Tag Archives: Reading Reflections

Thoughts about readings before each class

[Reading Reflection] Bridge the Research-Design Gap

Reading Material:

Sharp, Rogers, & Preece (2007) Interaction Design. Wiley. Chapter 10.

Cooper, Reimann, and Cronin (2007) About Face 3. Wiley. Chapter 5 & 6.

This week’s reading is aiming at transferring research data to useful design guidelines. The two books went for similar approaches, though slightly different in some concepts. They both use the qualitative research data gained through research phase to synthesis some kind of user models out of it. Then, based on the user models, user scenarios and product requirements could be generated.

Cooper emphasized a lot on the concept of “persona” against other models such as user profile, with very good reasons. Compared these two books, Cooper definitely has a clear route to follow, with a solid source to retrieve from — research based users’ goals. Persona as a user model is presented as individual people, yet represents groups of users with shared behavior patterns. This nature of persona could enable an honest information inheritance from research results and have a vivid characteristic to commute with stakeholders. Once having well-built persona, persona-based scenarios could be gained to represent how the specific persona will interact with specific product or interface. Requirements then could be retrieved from the scenarios correspondingly. We could now see a clear path to follow in terms of defining product requirements: qualitative research –> persona –> persona-based scenarios –> requirements.

The process of creating persona and analyzing persona to generate scenarios & requirements reminds me of a popular Website in China: the Chinese Facebook –Renren.com. I actually met the founder W of this Website about two years ago. He said honestly that when they created Renren, there were several competitors out there in China. Everyone is trying to design the features of the social Website by themselves but no one succeed very well. W and his team then decided they would just copy Facebook since they had similar target users (college students) and Facebook’s success had been verified by the market. However, if they just copied everything from Facebook, I’d say they would fail or at least not that popular as they are now. What did they change, then? Considering the different national culture, it is reasonable to have different users’ goals. For example, Chinese people will more care about who have payed attention to my posts; how people think of me after they saw my posts (status, pictures, or diaries); could I “secretly” visit someone’s page without he knowing about it; and who is the most popular person in my university? According to Norman’s three level of cognitive processing, I would say these belong to behavioral and reflective processing, which are very important to build long-term product relationships. Once these end goals of users are fulfilled, users will “upgrade” to loyal users. To fulfill these user goals, requirements could be generated. Such as users need to see who visited them recently; number of visits should be displayed in dominant position; and Website could show who is the most popular according to visit rate. Then here we go, Renren, a Chinese Facebook:

The "Recent Visitor" Function of Renren.com

The "Recent Visitor" Function

The "Number of Visits" of Renren

The "Number of Visits"

The "Most Popular People" Display of Renren.com

The "Most Popular People" Display

How do you like it, as a non-Chinese?

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[Reading Reflection] Pervasive Usability: What and How?

This week’s reading comes from Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, chapter 1 (Pervasive Usability: Usability throughout the design process).

This book could be used as an important supplement of Cooper’s About Face 3, as it covers the content corresponding to Chapter 1~Chapter 7 of Cooper’s, but emphasizes more heavily on the usability methods part rather than broader goal-directed design principles. With the whole book aiming for integrating usability into web design process, the first chapter gives us an overview of how usability should be carried out during web development, which they named “pervasive usability”.

The first topic being covered in this chapter is a brief summary of usability methods, dividing into two broad categories: real data from real users and those gathered without users. This topic will be further talked in detail when it comes to description of each methods in later chapters.

The authors then talked about the design process, which they refer to as “pervasive usability process”. In this part, authors underscored the importance of having evaluation at different stages of design, and integrating other usability methods into every stage of process. So we could see their points of how to make usability “pervasive”: at each stage you will involve usability methods such as interviews, focus groups, and task analysis; after each stage, you will go through evaluation “to ensure that the design is on track to satisfy the goals of the design” (Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, p15).

The Pervasive Usability Process

The Pervasive Usability Process

In the third part, authors came to the practical issue of project management regarding integrating usability into project plan. This is my favorite part of this chapter, since it opens my eyes to a realistic and critical aspect affecting the success of user-centered design. In order to save usability from being cut off when time conflict or budget conflict happens, it is essential to understand tradeoffs and plan the resources well beforehand. As the author classified, there are mainly three critical resources: money, people, and time. For budget planning, this chapter introduced using a spreadsheet as a good approach. Remember to contain hours needed for each stage, slack time cost, as well as evaluation in the budget planning. Staff planning is closely related to schedule planning, since it is essential to have the right people available at certain stages, while multiple projects might be going on at the same time. The following figure (Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, p27) is an interesting standpoint to think about resource arrangement for projects.

Staffing by Project Stages

Staffing by Project Stages

Finally, the author introduced the framework to choose different usability methods throughout the design process. There are several key attributes being considered in this framework: (1) Is it a required task? Non-required task might be omitted if any resource conflict happens, but might lead to product failure. (2) Time to perform the method. A usability method could take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as several months; choose feasible one according to your schedule planning. (3) Costs. Of course, choose one affordable and cost effective for certain stage. (4) Learning time. Extra time should be planned if usability specialists have no experience with this method. (5) Confidence level. We have to take the risk of getting misleading information into account. (6) Impact on final design: the earlier the stage, the greater the impact on final design. As you could see, choosing a “good” usability method is a multi-attribute decision making — which is hard. Maybe eventually, there is no an absolute “good” choice but rather a “suitable” choice, given the budget, staff, and time constrains. But it is always useful to keep these important aspects in mind when making the decision.

I am eager to see more details about how to penetrate these usability methods in each web develop stages in the next chapters.

[Reading Reflections] Use-centered Approach: What and Why?

Reading Material: Chapter 1 of  About Face 3, Measuring the User Experience, Design of Everyday things, and Designing Web Usability.

I appreciate these reading materials since they define the key concept — usability and/ or user-centered design — from different aspects. Why I said it is the key concept for this course as well as for today’s design? Because we don’t lack emerging designs and products in our life, but we DO lack good designs that make us just feel happy when we use them.

So, first, what exactly is user-centered approach? Different authors have slightly different definition fitted into different context. But I think we can put it as simple as “the design that makes people happy”. So just as Steve Krug put it, “get rid of the question mark”! Compared to the bad designs that based on designers’ or programmers’ own view, this approach focused on the ease of use rather than ease of make or ease of code. Thus, it requires designers to understand users’ desires, needs, motivations, and contexts, and put them in the center of the design strategies. Among these readings, I personally like the Cooper’s interpretation using goal-directed approach the best, because it offers a higher and broader point of view to direct our focus, instead of focusing on single task or activity (which might also be called user-centered design!).

Of course, things are always easy to say than done. In order to use this approach in our future design, we need to fall to utilizing the principles in a systematical way. Another good point about these reading materials is that they offer scientific methodologies that we could follow. For example, in About Face 3, Cooper brought up the design process based on goal-directed design; also in Measuring the User Experience, I am glad to find the quantitative way to support design decision.

In the end, I would like to share why usability matters. As we can image, usability is everywhere in our life. From playing a smart phone, or using a microwave at home, to operating a high-speed rail, usability is not only about pleasure but could be about life or death (if you have heard about the tragic high-speed rail accident just happened in China, partly because of bad design of communication system). As an engineer planning a career in usability research and interaction design, I believe it is never too careful about usability. It is about the success of your product, it is about revenue for a business, and it is also about changing the way people interact with the world.