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


Chris Speed said...

Sounds a rich inquiry Dave. I hope that you able to sustain the practical dimension though - any thoughts on that yet?

How have you found Suchman?

Dave Wood said...

Hi Chris,

Just about to begin Suchman as a counterpoint to the other reading on Mental Models and while I wait for the next set of books to arrive from Amazon.

The inquiry may be too rich so far so I will refine and refine keeping my eye on the practical outcome to ensure that remains core.