Week 10: Journal Summary

11 12 2009

I took a lot of valuable lessons away from Theories and Practice of Interactivity this quarter. The class has made me think differently about the way the world – particularly websites, user interfaces and products – is designed. I now think things like “This coffeemaker has bad usability!” and notice the design and feel of everyday objects like a metal fork.

The skills used in our web design critique assignment have helped me better evaluate design and gain a better understanding of why some sites are irritating while others are appealing. Like most people, I favor clean, simple layouts that are easy to understand and make appropriate use of white space. For our assignment, I critiqued the cluttered home page of DailyHerald.com, which lacks a dominant element and clear organization. I also critiqued the design of Kayak.com. In addition to using white space well, Kayak.com’s design benefits from consistent typography and color.

I learned about the steps of the design process and important tools, such as wireframes, use cases and task-flow diagrams. Wireframes allow people to look at the site’s navigation and basic layout without any of the emotions related to design or color. Wireframes help organize the site’s content and structure. For our wireframe assignment, I redesigned the home page of www.care4kids.org to simplify the navigation and create a dominant spot to promote certain news and stories. I also redesigned the site with more prominent spots for links to Twitter, Facebook and donating to the organization.

Creating use cases and task-flow diagrams are essential to creating a user-friendly site, application or service. I created an improved task-flow diagram and a use case for the task of finding out what the Week 6 reading was for Com 529 and downloading that reading from Media Space. Creating the task-flow diagram for the task as it currently exists made me see just how many clicks it takes to accomplish this. It helped quantify the frustration I feel when using the site. I also enjoyed examining the ways that the site navigation and structure can be improved to make the task easier.

I enjoyed the assignment about designing an improved classroom and learning experience. Our class discussion ranged from ideas about the layout of our desks to interactive screens that would show a profile for the student who was speaking. For my assignment, I designed the concept for a web-based tool that students would use to “raise their hands” to pose questions or comments. In addition, the instructor would have a queue to show who is waiting to speak and what his or her question or comment is. Designing these concepts was valuable. It forced me to think about which buttons and steps are necessary in an interface, among many other factors.

I’ll admit it – I love complaining about things that are difficult to use or poorly designed. As such, I especially enjoyed critiquing something with bad usability. For that journal assignment, I evaluated the Zoom H4 Handy Digital Recorder, a piece of equipment that has caused me hours of frustration. In my critique, I discussed the variety of problems with the buttons, user interface and menus. I offered suggestions for which functions should be buttons on the device and which should be included in the menus.

I also learned about service design and the importance of – service envy – creating services that help people tell one another who they are. As a recent Mac convert, the class made me think a lot about the differences between Mac and PC, particularly the service envy that Apple has so successfully created. I remember how rare and exciting iPods were when they first came out while I was in college. One day I borrowed my roommate’s iPod earbuds because I had lost my headphones. Other friends saw me walking down the street and began yelling in excitement – they had seen the iconic white earbuds and assumed I had gotten an iPod. They were pretty disappointed when I revealed my discman. I’m very aware of the hype and image that relates to Apple products. Admittedly, I like the image that comes with wearing my white earbuds while walking down the street to the beat of my own personal soundtrack or sitting at a coffee shop with my new shiny MacBook Pro. But I also own those products because I value their functionality and design.

This class reinforced a belief I’ve always had – things should be designed so that they’re easy to use. Despite this belief, when problems arise with software or a website, I too often blame the user rather than poor usability. I’m often charged with teaching my family members how to use new software or accomplish tasks online. I quickly grow frustrated and impatient when they don’t get it. But this class has helped me see it’s not entirely their fault. Some software is designed poorly, and many user interfaces are not intuitive. I’m just lucky enough to be a digital native who picks up new technology easily and has spent enough time figuring out the software and tools to know work-arounds and shortcuts. Now that I have a strong foundation in usability and interaction design, maybe I can work on being more patient in 2010.




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