Friday, March 10, 2006

The ways we have gone about things, why made the decisions we did and the problems we have encountered

As I sit here at 1:55 AM after spending hours tinkering with my Final Year Project (and making another discovery) I have two sets of thoughts churning through my head which I am trying to clear up so I can go to bed:

a) My sister and Dad (my Mum isn't going due to her disliking of long haul flights) are flying to New Zealand for a few weeks at 6:00am for my cousins wedding... Why didn't I take a gap year?!? - Guess I'll just have to make up for this next year on my travels.

b) The problems we have discovered doing this HCI project.

As the latter is much more relevant, I shall concentrate on it.

First off I think it's important I explain why we have done some things. As computer scientists (and researchers) it may seem that we have focused quite heavily on the core technologies of our idea and not on the abstractness of the problem and there is a reason for this. When we set out to do this task one of the first decisions we made (unconsciously at first, then it hit home after our first interview with Mike) was the importance of modeling this project on existing tried and tested technologies, we had three reason for doing this:

  • We couldn't ever have a full idea of the needs of blind users so using technology they already understood and liked was a must and we quickly discovered that training in a new technology is a slow process for many blind people so avoiding this was a high priority.
  • Our ideas from the beginning focused around making a new and different use for existing technologies and this helped because our idea was so big and general that making everything out of 'concept' ideas would have made it an impossible task in the time allocated.
  • A lot of existing technologies are either at, or are quickly reaching, the levels of efficiency and ability where this sort of project will be feasible in the near future
The abstract components of our project can be seen to be encapsulated in our technology work through what needs to be different and how we think tasks should be approached.

You may also notice we do not have any spectacular drawings of menus and uses, these would be pretty useless in a system meant for the blind! Our work concentrates on their environment and what works for them.

So what about the problems we have encountered? Well the biggest has been testing audience, Mike has been absolutely amazing in helping us out but sadly surging a big pool of volunteers that could help us in a way that would be useful for this task is a very hard thing to do and so we have had to rely pretty much solely on Mike, so far our attempts to contact people who could help us, including those who have publicly said about such a system being needed without ever talking, meeting us or seeing our work have ended in no replies but hopefully we can get a little bit more luck now after we conducted a live demo Wednesday (we'll blog what happened as soon as we have collated it all).

Have we been hit with other problems? Well yes, trying to anticipate blind users needs in a concept system is quite difficult and without throwing lots of money at organisations set-up to help the blind, getting their easy to understand guidance is very hard, so apart from Mikes feedback at our ideas and stuff we have ideas from previously we have been working on a lot of the projects design thoughts in the dark, again with no major feedback mechanism to tell us when we're getting it right and when we're absolutely wrong.

Well it's almost 2:30 now, I'll get another telling off by my medic housemate for being up late and getting up early (whilst recovering from illness). She is right for doing so though...


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