No earlier issue with same topic
Previous article
SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.28 No.4, October 1996
Next article
No later issue with same topic

"Cool Stuff and Hot Interfaces"

The Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory's 13th Annual Symposium and Open House

Jennifer L. DePaul and Thomas T. Hewett

The number 13 has different significance in different contexts. In one context it is thought to be unlucky. In another context it represents a coming of age. On Friday June 7, 1996 the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory (HCIL) held its 13th Annual Symposium and Open House. In this context the number 13 reflects the continued growth and development of a group of research collaborators with a gift for converting imaginative ideas into usable and useful tools. The HCIL represents an interdisciplinary effort involving the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Psychology, the College of Library and Information Services, and the Institute for System Research at the University of Maryland. Although on hand for the day's events, Ben Shneiderman, the head of the HCIL, is on sabbatical. The HCIL family, under the direction of Catherine Plaisant, made sure the day's informative events fit the pattern established in past years and built upon work showcased in prior open houses.

The focus of this year's symposium and open house was "cool stuff & hot interfaces" continuing the HCIL's practice of presenting new interface concepts. In addition, the work reported in this year's open house strongly displayed an ongoing HCIL commitment --- work on projects which have a benefit for a community of use. As in years past, this years symposium offered a materials package which included HCIL technical reports, a full set of the visual materials used in the morning lectures, and an hour and a half Video Technical Report tape.

The day's activities followed the usual schedule of the HCIL Open Houses. The presentations by the faculty and students were broken into four information sessions followed by demonstrations later in the day. The information sessions are listed below along with the name of each session's chair:

I. User Interface Design, Catherine Plaisant, Center for Automation Research

II. Digital Visual Laboratories, Gary Marchionini, College of Library and Information Services

III. Evaluation Tools, Victor Basili, Department of Computer Science

IV. Learning Tools, Kent L. Norman, Department of Psychology

A brief description of the lectures and some of the demonstrations presented follows.

Session I -- User Interface Design

Catherine Plaisant of the Center for Automation Research chaired the first session. The presentations and discussions centered upon ideas regarding issues for improving interface management and manipulation.

Anne Rose, Jason Ellis, Stephan Greene, and Catherine Plaisant shared their progress on the project of Designing an Information System for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). This was the second year that the group has worked with the DJJ. An evaluation of the Information System for Youth Services (ISYS), the DJJ's existing text based query system, found it to be a burden rather than an aid. Prototypes for NISYS, the next generation of ISYS, employ LifeLines, DJJ Navigator, and dynamic queries in an effort to keep workflow at the core of the design focus. LifeLines is a visualization tool for personal histories used to display a case history overview of a single youth on one screen. The DJJ Navigator is a case management tool that supports individual workflow by using worker specific screens. The ProgramFinder is a tool used for selecting the best program for placing a youth based in dynamic query research. The Cognetics Corporation joined HCIL to help refine the NISYS prototypes, demonstrating that there can be academic-industry partnerships that are worthwhile. All of the prototypes developed have the capability to be used in domains other than casework.

In the prepared notes for their presentation, Anne Rose, Scott Gilkeson, and Charles Kreitzberg showed their ideas for Applying Cognetics' Quality Usability Engineering Methodology. Departing from the prepared notes, Charles Kreitzberg made a compelling set of arguments both for the view that usability can only be understood as a quality of the interaction between software and the user's workflow. Similarly he argued for the view that it is important to separate design of software from development of software, with a great deal of thought going first into thinking about design before beginning development.

Eser Kandogan introduced Elastic Windows: Improved Spatial Layout and Rapid Multiple Window Operations. One idea for replacing the current independent overlapped windows approach is a proposed approach that allows for multiple window applications and the use of information that is independent of specific applications. Kandogan proposed Elastic Windows which allow the user to utilize automatic elastic resizing of windows. Given the history of HCIL, we can expect to see some imaginative uses of this feature showing up in the next few years.

Picking up on the need to address individual differences in interface design, Diane L. Alonso and Kent L. Norman examined Interface Apparency: Revealing Hidden Contingencies and Seeing Where You Want to Go. Alonso relied upon the metaphor of different people's different approaches to dealing with the layout of a city that is new to them to demonstrate that people have varying degrees of Spatial Visualization Ability (SVA). Interface navigation often presents a problem for people with low SVA. The study results showed that interface apparency reveals otherwise hidden relationships and shows the contingencies that facilitate travel through the interface structure.

Session II -- Digital Visual Libraries

Gary Marchionini of the College of Library and Information Services chaired the second session. In this session, all of the interfaces discussed were being developed specifically for practical use by HCIL collaborators: the Library of Congress, NASA, and the National Library of Medicine.

In assisting the Library of Congress to achieve their goal of providing digitized materials to a wide variety of users, Anita Komlodi, Gary Marchionini, Catherine Plaisant, and Raj Leyl are working on the Library of Congress National Digital Library Program User Needs Assessment. The HCIL is focusing on interface design prototypes that will be useful for users ranging from kindergarten students through Library of Congress staff and professional researchers. The design strategies focus on new techniques to search for multimedia objects that can accommodate metadata with a wide range of content without the use of human intermediaries.

Hoping to provide citizen access to the answers to such questions as, Which bus route do I use to reach a library? Where is the closest shopping center? What is the zoning for the land behind my house? or What would be the impact of a Metro rail station? Derek Thompson, Gary Marchionini, and Jeffrey Burka are working on Tracking Down Map Data. They are developing a browser for patrons of community libraries that would be helpful for answering map based questions about the local community. The graphical user interface was designed for naive users implemented in ArcView/Avenue utilizing Netscape Navigator for the data display. The major difficulty faced by this project is the lack of availability of maps in digital form. The prototype is to be tested for feasibility and user reactions at Greenbelt Library in June-July. There are several intriguing research questions and exciting potentialities associated with this project.

NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) is the focus for Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant, Khoa Doan, and Tom Bruns in examining Query Previews for Networked Information Systems: the Case of EOSDIS. This project continues the HCIL attack of the problem of browsing and retrieving information from very large databases. This work explores the use of tools such as dynamic queries and techniques for two-phase query formulation which allow the searcher to get a useful view of the overall scope and size of the potentially relevant data sets before plunging into highly specific queries.

Also associated with EOSDIS, Egemen Tanin presented Data Structures and Algorithms for Dynamic Query Interfaces (DQIs), which explored the advantages and disadvantages of new data structures and algorithms for fast and continuous feedback using dynamic queries.

The National Library of Medicine Visible Human Project supported Chris North's work presented in The Visible Human Explorer. The Visible Human Explorer is a browser which contains 1880 male cross-sectional images, taken at every 1mm. The images for the total body require 15 GigaBytes and each image is 2048 x 1216 pixels, 24 bit color, and 7 MB. A coronal-section image was digitally reconstructed directly from the Visible Human cross sections. Users can download single images or ranges of images as needed. Using various sliders users can explore a digital reconstruction of human anatomy. Other suggested uses for slider technology included browsing digital video, thereby allowing exploration of motion trends in video. Extending beyond this there is the potential for working with any type of sequential data patterns.

Session III -- Evaluation Tools

Victor Basili of the Department of Computer Science chaired the third session of the day. This section of presentations focused on the tools used to evaluate both user interfaces and user satisfaction with the interfaces.

Tackling the problem of a shortage of automated graphical user interface tools for consistency checking, Rohit Mahjan presented Consistency Checking in Visual Design and Terminology of Graphical User Interfaces. SHERLOCK, a generic consistency checking tool, has been utilized to evaluate visual design and textual properties of graphical user interfaces. The study found SHERLOCK could detect terminological inconsistencies which significantly affect a user's performance.

Victor Basili, Gianluigi Caldiera, Ben Shneiderman, and Zhijun Zhang presented Scenario-based Usability Evaluation: A Framework. Case studies on an evaluation checklist from last year's HCIL open house served as the base for further development of a scenario-based usability evaluation procedure. The requirements set by the study specified a short and meaningful checklist which does not combine different issues. The three scenarios used in this technique are novice use, expert use, and error handling which each prompt different levels of evaluation issues. At this point, the key issue in scenario-based usability evaluation seems to be tailoring the evaluation tool as specifically as possible to correspond with the system being evaluated in each scenario. The group is planning future work on refining the current questions and metrics used, defining the best inspection process and performing case studies.

Laura Slaughter, Ben Harper, and Kent L. Norman explained html QUIS: The Questionnaire for User Satisfaction on the World Wide Web. QUIS was developed at HCIL and has been shown to be a reliable measure of interaction satisfaction. The paper and pencil questionnaire has now been converted to an electronic format for use on the World Wide Web. In the conversion process new sections were added to the QUIS including questions about on-line help and tutorials, multimedia, virtual reality, voice recognition, and software installation. Some of the challenges encountered when conducting a user satisfaction study on the Web include the potential for biased samples, incomplete questionnaires, and the levels of user cooperation.

Session IV -- Learning Tools

Kent L. Norman of the Department of Psychology chaired the fourth and final session of the day. The topics for the final presentations focused upon using technology to improve the learning environment.

Wei Ding and Allison Gordon presented the Baltimore Learning Community: Resources-on-Demand Interface Prototype, which describes a pilot study of what may be required to develop community school based learning resources for K-12 students and teachers.

Drawing upon his own experiences teaching classes in the University of Maryland's electronic classroom, Kent L. Norman presented Cognitive Issues in the Electronic Classroom. The electronic classroom is a custom designed room with twenty workstations networked into a server and to Internet. Each of the twenty workstations supports two students sharing a common computer. When Norman taught his most recent class in the room he issued a "no paper, no pencils, no books" rule; all assignment were submitted electronically in HyperCourseware work spaces, all notes were taken electronically, all tests were on the computers, collaborative work was done in shared project spaces and all readings were on-screen and from the World Wide Web. Through using this environment, Norman directly experienced many of the constraints as well as some useful techniques associated with teaching in an electronic environment. Some of his observations included the importance of strategically directing students attention to wall displays for aid in local navigation; that reading on-screen is still harder than reading on paper, even with modern high resolution display; and it is still the case that consistent, standard methods of storing files and information work better than allowing students to customize. Norman concluded that the electronic classroom poses some new problems of managing both learning and technology. Similarly, he suggested that the cognitive dynamics of the electronic classroom are very different than the cognitive dynamics of the traditional classroom. Finally, he pointed out that despite several years experience with electronic classrooms, developing the structure of the interaction and the organization of materials is still a major design problem.

Demonstrations and Informal Discussions

At 2:30 p.m. the last formal discussion session ended and each department held its informal "open house" inviting attendees to visit for live demonstrations of their latest projects. A good comfortable pair of walking shoes is a must for the stroll around campus which is required to move from one department to the next. It is also imperative that attendees plan their time wisely, the demonstrations run until 5:00 p.m. but there is still not enough time to see everything. This year the demonstrations provided an opportunity to browse the Visible Human Explorer, the NISYS prototypes, the DJJ ProgramFinder and LifeLines, the query previews for the NASA earth science data, Elastic Windows, the Graphical User Interfaces for geographic data, and interfaces for the Library of Congress National Digital Library Program and the Baltimore Learning Community, all of which were presented and discussed earlier in the day. The "electronic classroom" was also open for attendees to explore. The software used for the experiments on interface apparency, and the QUIS on the Web were also displayed. Along with demonstrations corresponding with the earlier lectures, each department shared other work such as, the Film Finder and Home Finder, touch screens and hyperties, a personal role manager, the Maryland Earth Science CD-ROM, a human control station design for space robotics, and much more. During the demonstration period there was plenty of time to meet the students and professors to discuss more specific aspects of the research they had presented.

For those who were unable to attend the HCIL open house, it is possible to purchase a copy of the 1996 Video Technical Reports which includes video segments on many of the lab's current projects. Also available are present and past technical reports. For further information regarding any of the projects which interested you, contact:

Janet Sumida
HCIL, A.V. Williams Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-3255 USA

The HCIL URL is: where you will find pointers to several of the projects.

About the Authors

Jennifer DePaul is a student of Psychology at Drexel University. She plans to pursue graduate studies in Cognitive Psychology.

Tom Hewett is Professor of Psychology at Drexel University, where his teaching includes courses on Cognitive Psychology, Problem Solving and Creativity, Psychology of Human Computer Interaction, and the Psychology of Interface Design. He is a published software author and has worked on the design and development of several projects, including a semi-intelligent, on-line assistance program for users of bibliographic database search services, and an interactive hypertext guidebook to the Macintosh and microcomputing facilities at Drexel University.


Department of Psych/Soc/Anthro
Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA 19104 USA

No earlier issue with same topic
Previous article
SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.28 No.4, October 1996
Next article
No later issue with same topic