Alumni Snapshot: Yu Shan Chuang

  • B.S., biology and computer science, Northwestern University, 1999
  • M.H.I., human-computer interaction, Carnegie Mellon University, 2000
Even if your Web site has a bad user interface, you'll only make it worse by being inconsistent from page to page. It's just one of the tips that Yu Shan Chuang offers clients whom she's consulting on Web-based applications ranging from email to highly technical engineering tasks.

Inconsistency is "probably the most common pitfall," Chuang says. "If on one page you're supposed to fill out a form and click a button, every time you push that button it should behave the same way." Interfaces depend on two things, she says--discoverability and learnability. The first describes how difficult it is for users to figure out what they're supposed to do, while the second measures how quickly they learn it.

Consistency, Chuang says, helps learnability, "even if your product is not extremely user-friendly--even if users learn in odd patterns--at least they can learn how to use it." Nine years working for some of the Web's biggest content providers has inured Chuang to bad interface design, though there are still things that drive her nuts.

Among her pet peeves are companies that conceal important content under flashy animations and graphics. It goes against the principles that were engrained in Chuang at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute in 1999 and 2000. "My focus was always on, 'How do I make this interface respond faster from step one to step 10?' and not so much about the flash in-between," says Chuang, who makes Silicon Valley her base of operations. Companies may appreciate pretty designs, she says, but users prefer interfaces that solve their problems quickly.

One of her professors at Northwestern steered Chuang to HCII after it became clear that she was less interested in pure research than in working in the field with people to solve their computing problems. She credits her time at Carnegie Mellon with giving her both the support network and the positive examples she needed to launch her own consultancy last year.

"Without my CMU network, I probably wouldn't have done it," says Chuang, who relies on her classmates as a resource for her projects. "I feel like it's definitely made me more entrepreneurial."
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |