I finally completed the last of the core courses for the HCI program. Now I only need to take two more electives and do the capstone. This last class was definitely one of the better courses I have taken. While it was similar to the HCI 460 course it is different in that it focused more on the the initial user observations whereas 460 was about usability testing methods and reporting. The class started out with us doing our own user observation. This involved finding a task to study a user performing. Then finding a user and arranging a time to observe them.
I observed a user of the content management system (CMS) we use at my work place. I know many of the problems our particular application has, but have not done any user observations. So this assignment provided the opportunity to do a little research on the CMS. Particularly, I was interested in the wysiwyg editor that is built in for editing the bodycopy of pages. The observation was very interesting as it revealed an issue which I was cognizant of, but really didn’t understand its effect on the usage of the system. The issue is, that users have problems with the editor formatting. While it is wysiwyg, it is not 100% true browser viewing. What surprised me was how often the user is interrupted in working on a page and that contributes to the problem. Often the users are in an open office and have other responsibilities, and updating the web page is a lower priority than the other things that occurred as interruptions.
Other assignments for the class involved working with a team. If you have read other posts about my academic endeavors, you know how I feel about class team work. Fortunately this turned out to be one of the better experiences. The two team members I worked with were very hardworking and competent. So it was a great challenge to be a good team member myself. One member had an excellent eye for project details and was a perfectionist. The other was a great communicator and writer. Both brought great skills to each assignment.
Each of the assignments involved an alternative inquiry method and seeing how it compared and differed from the others. One of the team members had a real world application that needed to be redesigned (as did I, but it didn’t matter which we did and I was not going to force my project on others). The application was a client tracking database or CRM tool with a twist. The twist being that it was a charity and the customers did not buy things, but received food and items as aid.
We created usage scenarios/personas, followed by a contextual inquiry, followed by a participatory design. I really enjoy creating usage scenarios as it is a creative process in itself. We used previous user interview data collected from the individual assignment (from the other team member’s first project), to create three user profiles or personas. This was followed by a contextual inquiry (CI), where because the client (the team member’s brother) was located in South Bend, Indiana (a 3 hour drive one way), I was not able to go. However, the other team member went, so it worked out… I helped prepare for the CI, creating the initial interview script, wrote up the informed consent form and did writing/analysis and formatting for the final report. For the last team assignment we did a participatory design. This we did locally and so I was able to be fully involved. We invited several people to be representative users to help create some initial designs for the CRM tool. Overall, it was interesting to see the different kinds of data that one can collect from inquiring about and observing users. Even though some methods are quite similar you can still capture different kinds of data. For example although the observation and contextual inquiry are fairly similar, the CI gave a deeper insight as to why the users chose to work the way they do. Yet, the regular observation revealed how the current application was intended to be used. So there was something that each method uncovered or shed light on.
The last class required a group presentation, which is another thing I enjoy doing a lot. To me they are opportunities to inform and entertain. Of course sharing information is important, but if it is done in a boring way, no one will remember your information, unless it is really compelling in itself. However, most of the audience will still miss it if it is not accessible after the presentation. All that to say, I finally bought Apple’s Keynote app (along with the pages app), and created a killer presentation. Having a bunch of wiz bang effects, one must be very careful to use restraint so as to not distract from your presentation. How much sadder is it for people to remember an effect than the information you were trying to share. I often think of Steve Jobs doing presentations for Apple. If you compare a Jobs presentation to almost any other CEO you know what a difference a good presentation can make on the information that is being presented.