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Interface design, 2002: Interviews

IX.2 March 2002
Page: 119
Digital Citation

Perspectives on interaction design by Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp, and Jennifer J. Preece


Authors:


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EADE: For what audience have you written your new book?

JENNY: Our book is written for undergraduate and master's students; practitioners will find it useful too. It also provides Ph.D. students with a good grounding in the theory and practice of HCI and interaction design. We've pointed out areas where further research is needed which we hope Ph.D. students will be challenged to tackle.

HELEN: The three of us have backgrounds in different subject areas and, therefore, different perspectives on interaction design. Our book provides a view of the subject that will be accessible to students from a number of disciplines, including cognitive psychology, computer science, and information systems. Parts of the book are also appropriate for practitioners including Web designers and usability professionals. The preface gives some suggested routes through the text to accommodate different courses that may use the book.

YVONNE: Some books take a commercial product development and practice approach to HCI-interaction design. While there is a need for this kind of textbook, especially for students who are training to be practitioners, we chose to take a more academic view of the field, targeting undergraduates and graduates doing courses in computer science, psychology, human-computer interaction, and information systems. Hence, we cover the development of HCI and the design and evaluation methods that have evolved, how they came about, and how they are used. For example, we include a section on GOMS [Goals, Operators, Methods, and Selection Rules] and the keystroke technique, even though we know it is not widely used in practice. We include it because we know that a number of researchers and professors think highly of the method and continue to teach and use it themselves; getting students to understand its strengths and weaknesses is also instructive. We chose to describe unconventional methods like Bill Gaver's cultural probes, which would not be taken seriously in practice but which are useful in certain circumstances and are great for doing research. In sum, we tried to give an overview of what is currently happening in the field of HCI rather than focusing on the practice of interaction design in the commercial world. It would be great if someone wrote a book about the fallacies and pitfalls of HCI, but I am not sure anyone would have the nerve to write it. A lot of debate about methods and practice is currently best done in the classroom rather than in a standard textbook.

EADE: The goals of any interaction design problem are contextually defined, and students need to know that there is no holy grail of objectives for every design effort. How do you write a book to instruct on the topic of interaction design?

HELEN: Well, an important point to emphasize is exactly as you say, that there is no Holy Grail. You must be honest about the importance of context and give readers some tools and techniques to help them understand their users' context and to use that information to good effect. We encourage students to think about issues rather than accepting a cookbook approach to design.

YVONNE: There is no "one way" of doing or thinking about the field of interaction design; there are several approaches and conflicting views on topics. For example, some designers prefer to focus on affordances, while others believe in sticking strictly to the principle of consistency. Having several approaches gets people thinking and debating rather than simply accepting things as given.

JENNY: In this book we focus more on the issues and processes involved in HCI and interaction design than on providing a catalog of topics. We do this partly because the field has matured and there is a stronger consensus about how to do design and evaluation. The field of HCI has also broadened to include many more topics such as mobile devices, wearables, and of course, the Web. However, we stress that with such a variety of products coming onto the market it is essential for students to understand that the design process must be adapted for the design context.

EADE: Definitions can be slippery, and the practitioner community and the academic community don't always use the same terms to mean the same thing. How do you define "user experience"?

HELEN: I take a holistic view of "user experience." From my own point of view, the user experience encompasses all aspects of a user's interaction with a product. This includes direct interaction to complete a task: how the user feels about the product and the kinds of emotions the experience invokes, how well the product supports the user in achieving the task, how enjoyable the experience is to the user, and so on. The user experience also includes the user's indirect interaction resulting from the impact the product has on the user's wider context. This may well start before the final product is available, especially when developing a tailor-made product and users are involved in the development process. The user experience of that product begins when the user first meets the concept. Whether and how users are involved in the development process can greatly color their perceptions of the final product and hence their experience of it in use.

EADE: Your textbook draws a direct contrast between usability and user experience goals. In chapter 1 of your book, you call user experience goals "pleasure factors." Can you expand on how you have characterized "user experience"?

YVONNE: The fact you raise this issue about what we mean by it also resonates with my own concerns about how "user experience" is used in the HCI literature and in design practice at large. In the book we use the term very loosely, in a way that is often used by interaction designers: "designing interactive products to support people in their everyday and working lives." In particular, it is about creating user experiences that enhance and extend the way people work, communicate, and interact. We also try to define one aspect of the user experience in terms of some high-level goals. We want to show the distinction between what has traditionally been described as "usability goals" and the more recent set of "other" goals to which many designers and researchers are paying increasing attention. We tried coming up with a number of terms (including design challenges, user goals) but were not happy with these as they were too vague, and in the end we think that the term "user experience goals" seemed most apt:

The emergence of technologies (e.g., virtual reality, the Web, mobile computing) in a diversity of application areas (e.g., entertainment, education, home, public areas) has brought about a much wider set of concerns. Instead of focusing primarily on the goals of improving efficiency and productivity at work, interaction design is increasingly concerning itself with creating systems that are satisfying, enjoyable, fun, entertaining, helpful, motivating, aesthetically pleasing, support creativity, rewarding, and emotionally fulfilling.

The goals of designing interactive products to be fun, enjoyable, pleasurable, aesthetically pleasing, and so on are concerned primarily with the user experience, rather than usability. By this we mean "what the interaction with the system feels like to the users."

HELEN: The aesthetics of a product provoke very powerful reactions. A student project I ran with 150 students who asked questions of mobile communicator stakeholders found that stakeholders were more concerned about aesthetic aspects than any usability concerns.

YVONNE: In the introductory chapters of the book we focus on how to describe the high-level goals of interaction design, so we tried to come up with a term that best reflects this wider set of concerns. We feel that "user experience goals" are really not usability goals in the more traditional use of the term because many of them have nothing to do with how usable something is. Perhaps we should have called everything "user experience goals," of which a subset are usability goals. What we were trying to do was show the changes that are taking place in the field, especially the expansion to look at many more issues.

The term "user experience" currently is used in a very general way. However, we may wish to think more about what is meant by it in relation to interaction design. This got me thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to have an ongoing discussion between designers and researchers of what we mean by user experience. So what do you say to having some kind of discussion on the concept of "user experience" in relation to the process of "interaction design" in interactions magazine?

EADE: Sounds like a public challenge—we'd love to hear from interactions readers on this topic!

YVONNE: I think it would be very timely as there really is nothing out there that does this. I think it would also help clarify for students and others the relationship between the "user experience" and the "'designer's experience of trying to create the user experience." When looking at how various interaction design consultancies use the term, I was struck by how vaguely it is used. In other words, it can mean anything.

HELEN: One of the key issues in establishing the requirements for a product is to make sure that you have managed to understand how the product will support the users. This means that you have to uncover a wide variety of requirements, each of which will have different relative importance. Design goals that are important for the product under development will arise from these requirements, and the understanding you have gleaned about the users. This may include making the experience "fun," but depending on the target audience for the product, this may be more or less significant than making it efficient. We're back to the notion that the context defines the design goals.

JENNY: In a rapidly evolving multidisciplinary field like interaction design, terms tend to be used inconsistently but people understand when they are really talking about the same thing. However, when you write a book you have to define your terms. We therefore had a thin line to tread between staying within the accepted terminology of the field and moving beyond it to more clearly define our terms for newcomers to the field. I'm sure this must be a common problem in other disciplines, too—and it is exacerbated when the terms that are used are also part of everyday colloquial English.

EADE: Where do you think tomorrow's interaction designers should get their education? Don Norman answered that question, posed by a student at a public lecture, by saying that experience is the only valid teacher. Students in the audience of more than 200 looked crestfallen at the answer.

I want my interface design students to know HCI formalisms, where to use them, and to what extent. Being conversant with many methods is greatly beneficial, and I agree that the classroom rather than a textbook is the place to make the point regarding to what extent a method is useful. But those of us who hire new practitioners face a familiar frustration: a good many people who come out of an academic training in HCI have learned little about practical constraints. Conversely, many of my students are already practicing interaction designers without formal training; they come to the university to learn basic formalisms to help them do their work. Isn't it time for textbooks to bridge education and practice?

YVONNE: I have the same experience as you do with new research fellows coming on board. Their academic background does not scale up to the demands of being part of a collaborative research team. They need at least 6–12 months to get up to speed, following closely an apprenticeship model (with me showing them the way). I imagine there are parallels when getting new recruits in industrial/commercial settings. In answer to your question, yes, I think experience is key. The American model of having internships for students during their studies is an excellent way of providing a stepping stone between school and work. But in the long run, for someone to become fully trained, they need hands-on experience. I think academic/formal schooling provides the background knowledge for doing interaction design and the basic skills for being part of a team (e.g., the ability to think critically, analyze, communicate, etc.). But students need a lot more than this to become "educated." So I don't think experience is the only valid teacher, though it is central. Finally, I don't think a textbook can ever bridge the gap between education and practice. It's what a tutor and the students do with the text that bridges the gap. Education should be viewed broadly, so when you ask, rhetorically, "where should they get their education?" I would answer by providing them with a mixed diet of learning experiences including practical experience such as projects and internships.

HELEN: When I was at City University, I was struck by the difference between students before they went on their one-year industrial placement (in their third year), and afterwards. During this placement year, they joined a commercial organization as a member of staff, drawing a salary and experiencing what it means to work in a team, to have customers, to have a boss, etc. The kind of positions they held varied from technical help desk liaison to Web site development, to trainee accountancy work. In short, they had experience working in a real organization under typical work pressures. Two observations in particular struck me about these differences. First, students are different in their level of maturity, in terms of their willingness to evaluate situations critically, their preparedness to accept that the information they were given through their degree program might have some relevance to their future working lives, and their ability to relate the knowledge gained in school with real-life experience. Second, I was surprised at how vehemently the second-year students would defend the design of certain products when I tried to use them as examples of questionable design. They seemed unable to do anything other than accept the software as it was given to them, and would happily tell me how to get around problems, and that it didn't matter when elements of the interaction were clumsy or counterintuitive. As I dug deeper, it transpired that the vast majority of them had no experience of other systems with which to compare. To try and encourage this skill, I asked them one year to evaluate their cell phones, but again I found that they were reluctant to do it. So what am I saying for the wider education debate in interaction design? Well, I certainly think that experience is an excellent teacher, but we can do some things in the classroom to broaden students' minds, such as fostering an ability to critically evaluate situations, systems, and products, exposing students to many different interaction paradigms and to different approaches to design and to evaluation. In this way, students will be more receptive to new ideas and will be better placed to choose appropriately between alternatives.

JENNY: No single text, Web site, video, or professor can provide the entire mixed diet to which Yvonne refers. For over 40 years educational researchers have pointed out the fallacy of looking for simple solutions that aim to pour knowledge into students' heads as though they were empty vessels. We hope that including pedagogic components in our book, such as activities and interviews with leading HCI researchers and practitioners, will help to narrow the gap between learning in a university and practicing in a commercial design team. I hope our book will be used to support semester-long projects in which students work in teams to build or evaluate an application or Web site that will be used by others after their class ends (e.g., their campus, a local business, or a not-for-profit organization) or for a research project that will be published. Seeing their work benefit others is very satisfying for students. In the words of Schön, such experiences encourage reflection in action and lead to reflective practitioners. Our aim in writing this book is to challenge and motivate students to think beyond the traditional scope of HCI, so that they can tackle tomorrow's design problems as well as today's.

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Yvonne Rogers

Interact Lab, School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
Sussex University
Brighton, BN1 9QH, United Kingdom
yvonner@cogs.susx.ac.uk
www.cogs.susx.ac.uk/users/yvonner

Yvonne Rogers is an associate professor in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at Sussex University, United Kingdom. She is internationally known for her work in human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work and has published widely in both fields. She is interested in new paradigms for computing, especially ubiquitous, pervasive, and tangible interfaces. Her research focuses on augmenting everyday and work activities with interactive technologies. In particular, she designs external representations, especially dynamic visualizations, to support more effectively "external cognition." Previous positions include a lecturer at the Open University and a senior researcher at telecommunications company Alcatel. She has also been a visiting scholar at University of California at San Diego and a visiting professor at Stanford University, at Apple Computer, and at University of Queensland.

Helen Sharp

Computing Department,
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom
h.c.sharp@open.ac.uk

Helen Sharp is an associate professor in the Computing Department of the Mathematics and Computing Faculty at The Open University, United Kingdom. Previously she worked in the Center for HCI Design at City University in London. She has been teaching and researching in software engineering, HCI, and object-oriented development for nearly 20 years. Helen trained originally as a software engineer and spent several years working in the City of London developing a variety of commercial software systems. Her research focuses on understanding the professional culture of software development and how best to support collaboration within multidisciplinary teams that include software engineers. This research has led her to study a number of design disciplines, including electrical, electronic, software, architectural, and knitwear design.

Jennifer J. Preece

Professor and Chair, Information Systems
University of Maryland Baltimore County
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250
preece@umbc.edu
www.ifsm.umbc.edu/~preece
www.ifsm.umbc.edu/onlinecommunities

Jenny Preece researches and teaches human-computer interaction at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Her research focuses on integrating usability and sociability in the design of online communities. Her current research projects include investigating the relationship between online and face-to-face patient interactions in order to better support the transition between the two; examining the role and extent of lurking in online communities; and developing heuristics and metrics for evaluating online communities. Before coming to the United States five years ago, Jenny was a professor at South Bank University in London, and before that she worked in distance education at the British Open University.

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Yvonne Rogers

UF2Figure. Helen Sharp

UF3Figure. Jennifer J. Preece

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©2002 ACM  1072-5220/02/0300  $5.00

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