This chapter examines the realm of human-factors design for public information technology in the rapidly evolving postmodern knowledge age of the 21st century, with special focus on how new research and development into human cognition, perception, and performance capabilities is changing the design function for IT systems and products. Many “one size fits all” IT designs are neither adaptive nor adaptable—promulgating a top-down technological imperialism penetrating every aspect of their use. The communication, collaboration, and interaction infrastructure of IT organizations thus remains acutely challenged with enduring problems of usability, learnability, accessibility, and adaptability. As the function and form of products undergo increasingly rigorous scrutiny, one important design goal is emerging as a paramount priority: improving the usability of products, tools, and systems for all stakeholders across the enterprise. It is therefore important to briefly describe emerging human-factor design knowledge and practices applicable to organizations that invent, incubate, innovate, prototype, and drive the creation and application of public IT. The findings here suggest the most effective strategies to manage and augment user-centered design (UCD) endeavors across a wide array of public IT products and organizations.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Human-Factors Engineering: Human factors is an emerging applied design field that entails a synthesis of cross-disciplines from classical ergonomics (i.e., the science of work, system-person interaction, and functional and operational performance needs) and newer research gleaned from the allied fields of cognitive science, human physiological psychology, perception, learning, memory and brain-behavior science, interaction and interactivity design, product design, media design, communication design, and information design.
Computer-Human Interface Design (CHI): Computer-human interface design consists of the effective functional synthesis and operational integration of three overlapping subdesign domains: information design, interaction design, and media design (see collateral definitions in this “Key Terms” section). Each of these three layers must be clearly defined, represented, and manifested in the user interface design solution. These three subdesign realms and components are synthesized holistically by the conceptual usability glue of the principles of universal design. User interface affordances can be evaluated through usability heuristics and the degree to which these principles have been effectively applied and realized in the user experience—providing a coherent, logically consistent, and robust (i.e., intuitive, accessible, easy to learn and use) systems design.
Usage-Centered Design: Usage-centered design focuses primarily on the functional goal-based behavior of users and case-based structuring activities, procedures, processes, operational needs, tools, and corresponding affordances to optimize the effectiveness of the user to efficiently accomplish those work goals and requirements.
Media Design: Media design involves the physical, functional, and operational manifestation of human-factors design. Media design is the tangible, concrete, tactile-audio-visual-sensory-motor experiential front end of the human-technology system. It requires an understanding of the multisensory nature of the user’s experience and applying human learning, memory, messaging, perception, and cognition to produce effective, aesthetic multiple media that provide cognitive, perceptual, and physical affordances to improve human-machine system communications for specific audiences and organizational requirements.
Usability: The degree to which human-technological systems, artifacts, and products are appropriately and efficiently designed for the user (i.e., ease of use) is the indication of that product’s usability. Various heuristics and criteria can provide an objective, empirical basis against which to measure and evaluate the level and degree of design efficiency corresponding to the key construct of usability.
Interactivity Design: Interactivity design means understanding the affordances of the computer-human interrelationship from the user’s perceptual and cognitive experience; and identifying and specifying the dynamic time-space transactions between the user, information, and media elements, creating a graphical user-environment interface to navigate within that is intuitive, comprehensible, robust, and engaging. The core artifact of interactivity design is the user interface. Principal ingredients of the interface design are signage, cueing, mnemonics, style and layout conventions, and the ambient conceptual metaphor.
User-Centered or User-Experience Design (UCD or UXD): User-centered design focuses on constructing a user experience and environment with physical and virtual affordances that are manipulable, controllable, customizable, and adaptable from the essential perspective of the conceptual model of the user. This means both (a) the user’s own internal metamodel of their own goal-directed processes, activities, and contextual (i.e., sociopsychological and physical) environment, and (b) the designer’s representational model of the user-activity-environmental experience, with the former driving and superceding the latter in the design solution. Thus, the conceptual model of the user becomes the superordinate principle guiding the design process.
Information Design: Information design means understanding and clearly mapping the full scope, sequence, concepts, principles, examples, and underlying inheritance structure of the declarative and procedural facets of the content domain (i.e., the infosphere). Information design is essentially concerned with understanding the purpose, organization, context, and interrelationships within a knowledge domain—the envisioning of information to be communicated.