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Posts Tagged ‘imagery’

Thinking visually, engaging deeply

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Imagery provides opportunities to encourage thinking by enabling people to identify key aspects of an image and relate their own expertise to it. A well-chosen image can inspire new ideas, spark memories of prior experiences, highlight potential issues and drawbacks, and provide a point for conversation and debate. Eli Blevis has an interactions article, CHI workshop, and regular course at Indiana University that explores the impacts of digital imagery in HCI and design. In his article, he describes digital imagery as a form of visual thinking, where visual forms are used to create content and make sense of the world.

We turned to imagery as a way to inspire groups of designers to think broadly and engage meaningfully with each other during the design process. We looked for ways that images could serve as a starting point for group design activities, and as a gateway to other design knowledge. Specifically, we are interested in how imagery can be used to enhance claims during early-stage design. Claims, conceptualized by the classic Toulmin (1958) book and introduced to HCI by Carroll and Kellogg (1989), present a design artifact together with observed or hypothesized upsides (+) and downsides (-); e.g., a public display of information (+) can notify large groups of people about things of shared concern, BUT (-) often become unattractive, densely-packed discordances of data. Claims are accessible when compared to much denser knowledge capture mechanisms like papers, patterns, and cases. But it is still a daunting task for designers to look through long lists of textual claims toward finding the right ideas.

Our approach to mitigate this problem is to use imagery as a bridge to each claim. We chose to represent each claim with an image, selected not just because it captured a key aspect of the claim but also because it allowed designers who viewed it to include their own interpretation of the technology and the context.

Information exhibit

Information exhibit image used in design sessions

We have used a set of around 30 image-claim cards in design activities (e.g., brainstorming, storyboarding), using the image cards both in printed and digital form. The benefits of the images-first approach were numerous. It allowed designers to process large numbers of claims quickly, connecting the ideas to their own experiences and expertise toward solving a design problem. It supported collaboration among designers through the shared understanding centered around the images. It encouraged broad speculation down paths not captured by the claims, sometimes resulting in new and different directions. A set of papers led by Wahid at Interact, DIS, and CHI capture the lessons and tradeoffs.

All of this is in keeping with the nature of a claim, whose original intent was as a falsifiable hypothesis (Toulmin, 1958; Carroll & Kellogg, 1989). However, a purely textual claim risks narrowing the associations of the reader to the words in the claim, and thus limiting the design considerations and even alienating designers unfamiliar with the text of a claim. It is through imagery, and specifically through images as the initial shared view in a design session, that designers can make sense of a problem and create meaningful and informed content.

The future of claims

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In preparing to write a book about claims, I have the opportunity and obligation to expound upon what I think is the future (more like present-future) of claims.

To varying degrees, all of these arguments more generally apply to design rationale–but I think claims are particularly well-suited to solve many of the traditional problems with DR (as expounded upon in the first bullet).

Here are some current thoughts:

– Fixing design rationale with claims. Are claims the perfect instantiation of design rationale? Probably not! (Though anyone who has worked with me might be convinced that I feel differently.) Even though claims seek to hypothesize rather than expound the truth, there’s always a danger that they will be read as truth. A key step: Defining claims to getting rid of upsides and downsides–they are too polarizing and can lead to bias. Replace them with bullets or (partial) ratings to allow the designer to decide what’s an upside and downside within the context of the design or to rate them based on the current project’s needs. (One person’s bug is another person’s feature.) Thus leave open for debate whether an effect is an upside or downside.

– Identifying relationships between claims. The ability to understand the alternative, complementary, and contrasting ideas is key to enabling design. It’s particularly hard to do that at the level of a paper or a product–their nuances make it hard to compare them in a meaningful way. It’s not easy to do so with claims, but at least it seems possible. Visionaries like Otlet and Nelson recommend letting people identify relationships between claims-like chunks of knowledge. At the heart of Wahid’s thesis was the notion of claims relationships. Mathematical models can refine and quantify the relationships to highlight them to designers (e.g., Chewar’s approach to index based on critical parameters then use experimental results or designer surveys to rate the claims). There seems to be progress toward this goal.

– Identifying quality claims among a sea of mediocrity. Since claims are used in brainstorming, there necessarily will be a great many claims of questionable quality: claims that are incomplete, ill-conceived, too specific to a problem/domain (who cares if the claim is specific to some other domain; perhaps quality experienced designers can understand cross-domain relevance but most can’t), too general to be of use (the “fortune cookie” problem; the claim reads like a fortune cookie meant to appeal to everyone but instead being of little use). One solution: use the “god of claims” approach to identify claims of reasonable quality. Another solution: let the masses decide through votes or other recommendations.

– Making claims more accessible. Claims are pretty accessible compared to papers, patterns, and program review–but it’s still a daunting task for designers to look through long lists of claims toward finding the right ideas. One approach to mitigate this problem is to use pictures as a bridge to each claim; that is, to represent each claim with an easy-to-interpret picture (as in my Wahid/Branham work). This allows designers to process large numbers of claims quickly, connecting the ideas to their own problems. Another idea is to limit the number of claims and focus on high-quality ones (as in Francois’ ongoing MS thesis work). This enables the designer to focus on a smaller number of ideas; a more pattern-like approach, for better or worse.

– Automatic extraction of claims from databases. The databases could include professional papers, chat/meeting logs, blogs, case studies, scenario libraries, or other such repositories. If done with high quality, it would cut down on the high costs (and low immediate benefits) of generating claims sets. Numerous people have pursued or seem to be pursuing this idea: Janet Burge is working on this as the focus of her NSF CAREER grant to use speech recognition to decompose meeting transcripts; Ray McCall expressed interest in doing it; Jintae Lee seems to have done some of this in business settings.

This is probably a post that I’ll go back and edit. Emerging from these ideas are categories for issues claims (and design rationale) need to address to be more effective: creation, quality assurance, use/reuse. But there’s lots of other work that needs to be done in this area.

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