have consulted with some of the best around. Over the past 35 years I have been an expert witness in over 75 major patent cases related to product design, industrial design and GUI design. That experience has taught me a great deal about how innovators deal with the realities of their intellectual property. Continue Reading…

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Why Flappy Bird Is / Was So Successful And Popular But So Difficult To Learn: A Cognitive Teardown Of The User Experience (UX)

Promised simplicity, delivered deep complexity 

One of the fascinating conundrums in the science of man-machine design is the human mind’s complete inability to accurately assess the operational complexity of a given user interface by visual inspection. It turns out the human operating system is hardwired to judge the complexity of almost anything based on visual/spatial arrangement of elements on whatever you are looking at. This is especially true for screen-based interfaces. Simply put, the more elements presented to a user on the screen, the higher the judged initial complexity. The opposite is also true. A very simple screen leads to an assumption of simplicity. The key point here is that the actual cognitive complexity of a given UX solution cannot be judged by visual inspection… nothing is actually further from the truth. Yet we do it every time we open a new app, visit a website, or load new software. Continue Reading…

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Milestones and Missteps UX/UI Design Review for 2013: Winners and Losers… Not the Usual Suspects

2013 UX year in review: In terms of User Experience (UX) milestones and missteps, 2013 failed to produce industry-altering innovations like 2007 with the introduction of the first iPhone or 2012 with the demise of Blackberry. Yet on another level, UX design in 2013 gave us a glimpse at the rapidly broadening definition of UX design as a structural concept and its role in the future of new media device design, content creation and even the status of product reviews created by leading tech journalists. In a critical way, I personally find this more interesting than blockbuster introductions that alter the technology landscape. Continue Reading…

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Wishing You and Your Technology Success in 2014… and Goodbye to Engelbart from MauroNewMedia

Engelbart 2013 post graphic V3 BLOG

MauroNewMedia Sponsor / PulseUX Blog and NYTECH UX Design Series 2013-2014

In case you missed our major blog posts from 2013, here is a summary of links:




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Breaking Bad vs. Facebook: 10 things Walt’s meth lab and Zuck’s Facebook have in common

Some comparisons are simply too compelling to pass up, especially when they seem so unlikely, yet under the covers, turn out to be startling in their alignments. Such is the comparison between the creation and maintenance of Walter White’s successful meth lab business as depicted in the hit AMC Series “Breaking Bad” and the creation and maintenance of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. It turns out that Walt and Zuck are, for the most part, on the same page. For those who take offense to such a comparison, think again.

Common Factor 1: Both business models are based on the concept of the ultimate HACK.

At the core of Breaking Bad is the story of how a hapless high school chemistry teacher with terminal cancer emerges as a meth lord by cooking his own special form of crystal meth – all in the interest of leaving money for his family when he is gone. Walter White achieves this objective with amazing dramatic effect by employing a mind-bending combination of creativity, terrorizing behavior and constantly morphing meth production and distribution techniques where the only thing that really matters is getting his meth on the street and cash in hand. This is a story about makeshift chemistry, not about real chemistry. Walt is exceedingly capable at this form of makeshift mayhem.


Copyright AMC, All Rights Reserved

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