Tag Archives: UX

My PhD thesis: Usability – Who Cares?

It’s been almost seven years ago that i defended my PhD that is a collection of eight papers related to the establishment of User Centred Design (UCD) in organisations when developing IT for work. You find the thesis in the university system Diva.

The fundamental idea on which the thesis work is is based is that future work situations, usability of systems, and users’ needs, must be considered when developing computer systems for work, in a manner which involves the entire organisation. Usability needs to be a part of, for example, the organisational culture, strategy documents, budgets, and methods for procurement. During my PhD work I participated in large action research (see blog posts about this) projects in eight different organisations.

It took me eight calendar years to finish my PhD education (!), but four years of full-time work since I got three of my children during this period. We have paid parental leave in Sweden, and I was off for a bit more than a year for each kid.  My supervisor Jan Gulliksen was very engaged, and the best supervisor I could get. Towards the end of the process I was a single mother of three boys, and with the support of my parents and collegues I managed to wrap things up.  This was not easy, as you can imagine. But somehow this very stressful life situation made the thesis writing the fun part of life! I honesly also think that the text became better since I just wrote down things I have learned without any aim of it being perfect or complete.

The thesis has three research questions:

  1. What happens when UCSD is introduced in a public authority?

I was also interested in the values and perspectives of people involved in the organisation as well as how UCSD can be introduced through new methods that affect the values and perspectives of the stakeholders including the system developers in the organisation. Therefore, this thesis also aims at understanding the following questions:

  1. How do perspectives of stakeholders in systems development projects affect the work with UCSD, usability and users’ health in the organisations studied?

The final question addresses the issues of how we can address the introduction of UCSD and change perspectives:

  1. What new methods can be used to introduce UCSD and to influence perspectives?

 

Many answers to the questions in the thesis are still valid today, and it is indeed very difficult to establish a human centred perspective and UCD in organisations. One can wonder why this is the case? Some of my findings presented in the thesis are presented as the problems with establishing UCD when developing computer systems for work:

Some organisational problems found in the study presented in papers Sandblad et al (2003) and Cajander (2007).

Organisational problem Description of problem
Focus on surveillance and control ·    Detailed supervision of work and work performance through computer system.

·    Some saw surveillance as contributing to productivity

·    Some expressed that surveillance implied mistrust from management level

Administrative work was regarded as trivial ·    It-professionals claim that they have a good picture of case handling and core business.

·    Administrative staff believe that their work is much more complex than is generally understood

 

Development of IT systems based on technology and process descriptions ·    Abstract models of work as flow diagrams guide the development of new computer systems.

·    This has lead to some inflexible computer systems that shape work

·    Situated nature of work (Suchman, 1987) not taken into account

IT-department and users – two separate worlds ·    Alienation between groups and little understanding of the needs of the other group
Usability in systems development ·    Little or no usability activities in system development.

·    Few usability goals in the requirements specification

·    Usability activities often limited to test

·    Usability perceived as a vague and unclear concept

I also explore some (at the time of the thesis) new methods to work with the establishment of UCD:

  • System developers doing field studies to see the context in which the computer systems they build is used.
  • Usability coaching
  • Usability Index
  • Management’s perspectives on usability
  • Collaborative policy writing

I hope that some of you who work with usability take the time to skim parts of the thesis!

 

 

 

Working with Usability in Scrum Projects – what Usability Activities are Used in Practice?

A few years ago Yuan Jia worked with Marta Larusdottir and me as a master student doing her master thesis study in our research project on Agile development and UCD.

There was lack of studies describing to what extent different user centred methods were used in Scrum projects, so this became the topic of Yuan Jia’s master thesis, and which resulted in a conference paper. I remember that we had a very good collaboration with Yuan Jia, who now is a PhD student in the US.

When designing the study we quickly ran into problems with the number of respondents to our web based questionnaire. We did not have the mail contact information to people in organisation working with Scrum and user centred design. First we distributed the survey through the Uppsala Tax Office and LokaIdelen which is a website offering information to companies in Sweden. I also remember Yuan Jia’s long lists of company names and phone numbers as she systematically contacted company after company. Tedious work, but to be honest research work can be very much administration from time to time. In the end we had around 50 people who answered the survey 🙂

The survey has some interesting results, se Figure below. The most commonly used usability technique in Scrum projects is workshops, followed by lo-fi prototyping, interviews and meetings with users, all used by more than half of the participants.

One can note that all these usability techniques are informal, meaning that these techniques can be used quickly without much preparation. Formal usability evaluation with users is a highly ranked technique by the participants but not commonly used by them.

 

the-usage-of-usability-techniques

 

We presented the paper at the Human Centred Software Engineering Conference (HCSE) in 2012.

You find the paper here.

 

Robots Instead of Health Care Professionals??

I listened to the introductory key note from the conference Human Centred Software Engineering by the very inspiring Danica Kragic on social robotics.

Clearly robots such as avatars of humans will influence work very much in the future. One of the areas of application is health care. Danica Kragic mentioned health care services such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and research has indicated that this might be a possible future avenue. Physicians would collaborate with robots in their work, and part of the work would be replaced by robots such as some part of the therapy.

Hmm. One can wonder what the reactions from physicians would be if we start doing research on replacing them with robots or machines? And how would the patients react to robots? Perhaps not as negative as one could think?

One can also wonder how the professional competence of health care professionals can be transfered to robots?  Is this possible?

BTW: If you haven’t listened to Danica Kragic’s Sommar, I highly recommend it (in Swedish only, though) 😀

Visit to the Visualization Studio at KTH

The conference reception for Human Centred Software Engineering yesterday was at the KTH Visualization studio.

We got the possibility to try different Virtual Reality Games. Of course I tried all available devices!

planetarium

The visit also included a 3D planetarium demonstration with an extremely interesting presentation of the possibilities of technology.

Very cool indeed!!

If you ever get the chance – go there and try it! 🙂

Publication: Contextual Personas to Understand Digital Work Environments

We have developed a new method for including the user perspective and the user’s digital work environment in software development.

The method is an adoption of the persona’s method where work environment aspects are included, and can be used when designing or procuring IT systems.

The method describes the holistic uses situation of a person with the 10-20 different IT systems that are used at work. It is based on a well known theory by Karasek and Theorell regarding control, demand and support in relation to stress.

For further reading see our book chapter on the topic. It is published in a Springer book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uppsala Health Summit on “Empowering positive behaviour changes in complex food environments”

Hi,

I am co-organising a workshop at Uppsala Health Summit this year. I am organising it together with professor Isto Huvila from DOME , and some new acquaintances from the university:

  • Dr. Meena Daivadanam, Post Doc, Dept. of Food, Nutrition and Dietitics, Uppsala University
  • Professor JoAnne Dahl, Licensed Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Uppsala University

The workshop is about behaviour change, technology and child obesity. The title is: “Empowering positive behaviour changes in complex food environments”

Efforts to reduce childhood obesity rates must take the child´s immediate environment into close account. To grow, thrive, avoid the risk of becoming obese, a child needs support by his or her caregivers, who in turn need support by the community and society at large. How can we empower children and their families to navigate the complex world around them and develop healthy food and exercise behaviours?
The discussion will be introduced by Dr Pilvikki Absetz, Associate professor and CEO from the social innovations entreprise Collaborative Care Systems in Finland, and Michael Quarshie, founder and CEO of Wellness foundry.

During the workshop we will use the fishbowl technique which will be extremely interesting to organise, and learn to use!

-See you there 🙂