Ed de Guzman and I attended HCI International to present some of our UX work on visual design, and to see what we could learn from international scholars.
Our own presentation was a paper and poster on “Desirability Methods for Evaluating Visual Design”. In essence, we advocate the use of some innovative research techniques to understand how users make meaningful choices among visual design concepts. Fortunately, for our study we had access to a wealth of iconography, imagery, and logo design options from Autodesk’s brand redesign earlier this year.
Our study used three scaffolding techniques to assist end-users in articulating their preferences and perceptions of visual branding:
- The Think Aloud method allows users to review visual design alternative layouts and accomplish a task. While doing so they are encouraged to think-aloud about what they are observing. This is the least structured technique.
- The Visual Design Card Sort (de Guzman & Schiller, 2011) method is a modification of the Microsoft Product Reaction Card deck from their Desirability Toolkit. This technique allows users to choose three to five words that represent their interpretation of a visual design concept.
- The Visual Design Mad Libs method involves showing visual design alternatives to users and asking them to complete a structured sentence such as “This logo is <company name>, it is a <describe logo> because <explain why the design is appropriate for the company>”. This is the most structured technique.
We conducted three studies, using one, two or three of these techniques to determine which were most effective. In summary, we found that more structured methods produced more specific, actionable results for the visual design team. If you are interested in seeing the full poster, let me know.
Elsewhere around the conference, Hiroshi Ishii, of MIT Media Lab, delivered an excellent keynote address on the topic of “Defy Gravity: The Art of Tangible Bits”. Referencing some fascinating tangible UIs such as Ping Pong Plus Plus and the I/O Brush, he eloquently described how devices are like faucets of information. Just as water evaporates in physical landscapes, information is reused and curated in digital places. Ishii challenges the HCI community to focus on radical atoms of “future dynamic materials that are computationally reconfigurable”.
Ishii’s dream of interactive tangible interfaces meshes beautifully with Autodesk’s vision of democratizing design and engineering to help people imagine, design, and create a better world. With the advent of 3D printable circuitry there will be many powerful ways to create these technologies using Autodesk tools.
Additionally, we attended sessions on
- Design, ergonomics, and usability
- Cross-cultural design
- Human aspects of information security, privacy, and trust
A session from Chi-Hsien Hsu et al looked at translating the PAD emotional state model into Chinese, for a cross-cultural understanding of pleasure, affect, and desirability. Autodesk as a global company is interested in this, and it’s a personal interest of mine.
Other sessions covered perceptions of usability and brand attributes. For example, a paper by Tareq Ahram et al compared competitor products using 13 sensibility words. This gave us inspiration to learn more about how to compare Autodesk offerings, such as Autodesk 360, to their competitors. Similarly, Min-Xian Sun et al presented an interesting paper on similarity and dissimilarity pairs to study user perception.
Finally, we are very aware that users’ trust of cloud services, like Autodesk 360, rests soundly on strong privacy and high availability. These topics were addressed in several great sessions, like those led by Kathleen Hogan and John Bustard.
We continue to look to the academic community and practitioners of HCI to find the best practices to make Autodesk 360 compelling and engaging for design and engineering users. What are your thoughts on marrying user research and visual design? Have we done enough or too much? Leave us a comment below!