Posts Tagged ‘opencollection’

OpenCollection Workshop 2

May 14, 2008

Traveling to NYC

I flew Porter! I LOVE Porter! it was the best flying experience I’ve had! from downtown pick-up to free internet and snacks in the lounge.. and iMacs in the lounge! I also liked the little in-flight lunch in an environmentally friendly paper box.

Participatory design

I don’t normally have access to users in the museum domain (who does?), whereas I do have relatively easy access to students. This second workshop was a unique opportunity for me to hang out with 40-50 museum professionals and talk about their experience as users; i didn’t want to let it go to waste.

Since the topic is on user experience and interface anyway, I thought why not do a miniature user research with them, provide instructions and tools to express themselves, and feed the information we get into design and development. Isn’t that the whole idea of participatory design?

Lucky for us, the users were mature with lots of sophisticated opinions and were very willing to share them. The hard part was coming up with the right questions to ask them. I think between my blind preparations, Jutta’s filtering and impromptu facilitation, and Colin’s tips and support, we were able to pull together a successful workshop – not to forget the hard work of the rest of OpenCollection team.

Jutta has mad winging skills. wow… it was inspirational!

What we did

It’s costly to gather together this many users, but that work has already been done for us, and our job was to make the most of the opportunity.

So we were with a roomful of museum folks who are currently using some form of Collections Management System. They had different roles and responsibilities within their organizations that ranged from a curator, collections manager, registrar, director, to “Joe the tech guy”. I’ll just share my personal account here and not bore you with the details of the preparation, presentation, and results gathered (those will go on the wiki).

  1. Prior to the workshop, we handed out questionnaire to gather some information on their background and previous experiences with technology in general and CMS specifically.
  2. First thing in the workshop, we went over the results of the survey so everyone gets some sense of who’s in the room.
  3. Then we handed out screenshots from OpenCollection to bring in their perspectives on the current interface (not to criticize it!). This was carried out in a break-out session, where everyone was randomly assigned to one of 8 round tables. It was interesting how most of these tables pointed out a lot of the same things as problematic areas much like what happens in user testing! After a couple of tables, people just presented the new things the previous groups didn’t mention.
  4. After this, we took the spotlight away from OpenCollection and discussed general issues related to Browse and Search. The users had all kinds of crazy cool ideas that a designer or a group of designers alone would never have come up with! And, since they understood the subject matter so well and have experiences with other software, they were able to think of a variety of use cases and edge cases we’d never get to.
  5. On the second day, we did a persona exercise. This was the most fun of all the things we did, for me and for a lot of other participants. Jutta framed it very nicely; she said something along the lines of “after this workshop, we are going to go away and hammer out the application, but since we can’t take all of you with us, we want you to create a surrogate of yourselves so we can refer to it later.” Beautiful. Then I gave a quick intro on what persona is, how it’s used, and presented them with an example persona. We had loosely grouped them into similar roles, and each group seemed to come up with a fictional representative of themselves with ease.
  6. After that was mostly Services Oriented Architecture discussions. I knew it would be impossible for me to stay awake through it, so I scheduled a few user testing sessions. 🙂 um and also because it’s not every day that I get to sit down with museum people to do user testing. I prepared 5 simple tasks. Initially I thought nobody would finish all the tasks successfully, because I couldn’t see myself completing them. Surprisingly, all users were able to complete the tasks with varying degrees of success.

What I learned (note to self)

Allowing and empowering users to do user research on themselves seem to be very effective. The participants came up with 8 awesome personas in 45 minutes without breaking a sweat! These personas were realistic and detailed, and captured information users feel are important including information the experts may miss or overlook. I’m sure it’s very expensive to bring users together in one place at one time to do these exercises, but I wonder if it’s any more cost-effective than a team of designers spending months on user research.

For group discussions, you need to provide clear instructions (obvs!) and a small number of simple questions. Not because they’re dumb :), but because it’s a big group of people and a vague question can be interpreted in many different ways. Also, people tend to have a lot to say, and discussions tend to run longer than you expect, so it’s better to ask a few simple things rather than many.

Also when organizing something like this, you need to be flexible and creative about last minute tweaks. A lot of things will happen, some things will go better than you expect, something will not go at all. =)