Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Contextual Inquiry in a Medical Setting

I don't know about you, but I have such a hard time not embracing a patient who is in pain or assisting someone who is losing their balance or offering a kind word of encouragement to a caregiver who has been watching their dear one decline to the point of being unable to feed themselves. How do you observe and only observe?

I don't think I can do it. Is it okay to compassionately observe and still reach your hand out to pat a fellow hand. To nod and have your eyes well with tears while the patient stretches and grimaces and tells you how much better they feel.

I find myself wanting to make everyone all better, kiss all the boo-boo's goodbye. How do I improve the product empirically without modifying the actual patient environment?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Task scenarios vs Decision Trees

I use both task scenarios (steps a user takes to accomplish some goal) and decision trees (questions the user or system needs to ask to accomplish the goal). One is task centric and the other is process centric, but both are focused on understanding the goal and how to acheive it. There are too many ways of getting to the same means, you must identify the goal, you must identify the process(es) used to achieve the goal and the tasks within the process. You can work bottom up or top down. Sometimes I watch people work and record their tasks, identifying the formal or informal process they use and the end goal, whether they stated it or not. Sometimes I start with the business stakeholder, understand what they want to acheive, the process by which they might make it most effective and then devise the tasks most effeciently.

Both of theese techniques help you drive effeciency and effectiveness. Neither of these help you be intuitive or consistent. You still need to turn the stories, personas, tasks, scenarios, or decision trees into pictures that make sense and follow rules.

Who cares which techniques or artifacts you create? If you are actually observing, collaborating and working with your users and stakeholders you know you will be designing the right thing.

Your sketches/pictures/mockups/prototypes will tell you if you talked to the right people and have the right goals.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

User - Human - Activity Centered Design. What gives?

It seems like everyone is still trying to come up with their own words for how they approach design. Don Norman's "new" stance (http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered_desig.html)is that user centered design is not as important as activity centered design. I don't know about you guys, but user centered design never just meant profiles and personas to me. Yes I do make sure I know who the target user is, so that I can understand what GOALS they are accomplishing when they show me the kinds of tasks they are performing. To me the GOAL is the reason for the ACTIVITY and the ACTIVITY is accomplished through a series of TASKS.

For example in a call center a user shows me what she is doing: "I record all of this information when a customer calls". In my analysis, this turns into a design that allows the user to perform the tasks to get the end result. The end result or activity is richer customer information that leads to better customer service on follow up calls. The Goal is better customer service, the Activity is collecting and recalling richer customer information, the task is entering the data and recalling the data. Haven't we all be doing this when we say we are User Centered Designer or Human Centered Designer or User Experience Architects or Usabilty Engineering or whatever.....

This doesn't seem new or different to me - just another way to say the same old thing: users performs tasks, combined tasks are an activity, activities accomplish a user or business goal. If the Goal is worthwhile enough then people will adapt. Is this the point that Don Norman is trying to make? If so, I agree, but I have always accounted for the potential value something new, undreamed of before by the users, as having substantial enough value to the user that they will be willing to learn. I may be just the thing they never knew they could have or needed. I don't believe UCD or HCD ignores innovation if the value can be understood and embraced by the users it was intended for.

Well, he got me thinking and reflecting - maybe that was THE point!