University campuses are some of the most confusing places to visit. There seems no sense of order with buildings set up higgledy-piggledy fashion. Finding you way takes more than a campus map. Given that most campuses have buildings added as the years go by, creating a good wayfinding system is always going to be a problem. However, learning from users is a good start.
Wayfinding around an Oslo university is the subject of an interesting study. There were four main parts to the user-centred design: understanding, envisionment, design, and evaluation. Interviewing users and scenario testing helped with understanding. Envisioning entailed testing different media to find the most suitable ways to communicate information. The design phase translated the information into prototypes. The evaluation phase used two types of user testing.
Abstract: OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University receives thousands of students and visitors annually. Its main campus consists of many buildings in which students, staff and visitors navigate. Unfortunately, navigating around the campus can be challenging, as the existing wayfinding system is complex and not straightforward. This paper presents a problem-based approach to address the wayfinding challenges around the campus. A group of European Project Semester students followed a user-centred design approach to involve participants throughout the four main phases of the study—understanding, envisionment, design and evaluation. Interviews and scenario-based user testing were conducted to identify the underlying problems. The findings indicated that the numbering system for rooms was inconsistent, and the signage was not clear, visible and coherent for all the buildings on the campus. Using graphic design principles and wayfinding guidelines, a new consistent room numbering, a signage system and a mobile navigation app were proposed, developed and evaluated. The results showed that the new wayfinding system was clear and easy to understand, and it can be applied in all buildings. We observed a shorter time spent navigating to a specific room, and no mistakes was made. The app was found to be a useful and helpful tool for wayfinding. As a result of this study, the authors highlight the importance of involving users throughout the entire research process, which is our most significant learning experience as a group.
The campus map in the top picture is the Parramatta South campus of Western Sydney University. It has several heritage buildings going back to the time of early settlement. Many new buildings continue to be added.
Standard terms allow us to communicate effectively with each other. For researchers it makes it easier to follow a strand of research. With so many ways of talking about universal designit’s little wonder researchers are trying to find a way around this. However, it will always be a blurry field of investigation because the genie is already out of the bottle. It’s too late to change things now.
User perspectives and user involvement is part of the process of designing universally. A research paper on user perspectives bemoans the terminology problems and attempts to seek some clarity. The authors argue user participation is not a method because there is no rule-based procedure to follow. Research logic is not consistent across studies. So they claim there is no way to validate the design decisions. They conclude that as there is no concise definition, and it’s unlikely to happen, it will be down to an agreed understanding.
In a nutshell, there is no one method or process for user involvement in design. Attempts to devise one and give it a name will be unproductive. Rather, let the status quo remain and agree to an understanding between designers and design academics. Universal design does not offer the comfort of a step by step approach – it requires skill and creativity. That leaves it open for more than one way to achieve design outcomes.
The paper is somewhat technical and discusses the issues of multidisciplinary terms and multi-level inter-dependencies, and of course, terminology. The title of the paper is, Methodological foundations of user involvement research: A contribution to user-centred design theory. It was published in the Proceedings of the Design Society 2020 Conference.
Abstract: The concept of involving user perspectives into product development processes has its roots in the early 1960s. Although this seems to be following a quite long tradition, as a design research field, it did not improve substantially and, so far, no consistent perception or even definition of the concept can be found. The paper points out where design research on user involvement still lacks methodological and theoretical foundation and makes the attempt of providing impulses for systemizing the existing body of knowledge within the Design Society as a research community.
Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Councilran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.
“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”
They found the most important thing was that people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average.
The articleis titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the Medium.com website where there is more information.
The concepts of universal design are expanding to encompass marginalised and disenfranchised groups in our community. In the article A 10-step guide to queer UX, there is a nice quote “There’s nothing revolutionary about technology if it is only for a limited number of people.” Making products and places more accessible for gender non-conforming and trans folk is also making them more welcoming for everyone. Roniece Ricardo writes about her observations and interaction with software as a queer gender non-conforming woman. She makes ten points:
Allow users to change or write in their own gender
Consider not having users specify gender
Allow users the choice to hide or display identifying information from profiles
Don’t assume anything about gender presentation
Don’t assume your user’s pronouns
Be careful with your marketing materials
Don’t make assumptions about who your users date (or don’t)
If you are making a niche product, receive actual feedback from the people in the niche