My Human-Computer Interaction Design Manifesto

[ I took some time to revise + edit + clean up this manifesto on 4/28/2021 (2 years later :) to make it less wordy and a bit more readable ]

5 key points that make up my design philosophy. Paper Prototype :)

Introduction

During my time as a student at Bucknell University majoring in computer science & engineering and management, I’ve immersed myself in software development, data analytics, engineering consulting, and interdisciplinary teamwork. In each of these experiences, I’ve seen how the design process and human-centered design play an integral role to develop successful products and outcomes that are actually useful for people.

I work as a student engineering consultant at the Bucknell SBDC and participated in Interdisciplinary Senior Design. Both of these are client-facing experiences with a huge design component. Read here for more info about Bucknell’s senior design capstone projects!

I decided to take Human-Computer Interaction for its interdisciplinary nature, focus on the study of people and different technologies, and my desire to learn about human-centered design and apply what I learn to my own projects. I want to build things that actually solve meaningful problems and that people actually like and use!

In HCI, I had the opportunity to work on multiple teams to design for a variety of modalities such as mobile application interfaces, data visualizations, 3D user interfaces, and aspirational uses of virtual reality. Working with and learning from my teammates while following the human-centered design process was extremely fun and rewarding.

The Iterative Human-Centered Design Process

Collectively, all the design sprints helped shape my design philosophy. There are countless aspects of human-centered design depending on the technology used and who and what is being designed. However, the following 5 key points make up my own personal design philosophy because I have found them to be so integral to the success of a project. I will use them in every future design process!

1. Understand The Real Problem

2. Understand Who You Are Designing For

3. Define the Design Goal Early On (As Early As Possible!)

4. Brainstorm with the Design Goal at the Forefront

5. Work Iteratively and Obtain User Feedback

Understand the Real Problem

Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” discusses how it is often easy to see surface level problems and never actually dig deeper to address the real, underlying causes. According to Norman, discovering what the root issues are before designing a solution is extremely useful in Human-Centered Design (HCD) in order to develop products that fit the needs and capabilities of people and are used by people.

Additionally, in Andy Ko’s book Design Methods and in the chapter How to Understand Problems, Ko communicates that it is crucial to understand as many causes to the problem as possible in order to have a clear understanding of what a problem is. Through the design sprints, I have seen how impactful solutions are specific to problems. Therefore, understanding the root problem makes up the first step in my personal design philosophy.

Example in the Design for Others Modality: Library App Redesign

In the Design for Others sprint, my team and I created a prototype in Adobe XD for the Union County Library System Mobile App and were tasked to design specifically for Baby Boomers. Our goal was to improve the current mobile website interface through a library app redesign. Through the process of need finding, we were able to identify key design objectives to focus on for the redesigned mobile site.

Screenshot of the old Union County Library System mobile website

Our team identified pain points such as complicated layout, confusing organization and navigation, and disorganized content to describe the root problem with the current site. Understanding the problem came in handy while defining design objectives and conducting user research on the baby boomers to make informed design decisions regarding informational and visual design. Ultimately, we created a bit sleeker of a mobile interface aimed be experiential, simple, colorful, and readable.

Screenshots of select screen of my team’s final prototype in Adobe XD for the Design For Others Sprint: a mobile application interface for the Union County Library System. This was our first design modality, so looking back, I can see that it can use much more iterating and improvement :)!

Understand Who You Are Designing For

This is the second step of my personal design philosophy / design manifesto. According to Andy Ko in How to Understand Problems, there is no such thing as the “average user” because everyone’s problems are personal and have different causes and consequences. Every single product and solution out there in the market meets some person’s needs while failing to do the same for others. Therefore, Ko mentions that designers needs to identify a spectrum of needs before deciding who to optimize for.

User research plays a huge role in coming up with this spectrum, and forms of user research include direct methods such as surveys and interviews and indirect methods such as observation and research. Through interpretation and synthesis of data, designers derive goals that people wish to achieve and identify the users to develop and design for.

Design for Others: Library App Redesign

In the Design For Others sprint, my team and I were assigned ‘elderly adults’ as our user group to redesign the Union County Library mobile app. Upon conducting some user research to further understanding this demographic, we decided to call them ‘baby boomers’ rather than elderly adults because of how limiting this label can be. We focused on research in the areas of informational design (what content to present and emphasize for boomers, how to navigate the app, and information hierarchy) and visual design (color schemes, font, design patterns). For example, after collecting primary insights and research on baby boomers, we created and tailored a mood board towards the baby boomer concept and made visual design decisions including color choices such as Facebook blue and Campbell Soup red and contrasting color choices for the mobile app.

Mood Board for the Boomers to inform visual design of the mobile app prototype of the Union County Library System formulated based on user research

The Double-Diamond Model describes two phases of design and the first two key points I mention according to Norman: Understand the Real Problem and Understand Who You Are Designing For. To actually do these two activities, the iterative cycle of Human-Centered Design is needed.

The Double-Diamond Model

Define the Design Goal Early (As Early as Possible!)

Defining the design goal or design objectives as early as possible is the third key point of my design philosophy because without having a clearly defined goal in mind, much of the rest of the design process is left unguided. This is the logical next step after understanding the real/root problem and understanding the users to design and optimize for.

Failing Forward with our Design Goals… VR for Mindful Guided Meditation

For example, in the Design for the Future sprint, my team and I originally found ourselves brainstorming ideas with little success since we did not define our design goal first, which led to ideas out of the scope of our technological capabilities for the project timeline. For example, we brainstormed ideas that involved the leap motion in conjunction with virtual reality such as “virtual reality coloring” without first exploring our tech capabilities using A-frame and Google cardboard. Additionally, some of the ideas we brainstormed were more gamified than therapeutic such as “whack a mole” and darts, which was not our original thought for an aspirational use of virtual reality.

After our failed preliminary round of brainstorming, my team and I identified our design goal that to us, represents a truly aspirational use of VR and began another round of ideation and brainstorming, in which we narrowed down on designing a VR for mindful guided meditation.

Meditating in a VR

Design Goal for Design for the Future: To create an immersive VR that improves the daily life of people by positively impacting their health and wellness

Defining the design goal early on and my team’s experience of failing forward after not doing so at first in the Design for the Future sprint segways into the next key point in my design philosophy, the importance of smart brainstorming.

Brainstorm with the Design Goal at the Forefront

Here are examples of how brainstorming with a purpose after defining the design goal led to successful outcomes within the design sprints!

Design for Fun/Expression: Tap Tap Revolution

In the Design for Fun/Expression sprint, the design goal was given to design a 3D user interface that prioritizes fun and expression and simply maximizes the enjoyment that people have using our product. Having this well-defined design goal in mind truly guided our brainstorming and ideation process effectively.

For example, while choosing the game, keeping fun in mind, and through Wizard-of-Oz testing of the Slither.io game idea, we decided to pursue games involving more interactive hand gestures such as Frogger and Flash Flash Revolution. Thus, “Tap Tap Revolution” was born.

Wizard-of-Oz testing for Slither.io game. User clenches her fist to indicate a boost in speed.

Design for Clear Communication and Persuasion: Visualizing Hate Crimes in the USA

In the design sprint for designing for clear communication and persuasion, defining clear design goals for each type of data visualization using a common dataset (FBI Hate Crime Statistics) helped my team find success while brainstorming, sketching, and prototyping in Tableau. Throughout the design process we kept in mind that some data visualizations are better than others depending on their purpose due to how visual perception leverages unique pathways in our brains. Through the process of filtering and categorizing sketches in the Five Design-Sheet Process, my team and I categorized charts/graphs/sketches by which data visualization they best belong- clear communication or persuasion.

Work Iteratively and Obtain User Feedback

The final of the key points that I want to touch upon is the importance of obtaining user feedback throughout multiple stages in the design process and iteratively prototyping. Obtaining user feedback at many points throughout the process ensures the creation of a final product that best meets user needs, desires, and capabilities.

User Testing different headphones and headpieces for virtual reality for the Design for the Future sprint

For example, in the Design for the Future sprint in which my team and I created an aspirational meditative virtual reality, we asked users for feedback during class demos in order to make design decisions for our final product. This user feedback guided design choices for ambiance and scenery and answered questions such as “What environments do you prefer to meditate in?” Additionally, we did formative testing with the equipment (VR head piece and headphones) to ensure that it was comfortable and provided a relaxing environment for meditation. Keeping these important design considerations in mind during user testing helped us create a successful final product.

Considerations for designing a meditative experience in a VR environment that our team sought user feedback on iteratively throughout the prototyping process

Conclusion

Reflecting on the semester and thinking about everything that I learned and experienced, I truly realize the power of a good design process for designing meaningful solutions for users. HCI involves interdisciplinary thinking, the study of different people and technologies, and human-centered design approaches. Through going through four design sprints and focusing on unique design goals for each, I grew as a problem solver, designer, and software developer. I look forward to carrying personal design philosophy with me into every future project to keep users as #1.

Thank you for reading!

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20-something Associate Product Manager from Philly @ WSJ, Barron’s. Writing about what I’m learning! •Tech, Media, Financial Literacy, Self Development, Health•

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Katherine Lordi

Katherine Lordi

20-something Associate Product Manager from Philly @ WSJ, Barron’s. Writing about what I’m learning! •Tech, Media, Financial Literacy, Self Development, Health•

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