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.
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! : )
University of Washington
"I'm Matthew J. Eliot and I approved this message."