A compilation of thoughts on the trade-off between usability, learning and creatvity

by nketas

usabilty vs learning

I often read comments across various usability and interaction design mail lists discussing the pro’s and con’s of user testing.One argument that seems to come up again and again is the impact of user testing on the creative process. Experienced designers and user experience professionals frequently debate whether user testing actually stifles the design process and hinders true creativity in design.Take navigation for example… Usable site navigation is considered so important that there is an industry of roles dedicated to it throughout the development of a site: Interaction designers, information architects, usability specialists, accessibility experts, or Product manager or Ninjas.. .but wait, back to my point about user testing verses straight up design.is it possible to produce creative, functional and usable designs that haven’t involved some type of ‘user intervention’?
I think so. But I do think it depends on the skill of the designer, the user and the type of site. The only. Creativity as discussed in class based on <insert the name of the paper we read in class that I forgot> involves both innovation and understanding of the process which directly relates to expertise and circumstance.
Mike Eisenberg’s work on SchemePaint. Eisenberg wanted the artist to be able to interleave programming and direct manipulation. In SchemePaint, you could draw something by hand, then store the result in a variable to manipulate in a loop. Or you could write some code to tesselate some graphical object, then add tweaks by hand. It was beautiful. The work that Mike did on SchemePaint led to his wonderful work on HyperGami, a CAD system for origami, which was the start of his Craft Technology group. That’s the group from which Leah who did the LilyPad
Bret’s video which I have have talked about in lengths in class is a a simlar system asking, “Wouldn’t this be great for learners?” I bet it could be, but we’d have to try it out. Thats what we are doing with our class project. We will let you know soon. At one point in his lecture, Bret says, “Why should I have to simulate the computer in my head?” Because that’s the point of understanding computer science. Bret’s system could evolve into a powerful visualization system, and visualization can be used to lead to real understanding, but it isn’t easy to design the visualization and context such that learning occurs.
The problem is that visualization is about making information immediate and accessible, but learning is about changes in the mind — invisible associations and structures. Sometimes good usability makes it easier to make these associations and structures. Tools like Scratch and Alice increase usability in one direction (e.g., syntax) while still asking students to make an effort toward understanding (e.g., variables, loops, and conditionals).
A pilot study where students would lay out a system according to certain characteristics.where they would then manipulate the system to achieve some goal, like a given flow rate at a particular point in the system. When Noel asked the pilot students if they gained any new insights about the equations, one student actually said, “What equations?” They literally didn’t see the equations, just the particular value they were focusing on. The system was highly usable for modeling, but not for learning.A new system, where students could lay out a model, and values from the model were immediately available in an equation space. To get the flow rate, the student would have to lay out the equations for themselves. They would still solve the problem by manipulating the physical representation in order to get the right flow rate, and the system would still do all the calculations — but the students would have to figure out how to compute the flow rate. The system became much harder to use. But now, students actually did learn, and better than students in a comparison group.
Bret’s system is insightful and may have some terrific ideas for helping learning. I’m not convinced that they’re new ideas yet, but an old idea in a new setting (e.g., JavaScript) can be powerful. I worry that we get too entranced by improvements in usability. In the end, learning is in the student, not in the system.


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