Information about usability and user experience is relevant input for design decision-making. Human factors research has long advocated the application of user testing (e.g.(Kanis, 1998; Kuniavsky, 2003)) and prototyping experiences (e.g.(Buchenau and Suri, 2000)) in order to be able to design products which elicit positive user experiences. However, there are still many problems in making user and use related information fit well with development processes (e.g. (Cooper, 1999; Cockton and Woolrych, 2002)) and even in coming to an agreement on what are suitable usage information related techniques (e.g. (Gray and Salzman, 1998; Bargas-Avila and Hornbæk, 2011)).
Moreover, our interview studies of how designers deal with usability in practice show that this information does not always come directly from end-users (Boess, 2009; van der Bijl – Brouwer and van der Voort, 2009): practicing designers use knowledge about product use from previous projects or their own personal experiences. They test and apply this knowledge using informal techniques with colleagues, family or themselves. However, their knowledge often remains implicit. Sharing knowledge explicitly would help product development teams to set requirements and create usable designs (Kuijk, 2010).
On the basis of our interview research with design practitioners in the participating companies and elsewhere, the aim of this research was to devise a technique to introduce development teams to useful and easy-to-adopt tools, make them more aware of the dynamics of use situations, enable them to become aware of knowledge they were still missing, and provide them with a shared view on product use in relation to the design task at hand. The technique is not intended to replace user testing, but serves as an addition to currently applied usability techniques.
Method and results
Following our interview research with practitioners, the technique was given the form of a workshop. A workshop format is suited for the presentation of use-related tools for the design process because many tools take the form of activities rather than static information. A workshop facilitates direct demonstration, direct and peripheral participation, and exchange. We developed the ‘Envisioning Use’ workshop format through case study research over the course of two years and in eight iterations, from an initial short form to a half-day format and from generic example cases to cases on which companies were currently working. The research approach enabled us to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of how we convey the information.
The first innovation of the Envisioning Use technique is the compact and active format through which development teams can access their latent use-related knowledge in several steps. Each step is a ‘small’ usability technique that accesses knowledge in a different way. The steps are: remembering, imagining, structuring, experiencing, targeting, envisioning and questioning. The activity-based presentation of these knowledge steps facilitates their uptake by development teams. The second innovation lies in the creation of a shared vision on product use through integration of the steps in the workshop.
The research project itself formed the validation of the technique, as it was developed iteratively in workshops with both participating and non-participating companies and in design education, through case study research.
Several papers have reported the development and outcomes of the workshop iterations. A tool booklet has been developed which communicates the Workshop Steps briefly and effectively. This booklet can be found on the Results page.