T3: Structuring the User Interface Design Process - Bridging the gab between contextual information and the final user interface

Full day tutorial for NordiCHI 2002 in Aarhus in October 2002.

Morten Borup Harning, Dialogical ApS

This tutorial presents a structured user interface method, addressing both the visual and the functional aspects of the user interface design.

Software User Interface Engineering (SUIE), the method presented in this tutorial, offers a frame of reference for the user interface design process, enabling the designer to structure the user interface design work. The approach enables usability work (including test) throughout the design process, from the early conceptual design to the final user interface. The method builds heavily on the ideas of conceptual design and direct manipulation, showing how these principles can be applied - even on platforms known not to support direct manipulation, such as interactive web-based interfaces.

The main focus of much HCI research has been acquiring different kinds of contextual information necessary to design an appropriate solution, as well on techniques for evaluating a proposed design, e.g. as part of an iterative design process. Turning all of the acquired information into a concrete user interface, including selecting what information to be shown, and how to layout and present information and related interaction techniques, are however often reduced to guidelines and heurists, resulting in a gab in the design process and leaving some of the most important parts of the user interface design to ≥magic≤ or intuition. The aim of this tutorial is to show how the user interface design can be structured and hence how this gab can be reduced.

The SUIE framework is used to structure the design issues into smaller groups. The main groups proposed are: Contextual information, Conceptual design, Logical design, Dialogue design and Physical design.

Contextual information includes scenarios, task descriptions and any other contextual information, that might influence the design. Conceptual design includes information concerning the information associated with a given concept, how the concept will appear in the user interface, naming conventions etc. The logical design includes descriptions of the information artifacts (logical windows) and semantic functions (user functions) required to satisfy the information need of the user. Dialogue design includes descriptions of all possible dialogue states and dialogue functions, including how each semantic function is implemented and how they affect the current dialogue state. Physical design refers to the detailed design of the user interface, either as a prototype including detailed layout, graphical design etc. or as specifications sufficiently detailed to form the basis of the design.

The tutorial will be of interest to anyone involved in the user interface design process (getting from task analysis and contextual requirements to the final user interface), e.g. information architects, user interface designers and system developers, as well as people involved in usability testing etc. in need of a frame of reference for identified usability problems.

Morten Borup Harning, Ph.D, has been working with user interface design from a practical and research point-of-view since 1989, both as a full time researcher and as a practioner. He has been working on the SUIE design project since 1992. He has extensive experience in using the design method, and has taught several interaction design courses based on SUIE at both Copenhagen Business School and the Danish Technical University. He is currently chief design officer at Open Business Innovation in charge of both the technical and the user interface design.

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