Dave Doyle
Skills used
field research
user needs research
client interviews
UI design
prototype creation
Chemical Dependency Counselor's Office (1998)
Note: for confidentiality reasons, parts of the interfaces have been obfuscated.
The Problem
Integrated desktop systems that completely encompass a job type are exciting software projects to work on, but extremely difficult to implement. The aim of this project was to provide a suite of integrated tools that would handle the needs of Chemical Dependency Counselors.
Determining Requirements
This project was funded by a grant, so the direction of the project was set, but the details, and the scope, of the project had not been worked out. My part in the project involved researching what CD Counselor's needed in order to do their jobs effectively. Through questionnaires, interviews and field research, I collected the data necessary to know what UI to develop.

Generalized desktop interfaceThe general interface was already established as a 'desktop system.' With the added requirement of creating an integrated suite of as-of-yet undefined tools and supplemental data.

I interpreted these requirements as naturally leading to the metaphor of a desktop system. This met the requirements and would allow users to open up any number of tools, forms, articles, or any other type of information provided by the system.

Establishing the interface
A large percentage of the interface was devoted to helping the user remember all the different tasks they were required to do when overseeing a patient's care, which they considered their biggest problem. Because of this, the majority of my time was spent upon finding a way for them to track what needed to be done, what they had finished and what they had started.

patient checklistIn the real-world, they usually did this by keeping a checklist. So, that was a natural mechanism to mimic. Checklist functionality was added to the general desktop, which allowed each step in the process to be tracked for each patient.

Not only did this mechanism provide a way to help reduce user's cognitive load, but it also provided a very natural mechanism to tie together all the different forms, tools and other assorted items that they needed, by associating them a specific step. By clicking on a step, the assorted forms and tools could come up automatically. Once completed, the box can be 'checked' so that the user knows that all forms for that step have been completed. If a step is not necessary for a given patient, that box can be marked as not applicable.

To most effectively use the screen real-estate, users could also minimize the patient checklist back to just show the list of patient names, recapturing space for the users to do their work.

Because this was a partially functional prototype, this interface was difficult to develop meaningful tests to determine if goals had been met. The users involved needed to be coached as to what they were testing. Because only some functionality worked, a script needed to be developed for them outlining specific steps that they should take. The reason for this was to allow them to test the parts of the interface that had been established, while not getting hung up on features that they would have wanted, but that were not yet fully implemented.

The test plan was developed in the same way that the features to implement had been selected. A set of users had been questioned to find out what the most dire and difficult part of their jobs were, these features are what we modeled, and they formed an effective test plan.

What we found is that the interface reduced cognitive load tremendously. It also made work more efficient for the users as information that had been collected in certain forms could be automatically made available in others, reducing the need to get the same information from patients multiple times.

The primary comment from the users was that they found themselves better able to focus upon the patients themselves, rather than having to concern themselves over the required forms, steps they may have missed or information they had forgotten. They also found the possibilities for immediately interacting with experts within the problem domains intriguing and potentially ground-shaking.