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Position Paper: Addressing the Toughest Web User Interface Challenges

Workshop Focus:

The focus of this workshop is to bring together experienced designers of web user interfaces to discuss, understand, and solve user interface design bottlenecks common to the web. The goal of the workshop is to take the "cocktail napkin" interface discussion that commonly occurs at conferences and move it into a structured workshop setting. Participants will use low fidelity paper and HTML prototyping in conjunction with an user-centered design process for facilitating the workshop's activities to develop potential web user interface solutions. Although the workshop committee will be providing some facilitation, this workshop will require active participation of the participants. If the design challenges are not insurmountable, as we believe them to be, a library of the challenges and solutions will be published following the workshop.

Our Position:

User interfaces are different on the web from the typical software interface because as designers we are constrained by HTML, its related tools, and a lack of robust widgets. Actions like double-clicking and select & dragging objects are beyond the scope of the traditional web interface. Many of these problems may not be optimally solvable; but current design solutions are clearly less than optimal.
By coming together, we can further our understanding of web interface issues and develop solutions to these complicated challenges. Issues concerning cross-platform and browser capabilities and the level of effort needed for complex designs should be a part of solving an interface design problem.

Example:

A United Nations Simulation web site allows for the user to simulate negotiating with politicians from all over the world. There is a list of all 177 countries in the world from which the user can choose to bring together a discussion group to negotiate tariffs on rice and wheat. A difficult interface challenge is how do we provide the user with the ability to select 6 countries from the entire list. A multiple pop down selection is inappropriate because the user is never quite sure of which modifier key to use and the list is a formidable list to scroll through. A multiple selection box is inappropriate because of the same reasons and, in addition, the user's previously selected choices become occluded as the user scrolls down the list.
If this was a typical software project, we would just provide a scrolling selection list and allow the user to drag selected choices into a "to negotiate with" box. Although this solution might be done using JavaScript, is it indeed the best solution? Most importantly, is this solution cross-platform and will it work on most browsers?
If you have complex web design problems that can be easily extracted from a large project so that this workshop can help deal with a specific design problem, then this workshop is for you.

Workshop Format:
  1. Opening
    1. Workshop committee provides participants with the categorized challenges that have been submitted.
  2. Morning Session will cover 3 to 5 of the "easier" interface topics
  3. Afternoon Session will cover 3-4 interface topics

    1. Each topic session will be approximately 60 minutes long.

      Topic Format

      1. Problem Discussion (10 min.)
        • Discuss as a group what is actually the problem.
        • Definition of Constraints
        • Known Problems
        • Known Solutions (if any)
      2. Small Group Discussions (20 min.)
        • Participants will break into small groups to further discuss the problem and develop solution options for each of the challenges within the topic.
      3. Small Group Presentations (5 min. each)
        • Each small group will present their solution options and the reasoning behind their ideas.
      4. Consensus (10 min.)
        • Group as a whole will discuss the solution options and reasoning and come to a consensus on the best solution for the user.
Prior to Workshop:

For a successful workshop, each participant will need to submit their own design problem statement (in HTML, with GIFs, tables, or whatever is appropriate to detail the problem). The workshop coordinators will review all submitted design problems and formulate approximately eight problems to be addressed during the session.
In order to prepare for the workshop, ALL problem statements are required to be submitted electronically to the workshop organizers by March 21st. It is acceptable to submit a text-only email, if the problem statement can be expressed accurately without additional support materials. Additional support materials could include; HTML examples, GIF files, and a JavaScript prototype. Solutions are not required or expected in the problem statement, we are looking, as a group, to solve problems that you find difficult to translate into a web solution.
The design problem statements must be presented as if they were "found on the street," that is, no names or other identifiers should be part of the statements or examples. The problem statements and solutions presented during the workshop can be freely used. Our goal is to provide a forum for everyone to share information that will allow participants to pursue their own solutions after the workshop.
Please send submissions to Richard Miller at rmiller@ctt.bellcore.com.

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Comments: Happily Received!
Page: http://www.richardhmiller.com/workshops/w6_position_paper.html
Updated: 01.30.1998