Contextual testing of interactive prototypes at the early stages of the design process
University of Wales
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Information appliances combine bespoke hardware with custom interfaces. This presents a challenge when prototyping early in the design process, as it can be difficult to combine both the digital and physical elements of the product to create a viable prototype for user testing. Although a number of prototyping kits have been developed that attempt to address this issue, these have previously only be trialled using "laboratory" based approaches. This thesis demonstrates that although laboratory testing can be beneficial, the use of a contextual testing approach provides better information for the early stages of design. The research comprises an extensive user study comparing data gathered using laboratory and in-context testing approaches, supported by a case study of a usability team working within a multinational mobile phone manufacturer. The case study provides grounding for the research, and was used both to set the user study findings in-context and also to inform the user study method design. The thesis concludes by proposing a workflow for contextual testing in the design process, and identifies areas of future development for prototyping toolkits to better support contextual testing. The contribution of this work to knowledge is a clear demonstration that contextual testing can be conducted early in the information appliance design process; and that this approach delivers better design information, particularly in regard to the physical elements of the design.
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