July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Design in Engineering Education
Many different factors actively influence the approach a user takes when interacting with a given product or system. The user-product interaction is a form of communication primarily dependent on (1) the message that the product is transmitting in terms of its usability and (2) the user’s cognitive ability to receive, process, and understand such message. The external interfaces of a product or system are where these interactions generally occur, which are typically developed following user-centered design principles. An intuitive interface which effectively communicates its usability and utility to the user is paramount to the successful use of the product.
This work focuses on the exploration and education of how to introduce the concept of social, cultural, and educational design biases in a first-year engineering design course through the lens of user-centered design. Designing product displays and controls is not a trivial task for both engineers, focused on the product, and social scientists, who have attempted to conceptualize a universal user. What is the composition of a “good design,” functionality, minimal cost, ability to serve all potential users, or the combination of all? Consideration of the user can be difficult to capture and effectively communicate to engineering students.
Over the past few decades, there has been a push for engineering curriculum to better engage with the global, ethical, and societal impacts of the field and to prepare students to engage in a multicultural and diverse workspace and world. In an effort to introduce diversity in design and to troubleshoot the concept of the universal user, we adapted the display compatibility questionnaire from Smith’s study of display-control stereotype designs, and presented the same design questions to 21st century first-year engineering students, non-engineering students, and non-engineering professionals. This work explores current societal impacts such as gender, age, and occupation on the user expectation of a control’s display and user-interface design. Additionally, the impact of a user’s prior knowledge and the reflections of first-year engineering students on differing results were also assessed.
The results of this study indicate that designing a product display or interface is still centered around a population stereotype, but the population takes many forms depending on the product or interface. When an open-ended prompt is provided, such as, “draw in how you consider the [gear selections] should be positioned for [an auto transmission] Neutral (N), Drive (D), Low (L), and Reverse (R),” the multitude of responses becomes overwhelming to designers. The influence of cultural shifts, since the original study, was evident within our responses as well. Multiple responses highlighted how modernization of technology may have affected interpretations of the prompts. For example, our students struggled with terms such as “adding machine” versus “calculator” skewing interface descriptions from the original study’s results.
Alternatively, there were questions that mirrored the interpretations and compatibility results from the original study, highlighting the convergence of some displays/interfaces across time, occupation, and gender.
Ultimately, our data indicates a need to address two significant considerations in the development of engineering curriculum and training: 1) How does engineering as a discipline teach rationality and uniformity of design in an increasing diverse engineering student population? 2) How do we educate future engineers to mind the user gap? Just because a design makes the most rational sense in an engineering context it does not mean it translates to the general public. The universal-user may not exist, but without the conversation, diversity of opinions and experiences will drift farther from universal ideas into the narrow stereotypes of the few.
Hammond, M., & Martinez, J., & Ziff, E. (2021, July), An Exploration of Social and Educational Influences on User-centered Design: Revisiting a Compatibility Questionnaire Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36669
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