Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stanford, Startups, and Meetups

A lot has happened since I started this blog!  I started taking a free Human-Computer Interaction class online through Stanford.  I am in Week 3 of the five week course and so far I think it's really great.  I'm learning a ton on many subjects: the history of HCI, research methods, prototyping (low fidelity vs. high fidelity), needfinding, and mental models.  My favorite subject that I've been learning about is paper prototyping.  Basically it's arts and crafts time.  You can get creative and use a wide array of materials like paper, cardboard, transparencies, poster board, tape, glue, sharpies, index cards, and so much more.  In my spare time, I do screen printing and cross-stitching, so this process really appeals to me.  In case anyone was wondering, the bicycle background of this blog is actually a cross-stitch pattern I am working on.  You can create a paper prototype of practically anything whether it be a website, iPhone app, console, etc.  Another fun thing is that you can cut out the widgets and during user testing, as participants "press the buttons," you can place the correct widget (like a pull-down menu) on the prototype.  Paper prototyping is a great way to invest a small amount of time and money and start getting feedback.  It's good to use early in the design process.  If your prototype is in paper format, it is still very easily changeable.  I'm excited to start paper prototyping the UI for an iPhone game I'm working on.  This is a great way for me to communicate ideas to the rest of the team and think out what needs to be included in the design.

I opted to do the "Apprentice Track" of the course where I do not turn in homework, but instead only take the quizzes.  The reason I don't want to do the homework is that I have some real-world projects I can apply what I'm learning to, so I don't want to spend the time on homework.  Which leads me into the real-world stuff I'm working on...

I have started working part-time at a startup called as a User Researcher.  Yay!  I plan on doing this over the Summer (at least) so that I can learn as much as I can and gain experience.  It's been about 2 weeks and I'm already learning so much.  I've worked on writing a script for a semi-structured interview and I've also helped design and implement a card sorting task.  Card sorting is basically what it sounds like.  It's a technique that's used to uncover how people organize information and how they categorize and relate concepts.  Card sorting tasks include giving a participant cards with information on them.  The participant is then given instructions to organize those cards.  This could be in a way the participant decides, or the participant could be given guidance to place the cards into existing groups.  Or it could be mixed.  This is really good for figuring out how people organize information and it informs how designers will then organize information on a website, for instance.

Last, but not least, I went to another User Research meeting.  This time it was in the South Bay, hosted by one of the members who works at Google.  It was nice to see the Google campus in Mountain View (and eat dinner!).  It was once again a great night filled with warm, friendly, and passionate people.  A research method that I had not yet heard of was discussed, participatory design.  It is an iterative design process that uses focus groups to outline needs, task analysis to inform specifications, and user advisory boards to maintain user input throughout the development process.  And it sort of relates to the paper prototyping method I was talking about earlier.  The group talked about experience using participatory design and a couple of people shared tips:

  • Use black and white, crafty looking sketches, like wireframes, to give to the groups.  
  • Give the participants sharpies; make sure they keep away from small details. 
  • Have small groups work together drawing, moving widgets/pieces of a menu, and discussing what is working for them. 
  • Small groups come together as a bigger group.  
  • Use icebreaker questions before having people show/share their ideas.  
Someone also brought up participatory critique.  This is another method where you give participants a simple wireframe mockup and red and green highlighters.  They then critique the mockup with their highlighters and talk about what is working and what isn't.

Well, that's all for now.  Turns out that I have a lot to blog about and it looks like that won't be stopping anytime soon.


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  2. Participatory design seems to be a popular tool, where creators can definitely get feedback from users or team members, and can get an idea of what capabilities to prioritize in dev. On the flip side, I think there is a lot of literature that indicates that participants often don't know what they want until they see it. Some people say that participatory design takes a lot of time and planning, but tends to have low rewards in terms of coming up with ideas that haven't already been discussed by product creators. Although, confirmation of successful designs/ideas and criticism of lackluster notions can help teams feel confident in the process.

  3. Hey Pov! I totally see what you're saying. I think you're right in that it can provide concept validity, but probably not completely new groundbreaking design concepts. I think with research in general, designers and engineers tend to be surprised how actual users go ahead use a product, or how they decide to organize a website. I think that part is useful - seeing that other people think differently and then trying to put yourself in their shoes.

    It's interesting that companies like Apple do very little User Research because their philosophy seems to be more about "knowing" what the users will be wanting. To them, if you need to do research, you're not a good designer.

    Another thing I've learned about from that Stanford class (and now I'm just riffing here) is that many users come up with their own "hacks" to get around design flaws. I feel like finding those people who have identified a problem and created their own personalized solution is probably extremely useful to designers. Where are THOSE people?!