Sunday, November 21, 2004
To ensure success in designing ease of use and a level of design sophistication into the total user experience for Croquet-based learning applications, we're following the principles and best practices of user-centered design (as we do for all of our software development projects). This helps us provide for the needs of all potential users and adapt the user interface to meet their expectations, while at the same time freeing users from the need to overcome unnecessary obstacles to their use of the software.
In user centered design of educational applications you generally align learning objectives to user goals through a three-step iterative process: 1) information gathering and analysis, 2) information architeture and prototyping, and 3) interface design (implementation, testing, launching, growing). All three of these can (and should) be applied to any interactive software product.
User centered design also involves 1) making visible a series of navigational aids that readily define constraints and help users predict the effects of their actions, 2) reducing memory load by making interface elements meaningful and consistent and relating new items and functions to ones the user already knows, 3) providing immediate feedback when users perform actions, 4) facilitating the chunking of information into schema that are meaningful to users and that can allow them to skim and scan large amounts of data easily, 5) helping orient users by providing descriptive information about things, maps, and visual cues to location, 6) providing a high level of tolerance for user error, and 7) maintaining a high-quality visual design and text legibility. There are all pretty simple and basic - but you'd be surprised at how much software is developed without adequately considering some of these (but then again, a lot of you reading this probably wouldn't).
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Mark McCahill and I just sent off two manuscripts on user interface approaches for Croquet-based learning environments. These will be the basis for two of our talks at the upcoming Third International Conference on Creating, Connecting and Collaborating through Computing (C5 2005) in Kyoto, Japan. The papers describe some of efforts and considerations as we strive to create practical Croquet-based solutions for use in both educational research programs and undergraduate courses at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. The working titles are "User Interfaces for Self and Others in Croquet Learning Spaces" and "User Interfaces for Places and Things in Croquet Learning Spaces."
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
We note that a number of users accustomed to game navigational conventions were befuddled by navigational controls in the Jasmine release. The whole three button Squeak mouse thing doesn't seem to work at all for most users. We definietly need a better way to get around.
Several conventions for keyboard/mouse navigation have emerged in the 3D gaming world and we are treating these as a starting point for the navigational interface of Croquet implementations intended for use in educational settings. Doing so will accommodate existing 3D-savvy users and reduces the potential for frustration until a more appropriate solution can be devised and developed.
We find that Doom III’s navigational interface design is a good starting point. As in many other first-person-shooters, controlling movement and selection within Doom III requires only a mouse and keyboard - and all modern computers have these already. Arrow keys and the “WASD” keys can be used to move about the environment. Use of the arrow keys is an intuitive way to control movement within the space and redundancy with “WASD” keys will allow right-handed users to use their left hand for navigation while using their right hand for mouse-look and select functions.
Some of the literature on navigation in 3D environments shows that users who are unfamiliar with game conventions presume the mouse is used for moving around the space. We feel that the solution to this conflict in user expectations is to set the navigational defaults to keyboard control and then provide user-configurable preferences to accommodate experimentation with mouse-based navigation. Users will ultimately tell us what works best.
Saturday, November 6, 2004
HP is a significant backer of the Croquet Project. The company clearly sees the potential of what we are trying to accomplish. Consider what Patrick Scaglia, Vice-President and Director of the Internet and Computing Platforms Research Center at HP Labs recently said about the effort:
“Croquet is a first in many ways. It represents a major step in our vision of computation as a communications platform and service, available anytime, anywhere, from any device. Soon, Croquet will run on everything, from a PDA through a set-top box; persistent Croquet worlds will be ubiquitous on the Internet, routed intelligently to each user through computational services overlays like PlanetLab. This will change the way people think about software and computation, from today’s device-oriented perspective to a perspective of computation as a persistent, pervasive, service”.