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Users and User Characteristics. Contents. Users - Designing for diversity Characteristics of users. Recap - Scope of HCI. Designing usable systems requires us to have knowledge of: The users who will use the system. The tasks for which it will be used.

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Users and User Characteristics

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Users and User Characteristics

ISDE 2011


  • Users - Designing for diversity

  • Characteristics of users

ISDE 2011

Recap - Scope of HCI

  • Designing usable systems requires us to have knowledge of:

    • The users who will use the system.

    • The tasks for which it will be used.

    • The environment in which it will be used.

  • So designers need knowledge of:

    • The physiological and psychological capabilities of the user.

    • The types of tasks that users will be expected to carry out.

    • The organisational and environmental aspects of the user’s task.

    • The technical constraints of the system.

ISDE 2011


  • Who are the users?

  • What do we need to know and find out about users?

  • What ‘user characteristics’ are important in interface design?

ISDE 2011


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More Users !

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Designing for Diversity

  • The wide range of human abilities, backgrounds, motivations, personalities and intelligence presents major challenges for interactive system designers.

  • They need to have an understanding of:

    • physical characteristics

    • cognitive and perceptual abilities

    • personality differences

    • general abilities

  • These are all characteristics which apply to people in general, we shall also consider characteristics which apply specifically to potential system users.

ISDE 2011

User Characteristics relevant to UI Design

  • Physical abilities & disabilities

  • Pesonality

  • Age – Sex – Culture

  • Education

  • Computer/IT knowledge

  • Motivation

  • Attitude

ISDE 2011

Physical Characteristics - Activity

  • Think of a car and its interface (controls).

    What physical aspects need to be considered?

  • Height of users – seat height

  • Arm and Leg Length- position of controls

  • Feet Size – Width & Space between pedals

  • Vision – Size of text/labels on instruments controls audio equipment etc

  • Hearing – volume/pitch of audio signals – indicators, seat belt low fuel

ISDE 2011

User Characteristics

  • Basic data about human dimensions comes from anthropometry.

    • What is average?

    • What compromises must be made?

    • e.g. keyboard spacing, mouse size and shape.

    • Adjustments to interface, e.g. brightness of VDUs.

  • These aspects of the physical design of workstations is part of Ergonomics.

ISDE 2011


  • Many differences exist between individuals’ personalities:

    • Extroversion/Introversion;

    • Convergent/Divergent thinking;

    • Feeling/Thinking.

  • Personality differences will affect how people interact with the system:

    • preferences for interaction styles,

    • graphical or tabular representations,

    • motivation towards the task.

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Dr Phil

  • Who are you!!!

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Example – Sat Nav

  • User preferences for

    • Voice – Male v Female - accents

    • How information is presented – map v list of directions

    • How frequently reassured about being on course/correct route

      • Eg Cautious/timid type - frequently

ISDE 2011

User characteristics: physical differences

  • Age (use larger fonts for older people)

  • Vision limitations, such as colour blindness

  • Other physical limitations that might restrict movement

  • Small children don’t have good fine-muscle control: see big buttons on next slide

ISDE 2011

Big buttons for little people

ISDE 2011

User characteristics: cultural differences

  • Language (how many languages should be supported)

  • Education (reading level)

  • Profession (specialized vocabularies)

  • Attitude towards computer systems (e.g technophobia amongst elderly users)

  • Corporate style: what are you trying to convey to whom?

ISDE 2011

System Related User Characteristics

  • What characteristics can you expect of the users of your interface?

    • frequency of use

    • discretion to use the system

    • knowledge of the task which the system will support

    • knowledge of computers

    • experience of other similar systems

    • general abilities, e.g. literacy, vision

    • attitude towards computers (and your system)

    • existing skills (keyboard, mouse)

ISDE 2011

Some Design Implications

  • frequency of use: amount of skill building that takes place and knowledge user can be expected to retain

  • discretion to use the system: impact of poor usability

  • knowledge of the task which the system will support: level of support at interface provided for how to complete tasks

  • knowledge of computers: level of guidance provided

  • experience of other similar systems: user expectations and use of familiar interface conventions

  • general abilities, e.g. literacy, vision: assumptions made about presentation of text, motor skills, intelligence

  • attitude towards computers: level of help and guidance and way in which system is introduced to users

  • existing skills (keyboard, mouse): choice of interaction style to use to exploit existing skills

ISDE 2011

Categorisation of Users

  • If designing an interface need to be able to categorise users

  • Easier for small systems much more difficult for large systems

    • Primary or secondary user

    • 3 D framework

      • task expertise

      • computer expertise

      • frequency of use

ISDE 2011

Differences between user groups…

  • Consider the design of an on-line hotel reservation system for a multi-national hotel chain

  • Talk to the person next to you and make a list of some of the differences between the groups of people who will use the system

  • Identify who are the ‘stakeholders’ of this system

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Differences – Some Examples

  • Frequency of use

  • Cultural

  • Motivation

  • Computer Knowledge/skills

  • Experience of other hotel systems

  • General ability – literacy education

  • Physical differences

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Primary and secondary users

  • Primary user: the person who actively uses the site:

    • Airline reservation clerk

    • Help desk staff

  • Secondary user: the person being served by a primary user:

    • Airline passenger

    • Customer who called the support line

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Three-Dimensional Framework


  • Three Dimensional Framework for User Classification

Knowledge of Computers


Frequency of Use


Knowledge of Task


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3 D framework applied to Occupational Categorisation of Users

  • Broad occupational classification as:

    • computer professionals

    • professionals without computer experience

    • skilled clerks

    • naïve users

    • special groups

  • Remember the first four of these are broad classifications - make sure you understand your particular user group(s).

ISDE 2011

Computer professionals

  • Classification:

    • computer knowledge - high/very high

    • task knowledge - high

    • frequency of use - high

  • Understand software and hardware.

  • Intelligent, well-educated and highly motivated (often).

  • May want to customise software for own needs.

  • Have little patience, like rapid response in software.

  • Sensitive to shortcomings in software.

    NOT typical of the majority of users

ISDE 2011

  • Design implications

    • Provide for high degree of sophistication in interface:

      • range of functions provided,

      • flexibility to combine functions to provide new commands,

      • possibilities to customise interface to own needs.

    • Lower requirement for user support than with other user types.

    • Can utilise programming languages and extensible command languages (e.g. macros and scripts).

ISDE 2011

Professionals without computing experience

  • Classification:

    • computer knowledge - low/moderate

    • task knowledge - high

    • frequency of use - varies, low-high

  • Know little about computers.

  • Often not interested in computers.

  • Probably have not read any documentation.

  • Lack patience.

  • Have high expectations of performance.

  • Intolerant of software errors.

ISDE 2011

  • Motivated to accomplish the job/task the system was designed to support.

  • May be discretionary users of systems.

  • High degree of usability is critical for this group.

  • Design implications

    • Important to support the user ‘guessing’ or experimenting with how operations can be carried out at the interface. Consistency and a close match to the user’s task model is important.

    • Frequency of use determines how much the user can be expected to learn short cuts and accelerators.

    • User support provided by the interface is important.

ISDE 2011

Skilled clerks

  • Classification:

    • computer knowledge - low

    • task knowledge - high

    • frequency of use - high

  • May use a machine several hours a day.

  • Develop very strong user skills.

  • Do not have a high degree of computer sophistication.

  • Want rapid responses in software.

  • Quickly grow impatient with features designed for less experienced users if these features slow them down.

  • Usage is not usually discretionary.

ISDE 2011

  • Design implications

    • Can anticipate significant learning of routine operations to take place, so can make use of abbreviations and codes for data input.

    • Can expect strong user skills to be developed, such as keyboard skills.

    • Error messages must be clear and provide specific guidance for recovery.

    • Cannot expect users to develop deeper knowledge or understanding of the computer system without specific training.

ISDE 2011

Naïve users

  • Classification:

    • computer knowledge - very low

    • task knowledge - varies, low - moderate

    • frequency of use - assume low

  • Know (nearly) nothing about computers.

  • Cannot assume significant learning process, i.e. each interaction with the system should be treated as if it were the user’s first.

  • May feel intimidated by using a computer.

  • Ease of learning is important usability criterion.

  • Use of system is usually discretionary.

ISDE 2011

  • Design implications

    • Every type of user error must be trapped. This type of user will not be able to infer what is happening or the cause of an error condition.

    • Require explicit on-screen prompts for each step of the dialogue.

    • High degree of user support and a low degree of sophistication is required in the interface.


ISDE 2011

Special groups

  • Do not make assumptions that the users of your interface/system fall into neat categories.

  • Consider in particular design for users with

    • Sensory impairments – partially sighted – colour blind - deaf

    • Physical impairments – lack of mobility – arthritis

  • Techniques exist for analysing the characteristics of users in detail

ISDE 2011

Assumed knowledge: about computers

  • How much knowledge do you assume the user group has about computers in general?

  • Can you assume familiarity with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) – if not, don’t expect the user to know what a combo box and how to use it

  • Can you assume familiarity with using the internet –if so, you can assume familiarity with conventions and common facilities, and with using GUIs

  • Important particularly when designing for the (older) general public

  • Increasing public awareness of internet and computer use (but this can’t be taken for granted yet- 2009 still approx 10 million never or seldom used!)

ISDE 2011

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