RAA5: Do Aesthetics matter or is it all about Usability?

Reference: Tractinsky, N. Aesthetics and apparent usability: empirically assessing cultural and methodological issues. In Proc. CHI’ 2002, ACM Press (1997) 115-122.

Objectives:   In the past few years researchers of HCI have given much attention to usability while completely ignoring aesthetics. Do aesthetics play a role in users’ acceptance of a computer system or does it depend entirely on usability? Do researchers ignore aesthetics because they believe that it is culturally dependent or does it cross cultural boundaries? A research project conducted by Kurosu and Kashimura (1995, cited by Tractinsky, 1997) on university students in Japan shows a strong correlation between aesthetics and the apparent usability of an interface. In this paper the Tractinsky (2007) investigate whether these results are solely based on Japanese or whether they extend to other cultures.

Methods: Three experiments were conducted in Israel to test if the results would show some cultural variation.

Experiment 1: One hundred and four engineering students were used to evaluate 26 layouts of an ATM machine. Using an overhead screen projector, each layout was presented for approximately 20 seconds and subjects rated each one on its beauty and perceived usability.

Experiment 2: A different group of 81 first year engineering students were used to evaluate the 26 ATM machine layouts. This experiment contained two conditions, each containing two rounds. In one condition, the participants evaluated all 26 layouts for aesthetics in the first round, and apparent usability in the second round. In the next condition the order of evaluation was reversed.

 Experiment 3: In this experiment participants completed the evaluation using a personal computer.

Main Findings:  All three experiments were able to produce the similar results, which was analogous to those discovered by Kurosu and Kashimura (1995, cited by Tractinsky, 1997) in their research in Japan.

Analysis:  Even though Israelis are not as sensitive to visual appearance as Japanese, the researchers found that they valued the aesthetical appearance of the interface just the same. This suggests that users’ sensitivity to the visual appearance of an interface may not just be limited to culture. Research has shown that users’ perceived ease of use of an interface makes them more acceptable of that system. I believe that much is lost when researchers focus solely on system usability while completely ignoring the aesthetical issues.


RAA4: Can Aesthetics Improve Interface Usability

References: Rogers, Y., Connelly,K.,  Kurtz, A., Hall, B., Hazlewood, W.,  Tedesco, L., Toscos, T., Designing in the Large for the Small: Combining Aesthetics with Usability for a PDA Application

Objectives:   Rogers et al.  performed a case study on LilyPad, a mobile PDA application for gathering data by scientists and students on environmental restoration. In this paper the authors seek to show how aesthetical improvements to the user interface of this application were able to enhance its usefulness and the way it was used.

Methods: Eighteen students and a small number of volunteers were taken to a restoration site where the LilyPad application could be used in context. Students were shown how to use the application and then sent out in the field to try it out. Students gathered information throughout the day till their work was completed, at which point students returned the mobile PDA. Logged data from the PDA clicks along with video data from the students’ activities was also recorded. Following the results gathered from this group, the application was atheistically enhanced and the process was repeated with a new group of students.

Main Findings:
Initial LilyPad:  Although the program was initially designed for educational, environmental and context of use issues, the researchers discovered that the application was not utilized as expected and users claimed that it was not pleasant to use. The students did not use many of the pages that were created to help them understand their work and when they did, claimed that it was difficult to scroll through the information.
Redesigned LilyPad: Based on video data and interviews with students, there was a significant difference in the way students used the enhanced version of the LilyPad application. They spent more time using the application because they found it more useful and also said that it gave them a sense of accomplishment. Those students who had not used a PDA before became competent very quickly using the application. There were no complaints about selecting wrong pages, getting frustrated or confused because they didn’t know where to look.

Analysis: Based on results from the second iteration of the LilyPad application, students spent more time utilizing the software. One may suppose that the aesthetical improvements were able to enhance the software and make its use more pleasurable.  But there are a few issues I would like to highlight such as the differences in the climatic conditions during both experiments. The students who worked with the first iteration of LilyPad did so on a cold day which may account for them spending less time using the software. These students were also wearing gloves, which made it more difficult selecting options or entering data via the keyboard, thus resulting in more errors.

I think that many of the enhancements were improvements to the system’s usability. Those scientists and students who utilized the first version of LilyPad complained that it was not pleasant to use and this signifies that it may have been more of a usability than aesthetical issue.

In spite of these arguments, I do believe that aesthetical improvements can influence users’ acceptability of a system and research has shown this. When designing a user interface I believe that aesthetics should be given just as much consideration as usability to accommodate for the low level visual system.

RAA3 Requirement Engineering: Does Users involvement matter?

Reference: Sari, K., Marjo, K., Laura, L., & Tero, K. (2005). The Role of User Involvement in Requirements Quality and Project Success. IEEE International Conference on Requirements Engineering, 2005.

Objectives: A requirement can be described as a statement which specifies what a particular product should be able to accomplish. Establishing requirements requires the gathering of information to ensure that a product help users achieve their goals. Research has shown that user involvement in requirement engineering can improve the quality of requirements. The term “user involvement” means direct contact between the design team and users through user feedback, product testing, ect. In this paper the authors seek “to investigate the role of user involvement in defining user requirements in typical development projects.” (Sari, Marjo, Laura, & Tero, 2005)

Methods: A survey was conducted, which involved 18 individuals who worked in software related development projects in 13 companies. Participants had to answer questions based on the most recent projects they participated in during the requirements engineering stage. Questions came from four sections: background information, the requirements quality issues from the user-centered design point of view, the success of the project, and requirements engineering practices. The researchers then validated the results of the survey by interviewing 8 of those participants.

Main Findings: From experience the authors argue that developers tend to view users as “one big faceless mass” (Sari et al, 2005) when users are not involved in product development. Based on the results, they argue that developers become more aware of their limited knowledge of users issues when users are involved. The project-success assessments and average requirement quality was also higher in projects where requirements were based on real information from users or customers. In addition, when users are involved less money is spent and more time is saved on requirements engineering. Finally the results revealed that requirements were defined carelessly or too abstract when users were not involved. 

Analysis: Based on these results, projects which involved users in product development were considered to be more successful than those projects where users were not involved. In their research, (Chatzoglou & Macaulay, 1996) showed that fewer iterations were needed when users were the main source of information. I believe that user involvement in a development project can tremendously increase requirement quality, because users usually know what they want. And even in cases where users are not sure what they desire, a prototype of a product will give them enough information to know what they don’t want in a product.

The authors argued that the programmers in some projects did not care for user involvement because they had to consider too many wishes and features requested by those users.I believe that it is perfectly fine for users to voice their expectation of a product, but it should be left to the design team and programmers to decide how those functions and features should be implemented.

Though this research produced valuable information on the effectiveness of user involvement, the sample was fairly small, which may not give a true impression of typical project development in all companies. Taking this into consideration, a larger study should be done with this consideration although I believe it would only confirm these results.

Although user involvement does give some value insight to programmers in terms of requirements, it may not help them understand the context in which the product will be used. Then again this would require some ethnographic research will may prove too expensive and time consuming for the project at hand. I believe that for typical development projects user involvement will give designers enough information to establish high quality user requirements.

RAA2 — Ethnographic Research: Does it Contribute to Product Development?

Reference: Bly, S. 1997. Field work: Is it product work? Interactions, 4(1), 25-30.

Objectives: Ethnographic studies give researchers the opportunity to study users as they interact with technologies in their environment. Although it is a very popular method of study, this method is very time consuming, requires a considerable amount of effort, and is particularly burdensome when transferring data from the field to the developers. Due to such high overheads, this research paper seeks to determine whether ethnographic studies actually contribute to the product work cycle.

Methods: A field work project was conducted by Bellotti and Bly at Apple Computer Inc. to identify product opportunities in design teams that work across multiple sites. They chose to study a team of seven members, which was distributed between two sites 20 miles apart. There were also model shops at each location. The team was preparing for a major presentation, so this presented the researchers with an opportunity to see them work. Four methods were used to study the design team at their workplace: a brain storming meeting, interviews, meeting attendance, and observations of daily work activity.

Main Findings: The researcher’s initial focus was on communication and collaboration and suggesting ways to support distance collaboration. Through interviews and observations, the researchers realized that team members were often not at their desks. They were talking to each other in the halls, while working in the labs and going to and from model shops. This finding presented the opportunity for a range of mobile computing devices that could be utilized by these workers. Also the fact that the workers were seldom at their desks made distance collaboration even more difficult and any efforts to enhance existing desktop workstations would be useless.

Analysis: Through the use of an ethnographic research, the researchers were able to analyze the contributions of this technique to product development. This method allows researchers to understand the context in which a technology is being used, which can determine the requirements and present opportunities for the technology. Often and as in this study, there are assumptions about the use of a particular technology, but field studies allow researchers to see exactly what happens. In this field work project, the organization was thinking of ways to enhance the existing desktop workstations because they assumed that workers were at their desks. But their efforts would fail since workers would not likely use the technologies as it didn’t meet their needs.

I believe that before a field study is conducted for a particular product, some important considerations must be taken into account. One such consideration is the development time of the technology; ethnographic research is time intensive, will the time for development allow the design team to benefit from the ethnographic study? Based on the value of the project, is it worthwhile to conduct an ethnographic study? Is it a product prototype, which requires constant technical support?
If these questions are satisfactorily answered then an ethnographic study could be ideal for your project.

RAA-1 Can Interface Usability Influence Trust of Web Retailers?

Source: Roy, M., Dewit, O., Aubert, B. (2001). The impact of interface usability on trust in web retailers. Internet research: Electronic networking Applications and Policy, 11(5), 388-398Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=863729&show=html


Purpose: Many studies have argued that interface design and usability can have a significant influence on a user’s attitude and trust of a website. The objective of this paper was “to present a study that tested the relationship between the quality or usability of the interface design and the level of trust of potential customers.”[Roy, M., Dewit, O., Aubert, B. 2001]

Methods: A questionnaire was used to gather information from the 66 participants based on the evaluation of site usability and trust. The questionnaire was sectioned into two parts:

  1. The first part gathered information about participants demographics and their previous experience with the internet
  2. The second part contained 46 questions, which was used for evaluating the websites’ usability. Twenty nine of these questions were borrowed from the index of usability, which was developed and validated by Lin et al.(1997) while the remaining 17 questions were borrowed from a questionnaire used by Mayer et al. (1995)

Using nine unfamiliar bookstore websites, the participants were asked to perform three tasks:

  • find a predefined book
  • find a book of their choice
  •  simulate the order process

Following this step the participants were asked to complete the second part of the questionnaire related to usability and trust.

Main Finding: The results show that four out five usability factors significantly influenced the user’s confidence in an ecommerce website. These factors included: ease of the site’s navigation, ease of learning, perception and support. Based on these findings, site consistency did not seem to have much of an effect on the user’s level of trust.

Analysis: The findings in this paper only seem to reinforce what we already know about the importance of usability in a user interface. The success or failure of any website or software product has a direct correlation to its usability. Two of the websites omitted from this research were Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Their exclusion was not due to their lack of usability, but because they had already established that’s sense of trust in users due to their great interface usability. A good knowledge of usability in respect to consumer trust is indispensable to anyone aspiring to undertake an online business.

Although this paper was successful in establishing the correlation between interface usability and trust it was limited due to the fact that the participants only simulated the order process. I believe that the results may have been different if participant were to use their credit cards to make an actual purchase.