tools smooth design
Technology Research News
It's clear that the computer is not the
best tool for every step of a design process despite its organizational
Many designers, from architects to Web
interface builders, use pencil and paper during the initial stages of
creating a design. One reason is that a design that is laid out neatly
on a computer looks done, which is an impression that squelches the creative
process. The workings of a computer can get in the way as well, especially
with interfaces like speech recognition that regularly produce mistakes.
One group of researchers has created three tools that sidestep these drawbacks
by allowing computer interface designers to create rough designs on a
computer. Silk is a tool for graphic
designers, Denim a tool for Web site designers and Suede a tool for designing
speech interfaces. What they have in common are interfaces that make it
clear that the project is an early draft, and that eliminate technical
issues that tend to get in the way of creativity.
"There's been a lot of work that shows that if the designer uses a pen
or pencil on paper, they're more creative than someone who uses... a drawing
program," said James Landay, an assistant professor of electrical engineering
and computer sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. "The
reason is that the ambiguity in the sketch actually encourages them to
look at more ideas, and in the early stages of a design it's really important
to be creative and to look at many different approaches," he said.
The same goes with designers showing clients rough ideas, said Landay.
"A sketch... communicates that the idea is rough and unfinished and open
to suggestion and also gets them to focus on those high-level issues,"
Conversely, when a designer shows a client something on a computer, "it
looks done so they tend to focus on small visual details that are important
at some stage but not in the early stages where you're trying to get high-level
feedback," he said.
But there are also reasons to design on a computer, Landay said. "It's
easy to edit, easy to reuse... easy to track different versions [and]
easy to test, because when it's on a computer we can actually turn it
into something that runs and test it with people... whereas on paper we
just have to pretend," he said.
Silk allows a designer to literally sketch out an interface that works,
meaning when a scribbled button is clicked, the button will execute an
action. "You can actually try them out and see if they make sense, as
well as show them to other people to illustrate how [the interface] is
intended to work," said Landay.
The Silk tool, which was Landay's first project, goes the extra step of
converting the sketch interface to a finished interface when the designer
is done with the project. The other two tools don't include this step,
however, because the conversion wasn't very useful for the designers,
he said. "It's interesting from a computer science perspective but it's
not as important to the designers," said Landay. Once the designers finish
and test a design in run mode to see that it works properly, they are
likely to switch to a Web building tool anyway, he said.
Denim is a similar tool for Web interfaces that keeps track of how different
pages, which can be roughly sketched out, link to each other. "We found
that [Web designers] were using three different representations -- storyboards,
site maps and pages, and they had to use different tools for all of them.
The idea was to unify these different representations all on one interface
in one screen and use zooming as a way of moving between them," said Landay.
A slider bar allows the designer to zoom in to see a single page and out
to see a site map. "Arrows represent how [different pages] are related.
[When] you zoom into an individual page, you can just draw on the page,"
he said. The interface recognizes the arrows, and has a run mode where
it works like a Web browser. "You can save this in HTML and run it as
a Web browser, but it will look... sketched," said Landay.
Suede brings the same basic ideas to designing voice interfaces. What
gets in the way of being creative in designing a voice interface is the
technology of speech recognition, which doesn't always work perfectly.
"Often these technologies lead you to start having a conversation with
[the speech recognition software] rather than focusing on your task,"
The interface sidesteps speech technology snafus simply by not using speech
recognition at all. Instead, it uses something speech interface designers
have historically used before they put a design on a computer. "The Wizard
of Oz method... means someone pretends to be the computer... to test the
interface," said Landay.
Suede allows the designer to organize what the system will say by mapping
out the different prompts and responses on the screen. It also facilitates
test sessions where a person is acting as the voice recognizer, then analyzes
the data. "There's no speech recognition, there's no speech synthesis.
We can still design something really rapidly, and that's what's in common
[between Suede] and the sketching systems that we built," said Landay.
The next step is making the interfaces multimodal, said Landay. This would
allow for two different types of input, like speech and pointing, at the
same time. For example, a person could point to something with a pen and
at the same time say 'move this here.'
The idea behind all three projects is to adapt computers to the way people
work naturally instead of the other way around, he said. "My argument
is that most computer programs and applications make us operate on the
terms of the computer [where] everything is precise."
They're neat applications, said Terry Winograd, a professor of computer
science at Stanford University. "What [Landay has advanced] is using informal
things that actually work. The main issue here is the faster the feedback
cycle, the more iterations you can do, [and so] the more you can debug
your ideas as you develop them," he said.
"There's a whole body of work on prototyping techniques that emphasize
things like informal sketching and ways of getting feedback from users
based on various early designs" that usually involve media like paper,
video and flipbooks, Winograd said.
The researchers' work brings a similar type of prototyping to computers
"in a particular way -- combining informal sketching with computer response,"
said Winograd. It is easy with some combination of techniques to go through
the same process that the interface design tools enable, but the tools
may allow you to learn more with less work, he added.
Landay's research colleague for the Silk project was Brad Myers of Carnegie
Mellon University. They published the research in the March, 2001 issue
of IEEE Computer. Landay worked with Berkeley graduate students Mark Newman,
James Lin, and Jason Hong on Denim, and Scott Klemmer, Anoop Sinha, and
Jack Chen on Suede. The Silk project was funded by the Department of Defense
(DOD) and Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories (FX Palo). The Denim project
was funded by NEC, Qualcomm, and FX Palo. The Suede project is funded
by SRI International, FX Palo, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Funding: Corporate, Government
TRN Categories: Software Design and Engineering; Human-Computer
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "Sketching Interfaces:
Toward More Human Interface Design," March, 2001, IEEE Computer. More
information on the projects, including the videos of the interfaces in
action and a downloadable version of Denim, is available at guir.berkeley.edu
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