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485Re: Could UI Engineering have lead to Wiki?

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  • Petteri Hiisilä
    Sep 1, 2004

      But I have always been puzzled by the example of Wiki. Suppose you started
      with the goal of producing a tool that allows non-technical users to easily
      update the content of a web site. Suppose you did an extensive user-centered
      design exercise. Would you end up with a specification that's anything like
      Wiki? I suspect not.

      Yet, Wiki IS usable by non-technical users (I have been teaching it to Grade
      4 kids for 2 years and they learn it very quickly). And it can be
      implemented in ten pages of perl code. Ten pages! Think about it!

      What Wiki illustrates is that the XP principle of "Implementing the simplest
      thing that could possibly work" may apply not only to the code and
      architecture, but also to the UI design. 

      Any thoughts on that?
      Yes, Wiki is a great, very goal-oriented piece of invention. Someone must have had a goal-directed mind to come up with something like that. We use it as our documenting tool at the moment, and the documenting speed has at least tripled. Almost everybody use it.

      And yes, goal-directed design excercise brings up solutions like that, and better. User-centered design always doesn't. There's a BIG difference. E-mail wasn't invented by stuying envelope usability, or asking snail-mail users how the envelope should be improved. We need to understand deeper motivations and frustrations to be really really creative.

      I'm not saying that UI engineering or user-centered methodology can't do that. A lot still depends on the designer's personal abilities. A formal design process based on and directed by a deep understanding of human goals and motivations can greatly improve your chances of success.

      Here's a little case study:

      We're now updating our internal communication and development tools. We're going to do our own Wiki-style app, but it's going to include a semi-WYSIWYG text editor. That way we don't have to teach humans to use it at all. They get it just by looking at it. All the headline/bold/italic buttons are sitting where they should.

      We looked into our developer's heads (research, modeling of GDD), and found the following goals: (sorry for possibly clumsy translations)

      John's pictureJohn's goals:

      Be creative. John's a brilliant thinker and a very creative person, but his creativity must not be misused by forcing him understand, what problems the final product is actually trying to solve.

      John wants to think the technical solution in a comfortable environment. Technical design takes it's time, and construction requires non-interrupted flow of mind.

      Personal development. Developing software is a craft, that requires big brain. For John, personal development means growing skills, understanding and respect. Not a growing number of subordinates.

      John represents all our developers. If we satisfy John, our developers have said that they will be happy too.

      From this we distilled out some functional requirements, that enable John's (and other team member's) goals. Those include one-click document editing; less juggling with document versions and more collaborating; finalized human designs; a documenting tool that others know how to use without calling John; non-interrupting collaboration tool; ability to cross-reference between sources of information.

      Now, doesn't that start to sound a bit like Wiki?-)

      At the moment we're writing scenarios form John's point of view. We also have Jari, the customer (who pays the project, he's almost never an end-user) and Mary, the project manager.

      After this we'll design wireframe models that enable everybody's scenarios, functional requirements and finally goals. That kind of backward compatibility is important to keep the focus on original goals.

      At that point we're going to make decisions, whether to start building this on top of Wiki, or perhaps on top of our content management system. It has a WYSIWYG-editor after all.

      All our CMS needs is a presentation layer for creating beautiful PDF prints, handy web access, and maybe some other minor improvements. A web interface might be too clumsy for editing 100-page documents. It's a great presentation (reading) layer though, and will still have an Edit button that opens the text editor, to enable one-click collaboration.

      I have to drop out lots of details because of confidentiality issues, but I hope this gave you a picture how you can come up with something like Wiki in a goal-directed process.

       - Petteri

      Petteri Hiisilä
      Palveluarkkitehti / Interaction Designer /
      Alma Media Interactive Oy / NWS /
      +358505050123 / petteri.hiisila@...

      "I know what I believe. I will continue to believe
      what I believe and what I believe - I believe what
      I believe is right."

      - George W. Bush
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