In an attempt to help create better online courses for BYU-Idaho I’m pursuing a Micro Masters from Michigan University on edX. This experience really has two goals. First, I want to improve my student-centered design skills. Second I want to explore how another university puts courses online in their use of technology.
What is a MicroMaster’s Program?
According to edX a MicroMasters is:
Developed to advance a career and born from Master’s programs of leading universities, MicroMasters programs are a series of higher-level courses recognized by companies for real job relevancy, and may accelerate a Master’s degree.
The program consists of 9 classes on various UX topics. Below you can see my progress through the program. Here is a link to the Micro Master’s program:
What Does this Mean?
This is not a master’s degree in UX but apparently Michigan will accept these courses for “advanced credit for completion of the Masters of Science in Information (MSI) if [students choose to] apply.” That is pretty cool. That is more that I can say for many MOOCs. Michigan creates the courses on edX and then accepts some or part of them as viable coursework towards a masters degree. Truth in advertising, I have a Ph.D. and my wife would kill me if I put our family through any more schooling! This is a way I can continue to develop some professional interests. I also hope to teach a Human Computer Interaction Course online for BYUI in the future.
1) Introduction to User Experience
Week 1: The first week included several videos (narrated power points) defining user experience. According to Dr. Newman, “UX is the experience people have when they interact with your product.” (What is User Experience? Slide 13. ) This video offered the helpful reminder just because you design something does not make you an effective “user” of that software. It all makes sense to you because you created it. The second video gave an overview of the iterative UX design process. Counterintuitively, the goal of the UX process is to fail quickly because then you can redesign the product to “get less wrong”. Or at least move toward a better solution. Newman describes a spiral model moving from “assessing, designing, and building” toward a better product each time. This spiral includes both UX Research and Design. Research includes several methods specifically “interviews, observations, surveys, user testing, and inspection methods” (The UX Process slide 12). Design includes “personas, scenarios, user stories, sketching and ideation, storyboarding, mapping and navigation design, comparative research, and lo, mid, and hi-fidelity prototyping” (The UX Process slide 13). The final video in first week described the components of UX specifically, “value, usability, adoptability, desirability” (Components of UX slide 7). Slides 5-11 explain these components:
- Value is whether or not this tools is better than the alternatives
- Usability is whether or not users can do what they need to do
- Adoptability is it easy to find and start using
- Desirability is it fun, attractive and pleasant to use.
Week 2: This week deepened the material I was learning about UX Research. The first video covered the three basic methods of UX research. According to Newman these methods fit within the categories of asking, observing, and inspecting (Basic Methods of UX Research slide 3). Asking involves interviews and surveys (as well as focus groups, diary studies, experience sampling). Observing can involve ethnographic observations (watching as people engage in activities to understand more about the activity), user testing, usage analytics, video analysis, and social media mining. Inspecting involves guideline-based (comparing a system with best practices) walkthroughs, and comparative analysis. Frequently methods are combined for example user testing is matched with contextual interviews. The video summarizes when to use the methods (slide 15).
- Ask when you can’t observe because it would take too long or you are more interested in values and motivations. You want large numbers and lots of certainty.
- Observe when self-report could miss information or when the process or communication is important.
- Inspect when you have a product to inspect or interacting with users is too expensive.
The next large task for week 2 was to start planning for a micro usability test. Since I had done some formal usability testing during my undergrad studies at USU on https://www.recreation.gov/ and other websites, I was interested to see how this class would handle this process. The main requirements were for us to find users who had never used the Doodle scheduling website to complete three tasks. Usability tasks included setting up a meeting, indicating available times, and reviewing the results of the survey. As a student in the class I did not have to select or determine any of these tasks. But I did have to convert the tasks into a moderator script and a task script to share with participants. I also had to locate participants. Rather than a formal process through a selection survey, I used word-of mouth to locate some of my student employees who had never used the Doodle website before.
Week 3: During this week I reviewed a video of usability test for Cars.com, conducted my own user tests of Doodle.com, and submitted a test report for the experience. Here is the text file of my MicroUsabilityTestReport. My key ah-ha moments where to practice all of the steps I hoped my users would complete. Also that my users where much more comfortable adding their social media profiles to web sites. Additionally, tasks that I thought were easy to complete were not intuitive to users. From an instructional design perspective I also really liked the strategy of reviewing others submissions and then reconfirming my score on my own submission. I think seeing other’s work helped to reassess my own work.
Week 4: This week covered prototypes and sketching and how they help to make ideas concrete and testable. It was a great reminder to not just get in a code but to start out with paper which is cheap and then progress to wire-frames and then perhaps a coded mock-up. The function of Lo-fi prototypes is to “address functionality, basic organization, task flow and coverage” (Prototypes slide 13) During this phase you should also ignore “graphics, programming, and real data”. Mid-fi prototypes should “address lo-fi concerns, plus, layout, interactivity, navigation while ignoring graphics programming and real data” (Prototypes slide 14). Hi-fi prototypes should address lo and mid-fi materials and add “graphic design, interaction details, realistic data” (Prototypes slide 15).
According to Lim, Stolerman, and Tenenberg “The best prototype is the one that, in the simplest and most efficient way, makes the possibilities of a design idea visible and measurable” (Prototypes slide 16).
The next key idea explored this week was sketching. This idea stretched me. During ideation or sketching the goal is to sketch, build ideas and don’t critique and apply “lateral thinking” (Sketching slide 18). Generation is followed by convergence. The assignment this week was to “Sketch 10 different designs for a control interface for a 10,000 elevator.” We were to focus on location, status, and control. I’ve attached a pdf of my InitialSubmission.
Week 5: The final step of the ideation process was converging from the many ideas down to a few ideas and producing 10 variations of those narrowed ideas. Instructional design considerations: Even though edX explains that this course is “self-paced” that pace must be within the specified time frame of the course. In this case, 5 weeks from when it was started. In other words this is not an independent study course done completely on the student’s schedule. As a result of this I needed to skip this final step of creating an additional set of 10 converging sketches. Peer feedback: In this class I felt a lot of empathy for graphic designers who are frequently tasked with coming up with wide variety of ideas and discussing them with others. I also noticed that some peer feedback was encouraging but not helpful to the converging process. So if I were to continue with this activity I would show my sketches to others and see if they could help me to narrow down my ideas. All in all a great class that helped me to review the basics of user experience.
2) Principles of Designing for Humans
This was another class where I attempted to use an idea similar to Retrieval Practice while studying the content. Essentially, I would watch a video all the way through and then try and write down anything that I remembered. I would then rewatch the video and stop the video to take notes. I found this to be helpful but it did take more time to “get through” the material. Mid-way through the week, I moved to just stopping the video and taking notes. I picked up the process again in the following weeks. Here are some of my takeaways from the material.
Week 1: Visual Perception and Memory. The visual perception of the human brain is limited. We only have a five degree of central vision range of full focus. Peripheral vision can’t be used for reading it is too out of focus. You must jump around to read. Humans scan pages using eye fixations to move from one word to the next these are called “sa-ka-ds” (saccades). We don’t usually look at the whole page we look at what is most important for us when completing a specific task. Just because something is on a page it does not mean it will be read.
Based on research by Jacob Nielsen the most common pattern of reading on the web is the F shape (for left-to-right languages). Some important principles to remember are:
- Make important info and actions visible: If something is not visible users can’t interact with it.
- Leverage how users read: Am I using these patterns?
- When evaluating ask yourself “did they see it?”, Can they find it? , Did they misunderstand what it meant?
Visual psychology suggests several stages of visual perception. We move from photons to images. The three stages are:
- Recognizable Objects
According to the course, the Gestalt School of Psychology studies the way that pattern works and created a set of principles on how the eye breaks up the visual field. These principles are:
- Proximity (nearness means the items are associated)
- Closure and continuation (we fill in gaps with likely solutions and context helps. Bk means back in the sentence “be right back”)
- Symmetry (we see something like a single object)
- Similarity (like things are part of a group)
- Common area (share a common boundary seen as a group)
- Common fate (move together those are a different pattern)
Moving from visual perception to memory requires attention and moving from short-term to long-term memory. Our short-term memory is limited and according to Miller the magic number 7+/-2 items (Miller’s Law 1956). Cowan reduced this number to 4+/-1 (Cowan, 2010). Anything that isn’t retained is lost. Learning happens when we move something from short to long-term memory.
Short-term memory is limited. Here are some UX principles based on this idea. (Attention)
- Keep lists of options short
- Keep within the range of magic numbers
- Give users tools for reducing options
- Compare against each other
- Don’t expect users to remember stuff (from one screen to the next)
There are several ways to transfer something to long-term memory these include association and repetition.
Learning will work better if the learner can fit the new material into a schema
- Use metaphors: An example is the shopping cart on Amazon
- Leverage standards and consistency: Menu structure: Use one system can transfer information to the next.
- Avoid asking users to memorize information
Prefer recognition over recall
- Search terms we need to create but Google added autocomplete search terms.
These ideas come from cognitive psychology. I really like these ideas for the principles they provide but I’m not sure we really have all the answers on how the mind and senses work.
Week 2 Norman’s model of Action, the Gulfs of Execution and Evaluation, and Design Principles
In Don Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things, he describes a seven stage model of action anyone takes to accomplish an outcome. These steps are:
- Determine a goal
- Choose a path
- Look at the world for feedback
- Determine if you were successful
- Act again
Elaborating on Norman’s model of actions the model can be divided into two parts: actions that the user takes to change the world and the feedback the user gets from the world of that action.
- The gulf of execution is that the user can see they’ve done an action in the world.
- The gulf of evaluation is the signal the world or system provides back because of that action. Did this action get me closer or further away from my goal?
Discoverability is the way we bridge the gulfs of execution and evaluation.
- Execution: users can figure out (discover) what actions are possible
- Evaluation: users can discover whether the actions were successful
Principles supporting discoverability
- Affordances: the feature of an object or environment that indicates the possibility of action.
- Signifiers: Message of what will happen if you take this action.
- Feedback: users need to know that the system heard them and will do something about their action.
- Constraints: You can only take certain actions.
- Conceptual Models: support simulation of future actions because they understand how the system is set up.
- Consistency: What users learn in one place they can apply to another.
- Metaphor: Rapidly communicate an idea about a function
Week 3 Nielsen’s Heuristics for Design
There are lots of guidelines for usability but the downside about guidelines is that they are very detailed and very specific. For example, Usability.gov has around 300 guidelines. Created by Nielsen (1994), heuristic evaluations offer an alternative to formal usability testing and are “cheap, fast, and easy to use” (p. 24). Heuristic evaluations are a discount method for highlighting usability issues in a user interface so they can be dealt with as part of the iterative design process (Nielsen, 1994).
Jacob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics cover the most important areas to consider and are generalizable. His list is derived from a systematic review of usability problems, is intended to be small and complete, able to be taught in a few hours and is well-supported by theories of perception and cognition. You can read them in 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design
Week 4 Heuristic Evaluation and Report
Most heuristic evaluations include several segments. The initial segment involves training evaluators to understand Nielsen’s heuristics. The evaluators then conduct their analysis during the second segment. The analysis is then followed by a debrief where the evaluators discuss their findings with each other. The fourth and final part includes evaluators assigning severity ratings to the usability problems (Nielsen, 1994, p. 38).
The Designing for Humans course included most but not all of these segments. I was trained on Nielsen’s heuristics, conducted an analysis of the edX discussion board, and individually assigned severity ratings to the issues. A debriefing on the issues occurred asynchronously in the form of peer reviews of usability problems with other evaluators. The only one of Nielsen’s segments not included in this evaluation is a collaboration among a team of evaluators to agree on the issues together and then assign a severity score.