Thursday, 26 March 2009

1st Practical PhD Project… thoughts

On my project blog PhD Project 01 I am still documenting research upon the cognitive psychology of users' mental models which will take me into April as I need to source a couple of key texts I couldn't get from ECA's or University of Edinburgh's libraries. That said one key text yesterday, firmly situated within cognitive science literature, has suggested a structure for my practical research project. I will expand upon this again over the coming months in more detail.

The idea so far in its embryonic state is this…

  1. Qualitative Experiment on up to 36 subjects to undergo an initial online survey to identify a capacity to describe and communicate a cognitive model (subject to be defined). The subjects who can clearly communicate their 'mental model' will be graded into study groups for the next phase.
  2. This study group will then be asked to explain how they understand how they perform an interactive task.
  3. These 'mental models' will be visually documented.
  4. From this documentation visual interactive prototypes will be produced as iterative tests of a 'designer's model'.

I do realise that this is very woolly right now and lacks definition. It's root is in an experiment performed by Dedre Gentner and Donald R. Gentner disseminated in their 1983 paper "Flowing Waters or Teeming Crowds: Mental Models of Electricity". My outcome will be demonstrably different to theirs, but their method is certainly a foundation to develop on. I will continue to work on this planning over April.

To summarize though what my intended outcome will focus upon: it will be creating a range of interaction prototypes that are define and designed using 'designer models' interpreting users' 'mental models' of the interaction. The outcome will be focused on visually communicating the experimentations of matching an interface design to how a user thinks it works rather than how it works.

I know I can communicate this better, so please bear with me as I begin to form my methodology and outcomes. Any comments would be greatly received, but please add them to this post by clicking 'Comments' rather than emailing them. Once I have the project more defined I will utilise the Interaction Design community to inform me of any similar experiments, to ensure I am doing and experiment that will open new ground.

The final thing I need to emphasize is that this project will focus on the visual communication of the interactive process.


Gentner, D. & Gentner D.R. (1983) Flowing Waters or Teeming Crowds: Mental Models of Electricity. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp99-129

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

UCM or UMM? Let IxDA decide?

I have been heavily reading into cognitive science and 'mental models' (see PhD Project 01 blog) with the help and advice of the members of the Interaction Design Association. I have now made 3 posts to their discussion lists and have made contact with Alan Cooper, the writer of About Face 3. My latest post I duplicate here as you need to be a member to be in the discussion.

I have just placed this into the cue for circulation so hopefully I will get some responses and therefore will eventually add these here. I post this message here to solicit a wider response, so please if you can advise post a comment to this blog.

Original post:
"Following on from my previous posts I am researching into what Don Norman calls 'designer's models' and Alan Cooper calls 'represented models'. In doing so I'm reading the literature on 'mental models' (Thanks to Alan Cooper, Vicky Teinaki, J. Ambrose Little, Francis Norton and Alan James Salmoni). I came across Richard Young's essay in Gentner and Steven's 'Mental Models', in which he discusses UCMs: "User's Conceptual Models".

Can anyone in the community advise whether Young's UCMs were an early incarnation of what becomes defined as 'User's Mental Models' or a separate area of research? Any comments would benefit me from maybe wasting time on a tangential research cul-de-sac.


Friday, 20 March 2009

IxDA Basecamp

I've just been invited to join the IxDA Basecamp, an offshoot of the Interaction Design Association where interaction designers can "collaborate on IxDA Basecamp projects. You can post messages and comments about your work here for the group to see." I've just posted the following announcement on the group at You will need to join the association to view it. I am now officially a 'group leader'.

Interaction Design from a visual communication perspective

Hi IxD community,

I’m Dave Wood a lecturer in Interaction Design from the UK. I’m based in Liverpool and I’m engaged in part-time doctoral study at Edinburgh College of Art on a practice-based PhD.

Between now and 2013 I will be researching interaction design from a visual communication perspective. In doing so I will design and run three design projects to test and measure my research. I would welcome any comments and input from the IxD community.

I have two blogs that disseminate my research and a paper entitled “Interaction Design: Where’s the Graphic Designer in the Graphical User Interface?” available from my profile. Feel free to view any of these, the links are:

Now that I am a member of this group I will also disseminate my research and project progress here.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Interactivity and Design Research Diagrams

I've come across these two illustrations whilst researching cognitive models that will come in handy at some point.

What is Interaction?

An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

1st PhD Practical Project

After a rewarding tutorial with Simon Biggs last week at ECA I am reinvigorated and refocused. A result of this meeting Simon suggested it is time I started planning my first practical project to test the theory I am reading against. This practical project would become my MPhil project and the transition into the PhD. It will span 2009 and 2010 and will focus upon my most recent area of interaction design research - mental models. I will start to unpack this idea at my next whiteboard tutorial with Chris Speed and Mark Wright next week. Simon and I agreed that my annual review should be in June and that I should prepare my project proposal for that review.

To be able to focus upon that project I have set up my first PhD Project Blog. This is a sub-blog to this main research blog and I will cross-post between the two. I will use that blog to explore the research literature into user mental models and represented (designer's) models, as well as using it to post my visual concepts, tests and evaluation.

The new blog can be found at

Monday, 2 March 2009

Why Do We Need Doctoral Study in Design?

I picked up this link to the following paper from an email from the Interaction Design community.
Why Do We Need Doctoral Study in Design? by Meredith Davis of North Carolina State University, North Carolina, USA.

Due to the death of a close family member in January I feel I have lost some research momentum. I have been doing a lot of reading, note-taking and annotating but of course I am not seeing any reward of application yet. It was in this context that I thought this paper could help to contextualise and re-focus what I should be doing.

The paper was US-focused and on reading it I found that the sections I found really useful were pages 1 - 4: Introduction and New Paradigms for Design Practice. After this the paper analyzes the results of a study which began to lack direct relevance for me.

In the bibliography I found five further sources to read that I will soon source (see below). I will add this paper to my annotatedBib blog soon and record its main relevances for future reference. Here I will simply list for now some of the main points of interest to me from these five sources.

Toward a model of innovation by H. Dubberly (2008) presents an organic, system-based approach to design thinking that shifts the process of design to experience away from objects. In doing so the scope of design influence can broaden "within larger and more complex social, cultural, physical, economic and technical systems."

Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing by A. Greenfield (2006) may prove beneficial as some background reading.

Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide by H. Jenkins (2006)is cited in connection with how "peoples sense of agency or control of outcomes" is a consequence of media convergence. I have read Henry Jenkins previous paper on narrative architecture that will prove useful in the future.

Design methods: Seeds of human futures by C. Jones (1970) discusses the hierarchy of design problems, and that "design action must address an intricate web of connections among people, activities, objects and settings."

Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design by Nardi and Kapetlinin (2006) may prove interesting. But right now I will hold judgment until I have read it fully. The reason I say this is that Davis (2008) summarizes the position of activity theory, and ends with a statement "our research strategies have to go beyond testing actions and operations in human factors labs and asking questions in focus groups that separate people from the settings in which relevant behaviour takes place". I wish to turn to the source to clarify the actual relevance of activity theory on interaction design.


DAVIS, M. (2008, Dec 31) Why Do We Need Doctoral Study in Design?. International Journal of Design [Online] 2:3. Available:

DUBBERLY, H. (2008) Toward a model of innovation. Interactions, 15(1), pp. 28-36.

GREENFIELD, A. (2006) Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

JENKINS, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

JONES, J. C. (1970). Design methods: Seeds of human futures. New York: Wiley-Interscience.

NARDI, B., & Kapetlinin, V. (2006). Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.