First encounter with a laser cutter

Laser cutting 1During a recent course in interaction design research at Aalborg University Department of Architecture Design and Media Technology, I had my first encounter with a laser cutter. Here I was introduced to some of the many possibilities offered by this relatively simple technology. In essence, a laser cutter is a high-power laser burning or melting the material like a saw. A strength of this technique is the variety of different types of materials that can be used such as wood, cardboard, plastic, acrylic, and fabric. Another strength is the precision of the cutting making it possible to get clean and sharp edges. Laser cutters are still not at a price level making it possible for most people to get one at home, but several universities and workshops make them available to students and the public.

In simple terms, a laser cutter almost works like an ordinary printer – model something in a modelling program and send it to the laser cutter.

Laser cutting 2During this introduction, I used the modelling program Skatechup Make by Sketchup. Sketchup Make is the light version of Sketchup Pro and is available as freeware for non-commercial use and a great way to learn and experimenting with modelling programs and creating sketches for laser cutting. It turned out to be relatively easy and fast to learn the basic concepts of Sketchup Make. After a couple of hours of introduction to both laser cutting and Sketchup, I was able to make different simple shapes and to prepare them for laser cutting.

Laser cutting 3While I was only able to make some simple shapes during my first trial, it’s easy to get hooked and see a potential. With a bit of creativity, it is possible to make 2D models into 3D models by creating 2D parts and afterwards assemble the parts into something 3D. While I didn’t get so far during my first encounter, it is to easy to see why laser cutting is a cheap, fast, and easy tool for rapid prototyping of physical devices. Laser cutting is a very compelling and attractive technique, so I hope to get the chance to play further with this technology and even use it for one of my projects.

Understanding usability problem lists is challenging

In an ongoing study about creating GUI redesigns based on the results of a usability evaluation I asked the participants if they had problems understanding the usability problem list. 44 participants, a mix of informatics and information technology students following a design course, participated. Their assignment was to create redesign suggestions for a web shop selling merchandise and tickets. The company developing the web shop had conducted a think-aloud usability evaluation resulting in a simple usability problem list listing 36 usability problems. Each problem was described with the location, a short description, and severity of the problem. The table below shows how the participants answered.

 Were there any usability problems you could not interpret? (n=44)
 Disagree strongly  18%  41%
 Disagree  16%
 Slightly disagree  7%
 Neutral  16%  16%
 Slightly agree  27%  43%
 Agree  7%
 Agree strongly  9%

As can be seen, 43% found that at least one usability problem was difficult to interpret. While this aspect is not the focus of the study, it is still an interesting finding that a relatively large amount of the participants had troubles understanding all the usability problems of a relatively short list of problems. I suspect that the 16% choosing ‘neutral’ probably believed they understood all problems with some uncertainty if this actually was the case. Unfortunately, I have no quantitative data about the number of problems difficult to interpret, but I do have some qualitative data. Especially one particular problem was mentioned among the participants. Not surprisingly this was a semi-complex problem and one of the more important ones to investigate further. I’m sure people receiving and using usability problem lists can recognize similar problems. Another challenge faced by the participants was recreating problems. Some problems are only happening under certain conditions, recreating the same conditions based on a problem description is not straightforward. Despite the missing of details, this non-scientific presentation, and the number of participants, these numbers adds to earlier findings and research in the communication of usability problems.

Here a few papers discussing usability problem reporting:

  • Hornbæk, K., & Frøkjær, E. (2005, April). Comparing usability problems and redesign proposals as input to practical systems development. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 391-400). ACM. 10.1145/1054972.1055027
  • Høegh, R.T., Nielsen, C.M., Overgaard, M., Pedersen, M.B., and Stage, J. The Impact of Usability Reports and User Test Observations on Developers’ Understanding of Usability Data: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 21, 2 (2006), 173–196. 10.1207/s15327590ijhc2102_4
  • Molich, R., Jeffries, R., and Dumas, J.S. Making usability recommendations useful and usable. Journal of Usability Studies 2, 4 (2007), 162–179. PDF
  • Nørgaard, M., & Hornbæk, K. (2008). Working together to improve usability: challenges and best practices. University of Copenhagen Dept. of Computer Science Technical Report no. 08/03. PDF
  • Nørgaard, M. and Hornbæk, K. Exploring the Value of Usability Feedback Formats. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 25, 1 (2009), 49–74. 10.1080/10447310802546708
  • Redish, J. G., Bias, R. G., Bailey, R., Molich, R., Dumas, J., & Spool, J. M. (2002, April). Usability in practice: formative usability evaluations-evolution and revolution. In CHI’02 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 885-890). ACM. 10.1145/506443.506647

Submitted review to AfriCHI 2016

Submitted a review of a full paper to AfriCHI 2016. AfriCHI is a new HCI conference presenting itself as:

AfriCHI’s mission is to be a pan-African conference that brings together researchers, academics, practitioners, industry professionals and students who are African, are based in Africa or undertake or collaborate on HCI and Interaction Design projects about Africa. The conference showcases contributions on practical, technical, methodological, empirical and theoretical aspects on all topics related to HCI and Interaction Design from as many African countries as possible.

It’s always interesting when new HCI conferences are popping up! AfriCHI 2016 will take place 21-25 November 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. This year’s theme is: “Kujenga madaraja, Kubomoa vizuizi” or “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers”

A PhD student’s review of “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success”

writingyourjournalarticlein12weeks

Academic writing is a process full of pain, struggling, frustration, and you name it… but academic writing is also satisfying, engaging, and meaningful to name a few of the many positive aspects. Especially the feeling of getting a paper accepted for publication is a very enjoying and satisfying moment. “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success” by Wendy Laura Belcher is a basic and accessible introduction to academic writing aimed at newcomers to the art of writing.

Academic writing is a tough discipline requiring practice and practice means writing. The book advocates that practice does not necessarily equals doing as much writing as possible, but rather writing on a frequent basis. Frequent writing, as in writing on a daily basis, is an essential take-away.This hands-on book not only gives an introduction to what academic writing is but also specific advice and suggestions about how to structure and actually implement good writing habits. The foundation and part of the framing of the book are to guide the reader towards revising an unpublished paper into something publishable.

The book takes the reader through the entire process from getting started such as dealing with writing obstacles, to structure a paper, writing academically, and finally submitting and handling rejections and revisions (and rejections is a steadfast companion in academic writing). The book is full of different forms that can be used to make specific plans and notes to support the writing progress. If you like me do not like to make notes in books several of the forms can be downloaded from the author’s website. This book is not a silver bullet guarantying high-quality publications, but provides an interesting hands-on approach filled with anecdotes about systematical structure a writing process, things to consider, and steps to take. Research questions, choice of method and arguments are still up to the author. The “Twelve Weeks” part of the title should not be taken too literally. This is mainly how the general composition of the book is framed.

A topic that is explicit and implicit brought up several times is that tasks need to be finished. In all academic disciplines, authors are struggling with finishing different aspects of writing a paper such as finding the appropriate related literature, reading enough material, documenting the findings, etc. The books stresses that things need an end point and provides advice about how to end different tasks. Besides providing advice about the “perfect” writing process she also recognizes that it’s impossible to do everything perfect. The book contains several tips and tricks for speeding up some tasks, what to keep the focus on and what to skip or pay less attention to.

It’s clear that the main intended audience is newcomers that mainly have been writing college reports and authors just started in the publishing game. The book is also slightly aimed at US-based authors as several pieces of advice are specifically focusing on this group. However, this is only a detail and authors all around the globe will benefit. That being said the book is also highly relevant for more experienced authors as a reference book. The described processes are intended for the humanities and social sciences, but I also found it relevant to my field, Human-Computer Interaction, broadly speaking a cross-disciplinary field between natural science and social science.

For authors already established in the world of academic writing, this book might be somewhat disappointing at first sight as it does not touch much upon improving writing habits or effectiveness etc. of experienced writers. However, it both touches academic writing on a general basic level (e.g. how to structure a paper) and on a more detailed level (e.g. different approaches to to opening a paper) that might be useful for experienced writers. For authors like me, that can be categorized as being in an intermediate state several parts and steps are well known, but I surely did learn new things and repetition should never be underestimated. For example, the book includes a list of writing obstacles and how to fight or consider them. All authors have by guarantee been dealing with several of these obstacles, and chances are that most are at least still dealing with some. Also, the suggestions about good academic writing in English were useful to me. Especially since English is not my native language.

I wished I had been introduced to this book years ago. I can recommend this book to authors starting to write academic papers and students working on larger projects such as a master thesis etc. This is an excellent introduction going through all essentials of writing and publishing and will be an excellent read in your writing breaks. This lightness of the book also makes it a read that will not be seen as yet an obstacle towards the writing process. This book should be provided to all Ph.D. students day one along with receiving the office key, access card etc.

Submitted review to SIDeR 2016

Just submitted a review to the 12th Student Interaction Design Research conference (SIDeR 2016). This is the second time I’m reviewing for this conference.

This idea behind the conference is to provide a venue for students to publish short papers reporting research conducted and reflections made during their ongoing studies such as outcomes of project courses. Besides presenting and publishing papers this is also an opportunity to get a feel of how the academic world works, to network, and get inspiration from both academic researchers and students. The conference is aimed at students working on projects within the fields of interaction design, informatics, and human-computer interaction.

In my opinion this is a great initiative as there is a lot of interesting and lively projects conducted by students that can inspire both fellow students and researchers, and I’m glad to support this conference as a reviewer.

Happy new year 2016!

A few highlights from my year:

  • Decided to take yet a leave of absence from my PhD studies, at Aalborg University, from September 1 2015 – February 29 2016.
  • After two years I finally got my tiny apartment more or less fully furnished… Of cause all the details are still missing 🙂
  • Gave my bathroom a full renovation which was much needed (and not least costly…)
  • Spend a (tough) week at the Roskilde Festival 2015.
  • Participated in the CHI 2015 conference that took place in Seoul, South Korea.

Teaching Software Developers to Perform UX Tasks

Together with my co-authors, Tina Øvad, Lars Bo Larsen, and Jan Stage, we got the paper “Teaching Software Developers to Perform UX Tasks” accepted at OzCHI 2015 taking place in Melbourne, Australia, December 7-10, 2015. This paper has been in the works for quite some time so I’m very happy that it finally found a good home down under.

Abstract

Good UX design is becoming important within the industry when developing new products. This entails that UX skills have to be available in the development processes. This paper investigates the opportunities of using software developers as a UX work resource in the day-to-day working practice. This is done via an action research study where the developers were provided with material concerning a modified AB usability test, by training them in performing this type of work, and by using their feedback to improve the method and the material. The overall result of the study is positive and it is found that by using the developers’ feedback in the modification process, the method has truly become applicable within an agile, industrial setting. In combination with a guideline and template this has, induced the developers to feel confident in independently performing this type of work.

Tina Øvad, Nis Bornoe, Lars Bo Larsen and Jan Stage. 2015. Teaching Software Developers to Perform UX Tasks. In Proceedings of the 27th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference: Being Human (OzCHI ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA.

Using design cards to facilitate redesign: initial findings

When developing new design concepts and redesigning existing ones the idea of using design cards to facilitate the process and creativity has been explored in several different fields. The idea of using design cards as part of design workshops has been explored when developing new design concepts such as game designs [7], “playful experiences” [6], and tangible interactions [5]. For example, design cards have been used to “…probing and provoking users’ past experiences and current assumptions.” [3]. Several design cards have been developed based on theoretical frameworks and used to rephrase abstract frameworks into something more operational. Through this transformation the theory can be more tangible and applicable by making cards with keywords, pictures, and questions [5]. It is out of the scope of this blog post to include a detailed review of related literature. Instead, I will briefly outline recent HCI-related research about design cards.

In recent research design cards have mainly been evaluated during initial design phases, and a few during other phases such as evaluation of designs, and redesign. Past literature has pointed out the several general strengths and advantages of design cards. On an abstract level design cards can be considered a design material useable in a collaborative setting when making designs [4]. Wölfel and Merritt (2013) [8] conducted a review of 18 different forms of design cards or card methods used as part of a design activity, and highlight that design cards have been reported to:

  • Supporting design dialogues.
  • Cards can act as a common reference among participants.
  • Cards are something specific and concrete to talk about.
  • Making the design process visible and less abstract.
  • Facilitating a design process, for example, by providing structure in the process.
  • Physical tokens in the form of cards are easy to include, use, and manipulate.

They divided the purpose and scope of the card systems into three different categories:

  • General (8 card methods) (open-ended inspiration.)
  • Participatory design (7 card methods) (engage designers and users in the process.)
  • Context-specific/agenda driven (3 card methods) (focused on a particular context or design agenda.)

They divided the methodology of the design cards into three categories:

  • No methodology (3 card methods.)
  • Suggestion for use (7 card methods.)
  • Specific instructions (5 card methods.)

In usability engineering, a challenge for developers is how to correct usability problems, especially non-trivial problems. Running redesign workshops with developers and designers actively collaborating has been proposed as one method for exploring redesign opportunities [1, 2]. In a recent study, we decided to explorer if including design cards in redesign workshops would improve the proposed redesigns and support the process of fixing usability problems.

In summery we asked groups consisting of two – three students, following a class about designing and evaluating user interfaces, to make redesign proposals of a given web shop. We provided the groups a list of known usability problems. The groups were divided into four group clusters. The groups in three of the clusters were provided a design card system, a different system for each cluster. The groups of one cluster were acting as control groups and did not receive any design cards. During the redesign exercise, we observed a subset of groups. Afterward, we had the students filling out a survey about their impression of the quality of the redesign, and usefulness of the design cards. Finally, we interviewed a few groups. In addition, six evaluators, three academic researchers, and three practitioners involved in the development of the web shop assessed the quality of the redesigns.

Our initial findings indicate that design cards did not, at least not how we used them in this study, have any major positive effect on the quality of the redesigns. When comparing the quality assessment of the redesigns, we did not find any significant differences in comparison to the control group. The students did not find the design cards particular useful. However, some mentioned that the cards did provide some initial ideas and inspiration. These initial findings might be surprising when looking at the positive results reported from previous studies [5-7]. One major difference in this study is that design cards were included in a redesign workshop, and not during an initial design development or ideation workshop. The students were provided both an existing design, and a list of known usability problems. These seemed to be the main drivers and basis for the redesign proposals.

References

  1. 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). ACM. DOI: 10.1145/2639189.2670288
  2. Bruun, A., Jensen, J. J., Skov, M. B., & Stage, J. (2014). Active Collaborative Learning: Supporting Software Developers in Creating Redesign Proposals. In Human-Centered Software Engineering (pp. 1-18). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-662-44811-3_1
  3. Bødker, S., Mathiasen, N., & Petersen, M. G. (2012). Modeling is not the answer!: designing for usable security. interactions, 19(5), 54-57. DOI: 10.1145/2334184.2334197
  4. Halskov, K., & Dalsgård, P. (2006, June). Inspiration card workshops. In Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing Interactive systems (pp. 2-11). ACM. DOI: 10.1145/1142405.1142409
  5. Hornecker, E. (2010). Creative idea exploration within the structure of a guiding framework: the card brainstorming game. In Proceedings of the fourth international conference on Tangible, embedded, and embodied interaction (pp. 101-108). ACM. DOI: 10.1145/1709886.1709905
  6. Lucero, A., & Arrasvuori, J. (2012). The PLEX Cards and its techniques as sources of inspiration when designing for playfulness. International Journal of Arts and Technology, 6(1), 22-43. DOI: 10.1504/IJART.2013.050688
  7. Mueller, F., Gibbs, M. R., Vetere, F., & Edge, D. (2014). Supporting the creative game design process with exertion cards. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2211-2220). ACM. DOI: 10.1145/2556288.2557272
  8. Wölfel, C., & Merritt, T. (2013). Method card design dimensions: a survey of card-based design tools. In Human-Computer Interaction–INTERACT 2013 (pp. 479-486). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-40483-2_34