Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design


Highlights of Week 39/2010

Posted by Michael Gaigg


Esri listens to their Users and changes Pronunciation of its Name

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Esri Emblem

Esri Emblem

This is big!


And here is why: ESRI, a privately held company with more than 2700 employees, was founded in 1969, over 40 years ago. The company name is an abbreviation for Environmental Systems Research Institute and therefore

not pronounced as a word but as distinct letters similar to IBM, SAP and other software companies with an acronym based name. It is thought within the GIS (Geographical Information Systems) circles, and even joked that 'old' users prefer E-S-R-I, while novice users use the 'ez-ree' pronunciation.

(from wikipedia, March 2010, which has its own section called "Pronunciation of company name").

Insides and Myths

Over time a divide elapsed, employees were proud to pronounce their company name E-S-R-I and by doing so showing they are insiders and distinguishing themselves from the 'newbies'. It became part of company culture and identity.

Rumor has it that the first week of orientation for new employees is to train them to say "E - S - R - I" spelled out instead of trying to pronounce it as a word (ez-ree), though I cannot personally confirm this. There's also been a rumor of Jack Dangermond [the presiding of ESRI] having a version of the "swear jar" on his desk, and anytime someone says "ez-ree" they have to put a dollar in.


Around the world users were confused. While it seemed to be natural to pronounce the company name ez-ree, users found themselves being corrected and lectured: "It's not ez-ree, it's E-S-R-I". Hearing "It hurts me to say "ezree". =)" from employees were not uncommon.

Forum threads tried to shed light on the ongoing discussion and various sides were quick to elaborate about the correct pronunciation in (mostly humorous) detail, e.g.

  • Here in San Antonio, my new home, it is pronounced "ess-ray y'all".
  • In austria we say: äsri
  • When I'm in a hurry- I say 'eS-ree', and when I'm trying to sound sophisticated and smart I say 'E-S-R-I'. Isn't that the way it always works?
  • As for ESRI or esree I have always called it EE ESS ARE EYE.
  • Lately I've noticed that people, who aren't sure of what they are talking about, pronouce it 'Uhh, [pause] Ezree' or '[PAUSE] Eszree'. The pause before gives it away...
  • Canadian pronunciation: ez-ree-eh?, or ee-ess-arr-eye-eh?
  • One thing I've noticed, though, is that the tendency to elide sounds has some people pronouncing E-S-R-I rather like yes-are-eye (without the y). Will the next step in this evolution be yes-rye? (Then the only question will be Do you want that with mustard?)
  • Down Under we say 'Bloody ezree' when things go ferral.

Change and Resistance

To the surprise of many employees an internal notice from 3/19/2010 read:

[...] we will be transitioning the pronunciation of ESRI to “ezree.” This effort will ensure a consistent name recognition around the world.

What followed was a big uproar from the employees side. Many of us felt robbed of our identity and culture. What seemed to work well for over 40 years should not be changed and trashed that easily!


As it turned out, after merrily 4 months and a hugely successful User Conference with almost 14.000 people (the biggest gathering of GIS professionals ever) the name change was perceived as a relief by the user community. A sense of unity was felt, finally we speak the same language, the confusion was lifted, no more lecturing, no more division between insiders and outsiders, everybody became part of the family.

Esri stepped into icy waters and in risk of p***ing some of its own employees off it opened a new world of opportunities by Speaking the Language of Its Users - I'm loving it!!

What do you think?

Have you ever heard of a comparable change / step taken? Could you imaging IBM spelled Ei-bm?


Steps to improve User Experience for Government

Posted by Michael Gaigg

In my daily work I'm constantly confronted with developments for government sites. Often I hear confusion in what needs to be achieved, who needs to be served and especially why it should matter.

Become creative to engage citizens in governmental issues (using the citizen’s language), e.g. upload a photo of the damaged street (http://www.fixmystreet.com/)

Become creative to engage citizens in governmental issues (using the citizen’s language), e.g. upload a photo of the damaged street (http://www.fixmystreet.com/)

Listening into a Webcast by Human Factors International (download white paper on Designing the e-government experience through citizen-centered usability, March 2008) gave me additional insights that I want to summarize and present here:

Goals of eGovernment

The web offers governmental sites the potential for increased operational efficiency and cost reductions while improving access to information and services for their citizens.

Levels of interaction between these two actors (government & citizens) include:

  • Connect citizens with legislative offices
  • Communicate faster and more targeted
  • Leverage access to public services (enhanced productivity with reduced effort)

Steps to improve eGovernment

Traditionally the government has three main functions:

  1. Report
  2. Transact
  3. Interact

What can be done to improve these functions/processes?

Get it out there

  • What information is interesting?
  • What is already available?

Make it useful & usable

  • Pre-digest the information (e.g. into charts, comparisons, …)
  • Understand the citizen’s needs (e.g. Spanish language, search, text size, …)
  • Assist citizen’s in finding the information (sometimes they don’t know it exists)
  • Avoid: limited business focus, internal focus, lack of shared resource

Provide self-service

  • Assist citizens to walk through business logic (avoid unnecessary pages, forms, fields, …)

Track improvement

  • Establish a baseline (best practices review, scorecard, usability testing success rates, web analytics, call center volume, server logs, …)
  • Validate improvements (success rate, task time) & seek for support within your organization for doing this
  • Continuously track usage
  • Why? Avoid falling back in national ranking, reduce costs for service calls, …

Make it engaging

  • “Will? Can?” Will citizens use the service? Can they find it?
  • Make it exciting
  • Use experiences or technologies that are current and up to date (videos, gadgets, …)

Embrace the future

  • Become creative to engage citizens in governmental issues (using the citizen’s language), e.g. upload a photo of the damaged street (http://www.fixmystreet.com/)
  • Encourage citizens to interact through social tools

Erase boundaries

  • Integration of “Report”, “Transact” and “Interact” means to remove the disparity between organizational structures of governments and the mental models of the citizens
  • Understand and channel the motivation of citizens to use online services
  • Integrate offers from multiple agencies into one comprehensible user experience

Start a movement

  • Create a community by involving State & Agency Leadership, Agency CIO’s and Webmasters
  • Recognition and adoption are key aspects
  • Embrace the chaos
  • Provide useful & usable tools
  • Reward contributions & demonstrate progress
  • View webmasters as a partner, not as recipient


  • The user’s perspective of the organization and the actual organizational structures are mostly very different. Citizens should not need to know how an agency is organized or be familiar with its terminology.
  • Focus on the citizen means to understand how they look for information!
  • Integrate internal processes into one intelligent solution (iGov = integrated Government)
  • Understanding the level of literacy is key to success. Easy language assists citizens in filling out bureaucratic forms.

Government must view itself as a business

  • Attract and satisfy citizens. Beware of competition and consider concepts like ‘brand loyalty’. Effective interaction adds benefits to citizens.
  • Convert visitors into customers meaning that citizens become active online users of the services.
  • Broaden the focus onto international audience which is important to attract entrepreneurship and investment capital and is a good indicator of a strong technology market and research and development environment.

Assistance through technology, tools and continuous improvement

  • Support CIO’s and webmasters through tools like design templates, standards, guidelines and an effective means of governance.
  • Adjust technology to changing market conditions, population demographics and the user’s level of expectations.
  • Create a culture and long-term commitment (=institutionalization) of usability within the agency!
  • Establish a baseline of improvement and continuously validate and improve through benchmarks.

Your thoughts?

I'd like to hear your feedback and if you have applied one or many of above techniques in your agency and what your experiences were.


  • Straub, K., Gerrol, S.; Designing the e-government experience through citizen-centered usability; Human Factors International, Inc.; White paper; March 6, 2008

Best Practices for accessible Content

Posted by Michael Gaigg

People rarely read Web pages, they scan the page! As a result, Web pages have to follow Design Guidelines for Content that enable them to quickly identify headings, titles, links and other important elements to orient themselves. What else has to be done to be Section 508 compliant?

Basic Rules

  • Don’t rely on color alone
  • Identify the language used throughout the document and identify changes
  • Use correct markup to emphasize important content
  • Be clear and precise in the choice of wording and language

Best Practices

Level 1

Level 1 Checkpoints - Section 508 Compliancy Standards
Checkpoint Description W3C 508 Example
Color Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without color 2.1 (c) Ensure that information is available through other style effects (e.g., a font effect), through context (e.g,. comprehensive text links) or through mark-up (e.g., the title attribute).
Language Clearly identify changes in the natural language of a document's text and any text equivalents 4.1 n/a And with a certain <SPAN lang="fr">je ne sais quoi</SPAN>,
she entered both the room, and his life, forever. <Q>My name
is Natasha,</Q> she said. <Q lang="it">Piacere,</Q>
he replied in impeccable Italian, locking the door.
Language Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site's content 14.1 n/a n/a

Level 2

Level 2 Checkpoints - Section 508 Compliancy Standards
Checkpoint Description W3C 508 Example
Blinking Avoid causing content to blink 7.2 n/a n/a
Movement Avoid movement in pages 7.3 n/a i.e., hide/show content or change presentation (movement and colors).

Level 3

Level 3 Checkpoints - Section 508 Compliancy Standards
Checkpoint Description W3C 508 Example
Text Ensure that foreground and background color combinations provide sufficient contrast when viewed by someone having color deficits or when viewed on a black and white screen 2.2 (c) For more information check the online paper about "Effective Color Contrast" at lighthouse.org (http://www.lighthouse.org/accessibility/effective-color-contrast/).
Abbreviations Specify the expansion of each abbreviation in a document where it first occurs 4.2 n/a <ABBR title="social security number">SS#</ABBR>

or ASCII art:<ABBR title="smiley in ASCII art">:-)</ABBR>
Acronyms Specify the expansion of each acronym in a document where it first occurs 4.2 n/a Welcome to the <ACRONYM title="World Wide Web">WWW</ACRONYM>
Language Identify the primary natural language of a document 4.3 n/a <HTML lang="en">


<HTML xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">

<ABBR title="social security number">SS#</ABBR>

<ACRONYM title="Geographical Information System">GIS</ACRONYM>