Mapping smiles and stumbles

By Gordon Rugg

In a previous article, I looked at ways of systematically recording indicators of problems and successes with a design. In that article, I focused on the indicators, with only a brief description of how you could record them.

Today’s article gives a more detailed description of ways of recording those indicators, using the worked example of a building entrance.

The worked example is, ironically, the Humanitarian Building. Here’s the Wikipedia image for its entrance.

MSU_III_Humanitarian_Building_Entrancehttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MSU_III_Humanitarian_Building_Entrance.jpg

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Observation, stumbles and smiles

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re designing something that’s going to be used, as opposed to something decorative, then it’s a really good idea to make it fit for its purpose.

How can you do that? Observing the users is a good start.

“Observing” is a broad term that includes various specialised forms of observation and analysis. In this article, I’ll describe a simple way of doing basic observation of users, which involves watching out for four key alliteratively-named actions:

  • stumbles
  • scowls
  • swearwords
  • smiles

It’s simple, but it’s powerful, and it usually catches most of the main problems, and it gives you a good start towards designing something that the users will like.

Not great art, but useful: Four things to watch for in task analysisbannerv1

Sources of original images are given at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 5; common requirements

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the fifth in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, using architectural drawings and fantasy buildings as a starting point.

The first article discussed how this gives you insights that you wouldn’t get from an interview or questionnaire. The next articles looked at regularities in people’s preferences; at changes in preferences over time and at obsolescence; and at complicating factors that you need to keep in mind when using this approach.

In today’s article, I’ll look at ways of identifying common user activities and requirements that should be incorporated into the design process, and that can be handled cheaply and simply, producing significantly better designs as a result.

This article gives a brief overview. I’ll re-visit this topic in some later articles, which will work through some specific cases in detail.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Waiting rooms, however, usually aren’t…banner5 v1Sources of original images are given at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 4; complicating factors

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the fourth in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, using architectural drawings and fantasy buildings as a starting point.

The first article discussed how if you show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically from what they would initially have told you in an interview or questionnaire.

The second article looked at regularities in people’s preferences; the mathematics of desire, applied to buildings.

The third article examined changes in preferences and in fashions over time; it also examined the issue of practicality, and how practicality could change over time as a particular technology becomes obsolescent.

In today’s article, I’ll look at some complicating factors which need to be kept in mind when examining this area. For instance, why does the sun always shine in architects’ drawings? There are sensible reasons, and they aren’t just about optimism…

Sunshine and rain: Two scenes from Japanbanner4 v2Sources of original images are given at the end of this article; first image slightly cropped to fit.

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People in architectural drawings, part 3; requirements, obsolescence and fashions

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the third in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, by looking at images of dream buildings.

In the first article, I looked at why the obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research. If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

So, in this series I’m looking at fantasy and concept art images of buildings, which explore as broad a range of possibilities as the artists and architects can imagine. I’m looking at them to see what regularities emerge within those dream buildings; what sort of world do the creators of those images, and the people who like those images, desire?

In the second article, I looked at how human biases affect our aesthetic preferences. I concluded that a lot of people like really, really big buildings. Those buildings look awe-inspiring, but when you stop to think about details like how anyone is going to clean the windows, you start to realise that maybe those buildings aren’t terribly practical. However, how can you tell what will be practical within the lifetime of a building, when the available technology and the functions of the building are likely to change? There’s the related risk that tastes will change, and that today’s beautiful building will become tomorrow’s eyesore.

In this article, the third in the series, I’ll look at the issue of practicality versus obsolescence, and at changes in fashion.

Thinking big, in fantasy and realitybanner pt3

Thomas Cole, the Titan’s Goblet, and a Vauban fortification; full image credits at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 2; the mathematics of desire

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the second in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life.

The obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research.

If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

This series is about showing people a range of possibilities via images of buildings, which are intimately linked with a lot of other lifestyle choices.

In the first article, I looked at artistic representations of future and fantasy buildings, to see what trends emerged there, and what they could tell us about people’s desires. One trend that emerged strongly was for those buildings to be awe-inspiring, with lofty towers and huge portals.

This, however, raises one of those issues which are so familiar that we seldom think about them. Why are lofty towers and huge portals awe-inspiring in the first place, given that they can be wildly impractical?

Part of the explanation involves human cognitive biases and human preferences, which are the subject of this article.

In this article, I’ll look at those topics, and look at their implications for competition and change, with particular reference to concepts and literatures that give deeper insights into what’s going on.

From humility to hubris: Doors and desiresdoors2

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People’s dream buildings, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about what people would like their dream world to be like. Finding out what people would really like isn’t a simple matter of asking them. Most people only know about a limited number of possibilities, so their dreams tend to be correspondingly limited. When you introduce them to new possibilities, their dreams usually change dramatically, in scope and nature and aspiration. That’s what I’m exploring in this series of articles.

One way of introducing people to what’s possible is to show them pictures. The pictures don’t need to be of real scenes; often, the most interesting possibilities are the ones that are completely feasible, but that haven’t been built yet. So, one place to start is with images of imaginary scenes, in the form of fantasy landscapes and of architect’s drawings. In this article, I’ll look at common features in those scenes, to see what they tell us about those dream worlds. Some of the answers are surprising.

I envy the people in architect’s drawings and in the happier type of fantasy world (I’ll look at dystopias some other time). Their world is sunny and pleasant, full of contented people walking and standing elegantly in broad, inspiring plazas, in front of tall, impressive buildings that are clearly destined to win architectural awards. It’s a world where nobody gets caught in the rain, a world without graffiti or grime or the hassles of trying to negotiate a buggy and two small children through a narrow shop doorway in a crowded street.

It would be easy, and unkind, to write a humorous article on this theme. The full story is a lot more interesting, and has deep implications for how we think about the design both of buildings and of the human systems within which those buildings are located. It’s a story of the mathematics of desire, and of physical constraints, and of why we can’t know what we really want until we see it, and of what we can do about building this knowledge into the design process.

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