Abstracts from Projects - ISU570 Human Computer Interaction

Professor Futrelle, CCIS, Northeastern University - Fall 2008

Started December 29, 2007 - version of September 1, 2008


This page has been prepared to show students, past, present, and future, what types of projects have been done in my HCI classes. This page has been started, 12/07, by collecting all the abstracts from the projects in my Fall 2007 ISU570 class. Some of the "abstracts" below are longer than they really should be, because some students had them blending into an introduction, rather than being neatly set off, short, and to the point.

My plan is to add projects from the Fall 2008 class to this list, once the projects are finished. So be sure to include a proper abstract at the beginning of your project report.

Digital Camera Usability

Digital cameras can be very difficult to use. Picking up a new camera and using the different functions is not an easy task. This paper looks at the different factors that lead to poor usability in the Kodak easy share camera V705. This device was analyzed by surveys, and observation. It was found that all age groups, experience levels, and comfort levels, had problems using the camera. The only real difference fond in abilities was in different age groups. Younger people were found to have an easier time finding different functions then older people were. The result of this analysis is a suggested redesign of the camera’s interface. There are several menus and buttons that need to be changed or removed.

Usability in Digital Drawing and Editing Applications

This paper examines some of the free graphics editing software that is readily available to users worldwide via the internet. The main comparison point of the paper is the program Microsoft Paint, which comes packaged with every copy of any Microsoft Windows operating system since Windows 1.0. I compare two popular free graphics editing programs (GIMP and Paint.NET) with MS Paint and study the differences in how they meet common usability goals (Rogers, Sharp & Preece, 2007).

This is a compelling topic of study, especially because users generally have very strong opinions about graphic editing programs, and it is easy to get them to share their feelings. In my previous study, Microsoft Paint (Anderson, 2007), users surveyed about their experience with MS Paint responded with answers like “very uncomfortable” or “very easy”, and few selected neutral responses. Most people know about programs like Paint and Adobe Photoshop to some degree, but there is such a vast amount of other, lesser-known, programs easily found on the internet that finding a couple to examine more closely doesn’t pose any problems whatsoever.

I found that while in the end MS Paint trumps both GIMP and Paint.NET in terms of usability, learnability, and memorability, all three programs are intuitive, easy-to-use applications that even inexperienced computer users can pick up quickly and use with relative efficiency. MS Paint is the easiest for users to learn and use, but on the other hand it is also the program with the least utility. GIMP was rather difficult for new users to learn, and had concepts that were impossible to grasp for inexperienced computer users. Paint.NET struck a good balance between MS Paint and GIMP, providing almost as much utility as GIMP while still maintaining the ease of use and intuitiveness that MS paint has.

Usability of Start Pages on the Web

A Start Page serves as a launching point for a user on the web, differing themselves from web portals and homepages in that they offer great user-customizability, and implement a very modular web. A Start Page refers to a specific type of homepage – one which typically allows a user to aggregate different content in a personalized manner. These pages essentially pull information that users are interested in from data feeds across the web and put them into modules, while also allowing for widgets to be placed in similar modules, which may or may not pull information from other locations. NetVibes (http://www.NetVibes.com), PageFlakes (http://www.pageflakes.com), Protopage (http://www.protopage.com), iGoogle (http://www.google.com/ig), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com), and My Yahoo! (http://my.yahoo.com) are all currently popular Start Pages. This paper analyzes both the merits and shortcomings of current start pages, and introduces suggestions on how start pages can improve in the future.

Retail Website Quality

In this project I researched several existing articles that relate to Internet retail shopping and the aspects of website interfaces that promote positive user experiences to help companies sustain success. In the first phase of this project, I reviewed Albuquerque and Belchior's “E-Commerce Websites: A Qualitative Evaluation” and determined which factors in e-commerce sites were valued most by users. With the findings from that and other articles, I designed an Internet survey that left room for user feedback in the possible case that their concerns were not addressed by the questions and ratings in the survey. Users were asked to visit three clothing retail websites and perform a predetermined set of tasks before completing and submitting their survey. The data gathered from these surveys was analyzed and displayed in relevant visualizations. Finally, I used all of the wisdom accumulated from the various phases of this project to create a mock-up of the ideal Internet t-shirt retail website. I analyzed and justified the various components of this mock website in the final section. The goal of this study was to determine both the common problems and most successful features of Internet retail websites and attempt to create a detailed and well-explained model for others that may hope to enter the market to follow.

Windows Vista: The Latest and Greatest Operating System?

Microsoft, one of the leaders in Operating System development, has recently released Windows Vista. While it has been available for some time now, many people have been reluctant to upgrade to or purchase the new system. There are many criticisms of Vista, including strict security features such as User Access Control and Digital Rights Management. There are also some new features, such as Windows Sidebar, Windows Aero, and Windows Flip 3D, which are generally accepted by test subjects positively. These features, however, were borrowed from the competing company Apple’s Operating System Mac OS X. An experiment was run which allowed test subjects of different backgrounds to use Windows Vista and report back their thoughts. The general consensus was the same: the Operating System had no new or improved features which warranted giving up the time or money to upgrade to Vista, and there were even several features which drove users away from the idea. If some of these criticisms are addressed, Windows Vista could possibly become more popular and more widely accepted. However, until that is done, many people do not see the benefits of upgrading to an unfamiliar Operating System.

Evaluating the History of Home Videogame Controllers

Videogames are one of the most popular forms of entertainment in current American culture, and they have been constantly evolving during their 35+ year history. Most everything involving videogames has changed since their inception in one way or another, but one of the key points of change comes in the form videogame controllers, which are the main means of users interacting with what they see on the screen. When videogames were new, novel, and futuristic, many people of varying backgrounds and ages would play them in order to experience something entirely new. As time went on and videogames found their niche in pop culture, many of the people who formerly played videogames moved on, and stopped playing all together. This eventually left a group comprised mostly of children, who were the primary videogame enthusiasts for most of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. As these children grew up, the videogame industry grew with it. The videogame industry eventually had to change their focus in order to cater to older, more advanced gamers. Controllers changed to meet the needs of the perceived demographic, becoming more complex in order to handle the more complicated videogames that were being developed. This further excluded the people who formerly played videogames during the early days of the industry, limiting the videogame audience to a small portion of the populous. In recent years, a movement has occurred in the videogame industry to try and win back this forgotten audience, and to recruit the people who have never played videogames to begin with. The complicated controllers that currently inhabit the market place have proven to be too inhibitive for these new users to try, and many find them too confusing to learn. An experiment was performed in which users interacted with videogame controllers from various points in videogame history, and it was shown that as time went on, controllers became increasingly complicated and more difficult to learn how to use. A new focus on usability is fueling a change that has just begun in the industry, and the need for new videogame controllers are being touted as a driving force in working toward this ambitious goal.

How do you prefer to chat?
A study in HCI of Instant messaging clients

Instant Messaging has become a central part in almost every person’s life. Whether it is using America Online’s instant messaging chat technology, or the Jabber protocol, to email, people want to be able to communicate instantly. This will be a study on how people react to different clients of America Online Instant Messenger (AIM) on the Macintosh OS X Operating System. It was found that the most popular of the clients, named Adium, was liked by different people for different reasons. The more technical and older people, who are experienced with using Instant Messaging systems, liked the client for its minimalism in size of window, where the younger participants liked the client for more aesthetic reasons. The much older crowd, who weren’t very familiar with Instant messaging or its concept, liked how intuitive the simple things were.

The History of Video Game Controllers

Since the 1970s, video games have been a popular entertainment commodity. From the successful arcade titles Pong and Pac-Man to home consoles like the Sega Genesis and even handheld units such as the Nintendo Game Boy, the industry has been comprised of many technologies and products over the years. Today, these products consist of systems mostly within what is known as the “next-generation”. This paper will inspect and research how aspects of interaction design apply to these current devices, including how physical elements play a role in the user experience, why operating systems are such an integral part of these devices today, and what kinds of usability changes can be made to attract a larger audience to the market among other things.

To begin this investigation, however, the targets that will be examined must be introduced. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was first released in the United States on November 22, 2005 and is the successor to the Xbox system. Sony’s Playstation 3 (PS3) was first released in Japan on November 11, 2006 and is the successor to the Playstation 2 (PS2) system. Finally, the Nintendo’s Wii was first released in the United States on November 19, 2006 and is the successor to the Gamecube system. While both the Nintendo DS and the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) are technically considered part of the same generation as the mentioned systems, they will not be considered as both are handheld units and do not reasonably compare to the home consoles.

Word Processing: Desktop vs. Web

Different word processor applications, both desktop and web based, are discussed and compared. These include Word 2007 (Office Online), Open Office (Open Office), and Google Docs (Google Docs) and Zoho Writer (Zoho Writer). These tools are assessed for their ability to achieve certain tasks, from adjusting margins to collaborating on documents. Limitations between different applications are also discussed and analyzed. A questionnaire, a well established technique for collecting demographic data and users’ opinions (Helen Sharp 308) was administered which instructed users to complete certain tasks and identify obstacles encountered in their completion. These tasks assessed the platforms in regards to their usability, feature set, and ability to facilitate collaboration between individuals. It was discovered that Microsoft Word 2007 possessed the most usability most likely due to the familiarity of all test subjects with the platform. Users encountered the most usability problems with Google Docs due to its lack of implementation of common metaphors associated with word processing. Google Docs was found to facilitate collaboration primarily to its deep integration with other Google products such as Gmail. Zoho Writer was found to be the best implementation overall of a web processor on the web. Not only did it facilitate collaboration, it also included many features required in robust document creation tool. These included the ability to set margins, preview the document as it would look on a page and manage citations.

Google Docs, while not emulating many desktop based features, does have many advantages which have made it the most used word processor online. Its integration with Gmail, facilitating the opening of attachments as well as the fact that people are more likely to possess a Google Account and not a Zoho Account make it a clear winner. Following the assessment of the platforms suggestions were presented to improve the specific programs. The desktop based processors would greatly benefit from the implementation of collaborative tools while the web processors would benefit the most by implementing features found in their desktop counterparts. Google Docs would benefit the most from a usability redesign aimed at reducing the learning curve associated with it. Some of the changes would include using common metaphors, which explain unfamiliar functions using familiar terms (Helen Sharp 51), to designate tools such as font face changing.

The 7th Generation Console Input Revolution

[no proper abstract was provided - this is the first paragraph of the report]
The console war speaks for more than just the gaming industry. It shows a growing trend in the field of computer interface mechanisms that is likely to effect the state of nearly all technology. The console war started with speculation that the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 would be competing for the market with the impressive graphics of their next gen games. The Nintendo Wii was thought of as simply a gimmick that only give a sales boost for the first few months. But as statistics have shown, this is not the case.

Analysis of myNEU

myNEU is an online portal for Northeastern University students and faculties. It provides access to many of the university’s services such as email and class registration. This report takes a three step approach in analyzing the online portal. A walkthrough into checking and writing an email will expose many of its flaws and perfections. These include the requirement of using multiple windows and the ease of navigating links, respectively. Next, more characteristics of myNEU is revealed with a comparison to two major online portals: iGoogle and My Yahoo! In comparing and contrasted with these two portals, we see similarities in their designs, such as using complex colors and personalization options, which can be integrated in to myNEU. Finally, a questionnaire was given to users about their experiences with myNEU. Many reported to like the features in myNEU but abhor the instability of the system. These points, gathered from various point of views, can be used as a guideline to further improve the myNEU online portal.

Feature Sets in Mail Applications
What is too much?

By studying three mainstream mail client programs I was able to determine how average users are taking to the feature sets today’s applications have to offer. After looking at Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Apple Mail, I was able to develop my own opinions and compare them with the opinions of other users I observed and questioned. Giving each of these applications to a small group of subjects I observed their interactions with the programs and recorded their successes and difficulties and allowed them to report to me what they liked and disliked. Through their responses I concluded three major items needed to be addressed with these programs: (1) there were either too many or too little features; (2) the layouts were either too plain, or too crowded; and (3) the help hints and mouse over descriptions did not contain everything needed to be fully helpful to the user in the way they were searching for. By conferring with the users who tested each of the programs out, I was able to develop a small set of changes to allow the user to define their own feature set that is neither too much, nor too little. These small changes together helped shape what could be a drastic change for mail programs and reshape the future of how mail applications and other like applications could be used.

Guidelines for Usability in Tagging Systems

This paper will focus on the usability of tagging systems. Tagging systems are tools which are used to attach meta data to entities within a collection of data. Through examining current tagging systems and determining shortcomings, I have developed a set of guidelines which allow for a more usable tagging system.

Toward an Ontology of Diagrams:
An In-Depth Examination of Three Types

Summary. For many types of data, diagrams can provide the means to understand trends and correlations far more easily than sentential representation. A formal analysis of the visual elements that comprise multiple types of diagram reveals that, despite their apparent differences, the components that comprise them, and thereby the information that they convey and the manner in which they are parsed, can be conveyed in a relatively simple taxonomy.

The Future Of Television

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the changing television model. It will explain the current and future role of television networks, as well as the current and future technologies of televisions. It will also discuss how the television will merge with the PC, possibly becoming one product. These changes are motivated by the recent success of “On-Demand” and digital video recording services. Later in the paper, I will discuss my “prototype” setup in my parent's home, using them as test- subjects for the TV-PC.

Slaves to our Own Creation:
An Evolutionary Analysis of the Remote Control Technology.

Nobody can escape the grip of this incredible concept. It is a constantly advancing world of wonder and mystery, an enabling resource that allows people to constantly do more than they ever thought possible. A subsection of technology, namely consumer electronics, make up a large portion of why technology progresses as it does. Entertainment is an incredible industry that will always have its place. As a result, however, consumers are inundated with many products, and even more functions for what these products can do. But what good is a product if you just -have- it? You need to be able to -use- it. Enter the remote control.

Almost every product will have some way to achieve at least basic functionality manually. That is, the object itself will offer some affordance on the system itself, but what makes the most sense would be to use the remote controlling device, with its multi-faceted approach to interaction. Rather, what should make the most sense. Unfortunately, the world of the remote control is a double-edged one. While it allows you to access many functions with fewer button presses, the remote control is drifting further and further away from a tool that facilitates interaction and more towards a device that inhibits the user.

Swipe or Not to Swipe

Shopping never seemed so high tech until the credit card machines entered the scene. All customers have to do is swipe their magic wand, depicted in Illustration 1, and off they go, or at least that is the idea behind the credit card machine, allowing consumers control, flexibility, and speed. Shoppers have a love hate relationship with the little machine that they use to spend their hard earned savings on every day items. It not only eats up your money, figuratively of course, but often it has been know to eat a user precious time and energy. An analysis of present day credit card machines is presented in the following paper. The goal of the analysis is to evaluate the present day monetary card reader machines based on personal testimonials as well as previous research. Creating a picture of the user experience will allow the reader to understand the different perspectives of the every day consumer, which include the hardships as well as successes. Those who were interviewed provided detailed testimonials of times where they have found themselves in a battle with the machines, yet the same individuals were still compelled to use the the machines in one way or the other. The necessity of use wins over the hardships that users later complain about. In order to provide beneficial background information on various models of the credit card swipe machines in circulation and their various features some research is included in the analysis. Since technology is never stagnant and always changing there are new devices that are being developed to replace the present day machines and so its important to recognize their emerging dominance in everyday use. Commercials today show individuals literally waving their cards in front of machines avoiding all contact with the machine itself. The new emergence of security technology also allows the machines to have various different verification techniques to ensure the credit card user is also the owner of that credit card. Merging the needs of the user and the available resources can present a new device that can overcome the hardships that the user comes across in their day to day use. The paper includes a design idea for a machine that encompasses the the best features of the existing artifact while improving upon the ones that my need tweaking, which leads to the introduction of a better version.

Creative Usability in Tabulature Editors

Tablature editors are critical for modern musicians who play a guitar or bass. These editors allow musicians of all skill levels to share music they have created in a form which is easily accessible and readable. Tablature in its standard form can be viewed comfortably in any web browser or text editor (including those which come to natively on all popular operating systems). Each string on the instrument is represented by a horizontal line. Notes are marked by numbers representing the fret they are to be played on (0 meaning "open" or no fret). Notes are read from left to right. The little training required to understand tablature makes it an ideal choice when sharing songs with musicians of varying skill level. Despite the critical role these editors play in the creation and sharing of music, most software currently available does not take into account the creative processes which must be used in conjunction with the application. By not properly considering this crucial aspect many designers are releasing software that allows the user to complete their task, but not without a great deal of frustration. These programs do not provide affordances to ease the creative process. In order to isolate the flaws (and successes) of these applications two short surveys were conducted to study the most popular editors available today, Power Tab Editor and Tabledit. In both cases users were required to be experienced musicians, but also to have little or no experience with tabulature editors. The results indicated that participants found the software to be useful, but had difficulty learning how to take advantage of the application's complete functionality. Further analysis of the participants' responses highlight the components which are most frustrating for novice users including a lack of interface simplicity and unintuitive controls. Methods for resolving this failure by embracing the positive design aspects of both applications and of creative applications in general are developed.

The Interfaces of Media Players
A study in human-computer interaction

As a longtime member of underground music forums, one thing I have found over time is an almost fanatical devotion to a certain media player. Users of iTunes, Winamp, and Foobar2k (or just Foobar for purposes of brevity) all have many compelling arguments for why their player is the best. It is the purpose of this project to analyze the user interfaces of these three media players, looking at the two key elements: media library management and theming or skinability. My findings were that many more users used iTunes than Winamp or Foobar, in fact, about twice as many as Winamp and Foobar combined. Most users of iTunes were averagely satisfied, or dissatisfied, where most Winamp and Foobar users were very pleased with their media players. The reasons for the experimental users’ feelings about their player’s UI will hopefully be explained by this project.

Ticket Tracking Software, TestTrackPro

This report will focus on a tool for ticket tracking called TestTrackPro. Such tool has become an integral part of a business' workflow and successful operation. Delegating tasks, tracking the status, approving or failing a job are tasks that have become possible to do over the internet without a first-person communication. In order to successfully manage jobs in a ticket tracking system, the tool needs to be designed to it is easy to use and user-friendly. This report discusses four types of studies that show specific design and site architecture problems TestTrackPro has. A proposal shows how to fix the problematic areas by redesigning navigation tools and color schemes as well as functional areas.

MythTV: Is It Worth All the Trouble?

In the following paper I will be conducting a usability study on MythTV. MythTV is, in the words of it's lead developer, “the mythical convergence box that's been talked about for a few years now”[5] where the term 'convergence' refers to the encapsulation on one or more PCs, of an extensible framework which supports a PVR/DVR, web browser, mail reader, video game emulator, DVD player, CD player, mp3 library, and so on.

The goal of the study will be to determine if MythTV succeeds or does not succeed in making the life of the average end user easier and more enjoyable by adding to and combining a host of entertainment system functionality into one integrated, sleek, system. The true 'end user' is probably a markedly different person than the person who built the system. Building the system demands proficiency in operating and building computers; use of an entertainment system should not require any of that. The individual that builds the system has intimate knowledge of its construction and accordingly has a good of deal of for­knowledge about what can and can't be done and probably how to do it. The average user does not have that same experience, yet ought to be able to achieve proficiency in using the system rapidly.

In practice that hypothesis holds only partially. The average user is able to successfully accomplish a variety of rudimentary tasks with relative ease, as should be the case. The advanced user is able to perform more complex tasks with not much more trouble. The average user, however is either unable to achieve proficiency in or simply unwitting of the more interesting affordances of the system. It is debatable whether or not this is truly a negative.

Analysis and Examination of Video Game Controllers

The growing popularity of home video game consoles has led to an explosion of designs and interfaces in the gaming world. This paper presents reviews and analyses of a variety of the video game controller designs that have surfaced in the past thirty years. A series of controlled experiments was performed to test the functionality and performance of these designs. Ultimately, a brand new design for a controller will be presented, based upon the research and conclusions made.

Access Virus TI Desktop Synthesizer

This study takes users from different backgrounds with different goals and compares their reactions to the Access Virus music synthesizer. They were all given the opportunity to use the device as they saw fit within their workflow and were then asked what they liked about their experience and what they did not like. Interestingly, while they each used the device very differently, their reactions were rather similar. Using their opinions and my own I propose ways of improving this device to solve some of the more commonly expressed problems. The two categories I address in my redesign, due to the high level of complaints in these areas, are organization and hardware. The software itself is organized well. However, the browser screen could use some additional touches to make it more user-friendly. The hardware, while its layout may be effective, is made of cheap plastic parts that, while they do not affect the use of the instrument, do affect its perceived quality. Also, the issue that the knobs are not synchronized to the software is also addressed in my redesign. In my conclusion, I give my final thoughts about the device, this project, and what I learned from it. The greatest lesson I took away from this experience is how to remain objective and train my perspective to see all of the different angles and sides clearly without bias or expectation. It was a difficult lesson to learn, but a beneficial one.

Social News Project

The need for a solid understanding of social news websites comes from their increased popularity and global effect in the media. I take on the task of investigating the basic structure and inner workings of these systems, the context in which these sites are thriving, and analyzing possible improvements of these systems. In order to gain a broad understanding, I surveyed six people with a semi-structured web questionnaire to understand how they use these sites and what they like and dislike about them, focusing on the two most popular social news sites as of December 2007, Reddit.com and Digg.com. Throughout my analysis and study I found that these social news websites are very useful and interesting for many users, but they could use improvements utilizing basic Human Computer Interaction concepts.

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