Archive for the ‘Ergonomics’ Category

The Ergonomics Society is about to embark on a redesign of its website, and earlier this week I posted out the first deliverable from the stakeholder kickoff meeting: the user segmentation model. This deliverable, like the others, is assumptive in the sense that it has been drafted by SMEs and other proxy users, rather than through primary user research. Well, you gotta start somewhere.

Now it’s time to review the second deliverable: the profiles for each user segment. Note that I call them ‘profiles’ rather than personas: at this stage they are too elementary and skeletal (and anonymous) to really be considered anything more than notional profiles. Ideally we’d now flesh these out via a programme of focused user research, and we have available a modest budget which could be applied to support such an undertaking. I’d be interested in folks’ opinions on how to best use that for this kind of activity.

Now, let’s look at the profiles themselves. These were created during a 20 minute breakout in the stakeholder meeting, so they’re far from the finished article. Also, there was only time to cover the 5 highest priority segments, i.e.

  • P1. “Information Consumers”
  • P1a. Society Members
  • P2. Society Customers
  • P2. “3rd Party Service Consumers”
  • P2 “Staff Information Consumers”

But as I said above, you gotta start somewhere. They’re included inline below as png images. Alternatively, you may wish to view them in pdf form (which I’ll upload shortly).

Coming soon will be the scenarios for each segment – for those to be meaningful, we need these profiles to authentic and believable. As before, comments on both these deliverables and the process are more than welcome.

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The Ergonomics Society is about to embark on a redesign of its website, and on Thursday last week we held the stakeholder kickoff meeting. The purpose of this meeting was threefold:

  1. To bring together the key stakeholders to establish a common vision for the project
  2. To develop a basic UX framework upon which subsequent design work would be based
  3. To establish a baseline for subsequent project planning and resourcing (including any user research requirements).

We had only three hours to achieve all this, so there wasn’t much time for prolonged discussion. Present at the meeting with me were Dave O’Neill (CEO), Sue Hull (Conference Manager), John Winter (Membership Development Manager), Kia Horrocks (Conference & Membership Administrator), Tina Worthy (Web Editor), Lauren Morgan and Lauren’s colleague Maya (student rep).

First, we took a minute to write down what we thought should be the vision for the Society website, before sharing these as a group. It turns out that our individual visions were remarkably consistent, with most including some notion that the site should be both a comprehensive information resource for the profession as well as an advert or showcase for UCD. For example: “to be the information resource for ergonomics and human factors profesionals and to be a showcase for great UX design”.

The next activity was a group session to establish the key audience segments for the wesbite. It transpired that there is little in the way of previous user/market research available, so we had a fairly blank state to begin with. After  considerable whiteboarding and iteration, we finally identified the following key segments with their respective priorities (where P1 is highest, P3 lowest):

  • P1. “Information Consumers”, e.g. researchers (both individuals and corporate), academics/teachers, press, advocates of ergonomics / human factors, etc.
  • P1a. Society Members, i.e. anyone who is currently classed as a member (on any of the grades)
  • P2. Society Customers, i.e. anyone paying for Society products & services, such as conference delegates and advertisers
  • P2. “3rd Party Service Consumers”, i.e. agency clients, short course attendees, and prospective ergonomcs students (i.e. anyone engaging services via the paid listings)
  • P2 “Staff Information Consumers”, i.e. same as the first group but employees of the Society
  • P3 Website Editors, i.e. Society staff responsible for web content, such as PR / Comms, membership etc.
  • P3 Website Developers. i.e. Society staff responsible for web development

You might be wondering why “Information Consumers” was given a higher priority than “Society Members”. The answer lies in the Vision statement, which suggests that the primary purpose is to serve the profession more generally, rather than those individuals who happen to be members at any given time. (On reflection, this decision – or my interpretation thereof – may benefit from a little further examination.)

BTW, during my time as a UX PM at Microsoft we used the expression “eating your own dogfood” to describe the practice of adopting the products or techniques that you promote. Likewise, I am keen that we “eat our own dogfood” in this exercise, and are seen to be applying UCD best practice within our own web design & development project work. Comments and feedback on both the process and the deliverables are therefore more than welcome.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on transcribing the draft profiles we developed for the priority segments above. More soon – watch this space.

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Create 2009 Design Showcase

Create Design Showcase

The CREATE 2009 conference took place on Weds & Thurs this week, and once again lived up to its reputation as a small, sociable conference on HCI, with an emphasis on creative arts & design. Highlights of the event for me were the talk by Jo Reid from HP Labs on the development of a number of location-based experiences, in collaboration with various colleagues from the worlds of dramatic arts and and game development. It was good to renew the acquaintance with HP – it turns out that Jo and I share colleagues in common all the way back from my RAE Secondment there in 1996.

An earthquake at BCS HQ

Earthquake in the atrium

Also memorable was the Andy Budd‘s presentation, who made great use of visuals and offline analogies in outlining what he saw as the key principles of Designing the Experience Curve. Interestingly, I’d come across details of Andy’s presentation only the week earlier, as part of some research into the role and value of personalisation in eCommerce.

I also gave a talk  on UI Design Patterns for Search and Information Discovery as part of the same session (BTW I hope to make the slides available shortly). It raised some interesting responses, but I can’t help feeling that Create wasn’t quite the right conference for my sort of talk. Essentially, what I presented was a documentary narrative on the process of creating a pattern library, supported by some analysis of the role and value of patterns in addressing particular design problems in search and information access. By contrast, the majority of other papers were much more speculative in nature, often consisting of opinion pieces and thought-provoking explorations of what happens at the intersection of art, technology and design.

In full flow in the main auditorium

In full flow in the main auditorium

So, I’m wondering where all this leaves us. On the one hand, I think it is great that the Ergonomics Society supports events like Create, as it keeps HCI firmly on the corporate agenda and pushes us in a direction that we’ve rather under-resourced in the past. On the other hand, the particular flavour of HCI that Create represents does not (as currently understood) reflect what I see as an approach characteristic of the Ergonomics Society, which would more naturally gravitate toward harder disciplines such as science & engineering.

Perhaps my perception is somewhat biased – after all, I trained in science and engineering, so my natural instinct when considering other ideas is to judge them on their scientific merit, i.e. the presence of an interesting hypothesis, the execution of a rigorous experimental methodology, the application of appropriate analytical techniques, reflection on the results and their wider implications, etc.

This is all a long way from the methodology and focus of Create. Moreover, the direction Create is taking reflects wider changes within the HCI community – I’ve felt for many years now that the emphasis within HCI has been moving away from science and engineering to design and creative arts as the primary source of inspiration and development. Certainly, a cursory review of the content and editorial balance of publications like Interfaces over the last few years would seem to bear this out.

So I wonder whether Create is really the right vehicle for the Society to express its commitment and support for the wider HCI community. Perhaps it is time to ask the question: are there are other topics that represent a more natural balance between the unique perspective of the Society, the interests of partners such as the BCS, and emerging themes within the wider HCI community?

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Last Thursday saw the Ergonomics Society Away Day, at which we reviewed progress against the current 5-year strategy and, more importantly, started brainstorming our priorities for the next 5 years. Which on the face of it is all quite sensible – but five years? That’s ambitious, to put it mildly. When I think about the current themes in the HCI community (creativity, innovation, design as a discipline etc.) and the tools we use to share and discuss them (Twitter, blogs, etc.) it’s all pretty unrecognisable from 2004.

So it was with an air of suspended disbelief that I and twenty or so Council members and Society staff began the workshop, facilitated by Denis O’Brien and Valerie Abl. The day consisted of a series of ‘conversational exercises’, based on a café format, somewhat reminiscent of that employed by various KIDMM colleagues in their own recent knowledge café exercises.

Building the mind map
Building the mind map

The day started with a scene setting exercise that saw us brainstorming around a set of a set of ‘themes’ (Information, People, Production/Technology, Environment/Ecology, etc.) and how these might affect the Society over the next 5 years. The issues were captured on post-its and subsequently organised as a wall-size mind map.

The main exercise then consisted of a series of café-style discussions (i.e. 4-5 to a table) around our membership experience and expectations (e.g. ‘What do you consider to be your most exciting and rewarding achievement as a Society member?’, “What would you do differently next time?’, and so on). The conversations were documented via notes scribbled on the paper tablecloths and through post-its which captured summaries of each collective discussion. Attendees would circulate around the tables every 15 minutes or so, mixing up the groups and iterating over each question.

Conversational cafe
Conversational cafe

At the plenary we shared our collective summaries, reflecting on lessons from the past, issues for the present, and plans for the future. President Tom Stewart made a couple of astute observations: first, that ergonomists should be less focused on trying to promote ergonomics per se, and instead think more about the wider benefits of ergonomics and user-centred design. This simple change of emphasis makes a lot of sense, and is quite pertinent in these times when we are all trying to do more with less.

Secondly, he reminded us that ergonomics is ‘too important to be left to ergonomists’, implying that the remit of ergonomics and human factors extends far beyond the handful of people qualified as practitioners. Consequently, rather than trying to spread ourselves too thinly across an ever-growing range of disciplines and projects, we would be better off sharing our UCD knowledge and best practice with colleagues from all disciplines, empowering them to make decisions that place the user experience at the heart of the design.

Closing plenary

Closing plenary

NB: As an end note, and somewhat surprisingly, there seemed to be no clear undertaking to document any of this, let alone share it with the wider membership. This seems a little odd to me, given the time & effort in generating it. Maybe I was simply asking the wrong people at the wrong time, but at the very least I’d hope that an undertaking of this significance would be transcribed in detail and then disseminated in timely fashion to the wider membership for feedback, while it’s still both topical and relevant. Watch this space for updates.

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We have a small number of free places left on our guest list for the Design Showcase session at Create 2009, which will take place from 17:30 on July 1st, at BCS London Offices. This year we will have a wide range of creative interactive designs on display, including student work from Dundee University, Edinburgh Napier University, Middlesex University and the Nottingham Mixed Reality Lab. There will be a chance to interact with the exhibits and talk to the exhibitors over a glass of wine. Drop me a line if you’re interested!

Further details below and at www.create-conference.org.

CREATE 2009 is a 2-day conference about creating innovative interactions, whether digital consumer products, interactive services or interaction paradigms. A conference where the emphasis is on sharing the wealth of creative ideas we have developed to resolve problems, to create new capabilities, or new functions; where the aim is to evolve further creative designs that can make a difference to people.

Similar to previous years, we have a good blend of academics and practitioners presenting. There are four keynote presentations from :

Josephine Reid, Pervasive Computing Lab, Hewlett-Packard;
Steve Benford, Mixed Reality Laboratory, University of Nottingham;
Andrew McGrath, Director of Design and Usability, Orange Global;
Crispin Jones, an industrial and interaction designer.

There are also 13 papers, again, both from academia and industry, all providing useful insights into the practice of user-centred design with digital technologies.  The theme for this year’s conference is Boom or Bust, and a number of our papers will reflect on how research and design practice is being shaped by the global economy and climate considerations. Edinburgh Napier University are also providing a useful interactive session during the final afternoon where you’ll use rapid ethnography to explore design issues in the technologically-enriched urban space.

We use the middle evening productively with a showcase event.  This year we will have a wide range of creative interactive designs on display, including student work from Dundee University, Edinburgh Napier University, Middlesex University and the Nottingham Mixed Reality Lab. There will be a chance to interact with the exhibits and talk to the exhibitors over a glass of wine.

This conference will be of use to you if you are involved in user experience design and management, human-computer interaction, interaction design and usability, particularly if you want to hear how others are managing during these turbulent times.  Delegates have commented in the past on how refreshing it is to attend a small, friendly conference with a good mix of academics and practitioners and we hope this will continue this year.  The conference is situated in the centre of London, making it easy to get to.

Last date for registration is 26 June.  So come along and share your own creative experiences. We look forward to meeting you on 1and 2 July at Create2009

CREATE is jointly organised by the Human-Computer Interaction Specialist Group of the Ergonomics Society, and British Computer Society’s Interaction Specialist Group, and will be held at the British Computer Society conference venue in Covent Garden, London, on 1 – 2 July, 2009.

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I have a lot of affection for the Ergonomics Society (ES) – it was the first professional organization I joined with upon graduating from Nottingham University many years ago, and one I’ve remained in close contact with ever since.

But I sometimes wonder how well the Society adapts to change – particularly developments in the wider ergonomics / usability community. For example, why is the membership of the Ergonomics Society at a plateau, when that of related organizations such as the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) is still on an upward curve? Both organizations can legitimately claim to represent the interests of usability practitioners in the UK (and further afield). So why does one organization appear to have peaked some years ago, while the other continues to enjoy healthy growth?

Perhaps the apparent similarity is merely superficial. Dig below the surface, and there are clear differences in the focus & scope of the two organizations:

  • The ES has traditionally represented ‘large scale’ platforms, in domains such as defence, utilities, transport, etc. whereas the UPA focuses on interactive technology, typically digital / online
  • The ES typically measures success using hard, quantitative measures, such as effectiveness, efficiency, and safety, whereas the UPA emphasises softer measures, such as engagement, satisfaction, & loyalty
  • Membership of the ES is defined by approved qualifications and relevant practical experience, whereas membership of the UPA is based on little more than shared interest

And so on. But despite this, I’m still left with the feeling somehow that the ES missed the opportunity in the 1990s to embrace digital and demonstrate that the principles which it had successfully applied to almost all other disciplines during the preceding 50 years could be adapted and extended to this new medium. After all, the whole point of standards like ISO 13407 is that the fundamental principles of human centred design should apply to any interactive system, be they digital/online or otherwise.

So is this likely to change? I hope so. The Society is currently in the process of executing its 5-year strategy, one pillar of which is to increase overall membership. It remains to be seen what proportion of this expansion will be accounted for by the ever growing body of digital specialists.

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