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Thesis Defense - Boyd

Eaton South

Designing Usability into Virtual Environments
Casey Boyd
Computer Science PhD Candidate

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is about the effectiveness and efficiency of the use of computer systems by people. Virtual environments (VEs) are a kind of computer system that allow three-dimensional interaction. They introduce some ineluctable new challenges for interaction design, by affording fundamental new functionality beyond what was possible in traditional computer interfaces.

This thesis research is an investigation of three-dimensional interfaces based on two categories for evaluation and measurement. One category concerns characteristics of the virtual environment (VE) interface, such as its complexity and abstractness. The other category concerns human capacities for understanding and using three-dimensional input/output devices. The results help us to predict the usability of VE interfaces and to design interfaces that are well matched to their intended users.

A keyboard is, in a sense, a one-dimensional input device. It generates a linear stream of characters. Keyboards can be used by almost everyone after some training. A computer mouse operates spatially in two-dimensions. Its command language may be easier to learn than keyboard languages, but it requires a visual and semantic map of the monitor screen and sufficient motor control to operate it.

A three-dimensional interface makes demands of its users that are easy and challenging in different ways than are found with the customary one and two-dimensional interfaces. As we develop throughout our childhood and maturity, we gain skills for operating in a natural environment with spatio-temporal extent. Often, we apply those skills productively with little or no felt effort. But without those skills, we can attempt to perform tasks and fail.

Usability tests were conducted to compare three different virtual environment (VE) interface designs. Three interface designs were tried in a counterbalanced within-subjects procedure with ten randomly-ordered trials for each interface design. One of the interface designs used a head-tracked, stereoscopic head-mounted display. The other two interface designs used hand-tracking and were non-immersive, the visual display appeared on a desktop monitor. Subjects completed six standardized psychological tests to create a skill profile that is analyzed statistically for relationships with performance with the three interface designs.

Committee: Clayton Lewis, Professor (Chair)
Elizabeth Bradley, Assistant Professor
Michael Eisenberg, Assistant Professor
Oliver McBryan, Professor
Lewis Harvey Jr., Department of Psychology

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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