CMP004N Digital Project
 

iDesign Project

Evaluation Report

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STUDENT: Juri Bianchi
TUTOR: Patrick Power
COURSE LEADER: Elena Moschini

 

Student ID Number: 06026862
Project Title: iDesign

 

 

London Metropolitan University
Applied Social Sciences
Digital Media MA

 

 

 


Index

 

1. Conception


1.1 Project Concept, Title and Platform
1.2 Topic and Areas of Research
1.3 Aims of the Project and Target Audience
1.4 Product Research

 

2. Production


2.1 Production Plan, Phases and Tasks
2.2 Flash Architecture
2.3 Html Architecture
2.4 Aesthetics: Navigation, Decorative and Background Graphics
2.5 Technologies: Platform, Hardware and Software
2.6 Production Choices
2.7 External Resources: Tutorials, Media Assets and Scripts

 

3. Evaluation


3.1. Evaluation Plan
3.2. Pre-Production Field Studies and Early Feedback
3.3. Production Accessibility and Usability Testing
3.4. Post-Production Quality Assurance Testing

 

4. Conclusion


4.1. Finished Deliverables
4.2. Achievements, Issues and Improvements
4.3. iDesign Potential

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY


CREDITS


APPENDIX 1: PROJECT PLAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCEPTION

 

 

“…the objective of theatre is to reproduce a reaction,
a feeling, a sense in the audience.
This assessment holds true for all art and all communications…”

“This attention to audience,
rather than to the self of the communicator (the actor)
and to the content of the message (the script),
is key to the creation of effective combination.”

Theoretical Foundations of Multimedia


Tannenbaum, R. S. (1998, p.6)

 

 


1. Conception

1.1 Project Concept, Title and Platform

When I first started to think about this MA Digital Media Final Project, I decided to refer to my previous undergraduate studies on Interior Design. Indeed my primary intention was to utilize new media technologies to reinforce my Interior Designer skills and knowledge, and apply them to offer a new type of Interior Design media service.
Therefore I initially conceived this project as a sort of digital learning tool based on Interior Design history, keystones, principles, styles, features, industries and many other specific areas of interest, with the aim of helping the average interested user to have a complete understanding of the whole subject.
Moreover the real challenge was to create an innovative Interior Design educational tool with an improved level of interactivity, capable of being much more engaging and much less dispassionate than the ordinary learning tool.
In order to do that I decided to create a series of applications with the intent of helping the user to approach Interior Design in many different ways, from the historical to the emotional point of view, and so on.
Furthermore I decided to develop this digital tool on the Web platform, because I wanted it to be directly and interactively linked to existing Interior Design resources on the web, in order to guide the user towards more specific area of research.
The title I gave to this project is “iDesign”, very simple and easy to remember. The “i” letter, which stands before “Design”, has different denotations and connotations that match with the concept of the project:

1. It is an abbreviation of the word: “Interior”, referring to the main topic of the project.
2. Linguistically, it means the action of designing. Indeed the intention of iDesign is to teach the user and give him the possibility to develop his own design.
3. It highlights a personal way to approach design. A personal path: iDesign offers different methods and tools to approach the world of Interior Design.
4. The letter “i” can be considered as a sign reminding of an approximated human figure, with a body (the vertical string) and a head (the dot above the string). Indeed this association of ideas gave me the idea for iDesign logo.
5. The “i”, as a stylized human figure, underlines the importance of the emphatic human force that is behind any type of design process. It also stands for the new idea of creating an Interior Design learning site considering not only the rational but also the emotional response of the user.

 

 

 

Conception

1.2 Topic and Areas of research

Currently there are thousands of educational and commercial sites offering specific interior design information. Though there are only few sites entirely dedicated to Interior Design as a definite subject. In terms of content, iDesign does not differ from all the existing analogical and digital Interior Design sources. In fact historical information, descriptions and images are taken from existing disseminated learning material, which already describes perfectly all the features of Interior Design. Therefore this project concerns more about the “form”, rather than the “content” of the average Interior Design site.

The specific areas of research scoped for this project were:

a. Website interactivity accessibility and usability. Apparently the most common program used to enhance websites interactivity and animated graphics is Flash (Mischook, 2006). However many important theorists starting from Jacob Nielsen (1999, 2000), warn web designers of accessibility and usability issues concerning the use of Flash.

b. 3D navigation and interactivity. According to McGillivray and Head (2005), 3D animation graphics can be embedded into Flash movies to improve the overall interactive experience. The future empowering of the broadband connection will permit the use of elaborated 3d navigation tools (UCM , 2008). Examples of this trend: Google Earth 4.3 “Street View”, the latest Microsoft Vista browsing products “SpaceTime 3d” (Marshall, 2007).

c. Digital Game Based Learning. Many well documented articles and books (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990 – Prensky, 2001 - Fortugno and Zimmerman, 2005 – Chen, 2005 – BECTA, 2006 Byron, 2007 – Hurley, 2007 – Sandford, 2007) illustrate how games can be useful to captivate users’ attention and support education. Entertainment is considered extremely useful in the development of any online solution (Rhodes, 2007, p.5).

d. Viral and immersive marketing solutions The latest E-commerce trends show a growing interest towards more engaging and immersive marketing solutions (Cheng, 2005). The use of entertaining features, presentations, banners, “advergames”, is paramount to promote viral marketing and word to mouth advertising via users (Mello, 2006 – Wilson, 2005 – Carl, 2007 – Bogost, 2007 – Smith, 2007).

 

 

 

 

Conception

1.3 Aims of the Project and Target Audience

Since I was already a student, an expert and more important a passionate of Interior Design, even before conceiving iDesign project, I have always had a generic and draft idea of what a complete Interior Design website should look like. I have explored Interior Design and Architecture websites since I started my university studies, and I have always thought that these could not actually get into the spirit and the more intrinsic values of the topic.
In my opinion Interior Design as a defined subject, has an enormous potential to attract larger audience than it actually does at the moment on the web. The issue is, as with many other subjects, that the younger audience is often discouraged in navigating these types of sites, for the flatness, the bareness, the tediousness and the low level of interactivity and emphasis in which Interior Design is often contextualized. (Haug, 2008) The greatest challenge of iDesign Project, is to evolve from the flat and dispassionate newspaper site, to a more interactive and graphically appealing exploration system. A website able to attract and communicate with younger or more uninterested users, as well as with the usual interior design student more directly involved (Brown, 2009). An immersive educational tool with the power to attract attention and stimulate emotional response in any type of audience (Sullivan, 2007).

iDesign project objectives:

1. To create a prototype for an innovative Interior Design Site solution.

2. To create a more attractive and engaging Interface than the current foremost Interior Design sites interfaces.

3. To improve the conventional Interior Design site level of interactivity, accessibility and usability.

4. To create a more engaging Interior Design educational environment.

5. To set the basis for a possible immersive-marketing and advergame based site.

Identified Target Audience:

Age 15 to 35 – Occidental Culture - Basic Education – English Speaker

 

 

 

 


Conception

1.4 Product Research

Website Interactivity, Accessibility and Usability. Examining ordinary Interior Design sites, it is noticeable that: while they are abundant and meticulous in the content, they tend to be tedious and not quite engaging in the interface. Examples of well-documented and scarcely engaging interior design sites are: www.furniturestyles.net (educational) or www.designicons.co.uk. The correct implementation of Flash improves the interaction and the responsiveness of the user with the site (Mischook, 2006), as well as the usability and accessibility (Haug, 2008). Some famous examples of commercial Interior Design flash based sites are kartell.com, www.starck.com, www.marcozanuso.com.

Web 3D Navigation and Interactivity. There is a lot of experimentation on Real Time 3D on the web, for example “Papervision3D Beta” is plug-in prototype for Flash 3D vector graphics (www.papervision.com). However In the specific case of Interior Design and Architecture, there are few examples of live 3D navigation. Usually the user has to buy and download the specific plug-in software to navigate in 3D (www.greatbuildings.com). Moreover a world famous example of successful 3D real-time navigation is “SecondLife” (www.secondlife.com). This application has to be fully downloaded like a executable file. Up to date most diffused, cutting-edge technique is “360-degrees camera”, which gives the illusion of 3D navigation. An excellent example is “wiredhome” sponsored by www.wired.com (same technique used for maps.google.com “Street View”).

Digital Game Based Learning. Flash is often used to create online games and applications in order to increase a website appeal and so to attract younger web surfers. Unfortunately, there are only few examples of online flash games concerning Interior Design: www.i-dressup.com , www.y8.com/games/Best_Interior_Design. A very successful and world-known pc game, which enables the user to design and furnish a virtual living space, is “The Sims” thesims.ea.com. However none of these is actually an educational game. A very simple and engaging E-learning application called “The Colosseum: Building the Arena of Death”, can be found in the BBC site (www.bbc.co.uk/history)

Web viral and immersive marketing solutions. Advergames are one of the most effective E-commerce strategies. They have the same features of the normal flash games but they are used to sponsor a particular product. They can be found anywhere in the web, and they can have different forms: banner-sized, downloadable “exe file”, etc. The latest trend is likely to create a totally immersive experience (adidas.ggg.com.au, cokezerogame.com, www.thesimpsons.com).

 

 

 

 

PRODUCTION

 

 

 

 

“… breaking each component of the project
into progressively smaller pieces
until it becomes a collection of tasks or work packages…”

“…a monstrously large and intimidating project is transformed
into a series of small, manageable sub-projects…”

Real Web Project Management


Shelford and Remillard (2007, p.107).

 

 

 

 

2. Production

2.1 Production Plan, Phases and Tasks

The project started with a Pre-Production phase formed by briefing, scoping and planning sessions. These were fundamental to study the field, pinpoint the objectives, analyzing the concept and identify the many different production tasks.
Digital Media Management case studies show how the whole production process should always be broken down into smaller, more specific and more manageable tasks (Shelford and Remillard, 2007). Accordingly, iDesign project has been separated into three distinct main areas of production concerning Architectural, Aesthetical and Technological parts of the project. This first separation was then followed by an accurate distribution of the determined project tasks in the respective area of production (Austin and Doust, 2006, p.83). However this separation was only conceptual and its purpose was only to outline the chronological order of a constant and agile production cycle, where all the production parts were always correlated and often combined, especially during the testing (Sicart, 2007). Instead a total isolation and independence of these three parts would probably have caused inconstancies and lack of creativity in the production (Bilton, 2007). The definition of the production areas and tasks led to an identification of the various assets and resources, including time, needed to meet the expected objectives (England and Finley, 2007, p.103).
The main areas, in which the production tasks have been conceptually distributed, are briefly described below:

1. The Architectural area: the creation of the information architecture, interface wireframe, organization of content, structure and navigation systems of the website.

2. The Aesthetical area: the creative choices, the studies for the “look and feel”, the creation of adequate graphic assets: logo, navigation metaphors, decorative graphics and backgrounds.

3. The Technological area. front-end and back-end programming: editing, scripting and coding for the production of interactive interface applications, 2d-3d graphic animation, flash games, 3D modelling and real-time exploration.

Please notice that the complete Project Plan Timeline, outlining the production phases and tasks of iDesign project, is located in APPENDIX 1 at the end of this evaluation report.

 

 

 

 


Production

2.2 Flash Architecture

The Stand-Alone Application. At the very beginning of the production process, iDesign architecture was conceived a single massive and exclusive interactive application. This first conceptual choice was made because iDesign prototype was suppose to revolutionize the interactivity of the average Interior Design media tool, by creating a totally immersive educative and/or commercial experience. A perfect format for that would have been the executable “exe” file playable on PCs: it is interactive, it can be played full screen with lossless quality, it is an highly compressed file optimum for download and it requires no special codec’s or plug-ins. However such an application would not have permitted universal availability and accessibility. For example, executable files cannot be played on MAC or Linux (Blueberry Software, 2005).

The Flash Based Site. The project, as an educational tool, was intended to be accessible and available for as many people as possible. Moreover, since the application was conceived as an introduction to Interior Design, another very important feature to add would have been to provide the user with interactive and direct links to more specific resources, in order to deepen his researches. The only platform capable to meet these requirements was the World Wide Web. More in particular the most suitable software to create interactive and appealing web application is Adobe Flash (WebAim, 2009). Since Flash Player plug-in is supported and already installed in all web browser, including those of MAC and Linux it is an indisputable fact that Flash is the most popular and accessible interactive tool on the web (Blueberry Software, 2005). The revolutionary broadcast site www.youtube.com is a perfect example of the popularity of Flash technology.

The Flash Architecture. The initial architecture, based on a single heavy executable file, had to be sub-divided into smaller “externally loadable” Flash SWFs in order to accelerate download processes. Moreover Each Flash movie was provided of a loader, in order to inform the user on downloading progression (Morris 2006, p.107-109).
The dimensions of the Flash application screen were set according to the “Letterbox Format”, and maintained until the latest version of the prototype. The Letterbox Format 760x350 is the most used format on the web, since it assures that the page will be entirely viewed by all screen resolutions, even on the smallest 800x600 displays (MacGillivray and Head, 2005 p.72). However display resolution trends are rapidly changing and 800x600 is now down at 4% (w3schools, 2009). An excellent example of Letterbox Format site is www.neostream.com.

 

 

 

 


Production

2.3 HTML Architecture

Flash accessibility and usability issues. There are many accessibility and usability issues that had to be considered developing the Flash part of the website. WebAim (2009) indicates “Flash Text Equivalents” creation as the first solution for Flash accessibility. This technique helps Flash elements to be recognized by "screen readers” for unpaired people, such as JAWS (www.freedomscientific.com). However, there are other issues about Flash sites usability. Nielsen severely criticizes the inappropriate use of Flash in is famous article “Flash 99%” (Nielsen, 2000). According to this world known web expert, Flash encourages the creation of non-functional graphics, confusing animations and non-standard heuristics which affect negatively the user navigation.

Optimizing the Flash Based Site. Since iDesign was conceived as a introductory E-learning tool, and as a bridge site towards more specific Interior Design online resources, the main issue was to find a compromise between the entertaining extravagance of the Flash interface and the simplicity and comprehensiveness of a universal standard HTML language page website. Universal access is the first Web principle (W3C, 2003). The architecture of the initial iDesign Flash-Based website had to be modified and optimized for the platform of the web in order to improve accessibility, usability and traceability by search engines. Indications on how to improve Flash performance in such terms are offered by many experts (WebAim, 2009) including Adobe Flash developers (Adobe, 2009).

The hybrid solution. The most important suggestion by Adobe experts was to divide the interface of the site into two parts: a main part with the Flash movie at the centre top dominating the site, and a formal HTML language page extending vertically and containing a simplified version of the Flash content (Adobe, 2009). The result of this operation is a sort of hybrid architecture between a Flash based site and a classic standardized HTML site. There are many sites with such architecture, for example www.matmi.com. In this case the Flash and the HTML parts are perfectly combined with no visible fractures in the interface.
iDesign is based on the same type of hybrid architecture and consequently it offers two principal levels of navigation: the more entertaining and unordinary flash navigation (dimensioned as a universally visible letterbox format), and the classical straightforward HTML navigation which extends vertically on the web page keeping the letterbox width. Moreover an even more simplified form of navigation is granted by the omnipresent iDesign “Sitemap” and “Linkmap”.

 

 

 

 


Production

2.4 Aesthetics: Navigation, Decorative and
Background graphics

In the field of Architecture and Interior Design, the decorations of an object are always consequential and often functional to the object structure and interface. Similarly iDesign aesthetics were developed only after the structural part of the site was set. The “look and feel” of iDesign have been developed in a very unique, constant and recognizable brand capable to stimulate a sense of familiarity in the users (Kent and Allen, 1994). Inspired by famous architects sites such as www.fosterandpartners.com, iDesign aesthetic mission was to rebrand the ordinary Interior Design “serious newspaper look” with more appealing and engaging graphic for younger audience. The logo is the perfect account of this general iDesign branding strategy: an elegant but also lively design, able to appeal both to older and younger audience. The main colours are white, black and gray, representing elegance and sobriety, while orange accents symbolize the more extravagant side of iDesign website (Sullivan, 2007 - Catherine, 2009).

Navigation Graphics: in line with Nielsen’s “Heuristics” (2005), these were initially designed as comprehensive, simple and minimalistic signs, often text shaped, either in Flash or HTML. These graphics are functional to the navigation, and help the user to interact with the various applications, in order to improve iDesign usability. Therefore they were designed in a straight and simple way (Brown, 2007). In this case the most valuable suggestion to consider was Architect Mies Van Der Rohe’s favourite motto: Less is More.

Decorative graphics: used to make the various parts of the interface more noticeable and distinguishable, they also facilitate the user navigation. However they are different from navigation graphics, for they are purely decorative and unresponsive to the user command. The logo, the buttons, the menus, the Flash display screens and animated panels, the various HTML content areas, the sitemap and linkmap are all separated and outlined by such metaphorical graphics and animations, “fake 3D” highlights and shadows effects, or surrounded by outlining decorations (Zeal, 2007).

Background Graphics: very elaborated and extravagant compositions, these graphics have been inspired by writers’ graffiti art, very popular among teenagers. Their purpose is to illustrate the main theme of iDesign pages in a fresh and artistic way. Developed around the navigation area, they do not interfere with the navigation, or distract the user.

 

 

 

 


Production

2.5 Technologies : Platform, Hardware and Software

Considering the distribution platform and the technical requirements of iDesign project, the implemented hardware devices for the production were a personal “MacBook Pro” laptop and a “Western Digital 120 GB external memory” to archive and have a constant back up of all the produced data (England and Finley, 200, p.163). In terms of software I worked with both “Mac OS X Leopard” and “Windows XP” operating systems. I made chose this option in order to test the product with both Safari and Internet Explorer browsers and to use different programs supported either by Mac or Windows.
The iDesign project was developed using the evaluation versions of various programs. More in particular the many different technologies provided by the chosen software were combined, in order to obtain the fresh, appealing and unordinary graphic solutions planned. The list below specify which evaluation programs were implemented in the project and the corresponding specific tasks:

•Adobe Flash CS3: flash site interface, graphic animations, animated navigation tools, games and E-learning applications

Adobe Dreamweaver CS3: HTML interface, web editing, standardized HTML navigation, tag editing, content re production, xml sitemap for search engines

Adobe Photoshop CS3: site aesthetics studies, wireframe and mock-ups, graphic assets production and post-production

•Autodesk AutoCAD 2008: architectural and interior design technical drawings, models plans and sections

•Autodesk Maya: three-dimensional object modelling and rendering, iDesign main character animations

•Autodesk 3DStudioMax: three-dimensional modelling of architecture and design objects

•Chaos Group VRay (3DStudioMax Plug-In): three-dimensional objects lighting and texturing, photorealistic renderings

•Adobe Premier Pro and After Effects CS3: three-dimensional animations post-production editing and special effects

•Adobe Director 11.5: three-dimensional architecture models navigation with Adobe Shockwave technology

 

 

 

 


Production

2.6 Production Choices

The Adobe Legacy. As previously outlined iDesign has always been conceived as an interactive and entertaining animated educational tool. Indeed the structure and interface of iDesign was developed using Adobe Flash CS3. Flash was chosen for its appropriateness, popularity, simplicity, versatility, and for its variety of exporting and publishing option (Blueberry, 2004 - Haug, 2008). Once the flash based site was published with Flash, it had to be adapted and optimized for Internet using a web-editor program. In this case the choice was Adobe Dreamweaver CS3. Moreover Adobe Photoshop CS3 was chosen for the graphic production and postproduction, and Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects CS3 for the video animations editing. The main reasons of these choices were: firstly the compatibility between programs of the same package “Adobe CS3 Premium”, and secondly the popularity and the diffusion that these programs have among teenagers and young professionals. (Burns, 2009). In fact Adobe products are essential to easily recreate a web environment familiar to this target audience: for example, the artistic backgrounds of iDesign pages evolved from shared “Photoshop brushes” which are very popular among young graphic designers.

Photorealistic Renderings and 3D Animations. The procedure for the creation of a perfect 3D model started from the AutoCAD Plans and Sections drawing. There are many CAD editors available on the market. Although Autodesk AutoCAD is considered the most used by professionals (itshowcase, 2009). Moreover AutoDesk is from the same company of Maya and 3DStudioMAX, the 3D editors chosen for modelling iDesign 3D media assets. More in particular, Maya was used for character animation, for its ease of use in smoothing polygons skins, setting skeletons and assigning inverse kinematics movements (Pitzel, 2008). Instead 3DStudioMAx was used for housing and interior design scenes modelling, and photorealistic rendering with its powerful VRay plug-in (www.chaosgroup.com).

Real Time 3D exploration. The House models made with 3DStudioMAX were then exported as W3D files for Adobe Director, in order to create playable shockwave file compatible Adobe Dreamweaver. There are other technologies available for creating live exploration 3D like the Flash plug-in “Papervision3D”, or VRML (Virtual Reality Mark-up Language) editors such as RenderSoft Flux, Cortona, Cosmos, etc. However they are still experimental, complicated to use and not comparable to Shockwave technology versatility.

 

 

 

 


Production

2.7 External Resources:
Tutorials, Media Assets and Scripts

iDesign HTML Content Resources. The development of iDesign prototype was only possible thanks to all the linkages to free external resources available on the web. It is clear that is nearly impossible to replicate and rearrange every existing piece of information about Interior Design. This area of study is so vast that it necessarily needs a multitude of specific online educational material, and analogical tools as well. Indeed, iDesign is a prototype of an introductory Interior Design site: a portal to the online world of Interior Design. Therefore iDesign provides the user with web external navigation tools, such as the “HTML Linkmap” or the more sophisticated Flash Application “iNavigate”. Moreover each iDesign page, focused on a particular aspect of Interior Design, contains outsourced images and brief descriptions taken from other sites: the source of information and/or the image is clearly indicated on the page, with a link directed to the specific site of origin. This system easily recalls Web hypertext original principles illustrated in by its creator Tim Berners Lee in the book: Weaving The Web (1999).

Flash Interface Resources. Flash buttons, animations, 3d effects, and scenes have been developed thanks to the tutorials of the following books: Creating a Website with Flash (Morris, 2006), Flash 3d Animation, Interactivity and Games (Ver Hague and Jackson, 2006), 3D for The Web (McGillivray and Head, 2005). Moreover additional tutorials and scripts, for Flash interactivity special effects, games, and sounds were also gathered from the online resources: www.flashkit.com, www.kirupa.com, www.tutorialized.com.

Photoshop Elaborated Graphics Resources. Brushes and Patterns for the creation of iDesign pages background were collected from myphotoshopbrushes.com, www.brusheezy.com, www.freephotoshop.com. Tutorials on how to enhance graphics with fake 3d lighting and shadowing were studied on www.pixel2life.com, www.tutorialized.com.

3D Web Implementation Resources. 3DStudioMax VRay techniques for photorealistic rendering were studied on www.cg-files.com, cg-india.com and www.vray.us. Real Time 3D exploration of iDesign Architecture was possible thanks to the polyvalent book: 3D for The Web, Chapter 8, Director Shockwave Tutorials (McGillivray and Head, 2005).


 

 

 

EVALUATION

 

 

 

“The user are the reason for producing an interactive product and so should be part of the business analysis, design and development”.
“The users should be an integral part of the design and development process”.

Managing Interactive Media, Project Management for Web and Digital Media

 

England and Finley (2007, p.141).

 

 

“The fundamental difference between the Internet and older media networks is that the Internet is interactive.
Everyone can be a producer just as everyone can be a consumer”.

The Power of Many,
How the Living Web is Transforming Politics, Business, and Everyday Life

 

Crumlish, C. (2004, p.11).

 

 

 

 

3. Evaluation

3.1 Evaluation Plan

As explained in the second chapter of this report, during the Pre-production phase, iDesign project was broken down into small and more manageable tasks. This type of technique, called Work Breakdown Structure, is commonly used to help the project manager to differentiate the various tasks and the specific areas of the production (Shelford and Remillard, 2007). In iDesign case, the identified main areas of production were three: architectural, aesthetical and technical (see Chapter 2: Production).

Accordingly, the Evaluation Plan of iDesign was conceived on the same conceptual basis. In fact the various prototype releases of iDesign have been tested in terms of architectural, aesthetical, and technical quality, both as separated parts and as one overall experience of the website. Moreover, in addition to this first conceptual separation, there is also a practical-chronological one. Indeed a sequence of three increasingly accurate levels of testing has been planned for this project. These three levels of testing correspond to: pre-production, production and post-production phases (Trulock, 2008). Below there is a brief description of the three different Evaluation Plan sessions (details will be discussed on the following pages):

1. Pre-Production Field Studies and Early Feedback
During this first evaluation phase the “observer” have taken into consideration, testers’ reactions, observations and comparisons of iDesign early versions against other similar existing productions.

2. Production Accessibility and Usability Testing
Performed at regular intervals, and always in relation to the production cycles, these more professional and analytical evaluations have had the purpose of individuating precise and defined issues concerning iDesign site architecture, aesthetics or implemented technologies.

3. Post-production QA testing
Final Quality Assurance Testing should be performed before the commercialization of any type of product. Considering the web platform, publishing and distributing is easier and faster than in other fields. However it is suggested to have the site finalized by an Outsourced professional team of QA experts.

 

 

 

 

 


Evaluation

3.2 Pre-production Field Studies and Early Feedback

Pre-Production studies, concerning theories and practices in iDesign areas of research, followed by the Product Review (described in Chapter 1: Conception), represented the starting point for project evaluation. Indeed existing productions, in the specific field of Interior Design E-learning and E-commerce, have been taken into consideration for both: the ideation of Idesign project, and the initial comparative testing.
The first pilot and draft versions of Idesign were put to the test in every available occasion during Pre-production. Mostly performed by easily reachable unprofessional users-testers, like fellow students, friends and relatives (Clickz, 2000), in “natural settings”: during their ordinary day-life activities and in their personal ambient (Preece, Rogers and Sharp, 2007, p591-593). These iterative surveys gave an early account of the impressions and responses of the generic occasional user with: basic IT skills, low interest in the subject matter and unspecified education level (Fuccella and Pizzolato, 1998).

The testing session was based on a specific procedure. Firstly the user had to compile a checklist form, to evaluate iDesign prototype experience and then to compare it to similar products. Short, simple and straightforward, the checklist was focused on visual presentation quality, clarity of communication, design consistency and interface usability (Sullivan, T. 1996).
Secondly the testers were invited to have a structured interview, based on the checklist form results, to review, discuss and clarify their immediate impressions and reactions to iDesign prototype “look and feel” (McAteer, 1999).
Thirdly, these “early feedback reports” were collected, compared and examined to fix and improve the project concept, correct the initial aims and guidelines, outline particular requirements, identify possible benefits and risks, and store important information for the successive, more detailed usability and accessibility testing.

Thanks to these primary testing cycles, iDesign ideation process was deeply involved with generic testers active participation and based on the “average user” impressions and needs (Trulock, 2008). Indeed the intention was to satisfy a larger target audience than the one identified for this project (Chapter 1). Once iDesign architecture, navigation and style basis were, the release of a defined Demo version definitely marked the end of the Pre-Production phase and the beginning of the main Production phase (as it is shown on Appendix 1: Production Plan).

 

 

 

 

 


Evaluation

3.3 Production Accessibility and Usability Testing

Production phase testing have been conducted with the support of a moderator (an experienced Web developer) on defined target audience samples, in isolated condition and with a more precise methodology than the one used for the early feedback (Graham, 2000). These added precautions were taken to have a certainly unbiased and dispassionate analysis of the product status, to avoid any interference during the evaluations and to assure the maximum seriousness concentration and of the user-tester. The aim of this second level testing was to understand how iDesign prototype actually operated and interfaced with the user (McNamara, 2008).
The testing process was centred on unobtrusive observation of the user-tester, followed by an issue-focusing interview made by the evaluator with the external moderator (D’Hertefelt, 1999). Behaviours and reactions of the sample testers to iDesign prototype various applications and navigation systems were identified, analyzed and either catalogued or solved.

These Accessibility and Usability testing have been paramount to check if iDesign project main criteria were being fulfilled, if the site was practical and efficient in conveying the information, and if all the Web navigation principles and guidelines were being respected. Moreover they were also useful to examine the overall Website experience, identify any architectural, aesthetical or technical issue, and so to propose valuable solutions for further improvements. Based on accessibility and usability principles, like Nielsen’s “Heuristics” (2005), and guidelines provided by many online professional resources, like w3.org and Webaim.org, these testing were regularly performed during the Production phase, usually right after the completion of one specific project subtask. This was necessary to gather more accurate information about iDesign consistency of the interface and navigation controls and systems, appropriateness of visual language and metaphors, functionality of the technologies implemented, suitability for the Web platform in consideration of the related target audience (Preece, Rogers and Sharp, 2007, p699-700). The site compatibility was tested using the most diffused Operating Systems: Leopard OS X and Windows XP (Shelford and Remillard, 2007, p.187); and on the most used Internet Browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari (w3schools.com, 2009: browser and OS statistics).

The finalization of both the Production Phase and the cycles of accessibility and usability testing, led to a more defined iDesign prototype “Alpha” version (as it is shown on Appendix 1: Production Plan).

 

 

 

 


Evaluation

3.4 Post-production Quality Assurance Testing

It is commonly suggested to have always a Final Quality Assurance Testing before the commercialization of any type of product. Considering the technology of the World Wide Web, publishing and distributing is a lot easier and faster than in any other platform. However it is essential for professional production to have the site examined and finalized by an Outsourced professional team of QA engineers (Kannan, 2009). Quality Assurance Team should be unbiased, emotionally uninvolved with the project, highly experienced and equipped with professional evaluation instruments. Therefore Outsourcing is likely to be the more appropriate option (Sisson, 2002). In the case of iDesign project, these final outsourced evaluations have not actually been performed, but undoubtedly taken into consideration for further development.

The actual iDesign Alpha release Post-production testing sessions have been a fusion of the two previous evaluation processes: generic users’ testing checklists, interviews and feedback combined with unobtrusive observation and usability and navigation testing made on precise target samples.
In addition to these, online Quality Assurance tutorials, services and tools have been utilized for the finalization of the project. Therefore the iDesign Alpha was both “user-tested” and “software-tested” (Webaim.org, 2009).

Many testing tools were implemented for iDesign Post-production QA. UITest.com offers a helpful selection of these types of tools. For example the “Markup Validator” service offered by www.w3.org (The Web official Website), which automatically checked iDesign HTML page structure, individuating all the errors in the code.
In addition another tool called “HTML Tidy” was used for cleaning up the individuated errors.
Moreover, iDesign prototype has been tested with other excellent online QA tools, focused on more particular issues. For example the software “WAVE” available at wave.webaim.org was used to check “alternative descriptions”, while colorfilter.wickline.org helped to check colourblind situations. Furthermore SEO “search engine optimization” was possible thanks to Google Webmaster tools, and the addition of sitemap.xml and robot.txt files (google.com/WebsiteOptmizer).

To perform these types of software-based testing iDesign prototype had to be online and “visible” by the online tools. In other words the product has been actually formatted, packaged and played on the Web platform. Eventually this also helped to define final considerations and potential outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

 

 

 

 

“Who wouldn't like more interactivity and richer media on the Web, including resizable images, quality sound, video, 3D effects, and animation?

W3C's consensus process does not limit
content provider creativity or mean boring browsing”.

 

Principles of The World Wide Web Consortium


W3C, www.w3c.org (2003)

 

 

 

 

4. Conclusion

4.1 Finished Deliverables

The project has been successful in many aspects and finished with the creation of an extremely refined prototype: iDesign Alpha Version (Appendix 1: Project Plan).
Even though the Website is not completely finished and there are many improvements that should be made, the product has a perfectly defined concept, structure and brand. The first online prototype, which was uploaded for Quality Assurance testing (Chapter 3.4), already attracted a particular type of audience and demonstrated its potential for both educational and commercial development.
Achievements, identified issues, possible improvements, and further development of iDesign will be discussed in this final part of the report. Nevertheless, before discussing any collateral or hypothetic aspect of the project, it is important to outline what were the project outcomes in concrete terms. The list below summarizes what the actual iDesign project deliverables currently are:

• A Website with optimal accessibility and usability, thanks to a Flash-HTML hybrid architecture, various interactive navigation tools, sitemap and help page.

• Selected, organized and categorized contents, possibility to navigate at different level of depth.

• Selected links to more specific Web resources to help the user deepen his researches on a particular subject.

• Fresh and appealing Photoshop, Flash and 3D graphics to create an immersive experience and support navigation.

• iExplore: an engaging and interactive tool for Interior Design history researches.

• iSense: prototype application to approach the design process with personal sensations rather than rationale.

• iInvestigate: an entertaining way to study and learn Interior Design authors, styles and particularities.

• iGameLearn: Digital-Game-Based-Learning area with rough but well functioning games based on Interior Design.

• iNavigate: an idea for a fast and graphically impressive link-map to help the user with its further researches.

 

 

 

 

 


Conclusion
4.2 Achievements, Issues and Improvements

In line with the initial objectives, (Chapter 1.3), iDesign Alpha Version has proved to be a new and more appealing solution, in terms of interface and engagement, and in comparison to existing Interior Design educational tool. The immersive experiences offered by iDesign, for example 3D-Flash interactivity and 3D real-time architecture exploration, could create a more engaging and effective educational environment. Moreover, iDesign could be rearranged as an immersive marketing solution as well (Chapter 4.4).

The main issues affecting the project are principally related to Accessibility and Usability guidelines for the Web platform. Because of these issues, described in the Production analysis (Chapter 2), many compromises had to be accepted in order to create a sufficiently immersive application that could also be totally compatible with Web standards and Search Engine Optimization principles. As a result, instead of a compact and continuous experience much like a computer game, iDesign is fragmented into HTML pages, Flash SWF, Shockwave files and so on. Naturally this solution penalized the product performance during the testing, but on the other hand it was paramount to have a universally accessible and usable site.

Interface, “look and feel” issues have been identified during early pre-production testing (chapter3.2). Initially both the Flash Application and the HTML pages were too flat. To overcome the problem, fresh graphics were developed to increase users’ interest and help them with the navigation (Chapter 2.4). Moreover during usability testing, people were confused principally by the duality of the Flash-HTML navigation. Therefore, many textual and visual indications were added, and “Help and Documentation Pages” were created (Nielsen, 2005). Furthermore, still due to site fragmentation, many younger and bolder testers were more inclined in having an entertaining flash experience without considering HTML content; while older and more serious visitors tent to avoid the Flash part completely, going directly to the HTML part.

In the future, Adobe will surely invest on the improvement of Flash technology, in terms of interactivity, accessibility and usability. In fact the creation of the new Flash competitor software called “Silverlight” by Microsoft, perfectly demonstrate the growing interest of the market towards new forms of Web interactive applications. Moreover, experimental plug-in software, such as Papervision3D for Adobe Flash or Kit3D for Microsoft Silverlight will certainly improve Websites 3D real time exploration. In this case iDesign could probably become a unique, continuous, more captivating and totally immersive experience, deliverable as a whole package.

 

 

 

 

 


Conclusion

4.3 iDesign Potential

It has already been mentioned the fact that the iDesign prototype was transferred online in order to become an actual Website and to have a more appropriate and professional Quality Assurance software testing (Chapter 3.4).
Up to date, iDesign Alpha Version is currently running at a provisional URL (www.jbdesign.it) and there have been some cases that demonstrated its strong potential to attract specific kind of audiences, including potential sponsors.
The interest, that iDesign arises in determined professional figure and company types, can be considered as an indication for possible sponsorships, eventual investments and further project developments. Two particular and symbolic cases have been registered during the final online testing period.

Anapia Education Case. Lately I have been employed by Anapia Education as a professor-collaborator. Apparently this private school employed me also because attracted by iDesign concept, brand and principles. Anapia Education is recognized as an IQCenter by Microsoft and offers courses and exams for the European Computer Patent “ECDL” (www.anapiaeducation.it).

Aluminium Shopfronts Case. SRL Ltd Aluminium shopfront fitting services based in Manchester (www.srlltd.co.uk) contacted me for inserting their company Website link into iDesign index page. They simply offered a link, from their Website to iDesign, in exchange of my favour. Even though this operation only improved iDesign page rank in Google, it also represents a clear indication of how companies, operating in the field of Interior Design, could be interested in iDesign site.

Accordingly, two main fields have been individuated for possible iDesign evolution:

1. Online Digital Game Based Learning: iDesign has the potential to become a practical tool which would facilitate and improve Secondary School and University Interior Design education.

2. E-commerce: iDesign could become an attractive portal for Interior Design professionals, and an online marketing platform for Interior Design and Architecture companies and manufacturers.

Probably, the best solution would be to expand iDesign project in both fields contemporaneously, in order to attract larger audience and be functional to both educational and commercial purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

" The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world”

Weaving The Web


Berners Lee T. (1999, p.133).

 

 

 

 

Thank you very much for reading this report.

Juri Bianchi

 

 

 

 

 

 


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CREDITS

 

 

REFERENCES:

adidas.ggg.com.au

anapiaeducation.it

bbc.co.uk/history

cokezerogame.com

designicons.co.uk

fosterandpartners.com

freedomscientific.com

furniturestyles.net

i-dressup.com

jbdesign.it

kartell.com

maps.google.com

marcozanuso.com

matmi.com

neostream.com

papervision.com

secondlife.com

starck.com

srlltd.co.uk

thesimpsons.com

thesims.ea.com

y8.com/games/Best_Interior_Design

youtube.com

wired.com

 

MAIN SOURCES:

apartmenttherapy.com

archiplanet.org

arcspace.com

barrisol.com

bonluxat.com

britannica.com

designboom.com

designmuseum.org

furniturestyles.net

essential-architecture.com

galinsky.com

historyforkids.org

home-improvement01.com

inhabitat.com

interior-design-tutor.net

interiordezine.com

mlahanas.de

mnsu.edu

moonstruck.org

pushpullbar.com

stylepark.com

TUTORIALS, SOUNDS AND SCRIPTS:

cg-files.com

flashkit.com

kirupa.com

pixel2life.com

tutorialized.com

vray.us

QA TESTING:

UITest.com

www.w3.org

wave.webaim.org

colorfilter.wickline.org

www.google.com/WebsiteOptimizer