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Re: FW: UI Design Update newsletter - December, 1999

From: <Michael_Muller@lotus.com>
Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2000 14:16:44 -0500
To: <po@trace.wisc.edu>
Cc: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org, hfi@humanfactors.com
Message-ID: <OF2030CC2F.9C84124E-ON8525685B.0066C3B5@lotus.com>

I have a number of concerns with Bob Bailey's advices.  I'll note them
below, with excerpts from Bob.  Each of my comments begins with the string
"<<<" and ends with the string ">>>".

In general, my concerns with Bob's work (here and historically) are that he
takes a particular engineering approach that emphasizes efficiency and
productivity for a "typical" user.  I have several problems with this
approach:

- Efficiency and productivity are not necessarily desirable attributes.
Taken to extremes, they can lead to the "electronic sweatshops" that Garson
described in her book, "The Electronic Sweatshop."  Some applications will
work better (for users, for providers, for businesses) if the design
emphasizes quality of outcome (e.g., process control or safety systems), or
pleasurableness of experience (e.g., games), or completeness of coverage
(e.g., on-line searches), or privacy (e.g., medical or financial
transactions). Some of these values may compete directly with productivity
and efficiency.   We need to know what people value, before we know what to
emphasize in our design.

- My second point is probably obvious to this list.  A focus on "the"
"typical" user is to me a *big* problem in accommodating diversity in
general, and disability access in particular.  I am concerned that this
kind of thinking underlies much of Bob's advices.

--michael
-----
Michael Muller
Lotus Research
Lotus Development Corporation
55 Cambridge Parkway
Cambridge MA 02142 USA
mullerm@acm.org or michael_muller@lotus.com
+1 617 693 4235 (voice)   +1 617 693 1407 (fax)

-----
Excerpts from Bob's advices, with my <<< comments >>>:

USERS AND TASKS
DO know clearly the intended use of the website by typical users -- what
features do they need (not want)
<<< The argument of typicality is of course where we have had problems in
accommodation.  The concept of "typical" is very close to the concept of
"average" or "mean" or "median."  I'd much rather see an emphasis on the
range (i.e., diversity) of both usage and users. >>>
[...]
DO use 'frequency of use' of tasks as a major guide to
appropriate decisions
<<< Again, I am concerned the aggregate descriptions of "frequency of use"
will disenfranchise minority users whose frequencies of use may be
different from the majority.  Again, I'd rather see a range of kinds of
usage. >>>
DO optimize high frequency (high priority) tasks -- use 'tiering'
<<< See my comments, above -- once again, we have a potential unintended
tyranny of the majority. >>>
DO design for 'ease of use' not 'ease of learning'
<<< This is a repeat of the advice "DO NOT design for 'first time users'",
above.  We probably need to see this advice only once. >>>
DO clearly understand the profile of typical users, and make
appropriate design decisions
<<< Again, concepts of "typical" and especially "the profile" imply a
single model of "the" user.  Our problems are often to accommodate a
diversity of users." >>>
DO listen to users on functionality issues, but do not let users
make design decisions -- do not rely on users for good design
decisions -- ask users 'what' they do, not 'how' best to do it
<<< Well, the participatory design (PD) tradition makes a very different
argument.  PD says that users (considered as "experts in the work domain")
and designers and developers and other stakeholders *together* make
stronger, better designs.  Bob is arguing from one interpretation of the
expertise of trained designers and/or trained engineers.  But there are
other traditions and other interpretations of what kind of knowledge -- and
whose knowledge -- should be included to make a successful design.  From my
experience in PD, the crucial problem is to *combine diverse knowledges*,
rather than to compartmentalize what kind of advice can be received from
what kind of person. >>>
[...]
DO determine whether users are 'satisfiers' or 'performers'
and design accordingly
<<< Again, there appears to me to be an assumption of a single user profile
here. >>>
[...]
DO design for the system configuration that is used by most
users -- on the Internet it is
17' monitors
800 x 600 pixel resolution
56 kbps modems
<<< Well, yes.  Except for people with lower resolution screens, or
laptops, or (crucially) less money.  And of course there is an interaction
of economics and disability, so people with disabilities (and schools for
people with disabilities) may not be able to afford the configuration of
"most" users. >>>
__________________________________________________

PAGE DESIGN -- SPECIFIC
[...]
DO minimize the use of 'white space' in search tasks
<<< I agree with the comments that have been made on the list -- white
space can be important for some users.  I think I would suggest a
substitution for this advice -- something like "Do NOT code semantics by
means of whitespace." >>>
[...]
DO use an area of about 780 x 430 pixels for a 800 x 600 pixel
resolution page
<<< See my comments about configurations, above. >>>

[...]

USABILITY TESTING
[...]
DO make design decisions to optimize either user performance or preference
(user acceptance)
<<< Again, I infer a singular, "average" model of the user here.  Won't
performance factors vary according to user diversity?  Won't preference
factors vary according to user diversity? >>>
[...]
Received on Monday, 3 January 2000 14:18:46 GMT

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