article (Mon Sep 10 2012)

Usability analysis and complex domains

  • #designthinking
  • #usability
  • #cognitivescience

I just finished reading the paper - "Understanding Usability Practices in Complex Domains" by "Parmit K. Chilana, Jacob O. Wobbrock, and Andrew J. Ko".

This paper brought out a number of thoughtful points that made it all the more interesting to read. I especially liked the point where the author talks about how a domain expert tries to impose his own way on the end user or tries to justify why the system was built in a particular way.

Also interesting was the fact that the usability experts were far less confident in presenting their findings after performing an analysis of a complex domain. Of course, with tight schedules and never ending deadlines, it becomes quite impossible for the project managers to take advice about the usability of the software from someone who is lacking expertiese.

In the first point that I mentioned - where the domain expert tries to justify the system, I could not help but wonder if the usability experts could interview the domain experts first and ask them questions such as - how did they expect the system to work when they were non experts?

I believe that as a part of usability analysis, it would be a fruitful exercise to make a chart of the responses to the following questions :-

What did the domain expert expect from the system when (s)he wasn't an expert? What does (s)he expect from the system now and what are his/her justifications? What are the expectaions of the current end users of the system? On what grounds do the current users justify their expectations? These four questions might provide useful insight, especially in case of software based systems. It's not an unknown fact that people form mental models of software products/websites based upon their prior experience with other software products/websites. And when they encounter a product in their work environment, they might tend to carry over the same mental model.

And understanding of expectations versus learned justficactions, and current expectations and mental models might be quite helpful in gauging the system in terms of how years of experience can impact the perceived usability of a product.