User AnalysisMost writers are familiar with the process of performing an audience analysis prior to drafting a document. Performing a user analysis is not really all that different from performing a reader analysis, except that writers will need to turn their attention away from the information provided in the text to focus on the methods by which the user will access, navigate through, and interact with the computer system.
Some writers find it helpful to categorize and organize the types of questions they need to ask about their readers. Doing so highlights the variety of information the writer needs to obtain before the process of writing can begin. For example, Linda Flower suggests that the first step of audience analysis is to determine the reader's knowledge, attitudes, and needs. ( Flower 1980 )
Similar categorizations exist to assist interface designers in discovering relevant information about potential users. One helpful model of user interactions with hypermedia systems has been provided by Peter Michael Fischer and Heinz Mandl. The following tetrahedral model demonstrates the interaction and interdependence of information about the user's characteristics, the user's tasks, motives, and goals, the user's domain, materials, and situation, and the user's intellectual and learning activities.
Possible questions to ask about users include:
Writers and designers for the WWW need to be particularly aware of why the user has turned to the WWW as an information resource. Supporting all kinds of users with all kinds of tasks, motivations, and goals is a difficult but important aspect of good interface design for the WWW. Despite the fact that the nature of the medium makes it difficult to determine the needs of every potential user, it is still helpful to consider the following questions:
As difficult as it can be to specify the tasks and goals of a variety of users, it is even more difficult to specify how users will access a site. Designers cannot know with what browser or operating system a user will look at their information. However, writers and designers still need to ask the following questions about the conditions under which the user works, if only to make it clear how little can be known about these conditions.
Writers and designers might consider the mindset with which the user approaches the material and the interface. Users who are creative, curious, and daring will approach the WWW differently from those who are uncomfortable using computers and fear seeming incompetent.
The WWW also provides an excellent opportunity to explore theories of multiple representations, which claim that people learn more effectively when information is provided in a variety of media. Writers for the WWW can present information through images, sound, and even video along with the text. Asking some questions about users' intellectual and learning activities can improve the quality of the interface design.
Hypermedia are not only
fuzzy concepts from an
epistemological point of
view, but they also include fuzzy entities (for
example, do we include
the user as a hypermedia
entity?) Thus, hypermedia per se have the
status of platonic
ideas. As such they are
idealistic entities. They
come into existence only
if their users perceive
them; they exist through
the users' interpretive acts.
In other words hypermedia
without users are as dead
as print media without
readers or movies without
viewers. Without such an
interpretation they are
simply galleries of wisdom without visitors.
(Fischer & Mandl, 1990)