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Author: Mieczakowski, Anna K.
Supervisor: Clarkson, P. John
Institution: Department of EngineeringUniversity of Cambridge
Designing product interfaces that invoke similar understanding among users as among designers of those interfaces is not a trivial matter. It requires a deep understanding of people’s information processing system, their experience with previously encountered products and their internalised models of products that keep updating based on exposure to different product interfaces. During training designers are not typically taught about the complicated nature of human cognition and so they frequently lack knowledge on how to design product interfaces that align with users’ understanding. In addition, although a plethora of techniques for supporting the process of designing exist, there is, at present, no easy-to-use and pragmatic way of helping designers to infer and analyse product representations that users form in their heads and to compare them with designers’ own understanding and use of products.
The aim of the research presented in this thesis is to investigate and propose an approach for helping designers to model interaction between product features and human capabilities from the perspective of the cognitive function. To meet this goal an extensive literature review, interviews with product designers and observations with users were conducted. Based on information obtained from those studies a new modelling method was developed. This method is comprised of key elements of product-user interaction including user goals, actions, beliefs and product objects and is referred to as the Goal-Action-Belief-Object (GABO) modelling approach. To be able to align the models of users with those of the designer and determine areas of matches and mismatches, a comparison procedure for the GABO modelling approach was developed. This procedure outputs a score of compatibility between each user model and the designer model and indicates, among other things, whether users performed unique actions, repeated their actions or misunderstood the function of given product features.
Results from the evaluation study with eight product designers indicate that seven designers found the GABO approach useful and easy-to-use in identifying key similarities and differences in designers and users’ understanding and usage of products and were keen to use it in their daily work. Overall, the use of the GABO modelling approach was found to be useful in helping designers to make more informed decisions about their designs.