Process, Preference and Performance: Considering Ethnicity and Socio-Economic Status in Computer Interface Metaphor Design

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Virginia Tech

This research addresses a problem that centers on the persistent disparities in computer use and access among racial minorities, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, and persons of low socio-economic status (SES) here in the USA. "Access" to computer technology maintains a dual meaning. Access may refer to having a computer and software available for use or it may refer to having a computer interface that effectively facilitates user learning. This study conceptualizes "access" as the latter — having an interface that facilitates user learning. One intervention for this problem of access, from a Human Factors perspective, is in recognizing and accounting for culture's influence on one's cognition. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were integrated to effectively determine a process for engaging typically marginalized groups, interface metaphor preferences of African-Americans, and user performance with varying types of interface metaphors. The qualitative aspects of this study provided a basis for understanding how entry was obtained into the participants' community and for obtaining richer descriptions of user successes and challenges with the various interface designs.

The researcher developed a culturally valid interface design methodology, i.e., Acculturalization Interface Design (A.I.D.) methodology, which was used to identify meaningful computer interface metaphors for low SES African-Americans. Through the A.I.D. methodology and an associated field study, a group of African-American novice computer users determined that the home, the bedroom and comfort were meaningful computer interface metaphors to integrate into a letter writing task. A separate group of African-Americans performed benchmark tasks on an interface design that utilized the home, bedroom and comfort metaphors or Microsoft Word 2003. The African-American group performed significantly better on the novel interface than on Microsoft Word 2003 for several benchmark tasks. Qualitative analyses showed that low acculturation African-Americans were particularly challenged with those same tasks. Regression analyses used to determine the relationship between psychosocial characteristics and user performance were inconclusive.

Subject matter experts (SME), representing low SES Latinos, discussed potential learnability issues for both interface designs. Furthermore, results from the African-American group and the SMEs highlight the critical importance of using terminology (i.e., verbal metaphors) and pictorial metaphors that are culturally and socially valid.

Human-Computer Interaction, Computer Interface Metaphors, Culture and Interface Design, Interface Design Methodology