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Presumptive Design: Cutting the Looking Glass Cake


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January/February 2006, Interactions article on rapidly defining user requirements.

Published in: Design, Technology
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Presumptive Design: Cutting the Looking Glass Cake

  1. 1. The Art of Prototy ping Presumptive Design, or Cutting the Looking-Glass Cake Leo Frishberg > Tektronix, Inc. > leofrish@acm.orgSPECIAL SECTION In the generally accepted approach to User exposing your assumptions to your Centered Design (UCD), the designer/inves- end users and having them react tigator researches the needs of the target • The faster you go, the sooner you population, analyzes and transforms the know—do all of these things quickly raw data, and then synthesizes a solution to learn how wrong you are sooner ultimately reviewed by users who deter- • Iterate, iterate, iterate—do this mine its fitness. Reducing the “gap” process as long as your stamina and between the analysis and synthesis steps is budget provide key to improving the outcome of design Each of these principles establishes a activities [2]. frame of mind about the proposed solu- In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking tions that keeps the designer open to the Glass Alice faces a puzzling and paradoxical needs of the user. The process is especially approach to serving cake [1]. A process I effective with small cross-functional teams call Presumptive Design turns the tradition- facing limited time frames because it elicits al practice of UCD upside down in a simi- two responses simultaneously: reaction to larly paradoxical way. The designer, with the specific design solution and expression minimum input about the requirements for of user requirements. the project, creates a set of solutions, puts Rapid prototyping is fundamental to pre- them in front of the target user, collects sumptive design as it provides an effective data about the fitness of the designs, and means of quickly expressing the design then performs analysis that feeds into an team’s assumptions and intentions. Users’ iterative cycle. reaction to artifacts simultaneously uncov- Presumptive Design is based on five prin- ers their requirements while exposing the ciples: team’s biases. • Design for failure—expect your solu- tions to always be off-target Risks • Create, discover, analyze—create your The method is not without risks. Listed ideas first, let users show you your below are some of the common risks that, errors, analyze for the next round while not unique to presumptive design, • Make assumptions explicit—embrace are more likely to occur because of priori- your human egocentricism by explicitly tizing synthesis over analysis. : / 18 i n t e r a c t i o n s / j a n u a r y + f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 6
  2. 2. “You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes,” the Unicorn remarked. Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.” Believing the solution is correct. questions that the design-Accepting a solution because it “feels er had not anticipated. Messy prototypesright,” being blinded by your creation, are likely to distract the user from your Forum brought a model forand/or defending the solution to the cus- objectives; they are equally likely to provide users to react to.tomer, sabotages the process. In presump- opportunities for conversation. Having a • Industrial designers (IDs) are more like-tive design, you always believe you’re cross-functional team with experienced ly than interaction designers (IxDs)wrong; remembering this principle reduces designers and usability professionals is a (and non-designers) to engage in pre-this risk. key component of the presumptive-design sumptive-design behaviors. During the Focus on the wrong solution. Because process. “analysis” phase, IDs sketched, proto-this approach is “inductive”—you create an typed, and played around, while IxDsexample of an idea—you can’t know from Testing the Process made lists, drew charts, categorized,the outset whether you are on the right Twice recently—at the CHI2004|ICSID and analyzed.track. Rapid prototyping generally creates Forum and SEC05 (see the following article • Interaction designers and usability pro-unattractive artifacts, creating a natural by Nancy Frishberg)—I had the opportuni- fessionals (regardless of years of expe-feedback loop that helps reduce the team’s ty to explore whether presumptive design rience) prefer to present rough proto-faith in the design. was idiosyncratic to my practice or one types to users rather than allow users Lack of solution coverage. Design shared among professionals. In the first to engage directly with the artifact. Atresources are a precious commodity; using event, we presumed that the experience SEC05, none of the teams providedthem to develop one solution reduces their level of the participants would lead some users with prototypes, opting insteadavailability for investigating alternative solu- teams to use presumptive design; in the to present, explain, demo, or defendtions. Here, too, rapid prototyping quickly second event, presumptive design was their designs.creates widely variant solutions, improving explicitly required. • Inexperienced designers, and thosecoverage of the “solution space.” from related disciplines, expressed fear Loss of User Focus. Users may react to Lessons Learned about exposing their assumptions soelements in the solution that were either We learned several lessons from these directly to users.unintended or not yet developed. An object two events: • Participants (at all levels of experience)implies much more than the minimum • Even designers with more than ten were able to rapidly create prototypesinputs used to create it. This risk can only years’ experience don’t use presump- that expressed the key assumptionsbe mitigated through experienced facilita- tive design approaches. We were sur- underlying their designs. All teamstion, often requiring a multidisciplinary prised to see that only one individual successfully created prototypes in timeteam. Low-resolution prototypes raise user from one team at the CHI2004|ICSID for their presentations to the group. i n t e r a c t i o n s / j a n u a r y + f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 6 : / 19
  3. 3. The Art of Prototy ping Conclusions that revealed their assumptions, whether or Presumptive design is not for the Presumptive design, or serving the cake not they used the artifacts to elicit user faint of heart. Putting your assumptions in before you slice it, is a powerful way for feedback. Teams with less-experienced front of users can be a frightening designers to make their assumptions explic- designers had greater difficulty shifting prospect. In addition, the presumptive it while providing customers opportunities from analysis to synthesis, suggesting that designer must be comfortable synthesizing for rich engagement and feedback. The design experience is a key component in quickly while simultaneously remainingSPECIAL SECTION approach can accelerate the data-gathering building artifacts. uninvested in the result. process at the same time it builds multidis- Facilitating user interaction with Presumptive design, by its reliance on ciplinary teams. Some conclusions drawn junk prototypes is necessary and chal- rapid prototyping, is a fast way to find out from the two workshops helped broaden lenging. Users, especially the active seniors how wrong you are and what users really my appreciation for the pros and cons of in our case, are comfortable responding want. The process permits multidisciplinary the approach. negatively to proposed solutions. Low-reso- teams to work quickly and collaboratively. It Users respond more intensely to lution prototypes challenged teams to elicit exposes designers’ assumptions for review objects than they do to questions. At constructive user feedback; real products by target populations while allowing ana- the CHI2004|ICSID Forum, users demon- were much easier for users to discuss posi- lysts opportunities to capture users’ reac- strated the advantages and disadvantages tively. Teams with experienced usability pro- tions and implicit requirements. of their own artifacts. At SEC05, users sur- fessionals skilled in eliciting user feedback prised the teams with their (generally will be more successful than those without. Prototypes must be designed. With its REFERENCES 1. Carroll, Lewis, Through the intensely negative) responses to the proto- Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, The types. reliance on low-cost materials and rapid MacMilllan Company, New York, London, 1899, p152 2. Wood, L. A., User Interface Design, Bridging Building junk prototypes helps illus- turn-around, presumptive design requires the Gap from User Requirements to Design, CRC trate assumptions quickly. Both groups experienced design- Press, 1997. created objects ers. The presumptive ABOUT THE AUTHOR Leo designer must care- Frishberg is a user experience fully consider the architect for Tektronix, Inc.’s desired attributes of Logic Analyzer Advanced Development Group. For over 20 years, product, the specif- Frishberg’s professional life has focused on ic characteristics of enhancing the user experience with architectural, the p ro t o t y p e software, hardware, and Web projects. For the object, the objec- past five years, Frishberg has served as both pro- tives of the ses- gram chair and executive director for CHIFOO sion, and the (Computer Human Interaction Forum of Oregon), the Portland-based local chapter of the SIGCHI. anticipated Frishberg is a licensed architect, with an M.Arch interactions from SCI-ARC and a BA in Environmental during the Planning from the University of California, Santa feedback ses- Cruz. Nancy Frishberg is his sister. sions. : / 20 i n t e r a c t i o n s / j a n u a r y + f e b r u a r y 2 0 0 6