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Thursday
Oct182007

Seminar 3 - the User Sensitive Inclusive Design paper discussed.

We finished the seminar earlier, and I wanted to get down my thoughts and stuff quickly while they are fresh. Controversial, I know.

We started out by discussing generally what we thought of the paper. Everyone pretty much agreed that it was rubbish. When we looked at what we were all expecting from the abstract, the paper didn't deliver. The structure was weak, the opinions were not backed up, and no decent conclusions were reached. This kind of spurred a discussion on how to read a paper and what might be in a good paper - I'm going to write that up in a separate post though so I can find it easily later. So yeah. Mr Newell and Mr Gregor (or Dr or Prof, whatever) - we didn't like it. Please do better next time.

Having said that, Yves and I still had to carry on and try to drive some kind of session based on it. We started with the following sentence: "He [Newell] introduced the concept of considering a 'user' as being defined by a point int he multi-dimensional space which specified their functionality, and the relationship of that functionality to the environment in which the user operated.". Like I said in my notes on the paper, we'd identified that some functionality was important to a blind person and a sighted person using a mobile, so I thought this would be quite an interesting thing to see if we could do this and identify that sort of cross-user functionality.

I'm not convinced it went well, exactly. It certainly sparked debate. Straight off we hit the problem of what does that mean? Should we draw a set of axes, then try to position each user on the chart? What should the axes represent? What do we mean by a user?

After stabbing at that for a bit, we tried to take it back a step and look at what we would get out of such a chart. Other than understanding that we were designing for a larger section of the populace than it may first seem, and perhaps allowing for cross-fertilisation of ideas (e.g. the T9 keyboard example...) even this wasn't entirely obvious.

We tried using impairment rather than disability, so we could 'group' levels of similar difficulty regardless of the cause. We considered using time to perform a task as a measure of impairment, but that was controversial. And how do you then go about breaking down your clusters of similarly impaired people so that you can understand the causes and amoliarate them? For example, if a sighted beginner and a blind expert take the same length of time to complete a task, one solution is probably not going to improve the situation for both users.

So we never quite got to the other 3 topics we'd picked on to consider. We did spend quite a long time thinking about users though, and it does suggest that if we spent an hour discussing this in circles and didn't come up with anything useful perhaps it deserved slightly more than a passing sentence in the paper.

With hindsight (always wonderful) perhaps I needed to spend less time on my search for Newell's 1993 paper, and more time thinking about other related things to look into. Looking at other systems of classifying users could have been interesting, and finding some different examples would have given us something to sequee to when we discovered this was actually really difficult. Possibly Yves and I should have realised when neither of us really had a good enough grasp of the concept to even put up a straw man we should have aborted and gone on to other things. I'm not sure.

I guess it all depends on your measure of success. We definitely sparked debate, but did we generate any useful 'take aways'? I'm just not sure.  

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