Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who I am, and who you are

Miaoqi Zhu - DePaul University CDM

Meeting Byron in the elevator for the first time was kind of interesting, especially when he told me his background is acting, and he went to IxDA meeting purely due to the motivation of bringing theater to design. I agree there is definitely something that theater can share with the course of design, but in the meanwhile, as he perhaps knows, I am struggling to understand to what extent design needs qualitative or quantitative study, in other words, which one is better in terms of "measuring" the human experience of interacting with an artifact.

After two years of HCI Design training at Indiana University, I came to DePaul to learn traditional research methodologies in the discipline of Psychology; I took statistics classes and studied experimental design techniques such as factorial designs, quasi-experimental designs, and so forth. Afterward, I compared those with the design research methods learned from IU. I suddenly feel like those differences are not simply the “differences” for me, in fact it brings out a question: what kind of direction I want to go in the future. The “Design-oriented” design and “Engineering-oriented” design are still somehow “disconnected'; basically, the former wants to collect data from the very context in which users interact with the artifact, yet the latter ensures the validity of data, which means a formal experiment should be carefully conducted to exclude bias caused by the "noises."

As I continue the conversations with Byron, I steadily realize that sometimes, you may need to look at a thing as the whole rather than looking into one particular pattern, as everything has multiple aspects, and they are dynamically connected. For instance, when fashion designers try to determine the color theme for jeans, they may also consider the material to be used or the lighting effects under a variety of conditions, even the present ethnographic thinking. By the same token, a real user-centered design is the one that includes most of “individual” aspects and offers the best connection among them; it sounds like finding out I.V. and D.V. and testifying their relationships, but once again, a design study welcomes data from rich contexts instead of rigorously-controlled experiments.

Please do not get me wrong! We still need to use certain methods from
traditional disciplines to examine the outcomes/products. For example, if you are going to get rid of all the physical buttons in the car and replace them with a touch screen based interface. It is highly valuable to conduct an ethnographic study to understand diverse scenarios, explore users’ behavior patterns afterward and construct personas; however, we cannot simply let interaction designers play own magic all the time, at some point, they may resort to scientists/engineers to ask if the solutions are feasible, or meet with usability specialists/statisticians to conduct long term studies to discover whether there are potential safety issues or not, if so, are they caused by the new features? If so, what are they? Perhaps during the first phrase of concept generation, designers should get these people involved.

We all can be the “scientist,” when we talk about certain phenomena that occur in daily life, we usually begin with the assumption, then enlist some argument and draw own conclusion, that is what scientists do every day; we also can design, when we shop for favorite clothes or decorate own rooms, we are our own users, so please enjoy being a designer. In the meanwhile, we are acting consistently, as we have many profiles, and we just act it out to interact with external world, it happens so naturally that we barely realize it. However, I am just wondering what if we combine those three together, who you will become and how that will impact other people and the society, let us find out soon by the help of Byron!

( Miaoqi is a Ph.D. student from DePaul University CDM, his research interest and projects involve Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Personality and Game Enjoyment, User Interface on small screen device and Ethnography for HCI research. He has worked for AOL, Indiana University, and Whirlpool Corporation. )

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