USABILITY ENGINEERING FOR GIS: LEARNING FROM A SNAPSHOT
UCL, Department of Geomatic Engineering, London, UK
Usability Engineering emerged from Human-Computer Interaction studies and is concerned with the development of systematic frameworks, techniques and matrices to ensure the development of efficient, effective, engaging, error-tolerant and easy to learn computer systems. Within GIScience, researchers have been using Usability Engineering techniques as part of HCI research activities. However, no attention was placed on the development of Usability Engineering specifically for GIS – i.e. the specific body of knowledge that will help practitioners and system developers to develop easy to use system. Interestingly, a lot of the needed knowledge which include information about techniques that been found useful, heuristics for interface design, rules for cartographic composition and map creation is available. However, this information is spread across many academic papers and books, and to date, there is no accessible body of knowledge that can be used to teach or educate GIS developers and users.
Usability Engineering for GIS should include a set of tools and methods that have been designed or adapted in such a way that they take the special characteristics of geographical information and its manipulation into account.
The need for the development of Usability Engineering for GIS stems from the proliferation of GIS in the workplace and at home, and the recent increase in the number of non-specialist users with a wide variety in their backgrounds and ability to interpret geographical information. Significantly in this context, in the last decade there has been very little research into the way in which these users utilise GIS.
This paper provides the context of Usability Engineering and how it has been used in GIScience and cartographic research. In particular, the paper demonstrate how new methods for Usability Engineering can be developed, using an example of a recent study.
In this case, a survey of GIS users who where asked to take a snapshot of their screen in the middle of their working day, and answer a very short questionnaire. The users where asked to send the image and the answers via email. Despite the paucity of the data
, the results of this survey provide knowledge about how common users of GIS use these systems. The snapshot provided information about their physical environment (screen size), the software that they’ve used, the average scale of the map, the way in which they utilise the functionality of the software and many other aspects that can assist in developing better systems in the future.