Engaging User Centered Design in the Open @ The University of Sydney

Jinghua Zhang

From September to November this year,students within the Interaction Design Studio at the University of Sydney enrolled in a User Centered Design project. The project centered around the broader theme of “Designing for Social” and asked students to create applications and products in this space. All student designs, ideas and research findings are fully documented and publicly available under open licenses.

This course was conducted by Martin Tomitsch from the Design Lab at the Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning in collaboration with Mozilla Labs. Students enrolled in the Design Computing program and with varied interests and backgrounds, including media & art, interaction design and computer science joined the course.

Course Outline

The course was designed to be shared with the Open Source community at the end. In the 2-month course period, students planed their own user research, explored users goals and current problems, created designs based on these findings and tested their designs using prototypes. It contained three phases:

Phase one: Discovering (unarticulated) user needs
– Conduct field studies with at least 3 users
– Mozilla Guest Lecture: The value of early stage user research in real work
– Mozilla Labs provides the user interview consent form

Phase two: Product design based on identified user needs
– Brainstorm ideas on user needs, create scenarios or storyboards, subsequently develop a meaningful idea into a paper prototype, conduct user testing, revise the concept and create an interactive prototype (using HTML, CSS and JavaScript), continue testing product
– Mozilla Guest Lecture: Applying leading technology in your prototype
– Mozilla mentor on user testing techniques and interactive prototyping

Phase three: Documentation
– Contents will be shared to the public under a Creative Commons license

Designing for Social

While the idea behind the course are to encourage open design and research, the topic for the first case also needed to be open enough for the wider community to be inspired and useful. By talking to several Open Source projects, the wider concept of “social” came up again and again. Luckily, students are familiar with this topic too.

Exploring User Needs

After 12 weeks of hard work, several insightful findings on social behaviors and aspirations were identified by students. Here are some social user persons* that are created by students:

  • A popular teen Talisha who likes to be kept ‘in the loop’ on social networking sites and gets frustrated if someone in her group knows something she doesn’t.
  • A 17 year old high school girl who grows up in the digital world, does most of her studies and communicates with teachers online.
  • A boy called Andy who wants to act differently in different social groups, and sets clear boundaries to separate each group.
  • A school girl Gillian who started to procrastinate after spending too much time on social media sites and feels pressured by social invites.
  • A college student Marko Knight who uses various social channels to keep up with all kinds of friends and feels the pain of managing too many platforms.
  • A 22-year-old girl Jess who uses social media as a main way to share her experience of horse riding and learn from other horse lovers.
  • Julia, a 26 year old Web designer who uses social media as a main way to promote her work.
  • A 27 year old teacher Rose Tyler who uses social media as a major information resource to prepare her class contents on commerce, geography and economics.
  • A 40-year-old mother of two, Catherine Wakeman, who learns how to use social media sites to connect with her kids.
  • Henry, a professional architect, who uses social media sites to maintain relationship with clients but feels uncomfortable to know too much about others, including his 19 year old son.
  • A Chinese girl Cheng who studies abroad and misses the real human emotional connection that cannot be fully conveyed via online media.

*A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a real group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.

Brainstorm Ideas

Students then went on to brainstorm solutions for the identified use cases through storyboards, just to highlight a few:

Final Concepts

At the end, students developed the final concept for their solution. Here are videos demonstrations of how their concept work:

A full list of all the amazing work from the participating students, including user research findings, ideas, user testing and final working prototypes is available at the class page.

Taking it forward

Supporting this course is a part of Mozilla Labs’ Open Design and Research initiative. We pilot this initiative by providing guest lectures, introducing the latest Web technologies to interested students and providing interesting projects to the classroom, as well as bringing professional UX practitioners to class with the aim to to expose, highlight and mentor students and their artifacts.

Currently local UX groups, including IXDA Australia, UPA Australia and individual professionals assist this project by giving exposures to students work, providing feedback or organizing related UX events.

As the course is completed, Mozilla Labs is also helping contact Open Source teams that are interested in this domain, share these valuable artifacts with the community and trigger more discussions on user needs and creative solutions.

Since not only the product concepts created in the course are open for any Open Source project to take forward, but also the user research findings are shared with the public, we encourage everyone to join forces creating further discussion and ideas, as well as help transfer any insightful and interesting concepts further into real products.

Get Involved

– Get inspired by students work on the class page of the faculty or follow along with the lecture notes when they become available.
– Contact Martin Tomitsch or Jinghua Zhang to learn more about this course.
– Contact Jinghua Zhang (Jinghua [at] mozilla [dot] com) if you are interested to collaborate on similar student projects with Mozilla Labs.