From recommendations to design

Clay Spinuzzi

Recommendations are general; design is specific

Recommendations and design

Recommendations are…

  • General. “Develop an electronic filing system with characteristics A, B, and C.”
  • Abstract. Many different potential implementations.
  • Testable against abstract characteristics. Does it fit, based on the models you’ve developed to describe your data?

Design is …

  • Specific. “Here’s a working electronic filing system with characteristics A, B, and C.”
  • Concrete. A single realized implementation.
  • Testable in actual use. Does it work in real situations? What does that use tell you?

Design is hard to get right the first time

Some problems with designing a solution

  • Limited data. You haven’t been able to see every scenario.
  • Tacit knowledge. People don’t know what they know; they may not be able to put into words what they do. They might not be able to provide good feedback until they actually use the design in their activity.
  • Design language. You and the users may not have a shared vocabulary or set of concepts.

Solution: Fail faster

  • Create ways for people to experience a designed solution within their activity (or a simulation of it).
  • Design solutions cheaply.
  • Design solutions to generate feedback.
  • Iterate designs based on feedback so you can evolve a better solution.

Failure is good—if it provides useful feedback.

Background: The UTOPIA project

  • In the early 1980s, desktop computers promised to automate repetitive tasks.
  • But they would do this by changing the tasks—and that meant workers’ hard-won experience would be useless.
  • Could computer scientists and workers design new systems together to provide new capabilities while still leveraging worker experience?
  • The UTOPIA project: Typography at a Scandinavian newspaper.

The UTOPIA project’s challenges

  • Computer scientists didn’t understand what typographers did; typographers didn’t understand what computers could do.
  • They had to develop a design language for communicating—a set of techniques for envisioning work and understanding tools before those tools were even built.
  • They had to tap into the tacit knowledge of the workers: the things that they knew without being able to articulate. They had to reach habits and tactile knowledge.

The UTOPIA project’s techniques

  • Future workshops: Workshops to discuss the concerns workers have about the future. What are their (activity-level) expectations, hopes, and fears for this activity?
  • Mockups: Common objects (such as cardboard boxes) used to represent technologies with which workers are unfamiliar (such as laser printers).
  • Paper prototypes: Paper versions of interfaces with which workers could eventually interact. Workers could directly change these.
  • Organizational games: Games based on familiar ones (such as Monopoly), representing aspects of workers’ decisions or routines.
  • Role playing: Having workers imagine using a new tool as they pretend to complete a task.

Additional participatory design techniques

  • Organizational toolkits: A set of icons or stickers that people can use to represent a process and common problems with it.
  • Storyboarding: Representing a current problem in a storyboard or comic strip, then representing how the same scenario could play out with the proposed innovation.
  • Card sorting: Writing different procedures, information resources, etc. on index cards, then asking users to group and sort them.
  • Cooperative prototypes: Computer-based prototypes that researchers could quickly change based on workers’ feedback. (Ex: In PowerPoint)

Participatory design techniques elicit feedback

  • The workers’ interactions
  • The workers’ feedback during the process
  • Confusion and disagreements
  • The resulting conversations

By helping workers to envision using new tools in their work, the researchers were able to tap into their tacit knowledge.

Researchers and users can co-design a solution.

Project 5: Designing an intervention

  • Based on Project 4, select one recommendation.
  • Design a solution using a participatory design technique.
  • Plan a session in which you present the solution.
  • Specify what feedback you will gather and how this feedback could help you to iterate the design to best meet their needs.

Exercise: Select the recommendation to address

In groups or alone

  • Review your recommendations. Which one would be either most important or easiest to design?
  • Think about design options. Does one seem most appropriate for this recommendation?
Topsight 23: From recommendations to design - Google Slides