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The Strengths and Weakness of the key Methods of concepts of Usability

The method used in any form of media analysis is crucial to the outcome of the particular piece of research.This can be applied to any scientifically based source of analysis.This also includes the social sciences.

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In relation to the study of computer systems, this also applies as computer systems are ultimately utilised by human agents. This has meant that the human-computer interaction inherent to computer systems are now undeniably twinned with the social sciences and humanities. Therefore, the relationship between methodologies and outcomes also applies to any analysis based upon computer use and development.

For this essay, the particular concept based upon human-computer interfacing to be scrutinised was that of usability. Like most other concepts in the human sciences, the concept of usability has its own particular methodological components and tools. The particular methodological tools relating to usability chosen for this analysis were the qualitative measurements used in focus groups, interview techniques and the concept of usability itself. As usability is essentially a cognitively focused concept then the data used in the analysis of usability is primarily qualitative.

This means that to measure usability, feedback is usually qualified in terms of empirical rather than positivist data as it is based upon experience. This is why the empirical methods of the focus group and interview technique that pertain to the social sciences are used and were to be addressed in this essay. The main conceptual components of usability were outlined by its forefather Jacob Neilson, who stated that a heuristic analysis of interactive experiences could be judged on the basis of their success to ascertain as to whether a computer system was good or bad.

This means that we must first of all look at the strengths and weaknesses of usability before we critique them. However, we must also identify the components before we begin the analysis. As we have already suggested, usability is not a quantitative term relating to any fixed data outcome. This means that to identify the key conceptual components in the analysis of usability, we must clearly define what they are. Further, Neilson also states that the key components of usability are essential to any analysis.

It is from this overview of the concept of usability that we will turn to an analysis highlighting its strengths and weaknesses in methodological approach. The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Key Methods and Concepts of Usability It is clear that there is a relationship between computer systems and the construction of human social systems. The computer is become an essential component in advanced technological cultures. In many ways it has become the dominant tool of communication now that it has implemented the formerly distinct mediums of television and text.

In relation to the computer as a social medium, it is its interactive nature that separates it from other mediums. This can be seen as being realised as early as the 1970s, in an age before interactive communication had actualised. For example, the notion of the hypertext put forward by seminal thinker and post modern philosopher Jean Baudrillard highlights the way in which interactivity constructs not only social relations with each other, but also the sensual relationship that we have individually with the computer interface.

In one crucial extract, Baudrillard states that the relationship with the interface is one: ‘Based on contact, a sensory mimicry and a tactile mysticism, basically ecology in its entirety, comes to be grafted on to this universe of operational simulation, multi-stimulation and multi response. ’ (Baudrillard, 1976, p. 9) It is from the realisation in the extract that contemporary theorists and experts in the field of human-computer relations have developed the concept of usability.

This is essentially the yardstick by which the connectivity between the computer system and human cognitive functioning can be devised and then measured in terms of its success. In essence, it is part of the interactive feedback produced by the human through their experience that determines whether the interactive process in any particular experience is successful or not. This measurement can therefore be referred to as its usability. Basing his approach on this philosophical realisation, Jacob Neilson devised a way in which this interactive process could be qualitatively measured.

This includes the methodologies associated with empirically based social science, including focus groups and interview techniques. To utilise these factors in the potential success, or successful construction of web design, Neilson outlined ten primary factors. These were developed as part of a heuristic system. These factors include: ‘1. Visibility of system status, 2. Match between system and the real world, 3. User control and freedom, 4. Consistency and standards, 5. Error prevention, 6. Recognition rather than recall, 7.

Flexibility and efficiency of use, 8. Aesthetic and minimalist design, 9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors, 10. Help and documentation’ (Neilson, 1994) By developing a system based upon these key factors, Neilson created a rigid conceptual model for successful user-face design, implementing the functional principles of human contact with the computer interface. This heuristic formulation has had success in both developing web design and measuring the interactivity of the design.

For instance, it‘s methodology has been found to be able to identify ‘major usability problems’ (CHFCS, 1992). Further, by implementing this measuring tool based upon empirical feedback, such as in the case of the focus group and interview technique, the success of identifying and treating any problems in the functioning of a problematic web site have a ‘higher probability of being found in a heuristic evaluation’ (CHFCS, 1992). The strength of using such methodologies is that they arrive at experience driven results that indicate problems relating to cognition.

Further, this allows the problems associated with web design to be identified in relation to usability when utilised in terms of feedback. Essentially, the qualitative data can be measured in relation to the themes indicated by Neilson that have a known cognitive effect in the experience of interaction.

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This is further exemplified in the rationale on Neilson’s own web site devoted to the heuristic analysis of computer systems. The site follows the principles of the design, whilst explaining the way in which to utilise the principles of usability.

The extent to which Neilson demonstrates the use of these principles and validates the evidence that can be used is revealed in a number of examples that have achieved success through usability. This is highlighted in the extract which states that: ‘Rapid Application Development (RAD) processes such as Agile, Scrum, and the like, simultaneously pose an opportunity and a threat to achieving a quality user experience. It all depends on how it’s handled. The standard methodologies as described in books don’t work in practice, if you care about the usability of your products.

But small modifications work wonders’ (Useit. com, 2009) This notion of adaptability is another strength of the methodology as it recognises the need for human feedback in a thematic and conceptual format. Furthermore, it reveals the diverse nature in which feedback can be drawn before being applied to the core conditions laid out in the heuristic principles. Rather than using quantitative data or rigid data referring to hypotheses, the data is given in a thematic sense highlighting the individual’s experience with the site and the cognitive problems that may have occurred in the process.

The key heuristic principles then allow for problem identification and adjustments made in a bid to enhance the experience of usability. In essence, the measurements are set for a versatile analysis of computer systems in relation to interactivity. This can utilise a wide range of empirical and qualitative methodologies. However, the methodologies will not simply address the likes and dislikes of the individuals, but also relate their experience to the cognitive disparity between human and computer.

Contrastingly, the weaknesses in this approach and its methodologies can be seen in a return to the philosophical underpinnings of usability and the significance of the immersive experience. Rather than there being any problem with the methodologies used in relation to the heuristic principles, it is in the conceptual basis of usability itself that we see the greatest amount of criticism being applied. This is primarily because the notion of usability is founded upon one key principle indicated by Baudrillard at the rejection of the other.

Essentially, although Neilson outlines interactivity and marries this to the concept of human cognition with a degree of success, it is conceptually focused upon functioning. That is to say, that the immersion of the user experience is only measured in terms of how the interface functions and its success in that outcome. Further, this success is only relative to the user’s cognitive functioning. By basing his principles and outcomes on cognitive functioning, he denies any aesthetic or intellectual action made by the user in relation to the experience.

For example, the lack of aesthetic design can be evidenced in relation to his own web site. This is because it takes a functional approach at the expense of any aesthetic. However, the aesthetic experience to functioning can not be overlooked in the experience of the user. The irony here is that while Neilson may be dismissing aesthetics in his design, his consumers i. e. the users of his site are nevertheless subject to an aesthetic experience. While being functional in terms of usability, the site is aesthetically detrimental to the experience of the user.

In this sense, it would appear that Neilson is simply rejecting the role and significance of aesthetic experience from the experience of interfacing. The other major criticism of usability and the methodologies that it utilises is in relation to the extent of interactivity that the heuristic principles allow for. Essentially, with such a simple form of processing information, then the role of interactivity is lost in the experience. That is to say that the computer system is simply conforming to the will of the user rather than engaging with them.

This denies the validity of the interactive process to some degree in terms of immersion. For example, Sherry Tuckle denotes the significance of interactivity in the construct of the self. Essentially, she suggests that the chances of immersion within the web site are better increased by a degree of socialised feedback that can be sensually registered in terms of another intelligent entity, rather than coded responses (Turkle, 1997). The suggestion here is that the more diverse the computer can respond in terms of immediate sensual feedback, the greater the chances of immersion become.

In relation to designs based upon a purely functioning information source, the experience becomes that of an entity wishing to ascertain information as if the computer itself. This is quite a contrast to the actual human experience that is found in the process of interaction. With this notion of seeking information we can see another criticism. Rather than being subject to the experience of a user world based upon multi-stimulus, the user is driven by a purpose to collect information through a cognitively mutual function.

While this perhaps serves well as the provision of a service based upon receiving or extracting information, it denies the process of immersion and interactivity that may instil or insight a relationship between the user and the web site. This oversight is highlighted well in Neilson’s claims that ‘evolution did not intend humans to navigate in 3D space’ (Molich & Neilson, 1990). What is indicative of oversight in this idea is that humans already inhabit a 3D space in the real world. Essentially, the notion of the interactive experience is one that negates the actual experience.

This means that the experiences being utilised by the methodologies are overlooked and reinterpreted to arrive at the web sites success in providing a service based upon function. This emphasises Neilson’s dualistic belief that there is a cyber-reality based upon function and a real-reality that bears no relation. This is contradictory in that it goes against the principles of hyper-reality outlined by Baudrillard and many other theorists and critics who highlight the way in which computer systems interact to create a virtual world based upon our own real world.

Conclusion We can see from this essay that Neilson’s notion of usability is immensely significant in relation to the computer medium and how it is used. It has a good and practical methodological component borrowed from the social sciences, based upon the cognitive relationship between humans and computers. It is a good approach that utilises experience and addresses the cognitive relationship between user and web site. However, at a more intricate level, it rejects the aesthetic experience from the design that constitutes much of the potential for immersion.

In this, it rejects or denies the very essence of any engaged human experience and replaces it with outcomes. Further, it supports the notion of a dualism between that of user reality and actual reality, which denies any notion of virtual reality. Essentially, the experience of the interactive process is supported by usability in its utilisation of the methodologies of the social sciences, yet denies it in its reduction of the user experience to that of a static functionally directed process based upon stimulus and response.

Although it has borrowed from Baudrillard and hypertext to great effect, it has negated the principles of a multi-faceted aesthetic activity and denied much of the sensual and tactile experience that immersion involves. Bibliography Baudrillard, J. , (1976) Symbolic Exchange and Death Taken from: The Order of Simulacra (1993) London: Sage. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. , (1992) Finding usability problems through heuristic evaluation Monterey, California, United States, p.

373 – 380 Molich, R, & Nielsen, J. , (1990) Improving a human-computer dialogue, Communications of the ACM, v. 33 n. 3, p. 338-348 Nielsen, J. (1994). Heuristic evaluation. In Nielsen, J. , and Mack, R. L. (Eds. ), Usability Inspection Methods, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY. Turkle, S. , (1994) Constructions and Reconstructions of Self in Virtual Reality: Playing in the MUDs. ” Mind, Culture, and Activity: An International Journal 1, no. 3 : 158-167. Useit. com (2009) Taken from: www. useit. com.

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