mobile phone prototyping and usability

27 Apr 2004 - 4:50am
10 years ago
4 replies
832 reads
Olly Wright
2007

Hi all,

One of the students here at Interaction-Ivrea is looking for
information on prototyping techniques and usability for mobile phones.
He's already got the Nokia book "Mobile Usability: How Nokia Changed
the Face of the Mobile Phone." Most specifically, he's interested in
prototyping methods and techniques for mobile phones.

Anybody have some pointers? I ask here because I figure it might be an
interesting thing for others on this list. Excuse me if you've seen me
post this on another list.

grazie,
molly

Comments

27 Apr 2004 - 6:03am
Matt Davies
2004

Hi Mollie,

I am working in this area in a commercial context, with clients currently
including a Japanese mobile phone manufacturer.

We have introduced and developed a range of techniques including paper
prototyping and screen-based prototyping throughout the design phase. I'm
working with a Mobile UI consultancy called Trigenix in Cambridge UK.

What did you want to find out about specifically?

Cheers

Matt

____________________________
Matt Davies
UI Designer / Usability Consultant
www.trigenix.com

27 Apr 2004 - 9:15am
Marc Rettig
2004

Hi Molly, hi all.
Two things come to mind. I doubt either of them will be news.

But first a caution and a request: *** The URLs in this message are temporary. I threw up a few
pics for the purpose of illustrating this message. They are likely to come down in the next
couple of weeks. I hesitated to post them to this list, because they have student's faces in
them and I didn't get permission to make them public. So PLEASE, list people, don't use these
photos in your presentations and publications. I have in mind to write a bunch of project
stories this summer, at which point I'll do it right and make some of these things available in
a form you can use more freely. Thanks.

Okay, now.....

One thing is: I visited Nokia briefly this winter, and learned that, when designing a phone
interface, they iterate through a number of versions using interactive prototypes on a PC. This
means they miss the wild variability of context of use and things competing for a user's
attention. But it means they can learn a lot about controls, labels, paths, and so on.

But that context stuff is *really* important for mobile devices, especially if you're coming up
with something new. The small experience I've had with this sort of thing leaves me predisposed
to wizard of oz techniques, at least for the concept-development stage.

The other thing is: In my studio course at CMU, teams worked on concepts for use in an art
museum. Between the three teams, we iterated at least two and sometimes four times on five or
six different concepts. All tested in the museum with real visitors. Maybe half of the concepts
were handheld devices with some sort of communication capability, and three prototyping
techniques worked really well.

1. For audio-only output: device made out of clay (like um, Fimo):
http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/clayDevice.jpg. Follow the museum visitor around at a
little distance, carrying a laptop. [http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/audioWizard.jpg]
Watch what they do with the device. When they push a button, play the appropriate audio. This
required making up a little directory of sound files on the laptop, with controls sufficient
for the Wizard to be able to find and play the right thing quickly. Here's a picture; it's
staged, so the laptop wizard is more in the foreground than she might otherwise be, and there's
an extra speaker-carrying wizard: http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/audioOz.jpg . One
surprise with this setup was how quickly most people fell into the illusion that the thing
actually worked!

2. For devices with a screen: mock it up on a laptop, and have someone carry it around in front
of the museum visitor. [http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/illusoryHandheld.jpg] It seems
odd, but again people are really good at falling into a fantasy. "Just pretend this is small
and you're carrying it. See? (pointing to mockup on the screen) It's little! Museum visitors
interact with the PC-based prototype as they would in a lab, using the laptop's screen, pointer
and keyboard. But they're doing it in context. So hopefully you're learning a little more about
usage triggers, sense of time, and so on than you would in a lab. Of course, it's a much more
pressured and distracting arrangement than being alone with a small device, so you aren't
learning much about focus and flow. At this stage in the process, the point was to get a feel
for whether the team was on the right track at all: was the content appropriate, was the
control set at all appropriate, did people understand what the thing did, did they value it
once they understood it?

3. For a complex and rapidly-changing concept with a new form (similar to a tablet): build the
thing out of wood and plexiglass, then execute a paper prototype on the mockup, in context.
http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/woodAndPaper.jpg
The museum visitor carried the prototype, and could use a marker as a stylus, pointing with it
and even drawing on the plexiglas. One team member played "computer," just like other paper
prototype sessions, putting items out on the screen and swapping backgrounds in response to
inputs and movements through the museum. Another team member schlepped a box of parts.

As *interface* tests, these set-ups don't work so great. Too much delay between action and
response. As *concept* and *content* tests, they worked better than anyone expected. And it's
really really fun.

I think any of these approaches could work for phones, so long as you apply a little wisdom in
matching the choice of technique to the goal of the test. Remember Fudd's First Law of
Prototype Fidelity: Figure out what aspects of the design you want to test, then make the
prototype good enough to create an illusion that those aspects work as planned; all *other*
aspects of the prototype should be crude.

Hope this helps. Much success to you and your student. Let us know how it works out!

- Marc

molly wright steenson wrote:

> Most specifically, he's interested in prototyping methods and techniques for mobile phones.
> Anybody have some pointers?

27 Apr 2004 - 11:01pm
Andy Watson
2004

Just out of interest, but I find mobile phone interfaces really sucky :)

I use mine quite a bit and to be honest, it spends all day in my bag which
is either stuck under my desk or being carried to the next desk.

I use a bluespoon ear piece (http://www.nextlink.to/bluespoon/ in case
anyone wonders what it is) that I keep in my pocket along with everything
else I keep in there (money, keys etc). I can hear the phone ring if I am
in the same room where I left my bag, so I can just pop the ear piece into
my ear, push the button and talk.

Likewise when I make a call I put the ear piece on push the button and say
the name of the person I want to talk to.

The only other feature I would like it to have is the ability to recognise
numbers that I say. This would save me from having to spend 10 minutes
looking for my phone on the rare time I need to dial a number manually.

I don't use any of the other features that phones offer. I have too many
other electronic devices that do those features much better. I don't use
most of them either.

I know MMS is the latest thing that is being built into the latest handsets
and needs to be sold to the world, but my PDA does all that stuff a lot
better (when I can remember where I put it).

I'd like to have a phone that I don't need to see, hear or in anyway
actually have to interact with. I wonder if that is actually possible :)

Andy

-----Original Message-----
From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesign
ers.com]On Behalf Of Matt Davies
Sent: Tuesday, 27 April 2004 11:03 p.m.
To: Discuss at Interactiondesigners. Com
Subject: [ID Discuss] mobile phone prototyping and usability

Hi Mollie,

I am working in this area in a commercial context, with clients currently
including a Japanese mobile phone manufacturer.

We have introduced and developed a range of techniques including paper
prototyping and screen-based prototyping throughout the design phase. I'm
working with a Mobile UI consultancy called Trigenix in Cambridge UK.

What did you want to find out about specifically?

Cheers

Matt

____________________________
Matt Davies
UI Designer / Usability Consultant
www.trigenix.com

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29 Apr 2004 - 7:31pm
Drew Bamford
2004

Molly et al,

While I agree with earlier responses promoting low-fidelity approaches,
such as paper prototyping, wizard-of-oz techniques, and on-screen
simulation for early proof-of-concept work, I have a couple of other
suggestions for higher fidelity prototyping of mobile device interfaces:

1. Flash Prototypes on PocketPC Devices. I have had great success
prototyping onscreen UI on PocketPC's for mobile usability testing. With
FlashAssist Pro from Antmobile (http://www.antmobile.com/), one can
integrate the hard keys (5-way navigation control, shortcut keys, etc)
into the user interface, as well. While this approach limits the
physical user interface to the buttons available on production PocketPC
devices, it can be a good way to prototype a functional UI in a hurry.

2. Tethered Director Prototypes. With considerably more effort, a
tethered prototype can be built using custom input devices (buttons,
scroll wheels, directional pads, etc.), a basic stamp for serial input,
a small display, and a Macromedia Director prototype running on a
tethered PC. While this setup is not truly mobile (a researcher must
follow the user around with a tethered laptop, for instance), the
physical interaction can be prototyped with a high degree of realism,
given the right mix of mechanical and software prototyping skills.

Let me know if you would like any further info on either of these
methods. Best of luck to your student.

d|b

-----Original Message-----
From: Marc Rettig [mailto:mrettig at well.com]
Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 7:16 AM
To: molly wright steenson
Cc: discuss at interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] mobile phone prototyping and usability

Hi Molly, hi all.
Two things come to mind. I doubt either of them will be news.

But first a caution and a request: *** The URLs in this message are
temporary. I threw up a few pics for the purpose of illustrating this
message. They are likely to come down in the next couple of weeks. I
hesitated to post them to this list, because they have student's faces
in them and I didn't get permission to make them public. So PLEASE, list
people, don't use these photos in your presentations and publications. I
have in mind to write a bunch of project stories this summer, at which
point I'll do it right and make some of these things available in a form
you can use more freely. Thanks.

Okay, now.....

One thing is: I visited Nokia briefly this winter, and learned that,
when designing a phone interface, they iterate through a number of
versions using interactive prototypes on a PC. This means they miss the
wild variability of context of use and things competing for a user's
attention. But it means they can learn a lot about controls, labels,
paths, and so on.

But that context stuff is *really* important for mobile devices,
especially if you're coming up with something new. The small experience
I've had with this sort of thing leaves me predisposed to wizard of oz
techniques, at least for the concept-development stage.

The other thing is: In my studio course at CMU, teams worked on concepts
for use in an art museum. Between the three teams, we iterated at least
two and sometimes four times on five or six different concepts. All
tested in the museum with real visitors. Maybe half of the concepts were
handheld devices with some sort of communication capability, and three
prototyping techniques worked really well.

1. For audio-only output: device made out of clay (like um, Fimo):
http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/clayDevice.jpg. Follow the
museum visitor around at a little distance, carrying a laptop.
[http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/audioWizard.jpg]
Watch what they do with the device. When they push a button, play the
appropriate audio. This required making up a little directory of sound
files on the laptop, with controls sufficient for the Wizard to be able
to find and play the right thing quickly. Here's a picture; it's staged,
so the laptop wizard is more in the foreground than she might otherwise
be, and there's an extra speaker-carrying wizard:
http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/audioOz.jpg . One surprise with
this setup was how quickly most people fell into the illusion that the
thing actually worked!

2. For devices with a screen: mock it up on a laptop, and have someone
carry it around in front of the museum visitor.
[http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/illusoryHandheld.jpg] It seems
odd, but again people are really good at falling into a fantasy. "Just
pretend this is small and you're carrying it. See? (pointing to mockup
on the screen) It's little! Museum visitors interact with the PC-based
prototype as they would in a lab, using the laptop's screen, pointer and
keyboard. But they're doing it in context. So hopefully you're learning
a little more about usage triggers, sense of time, and so on than you
would in a lab. Of course, it's a much more pressured and distracting
arrangement than being alone with a small device, so you aren't learning
much about focus and flow. At this stage in the process, the point was
to get a feel for whether the team was on the right track at all: was
the content appropriate, was the control set at all appropriate, did
people understand what the thing did, did they value it once they
understood it?

3. For a complex and rapidly-changing concept with a new form (similar
to a tablet): build the thing out of wood and plexiglass, then execute a
paper prototype on the mockup, in context.
http://www.marcrettig.com/cmu/prototypes/woodAndPaper.jpg
The museum visitor carried the prototype, and could use a marker as a
stylus, pointing with it and even drawing on the plexiglas. One team
member played "computer," just like other paper prototype sessions,
putting items out on the screen and swapping backgrounds in response to
inputs and movements through the museum. Another team member schlepped a
box of parts.

As *interface* tests, these set-ups don't work so great. Too much delay
between action and response. As *concept* and *content* tests, they
worked better than anyone expected. And it's really really fun.

I think any of these approaches could work for phones, so long as you
apply a little wisdom in matching the choice of technique to the goal of
the test. Remember Fudd's First Law of Prototype Fidelity: Figure out
what aspects of the design you want to test, then make the prototype
good enough to create an illusion that those aspects work as planned;
all *other* aspects of the prototype should be crude.

Hope this helps. Much success to you and your student. Let us know how
it works out!

- Marc

molly wright steenson wrote:

> Most specifically, he's interested in prototyping methods and
> techniques for mobile phones. Anybody have some pointers?

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