Wrestling with Spiderman

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After a big wrestle, I have finally created a section which includes Spiderman’s eight golden rules of interface design, for my course in human-computer interaction (HCI), over on Udemy.

The reason for the wrestle, as I say in my last blog in the link above, is that the idea of them bored me. Even my husband, who was fed up of me talking about them, had to immediately watch them and find out for himself what all the fuss was about. Afterwards he said: Oh they make a lot of sense, which made me laugh. Turns out, wrestling with Spiderman was worth it.

Along with those eight golden rules, I added Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics and his Jakob’s Law which states that users spend more time on other websites and apps then they will ever spend on the one you, me, we will design. Consequently, they expect any new app to behave just like all those other ones they use, so make it easy for them, manage their expectations and make your app like everyone else’s.

To Spiderman (Ben Shneiderman) and Nielsen, I added: Donald Norman‘s cues, affordances, visibility, mapping, constraints, consistency etc., and his seven usability principles that he presented in the Design of Everyday things, which I followed up with: Saul Greenberg’s nine, Alan Dix et al’s three, Brenda Laurel’s six as first dictated by Aristotle, and Preece et al’s principles which reference everyone else and include trade-offs. I am a big fan of talking about trade-offs.

Finally, I took a quick look at design patterns by Christopher Alexander, and how they have been applied to urban spaces by Bill Hillier, software engineering by Erich Gamma and, HCI by Jennifer Tidwell. I was so sorry to see that both Alexander and Hillier are no longer with us. They leave us some classic design books which remain a joy to read: Alexander wrote amongst others A pattern language, (1977) and Bill Hillier wrote The Social Logic of Space, (2008).

And now finally, I have a section containing all the classic HCI principles, guides and heuristics that all self-respecting HCI courses need to have!

A minor detour

Of course, I didn’t get straight on with this section of my course, as the resistance was strong. Instead, I created 11 lectures on design theory and nine about cognitive science. This was because each time I looked at what I had written on this site about why HCI guides and principles are useful, I ended up reading blogs about design theory and cognitive science instead. However, they were worth creating sections about because they provide firm design foundations and are older than any HCI guideline and I believe help us better understand HCI.

When I had gotten to the point when I had said everything I could in relation to HCI heuristics and principles, I finally had to get on with Spiderman and the gang’s (not the Avengers, the HCI gang’s) guidelines which I did last week. And, I made a point of reusing the same slides and images whenever possible so I flag up how similar they all are. Hopefully anyone watching that section can make their own mashup by the end of it.

Prior to starting this section, I rolled my eyes a lot but it was only by going back through old lecture slides and thinking about the big picture did I realise that as obvious as Shneiderman’s eight golden rules may seem today, they weren’t back then.

When he first put them out into the world, it was only four years after the first PC had become commercially available and so designing interaction and graphical-user interfaces was relatively new as disciplines go. There were no developer studios, no APIs, no WWW for the general public, which is why Don Norman advises: When all else fails, standardise. It would have been radical at the time. There were no standards, indeed even the campaign for web standards only started in 1999. So, looking through the advice of Shneiderman and Norman now, some thirty years later, they may seem old and some terminology has changed, but they still offer useful advice. A design is not going to get worse by considering them. It is more likely to get better.

Upgrading the upgrade

Now those are done, I am thinking about doing an upgrade to my upgrade explanation video which I filmed three months ago towards the end of March in which I said that since the course originally took me five months to create, this time round, I hoped it would only take three, with the caveat that life often intervenes, so it’s hard to be certain.

Now we are in July and even though I have added 39 new lectures to my Udemy course in 1) history of computing, 2) HCI and IxD, 3) input and output 4) design theory and 5) cognitive science. I still have outstanding sections, I promised to deliver. These are:

So, I might have to update my update even though it feels rather like revising a revision timetable but I am definitely doing it for me as on those days when I forget when I am doing and write myself another list in my little handbook, even though the first page of my little handbook says:

No more lists, Ruth!

I have a video I can watch to see where I am in my HCI 2.0 journey and remember what I am doing and I feel all organised once more.

The other reason is that as I am pondering the next steps and think about exactly how to mix up UX practicalities and HCI theory, the more I think I want the prototyping section to spread right through the course with exercises and examples, but exactly how, I am not quite sure yet. This may involve me having a think, drinking coffee, looking out the window, swizzling on my chair, and stroking the cats. All that activity can easily add on another month or two, and so I want to make sure that someone who is new to the course knows what’s been done so far.

And, then there are a couple of other sections I might have to create too which includes designing dialogue. As I say all over this blog that when we design interaction, we are designing dialogue which is the communication between the human and the computer. The minute we introduce metaphor, models and hide the code, we change what a user can and can’t do, and how they can and cannot interact. We also introduce a lot of guesswork even though it opens up computing to more people who don’t code. Like all design, like all of life really, like all collaboration, there is always a trade-off and that needs to be considered, explicitly, by a designer, along with the careful design of how a dialogue between human and computer works.

So my list of things to do next has grown. After writing it, I googled Spiderman to see what he is doing nowadays, I wanted to know if he still talks about his golden rules. I found that he has been working on HCI and AI. So I will go back and see what he has to say, does he apply his rules there?

The reason I originally got into HCI was because I found AI frustratingly like a black box, and whilst, much work has been done to help people use AI, and it is used everyday by many people, it is still something of a black box. ChatGPT, in particular, is a new black box. No one knows how it works exactly as they have been tweaking all 175 million variables all over the place.

And so, if I ever wonder: What’s my why? Why do I blog? Why wrestle Spiderman’s and his eight golden rules to the ground? Right now in this moment, I have two reasons:

  1. To make cool gacha pics of me wrestling spiderman to put on the top of my blog, you’re welcome world!

2. To play my part in making technology as accessible and usable as possible so that we can use it for good.

As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said: With great power, comes great responsibility which includes transparency of communication, which of course, now has to go on my list of lectures to make.

Human-computer interaction is available over on Udemy.

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