Browse Prior Art Database

Original Publication Date: 1984-Mar-26
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2007-Mar-30

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Carroll, John M.: AUTHOR [+2]


RC 10438 (#46643) 3/26/84 Computer Science/Cognition 10 pages

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RC 10438 (#46643) 3/26/84

Computer Science/Cognition 10 pages


John M. Carroll

Computer Science Department
IBM Watson Research Center Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

Abstract: The problem of developing practical and effective approaches to user training is becoming more urgent as the function of work stations increases and diversifies, and as the intended users of new work station products come to expect more usability from these systems -- in less time. The Minimalist design approach was developed to confront this situation and has had impressive successes in the word processing domain. The approach coordinates several radical "first principles" with am empirical design process. This paper presents an overview of the motivation for Minimalist design, and a definition of principles and processes -- with case studies.

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   People who do not already know how to use a con~puting system must engage in learning in order to to do so. This is a fact of life: knowledge about and skill in using computers does not just grow like hair on the human head. Another fact of life, at least contemporarily, is that the learning process involved in acquiring knowledge and skill in the computer domain is a difficult one for learners. The latter fact of life, and ongoing efforts to change it, we will refer to as the "training problem".

   A group at the IBM Watson Research Center (in collaboration with scientists at the IBM Austin and Gaithersburg laboratories) has been involved in studying the training problem for the past three years, chiefly in the area of word processor operator training. We have studied a variety of commercial systems and prototypes, and a variety of training approaches -- using a variety of psychological methods. Indeed, we have logged nearly one thousand hours of one-on-one close observation of learner activities, and several thousand more hours of less intensively monitored experimental study of new user performance. This research provides a vividly detailed picture of the problems new users must often face.

   I intend this paper to provide an overview of a set of design implications, referred to as Minimalist design, derived from our research. First, the training problem is reviewed, so as to motivate the Minimalist design approach. Second, Minimalist design is defined -- both in terms of principles and in terms of a design process. Finally, two case studies are reviewed to exemplify the usefulness of the approach. All of this will be quite condensed, but I will cite other sources (where they exist or soon will) for details.


   To anchor the balance of this discussion, we will decompose the training problem into a list of more spe...