Page 122

information technologies to the public can be removed or relieved by better design of the functions and interfaces with which most people will deal.

The steering committee assumes that it is often or usually possible to design more widely useful functions and to make them easier to use through design activities specifically aimed at these goals. Proof of the existence of this opportunity is readily available, beginning with popular knowledge of such consumer devices as cars and television sets, which were very complex initially but became, from the user's perspective, less so through sequences of adjustments over time. The Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (Helander, 1988) contains many examples of prohibitively difficult systems made very much easier and more effective by redesign, and many more recent examples are reviewed by Nielsen (1993) and Landauer (1995). Some of these successes are reviewed in more detail below in this chapter. To set the stage, one is mentioned here that involves comparatively simple store-and-forward (as opposed to more complex multimedia, hypermedia, or collaboration support) technology-a case that has particular relevance to much of the expected uses in the every-citizen interface (ECI) environment.

Gould et al. (1987a) designed an electronic message system for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The system was to be used by athletes, coaches, families, and members of the press from all corners of the globe. The original design was done by a very experienced team at IBM's J.T. Watson Research Center. When first tested in mock-up with representatives of its intended user population, it was virtually impossible to operate effectively. By the time an extensive program of iterative user testing and redesign was finished, more than 250 changes in the interface, the system-user dialogue, and the functionality were found to be necessary or advantageous. The final system was widely used without any special training by an extremely diverse population. Another example comes from the digital libraries context and relates to the Cypress on-line database of some 13,000 color images and associated metadata from the Film Library of the California Department of Water Resources (Van House, 1996). Iterative usability testing led to improvements for two groups of users, a group from inside the film library and a more diverse and less expert group of outsiders. Both direct user suggestions and ideas based on observing users' difficulties gave rise to design changes that were implemented incrementally.

A central research challenge lies in better design and evaluation for ordinary use by ordinary users and, more basically, in how to accomplish these goals. The future is not out there to be discovered: it has to be invented and designed. The scientific challenge is to understand much better than we do now (1) why computer use is difficult when it is, (2)

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement