About Work
 
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Designing for the User Experience

The Design for User Experience (UX) module was an intense 6 week module that was part of a design competition sponsored by Microsoft. The subject of this module was “data”. Currently everyone seems to be talking about it, but people can’t use this data to improve their everyday lives. Therefore the aim of the competition and the module, was to design a product that makes “data” meaningful to “average Joe”.

The starting point in our design process was “Family”. We’re all convinced that family plays a big part in your life. Many characteristics that people have in either their appearance or personality have descended down multiple generations, without them even knowing it. These characteristics are expressed in stories told from one generation to the other. This is how I know I have my grandad’s stubbornness and he received that from his father. Knowing these details about your personality makes family even more interesting.

Roots

To accommodate this, we created a tool to browse through the collections of your family stories; it is called Roots. Roots allows you to share and browse through stories from the past. With Roots it is possible to build a rich library of family stories, and explore it together with your family. Roots enhances exploration and discovery by providing the user with a completely custom way of interaction and visualization.

The Roots system takes a physical approach towards exploring family history. Roots consists of four modules, a base, and an application. Each of the four modules represents one of the following: Family, History, Location and Story. These are the parameters that can be used to explore your family stories. Adjusting the levels allows you to explore your family history.

There seems to be an abundance of technical knowledge and skills available in the team, but fewer resources seem available for important aspects like 'UFP'. The final prototype and presentation reflect this 'unbalance'. The technical achievements, in particular, were of a high level. The user validation of the concept was less solid, and the concrete interaction design (the tangible interface) also raised some questions with respect to usability.

I was satisfied with the distribution of skills amongst team members. This allowed us to fulfill our joint goal of realising a high-fidelity prototype. I see now that this distribution also had it’s effects on the “UFP” part of the module. This is an aspect to be more careful about in future collaborative projects.

“Nevertheless, the reactions of fellow students and coaches as well as from the MS liaisons were enthusiastic about the ideas behind Roots, which seems a good starting point to further develop the idea and explore its relation to basic user needs.”

In my opinion the idea behind roots and the final prototype are the strong points. The road towards this end-result could have used more user involvement.

It is not clear how user involvement shaped the Roots concept. The physical modules, the dimensions they address and the multi-layer spinning wheels seem the result of creative ideas generated by the team. The involvement of the family couple seems to mainly address the evaluation of the team's ideas and design concepts.

We should have shown more about how the user was involved in our process. We have completed multiple user-related studies before creating the interaction scenario. These activities shaped  the interaction model of the prototype.

Design Process

The envisioned process was iterative with frequent validation moments involving both users and experts. Especially when exploring, we involved experts to provide us with feedback about the most valuable direction. Multiple contexts, such as a museum, the home environment or a travelling exhibition have been considered.

When narrowing down towards a concept we chose to “design for feasibility”. This means our design decisions revolved around the notion of feasibility. Each design decision takes into account how feasible this would be to implement into a product. This approach resulted in a practical and minimal design of the physical part of the system.

Design for feasibility as a “design approach” fits me.I am pragmatic and thoughtful towards product features. This attitude helps me to create realistic and minimalist designs.

User Experience

The definition of User Experience was based on publications of Marc Hassenzahl. He explains how technology-enabled interactive products can act as mediators for experiences, and how to design these. This is written from a post-materialistic perspective, assuming that people value experiences more than material goods.
In UX terms, the prototype we created facilitated conversation between young and old and therefore provided a valuable Experience to the users. The product basically “transcended” it’s physical form in order to create a meaningful experience for it’s users.

I consider the academic background in User Experience as one of the more useful outcomes of this module; as this is very helpful information for future projects. Hassenzahl’s papers about User Experience truly create an understanding of the relationship between products and experience.

 

Teamwork & Skills

The result of this module heavily depended on teamwork. Since this was a competition, each team member tried to work in his specialised area. This ensured that our result consists of the expertise of individual team members and would be representative for the team. This approach worked out well; our team consisted of people with multiple expertises, but overlapping in such a way that we were able to have meaningful discussions about important decisions.

In retrospect, we seem to work together professionally (e.g. meeting frequently, having individual tasks) to get things done. We all had our own specific expertise. Because of this expertises however, we might have forgot to look at the concept we were working at through “an UFP lens”, as was expected during this module.

Prototype fidelity

We aimed at delivering a high-fidelity prototype. The rationale behind this decision was to provide evidence that the design can actually be used by the target group. Furthermore, the iterative process towards this high-fidelity prototype revealed the nitty-gritty details in interaction and technology that otherwise would be overlooked. This ensures that the prototype would not only look finished from the outside, but would also feel finished when using.

Looking back on this I believe we could have been more critical towards the interaction from the start. We delivered slick-looking high-fidelity prototype. But as the feedback states: there is a conceptual mismatch somewhere in the interaction. This could have been solved by having several low-fidelity interaction sessions with our target group to explore and define the possible interaction methods.

Presentation

An important part of a contest-like module is it’s presentation. We made very clear choices on this aspect. We decided to have just one spokesperson, to communicate a clear message without variations. Audience might have received this style of communication as egocentric (one person speaking) or might have judged the role of the group members because of this.