Design exploration: engaging a larger user population
Moore, John Michael
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Software designers must understand the domain, work practices, and user expectations before determining requirements or generating initial design mock-ups. Users and other stakeholders are a valuable source of information leading to that understanding. Much work has focused on design approaches that include users in the software development process. These approaches vary from surveys and questionnaires that garner responses from a population of potential users to participatory design processes where representative users are included in the design/development team. The Design Exploration approach retains the remote and asynchronous communication of surveys while making expression of feedback easier by providing users alternatives to textual communication for their suggestions and tacit understanding of the domain. To do this, visual and textual modes of expression are combined to facilitate communication from users to designers while allowing a broad user audience to contribute to software design. One challenge to such an approach is how software designers make use of the potentially overwhelming combination of text, graphics, and other content. The Design Exploration process provides users and other stakeholders the Design Exploration Builder, a construction kit where they create annotated partial designs. The Design Exploration Analyzer is an exploration tool that allows software designers to consolidate and explore partial designs. The Analyzer looks for patterns based on textual analysis of annotations and spatial analysis of graphical designs, to help identify interesting examples and patterns within the collection. Then software designers can use this tool to search and browse within the exploration set in order to better understand the task domain, user expectations and work practices. Evaluation of the tools has shown that users will often work to overcome expression constraints to convey information. Moreover, the mode of expression influences the types of information garnered. Furthermore, including more users results in greater coverage of the information gathered. These results provide evidence that Design Exploration is an approach that collects software and domain information from a large group of users that lies somewhere between questionnaires and face to face methods.