Researchers seek help with 'skin' effects - Embedded.com

Researchers seek help with ‘skin’ effects

LONDON — Brunel University is setting up a research project aimed at defining a link between a user’s personality and the way they interact with current software interfaces.

The PROSKIN Project is investigating whether there is a correlation between a user’s profile and the design of software applications such as how do different kinds of people respond to the color and look of their phones or computer screens. The research is analyzing feedback from the use of a ‘WebRadio’ – a customized Internet radio designed by the Brunel University team.

A user interface ‘skin’ is the term given to the layer of software that governs the look of an application – for example, the colour of the screen, where icons are situated, or which icons appear where. The PROSKIN (or PROfiled SKIN), research will help determine how people behave differently towards different skins.

The study aims to identify and segment user types into small subsets with an 'identifying characteristic', matching up preferred skin types with user types. This will provide a set of user metrics for software developers to make informed design decisions, so that they can develop skins that will make applications more appropriate for different personality types.

The researchers think that even subtle changes to a device’s ‘skin’ may significantly change the quality of a users’ interaction with the machine. As a result, the ability to ‘re-skin’ or customize a user interface is fast-becoming a common feature of many software applications and operating systems – for example, Windows Media Player, WinAmp, Firefox, ICQ, MS Messenger, AIM all provide users with the ability to chose their skins.

Participants in the research shave to download ‘WebRadio’, the customized Internet radio, designed by Brunel University. The WebRadio allows participants to change the user interface skin and log their interaction and provide feedback via questionnaires. Researchers will then analyze the log files and questionnaires to determine user interactive behavior in relation with the user interface skin.

The answers that the Brunel researchers find won’t necessarily give companies the ability to offer individual skins – that’s not practical or commercially viable, but designing skins to suit types of user is realistic and achievable. The goal of the research is to try to find better, more personal ways of using tomorrow’s software and applications.

Brunel is trying to collect behavioral data (e.g. click times, frequency of use) and user data (e.g. personality type, age, gender) from a wide range of participants, in order to identify the relationships that can be found between different factors. The WebRadio can be downloaded at http://www.proskin.org.

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