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Animation Targeted To User Personas Increases Success

Published by Cisco, Inc, 2007.

By Subbarao Ivaturi and Brenton Elmore. Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).

Creating Animation Targeted to User Personas

This case study discusses the use of animation targeted to specific personas as an aid in setting up a network. This technique is applied in two software programs, one that assists in setting up a Linksys home network and the second that assists in setting up a small business network. Results showed that animation targeted at personas met our goals in initial network setup even though developing animations presented some challenges.

 

Introduction

Many of today’s products come with Quick Start Guides, Use Me First Kits, or a sheet of diagrams and instructions to perform first-time setup. Software programs commonly have on-screen written instructions to assist users in completing a task. Yet users often do not read these instructions because they want to get started immediately [5] or because the instructions are difficult to follow [10].

This problem is further magnified when users have to set up a home or small business network because they involve working with technology and devices (specifically routers, switches, wireless access points) that many users do not understand. After an initial attempt, often users will try to find a relative, expert colleague, or pay someone who can assist in setting up the network. Typically these networks are a one-time setup and do not require constant attention unless a problem arises.

The use of such products combined with the complexity of network technology results in poor user experience, inability to complete the setup task in a desired way, and increased support costs for the company.

Previous Research

Shneiderman suggests that the use of graphical demonstration is the most direct way for novices to learn the basic functionality and steps necessary to perform procedures [9]. Additional research suggests that animation may make interfaces easier, more enjoyable, and more understandable [3]. The attractiveness of animation is in the dynamic nature of its graphical illustration. Animation seems to have been applied in the areas of computer-based learning, decision-making, on-line help, and tutorial systems. Potential benefits from using demonstrations for instruction may not be forthcoming [7]. Similar results have been published regarding the ineffectiveness of animation in learning [6].

Several papers indicated animation may not be effective, and others stated there was no evidence one way or another. With conflicting summaries, it was hard to draw any conclusions. However, these papers focused on learning and retention, which were different from our goal of simple mimicry. In our products, we were only concerned with mimicry because these are one-time setups [8].

There is little research that tested the effectiveness of animation in improving success rate for user tasks in first-time setups. No research was found to indicate whether animation could be designed to improve human task performance, improve user experience, or reduce support costs for a company. Specifically, no literature was found that explores whether effective animation can be designed for different user types as an aid in setting up a network.

Problem Space

Small business networking and home networking are two market segments in Cisco facing the same problem. Networks are becoming increasingly difficult to set up and configure [1] [2]. The difficulty arises from the complexity of user interface and ineffective setup aids provided to users.

Our review of support calls showed that many of these problems are related to setup, including the following: cabling, knowing specific networking information, and correct sequencing of tasks. Often each product comes individually packaged with setup instructions. To be successful, the user must make the products work together by performing tasks in a specific order.

Project Goals

The challenge in both small business and home networking was to enable users to be successful in setting up their networks for the first time. Another goal was to increase user success in completing the task through self-sufficiency.

Following a user-centered design process, initial research and fieldwork revealed a total of seven distinct personas in small business and home networking segments. A few personas in each segment are as follows:

Juggling Janice, Soccer Mom. A novice home network persona who doesn’t care about technology, she simply wants things to work.

Traveling Thomas, Neighborhood Know-It-All. An expert home network persona who likes to know all the technical details (shown).

Motivated Mitch, Technician. An intermediate persona in the small business space who is eager to learn but is on his own and does not ask for help often (shown).

Eagle-Eye Edward, Systems Engineer. An expert persona in small business space who likes things to be set up quickly without mistakes.


Home Networking

The problem was that the novice personas don’t know and don’t care about the details of networking while advanced personas wanted to see the technical details. For example, novices don’t know the specific sequence of cabling, setup, and settings. Setup is second nature to advanced users. Novices were not aware of wireless security settings, while advanced personas optimized them for their device types. Novices didn’t care about Media Access Control (MAC) addresses, where advanced persona relied on MAC addresses for formatting and troubleshooting. We had to design a solution to satisfy both persona types and not “dumb down” the solution.

Small Business Networking

The problem was setting up a network that involved multiple devices (such as routers, switches, access points and security appliances), the technical expertise to set them up in a specific order, and understanding what to configure where. Very often customers do not have an in-house technical staff. The users who are in-house are not technology or network experts. They are users who probably understand desktop administration but not network administration.

We knew our solutions had to satisfy the personas identified in our research. A real challenge in each project was designing for beginners, intermediates, and experts as needed.

Our Solution

In both small business and home networking, a decision was made to use animation to overcome the problems identified and help the user get cabling and settings correct. Animation seemed appropriate since only mimicry of the steps was needed; no knowledge retention was required. The animation (or movies) was designed specifically for the four most dominant of the seven user personas, across the two projects. Two animations technologies were used. Home networking incorporated vector-based Macromedia Flash animation. Small busines used photo-based Animated Graphic Interchange Format (GIF 89a) animation.

Home Networking

It focused on the two polar persona extremes for movie acceptance, the novice persona (Juggling Janice) and the advanced persona (Traveling Thomas). Key design themes focused on context-sensitive setup and advice, good default settings, and visualization of the network.

For the novice persona, the software [4] checks the user’s environment and customizes the setup wizard to be context-sensitive. For example, if the user is running the software from a laptop, a laptop icon appears in the movies to reduce confusion (shown).

 

Multiple coding techniques of the setup steps support the novice in providing several ways to understand a concept. For example, textual descriptions, static illustrations, movies, and context-sensitive help topics are presented on-screen. To further assist the novice, techniques were borrowed from big-screen movies. In many animations, the complete step is shown first as a static frame. When a person clicks on the “Show Me How” or “Play Again” (play) button, the move time-shifts by fading to white and shows each step from the beginning.

The intermediate persona is able to set up the router quickly by reading the screen titles and skipping the movies entirely. Very frequently, advanced users setup the router manually before running the software. The software was designed with this in mind. If the software detects a customized router, it skips the setup wizard and goes directly to displaying the network map (shown).

 

The Linksys software currently helps users set up and configure 30 variations of Linksys networking products. This translates into 728 unique movies featuring several products in multiple configurations. The text in the movies needed to be easy to update and localize. Thus, Flash animations seemed to be the only economical way to fulfill the requirements.

Small Business Networking

The task of setting up a network is mainly assigned to the Motivated Mitch persona or one of the advanced personas rather than the novice, the Multi-Tasking Millie persona. Based on the personas, key design themes focused on the following: get it right the first time, learn as you go, provide instant feedback if a step was completed incorrectly, and ask only the information that is needed and set the rest of the settings to their defaults.

For the intermediate persona, this meant showing both the instructions in text and in animations (shown).

 
 

Each step was an animation. The user can run the animation in each step as many times as needed by clicking the “Show Me How” button. The initial view of the animation is always a device with no connections. When a person clicks this button, cabling and connections are shown in the default view and then in a zoom-in view to see details.  For the advanced users, they could just read only the instructions and complete the task.  

In small business, the network management application that was to contain animation supported configuration of six scenarios. Even though the number of scenarios was limited to six, there were several devices (six products, each product had at least six device series and each device series had at least 10 device models) that could be selected in all the scenarios. A decision was made to use actual photo images in the animation. Due to the huge number of devices that could be selected, a pilot was developed for two configuration scenarios to test the feasibility of using photos in the animation.

The program contained a wizard that assisted users in performing the initial setup and configuration. The wizard detected the type of scenario based on the devices that users selected. After entering minimal information for each device, the wizard walked users through each step of the setup in the required order. Each setup step was provided both in the form of detailed instructions and animation. The animation showed the exact cable connections that needed to be made between devices. It required three rounds of script changes for the instructions and informal usability testing to arrive at the final set of animations.

Results

Home Networking

Linksys conducted five rounds of design and usability testing on the setup wizards containing the movies. In usability studies, the success rate rose from 45% to 86%. The updates included text, setup flows, and movies, so the variables can’t be isolated. Before the public product release of the product, we conducted a pilot study, during which the call rate dropped 47%. Of course the drop is attributed to a better setup experience overall, but observations showed that animations certainly played a part. The animations also brought additional challenges beyond production. If there was anything missing from the animation (like plugging in the power adapter to the wall outlet), then the user didn’t do the step, even if it was well-documented in the text.

Small Business Networking

Demonstrations of the pilot animation clearly showed that being aided by animation helped intermediate persona users avoid mistakes while connecting the cables to the required ports of the devices and setting up the network. The advanced persona users just proceeded to complete the task without even looking at the animation. If they felt stuck, they just read the instructions again and continued in the wizard. Users who used animation also were able to complete the setup much more quickly. User experience tended to be favorable since no mistakes were made. Based on the pilot results, animation is being implemented in this project, though the decision whether to use photos or illustrations is still under discussion.

Even with all the advantages it offered, there were considerable challenges in producing the animations. The main challenges were the significant number of actual photographs of devices that were required in different situations, and time and cost to produce the animation.

Conclusion

Based on our experiences and the challenges faced in the two projects that used animation, it is worthwhile to create personas and target animation to the personas for first-time network setups. The user experience for network setup was improved. The benefits included increased success rates and higher customer satisfaction. These findings may be generalized to other types of one-time setup of products with a screen available to display the animations.

Citations

[1]     Bly, S., Schilit, B., McDonald, D.W., Rosario, B., and Saint-Hilaire, Y. Broken Expectations in the Digital Home. In Proc. CHI 2006, ACM Press (2006), 568-573.
[2]     Grinter, R.E., Edwards W.K., Newman, M.W., and Ducheneaut, N. The Work to Make a Home Network Work, In Proceedings of the Ninth European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (2005).
[3]     Gonzalez, C. Animation in User Interface Design for Decision Making: A Research Framework and Empirical Analysis. Dissertation. Texas Tech University. December, 1995.
[4]     Linksys EasyLink Advisor (free). http://www.linksys.com/lela
[5]     Mack, R.L., Lewis, C., and Carroll, J.M. Learning to Use a Word-Processor: Problems and Prospects. ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems, ACM Press (1983), 254-271.
[6]     Morrison, J.B., and Tversky, B., The (In) Effectiveness of Animation in Instruction. In Proc. CHI 2001, ACM Press (2001), 377-378.
[7]     Palmiter, S., Elkerton, J., An Evaluation of Animated Demonstrations for Learning Computer-based Tasks. In Proc. SIGCHI 1991, ACM Press (1991), 257-263.
[8]     Palmiter, S. The Effectiveness of Animated Demonstrations for Computer-based Tasks: a summary, Model and Future Research. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing 4 (1993), 71-89.
[9]     Shneiderman, B. Designing the User Interface, Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, USA, 1998.
[10]   Wright, P. “The Instructions clearly state…” Can’t people read? Applied Ergonomics 12, 3 (1981), 131-141.

Brenton Elmore