Please find my personal evaluation & reflection here: http://cklaveryatuni.wordpress.com/tag/04_usability-group-project/

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This is a quick SWOT analysis of our group. These are just my observations and reflective comments, but I think it highlights how well we have done over the past few months. Also it highlights some weaknesses which as a group we can reflect on so to improve, which I think is important as well.

STRENGTHS:

1. Good Communication within group – email, skype and meetings.
2. Good use of web based tools to help with working process – Wiki, Blog, email etc
3. Helpful, responsible manner of group make up.
4. Good planning meetings with agreed tasks and actions which helped.
5. We all took command at certain stages, but also stepped back when needed – good collaborative/democratic way of working.
6. Good recognition of our strengths and weaknesses and giving ourselfs achievable roles and tasks. Utilising skills.
7. We kept to task and developed the Music Game idea well.
8. Well organised and as a team we pushed the development well.

WEAKNESSES:

1. We maybe should of had a Team Leader/Art Director role so to oversee everything.
2. We did go in our own individual directions a little too much, therefore wasting some time.
3. We could have written down a set/agreed plan of action or design process from the start with deadline dates etc. However it was near impossible to do this in this project due to the realistic threats below. We did it in our own way.

OPPORTUNITIES:

1. Different skills of team members.
2. Bath Spa University Resources/support.
3. Supportive personalities of the team members.

THREATS:

1. This being a 50% project rather than a 100% project – lack of clarity with time frame/structure etc and only having Gordon for the first part.
2. All the team members work full time, have lots of committments, have free time to work on project at different times. Real group working logistical problems. Two members working remotely part of the time. Missed time through Health issues etc. Bearing this in mind I think we have done very well as a group.

Reflective Evaluation on the use of theory used to develop the Game’s Interface and to improve usability.

I’ve used guidelines developed by Jacob Nielsen related to web based design work, usability and also games. Such as ‘Usability of Web Sites for Children‘ by ‘Nielsen, Norman’ Group. Which provided useful tips for working with the age group 5-8 year olds, such as using animations, adding simple, fun animations so to hold the user’s attention etc. Which we acted on in terms of the game design and structure developing the animation as a reward. This as worked well. Using animation in games online is important. The Musical Garden could be developed as an online game so this I found useful along with other guidelines related to web usability, which I have related to our game in terms of screen based products that people are using. Also reflecting on lectures involving using Nielsen’s Heuristics for web design which have been useful in terms of the game’s interface and navigation. Making sure the game, user control, system status, language used, consistency in design and elements, readability and so on are effective and do not frustrate the user. I think the final prototype of the game works well in terms of these guidelines. Over several versions as a team we have solved issues and problems and moved the game on vastly in terms of usability, the users experience and playability of the game.

I have also used Steve Krug’s book ‘Don’t make me think: a common sense approach to Web Usability’ in terms of helping with the game’s Interface and Navigation. Examining theory on navigational conventions such as: knowing what to look for, primary and secondary information, where to look etc. Related to web based conventions such as: sections, utilities, local navigation etc. In terms of the game we have related these navigational guidelines to the navigation within the game: help, back, next, play again etc with great success. The tests/reports suggest the users find the navigation easy to use after several refinements. The use of visual icons also work well and provide clear instant understanding and communication related to accessibility. However there could be alt options maybe for the buttons.

All of us have looked at various keyboard designs and musical games etc so to get a grasp of the appropriate design of the keyboard and the interface which as developed well with the age group and the learning outcomes of the game as well as usability.

I have also read ‘Designing the User Interface’ by Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant. This as also developed my understanding of usability and interface design issues/guidelines, which through the blog and meetings I have been able to communicate to the rest of the group. Especially the colour coding of the keyboard and notes, and the overall interface which we have all progressed within this project. This as improved vastly over the versions of the game. There are good and bad points related to our design prototype and the theory in the above book.

Good points with our design:
1. Colour coding supports the task.
2. Consider the needs of colour-deficient users.
3. Be consistent in colour coding.
4. Use colour changes to indicate status changes.
5. Use colour for greater information density.

Improvements with colour in our game:
1. Use colour more conservatively.
2. Colour fidelity may degrade on other hardware.

I think the final prototype works well in terms of colour and other Interface Design guidelines, maybe its gone a bit to far with the use of stars etc and maybe could be toned down a little but this is only a minor issue.

We have all researched and gathered influences for the development of the game in numerous ways, which we have discussed in several meetings so to progress the prototype. This as worked well.

If I get time on Wednesday I will produce/upload a Group SWOT Analysis and Usability of Prototype Evaluation. Really breaking down our strengths and weaknesses as a team and also looking at some theory. Which should help the evaluation of the effectiveness of our game prototype. I will use some theory and ideas from Jacob Nielson, Steve Krug, Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant.

Main Sources of Inspiration and Research (Adrian’s)

These are items which I have used in my research to help with the group project, however all the group members have used many sources – please view the group blog.

Web sites

1. Please view the Blog and ‘my delicious’ to see the many web sites I have used to further my knowledge and understanding, influences for this project.

Experiences

1. Gordon Plant’s lectures on Usability at Bath Spa
University, during 2006/7.
2. Working in the group with Penny, Mike and Clive and developing knowledge from each other. Successfully working as a team.

Books

1. The Digital Designer, S.Heller and D.Drennan, Watson-Guptill publications/New York, 1997.
2. Marketing Your Creativity: New approaches for a changing Industry, M.Perry and A.Melder, AVA Publishing, SA, 2004.
3. Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug, New Riders, USA, 2006.
4. Designing the User Interface, Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant, Pearson Education, USA, 2005.
5. Metaworx: Approaches to Interactivity, Association Metaworx: young swiss interactive, Birkhauser, Switzerland, 2003.

This project in parts as been a struggle for me, due to various reasons such as health issues and time constraints/logistics through working full time. However I have enjoyed parts as well, and I feel I have developed and learn’t things from my colleagues over the last few months on this project. I think we have developed as a team a very usable prototype, through utilising our different skills and knowledge base, but also through good communication. The communication within the group as been very effective, especially as myself and Clive have been working remotely part of the time. We have also made good use of firstly the Group Wiki and then the Group Blog, which as helped the communication and design process, by being able to discuss and view ideas and visuals. Also good email and in parts skype / video conferencing. We have not always agreed on actions or decisions, but we have discussed most things and delegated work, participated in meetings and the decision making process. This as helped with the success of our Group Project, but also we all have a professional, concientious attitude which as helped. I think we have all shared tasks and helped to do a bit of everything in the scheme of things. Including playing to our individual strengths to a certain degree.

As a Graphic Designer I do understand the importance of team work and collaboration so to further and complete a project and more and more I feel creative people will utilise specialist skills from other areas so to break down barriers and so to create different ideas/solutions to design problems. In essence a team of people with different skills dropping in and out when needed to complete the task as needed. Muscians, artists, programmers, actors etc working together. I feel our team as worked in this way and we have employed good production methods so to meet the deadline and achieve. We have all taken control at certain parts and then stepped back to let others use their skills or expertise.

I have read in depth about this and one book ‘Marketing your creativity: New approaches to a changing industry’ as some fascinating findings about how some creative studios are working. Such as ‘Cake’ in London who are made up of about 30 different creative people who all possess very different skills and work in this exact way, coming in on a job when needed. I’m also interested in this approach in Education and I have been researching how Stanford Institute of Design (USA) are collaboratively working through the development of their D School. The idea being different departments staff, students sharing and collaborating so to push through innovation and solve challenging problems in all sorts of areas.

I think there are problems to overcome working in this way, mainly the feel of loss of ownership/authorship which is a ongoing debate in this field. So I think in any successful team you need a team leader to take responsibility and to make decisions. I dont think we have been that successful in this area, however luckily and also through this idea of being able to step back (which takes confidence and a strong personality) it as not been detrimental to our design. We made a good choice in choosing Clive’s Interface Design and helping him develop it and support it. There are real world examples where a lack of leadership or this design by committee approach produces awful, inappropriate, sterile solutions, highlighting this loss of ownership/art direction. I feel we have succeeded to a certain extent in not letting this happen. We have made good choices.

Myself, Penny and Mike started the ball rolling with a meeting and ideas session which to start with was slow and a bit edgy, but then Penny and Mike dicussed the music learning game idea and I thought that had potential so agreed to go for that. I think both Penny and Mike had very strong ideas and to help kick start the project over a few days I produced a lot of research and initial visuals/Interface Designs etc so to help really. They needed lots of development though, but I think it did help kick start the project in lots of ways (paper prototyping, usability, accessibility, understanding the age group and Interface design etc). Penny produced some good ideas and thumbnails and Mike set up the Group Wiki and got us all communicating and utilising web 2.0 items which as been great. Then Clive joined us and did a vast amount of research into games for this age group and Interface Design etc etc.

We then split up into doing certain tasks: Penny (the workings of the game and ideas), Clive (the Interface Design), Mike (the animations and sounds), and myself (Graphics/Interface Design). I feel its worked well. We have done well to stick with our original idea and developed it over many versions/variations and made it work, helping each other out along the way. Towards the end of the project we decided to choose Clives Interface Design which is very effective and he as produced a lot of work to refine and to get things working. We decided from the start to produce the prototype in Powerpoint (a smaller learning curve), however in the long run Flash would probabley been more effective. The Powerpoint prototype works though and is ideal as a demonstrator for this kind of initial game/prototype. Which is good working practice so not to waste time and money. This reminds me of how Nokia produce lo-fi, but effective prototypes for their products so to save time and money in the production process etc.

Both Penny and Mike have produced Usability tests with various versions of the game and this as helped in it’s development and I have produced Accessibility reports using the WC3 web guidelines so to improve the prototype in various ways. All of which you can view on this blog. All developed from theory learn’t in the sessions with Gordon, which I feel have been invaluable.

Overall we have produced a very viable project proposal and have acheived as a group to produce a good working prototype. We worked in a very democratic way, but we did share tasks and certain roles within the team, which I feel as mirrored certain professional practice. We have also overcome both creative difficulties/differences and technical difficulties in a mature and professional, helpful manner which is very important for the success of any team. We have completed most of the stages in a Multimedia Production Process, such as discussed in Martin’s Lecture:
“While any design process breaks into the three stages of concept, design and production, the initial design process can be broken down into six main elements:

1 Defining the product and audience
2 Organising the content
3 Designing the navigation, interaction and controls
4 Designing the layout and style
5 Prototyping and testing
6 Production ”

The use of the blog as helped us to document that process.

I have now produced another Accessibility Report for the game, the final version. I have also made some comparisons with the previous version and report, with the clear conclusions that it is far superior. So take a look at the improvements and well done everybody for the hard work. I will post a final reflective evaluation on Tueday night looking at the group work and my individual input.