Conceptual Models: Needs & Requirements

The first two readings are from Bringing Design to Software written by Addison-Wesley. The first article talked about the Alto and the Star, two milestone PC products developed by the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); The second article is an interview report with David E. Liddle, who led the Star and the Alto design team.

From these two articles, we learned one important reason behind the long-lasting impact on latter computer design concepts is that the team highly focused on “the user’s conceptual model” according to David, which is equivalent to “user model”, a concept we learned from Don Norman’s book. The user model is what a user’s preception of how the product works, which was often ignored by developers. To emphasize on user’s model, David and his team ended up writing a 400-page functional specification by interacting with users and ask for their inputs before they ever wrote one line of code. Their efforts bought revolutionary results: the Alto was the first personal computer with a bitmap screen, graphical interface and pointing device; the Star was the first commercial computer that made standards in personal computers. Many of today’s PC still looks similar to the Star.

David and his team spent a lot of time and effort asking the needs from users and transfer these needs into requirements (specs), which corresponds to the thrid reading: Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, Chapter 10, Identifying needs and establishing requirements, written by Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp, Jenny Preece.

By far, I learned from the readings that it is so important that a successful product should be designed to fit into user’s need/demand. Having discussions and conduct research before developing a product is a good way to form user model. Then the developers will follow the user model and try their best to align design model to user model such that the situation shown in this picture will likely to be avoided:


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