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Maturing Usability

Book: Maturing Usability

Maturing Usability describes a collection of effective usability practices that practitioners can apply to improve their way of working (WoW).

Maturing Usability: Quality in Software, Interaction, and Value contains a collection of writings from various experts in the field of usability and user interface development. It provides an understanding of how current research and practice has contributed towards improving quality issues in software, interaction and value. I wrote Chapter 4 which describes how usability fits into the Agile lifecycle. Other chapters look at how using development tools can enhance the usability of a system, and how methods and models can be integrated into the process to help develop effective user interfaces; theoretical frameworks on the nature of interactions; techniques and metrics for evaluation interaction quality; the transfer of concepts and methods from research to practice; assessments of the impact that a system has in the real world; and how to focus on increasing the value of usability practice for software development and on increasing value for users. A balance between theoretical and empirical approaches is maintained throughout, and all those interested in exploring usability issues in human-computer interaction will find this a very useful book.

Maturing Usability

Published: October 2007

Status: Out of date

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Book Organization

Part I: Quality in Software. These chapters look at how using development tools can enhance the usability of a system, and how methods and models can be integrated into the process to help develop effective user interfaces.

  • Chapter 1. Usability of UIs Generated by an MDA ToolModel-driven architecture (MDA) has recently attracted the interest of both the research community and industry corporations. It specifies an automated process for developing interactive applications from high-level models to code generation. This approach can play a key role in the fields of software engineering (SE) and human-computer interaction (HCI). Although there are some MDA-compliant methods for developing user interfaces, none of them explicitly integrates usability engineering with user interface engineering. This chapter addresses this issue by showing how the usability of user interfaces that are generated automatically by an industrial MDA-compliant CASE tool can be assessed. The goal is to investigate whether MDA-compliant methods improve software usability through model transformations. To accomplish this, two usability evaluations were conducted in the code model (final user interface). Results showed that the usability problems identified at this level provide valuable feedback on the improvement of platform independent models (PIM) and platform-specific models (PSM) supporting the notion of usability produced by construction.
  • Chapter 2. Software Quality Engineering: The Leverage for Gaining Maturity. For users, a software product frequently corresponds to a black box that must effectively support their business processes. Consequently, what a stakeholder seeks is a software product that possesses both required functionality and required quality. Young, immature companies usually can only afford developing functionalities, while mature organizations can develop quality, as well. In this sense, the level of quality observed in a software product is an indicator of the level of maturity of its developer. One may even say that because functionalities are always in a product and quality only sometimes, quality is a more restrictive indicator. Having this in mind, in this chapter we present software quality engineering from both implementation and managerial perspectives, discuss aspects of functionality-quality conflict in the economic and business dimensions, and finally give a few practical observations and recommendations that might find merit in the real, software development lifecycle.
  • Chapter 3. Connecting Rigorous System Analysis to Experience-Centered Design. This chapter explores the role that formal modeling may play in aiding the visualization and implementation of usability, with a particular emphasis on experience requirements in an ambient and mobile system. Mechanisms for requirements elicitation and evaluation are discussed, as well as the role of scenarios and their limitations in capturing experience requirements. The chapter then discusses the role of formal modeling by revisiting an analysis based on an exploration of traditional usability requirements before moving on to consider requirements more appropriate to a built environment. The role of modeling within the development process is re-examined by looking at how models may incorporate knowledge relating to user experience, and how the results of the analysis of such models may be exploited by human factors and domain experts in their consideration of user experience issues.
  • Chapter 4. Tailoring Usability into Agile Software Development Projects. Usability, user interface, and interaction design are among the group of vital, yet mostly overlooked, skills that all software developers require, yet few seem to have. This is just as true of agile developers as it is of traditional developers. This chapter examines both user experience (UEX) and agile software development (ASD) approaches, comparing and contrasting the underlying philosophies and practices of each. Using Agile Model-Driven Development (AMDD) as the foundation, it then describes strategies for tailoring UEX into agile methods. It is possible to address UEX concerns on agile projects, but it requires flexibility and a willingness to work together on the part of both UEX and ASD practitioners.
  • Chapter 5. Model-Based Evaluation: A New Way to Support Usability Evaluation of Multimodal Interactive Applications. Multimodal interfaces are becoming more common, even in the field of safety critical interactive software, mainly due to the naturalness of the interaction that increases the bandwidth between the user and the system they are interacting with. However, the specificities of multimodal interactive systems make it difficult to gather information from the use of modalities and to extract from this information recommendations for improving the multimodal user interfaces. This chapter aims at presenting how abstract information described in models can be fruitfully exploited to improve the quality of evaluations of multimodal interfaces. The approach presented in this chapter combines model-based verification (based on simulation scenario extraction generated from models) and empirical methods for usability evaluation. Our aim is to try to bring together two separated (and often opposite) issues, such as usability and reliability, into the development of safety critical systems. This approach is illustrated via a Space Ground System of a satellite control room, whose multimodal interaction technique is fully described by the means of formal models.

Part II: Quality in Interaction. These chapters address theoretical frameworks on the nature of interactions; techniques and metrics for evaluation interaction quality; and the transfer of concepts and methods from research to practice.

  • Chapter 6. Systems Usability: Promoting Core-Task Oriented Work Products. A new concept of systems usability is introduced. Systems usability provides holistic activity-oriented perspective to evaluation of the appropriateness of ICT-based smart tools. The concept has been developed in empirical studies of work in complex industrial environments. The nuclear power plant domain is used here to exemplify the systems usability concept and the method developed for evaluating it. In the chapter, we first identify four practical challenges that the current approaches in usability studies face: task analysis, data collection methods, usability measures, and inferences concerning the interface. As a solution to tackle these challenges we, then, introduce our concept of systems usability. To reach the demands of systems usability, work tools must fulfill all three functions of tools: the instrumental, psychological, and communicative. Because systems usability is visible in practices of using the tools we, finally, demonstrate how the developed method labeled contextual assessment of systems usability (CASU) is used for evaluating systems usability.
  • Chapter 7. Usability Work in Professional Website Design: Insights from Practitioners’ Perspectives. This exploratory study aims to gain insight into how usability practitioners work in professional web design. This is done through interviews and a grounded analysis. The description reported here refers to the wider influence of the commercial context on usability work. This brings to the fore such issues as the client’s influence on work, negotiation between clients and practitioners, the adaptation and use of methods, practitioner expertise and the consideration of people in the usability process. It is believed that this research focus, which moves toward wider issues in practice, is best conceptualized from a system level perspective where the goal is to coordinate resources to add value to the design process.
  • Chapter 8. Characterizations, Requirements, and Activities of User-Centered Design: The KESSU 2.2 Model. ISO 13407 is a widely used and referred model of user-centered design, UCD. In this chapter, the principles and activities of ISO 13407 are analyzed. Based on the analysis, a revised UCD model “the KESSU 2.2” is proposed, including refinements both in the presentation and in the contents of principles and activities. The goal is that the refined model is more consistent and illustrates the essential contents of UCD clearer.
  • Chapter 9. Remote Usability Evaluation: Discussion of a General Framework and Experiences from Research with a Specific Tool. The goal of this chapter is to present a design space for tools and methods supporting remote usability evaluation of interactive applications. This type of approach is acquiring increasing importance because it allows usability evaluation even when users are in their daily environments. Several techniques have been developed in this area for addressing various types of applications that can be used in different contexts. We discuss them within a unifying framework that can be used to compare the weaknesses and strengths of the various approaches and identify areas that require further research work to exploit all the possibilities opened up by remote evaluation.
  • Chapter 10. Utility and Experience in the Evolution of Usability. In this chapter, we discuss the evolution of usability and its implications for usability research and practice. We propose that the concept of usability evolved from a narrow focus on individual performance to a more inclusive concept of experience and the collective. We address three major trends: cognition-performance, emotional-experience, and social context-experience which, together, seem to reflect those pervading the field of usability. We argue that the movement away from the strictly cognitive, performance-oriented concerns to embracing emotion and eventually social and cultural aspects can largely be attributed to two forces. One is a change in tasks, technologies, and the objectives of systems. The other is the realization that performance alone in the cognitive sense is not enough to account for the richness of phenomena influencing people’s interactions with technology. We then discuss the importance of aesthetics and emotion, and finally, usability in the context of collaborative and social computing.

Part III: Quality in Value. These chapters assess the impact that a system has in the real world, focusing on increasing the value of usability practice for software development and on increasing value for users.

  • Chapter 11. Usability and User’s Health Issues in Systems Development: Attitudes and Perspectives. Poor usability and hence a stressful work situation is still a severe problem in computer-supported work, despite efforts to increase the focus on these issues. Consequently, Sweden has a high level of sick rates, particularly in the civil service sector, and some problems relating to inadequate IT systems with poor usability. In this chapter, we aim at understanding attitudes about and practices for integrating usability and users’ health issues in systems development. Quality in value—i.e. users’ well-being, productivity, and user satisfaction—is shaped by attitudes and perspectives underpinning discourse in systems development. These attitudes and perspectives are embedded in the methods, models, and representations used in systems development, as well as in discourse and action. In our qualitative study, data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 127 informants, and in a case study of an ongoing project in one organization. During analysis of data, we identified problems with attitudes and perspectives about users and their work, such as the strong focus on automation, efficiency, and surveillance of work, which shaped the development of new technology and ultimately shapes the work situation of the user. Furthermore, we identified that the work of civil servants was frequently discussed in terms of simple steps and procedures that can be predefined and automated in accordance with clearly defined rules and regulations. Finally, we suggest user-centered design and field studies to address the problems and to improve the understanding of the users’ needs and work practices in development projects.
  • Chapter 12. Usability Evaluation as Idea Generation. This chapter discusses how to understand the purpose of formative usability evaluation. We raise concerns about common ways of understanding usability evaluation, and propose a complementary view of usability evaluation as idea generation. Implications of this view for researchers and practitioners are discussed, and it is argued that seeing usability evaluation as idea generation may help move research in evaluation methods forward. In addition, we suggest to practitioners some benefits of viewing their work as idea generation and some concrete techniques based on this view.
  • Chapter 13. Putting Value into E-valu-ation. Usability evaluation measures remain too close to what were originally dependent variables in factorial experiments. The basis for genuine usability problems in such variables is not guaranteed, but there has been little progress on finding replacements since HCI’s shift from the laboratory to field studies. As a result, the worth of much usability evaluation is questionable. Such doubts will persist until we can fully align the purpose of evaluation with the purpose of design, which is to create value in the world through innovative products and services, whether sold in markets, or provided free by either individuals or public and voluntary agencies. This chapter reviews issues with common usability measures and introduces a framework that can plausibly realign evaluation criteria with design purpose by adapting an approach from consumer psychology. This provides opportunities to deploy evaluation measures and instruments that meet the needs of design, rather than reflect skill sets from psychology and human factors. The current gap between design and usability evaluation narrows, but an exclusive usability focus in evaluation becomes impossible. Instead, the role of usability in delivering or degrading intended worth is placed in a wider worth systems context. The maturity of usability will thus be evidenced by its effective integration with a range of design and evaluation concerns. It can longer assume intrinsic importance, but has to demonstrate it in the context of achieved product value.
  • Chapter 14. HCI and the Economics of User Experience. This chapter presents a conceptual framework for expanding the scope of current HCI research, by including economic aspects that affect user experience when interacting with online services. This framework presents development models for interactive products and online services. It refers to the concept of value-oriented design that attempts to use HCI and interaction design as a part of business design activity. Although this framework is as yet partly visionary and needs validation, it seems to open interesting perspectives on user experience design, because interaction design is an important part of modern business technology.
  • Chapter 15. The Future of Usability Evaluation: Increasing Impact on Value. What does the future of usability evaluation hold? To gain insights for the future, this chapter first surveys past and current usability practices, including laboratory usability testing, heuristic evaluation, methods with roots in anthropology (such as contextual inquiry and ethnographic research), rapid iterative testing, benchmarking with large population samples, and multiple-method usability programs. Such consideration has several benefits, because both individual usability practitioners and organizations have attained different levels of usability sophistication and maturity. Usability evaluation methods long employed by major corporations may still be in the future for smaller or younger organizations. The chapter begins by discussing 20th-century usability evaluation, continues with an overview of usability evaluation today, and concludes with a discussion of what to expect in usability evaluation over the next years. For each period in the history—and future—of usability evaluation, the chapter addresses how its impact on software value is increasing.
  • Chapter 16. A Green Paper on Usability Maturation. Usability maturation manifests in terms of quality in software, in interaction, and in value, constituting the three parts of this volume. In this green paper, the three editors present a range of ideas drawn and synthesized from the fifteen preceding chapters. It is not just a review, but, more importantly, it is an invitation for interested individuals or organizations to contribute more views and information, providing answers to open questions, challenging existing opinions, raising new issues, and bridging the gaps. In the Introduction, a brief overview of the development of the field of HCI is presented. In each of the three following sections, the five chapters comprising the respective part are reviewed and attendant issues are discussed, leading to research agendas that can serve as a roadmap for the future work on usability.

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