Interdisciplinary Design Teaching: A pedagogical approach to train hands-on UX/UI designers
Authors: Sam Anvari, Gabriella Hancock
Abstract: The rapid growth in the prevalence of smart devices has created a significant demand for workforces with knowledge and experience in user-centered design. The new emerging designers are expected to be familiar with practical design research methods while delivering competitive visual results. An interdisciplinary pedagogical approach to design teaching can help students connect the practice of psychology, human factors, and graphic design. In this presentation, we will discuss our practical methods of forming an interdisciplinary design research team to work on a hands-on design challenge involving academia and industry for the usability of specialized medical devices.Our research focuses on enhancing the usability of Environmental Control Units (ECU) in the VA Hospital healthcare system. An ECU is a digital tablet with specific functionality to help patients with spinal cord injury disabilities to overcome their common day-to-day challenges such as: making a phone call or calling the nurse/help, switching on/off the lights, adjusting the bed, etc. This device has four modes of interaction: touch-based, sip-and-puff (pneumatic tube), eye-tracking, and voice-control. Veterans with SCI/D typically find ECUs useful, yet previous research has identified dozens of usability issues ranging from relatively minor or cosmetic to catastrophic (Hancock et al., 2020; Etingen et al., 2017). This multidisciplinary research project is ongoing between California State University Long Beach, the Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders (SCI/D) Center at the Long Beach VA Hospital, and the device manufacturer, Accessibility Services, Inc.This research started in 2019 with heuristic analyses of the touch-based and eye-tracking modalities of the ECU device (Hancock et al., 2020a; Hancock et al., 2020b). Based on the heuristic evaluation findings, the team made a Beta version with improvements. The team were prepared to conduct A/B usability testing, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, accessing the hospital grounds got limited. In the summer of 2020, the design team developed a fully online digital prototype of the ECU interface to conduct remote A/B usability testing with a neurotypical population (i.e., CSULB students). This research has brought together students from graphic design and psychology to engage in a hands-on user-centered design project. Students from both practices received training to conduct remote user-testing sessions and post-processing the resulting data. Currently, the team is collecting data from its ongoing A/B testing between the Alpha and Beta versions of the interface. In the meantime, the team has begun to draft a new design (Omega version) based on the current and emerging findings to make design improvement suggestions to the device manufacturer.This paper will discuss how interdisciplinary design research creates unique opportunities for students in graphic design to learn human-factors psychology and how various design choices for interface features such as color, font, size, etc. will affect its usability and user experience outcomes. In contrast, students in psychology human factors learn about aesthetics and practical design solutions. As the resulting systems are for actual use by veterans with spinal cord injuries and disorders in collaboration with a government partner (the VA), the students also gain valuable service learning experience.
Keywords: design teaching, service design, interdisciplinary design
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