Posts Tagged ‘usability engineering’

Context is everything (for this card set)

December 8, 2011 1 comment

Andreas Larsson and his colleagues at Lund University and Haptimap have created a set of “context cards” titled Dynamic User Experiences. (Big thanks to UC Boulder colleagues Stefan Carmien and Clayton Lewis for getting them for me.)

The cards come in a set of around 30, with a picture and caption on one side (e.g., “at the beach” with a picture of a user sitting at the beach with a mobile device on her lap) and a description of the situation on the other side (e.g., “Spending a day on the beach might expose your mobile device to …”). The cards are available through the workshops that Larsson and his group run, accompanied by a nice 64-page book that describes some activities that can be done with the cards.

context cards

Dynamic User Experience context cards from HaptiMap

Part of the draw for me is that the cards are a lot like the PIC-UP cards and Brain cards we developed in our lab—but with a focus on context instead of impact (for PIC-UP) or technological features (for Brain). For each of the card sets, there’s an assumption that the user population has certain things that they know, but certain things they don’t—or things they need to be reminded of. In the case of context cards, it’s context, encouraging the designer to consider how will the technological device you’re developing work at the beach, or in the dark, or while moving. Seems like a reasonable approach, and one that the HaptiMap group apparently uses in developing mobile products and in running workshops. Looking forward to seeing more from this group.

Rationale in SE and rationale in UE–what’s the difference?

September 20, 2011 1 comment

The question of the difference between design rationale in software engineering and usability engineering came up at my UC Boulder talk last week. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and more recently as I’ve been reading about design rationale from a software engineering perspective (Burge, McCall, Schneider, etc.).

The big difference seems to be in the certainty embedded in the rationale. Design rationale in software engineering seeks to establish a position of truth, rooted in the functionality of the computer (compared to the nature of physical artifacts, as seen in other fields). The preface and introduction of Burge’s Rationale-based Software Engineering book do a good job of distinguishing design rationale in software engineering from design rationale in other fields.

In contrast, design rationale in usability engineering (and even more so in HCI) seeks to provide pointers toward the right directions–through methods, approaches, or lessons learned. Even a repository of web design patterns like van Duyne’s Design of Sites is lauded not because it preaches HCI truths but because it discusses how to design (e.g., how to promote e-commerce, how to settle on a page layout, how to customize for mobile devices). It includes checklists and is rooted in context, allowing the reader to decide what’s relevant.

This is why I feel claims (or something like them) are the future of design rationale in UE/HCI. They are meant to be hypothetical, subject to change based on changes in context, advances in knowledge, and retargeting of product design. They are more flexible than design rationale methods from software engineering and other fields, reflecting the flexible nature of the field of HCI. But that then makes the creation of claims libraries or other reuse repositories much more difficult–one must balance correctness with hypothesis, permanence with flexibility.

PIC-UP Mobile: For mobile by mobile

September 14, 2011 1 comment

Much of the ongoing research in my group focuses on usability tools for application developers, centered on knowledge transfer and decision-making among teams of designers. At the heart of my approach is the notion of a claim as a unit for knowledge capture, sharing, and negotiation–claims provide a falsifiable, designer-digestible chunk of knowledge that encapsulates an interface feature, its upsides, and its downsides. The small, hypothetical nature of a claim provides designers with opportunities to debate and evolve ideas to meet the needs of novel problems. Recently, Shahtab Wahid led a quality series of papers at Interact, DIS, and CHI (available from my pubs page) that summarizes our progress and describes PIC-UP for those interested in learning more about it.

An emerging focus is on tools for diverse teams, particularly teams of domain experts with little or no expertise in usability engineering. Since it’s tough for many companies to hire a large team of usability professionals to oversee interface development efforts, a suite of tools has promise to assist with the capture, sharing, and deliberation that must happen when addressing the needs of large stakeholder groups. It certainly doesn’t remove the need for a usability expert, but it can help magnify the power of experts, allowing a smaller number of experts to contribute to a larger number of projects.

As a next step, we are working to transition PIC-UP to a tool we call PIC-UP Mobile that will be useful in industrial and educational settings–specifically, to assist in the early-project development of mobile interface designs. We want the tool to be embedded with a small but high-quality set of claims that can be used in design activities. Designers will be able to browse, rate, group, and evolve claims during the design process. Design sessions can create scenarios or storyboards that incorporate key claims, with This will enable a large and diverse set of designers to have meaningful roles in the design of appropriate user interfaces for human experts–particularly domain experts with little or no knowledge about user interface design whose opinions all too often are often ignored.

Based on an established context, PIC-UP Mobile should help to answer questions like these:
– How can an interface best show multimodal information to a user within a unique context?
– How can an interface enable appropriate interaction.
– What are the tradeoffs in choosing one design technique over another?
– Where is more research needed to determine an appropriate interface approach?

There are tons of application domains where this seems well-suited: medicine, education/training, command-and-control, gas-and-oil discovery and processing. All of these domains integrate diverse situations in which stakeholders with differing backgrounds must reach decisions about acceptable (if not optimal!) approaches to addressing a problem. We expect that PIC-UP Mobile will help in reaching these decisions toward defining appropriate user interfaces.