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Subject: AEJ 97 CamachoM CTP Aesthetic approach to interface designs
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 14 Sep 1997 12:30:37 EDT

TEXT/PLAIN (917 lines)

A Multimethod Aesthetic Approach to User-Derived
Internet Interface Designs
Submitted to: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Communication Technology and Policy Divsion
1997 Annual Conference, Chicago, Ill.
Melissa Camacho, David Weinstock
[log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask]
Kevin O'Gorman
[log in to unmask]
Michigan State University
429 Communication Arts Building
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 355-8372
Technology alone will not facilitate an underserved community's free entry into
the global Internet discourse. The method detailed in this paper suggests a
means to discern Internet interface metaphors within underserved communities
that can bridge cultural barriers to joining the Internet discourse.  It further
suggests an application of Iser's Aesthetic Response Theory as a means of
creating community-derived Internet user interfaces for these communities.
The Internet, a multitextual, interactive communication tool has the potential
for serving as a globally unifying  force by virtue of its capacity for
multicultural discourse.  However, as it is currently being constructed, the
structure of the Internet favors a white, male, upper-middle class
population.[1]   Communities that do not share these characteristics, namely
low-income and/or minority communities, are being left out of this "unifying
experience."   To date, most research projects aimed at closing the gap between
communities that are served and not served on the Internet, have attempted to
create a bridge by merely providing the necessary technology to access the
Internet.   But technology alone opens a door to messages that are wholly
unfamiliar and often lack relevance to these populations because they fall
outside the realm of the "idealized user."[2]
        Unlike other communication technologies, the Internet allows users such
multiple relationships as accessors to, interactors with and creators of
knowledge.   Specifically, the World Wide Web (WWW) is "an environment [...] or
a set of modes of interaction between people."[3]  Because the Web is both
constructed by and serves its participants,  it tells a story about the world
and the way each of the participants experiences it.  The meaning of the Web, as
it is being constructed, will be shaped by the  "social and economic character
of the communities which participate in and are constructed in its use."[4]
        Information has been cited by many as an agent to social change, serving "to
motivate a change in attitude or behavior, to provide the how-to knowledge
needed to improve conditions, or simply to create an awareness of an issue that
may later lead to change."[5]   The Internet is one of the means by which
communities may "access, share, and disseminate" information to achieve
political, social and economic goals.[6] The next logical step, then, is to
assure that all communities have telecommunication facilities and services
sufficient to meet their information needs.[7] Yet most underserved communities
suffer from an inability to access or participate in Internet discourse.   As
communities  without a shaping voice, they are unable to participate in this
information exchange.
        By not being part of the discourse, members of these communities do not have a
say in how the Web will be constructed.  As a result their information needs are
being ignored, as  their exclusion from this process does not allow them the
opportunity to ensure that the information being provided via the Internet
discourse will be presented in a way that will be relevant to the goals of their
        The bridge from Internet discourse to participant receptivity many times relies
on interface design.  In order to include these populations in the Internet
discourse, Web interface designers need to create interfaces that include the
perspectives of community members.  It is by making the designs more inclusive
instead of exclusive, that the Web becomes a more "globally unifying
        The EmpowerNet project was designed to create sustainable access to the
resources of the Internet for residents of three Lansing area public housing
sites, which are overseen by the Lansing Housing Commission (LHC).   It was
intended to provide a residential model for low-income community access to and
participation in the electronic information age.
This project placed its emphasis on the aesthetic development of an interface
design as a means of drawing participants into the Internet discourse.
        Conceiving of the EmpowerNet homepage as an interface, the project modeled a
process of user-derived design. By designing a homepage that draws from the
familiarities of the world of the residents of low-income housing communities,
participants are guided from their familiar world to the unfamiliar world of the
Internet. Our research provided the EmpowerNet designers with
community-engendered metaphors. This way designers created an Internet interface
from user-derived metaphors instead of designer-perceived metaphors.[8]
        This paper describes the second step of a two-part process of creating a beta
version of an Internet interface.  The first part of this process involved the
use of a multimethod, extended case study[9] embodied in a three-phase discovery
processDconsisting of participant observation, group interviews and focus
groupsDin order to find metaphors to serve as cultural icons that best
represented community members and their needs.[10] Designers used the data this
process yielded to create an Internet interface based on the self-defined
characteristics of these unique communities.
Aesthetic Response Theory
         In The Act of Reading,[11] Wolfgang Iser looks at the relationship between
readers and texts.  A "text" is defined as a schema or "set of instructions" for
establishing meaning.   He recognizes that there is a relationship between the
text and the reader, and that the characteristics of each must be carefully
considered if communication is to be successful.  His work brings forth two
important concepts which, though centered on printed texts, can be applied to
the realm of web page design to create a sturdy foundation from which the
desired reader experience can develop.[12]  While both concepts, each part of
Iser's aesthetic response theory, investigate "meaning creation," the first
shows that meaning is generated by an asymmetrical, contingent relationship
between the text and the reader, and the second shows how the reader can be
guided into creating meaning through the use of textual "gaps."
        As the reader performs the text at the author's predesigned pace, the reader
begins to anticipate the as-yet-ungiven information.  The reader develops
expectations, starts to synthesize meaning from the given and not-given
information.  By controlling the rate of information flow, and which bits of
information are revealed, the text determines, for any moment in time, what
portion of the "created meaning" is based on information and what portion is
based on supposition.  By the same token, the reader's past experiences, perhaps
including the author's previous works, determine how the reader will interpret
and interpolate the information that is revealed.  Thus, the meaning of the text
is contingent on the reader, but the author controls the extent of interpretive
freedom by regulating the rate and amount of information divulged.
        What does this mean in terms of web design?  Iser's analysis of the
relationship between a text and a reader can be extended to a web page and a
user, and the relationship is  asymmetrical.  That is, the digital text holds
all the information potential and in order to get it, the reader must follow the
text's rules.  If one wishes to attract non-participants, build their confidence
and hold their attention, it would seem that the designer must divulge the
necessary navigational information quickly and completely, thus restricting the
user's ability to stray too far from the desired meaning of the interface
metaphor.  At the same time, though, there must be enough flexibility for the
user to synthesize a meaning that fits within his or her experiences and is thus
useful and attractive.
        The design that has been followed by the majority of designers up to this point
is to release the information in a style that does not consider the users and
requires the them to discover the correct position from which to interpret what
they are given.[13]   As Iser points out, every text automatically constructs a
"subject position," an optimal framework or point-of-view from which meaning can
be created such that the experience of the reader is closest to that which the
author desired.  Only, to discover the intended meaning in most current Internet
scenarios, the user must surrender her/his current position to that required by
the text.  More emphasis needs to be given to the information the text supplies
and less to the experiences the user supplies.  If the desired position has very
little in common with the user's position, the construction of meaning is
forced.  This scenario will work, but it only stands to reason that the less
effort expended by the user, the better the odds are that the user will remain
with the text and the desired experience will be found.  Iser points out, if the
user fails to find the correct subject position, at best she/he will experience
only a shade of the desired meaning, at worst she/he will experience "cognitive
dissonance"--utter confusion and frustration.[14]  Should this occur, the
designer will not only have failed in exposing the user to a new experience, but
may have turned that person away from any further attempts of achieving it.
        Iser argues that in order to gradually "move" readers toward a new subject
position, or in this case a new mode of communication, and avoid cognitive
dissonance, the experiential text must be in a language that can be understood.
He suggests the easiest and the most efficient way to make this transition is to
start with the familiar, or in this case, metaphors that are familiar to the
readers and their current subject position.[15]  By doing so, any initial
confusion or apprehension of entering the unknown is minimized. The interface
must speak to the users in a way that is appealing and familiar to them, in a
way that lets them call upon their past experiences to help create meaning.
        There are many ways in which interface designers can attempt to "speak" to the
user.  On a basic level, the use of color, graphics, and animation are several
ways in which this can be done.[16]  As in all visual media, textual color can
express emotion, mood and characterization.  Visual signs, such as familiar
icons and other graphical symbols, can also be used.  In a similar vein,
graphical user interfaces (GUIs) using familiar metaphors have also proven to be
successful in representing familiar environments and attracting new computer
users.[17]  Just as Iser moves the reader of a written text to a new subject
position by linking with points of reference associated with the reader's past,
metaphorical GUIs can also move a user to a new subject position by creating an
environment where the user's past experiences are valid.
        GUIs for computer software are supposed to be designed to communicate with the
broadest audience;[18] to make the GUI too specific is to exclude possible
users.  But current interfaces rely on representative icons which assume a
user's familiarity and make certain cultural and functional assumptions with the
function of the object represented.  In other words, if someone does not
recognize the object represented in the icon, it may be difficult for that
person to correctly bridge the gap between the icon and its function.[19]
Hence, many icons in use today need to be replaced by more cross-culturally
prevalent symbols which potential participants may better understand.  They must
focus more on conveying the concept of the task rather than the concept of the
object associated with the task.  Designers need to strive to make the "tools
invisible to the task".[20]
        While the above describes when  meaning is created, Iser's second concept
describes how  it is created.  He does this through the use of information gaps.
(This is not to be confused with Information Gap Theory.) Gaps appear when two
pieces of information are given by a text but they seem unrelated to each other
by the reader.  When a relationship is not apparent based on the information
given, or the reader's previous experience, the reader attempts to create
connections or bridges between the bits of information by synthesizing her/his
own meaning.
        Iser focuses on this meaning creation.  For him, bridging these gaps is how one
finds meaning in any text.[21]   Iser divides these gaps into two categories:
blanks and negations.  As one experiences a text, the mind, whether consciously
or subconsciously, tries to find patterns or connections, and is constantly
trying to predict logical outcomes for the next action.  When these predictions
are tested and are shown to be valid later in the text, the person feels more
confident, the pattern is reinforced, and the reader begins to identify more
with the experience.  Iser calls these reinforcing gaps "blanks".[22]  They
connect apparently unrelated concepts into a logical string.
        When the prediction proves to be false, or the synthesized meaning does not
seem to fit, the reader can feel confused and disoriented, unsure of what is
being experienced.  The mind immediately begins reformulating the connections
and the meanings, based on any new information.  These gaps are called
"negations," for they call for a rethinking of the experience.[23]   At this
point, the viewer must restructure the connections, maybe with a more figurative
        The above discussion can be extended to include hypermedia when the product,
such as a web page, is viewed as a text. The structure of Iser's theory
parallels the structure of the Web itself.  Like the local and global levels of
Web navigation, Iser speaks of the syntagmatic and paradigmatic levels of a
text.[24]  On the syntagmatic level, bits of information and meaning are
connected in a linear fashion according to structural rules, much like grammar.
In a paradigmatic sense, the same piece of information can have multiple
meanings, or multiple possible meanings.  To ensure that the reader's
experiences are the ones the author desires, it is up to the author to leave
just enough clues to guide the experience.  This perspective is shown in Figure
1.  First, if the participant's interpretation of B is correct, she/he builds a
syntagmatic link to C.  If a different facet of B was intended, the reader may
end up on a misdirected or meaningless path.  The reader of the text must then
back up and alter the paradigm being used to create meaning.  The result is a
different, yet equally valid meaning for C, which nonetheless maintains the
logical flow of the text.
Figure 1 - A Paradigmatic Shift in a Text
  [--- Pict  Graphic Goes Here  ---]
        Using gaps as tools, a text creator can guide a reader along a syntagmatic line
using the connective blanks, as seen in Topic B in Figure 2 below.  When a
reader follows a path in a website, that reader inserts created meaning to
bridge what is unstated, resulting in a logical and meaningful flow.  If one
switches topics half-way, like from B3 to C2, whether by accident or on purpose,
there is no longer a one-dimensional flow.  Confusion or disorientation from
this shift is avoided because the syntactic tools acquired along the way remain
constant.  Despite the paradigmatic shift, they still work in this new
environment.  The same syntagmatic system works in topic C.  Because of this
consistency, one can venture out into the global portion of the Web confidently,
which is but the first step in having a voice in the Internet discourse.
Figure 2 - A Paradigmatic Shift on the Web
  [--- Pict  Graphic Goes Here  ---]
        By experiencing a number of reinforcing blanks early on, it is possible that
the reader will see a negation as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a
barrier to be surrendered to.  Thus, in designing the interface, particular
attention must be paid to including familiar texts at the beginning of the
session.  The participant's cognitive effort should be focused on linking known
concepts, not interpreting unknown ones.
        To maintain a user's sense of orientation and avoid too many negations, the
designer of a hypermedia text must support local and global navigation at the
visual level.  While this may be easier for software designers because they have
an implied user group (e.g., a population defined by market research), to be
effective, as stated earlier, a web page designer must anticipate users with
varying levels of skill and collected experiences, because they have no way of
monitoring or controlling who accesses their work.  By incorporating
multicultural metaphors, the designer increases the publication's readability,
that is to say, the text communicates more clearly with a greater number of
        In designing interfaces, the designer must not impose  metaphors, but
understand what metaphors will work best with a particular community of users
.[26]  Or to say it another way, effective metaphors invisibly permeate
interfaces[27] as visual "map[s] between two concepts".[28]  To be useful, the
metaphor must be relevant to the reader's personal experiences. By identifying
with the metaphor, users can rely on the synthesized "meaning system" to
navigate through and access information on the World Wide Web.
The EmpowerNet Pilot Project
        Financed by a federal grant to channel youth activities toward computer
learning and away from drugs, the Lansing Housing Commission built three
"Computer Learning Centers" in three of its subsidized housing communities.
The centers provide these communities with networked PCs and a limited
collection of commercial and "shareware" computer software.    LHC later added
two Macintosh computers to its existing networks in each center, from which
residents could access the Web and other Internet functions.  The EmpowerNet
staff provided training, technical support and Web design services.  In
exchange, LHC offered the Michigan State University Telecommunication Department
the opportunity to interact with residents with the goal of creating a community
Web site. LHC provided sample populations for research purposes.
        The Michigan State University team used a three-phase research method and
design process to create the community-engendered home site.  Phase I consisted
of 16 weeks of participant observation and group interviews aimed at gathering
audience demographics, familiarizing the team with daily activities at the
community Computer Learning Centers and learning how community members used the
computers and software. The data collected here enabled the design of two
interface design prototypes to be used in Phase II.  This second phase involved
focus groups whose main intent was to evaluate the resident's specific responses
to these prototypes.  In Phase III, designers were able to extract both
information and metaphors from the data collected from both these phases in
order to design an interface that better represented that community.
Phase I:  Participant Observation and Field Interviews
        EmpowerNet researchers used participant observation and group interviews in
combination to gather information about the community as it went about its daily
experience without disrupting the community's routine.   From these methods,
researchers discerned the primary users of the Computer Learning Centers were
children, aged 7 to 18.
        They used the centers primarily as an entertainment system, although the games
they were allowed to play during weekday hours were educational.  Staff members
would often play these games with the children or compete among themselves.
Adults other than staff members were female and lesser in number.  Those who
were there used the computers for work training and career enhancement purposes.
Youths and staff were observed using all three genres of software at the
centers: games, business and education. Only non-staff adults were never
observed playing computer games.
        It is also important to note here those who were not observed using the
computers.   For example, there were no elderly residents observed in the CLCs
at any time.  There were a limited number of female adults and no male adults
        Another significant observation is the use of game-like learning programs by
participants.  These programs required the participant to navigate through the
exercises to solve puzzles or answer questions. Youths seemed to prefer programs
with more color, motion, animation and sound.  Programs with greater amounts of
text and even static art seemed to be subject to less use by youth participants.
        Using the data gathered throughout this observation period, questions were
asked in group interview settings in order to give homepage designers some
general information about the needs of this specific community, both outside and
inside the CLCs.  EmpowerNet research designers chose group interviews as a
means to develop detailed understandings of the culture itself.  Open-ended
questions were designed to yield detailed, descriptive answers to bridge the
intersubjectivities between community members and researchers and to develop a
holistic description of who and what an LHC community is.[29]  (See Figure 3)
Figure 3:  Group Field Interview Questionnaire:
1.  What is your sense of community?  What is it?  Who is it?  What is its
2.  What is good about your community?  What is not so good about your
3.  What kind of information is important to your community?  Where do you get
your information?
4.  How much computer experience do you have?
5.  Do you use computers at home?  At work?  At school?
6.  What do you know about the "information superhighway"?
7.  Have you heard about the Computer Learning Centers in some of your
8.  What do you perceive their benefits to be to members of your community?  To
which members?
9.  What do you perceive their disadvantages to be to members of your community?
10.  What images come to mind when you hear the term "empowerment"?
  [--- Pict  Graphic Goes Here  ---]
        Throughout the interview process, potential Web participants identified
particular "needs" that they needed to be fulfilled.  Daily activities, such as
child care, educating children and training for work programs were included
within their lists.  Metaphors native to the community were also uncovered.  For
example, when interviewing the CLC staff, it was discovered that their motto
was: "Teach, Teach, Teach...and Teach Some More."  This identifies education and
teaching metaphors as ones with which the participants of the CLCs can easily
        Upon questioning respondents about their information needs and the channels
through which they obtained such information, most participants identified what
they deemed the more "traditional" forms of mass media:  community bulletin
boards, newsletters, newspapers, radio and television.  Not a single respondent
referred to computers as a source of information, even though they were aware of
them and their presence in the community.  In fact, many respondents expressed
surprise upon learning that computers could provide them with information that
could help them fulfill the tasks they had just identified.  Some younger
respondents had thought about e-mail as a source of interpersonal computer
mediated communication, but they had given little thought to how they could
obtain information from a computer or from the World Wide Web.
        Adults who did not use computers confessed to heavy work and child-rearing
schedules that prevented them from using the centers.  Overall, however, they
expressed a need for better communication tools for obtaining information on
issues relevant to them, such as child care and youth recreation information.
Interestingly, several of these women's children were  very active in the
Computer Learning Centers.
        There was an array of reactions towards the "empowerment" metaphor among
respondents.  While some being interviewed expressed unfamiliarity with the
term, the overall remarks connected this metaphor with ideas of
self-sufficiency, power, ability to do new things, strength and finally, "being
better than anyone else."
        What was evident throughout the field interviews was that the residents saw
themselves as part of a larger society, but viewed themselves as having specific
needs that may differ from those outside their residential communities.   These
specific needs and their unique characteristics are what was needed to be pulled
out by designers.  Thus, the scope of appeal of the homepage becomes larger as
now the community can be included in the Internet discourse.
PHASE II: Creation of Prototypes and Implementation of Focus Groups
        Because this study was designed in the ethnographic tradition, we chose focus
groups because of their emphasis on dynamic group interaction and their ability
to yield data on specific topics in a short period of time.[30] At the center of
our research lay a number of  interactive processesDthe interaction among
residents and computers; the interaction among residents while they engaged in
computing activities within the CLCs; the interaction among residents and staff
members within the computer learning centers; the interaction among community
residents and the LHC; and the interaction between community residents and the
local health and human services community. Focus groups provided an interactive
environment we hoped would mimic the very relationships we wished to study.
Focus groups also lent themselves to this situation because they are an
especially useful technique when the subject matter differs sharply from the
researchers' experiences.[31]  In this case, the subject matter in question was
how underserved communities interacted with information technology.
        To this end, the research design team created a model for focus group question
design. (See Figure 4.) The model assumed the Internet would be used as an
interactive communication tool.  Researchers set about designing focus group
questions based on a three-way chart consisting of communication tasks by
communication tools by participants.  In other words, questions were to be
designed to gather relevant information from various categories of community
residents (i.e., computer users, non-users, adults, children), who used various
Internet applications (i.e., email, Netscape Navigator, etc.) to perform various
information-related tasks (i.e., information gathering, distribution,
communication, socializing, etc.).
        In setting up our focus groups, we chose a more formal approach because the
second part of our goal in this phase was to showcase a group of pretest
interface designsDprototypesDto community members and to seek their reactions to
them.[32] These prototype interfaces consisted of computer screens residents
might encounter on their way to connecting to the Internet using CLC computers.
Each prototype represented an interface metaphor whose design was derived from
the information we gathered from both the participant observation sessions and
the group interviews.  This latter task was yet another reason why we chose
focus groups as our method in this research phase. Focus groups allowed us the
opportunity to perform the vital function of "member checking"[33]D"presenting
(our) tentative conclusions (i.e., prototypes) to the participants as topics in
a focus group discussion."[34]  Using the information gathered from the group
interviews, prototypes were designed for the second phase of the research
process.  The significance of this phase is great:  here the designers sought
what elements were needed to be included in a homepage interface design if it
was to serve as the LHC "invitation" into the Internet discourse.  The focus
groups provided an opportunity for the designer to see how the potential user
might begin to move into this new "world" of the Internet.  Based on this, the
homepage designer could then begin to create a design which will better
facilitate this process.
        Focus group questions were designed to extract data on the familiarity and
activeness of the two homepage prototypes in accordance with the needs of each
of four participant groups within the housing communities.[35] Specific
questions were asked regarding how the participants would navigate through each
of the designs to obtain the information they desired.  Questions were also
asked regarding the specific meaning of the icons. (See Figure 5)
FIGURE 5:  Teen Questions
1.  If you're going to play Prince of Persia, where on this screen would you
click your mouse?
2.  Where on the screen would you go to do homework?
3.  Where on the screen would you go to find out where you could sign up to play
4.  If you were going to write a letter to someone, where would you go to do
5.  If you were to break this picture apart into pieces, like if it were pieces
of a puzzle, how would you do it?
6. If this is a screen on your computer and you have decided that you want to
find more information about Michael Jackson where would you go?  Where would you
not go on this screen?
7. I am going to point to several of these pictures and ask you to tell me what
it makes you think of when you see them:
(Living Room)           (Carnival)
the wrench                      the cross
the heart                       the baby bottle
the microphone          computer
book                            question mark
shield                          guitar
envelope                        playground
8.  Now I'm going to show you both screens at the same time. Which of these do
you like the best? Why?
9.  What is it that you like about the pictures on the screen?  What is that you
don't like?
10.  Now I'm going to show you each one separately again and ask you the same
question for both.  Is this the one you would like to use?  Is there something
in particular that you like or do not like about this screen?
        Designers created two interface prototypes to represent two different
approaches to participating in the Internet discourse.  These prototypes were
based on researchers and designer's joint interpretation of the data collected
from field observations and interviews.  The first prototype, entitled,
"Carnival" (See Appendix), assumes an active navigational approach.  In this
design, four quadrants are formed by paths that are drawn throughout the design.
Users enter "into" and travel "around in" the design in order to locate the icon
that will yield the information they are seeking.  The four quadrants themselves
are each labeled as specific areas in which particular information can be drawn.
"Working World" depicts information regarding career and job searching,
training, and related areas.  "Playland" was designed for obtaining information
on entertainment, including music, sports, and other recreational activities.
"Service Center" provides information on community activities and resources,
including health, child care, and community organizations.  Finally, "Area of
Knowledge" is dedicated to educational resources.  In the center of the design
is access to information from the Housing Commission, as well as access to
        The second interface prototype, titled "The Living Room" (see Appendix),
represents a more static approach.  The design, comprised of a large television
screen and a remote control within a living room-type setting, provides a
sedentary, push-button environment in which the user does not have to "move"
throughout the design in order to locate a given icon.  Instead, s/he simply
presses an icon-clad button located on the remote control panel, and the first
layer of information appears on the television screen.  The icons themselves are
simplistic: an envelope for e-mail, a book for education, etc.  The wire network
located on the side of the design represents the connection between the user and
the "outside world" of the information superhighway.
Focus Group Results
        Four focus groups were conducted using the questions described above.
"Carnival" was positively received due to its navigational structure, its colors
and variety of graphics.  The "roads" dividing the screen into quadrants and the
paths within each quadrant gave many respondents a sense of "wandering" and
"exploration."  Many respondents started that the "carnival" design was more
"open", and offered more choices in direction, stating that the possibilities
are endless."  Several respondents commented on how the overall design was more
"self-explanatory", in that they would venture to navigate through it on their
own.  However, for some respondents, particularly among the adults,  the same
design often proved disorienting when used as a guide into the Web.  Several
respondents indicated that the design was "too open" with too much clutter.
Often times icons were missed, such as the mailbox representing e-mail, because
there were too many graphics on the screen.  Many respondents commented on the
lack of icon labels, and they could not understand the meaning of the icons or
where it was they were to lead them because their designs were unfamiliar to
them.  For example, the red cross icon, intended to represent a hospital or
"health care" in the Service Center quadrant of the design often evoked some
confusion among respondents, as many of them automatically associated the
"cross" with "church" or "religion."  Others could not identify with the role of
the Playland quadrant for anything other than the actual playing of games.  Any
discussion regarding actually signing up for sports or other recreational
activities leaned towards the Service Center area.  And for most, the Housing
Commission was their "Service Center," and respondents had a difficult time
separating the two.  Having a more centralized area to complete all tasks was
important to the respondents.
        Meanwhile the "Living Room" design was primarily dismissed among respondents
due to its lack of navigational structure.  Respondents often referred to it as
"boring."  Children, in particular, both young and older remarked that the
design itself had little to offer them in terms of "helping them" locate the
information they want; "It don't look like nothing..." was a response often
heard.  While most respondents understood the meaning of each icon and where it
was to guide them, the younger respondents found the lack of navigational
process leaving them with little interaction with the text itself--a process
that is already familiar to them.  This lack of activity left them searching for
a more dynamic process when trying to understand the context of the homepage.
Many of these respondents, when asked to determine which icon to press to obtain
certain information, sought the power button or another graphic that would tell
them where to go or "lead them" in a direction where they could obtain the
particular information.  On the other hand, while the static nature of the
"Living Room" design was greatly disliked, the clear meaning of many of the
icons on that screen were well received and appreciated.  Adult respondents
noted that the "Living Room" design may perhaps be simpler for younger children
to use despite its static design and structure.  The adults themselves
overwhelmingly preferred this static design for their own personal use.
        Upon analysis of the data, it was evident that the younger participants of the
CLCs preferred the navigational structure of the "Carnival" design, while still
requiring a metaphor that would allow for a consistent and self-evident
navigational structure.  While the adults preferred the more static nature of
"Living Room," they also agreed that despite the design they wanted a "set of
instructions" for navigation.  While exploratory nature of the Internet was
something that was attractive to all the respondents, there was a fear of
becoming overwhelmed by the immense amount of data the Web provided.  In an
effort to avoid this from happening, the designers must keep in mind at all
times the need for these instructions and incorporate them into their design
Phase III: Designing the Homepage
        The third step of the project was a first attempt at user-created or
feedback-based design.  Keeping the need for a simple but consistent metaphor as
a means of guiding potential participants into the Internet discourse, designers
began to develop an interface to yield maximum navigational abilities.  The
design, while not intending to "shut out" participants of the Internet
discourse, sought to appeal to the logic and needs of the LHC residents so that
they may be included in the Web discourse.
        In conceptualizing this design, homepage designers returned to the transcripts
created throughout the research phase of the project in order to generate an
overall "user profile" for the Computer Learning Centers.   First, designers
looked for key descriptors the LHC community members provided about their needs
and interests outside the Computer Learning Centers.  Among these descriptors
1.  Ethnic minority composition including African-American, Asian and Latino
2.  Community residents felt a need to feel "part of" of the greater Lansing
area, and not   simply part of the Lansing Housing Community in which they were
3.  Adults interested in obtaining information on day care, schools, employment,
adult   education, health care, and community security outside of the LHC.
4.  Teens interested in seeking athletic opportunities outside of the LHC.
5.  Teens interested in seeking information on popular culture.
The second part of this profile includes data giving details about the current
interests and habits of current Computer Learning Center participants:
1.  Users primarily children with short attention spans.
2.  Overall lack of computer/technical experience among staff/ adults.
3.  Children interested primarily in computer games.
4.  Children view computer learning center as another playground.
5.  Parents have little time to "browse" homepages.
6.  Little/no interest in things lacking relevance to them.
7.  Hardware used for entertainment.
8.  Kids interested in popular information over educational resources.
Finally, designers also established a "design criteria" with the purpose of
addressing the needs of the community within the homepage interface design.
Among these criteria were:
1.  Teach Internet skills within a fun and interesting interface.
2.  Animation to attract younger users.
3.  Use images that tend toward universal meaning.
4.  Attention to ease of use, especially in navigation tasks and contexts.
5.  Links has some relevance to the young as well as older population.
6.  Menu bar on the gateway frame had function keys to find more frequently used
areas,  such as email.
7.  Page length kept short
8.  Include a "contents" page to aid in navigation.
9.  Use readable fonts for important information such as dates, times, places,
phone   numbers, etc.
10.  Icons colored to reflect racial-self-images within the community.
11.  Information provided has potential to "empower" community residents if they
so      choose.
        Using these profiles and criteria, designers developed a multi-layered
navigational design model using the Solar System as a metaphor.  The Solar
System was chosen for two reasons: first, because designers wished to convey a
feeling that there was a larger "universe" that surrounded the LHC communities
that they would experience; secondly, the "space" theme mimicked some of the
themes of games the communities' children were playing in LHC CLCs.[36]
Furthermore, the Solar System metaphor was adopted because: a) area school
science departments had children already studying the planet Earth and its place
within the Solar System, and b) that it helped sell the notion of the Internet
as a "system" that they, as navigators, might be a part of.
        These elements provide ideas for an asymmetrical design in which icons for
starting points from which to enter the Web.  The first layer of the homepage
consists of planets  or "worlds" such as Play World, Work World, Learn World and
Care World, each from which specific information can be obtained.  The planets
revolve around a sun which contains a map of the state of Michigan. It also
functioned as a "central" Neighborhood Information Center.  Designers even
created an "Asteroid Belt" within which non-categorizable services such as
e-mail, news and weather and a community calendar were placed.  The organization
of the Solar System allows for a controlled amount of information to be released
on the onset.  It is the information immediately necessary for the user to
continue navigating through the multi-layered entrance into the Internet.
        The Solar System design allows users to string multiple texts into a logical
string; the planetary structure allows for blanks to be created between the icon
and the user.  When a user navigates her/his way through the interface system
selecting a planet, they are immediately linked to a second layer of text within
the homepage site.  Here, links are created as an index of categories appear,
indicating the different kinds of information available at each planetary
location.  Thus, there is a logical connection already established between the
planet and the multiple categories of information from which they can draw from.
As a result, the user does not have to worry about "logic bridges" between the
two, facilitating their navigation into the Web.
        Once selecting the category s/he desires in the second layer, the actual
information source appears.  It is at this third level where users are linked to
Web information resources that are not specifically designed for LHC residents.
In other words, at this point they will access the same information other
non-LHC Internet users access.
        Part of the challenge to designers was to determine where each category of
information belonged.  Many categories, including child care, safety and
security, and education are often areas that are central to the Housing
Community Centers, but are also separate categories within the broader spectrum
of the Internet.  Designers had to exercise caution in order to not create
indexes that would cause a series of negations among the users as they navigate
through the solar system, but to also ensure that the users would be able to
ultimately reach the wider discourse on the Web.
        While this design is being created based on the information provided by this
one community, the design itself is not tailored to this group of users
specifically.  Instead, the design will be flexible enough to allow current
users as well as potential users to navigate through it in order to obtain
information as well as to participate in the Internet discourse.  However, there
will be elements within the design that will make this gateway into the Internet
discourse more appealing to members of the Housing Communities, thereby serving
the specific needs of this unique community through the widening of the textual
address system.
        By infusing their own experiences into their Web page, the housing community
residents have helped to create model which facilitates communities who wish to
participate on the World Wide Web.  This, in turn, may serve as an invitation to
those community members who do not perceive themselves as both welcome and able
to participate in the on-going
Internet discourse.
        The method detailed in this paper represents a means by which cultural barriers
to entry into the Internet discourse can  be bridged. It proposes a method to
discern communication interface metaphors useful in aiding underserved
communities to establish Internet discourse.  The key to understanding the
community for which the design is being developed is the degree to which
designers can enmesh their interface design skills with the traditions of the
community the interface will ultimately serve.
        Iser's theory of aesthetic response suggests that the creation of meaning
within a text relies on the contingent relationships that are established
between the text and the reader. This asymmetrical relationship allows the text
to guide the reader into creating meaning based on the logic bridges formed
between textual elements. When creating a homepage interface design that can be
universally understood through the process of meaning creation, characteristics
of both the (text and the reader-performer) must be carefully considered if this
asymmetrical relationship is to be established between the two.  By infusing
their own experiences into their web page, the housing community residents have
helped to create a text that begins in a subject position familiar to people
from similar backgrounds, thus making for a more inviting gateway into the
Internet.  By creating this attractive gateway this model not only facilitates
communities who wish to participate on the World Wide Web, but may serve as an
invitation to those community members who do not perceive themselves as both
welcome and able to participate in the on-going Internet discourse.
        The ethnographic tradition used in this extended case study method creates a
process by which prototypes are first developed, then fine-tuned by means of
interactive testing and retesting by potential users. As mentioned earlier, this
method constitutes a qualitative adaptation of an accepted method in usability
testing called interactive prototyping.[37]
        And yet, after an extended case study, prototypical designing and participatory
testing and retesting, the resultant interfaces are merely ready for
introduction to community computer users. The next step in this process must
necessarily be usability engineering studies. These quantitative studies focus
first on the system acceptability of the interface, then look at overall
usability. Acceptability  deals with the question of whether a system is good
enough to satisfy all the needs and requirements of potential stakeholders, such
as participant community members and the LHC. Overall acceptability is a
combination of social acceptabilityDdo stakeholders like the way in which it
accomplishes its taskDand practical acceptabilityDdo users believe it
accomplishes that task in the most efficient manner possible.
        Once acceptability is established, the second phase in usability studies is to
determine usefulness. Here the question is whether the interface can be used to
achieve the system's desired goal. This question is traditionally considered by
examining the interface's utility and usability.[38] Utility addresses whether
the interface's functionality can do what is needed and usability, the question
of how well users can use that functionality.[39]
        The ethnographic extended case study, coupled with the qualitative interactive
prototyping we illustrated in this paper, represents the first step in interface
design. Once pretested prototypes await introduction into target communities,
usability engineering must necessarily be the next step in this multimethod
        Future studies in this area will address research designs useful for usability
studies of completed products awaiting community introduction.
[1] Marcus, Aaron.  "Human Communications Issues in Advanced UIs."
Communications of
        the ACM 36.4 (1993): 100-10; Falk, Jim. "The Meaning of the Web."
University of   Wollongong: Department of Science and Technology Studies Home
Page (1995): n.         pag. Online. Internet. 8 Nov. 1995.
[2] Newell, Alan F. "Interfaces for the Ordinary and Beyond."  IEEE Software
10.5 (1993):    76-79; Rideout, Tom.  "Changing Your Methods from the Inside."
IEEE Software   8.3 (1991): 99-101.
[3] Schuler, Doug. "Community Networks: Building a New Participatory Medium."
        Communications of the ACM 37.1 (1994): 38-52.
[4] Falk, "Meaning," Online.
[5] Hawkins, Robert P., Gustafson, David H., Chewning, Betty, Bosworth, Kris,
Day,    Patricia M. "Reaching Hard-to-Reach Populations: Interactive Computer
programs        as Public Information Campaigns for Adolescents," Journal of
Communications,         37.2    (1987): 8-28.
[6] Hudson, Heather, "Toward Universal Access to Information," Media Studies
Journal, Winter         1994: 138.
[7] Hudson, "Access," 138.
[8] Lovgren, John.  "How to Choose Good Metaphors." IEEE Software 11.3 (1994):
[9] Burawoy, Michael,  et al. "The Extended Case Method," Ethnography Unbound:
Power   and Resistance in the Modern Metropolis.  Berkeley: University of
California Press,       1991, pp. 271-287.
[10] Habermann, Frits. "Giving Real Meaning to 'Easy-to-Use' Interfaces." IEEE
Software        8.4  (1991): 90-91.
[11] Iser, Wolfgang.  The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins,       1978.
[12] While Iser focuses his work on linguistic text, his approach is also
applicable to pictorial text.  For further discussion of this application please
refer to Allen, R. "Reader-Oriented Criticism and Television."  In: Channels of
Discourse, Reassembled.  R. Allen, (ed.)  Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina, 1992. 406pgs.
[13] Laurel, Brenda. (ed.) The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design   Reading:
Apple   Computer , 1990.
[14]  The Act of Reading  pg. 94
[15]   The Act of Reading  pg. 96
[16] Zettl, Herbert. Sight Sound and Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics.  San
Francisco:      Wadsworth, 1990. See also Rieber, Lloyd P. "Using Computer Animated
Graphics in     Science Instruction with Children." Journal of Educational
Psychology  82.1 (1990):
[17] Piller, Charles. "Macintosh Mystique." MacWorld 11.2 (1994): 112-119.
[18] Marcus, Aaron.  "Human Communications Issues in Advanced UIs."
        Communications of the ACM 36.4 (1993): 100-10.
[19] Rideout, Tom.  "Changing Your Methods from the Inside." IEEE Software 8.3
(1991): 99-101.
[20] Norman, Donald A.  "Why Interfaces Don't Work."  Human-Computer Interface:
[21] The Act of Reading, pg. 180.
[22] The Act of Reading, pg. 182.
[23] The Act of Reading, pg. 212.
[24] The Act of Reading, pg. 216.
[25] Thuring, Manfred.  Jorg Hannemann. Jorg Haake. "Hypermedia and Cognition."
        Communications of the ACM, 38.8 (1995):  57-60.
[26] Lovgren, John.  "How to Choose Good Metaphors."
[27] Erickson, Thomas D.  "Working With Interface Metaphors." Human-Computer
Interface:      65-74.
[28] Lovgren, John.  "How to Choose Good Metaphors."
[29] Weiss, Robert S., Learning From Strangers: The Art and Method of
Qualitative     Interview Studies, New York: The Free Press, 1994.
[30] Vaughn, Sharon, et. al., Focus Group Interviews in Education and
Psychology, Thousand    Oaks: Sage, 1996.
[31] Morgan, David, Focus Groups as Qualitative Research, Thousand Oaks: Sage,
[32] Morgan, Focus.
[33] Marshall, Catherine and Rossman, Gretchen, Designing Qualitative Research,
2nd ed.,        Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1995.
[34] Morgan, Focus.
[35] Each set of questions was tailored to a specific age group (teen
participants, young (7-11) participants, adult participants and staff members).
These groups were subdivided according the existing organization LHC used to
allot access times to the CLCs. Therefore, focus groups tended to consist of
groups of people who were already used to interacting with each other. This was
especially helpful when questioning the children.
[36] Subsequent discussions "downsized" the universe metaphor into a Solar
System metaphor because designers believed it would be more instructional to
create a navigational system that was based on a concept that was conceptually
more familiar to the audience. The notion of a "universe" was believed to be
"too grand" a concept for children, who are the system's main users, to grasp.
[37] Nielsen, Usability.
[38] Grudin, J., "Utility and Usability: Research Issues and Development
Concepts," Interacting  With Computers, August 1992: 209-217.
[39] Nielsen, Usability.
Internet as INTERACTIVE communication tool
Model: Comm. Task X Comm. Tool X Participants
INTERFACE                                                                       TASKS   (strengths to build on)
                                                                                        (Can be FACILITATED via the Internet)
DESIGN-->       simplicity  (clear interface and                        -->Get Information on:
                        interactivity)                                                  -child care(adults)
                        consistency                                                     -child's schools (adults)
                                                                                                -athletics (teens)
                                                                                                -pop stars/pop culture (teens)
                                                                                                -employment (adults/teens)
                                                                                                -adult ed./training (adults)
UTILITY-->      speed                                                           -community security (adults)
(useful)        contextuality ("language")                                      -other communities(adults/teens)
                                                                                                -health and sex ed. (adults/teens)
                                                                                        -->Distributing Information on:
                                                                                                -community events (staff)
APPEAL-->       engagement (invites user participation)         -education/training
workshops (staff)
                        depth (reward)-->linkages                                       -health and sex ed. (adults)
                        fun                                                                     -Employment opportunities (staff)
                                                                                        -->Low-Cost Long Distance Communication
                                                                                        -->Teaching Tool
CONTENT-->      relevance                                                               -computer skills
(categories)    comprehensiveness                                               -Internet skills
        FIGURE 4                                                                        -increase variety of games, etc.
                                                                                        -->Expand use of Computer Learning Centers

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