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.


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Timelines, task analysis and activity sequences

By Gordon Rugg

This article is a re-blog of part of a previous article about assessing whether or not you’ve met a client’s goals in a product design.

I’ve re-blogged it to form a free-standing article, for anyone interested in systematic approaches to recording and analysing people’s activities. I’ve lightly edited it for clarity.

The examples I’ve used below relate to product evaluation, but the same principles can be applied to other human activities, such as how people make decisions when shopping, or how people find their way around in an unfamiliar place.

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Parallel processing and “natural” learning: Inside the black box

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a widespread idea that before entering formal education, people learn via “natural” learning.

It’s a warm, cosy concept; “natural” evokes thoughts of wildflowers and meadows and beauty and fluffy kittens. There’s even a certain amount of truth in it; formal education does generally involve something different from non-formal education. However, when you start looking for clear, practical, explanations of how “natural” learning actually works, you encounter a sudden silence.

There are plenty of descriptions of what “natural learning” looks like, but there’s very little discussion of how it might work, in terms of plausible cognitive or neurophysiological mechanisms. This absence makes a sceptical reader start to wonder whether there actually is such a thing as “natural learning” and whether this strand of education theory is chasing something that doesn’t exist.

In fact, there is a well-understood mechanism that accounts for the phenomena being lumped together as “natural learning” and “formal learning” (or whatever term is being used in juxtaposition to “natural learning”). However, when you look in detail at this mechanism, it soon becomes apparent that using a two-way distinction between “natural” and “non-natural” is simplistic and misleading. This is one reason that the “natural/non-natural” debate in education theory is still rumbling on, after more than two thousand years of fruitless and inconclusive argument.

In this article, I’ll discuss the mechanisms of parallel processing and serial processing, and I’ll outline some implications for education theory and practice.

The joys of nature and of fluffy kittens – not always quite the same thing…

fluffy kittens2

Original images from Wikimedia


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Designing for efficient use of space: A user-centred approach

By Gordon Rugg

Often, simple examples illustrate important principles. This article is about one of those examples. It involves a real café, near a major university in London, which did a brilliant job of designing the layout for fast, efficient and low-hassle use. The key concepts behind this apply just as much to design of huge buildings as to tiny cafés. I’ve used the café as a worked example of how simple task analysis, hassle analysis and design rationale can make produce an outcome that is good for everyone involved.

The café is tiny. It has a service counter on the right as you go in. There’s a door to the kitchen and toilets beyond the service counter, and there are a couple of small tables at the back. That’s about all there is. A lot of the trade is university staff and students who want take-away coffee and sandwiches, and who want fast service. So why is the design so good?

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The observational techniques

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes you can get the information you want via interviews and questionnaires. Often, though, you can’t.

For instance, if you want to know how long the average visitor spends on your website before leaving it, or what percentage of the population don’t have current car tax displayed in their car, or just how a skilled tennis player holds the racquet for a forehand, then interviews and questionnaires won’t get you very far.

In cases like the ones above, you’re trying to find out what people actually do, as opposed to what they say that they do.

There are various techniques that can be used for this. I’ve grouped them together under the label of “observational techniques”.

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