Rhetoric Makes Me Cynical and UX Makes Me Critical

I remember voicing a complaint in my Historical Foundations of Rhetoric class several years ago that all this “rhetoric stuff” was making me cynical (well, even more so than I naturally am). I felt like it was leading me to over-analyze everything and to think that everyone had hidden agendas and manipulative motives.

Well, I’m experiencing a related reaction toward the texts I’ve been reading about user experience and user-centered design practices. Although instead of becoming even more cynical (I think I’ve hit my ceiling), I’m just becoming hyper-aware of every little error message, dialogue box, and confusing task or setting on every single piece of technology I use.

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About Face (Part 5): Using Idioms to Re-envision How We Understand and Interact with Texts

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin. This is certainly the logest of the five-post series. Apparently I felt strongly about the topic!

What is the balance between meeting user’s mental models and creating new idioms?

There seems to be a slight (but necessary) conflict between two key principles mentioned throughout About Face.  The first half of the text strongly reinforces the idea that programmers and designers must work together with users to understand users’ mental models.  Software should match how users think—even if this contradicts the “logic” within the code.

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About Face (Part 4): About Face and Teaching Writing

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How can we use the versioning, auto-save, and undo capabilities to re-envision the ways we teach writing?

 Many teachers will tell you that students perform better when they can see measurable progress. Just like the users of a software program, students want to know “where” they are in a process. Although we can’t always give students a virtual “status bar,” we do try to help them see their improvements.  This is why, at the end of the semester, many writing instructors require students to return to a paper they wrote during the first few weeks of class. The goal is to help students actually recognize how much they’ve (hopefully) learned throughout the semester—in terms of content and grammar, in addition to rhetorical writing strategies.

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About Face (part 3) About Face and Learning Spaces

This is part 3 of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How do we avoid creating situations where users get lost in the interface, or experience “navigational trauma?”

Several times throughout the About Face, the authors quote Antoine de St. Exupery saying, “in anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

To me, this principle seems to be at the core of usability and good design: Give people exactly what they need without all the other “stuff” that distracts, frustrates, or impedes progress and effectiveness.

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About Face (Part 2): Applying About Face to E-Texts

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How might all these principles apply to e-texts?  

Although About Face focuses almost exclusively on desktop or laptop computers and the applications and software designed for these technologies, I kept trying to relate their concepts back to textbooks. At first I found this annoying and a bit frustrating. Finally I just decided to give in and run with it.  Most, if not all, of the principles in About Face can be easily applied to iPad app design—more specifically, texts that can be read on an iPad.  For this reason, many of my observations about and responses to About Face deal with e-texts and come from the perspective of a Digital Rhetoric scholar and English composition instructor.

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About Face (Part 1): Personal Connections

At 650 pages, About Face offers so many different entry points into the discussion about usability, interaction design, and graphic design, and industrial design.  Looking back through my notes, however, I noticed several themes coming up again and again. I’ve tried to group these themes and my comment/responses into several blog posts to make them a bit less overwhelming:

  1. Personal Connections
  2. Applying About Face to E-Texts
  3. About Face and Learning Spaces
  4. About Face and the Teaching of Writing
  5. Using Idioms to Re-envision How We Understand and Interact with Texts

This post begins with the theme of Personal Connections. And, as with the posts that will follow this one, I’ve tried to direct my commentary and response to About Face through a series of questions, which I then attempt to tease out and answer.

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