Spring’15 Class notes: Days 12, 13 & 14: Design principles based in human perception and cognition

24 Feb

On Days 12, 13, and 14 we learned about human perception and cognition so we can design interfaces that work well with the human mind.

Day 12 – The Gestalt principles of visual perception are fundamental. They explain how we organize visual signals into groups and patterns. These are the inherent biases of the human mind. We can use them to create structure, organization, or fun visual effects.

Below are the slides with examples we used in class.

Day 13 – was all about creating visual structure. You can use visual hierarchy and grids to create layouts that guide the eye meaningfully and communicate what is most important, and where people should look. Try to remember some of the techniques for creating visual hierarchy:

  • create contrast through size, color, shape, alignment, saturation
  • create patterns through chunking and the use of negative space
  • capitalize on the human eye’s tendency to start reading from top left by using the Z pattern or the inverted F pattern.

Below are some slides on visual hierarchy:

Day 14 – we talked about attention, information scent, and memory.

Remember that human attention has 2 main mechanisms:

  • top-down, which the person controls with their will
  • bottom-up, which is “grabbed” by external stimuli in the environment

Understanding how attention works can help you design in ways that not only GET ATTENTION, but also you learn to support the person’s top-down attention. People use top-down attention when they search for relevant information that can help them accomplish their goals. So, if you know what people’s goals are, through user research, you can facilitate that process. One way in which you can facilitate it is through information scent. If you provide links and icons with strong information scent, people have to think less, guess less, and accomplish their goals faster.

Information scent is an estimate, or a probability. When users look at a link, they try to predict what is on the other side – what will they find if they click it? If they are unable to predict, or are uncertain or wrong about their prediction, this means the link has poor/weak information scent. For example, what do you predict you will find if you click on the words “information scent” at the beginning of this paragraph? How confident are you in your prediction? Click the link. Were you right? If you were able to predict confidently and correctly, the link has strong information scent. How about this, though? What do you predict is at the link from the word “this”? How confident are you? Were you right? If you can’t predict confidently and correctly, the link has weak information scent.

Memory is a weakness for most people. It is hard to remember things. It is hard to recall without any prompt or help. However, it is relatively easy to recognize items and remember that way. This is why multiple-choice exams are easier than essay exams: Because you recognize the concepts from class, and this helps you remember, as opposed to starting with a blank page and having to recall everything. Also, imagine I ask you to name the textbook you used in your junior high school English class. You probably can’t recall. But, if I show you 5 different books, you will probably be able to recognize and thus remember the one you used back then.

Below are the slides I used in class.

Spring ’15 Class notes: Day 10 – Conceptual design intro

16 Feb

In this class, we moved into the creative part of conceptual design. The objectives were:

At the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Use scenarios to extract design requirements from user data.
  2. Conduct brainstorming session according to the rules for effective brainstorming.
  3. Use thumbnail sketches as a way to generate ideas.
  4. Reflect on the creative aspects of the conceptual design process.

You took the personas developed in the previous class and created scenarios and design requirements for an app that would help students maintain motivation to learn. You then practiced effective (I hope!) brainstorming and used thumbnail sketches to generate very many ideas. Remember that at this stage, quantity of ideas is more important than quality.

You then sorted through the ideas you generated to come up with 1-2 concepts for the new product that everyone on your team could agree would be worth pursuing further.

Please also remember how sketching is used this early in the UX process as a way to generate ideas.

Spring’15 Class notes: Day 9 – Affinity Diagramming

16 Feb

This class filled the gap between conducting user research and writing personas and scenarios. Once you do your contextual inquiry, interviews, focus groups, etc., what do you do to analyze all that data and come up with personas? One way of working with qualitative data is affinity diagramming.

Affinity diagramming is popular in UX because it is a team activity. It can get buy-in and build empathy for users, because several team members get to handle users’ ideas and quotes from what they said. It is often common to invite members of the technical team to help, so they can get close to users, too.

affinity diagram with post it notesWe spent class time working with some data from your personal profiles and creating affinity diagrams, and persona(s) based on them.

Spring ’15 Class notes: Day 8 – Intro to personas, scenarios and design requirements

16 Feb

In this class, we reported the findings from the contextual inquiry exercise you did the class before. Then, we used that information for you to work individually to create a persona, a scenario, and design requirements. The feedback for that assignment is summarized in this blog post.

The most important things you need to remember from this class are the definitions and distinctions between personas, scenarios, and design requirements.

Personas are based on the data from your user research. They are composites, but they are not fictional. They are not a product of your imagination…


Scenarios take the persona and imagine how the new magical product you will design solves their problems. Scenarios are a combination of research (manifested in the persona) and your imagination. They happen in the future, and show what a day in the persona’s life will be like when they have full use of your new magical product. In the scenario, you see what the persona does with the new magical product, and how the persona uses it. Based on this, you extract a list of…

Design requirements – these are specifications for what the product should be able to do, along with any platform and technical requirements.

Persona Lab Assignment Grades

11 Feb

The grades for your Persona Lab Assignments have been posted on The CN. Please take a look at them and let me know if you have any questions.

Overall, as a class I was impressed with your creativity and ability to bring these personas to life (and some of the names were quite comical). As empathy devices for design, it is important to give your personas a convincing story. Most of you did this with your extremely precise and rich descriptions. Purposeful descriptions and detailed narratives can reveal more about who you’re designing for – beyond the standard “22, Male, Student” information.

If you lost points, it was most likely because you were missing either the scenario or design requirements list that were outlined in the assignment description. The best way to avoid this in the future is to carefully read the assignment descriptions and pay close attention to what the actual deliverables are for each lab assignment (and any assignment, for that matter.) A few of you might have lost a small amount of points for missing the individual elements of the persona itself.

Also, if you want to ensure that I understand the content of your assignment and the requirement that you were trying to fulfill, be sure to make your headings and descriptions explicitly clear and obvious. Be user-centered, or audience-centered, in your assignments (Dr. V. and I are your audience). “Speak the user’s language.” If an assignment description asks for a list of design requirements, it never hurts to label one of your sections “Design Requirements.”

I also noticed that many of you were unclear on the purpose of a scenario. Many, if not most of you described a typical day in the life of your persona with lovely and thorough descriptions of their struggles to prepare for class. However, you were meant to create a scenario similar to what Dr. V. did in class with “Tinkerbell.” Your scenario should have included your proposed solution for your persona’s problems and needs. You can pretend the technology or interface is magical at this point, and worry about what is actually feasible or possible later. The process of writing a scenario like this helps you get a feel for the problems that your persona might run into and what your design requirements are. Because of the prevalence of confusion, I did not take points of for those individuals that did not do this. We’ll cover scenarios more in upcoming classes.

As always, please let me know if you have any concerns.


Spring’15 class notes: Day 7: Personas, scenarios and design requirements

6 Feb

Important points from class:

Deciding when to use what research method:

Interviews are more appropriate for one on one research when you want to understand one person’s view on things, contextual inquiry is better for trying to understand how a person works so that you can innovate a certain part of their day to day activities, focus groups are best when brainstorming for certain ideas. – student J.C. (emphasis mine)

What are personas, scenarios, and design requirements and what are they used for? persona icon
  • Personas – research reports that help us remember and empathize with the users we researched. Not fictional or made up; based on research.
  • Scenarios – creative stories that involve what the persona would do if they had our new magic productScenarios bridge research and creativity. They help us move towards envisioning what the product would be able to do, and extracting lists of:
  • Design requirements – specifications for what functionality the product should have, what platform(s) it should work on, etc.

See also Joshua’s recommendation for a post about personas.

Why the CN?

6 Feb

the CN logo

In case you are wondering why I ask that we use the CN for this course: The main advantage the CN presents is the newsfeed that enables all of us in the course to communicate frequently and sometimes informally. Here are my reasons for using it in CGT 256:

1. Sharing is important in this course

Sharing examples and additional resources is important for learning UCD. The field is relatively new; there are a lot of resources out there that we can learn from. We all benefit from working together to collect interesting readings and resources. As we move to the next course module and talk about design principles, examples are a must and I will ask you all to find and contribute them.

2. Informal communication builds common ground

Communicating informally, even about things that are not directly related to the course, builds understanding and common ground. It makes it a lot easier and safer for us to communicate and work together. It gives me valuable immediate feedback so I can adjust course activities to your needs.

3. New is interesting

Especially in a design course, experimenting with a new product is interesting. There are lots of tiny interface design errors in the CN – these make great examples that we can connect with course material. They can be annoying, but I think the overall benefits to the learning experience outweigh the annoyances.

Another related question is,

OK, but why REQUIRE participation and 1,000 anar seeds?

2 reasons: motivation and evaluation.

Motivation – I fear that without that, very few people would participate. That being said, 1,000 points is a very easy target for most students, so it’s a minimal incentive to get people to try it out, in the hopes they’ll find enough value to want to participate. Also, providing and seeing examples is very important in this class, and that’s one way to get people to do it.

Evaluation –  number of Anar seeds is an easy way for me to evaluate participation and for you to see where you stand at any given point in the semester. It’s a lazy form of evaluation, I admit, because it focuses mostly on quantity (though posts that are voted “best” gain more points). Please know that this is not the ONLY form of evaluating participation. I do my best to take everything into consideration, not only anar seeds.

Finally, I’d like you to know that every detail of the course is thought out carefully and meant to contribute to one or more learning objectives. If you have questions about why we’re doing something, please ask.


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