Interaction Unit Analysis: A New Interaction Design Framework

Human-Computer Interaction (2011)

Hokyoung Ryu & Andrew Monk


Abstract: A pragmatic approach to interaction modeling is presented by which a designer can describe how the user gets tasks done with a newly developing system. The notation proposed allows an interaction designer to make explicit both how user actions cause visible or noticeable changes in the state of the machine and how the user is expected to use this feedback to generate the next action. Interaction Unit (IU) scenarios are constructed where each IU specifies one step in the cycle of interaction. Each IU specifies the visible system state that leads the user to take some action. In addition, the IU makes explicit the state of the goal stack at the start and end of the unit and the mental processes (recall, recognition, or affordance) required. In this way one can describe the intimate connection between goal, action, and the environment in user–machine interaction. To demonstrate the completeness of IU scenario analysis, IU models are presented for some well-known problems in interaction design: hidden and partially hidden modes leading to unexpected system effects, insufficient cues for subgoal construction, insufficient cues for subgoal elimination, and inappropriate affordances for action. These scenarios are accompanied by procedures that designers
can use to detect similar problems in putative interaction designs. To demonstrate the feasibility of using IU scenario analysis in design, 4 graduate students were taught to use IU scenario analysis in a 3-hr session. They then worked as a group to evaluate a prototype handheld warehouse application. A comparable group was taught and then applied Cognitive Walkthrough. Both groups successfully completed the task and detected several problems rated as being of high severity by the designers of the prototype. Analysis of the problems detected by each group suggests that the two techniques are complimentary. IU scenario analysis may be most cost-effective for devices using new interaction paradigms, whereas Cognitive Walkthrough may be most cost-effective for designs using established interaction paradigms.

This article describes how interaction unit scenarios analysis combines aspects of several existing modeling approaches to provide a pragmatic approach to interaction modeling. By interaction modeling we mean a notation that describes cognitive and environmental features at the lowest level of description. Each IU specifies one step in the cycle of interaction, that is, the visible system state that leads the user to take some action, the state of the goal stack at the start and end of the unit, and the mental processes (recall, recognition or affordance) required. This makes it possible to evaluate fragments of dialogue as they are designed by making explicit the assumptions of the designer about how the users get a task done.
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