Creating a Usable Atlas

Creating a Usable Atlas

Timothy Nyerges (University of Washington, USA), Kathy Belpaeme (Coordination Centre on Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Belgium), Tanya Haddad (Oregon Coastal Management Program, USA) and David Hart (University of Wisconsin, Sea Grant Institute, USA)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-815-9.ch017
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Knowing user audiences for coastal web atlases is important for designing atlas capabilities that address different user skill levels. This chapter presents guidelines about how to better understand coastal web atlas users, how to undertake user-centered design and development, and how to avoid major pitfalls with web interfaces. User groups are formed based upon understanding user characteristics. User-centered design for different user groups can take advantage of a logic model; that is, a series of steps for scoping, designing, implementing and testing the capabilities. The end result of design and implementation should be a usable system, thus software usability is an important goal. Regardless of how well designers know users, web interface pitfalls inevitably arise during the development process, some of which are discussed based on personal experience of the chapter authors.
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Understanding Users

When understanding use of GIS-based CWA applications, whether they are supported by single-user workstation or web-based technologies, it is crucial to take into account the nature of users. Users can be described in terms of characteristics of people as in their abilities, user needs for information, and expectations of users (Nyerges, 1993). Combining some of those characteristics helps us form user groups, whether we consider the whole of the group or individuals. When understanding user groups, some developers might emphasize an “audience” perspective while others might emphasize an individual user perspective. An audience is a user group whereas the user is an individual with certain qualities. One way to bridge the divide between the two perspectives is to articulate “prototypical users,” as we can never fully understand all the details of single users, nor all the characteristics of an aggregated audience. We need to make some simplifying assumptions about who will use a CWA. Toward that end, the subsections that follow emphasize how we characterize user abilities, the information needs of users, and the expectations of users.

User Abilities

Users have different abilities. For example, some people are more technically-skilled than others, and thus can understand complex information displays as part of the user interface of tools, while other users are more challenged to understand such displays. Some users have more experience problem solving within a particular substantive area, while others have less experience with such problems. Such qualities are rather difficult to track, and thus difficult to generalize across, hindering our understanding of users. More general qualities that can give us a better understanding about user abilities include user background and perspective. Our understanding of background and perspective make it easier to develop user group categories.


User Background: A Quality Inherent To A User (Group)

People have certain qualities gained through living their lives based on choices and constraints in social settings.

  • Age – years of personal experience being exposed to various topics

  • Education/experience – formal / informal training

    • Problem solving ability

  • Number of years addressing a problem

    • Technical/computer ability

  • Number of years working with computerized information systems

  • Hours per week spent working with computerized information systems

  • Culture – community context / worldview based on upbringing

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