How do I improve interaction design skills

Target group-oriented interaction design with personas


1 Target group-oriented interaction design with personas informationspraxis Werner Schweibenz, Saarbrücken Software-based products are often complex, so that problems arise when using them because the users are cognitively overwhelmed. The causes are the function fetishism of software producers and the phenomenon of cognitive friction among users. Both can be minimized with the interaction design according to Cooper, which allows a target group-oriented and target group-optimized information design. It is based on so-called personas, who represent the requirements, needs and goals of the actual users as user characters during the design process. The article offers an introduction to the interaction design according to Cooper and presents the use of personas using the example of the web project Electronic Literature Archive Saar-Lor-Lux at the Department of Information Science at Saarland University. Target-oriented interaction design with personas software-based products are often so complex that users have trouble to cope with them. The for this are function fetishism causes on the software producers side and the phenomenon of cognitive friction on the users. Both can be reduced by Cooper s interaction causes design which enables an information design both oriented towards target groups and optimized for them. Cooper uses so-called personas which represent the needs, requirements and goals of actual users during the design process. This paper offers an introduction into Cooper s interaction design and an example of the practical application of personas as applied in a Web project of the Department of Information Science at the University of Saarland. 1 Problems with complex software-based products The high-tech industry is in denial of a simple fact that every person with a cell phone or a word processor can clearly see: Our computerized tools are too hard to use. This provocative thesis comes from the American software designer Alan Cooper (1999: 15). According to Cooper, the cause of the poor usability of software-based products can be traced back to the fact that the high-tech industry has left the responsibility for design to the programmers and engineers. The result is a design that is expert-centered rather than user-centered; it is made by insiders, namely the programmers and engineers, who mistakenly think of themselves as typical users. This has created a situation Cooper likened to a madhouse run by its inmates: inmates cannot see their problems because they are part of the system themselves. That's why Cooper named his book on interaction design The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Cooper identifies two problems that make dealing with software-based products so complicated: the software producers' function fetishism, which adds to the unnecessary complexity of the products, and a phenomenon that Cooper calls cognitive friction. This phenomenon arises from the high complexity of the software-based products and the resulting cognitive overload of the user. Both problems will now be discussed. Function fetishism is the tendency of software producers to provide a product with new functions that are often not needed and consequently not used. Cooper (1999: 8, 27) sees this as an embarrassing solution for software producers who want to make their products better and more attractive, but do not know how to do this. To distract from this, they add new functions because this is easier than improving bad product design afterwards. The psychologist Donald Norman (1988: 172f) describes the phenomenon of the constantly growing number of functions as creeping featurism and criticizes the fact that many of these functions do not make working with the product easier, but rather impair its usability because it is more complicated and therefore more difficult to use becomes. This opinion is also shared by the usability expert Thomas Landauer (1995: 127), who also opposes function fetishism because it makes the operation of the product unnecessarily complicated and does not bring any benefit to the user. Landauer (1995: 189) cites a study according to which a third of the functions that a large software producer offers in a program are not used by users at all. Despite such knowledge, new functions are constantly being programmed at great expense, which cause high follow-up costs in documentation and training. Problems also arise in the application because the various functions are often difficult to distinguish for the user, which puts a cognitive burden on the user. Cooper describes the cognitive stress on users when dealing with a complex interactive product as cognitive friction. Cooper describes the phenomenon as follows: It is the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem permutes. Software interaction is very high in cognitive friction. Interaction with physical devices, 55 (2004) 2,

2 however complex, tends to be low in cognitive friction because mechanical devices tend to stay in a narrow range of states comparable to their inputs. (Cooper 1999: 19f) This cognitive friction is caused by the complexity of software-based products which, in contrast to mechanical products, usually do not have a one-to-one correspondence between product manipulation and product behavior. The lack of one-to-one correspondence in the manipulation is not serious as long as it is only a matter of individual cases, but with software-based products these cases accumulate, for example due to the metafunctionality of computer or mobile phone keys. This causes enormous cognitive friction in users (Cooper 1999: 20f). In addition, working with the software-based product is made more difficult by the fact that software engineers and programmers often design the design in a task-oriented and not goal-oriented manner, as would be useful from the user's point of view 1. This leads to ineffective and sometimes frustrating interaction with the products. Software engineers and programmers do not adequately address the needs of users, but develop products from their perspective, i.e. from the point of view of technical insiders. They overlook the fact that they are not typical users themselves; therefore they misjudge the needs, interests and abilities of the actual users (Lindgaard 1994: 41). Because, in contrast to technology insiders, typical users are usually not interested in the product and how it works, but only in the simple and quick achievement of a certain goal with the help of the product. 2 Problem solving through interaction design The interaction design contributes to solving the problems described. Interaction design means designing interactive products to support people in their everyday and working lives. In particular, it is about creating user experiences that enhance and extend the way people work, communicate and interact (Preece, Rogers & Sharp 2002: 6). Interaction design is therefore geared towards the users and their needs in specific life and work situations. In this way, interaction design differs from interface design, which, according to Cooper (1999: 229), only takes place after the functionality of the interactive product has already been determined. Interface design only improves the appearance of the product on the surface, but does not serve to make the underlying functionality user-friendly, as Cooper criticizes: Like putting an Armani suit on Attila the Hun, interface design only tells how to dress up an existing behavior. (Cooper 1999: 23). In contrast, according to Cooper, good interaction design is characterized by the fact that it takes into account the context in which a person uses the product for a specific purpose or with a specific goal. The goal of interaction design is to reduce or eliminate cognitive friction. According to Cooper, this can be achieved by developing software-based products for archetypal user characters, which he calls personas, and not as a blanket for the user. 3 The Persona Process Personas are archetypal user characters that represent the real users. These constructed people are fictitious representatives who are typical of the target groups and who cover a large part of their requirements, needs and goals. These personas are designed with great accuracy and consistency based on the goals of the future users: Personas are not real people, but they represent them throughout the design process. They are hypothetical archetypes of actual users. Although they are imaginary, they are defined with significant rigor and precision. (Cooper 1999: 124) The advantage of using personas is that the perspective is shifted from the perspective of the software programmer to the perspective of typical users. This allows a user-oriented design and makes software-based products more user-friendly in terms of their functionality. Because, according to Cooper (1999: 127), many programmers tend to follow their needs and possibilities during the design process and to adjust the potential user and his needs according to the motto that users definitely still need this feature because I think it is cool and program it can. Cooper describes this phenomenon as the elastic user that programmers bend to just as they need him. In the application situation, however, the elastic user is replaced by the actual user who is not elastic but has specific needs, goals and skills. This is taken into account by the interaction designer, who no longer talks about the users and their needs, goals and abilities in general, but always has a specific persona in mind and specifically aligns his product to their goals. Cooper (1999: 133) describes this as an enlightened design process, because the world of all conceivable features is left behind and the design is based on specific user needs and goals, with personas playing the central role: Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent Goal-Directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem. They make it clear exactly what the user s goals are, so we can see what the product must do []. The precisely defined persona tells us exactly what the user s level of computer skill will be, so we don t get lost in wondering whether to design for amateurs or experts. (Cooper 1999: 130f) A persona thus not only determines the goals of the user, but also their previous knowledge of computer operation, which prevents the later design from assuming false assumptions about the level of knowledge of the future user and over- or under-demanding the user. Cooper gives some recommendations for working with personas. Among other things, he advises to be precise and specific when designing the persona and to describe the persona in all relevant details so that it becomes an effective tool for the design process. However, the personas must remain hypothetical and stereotypical, that is, they must not represent any specific users. Because concrete users always have individual ways of working and needs that are too specific for a general design. Cooper also recommends giving the persona a name in order to make them an individual in the mind of the interaction designer. To support this, the persona can also be represented by a photo so that the interaction designers have a face in front of their eyes when they work with the persona. For the practical work with the persona, it is important that the interaction designer always has this in mind. Then they no longer fall back into the unexplained design process, in which they are based on the general principle of the user. 1 Cooper (1999: 150f) sees tasks as only sub-steps for the achievement of higher-level goals for the user. Therefore, a design should not be task-oriented, but goal-oriented (2004) 2,

3 4 Working with the Persona Process An important prerequisite for working with the Persona process is information about the potential or actual users of a product. This information (step 1) is obtained, for example, through discussions with departments such as marketing and customer care, individual interviews or focus group interviews with users, direct observation of users. From this information, the typical needs and goals of the users are identified (step 2). This information plays an important role in the implementation of the persona procedure (Mangold 2002: 265). The needs and goals of the users are then translated into requirements for the functions and design of the product using the persona method (step 3 in Fig. 1) (for details of the requirements analysis, see Preece, Rogers & Sharp 2002, Chapter 7). One or more personas are developed to represent each important target group (step 4). In this process (step 5) the typical characteristics and characteristics of a large group of users are assigned to individual personas in such a way that each persona assumes certain stereotypical user characteristics. For example, all typical properties of an experienced user are assigned to one persona and all typical properties of a less experienced user are assigned to another persona. This process is repeated for other target groups. This creates a series of personas, usually three to twelve, which represent the possible spectrum of typical users in various forms. These personas describe the needs and goals of the target groups in all relevant details (step 6). As a result, each persona becomes a representative of a target group and a target group-optimized product is created (step 7). However, not all personas have to be considered directly in the design process. Some personas can also be used to identify a group of users that is out of the question as a potential user group. This persona is then also developed, but is explicitly excluded from the design process. Figure 1: Different steps in working with the persona process Then one or more primary personas are selected from the relevant personas. This is the crucial step in the interaction design because these main personas represent the main audiences of the product. Consequently, their requirements, needs and goals must be met without fail (Cooper 1999: 137). If there are several main personas, the design must meet the requirements of all main personas. If the requirements and goals of the main personas are not compatible, a separate interaction process and possibly a special interface must be developed for each main persona. For the subsequent work on target group optimization of the design, a scenario is developed for each selected persona, in which it is described in detail how the persona uses the product in order to achieve a certain goal (Cooper 1999: 179). This scenario is helpful for working on the design because the interaction designer takes on the role of the persona and can play through the scenario in this role. In this way, the validity of the design and the underlying assumptions can be checked by the interaction designers trying to think and act like the persona. For this reason, it is important that the scenario covers the use case from start to finish, with not every detail needing to appear in the scenario. More important than the detailed design of the scenario is its orientation towards the goal. In addition, the scenario should be limited to the most important actions that the persona is supposed to perform. A distinction can be made between scenarios that relate to day-to-day actions and to actions that are performed less frequently. For actions that are rarely carried out 55 (2004) 2,

It does not make sense to design a scenario because the effort would be too great. Information from interviews, focus groups or direct observation of the user can be used to design the scenarios. This gives the interaction designer important information about the users and their tasks (Mangold 2002: 265). It is important to replace the tasks of the users with their goals when designing the scenarios; a typical task for a persona would be to learn to use the product; a typical goal, on the other hand, would be to master the handling of the product. Replacing tasks with goals ensures that the design is goal-oriented and not task-oriented. This is an essential aspect of the persona process because the persona's tasks can change while the goals remain stable (Cooper 1999: 180). 5 Application of the persona procedure in the ELSA project 5.1 The ELSA project The persona procedure was used in the information science department as part of the ELSA Electronic Literature Archive Saar-Lor-Lux project, which was organized by the Saarland ministries for economy and for education, culture and science and the German Research Foundation.ELSA contains, among other things, the legacy of the Saarland writer and filmmaker Alfred Gulden. This material was digitized as a prototype application example and made available online. The results were documented in the context of the Alfred Gulden workshop with all available archival materials on the Internet (). ELSA is technically structured in such a way that scalable and individually configurable access to selected information is possible. The basis for this is data storage in a database and in XML format (extended markup language) (technical details from Luckhardt 2001). In this way, data can be combined in different ways with simple data storage and prepared and presented in a target group-oriented manner. This is particularly important for ELSA, because the aim of the project is to bring the works and lives of Saarland authors closer to a wider audience via the Internet (Zimmermann 2001: 3). In addition, the aim is to use it in the classroom to familiarize young people with the work of Saarland authors and poets. As part of the planning for a follow-up project, consideration was given to how ELSA could be optimized for different target groups. The method of interaction design according to Cooper was used for target group optimization in order to develop possible profiles of potential ELSA user groups. The possible user groups for the ELSA project were diverse. For example, there were: pupils from higher grades in German lessons, upper school pupils with advanced German courses, teachers for German and local history, students studying German as a foreign language, foreign students taking German courses, laypeople interested in regional literature, experts interested in regional literature. Two potential user groups were defined as target groups for the optimization: high school classes and lay people interested in regional literature. This determination was based on potential project partners in the school and cultural sector. In principle, it would have made sense to develop personas for all potential target groups, but this was not possible due to capacity reasons. Discussions with potential project partners about the interests and needs of future users served as the basis for developing the personas. If the project had been financially more generous, focus group interviews with people from the selected target groups would have been possible in order to identify the typical requirements, interests and needs and the potential users. Focus group interviews are moderated small group discussions on a given topic that are focused on a certain content by introducing the topic with a prepared stimulus (e.g. a video, a lecture, a web ride) and discussing it along a semi-structured discussion guide (Schweibenz & Thissen 2003:). 5.2 The development of personas Based on the two main target groups high school students and interested laypeople, students of a proseminar on methods of information design developed different personas for the ELSA project. The work took place in small groups. Each team assigned the typical characteristics and characteristics of the target group students to an individual persona from their own perspective in such a way that this persona assumed stereotypical user characteristics. The same was done for laypeople interested in the target group. In this way, two personas were designed by each team for the two main target groups, whose requirements and needs are relatively far apart (contrasting personas). For each persona, the team then worked out a usage scenario that described specific objectives for the respective persona and included the information technology equipment and knowledge that the persona had. The inclusion of a specific objective and a certain information technology equipment as well as information technology knowledge were of particular interest because they are important for the accessibility of information offers on the web. On the one hand, the user-oriented provision of precise and current information on typical information science problems (Zimmermann 2001: 4). On the other hand, the technical implementation of a web offer plays a decisive role for future users' accessibility, an aspect that is often forgotten. With ambitious web projects in particular, there is a risk that future users and their technical skills and possibilities will be disregarded. This leads to the fact that, under the influence of what is technically feasible, average users are frustrated by a technical implementation that is too demanding, because they lack the information technology knowledge and possibilities for using the website (cf. Schuck-Wersig, Petra (2000: 14) about the problematic implementation of LeMO Living Virtual Museum Online, Internet, URL With the possible further development of ELSA, particular importance should therefore be attached to ensuring that the requirements are not technically excessive in order not to exclude average users. A detailed scenario was therefore developed for each persona, which takes the following target group-specific aspects into account: Objective for the persona Technical equipment of the persona Technical knowledge of the persona To illustrate the procedure, a persona of the main target groups with the associated objective as well as their information technology equipment and their information technology Knowledge presented (2004) 2,

5 Persona for lay people interested in the target group Objectives for the persona Vanessa Backes: Vanessa is a member of the Heimatverein Burbach and, together with other members, organizes a reading of dialect poems and literature once a month. To do this, she searches the media, public libraries and now also on the Internet for information on the life and work of Saarland poets and writers. In addition to the works, they are also interested in biographical information about the authors in order to be able to make the regional reference clear. What she particularly needs are spoken versions of the works. Vanessa uses this to visualize the regional characteristics of the Rhine and Moselle Franconian dialects in Saarland (e.g. Saarlouiser Platt) and to be able to present the works as authentically as possible. Technical equipment of the persona Vanessa Backes: Vanessa took over her son's discarded computer a few months ago (equipment see table). Access to the Internet is via a 56k modem and the local Internet provider Saarlink, which Vanessa has taken over and with which she is satisfied. Netscape Navigator 4.7 is installed as the Internet browser. Technical knowledge of the persona Vanessa Backes: In her job as an administrative clerk at the Bürgeramt Burbach, Vanessa acquired basic knowledge of using computers and has no reservations about computers. However, she only has user knowledge and does not dare to carry out configuration and installation processes on her own. To do this, she turns to her grandson Stefan, who is familiar with computers and the Internet, and supports her with advice and action. At the urging of her grandson, she attended an Internet introductory course for seniors last semester at the Academy for the Elderly at the Volkshochschule Saarbrücken. Name Vanessa Backes Age 68 Occupation Pensioner Leisure interests Hiking, local studies (member of the Heimatverein Burbach), Saarland literature and poems Computer knowledge Basic knowledge from previous occupation available Computer equipment PC Pentium III, 700 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 10 GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive, Loudspeaker boxes, 15-inch monitor, ink-jet printer Internet knowledge Hardly developed, VHS course level Internet access Browser Netscape Navigator 4.7, 56k modem Relation to ELSA Interest in Saarland literature Information needs and goals Collects dialect poems and literature for readings in the Heimatverein. The information should be enriched by biographical information on the poets and writers in order to make the regional reference clear. She is now familiar with the basic functions of the browser (Netscape Navigator 4.7) and the Internet. She also got to know search engines in the introductory course and knows how to formulate simple search queries, but is not familiar with the use of Boolean operators. Persona for the target group of schoolchildren Objectives for the persona Stefan Becker: Stefan attends the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Saarbrücken. For his advanced German course he is preparing a lecture on the topic of the meaning of the border in the literature of the Saar-Lor-Lux region. His German teacher recommended the writer Alfred Gulden, who deals with the topics of borders and homeland in his work. During a telephone conversation with his grandmother Vanessa, Stefan mentions the topic of his presentation because he knows that his grandmother is interested in regional literature. The grandmother remembers that she read a story by Gulden about a cross-border wedding in a Saarland town, but unfortunately the title does not occur to her. Stefan decides to look for information on the subject on the Internet before going to the Saarbrücken city library to look for books. As an experienced internet user, Stefan is familiar with search engines. He uses the search engine Google and enters the search terms Alfred Gulden and Grenz. In the hit list he will find a reference to the ELSA website high up. Now he is looking for further information on the ELSA website. What Stefan doesn't know yet is. that Gulden wrote a story about a village on the Saarland-Lorraine border under the title The Leidinger Wedding, which deals with the topics of border and home using the example of a cross-border wedding. This narrative would be ideal for his presentation. Technical equipment of the persona Stefan Becker: Stefan has access to a somewhat outdated computer at school. That is why he prefers to use the new computer at home that his parents bought for the whole family (see table for features). Access to the Internet is via a T-Online T-DSL connection. Internet Explorer 6.0 is installed as the Internet browser. Name Stefan Becker Age 18 years Occupation Pupil (12th grade) Leisure interests Football, computer, Internet Computer skills Good computer skills from the computer science group in the school Computer equipment PC Pentium IV, 2.40 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard disk, 16-disc CD -ROM and DVD drive, network connection for DSL, loudspeaker boxes, 15-inch TFT monitor, inkjet printer Internet knowledge Experienced Internet user Internet access Browser Internet Explorer 6.0, T-DSL connection Reference to ELSA presentation in the German advanced course Information needs and goals Information on a specific topic: Saarland literature and the border as a topic Technical knowledge of the persona Stefan Becker: Stefan has been involved in the computer science working group of his school for two years and has good computer skills. He installs new Internet software fairly regularly to take advantage of the latest Internet features, such as: B. for music videos and online games. He is also familiar with search engines and file sharing networks because he regularly searches for new sources to download videos and games. 5.3 Suggestions for improvement for ELSA from working with the personas Working with the personas and the scenarios (role play) resulted in various suggestions for improving the organization and design of the ELSA website in general and with regard to the two selected target groups. The following suggestions are based on the experience of the seminar participants 55 (2004) 2,

6 more to see who have different knowledge and skills than typical users and can therefore formulate requirements more concretely than typical users would be able to. Here, however, there is also the typical problem of experts who cannot go behind their knowledge and can therefore only simulate users. Then it is advisable to consider whether target group-optimized interaction options and possibly a special interface should be developed for each main persona. Whether this is possible depends on the financial and organizational framework of the project. 6 Summary Experience from the ELSA project has shown that with the help of the persona procedure, very specific guidelines for the selection of content and for the design of the interaction are possible. The orientation towards the personas ensures a continuous orientation towards the requirements, needs and goals of the selected target groups, which enables an optimization of the web offer for these target groups. The use of the persona method involves additional effort at an early stage of the design process, for example for collecting data on user requirements and drafting the personas. However, the careful analysis of user requirements is an integral part of good interaction design and therefore an effort that pays off. No statements can be made about the effort involved in the implementation in the design process, because implementation was no longer possible due to the expiry of the funding for the ELSA project. Cooper (1999: 15) rightly emphasizes, however, that the effort involved in creating an easily understandable and easy-to-use product does not cause any greater effort than the implementation of a complicated and confusing product, since a well-thought-out information design is easier to implement. So applying the Persona process to achieve a more user-friendly product design is worth a try. However, it must be planned early in the course of the project so that it can be carried out in a meaningful way. Literature Cooper, Alan (1999): The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Indianapolis, In: Sams. ELSA Electronic Literature Archive Saar-Lor-Lux. Internet, URL access: Landauer, Thomas K. (1995): The Trouble with Computers. Usefulness, usability, and productivity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Lindgaard, Gitte (1994): Usability Testing and System Evaluation. A Guide For Designing Useful Computer Systems. London: Chapman & Hall. Luckhardt, Heinz-Dirk (2001): The ELSA prototype from an information technology point of view. In: The contributions to the Alfred Gulden workshop With all means archive materials on the Internet on the Internet, URL contrib / beitraege.html. Access: Mangold, Roland (2002): Web design is information design: user-adapted web design based on psychological knowledge. In: Lectures at the tekom annual conference 2002 in Wiesbaden, summaries of the presentations. Stuttgart: tekom Norman, Donald (1988): The Psychology of Everyday Things. New York, NY: Basic Books. Preece, Jenny; Rogers, Yvonne; Sharp, Helen (2002): Interaction Design. Beyond Human-Computer Interaction. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. Schuck-Wersig, Petra (2000): German museums on the Internet. In: Handbuch Kulturmanagement. Stuttgart. Delivery 1/2000, E 3.3: Schweibenz, Werner; Thissen, Frank (2003): Quality on the Web. User-friendly websites through usability evaluation. ( series) Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. Zimmermann, Harald (2001): On the basics of the ELSA project. In: The contributions to the Alfred Gulden workshop With all means archival materials on the Internet on the Internet, URL access: Ease of use, software, development, design, project The author Werner Schweibenz is a doctoral student at the Department of Information Science at Saarland University. In the usability evaluation work area, he carried out studies on the usability and target group optimization of technical documentation and web offers. Department of Information Science Saarland University Saarbrücken (2004) 2,