Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
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Understanding and Conceptualizing Interaction


Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


The main purpose of this assignment is for you to understand how seemingly similar artefacts can have quite different conceptual models underlying their design and that these can greatly affect the way they are used. Having different underlying conceptual models for the artefacts provides different ways of achieving the core activities of 'planning ahead and reminding'. For example, a calendar (diary) is a tool designed for one person to use, typically by writing things down in it that can then act as external reminders to them each day (or week) as to what they have to do. A wall planner, on the other hand, has been designed for use in a public place, where entries can be made by a number of people and which are available for everyone to see. Moreover, it tends to serve a specific function that is different from a personal calendar: to show when people are planning to take their vacations or when there are certain events that are important to that group (implying that no-one is allowed to take their vacation during those periods). It also provides an externalisation that constrains the planning process. For example, it provides a physical mechanism for allowing only a certain number of people to take a vacation at the same time.

The way the interface has been designed is also different for each artefact. An obvious difference is size: one is a pocket-sized book, designed for portability and private use while the other is a large public display, intended for being interacted with and viewed in one place.

When you start to think about the differences between electronic versions of planning tools available on the web you may discover that there are even more differences than between the paper ones. Think about what else they have been designed to support besides the activity of planning.

When thinking about what metaphors have been used for both the traditional and electronic tools, think about how the abstract concept of time has been concretized. In our everyday lives we always talk about time in metaphorical ways (e.g. spending time). Think about how much of our everyday usage of such metaphorical terms underlies the design of the artefacts.

Talking to people and asking them specific questions about their usage of the different artefacts can also be quite revealing. You may find, especially for the electronic ones, that they use them differently to the way the designers intended. For example, some people use web calendars both for letting everyone else know what they are doing plus as a personal organizer to remind themselves.