Live Programming

This is a thing I’ve been trying to keep up with, and there was a new paper: Usable Live Programming that was pretty interesting. This, of course led to see how Light Table was doing and it looks like they have an Alpha! So go check it out. And for those who are wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a video from Chris Granger that describes it better than I can.

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Reading: Participatory Design – The Third Space in HCI

The article discusses the concept of “third spaces” being built that accommodate the views of (typically) designers and users. In particular, it brings in the concept of “Hybridity” as an organizing principal of these spaces “a third space that contains an unpredictable and changing combination of attributes of each of the two bordering spaces.

To me, for something to be a space, it has to have unique content. In other words, there has to be something that exists only in the space to give it bounds. I actually think that in many of the examples mentioned in the article the focus is far more on creating mappings that establish a relationship between concepts and understandings possessed by the users and the designers. The method that I would say truly creates content that is unique to this third space is the section on games. These games have rules and content that only exists in the space. The designers and the users now have to create mappings to the game space.

The other part that I found particularly interesting was the discussion on evaluation and metrics in the Conclusion. The author states that “One of the weaknesses of the literature on participatory practices is the dearth of formal evaluations … Indeed, such studies would be difficult to perform…”

I wonder if evaluations of such systems could be performed using simulation. In Natural Algorithms and Influence Systems, Chazelle describes a simulation framework utilizing natural algorithms for the evaluation of biological and social systems. While reading this paper I was struck with how such simulations could be used to quantify qualitative methods and provide a way of performing at least some level of rigorous evaluation. Since Participatory Design is certainly a qualitative process that is used within a social context, it seems that this might be a good candidate to try out this hunch.

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Contextual Design

The article makes a lot of sense, and reflects practices that are well known, if not practiced all that much in the industry. I have worked for companies that use contextual design as described in the reading and can attest to the fact that it works well.

The ease in which contextual design practices can be implemented depend on (1) how far away from the current practice the final product winds up being, and (2) how well the users agree on what is being done and how it should be done.

I bring up the latter point because I am currently working on a system that started out as excel spreadsheets and has since been turned into a webapp. Initially, the users couldn’t see past making the system look just like a spreadsheet – in particular, their spreadsheet, and each user had a way of handing the information that was different. Much of the effort in the design and implementation of the system was in getting the users to agree on best practices. Interestingly, the further the system got away from the spreadsheet model, the more the users were able to look at the problem dispassionately and work together to arrive at a “standard” best practice.

With respect to the first point, I wonder a lot about self-driving cars. Building the technology that can actually get a car safely down the road is a pure engineering challenge. Cars do not drive the way that people do, and looking to how people drive is of limited utility in helping the development of this technology.

But users will sit in these cars. So how does that interface get developed? Do we look to chauffeurs? Passengers? Where’s the context that makes sense. Or is this the same as asking a society based on horse-drawn vehicles to describe how to interact with airplanes?

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Never heard of this, but it’s been around for a while, apparently:

It appears to be a mechanism for implementing Behavior Driven Design, which I’ve been kind of a theoretical fan of forever.

I may poke at this and see if it lends itself well to prototyping.

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From paper to photoshop

I’m glad I didn’t try this for the paper study – it took several hours. But, it reflects what was learned in the user studies, and I think it looks cleaner and more attractive than the current website:





Though I just realized I forgot the search… Fixed.

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Paper Prototype CIRs

As before, the spreadsheet got way to big to do anything like take a screenshot, so here’s a link.

Also, like before, these things are a big pain to do, and annoyingly useful. Running users through the system very early on is really just another form of collaborative design, since suggestions can be rapidly incorporated in the paper design as long as they don’t break the “architecture”. I was able to change some link names and get much better comprehension on the part of the users.

Though more interestingly for me, (and what often seems to happen with loosely structured interviews) is how themes start to emerge by watching the user perform their tasks and then asking questions about that. In this case, the website is for a dues-paying club. In the era of Big Data, why would you need that? The answer that emerged though these and the previous interviews is that a club website has the opportunity to organize and present information in a way that is unique.

A club has a high degree of trust. As such, the users in the test were comfortable with entering information (credentials, etc) that they would not feel comfortable entering for a commercial site. As such the club is able to take their information, federate it with data that is available from other sources and provide that information (in this case) in a bike-club-centric. The participants in this study found the idea of having this level of integration almost magical, and thought that it easily increased the value of belonging to the club.

Based on these interactions, the design of the revamped BBC website should be considerably more valuable to the members (and potential members) of the Baltimore cycling community. It remains to be seen if this will have any affect of the age demographic of the club, but it will certainly have up visible and active in the right places, and providing a strong incentive for membership.

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Reading: Usability Testing: Current Practice and Future

The Paper

The one takeaway, if nothing else: Any usability issue found by an inspection method is considered a false alarm if it is not also found by usability testing.

The article does a thourough job of discussing how usability testing should work. It does do a good deal of belaboring the obvious in the beginning (“The Focus is on Usability”, etc), but has a really solid section disussing the recording and analysis of data. I found particularly helpful the section on triangulation – a problem should manifest in several ways, and the section on identifying positive issues. The reason behind providing positive reviews – to ensure that the knowledge of what works is documented is something that changed my perspective on usability testing. Prior to reading this section, my unconcious assumption was that UX design/testing was a way of providing a “bug-free” experience. In reality, it needs to be much more than that.

The paper also has an extensive section on low vs. high fidelity prototypes, which will be useful later on when what we covered in this class becomes fuzzy. Which is why I’m keeping a copy of this one. The part on asynchronous remote testing was also interesting. As a user of Eclipse. I’ve seen the request to gather data many times. My guess is that this must be increasing in use, particularly since the paper was written.

Single usability metrics:  Sauro and Kindlund (2005) and McGee (2003,2004) reported on options for a single metric they have used successfully. Need to look into this.

Severity ratings. The article spends some time discussing the lack of consistency in assigment of ratings between users. Interestingly, in the current issue of Communications of the ACM, there is an article on student grading in MOOCS. It seems that there has been some success with having students first evaluate several common baseline designs, and then grade each other’s work. The grades can then be normalized using the baseline evaluations as the reference. As long as students don’t game the system (see the [iterated?] Prisoners dilemma), this could be a good approach for a potential solution.

On thinking aloud. The paper supports this very enthusiastically. I’m personally a fan for more loosely structured situations where patterns emerge rather than running through a detailed script, but the power of the technique is such that it supports this wide variety of applications.

The section on testing special populations is enormous  and just a good reference. Too much to actually summarize in any meaningful way.

The section on balancing harm with purpose was thought-provoking, but in my opinion, unhelpfully vague. When harm is considered stress from a participant struggle with a UI, I think that the term harm may have lost meaning. It may be that we need to have a term for insignificant harm. Struggle is a part of life. Will we have to submit an IRB before distributing an exam? In many cases, stress is beneficial in the long run while being uncomfortable in the short run. Consider aerobic training. Wind sprints are undeniably stressful, but critical for improving performance.

In the Future Directions section, the section on the RITE method was quite interesting. To a significant degree, it has been incorporated into the Agile development process, and integrates well into iterative development. In a way, the ultimate expression of development may either converge towards some kind of collaborative development that includes the users from initial concept to rollout, or perhaps even more interesting, user-driven development.

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