CS789, Spring 2005

Activity instructions, Week 7


Compare a verbal dialogue to an Ikea instruction sheet.

I have repeatedly stressed in my lectures that output becomes information for a user only when he or she is able successfully to put it into an appropriate context. Much of this context is carried inside the user, so it is essential that the interface designer becomes as conscious as possible of implicit assumptions about the user. In this activity we will consider such assumptions by looking at instructions that must successfully cross linguistic and cultural barriers.

In class I will give you some instructions produced by Ikea showing how to assemble a bunk bed, two beds positioned one on top of the other. Normally instructions like this are mostly textual; these ones are entirely pictorial, or almost so, presumably to allow the same set of instructions to be used regardless of the language of the assembler.

It is very useful to try to see what information is encoded in the pictures, and how it is encoded. An interesting technique for doing so is to translate the instructions into language. Another useful thing to consider is the importance of being able to point at a part and say "this one", which is handled in the pictures by showing a drawing that resembles the part. Consider giving the instructions over a phone to a person who is assembling the beds in a remote location to find hidden assumptions related to pointing at particular objects.

Here are a few questions to think about.

  1. Furniture assembly is usually sequential. How do you know what to do first, and what to do next?
  2. How many times is each step done? How do you know the answer to this?
  3. How do you know which parts to use for which step?
  4. Three dimensional relationships are extremely important in assembling furniture. How are they indicated?
  5. How do you know the scale?
  6. Is learned knowledge being used? If so, where did the people who use the instructions learn it?
  7. What assumptions are made about the user of the instructions?
  8. How important is it to have the parts in front of you in order to understand the instructions?
What do your answers to the above questions tell you about user interfaces?

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