Academic research and design

31 Oct 2004 - 3:41pm
9 years ago
20 replies
755 reads
Matt Eliot
2004

Howdy folks,

As a doctoral student in Technical Communication at the University of
Washington, I had to weigh in on the question of design issues in academic
research. I agree with folks about the poor design sometimes used in
academic studies. I've seen a number of odd designs being tested and it
breaks my heart. Because some folks on campus do have a blind spot on the
importance good design to basic usability.

But I think there might be some slightly skewed ideas on this list of what
it's like to be a grad student at a modern research university studying HCI.

David wrote:
Research is the one place where TIME is not an issue and thus people should
take that time and use it to their fullest.

My friends and I have an ongoing joke that being in grad school is like
working at Microsoft without the paycheck. David, from the student's
viewpoint, time is always THE issue. We are pulled in a number of directions
simultaneously, including our course work, our dissertation work, and our
research assistantships (and sometimes having a life). Not to be a whiner,
but often the approach to research on campus includes effort budgeting. How
much effort can I invest in a group research project and still have time for
my own work?

Which leads me to Andrei's comment: That's just an excuse. Universities and
colleges are *brimming* with talent in this area. Why wasn't it used to
develop the UI? That's the real question you should be asking yourself.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy to network on a campus as one might think. I
can't just walk into the Art program and ask for a visual designer with the
appropriate skills who has the extra time to work on my project. Combined
with the time constraints listed above, finding quality folks to join a
research team is a task in itself. And one is exceedingly lucky when a good
group of folks comes together.

David wrote: it should be a requirement to have the craft and understanding
of theory not only to do testing, but to do the environment worth testing.

That sounds like common sense (which it is), but it ain't going to happen.
The academy reflects the *traditional* roles in industry. Visual designers
are in one college program, usability specialists in another, cognitive
folks in a third.

Taken all together (not always connecting design and basic usability, effort
budgeting, difficulty finding appropriate students, disciplinary
splintering), these factors shape both experiment design and the stimulus
materials being used. Externally funded research, especially from industry,
adds another layer of complexity in itself. Who wants to piss off a donor?

Finally, I have to totally agree with Andrei about the quality of design
used in academic research. I have enough aesthetic sense and common sense
not to test something that is compromised (unless I was studying how people
cope with poor design). But academic research is not as simple as it
sounds... In fact, it sound exactly like a lot of talk on this list! : )

Matt Eliot
Technical Communication
University of Washington

"I'm Matthew J. Eliot and I approved this message."

Comments

31 Oct 2004 - 4:17pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I'm just going to respond to one point in this great overall perspective
piece. ...

> David wrote: it should be a requirement to have the craft
> and understanding
> of theory not only to do testing, but to do the environment
> worth testing.
>
> That sounds like common sense (which it is), but it ain't
> going to happen.
> The academy reflects the *traditional* roles in industry.
> Visual designers
> are in one college program, usability specialists in another,
> cognitive
> folks in a third.

Then maybe programs need to be created that are x-functional in nature.
Isn't the Interaction Design programs at CMU and Ivrea sorta like this (at
least in the adveritising)?

If your program doesn't allow you to create the relationships that model
"the industry" as you put it, then it is not modeling the industry as you
suggested. Because while the "roles" may be "separate" (not quite that often
btw) the roles are in constant collaboration with each other.

Again, if an HCI person doesn't learn the core components not just of HCI
itself, but of all of UX, then they really don't have the pre-requisistes
for continuing their research towards their disertation. I totally agree
with Andrei that unless you have working abilities in the 3 core pieces of
UX: structure & definition, behavior, and presentation AND know the
techniques of research and validation then the results of the work is
flawed.

That being said, often extremes of presentation can lead to further
attributes of discovery as they bring up questions that can be explored. It
is a very dynamic approach to academic research that I haven't seen. The
point of research is usually to have a conclusion, but one thing we've
learned from design practice is that inconclusion can lead to future ideas
and so on and so forth. But if it ain't publishable we'll never see it, eh?

-- dave

31 Oct 2004 - 6:23pm
dmitryn
2004

Matt: Thanks for speaking up, and amen, brother. :)

> Then maybe programs need to be created that are x-functional in nature.
> Isn't the Interaction Design programs at CMU and Ivrea sorta like this (at
> least in the adveritising)?

David: Yes, these programs are, as far as I know, a perfect example of
the point you are trying to make. They are also professional rather
than research programs, which means that most of the constraints Matt
mentioned are not applicable to them. Also, their cost structure puts
them out of reach of all but the wealthiest would-be UX professionals.

As an aside, I am currently starting an initiative at my program,
which is research-centric, to enable greater interaction with the
local UX industry. It is unfortunately an uphill climb and requires a
grass-roots effort on the part of students like myself, because there
is little value added in it for a traditional HCI research group.
While educating students in all the elements of UX, as you propose,
makes us more marketable, it sure won't help our advisors publish more
papers at CHI. :)

Dmitry

--
Dmitry Nekrasovski
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~dmitry

31 Oct 2004 - 7:40pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Oct 31, 2004, at 6:23 PM, Dmitry Nekrasovski wrote:

> Yes, these programs are, as far as I know, a perfect example of
> the point you are trying to make.

Perfect? Probably not, but we do try. At CMU we're fortunate to have
designers, HCI students, engineers, and businesspeople together in a
simulacrum of the professional world. It's not always possible to get
the mix together, but the resources are available.

> They are also professional rather
> than research programs, which means that most of the constraints Matt
> mentioned are not applicable to them.

O contraire, mon frere. We too are on a painful time and resource
crunch, often doing several projects (often at once) in the time that,
as a professional, you would only be doing one or two.

Matt Eloit wrote: My friends and I have an ongoing joke that being in
grad school is like working at Microsoft without the paycheck.

Last year, we did work for Microsoft. Without a paycheck.

> Also, their cost structure puts
> them out of reach of all but the wealthiest would-be UX professionals.

As far as I know, there are no wealthy graduate students in design at
CMU. Everyone I know is on a mix of student loans and
assistantships/teaching positions.

And Ivrea is still free to attend, to my knowledge.

Dan Saffer
M. Design Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University
http://www.odannyboy.com

31 Oct 2004 - 8:19pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Oct 31, 2004, at 4:40 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

>> They are also professional rather
>> than research programs, which means that most of the constraints Matt
>> mentioned are not applicable to them.
>
> O contraire, mon frere. We too are on a painful time and resource
> crunch, often doing several projects (often at once) in the time that,
> as a professional, you would only be doing one or two.

You need to work in Silicon Valley then. I think you'd adjust this
statement. I myself worked on Photoshop, Illustrator *and* InDesign
simultaneously, solving the issues of cross-product, cross-platform and
I18N all at the same time, while building a new UI team. You'll get no
sympathy from me.

Andrei

31 Oct 2004 - 8:23pm
Dave Malouf
2005

> You'll get no
> sympathy from me.
>

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa ... I did not want to start a war about who works hard,
academics or industry folks. I've been a grad student before (anthropology)
and I know it is hell. Sorry I implied otherwise. That was not my intent. I
only wanted to point out that academics have a different master which IMHO
allows for a different type of flexibility ... And if you aren't getting
that flexibility you should re-think your program a bit. ;)

-- dave

31 Oct 2004 - 8:52pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Oct 31, 2004, at 8:19 PM, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:

> You need to work in Silicon Valley then. I think you'd adjust this
> statement. I myself worked on Photoshop, Illustrator *and* InDesign
> simultaneously, solving the issues of cross-product, cross-platform
> and I18N all at the same time, while building a new UI team. You'll
> get no sympathy from me.
>

Not asking for your sympathy, Mr. I-Built-Adobe-With-My-Bare-Hands. I
worked for a decade in new media in New York before going back to
school, so it's not like I don't know what professional life is like.
Ever been to grad school? Finish college even? The workload in a design
studio program is tough by any professional standard.

Dan

31 Oct 2004 - 9:04pm
dmitryn
2004

On Sun, 31 Oct 2004 19:40:17 -0500, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> As far as I know, there are no wealthy graduate students in design at
> CMU. Everyone I know is on a mix of student loans and
> assistantships/teaching positions.

OK, perhaps that should have read "inaccessible to all but those
willing to take on a large student debt load". :)

> And Ivrea is still free to attend, to my knowledge.

Yes, if free = Euro 25K per year. ;-)

http://www.interaction-ivrea.it/en/education/admissions/faq/index.asp#f4

Dmitry

--
Dmitry Nekrasovski
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~dmitry

31 Oct 2004 - 9:07pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Dmitry, the official tuition is $25k, comparable to your average private
education in the US. But more importantly I was told when I was looking into
it that most if not all students get full rides, at least tuition. You have
to still get your own living expenses, though your dorm is included.

Molly, you still around?

-- dave

> > And Ivrea is still free to attend, to my knowledge.
>
> Yes, if free = Euro 25K per year. ;-)
>
> http://www.interaction-ivrea.it/en/education/admissions/faq/index.asp#f4

31 Oct 2004 - 9:20pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Oct 31, 2004, at 5:23 PM, David Heller wrote:

> Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa ... I did not want to start a war about who works
> hard,
> academics or industry folks.

There's no war in my words... I'm just trying to give a dose of reality
(mine at least) to those in the field in school that what they do in
school doesn't get *easier* when they leave and get out into the
workplace. 8^)

Andrei

31 Oct 2004 - 9:27pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Oct 31, 2004, at 5:52 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> I worked for a decade in new media in New York before going back to
> school, so it's not like I don't know what professional life is like.
> Ever been to grad school? Finish college even? The workload in a
> design studio program is tough by any professional standard.

Agreed. Anything worth doing is tough by any real standard. So let's no
bother with the with grad school takes time and therefore corners can
be cut for research purposes issue. It's all hard and we all have a lot
to do obviously. I'm fine with corners being cut due to time pressures.
But I'm not fine with research being used in the professional realm
from an academic market that cuts corners in the time to do that
research.

Anything worth doing takes time. Pure and simple.

To answer someone's questions on what products to use in the research
that started my minor rant? None. Build some prototypes of ones that
are well designed and study those. Again, I'm just asking that we stop
using flawed design for research and then passing that research around
professionally. I'm not sure why that position is so controversial.

By the way, what does graduating from college have to do with anything?

Andrei

31 Oct 2004 - 9:55pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Oct 31, 2004, at 9:27 PM, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:

> But I'm not fine with research being used in the professional realm
> from an academic market that cuts corners in the time to do that
> research...Again, I'm just asking that we stop using flawed design for
> research and then passing that research around professionally.

I'll agree to that with the caveat that there are things that can be
tested without being a fully-designed, fully-realized product. I
occasionally test with paper prototypes, and those don't work and nor
do they look particularly good (on purpose). But they do test
particular aspects of a design before I go ahead and incorporate it
into a working prototype. Academic research can work in a similar
manner, testing particular things that can then be incorporated into
more complete products (and tested again).

Now I would agree a best-case scenario would be to have working,
visually-effective prototypes for everything. But sometimes, for time
or money or resource reasons (or all three), that's not possible, in
academics or professionally. And something, even something crude, is
often better than nothing.

Dan

31 Oct 2004 - 11:50pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Oct 31, 2004, at 6:55 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> I occasionally test with paper prototypes, and those don't work and
> nor do they look particularly good (on purpose). But they do test
> particular aspects of a design before I go ahead and incorporate it
> into a working prototype. Academic research can work in a similar
> manner, testing particular things that can then be incorporated into
> more complete products (and tested again).

True, but the caveat here, imho, is that academic researchers also need
to recognize flawed design, to better qualify what it is they studying
and how well it works. Could we settle on that compromise?

> But sometimes, for time or money or resource reasons (or all three),
> that's not possible, in academics or professionally. And something,
> even something crude, is often better than nothing.

Again, I'm not asking for award-winning design. I'm just asking that
the *basics* and fundamentals be used, especially with regard to
research (academic or otherwise). It's just not that hard or
time-consuming to make something visually satisfactory and pleasing,
especially for the purposes of research.

Would you submit a term paper or thesis hand-written, with scribbles
and smudge marks and ink stains and expect to get an passing grade on
it? I would hope not. You type it up before submitting it. You make it
at least moderately presentable. That's the level I'm talking about.
There are visual design problems that are so obviously broken, why are
they allowed the time for research and study? How are they getting by
and why? It shouldn't tolerated.

Andrei

1 Nov 2004 - 12:44am
dmitryn
2004

On Sun, 31 Oct 2004 20:50:01 -0800, Andrei Herasimchuk
<andrei at designbyfire.com> wrote:
>
> True, but the caveat here, imho, is that academic researchers also need
> to recognize flawed design, to better qualify what it is they studying
> and how well it works. Could we settle on that compromise?

I personally would be very happy to agree on this and move on, before
the S/N ratio of this list deteriorates any further...

Dmitry

--
Dmitry Nekrasovski
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~dmitry

1 Nov 2004 - 7:49pm
hilhorst
2004

> Dmitry, the official tuition is $25k, comparable to your average
> private
> education in the US. But more importantly I was told when I was
> looking into
> it that most if not all students get full rides, at least tuition. You
> have
> to still get your own living expenses, though your dorm is included.
>
> Molly, you still around?

I'll take Molly's place for a second since I'm a student at IDII. The
fee is indeed 25K EUR (not dollars) a year and that includes an
apartment and a few other things you would normally have to pay for
seperatly. If you do not have sufficient financial resources to pay for
the fees there are scholarships available (apply for financial
support). However, IDII is not for free de facto, scholarship are
granted purely based on your personal financial situation. For more
information you can always send an email or make a phone call.

For information on the graduate school:
gradschool at interaction-ivrea.it

For admissions or applications inquiries:
admissions at interaction-ivrea.it

Tel: +39012542211 (ask for Kati)

Didier.

2 Nov 2004 - 8:38am
whitneyq
2010

> I am currently looking at Universities in the UK
>for some sort of IxD Masters course (mostly because I have no formal
>training in the area, and currently have no experienced mentor).

You might want to investigate the Open University post-grad course on User
Interface Design and Evaluation - M873 in the catalog. The next start date
is May - October 2005

http://www3.open.ac.uk/courses/bin/p12.dll?C02M873

For those who don't know about the Open University, it's a well-respected
distance education university and (one of) the largest in the UK. It's
available in the US as well as the UK and Europe.

The course book is being published by Morgan Kauffman

Full disclosure: I have been working with the Open University on aspects of
its web presence, but have no connection to this course.

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Interactive Design, LLC
w. www.WQusability.com
e. whitneyq at wqusability.com
p. 908-638-5467

UPA - www.usabilityprofessionals.org
STC Usability SIG: www.stcsig.org/usability

2 Nov 2004 - 9:44am
mtumi
2004

this is the most comprehensive listing that I know of:

http://www.hcibib.org/education/

>
> I realise the Careers Initiative at ixdg.org is still under
> construction,
> but given that one of the organisation's goals is to "establish
> standards
> for academic programs in interaction design" - will there one day be
> listings / reviews of academic courses available?
>

2 Nov 2004 - 9:41am
Martyn Jones BSc
2004

Thanks for the replies.

The following link has been most prominent:
http://www.hcibib.org/education/

Martyn

----------------------
Martyn Jones BSc
Interaction Designer
Kode Digital Ltd.
----------------------

2 Nov 2004 - 9:53am
Dave Malouf
2005

I just want to point out that most programs out there are NOT IxD programs.
Few are even design-based programs. Most of these programs are connected to
CS departments and concentrate in HCI. Not that that is a bad thing, but it
means that they don't necessarily line up with a design degree in IxD like
the CMU and Ivrea programs do.

-- dave

2 Nov 2004 - 10:41am
Martyn Jones BSc
2004

David Heller wrote:
> I just want to point out that most programs out there are NOT IxD
programs.
> Few are even design-based programs.

Yes, I want a more relevant IxD program, but I'm not sure if they exist in
the UK.

In the same way this list has had much debate regarding the definition of
certain terms, different Universities seem to use the same/different terms
when referring to different/same subjects. It makes finding and choosing
programs a little more tricky.

Are the more relevant programs likely to come from Psychology departments?

Royal College of Art, London, offers an Interaction Design MA:
http://www.interaction.rca.ac.uk/
...but I doubt it's particularly vocational.

Martyn

----------------------
Martyn Jones BSc
Interaction Designer
Kode Digital Ltd.
----------------------

3 Nov 2004 - 2:20am
Jonas Löwgren
2003

The school where I work (Arts and communication, Malmö University,
Sweden) offers a two-year Master's program, studio-based, intended to
prepare for PhD studies as well as professional practice (depending on
the student's orientation in degree project etc.)

Requires a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject (such as
architecture, art, cognitive science, computer science, graphic design,
informatics, media studies, product design, etc.)
Admission by portfolio and interview.

Whether we manage to balance academic research and design is for other
to decide, I suppose, but the master's program started in 1998 and our
alumni have performed well so far in industry as well as in PhD
studies. (It may be noted that the PhD program we offer in interaction
design is design-based, which seems to suit the master's program alumni
rather well.)

Below is a curriculum outline. More info: Jörn Messeter
(jorn.messeter at k3.mah.se).

Regards,
Jonas Löwgren

MASTER'S DEGREE BY BREADTH IN INTERACTION DESIGN (2 YRS)

--------
year 1: Scope of the field

Studio course on Themes in interaction design (runs for the whole
academic year, themes vary from year to year, this year the themes are:
Wearable computing, Mass media and interactive media, Games and play,
Palpable computing).
Tools for interaction design (design methods, shaping and expression
techniques, presentation techniques, project methodology).
Use qualities (different perspectives on how to assess use qualities of
digital artefacts, and corresponding methods).
X Workshops.
--------
year 2: Specialization

Degree project (runs for whole academic year).
Design as knowledge creation (design-theoretical course).
Criticism (design-theoretical course).
Collaborative production.
--------

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