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Tuesday
Oct162007

User Sensitive Inclusive Design

I volunteered to lead the first discussion seminar bit. The paper we're looking at is "'User Sensitive Inclusive Design' - in search of a new paradigm" by Alan F Newell and Peter Gregor, published in the "Proceedings on the 2000 Conference on Universal Usability".

Following on from Graham's advice on how to read a paper, I thought about what I was expecting after I'd read the abstract. I was expecting a discussion of several research models (I had to look up paradigm. Apparently it's something serving as an example or model of how things should be done, according to my little dictionary anyway...) followed by a discussion of a better system - possibly in the form of a 'straw man' to cause and inform debate. I was also thinking there may be some pointers to where further research/thought ay be needed to improve the final system.

The structure of the paper is that of a discussion paper, rather than an experimental paper as such. True to my expectation the paper starts discussing a couple of different systems. I found the discussion of the INCLUDE project and the Centre for Universal Design at North Carolina State (there was a link in the paper, but it's no longer valid - 7 years is a long time in internet years) quite damning and dismissive. I wasn't entirely sure what the point was, other than to demonstrate the need for an improvement. I think I need to do some research into what these two are or were like, to flesh out the view presented in the paper.

One thing I think it would be interesting to take forward into the seminar on Thursday is to examine Newell's idea of a user being represented on a chart of the functionality of the user and the environment in which the user was operating. We identified in the last session a common need between a blind person viewing a webpage with a screen reader, and a sighted person viewing one using a mobile phone. Both need to skip straight past all the normal headings and navigation straight to the content. Would this similar need be suggested on a chart of the type Newell is talking about? (Also the T9 keyboard was developed for disabled users and transferred to mobiles - because of their 'restricted' interface new methods of interacting have been identified, and the number of cross-overs between universal design and mobile design is interesting in itself.) Maybe we could take a single example and try to plot some different users and environments... Unfortunately I'm having trouble tracking down the paper referenced, because it was produced in 1993 and the IEEE subscription of the university only goes back to 1998.

The possibility of including disabled people as part of a User Centred Design (UCD) process is then discussed. This seems on first thought to be a sensible step. I mean, the whole point of UCD is to get a good understanding of your users, so just include the minority groups within the research. Some of the problems with doing so are then listed. To me they look a lot like the problems with working with children. That ties in with the earlier idea that ordinary users in extreme or different situations can have the same problems/needs as disabled users. It also suggests that this new design paradigm could have potential uses in a range of scenarios, and could lend greater commercial clout to the research. Again, this looks like an area that is pretty ripe for discussion. What other problems can we come up with, and can we suggest any solutions or workarounds?

One sentence I found particularly interesting was that "Newell deliberately ignored the views of users and clinicians". Well, what's the point of doing user-centred research if you're then going to play the part of genius designer anyway? Again, I can't find the papers referenced for that bit. I'm hoping that he rather focussed on the underlying needs demonstrated instead of what they said they needed, and not just completely ignored it.

There is a clear dislike of guidelines demonstrated throughout the paper. A part of the final description of what is needed from a new paradigm is for a method for disseminated the information and method that does not allow design by "mechanistically applying a set of 'design for all' guidelines". Need to consider what other methods to do this.

All in all this paper wasn't particularly satisfactory. The discussion of the research models was brief and didn't really describe the models at all. The reader needs to go and look these up for themselves, but the references given are no longer easy to find. The only section that was 'in-depth' was the discussion of the way research is currently conducted at Dundee. Even the promised new paradigm is actually mostly a justification of a change of name and some suggestions of what consideration needs to be given to formulating the approach. Perhaps I misinterpreted the abstract!  

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