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Switching Between Tools in Complex Applications

Will Schroeder

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 4, August 2008, pp. 173-188

Article Contents


How to read the charts

Task 1 is a problem without a formulaic solution (e.g., a programming problem). Task 2 is simple plotting task amid a large array of possible tools (e.g., plotting and formatting data). In the programming Task 1, users create, step-by-step, a function or script that can find palindromes in text. They employ very few of the available tools. The complexity in this case lies in deciding when to switch from one tool to another. In the plotting Task 2 users load data from a file and create plots for export or printing. In this case the complexity is tool choice; there are many ways to accomplish Task 2 in MATLAB®.

We recorded 14 users doing each of the two tasks. This gave a feeling for the variation in tool use across users (see below) and a baseline against that we can measure our next set of design changes. The charts show the user's progress through the task in terms of tool use as well as indicating frequency and direction of tool changes so as to give a quick, overall picture of what tools were applied, when the tools were applied, and how long the tools were applied. The following is a description of how to read each line in the figures that follow:

This visual overview of test progress allows us to locate switching problems in a test recording, and affords a description of tool use that we can compare with tests of the same task using other designs.

Figure 1. User 6 working through the programming task (top) and the plotting task (bottom).

Figure 1. User 6 working through the programming task (top) and the plotting task (bottom).

Figure 1 shows User 6 doing Task 1 and then Task 2, using different tools for each task. In Figure 2, user 2 plots with the same toolset user 6 used for programming. User 2's style (in the period from 10:00 to 50:00) demonstrates that user 6 might have done the plotting task with the same tool use tactics used to complete the programming task, but chose not to.

Figure 2. User 2 does the plotting task (top). User 6 does the programming task (bottom).

Figure 2. User 2 does the plotting task (top). User 6 does the programming task (bottom).

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