A reaction to “User centered design and international development.” Dearden, et al (2007)

The concept of User Centred Design (UCD) is predicated upon the idea that the needs of the end user are not only critical but must be considered throughout the whole design process. In a good design, “(1.) the user can figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on” (Norman 1988, pg. 188). More specifically, Norman argues that design should:

  • Make it easy to determine what actions are possible at any moment (make use of constraints).
  • Make things visible, including the conceptual model of the system, the alternative actions, and the results of actions.
  • Make it easy to evaluate the current state of the system.
  • Follow natural mappings between intentions and the required actions; between actions and the resulting effect; and between the information that is visible and the interpretation of the system state. (Norman 1988, pg. 188).

The design principles espoused by Norman and others are often spoken about in a manner that implies that they are globally applicable. I’ve been questioning this assumption and have developed an interest in looking at the global applicability of Continue reading

Designers as neo-colonialist

Any good designer knows that involving users in the design process is crucial to the success of what is being created. Many scholarly works have been produced (Ashlund & Hix. 1992, Olson et al. 1992, Sugar & Boling 1995, Vredenburg et al 2002, Carr-Chellman 2007), espousing and extolling the virtues of user-centered design. However, some of the conversations, whether purposefully or inadvertently, do not acknowledgment the role culture plays in design. For far too long, creation of most technologies has reflected a  “design trickle down” approach, which ignores the global diffusion of technology, while upholding hegemonic paradigm of create in the global north and adapt/adopt in the global south with little adjustment or consideration for the adopter/adapters.

It is only recently that attention is given to include what has been termed the “developing world” into the design of technological tools and how these tools contribute Continue reading

Reaction Note: Chapter 10: Orchestration and Flow

word count: 629


Chapter 10 focused on the need for interaction designers to get out of the way of the user. The author refers to this concept as mental ergonomics and argues that designers should design products which “support user intelligence and effectiveness”, and should “avoid disrupting the state of productive concentration that we want our users to be able to maintain” (pg. 201). The goal of the designer should be to create a user interface that doesn’t necessarily “leave the users in awe of their beauty, but rather are hardly even noticed because they can be used so effortlessly” (pg.221)

Flow and transparency:
The concept of flow, first identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is concerned with designing a program in which users “are able to concentrate wholeheartedly on an activity, [that] they lose awareness of peripheral problems and distractions” (pg 201). To create a sense of flow, the interaction of the programmer and or designer with the software must become transparent (pg.202).  To illustrate the concept of Flow and transparency, the authors devised 15 principles of “designing harmonious interactions”

  1. Follow the users’ mental modes:  A physician in the hospital and a business manager in the same hospital form different mental images about how software perform different task and use those images to look for pattern of causes and effects to gain insight into the machine’s behaviour. Thus although they may use the same software, the interface may need to be designed to each of their need.
  2. Less is more:  Strive to reduce the number of elements in user interface without reducing capability
  3. Enable users to direct, don’t force them to discuss: interactions should function as tools and not engage the user in a dialog
  4. Keep tools close at hand: keep tools on tool bars and make them accessible by keyboard shortcuts.
  5. Provide modeless feedback: feedback should be built into the structure of the interaction (e.g. status bar) instead of pop up windows that interrupt flow
  6. Design for the probable; provide for the possible: interface should accommodate what is possible but the programmer must design for all the possibilities and probabilities
  7. Provide comparisons: comparison is important but must be relevant.
  8. Provide direct manipulation and graphical input: a user should be able to turn graphics to data as easily as they can represent data graphically
  9. Reflect object and application status: when application is a sleep or awake it should reflect the state
  10. Avoid unnecessary reporting:  the application should do its job instead of constantly reporting how it accomplished tasks
  11. Avoid blank slates:  normal users would rather see what the program thinks is right than be asked what they wish to do
  12. Differentiate between command and configuration:  an application should perform a function instead of interrogating the user about configuration details.
  13. Provide choices:  Use of toolbars instead of asking questions with dialog boxes.
  14. Hide the ejector seat levers:  Interface design must assure that a user can never inadvertently perform some irreversible actions.
  15. Optimize for responsiveness: Staring at a screen while waiting for a program to respond disturbs the user’s sense of flow

The concept of flow and transparency in software design can be likened to the experience of going to the movie theatre. Once an individual enters a movie theatre, the goal is escapism. There are no lights, clocks, and the doors have exits signs (perhaps only because of legality), but they are hardly visible or noticeable (casinos adhere to the same principles).

This chapter provoked questions about the intrusiveness of technology or how technology may inhibit learning. It further was a reminder of my interest in the design and research of immersive learning environments rather than focusing or emphasising technology as the term “Educational Technologies” sometime implies.

Reference: Cooper, Reimann, & Cronin. (2007). About face 3: The essentials of Interaction Design. Wiley.

Reaction note: Synthesizing Good Design: Principles and Patterns


In declaring that “a solution’s ability to meet the goals and needs of users while also accommodating business goals and technical constraints is one measure of design quality,” the authors begin to lay out their arguments for what they believe “makes a design solution good” and why it is important that the design process be human centered.

The 8th chapter of “About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design” discusses what I deem to be the humanistic aspect of the design process and how it can be measured. The authors argue that design quality can be measured by looking at the design principles and patterns being utilized in the design process.

Design principles are value driven and “at the core of these values is the notion that technology should serve human intelligence and imagination (rather than the opposite) and that people’s experiences with technology should be structured in accordance with their abilities of perception, cognition, and movement” (pg.150). Design principles can be divided into four categories which are not necessarily hierarchical:
• Design Values
• Conceptual principles
• Behavioral principles
• Interface-level principles

The above four categories of principles should be anchored in the design values of the interaction designer, with the purpose of serving the needs of human being:

• Ethical [considerate, helpful]
• Purposeful [useful, usable]
• Pragmatic [viable, feasible]
• Elegant [efficient, artful, affective]

Design Patterns, are more procedural in nature in that they are aimed at formalizing the design process with such purposes as:
• Reduce time and effort on new projects
• Improve the quality of design solutions
• Facilitate communication between designers and programmers
• Educate designers

A frustration that I often have with some designers is that there seem to be a disconnect between their product and the greater good. There is often a failure to articulate how a product will improve the lives of others. Some designers seem driven only by the desire to create something cool, to push the limits of technology. There’s nothing wrong with this school of thought necessarily because pushing technology can yield many benefits, however, I do not believe that taking a humanistic approach to design and pushing the limits of technology need to be mutually exclusive.

An intentional discussion of design values that are based on an ethical code of conduct, is to me as integral to the design process as any other design decisions and consideration. It is important to always be mindful of the fact that another being will make use of the product created and that there are benefits and effect that will be derived from the product. This is perhaps more critical in developing education software/product because educators are given far more trust than perhaps many other occupations.

Reference: Cooper, Reimann, & Cronin. (2007). About face 3: The essentials of Interaction Design. Wiley.

word count: 445


Reaction Note: From Requirements to Design: The Framework and Refinement


Having focused on research and planning in previous chapters, Cooper et al, move into discussing the actual design. The chapter is divided into two sections, one on design framework and the other on refinement.

The Design Framework “defines the overall structure of the user’s experience, from the arrangement of functional elements on the screen, to interactive behaviours and the underlying organizing principles, to visual and form language used to express data, concepts, functionality, and brand identity” (pg. 126). The authors divide the design frame work into three concurrent categories. The first category is the interaction framework – in which screens and behaviours are created based on the scenarios and requirements and through the following non-linear six steps:

1. Define from factor, posture, and input methods
2. Define functional and data elements
3. Determine functional groups and hierarchy
4. Sketch the interaction framework
5. Construct key path scenarios
6. Check designs with validation scenarios

A second parallel category is the creation of a visual design framework, which is done through:
1. the use of developed visual language studies which include “colour, type and widget treatments, as a way of assessing the overall tone and suitability of the general interactions and to see whether the interactions can distract the users
2. By applying the chosen visual styles to the screen archtype through a rendering of one or two selected key screens (pg 136).

The third component of the design framework is the Industrial design framework which includes the:

1. Collaboration with interaction designers about form factors and input methods,
2. Development of a rough prototypes, and the
3. Development of form language studies
as a way of creating something physically tangible that can be utilised and evaluated.

The beginning of the evaluation process is what the author refers to as the refinement phase, “where the design is translated into a final, concrete form” (141). This is accomplished through the refining of form and behaviour as well as through design validation and usability testing.

Although the refining process is very critical, the authors cautions that “it is at its core a means to evaluate, not to create. It is not an alternative to interaction design, and it will never be the source of that great idea that makes a compelling product. Rather, it is a method to assess the effectiveness of ideas you’ve already had and to smooth over the rough edges” (pg. 143).

In accordance with their emphasis on the use of full and comprehensive Personas’ the authors, urge the reader to pretend that the product being created is human because “pretending the system is human is a powerful tool to structure interaction-level detail” (pg. 129).

Although the above is sound advice, I am curious as to whether the questions that the authors encourage designers to consider are appropriate when it comes to designing educational software. The questions that a designer is asked to consider are: “what would a helpful human do? What would a thoughtful considerate interaction feel like? Is the primary persona being treated humanely by the product? In what way can the software offer helpful information without getting in the way? How can it minimize the persona’s effort in reaching his goal?”

The aforementioned questions would yield different responses depending on what product the interactions are being created for. Educational product I believe can by their very nature be at times frustrating to the user so as to not overly simplify or obstruct learning. If the tool continually gives away the answers or is exceedingly intuitive, one has to question whether or not learning is taking place, or simply a conformation of existing knowledge.

The questions that are posed and the encouragement to consider the product as human are amply relevant for products such as mobile telephones as illustrated by an example offered in the chapter. However they are not always appropriate for educational software because at times as a way of teaching, it is important to present challenges to learners that may be frustrating, (or perhaps what the authors may term “inhumane”) as a way of facilitating learning.

Reference: Cooper, Reimann, & Cronin. (2007). About face 3: The essentials of Interaction Design. Wiley.

word count: 682

Reaction Note: Chapter 6 – Foundation of Design

Complementing the previous chapter on the use of personas as a mean of gaining insight on end users, chapter six aims to utilize the information gather on personas and thereby begin “the first part of a process for bridging the research-design gap” (pg.108).

In the foundations of Design: Scenarios and Requirements, the authors discuss the four major activities of arriving at a design solution which include “developing stories or scenarios as a means of imagining ideal user interactions, using those scenarios to define requirements and using requirements in turn to define the fundamental interaction framework”

Originating from work done in the Human-Computer-Interaction field, scenarios are commonly used as “a method of design problem solving by concretization: making use of a specific story to both construct and illustrate design solutions” (pg.111). The concept of “requirements”, differs from features or functions, in that it refers to “what the product will do before you design how the product will do it” (pg.114).

What registered with me was how the chapter captured in its opening paragraph the quintessential and integral concern of instructional designers or perhaps any designer, which is “how to create a design solution that satisfy and inspire users, while simultaneously addressing business goals and technical constraints” (pg. 109). Put simply, how does one create something that would have the user say “that’s cool” but still allow the user and or the sponsoring organization meet it stated desired goals and objectives that necessitated the request for the design of the product. At times these two concepts are mutually exclusive, and there is always a risk of going for the cool affect as a way of showcasing programming and designing skills while forgoing the learning component and/or completely missing the learning focus or the need/goals of the end user.

Alternatively, one can get focused on the end goal and the narrow definition of the end users’ needs and miss the magic of the design process. Designers must never cease “pretending it is magic”. Magic is a powerful tool in early stages of developing scenarios especially for interfaces. “If your persona has goals and the product has magical powers to meet them, how simple could the interaction be” (pg.121)? This statement serves as a reminder that an important aspect to the instructional systems/educational technology field is not simply to extend the reach of education by making it accessible en masse, rather it is also to be aware of and seek out the opportunities to do on computers, online, or virtual environments what is not possible in the physical environments. To be able to achieve this it is imperative that the designers look outside the box and think of creative ways to accomplish what seems to be technically impossible. In other words, to create magic!

The background of individuals in any team is as much rich in creativity and inspiration as it is in creative blockades. Thus, ‘awakening the magic,’ would perhaps be the title of a research piece based on this chapter. The question would concern how team leaders can create the environments that cultivate the magic and encouraged the designers to remove the blockades and get outside their boxes.

Reference: Cooper, Reimann, & Cronin. (2007). About face 3: The essentials of Interaction Design. Wiley.

Word Count: 529

Reaction Note: – Chapter 5 – Modeling Users: Personas and Goals

Mobile devices, game consoles, and many other technologies all share a commonality. They have millions of varied users but are all designed at most by a few hundred people, with even fewer making decisions about the final aspects of the products. In chapter 5 “Modeling Users: Personas and Goals”, the authors give a glimpse into the processes of such designs through the explanation of Personas, Goals and offer steps on how to create such personas.

Personas provide designers with a “way of thinking and communication about how users behave, how they think, what they wish to accomplish, and why” (pg.75). To make personas effective it is important that they are based on research about the target audience and not on stereotypes or caricatures of groups. Through creation of personas the designer must feel as if she or he has an inside knowledge of the user and in a way be able to picture that user and understand or be knowledgeable of their behavior. That understanding is referred to in the chapter as goals.

Goals motivate the use of products. Goal motivate individuals to act in a certain ways in order to achieve their said objective, as such, “user goals serve as a lens through which designers must consider the functions of a product” (pg.88). .

Although the explanation of Personas and Goals was a good reminder/refresher for me, I was not completely satisfied by the section on constructing personas. The author’s seven steps on how one can create a persona are incomplete in that they do not go far enough in giving examples to the reader of how they can be used. Explaining the concepts is not sufficient, giving contextual examples of how these steps can be put into action would have been better.

What research questions did the chapter make me think about (if any?)
The chapter left me with a curiosity of cross cultural persona creation. One research interest I have is to examine learning tools in use today are designed with the intentions of being used in different cultures. With the constant fast spread of technology, one has to ask if the tools that exist today were designed to be used globally. For example, if a designer in California creates a product that helps learners with math, can that product then be used in Ouagadougou with the same outcomes. Does the success of a technological product globally mean that designers have successfully replicated and incorporate cross-cultural design principles or have other cultures simply adapted and continue to incorporate technologies that did not have “them” in mind at their inceptions?

Reference: Cooper, Reimann, & Cronin. (2007). About face 3: The essentials of Interaction Design. Wiley.

word count: 478