in Hong Kong
An interview with
Daniel Szuc, a usability professional in Hong Kong.
Conducted via email by John S. Rhodes
Who are you?
What is your background?
My name is Daniel
(Dano) Szuc and I am originally from Melbourne, Australia - now living in
Hong Kong. My first job was a windows programmer at Telstra
Australia developing GUI applications in MS Access. After working 1-2
years in development with some very talented programmers (i.e. people who
without any prior knowledge of a programming language, could read the manual
before lunch and start coding after lunch), I promptly decided that
programming was not the game for me. However during my early project
involvement I took a natural liking for how screens were designed and trying
to make an application as 'user friendly' as I could with the customer in
the forefront of my thinking.
thought user friendly was simply about good screen design and naming of
screen objects. However, I discovered, after meeting some Telstra members of
the 'Human Factors Group' at the Telstra Research Labs that there was a
wider field of research called HCI, usability etc and that screen design was
only one part of this larger usability world. At the same time a
"usability team" was being formed in the IT Group of Telstra so I
applied thinking this would be a good opportunity to learn more about
usability and implement this in projects across Telstra. After 3-4 years
working in a usability team, I traveled the world, last stop Hong Kong.
Where do you work? What is your role?
at Apogee Communications as a
usability consultant; building the buzz around usability and customer
Usability in Hong Kong
usability testing different in Hong Kong?
and marketing: HK companies have heard of focus groups but not many
understand the difference between a focus group and a usability test or
evaluation. Because people don't really know or may not have heard about
usability, we place more effort on educating and briefing all the
stakeholders to ensure a clearer understanding of the objectives of the
are time, task and success focused. Men want to complete a task
independent of the amount of time allocated in a usability session.
Asian men consider it a failure if they are not able to complete the
task. So you have to reiterate the purpose of the test and that its ok
if they want to 'abandon' a task.
will also often want to know the answer or success point of a task as
they do not want to be seen as failing. They try and drill down to the
information they need with speed and consider this the highest priority
and are not open to saying if they "don't know"
are more willing to abandon a task if they cannot find the information
they want. They are not as concerned if they fail to complete a task.
Consideration is always given to asking age questions. This is
especially true of Asian women who can be sensitive to this.
timings: We usually schedule at least an extra 30 minutes between
each test, as users like to come "fashionably" late in
of results: The customer expects results to be reported much faster
including recommendations for fixes.
What is the state of the web industry in Hong Kong? What are your primary
Overall, the HK
web industry is at a point where 'cool' is seen as better and design centric
sites with heavy flash, pop ups and lack of standards is an accepted norm.
Managers are impressed by 'cool designs' and impressing shareholders and
not sites that will provide a task supportive and positive
Users - hard to sell usability earlier in the development lifecycle
(suggest this is what may usability practitioners suffer)
IT having guesses at who the target users are and sites copy functions
of US sites without really thinking if there is a real use or need for
the function in the first place. What value would this offer my
No real task
analysis is completed.
industry as to the benefits of usability and involving users as early in
the development process as possible.
"cool" is not necessarily "useful".
what I call 'flash splash' screens.
Speed - quick
is perceived as better, independent of quality. This can been seen
in many aspects of Hong Kong life and is true of systems development.
The challenge is to try and implement usability methods that can offer
value as you rocket down the development path. However, some see this as
'slowing' the process.
businesses think that - "if it looks cool, it has to be
useful". This is seen through the overuse of Flash and Flash
introductions, lack of white space use, overuse of advertising graphics,
blinking text and non-standard link colors.
Do users in Hong Kong work and interact with web sites differently than
other users around the world? How?
get bored very quickly as its a small place with many other
distractions to offer some value for your time, distractions can include
shopping, seeing a movie, visiting an island or a quick trip to another
close destination in Asia. Think this is true of web sites - if they don't
have a quick value 'fix' - then HK users will quickly exit.
online is not a high priority. This is mainly because of the ease of
reach of products and services in HK and confirmed in a recent usability
walkthrough of some "product and service" pages where online
ordering was rated very low.
to put up with badly designed systems. Users appear to be more
willing to accept poorly designed interfaces. Perhaps this is
related to the lack of maturity in web design on some HK sites.
valuable. This is closely related to the business speed in HK and
people asking for a real value for their time. Giving a gift at the end
of an evaluation session is especially appreciated in Asia.
What are the main usability issues for Hong Kong users? For example, are
there serious bandwidth issues? Are there language barriers? Are there any
interesting cultural issues? Are there any gender issues?
Would like to
research this further but think that HK users have an amazing ability to put
up with bad design. For example, sites that have a heavy dependence on Flash
and an overuse of distracting animations, colors, lack of standards and
As mentioned, HK
is renowned for its speed!! In this case speed of implementing broadband
with the added advantage of being a small place. Companies like PCCW
and i-cable have taken advantage of
this rolling out broadband services to HK estates. However, there are people
still using dial ups.
What do users in Hong Kong think of shopping online? What are the major
issues? How advanced are web sites in this respect? How advanced are web
sites in this respect?
Buying online. HK
users are reluctant to buy or transact online due to lack of trust. HK
users prefer to physically shop and browse products.
Ordering online is
not a high priority. This is mainly because of the ease of reach of products
and services in HK and confirmed in a recent usability walkthrough of some
"product and service" pages where online ordering was rated very
Only 4 percent
of Internet users in Hong Kong bought online in the past year. Security,
customer service, and proximity to offline stores seem to be the main
reasons that Hong Kong Internet users are not that interested in shopping
online. HK was also slow to move on payments online as the banking sector is
conservative which may have been a contributing factor of not wanting to
What do you users in Hong Kong think of Flash? Is it good? Is it bad? Is
it abused? Does it work well?
HK users appear to
like Flash as they are very drawn to the animations, colors and heavily
designed web sites. However, I think the HK designer community misuse flash,
especially with reference to the "splash flash screen" which I
plan to write more on in my Feb 2002 article : "The death of the Flash
What are the best Hong Kong web sites? Why?
Some of the more
'popular' HK sites are ones that work to satisfy a specific tasks and needs
of its users. They have very clear, succinct and minimalist objectives and
aim to do a few things well. Sites that also satisfy the 'content'
requirements of local users also do fair well including www.sina.com.hk
and www.yahoo.com.hk The HK sites that
fail are ones that try and copy and approach (design, site structure and
functions) that may work in the US but may not suit the surfing or cultural
habits of the local market. This was especially true in 1999/2000 where we
noticed many local portal companies launch with big campaigns and fizzle out
just as quickly.
Other examples of
good sites include:
have not evaluated the usability of these sites, but suggest usage would
be quite high as they have a clear purpose and focus on assisting the
users efficiently complete tasks on the site.
Do you have any final comments? Did I leave anything out? What should
every person remember about this interview?
The importance of
"simplicity" and how getting even a small amount of
"user" or "customer" input can provide incredibly
valuable data that can be re-implemented to assist a product or service
succeed in the marketplace.
Daniel, thank you
for giving us the Hong Kong perspective on usability.
-- John S.