Highlights of “Redesign Workshop: Involving Software Developers Actively in Usability Engineering”

In this paper, published at NordiCHI 2014, we present an outline of a facilitated developer-driven redesign workshop to produce graphical user interface (GUI) redesign suggestions. Additionally, we report observations and feedback from a workshop conducted in an organization with limited usability competencies. The intention of the workshop is to provide an organized frame for improving a GUI and fix previously identified usability problems in a developer-driven setting with limited usability competencies.

Our research question was: “Can software developers contribute actively to alternative redesign suggestions?”

The workshop’s basis is a set of principles from existing literature:

  1. Active involvement of the developers.
  2. Focus on the future system.
  3. Support from usability specialists.

The outline of the workshops is as follow: 

  1. Exercise #1: List five strengths and weaknesses of the current GUI. 
  2. Lecture in interaction design.
  3. Presentation of a precompiled usability problem list. Subsequently, discuss and choose a subset of problems. 
  4. Exercise #2: Team up in groups and work on redesign suggestions. 
  5. Plenum session: Present the outcome of the group work. 
  6. Exercise #3: List five strengths and weaknesses of the current GUI.

Six developers participated in a workshop based on the above outline. Additionally, three usability specialists participated, two as facilitators, and one as an observer. Before the workshop, the developers had conducted a think-aloud evaluation and compiled a list of 19 usability problems.

At the workshop they attended a short lecture in basic interaction design principles consisting of the three topics: 1) identification and definition of interaction space, 2) detailed design of interaction space, and 3) design patterns. Afterward, they picked out a subset of the 19 problems as the grounding for the subsequent redesign session. Divided into two groups, each group outlined redesign suggestions and presented the suggestions during a plenum session. Exercises #1 and 3 served as an opportunity for the developers to reflect on the current GUI design before and after the redesign session.

Findings

Strategy for making redesign suggestions

We found that the developers based the redesign suggestions on the principles presented during the lecture. They redesigned from a holistic view rather than focusing on minor problems, and both groups followed a top-down approach.

Active involvement of the developers 

The hands-on approach and the small-sized groups forced active participation. By providing a set of instruments in the form of the list of usability problems and the lecture, the developers had a starting point. The participants were free to discuss and conduct the activities they wanted to.

Focus on the future system

They used established design principles from the lecture, and the workshop was a specific opportunity to explore designs. The activities did not lead to puzzle-solving but towards a more “open mind” as it’s easy to get a “tunnel vision” and lock onto specific ideas early in the process.

Support from usability specialists

The facilitators mainly served two purposes: 

  • As a discussion manager pausing the discussion to avoid getting focused on details and writing down essential keywords from the discussion.
  • As a provider of feedback, for example, one facilitator facilitated the ongoing discussion by visualizing the GUI’s central components and links between the components expressed by the developers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the developers were able to use design principles and heuristics and unite different skills possessed by the various developers. For example, some had extensive technical knowledge about the system, and others had extensive domain knowledge. During the workshop, they generated visions and ideas for further refinement. The lecture resulted in the developers following a top-down approach. To avoid getting off track, the developers needed an organized frame. The hands-on approach and the small-sized groups forced active involvement. 

We see a potential for the usefulness of short systematic redesign workshops in fast-paced development environments. Workshops can also avoid that developers single-handed must come up with design visions and fixes for usability problems.

Reference

Bornoe, N., Billestrup, J., Andersen, J. L., Stage, J., & Bruun, A. (2014). Redesign workshop: involving software developers actively in usability engineering. In Proceedings of the 8th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Fun, Fast, Foundational (pp. 1113-1118). DOI: 10.1145/2639189.2670288

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