Prototyping and end user involvement in early stages of mobile applications development

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Nov 12, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)

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Prototyping and end user involvement in early
stages of mobile applications development

Loina Prifti

TUM
-

Technische Universität München

Information Systems (I17)

Boltzmannstr. 3

D
-
85748 Garching b. München

prifti@in.tum.de



Abstract:

The development of mobile applications includes some different
requirements compared to the development of PC software since the mobile
applications are used in a different context. The user is generally being mobile or
doing some special tasks while usin
g the application. Therefore it is important to
involve the user during the development of the applications in order to understand
the way that the user is acting and to develop a product that better fits to his wants
and needs. The tool that we propose i
n this case is prototyping. For this purpose
we first did a literature review in order to gain an overview on the previous work
and summarize it. Based on our literature review we built four hypotheses and then
conducted an online survey in order to prove
our hypotheses. Our survey showed
that the use of prototypes is a good tool to involve the end users in the
development of mobile applications and that in this way the developed applications
better
fulfil

the user needs and requirements.

1 Introduction

The

development of mobile applications is a kind of software development, however it
includes special requirements, since mobile applications are used in a new context that is
while being mobile and not as a PC software anymore
[LH98]
. As software development

projects, the development of mobile applications include different steps starting from the
problem definition until the bug fixing and maintenance. The problem definition is
considered as one of the most important steps
[La00] [La01] [OWS03]
, where the
in
teraction with the end user to understand his wants and needs and the communication
between the team members to define the future work steps and plan the project are
essential.

A bad defined problem is often the reason for failure or difficulties in the so
ftware
projects
[La00] [La01] [OWS03]
. And the later the problem is discovered the more it
costs
[La00]
. Especially in the development of mobile applications it should be
understood very well how the end user exactly acts while using the application and th
e
context of the use of the application, in order to be able to develop an application that
would
fulfil

his needs and will be widely accepted by the users
[LH98] [IKR00]
. A
mobile application can be used for example in meetings to take fast notes, or whil
e
traveling to gain information about the actual place and so on. During the problem
definition phase of the mobile applications development, different methods are used in
order to define the problem and the issue that the application should solve or
fulfi
l
. The
most used methods are interviews, brainstorming and focus groups. These methods are
good tools to support the communication and exchange of ideas in discussions, however
they have limitations in two directions: first it happens many times that the i
nformation
is misinterpreted or misunderstood and second the documentation of the results is
difficult. These techniques suffer also on lack of structure and organization
[WO05]
[GL93]
. Frequently, users do not know what they really need, they cannot arti
culate the
needs, and they are unaware of the technical possibilities and the costs of their requests
[Ku02]
.

Different studies
[La00] [La01] [OWS03]
have proved how important problem
definition and acting with customers at early stage of software develop
ment is, this issue
can also be transmitted in the development of mobile applications. Considerable research
[GL93] [La01] [OWS03]
has been conducted in this direction trying to define methods
and ways in involving the user in the problem definition stage
of software development.
A special importance of understanding user needs is required while designing mobile
solutions. Previous studies on mobility show that designing mobile cooperative systems
requires a new way of understanding work practices
[IKR00]
.

An important method is also prototyping, which is considered to concretize the ideas and
further support them
[IKR97]
and support creativity. On the other side there is also some
criticism regarding prototyping since it may limit creativity of the user an
d the user
concentrate too much on the user interface and not on the functionality of the solution
[SML09]
. There has been much research regarding prototyping in design and also idea
generation. There has been also much research underlining the importance
of customer
involvement and participation in early stages of software development. Considering both
these aspects we propose a combination between them to support the end user
involvemen
t in early stages of mobile application

development by use of prototyp
ing. In
order to verify our hypotheses we conducted an online survey.

2 Design of the work

The work was designed in two parts. In the first part we conducted a literature review
and built four hypotheses, while in the second part we made a survey in order
to
support

our hypotheses. By conducting the literature review we followed a systematic approach,
based on the approach defined by
[WW02]
.

We separated 15 papers at the beginning that could be relevant at first sight by reading
the title and the abstract o
f them. By reading these papers we could earn a first insight of
the existing literature in this context and of the relevant outlets for our work, and also
define relevant keywords for the further search. An important finding at this step of the
literature

search was that there are no concrete publications that
analyse

the use of
prototyping and its influence during the problem definition step of mobile applications
development; therefore we split the topic in four subtopics to be searched:

1) Sketching as

visualization tool in design; 2) User involvement in problem definition
(participatory design); 3) Particularities of designing mobile applications; 4)
Relationship between requirements elicitation and prototyping

Further we defined the following relevant

outlets to be searched since the 15 papers that
we identified at the beginning, were from these outlets. The relevant outlets at this step
were:

Computer Human Interaction; Designing Interactive Systems; Requirements
Engineering; Creativity & Cognition; H
awaii International Conference on System
Sciences

In each of these outlets we searched with the keywords:
innovation, prototype, problem
definition. mobile service, user involvement

in different permutations, by reaching a total
number of 25 combinations.

Than we did backward search so that at the end some more
papers of and some more outlets were added to our literature list by reaching a total of
39 papers from in total 13 different outlets. The results of the literature review were
structured by each of

the four subtopics and are explained in the section below.

Based on the results of the literature review for each of the topics we built in total four
hypotheses, one for each topic that we
analysed
. To
support

the hypotheses we made an
online survey. In
the following sections of this paper we summarize the results of our
literature review, then we present the four hypotheses and describe the conducted survey
and its results and we conclude by discussing the implications of our findings.

3 Results of liter
ature review

We reviewed in total 39 papers from 13 different outlets. For each of the four subtopics
that were mentioned in the section above we made a detailed literature review and
summarized the results of the works that were published until today.

3.1

Topic 1: Sketching as visualization tool in design

Sketching is widely used in design activities and it is closely related with concept and
idea generation
[Ya09]
. Sketching is often used from the designers as a way of
illustrating their ideas and thinkin
g by translating the verbal requirements and
specifications about a product in visual ones
[UWC90]
, so that the success of design is
often related with the quality of the drawing and sketching during the design activity. By
sketching the designers visualiz
e not only one concept, but they also can interpret its
meaning and identify further patterns by being able to develop further ideas through that
[Lu02] [Lu05]
. Sketches are a king of external presentation and serve as a cognitive tool
to augment memory an
d information processing
[Tv02]
.

[ST97]

proposes that drawing is not simply a representation of design thought, but a
critical tool for thinking about a design. They conclude that designers are able to
understand the various aspects of a design only throug
h sketching them. In this way the
sketching process is a tool that helps in developing innovative solutions and is strongly
related to creativity.

While
Cross
[Cr99]

highlights

the importance of sketching as a communication tool and
as a way of representing the internal thinking. In this way this kind of visualization can
be used as a presentation medium to visualize and share the ideas and discuss with the
different stakeholder
s about them.

Purcell/Gero
[PG98]
suggests that the reinterpretation, or even iteration, of a sketch is
evidence of the occurrence of new conceptual design knowledge. Indeed
Goldschmidt
[Go94]
describes the way in which sketches are used both to represent

ideas and to spur
the generation of ideas.

In summary sketching serves many purposes within the design process. They serve not
only as an idea repository, but they also support the creativity by supporting the further
development of the ideas. Apart from
this, sketches serve as a visualization tool for the
internal ideas and verbal requirements and as a communication vehicle between
designers and other stakeholders.

3.2 Topic 2: User involvement in problem definition (participatory design)

A basic question

in the development process of a software product is how to find out
what users really need
[GL93]
. However, the elicitation of this kind of information from
users is usually a challenging issue
[PLW90]
. Frequently, users have difficulties in
articulating
their needs. For this reason the involvement of end
-
users during the problem
definition phase is a very important topic. Lin/Shao
[LS00]
argues that user participation
in the development of a system improves the quality in several ways and brings many
bene
fits.

The Scandinavian participatory design (PD) model tries to
analyse

the benefits of
involving the user in the product development and to facilitate the communication
between the user and the designer team. Participatory design can be defined as an
app
roach in which the customers are already involved in the early stages of system
development
[BB95]
.

The active involvement of the customers is necessary to discover sticky information
about the system being developed
[BMT05]
. Warr/O’Neill
[WO05]

argues tha
t the
active user involvement in the software development process leads to more useful and
usable software products and the importance of user participation in the development of
the product increases as the uncertainly about the product increases
[EQM95]
.

The user participation in the development of a software product brings many advantages.
Though it is difficult to find the right way to involve the user in the development and to
profit from the users’ knowledge because part of the users' knowledge has be
come tacit
through automation
[Ku02]
. In well
-
learned tasks, much of the relevant knowledge is no
longer consciously available for the person and nonverbal skills and everyday self
-
evidences are difficult to articulate
[Ku02]
.

In summary user
participation in the early stages of software projects brings many
advantages and helps in developing better products, however, it is often a difficult issue
to find the right way to communicate with the user in order to be able to profit from its
knowledg
e or to let him validate the product.

3.3 Topic 3: Particularities of designing mobile applications

Mobility is a concern area that is becoming more and more important in the last years
[IKR00]
. Many devices and services are now designed to support the mob
ility of people.
However, it is important to understand that this new field of software development
brings new requirements and a new way of understanding the work
[LH98]
. In order to
understand the issues that should be considered while conceiving and des
igning mobile
software products, one has to understand the activities that people carry out and how
they act in this situations by cooperating with the user while developing this products

[LH98] [IKR00]
. However it is difficult for a user to articulate fe
edback about future
products if he cannot test it and imagines a concrete use case of the product
[BM01]
.
Therefore new ways of involving the end user in the development of mobile software
products should be developed
[LH98] [IKR00]
.

In summary it is cruci
al especially while developing mobile software products to involve
the end user in the development process in order to create good and usable end products.
This is because mobility products bring new issues that can be
analysed

only “in action”.
However, i
t is a difficult issue to find the right way how to do it, since the user has
difficulties in giving feedback about future products that still do not exist.

3.4 Topic 4: Relationship between requirements elicitation and prototyping

Prototyping is an approa
ch that helps to define a better feeling and imagination regarding
the product
[HH97].

They communicate the product features to clients, users and
designers. Designers can try out their ideas and observe the outcomes
[WO05].

Prototypes help in trying out i
deas and getting feedback about them
[DHK09]
.
Prototyping is already a widely used approach in the requirements elicitation phase of
software projects that brings many advantages in the praxis. Many authors already tried
to establish a link between prototy
ping and requirements elicitation process in the
software development process
[RKA03] [AT00]
. In their work
[RKA03]
demonstrates
the existence of a relationship between prototyping and requirements engineering and
that both can take advantages from each ot
her
[RKA03]
.

However prototyping can be applied even earlier in the software development process,
already in the problem definition stage. This could bring benefits in even better
understand the customer needs and being able in better defining the require
ments to
fulfil

the customers’ needs about the software product.

4 Hypotheses

For each of the topics
analysed

above we could deduct a conclusion. To prove each of
these conclusions we build a hypothesis, which was then tested in the survey.

Sketching serves many purposes within the design process. Sketches serve not only as an
idea repository, but they also support the creativity by supporting the further
development of the ideas. Apart from this, sketches serve as a visualization tool for th
e
internal ideas and verbal requirements and as a communication vehicle between
designers and other stakeholders. Based on this conclusion we build
Hypothesis 1
: As
sketching in design, the use of prototyping in software projects serves as a tool to
visual
ize, communicate, further develop and document the ideas.

The user participation in the early stages of software projects brings many advantages
and helps in developing better products; however, it is often a difficult issue to find the
right way to commun
icate with the user in order to be able to profit from their
knowledge or to let them validate the product. From this conclusion we can define the
Hypothesis 2
: The user participation in early stages of software projects helps in
developing better products
.

Especially while developing mobile software products the involvement of the end user in
the development is crucial in developing good and usable end products. However it is a
difficult issue to find the right way how to do it, since the user has difficul
ties in giving
feedback about future products that still doesn’t exist. From this conclusion for topic
three we deduct the
Hypothesis 3
: The development of mobile software products
needs the involvement of the end users.

Prototyping is a widely used approa
ch in the requirements elicitation stage of software
development. However it can be applied even earlier in the software development
process, already in the problem definition stage. This could bring benefits in better
understanding the customer needs and
being able in better defining the requirements to
fulfill the customers’ needs about the software product. At this point we can define
Hypothesis 4
: Prototyping can be used in early stages of mobile software
development as a communication tool with the end

user.

5 Questionnaire

To
support our hypotheses and did an online survey in order to take a further opinion of
people who have experience in the IT field and in the development of mobile
applications
.
For this w
e built a questionnaire that was made of fiv
e sections, one section
for each of the hypotheses and the last section to ask demographic data. In the
questionnaire we used a Likert rating scala ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5
(strongly agree). To get sure that the questionnaire is understandab
le we made a pre
-
test
with six people.

The online survey was conducted in March 2013. The questionnaire was made by using
an online survey tool and it was shared via different channels to more than 300 people
that have some IT background. It was opened for

a period of two weeks and a total of 54
participants answered it; that makes a responding rate of approximately 18%. Out of the
54 respondents 67% (n=36) were men and 89% (n=48) were between 20 and 30 years
old. 61% (n=33) of the participants, that makes
the major part, have a bachelor degree.
For each oft he hypotheses there were 4 to 7 questions. In order to get the general
op
i
nion

regarding to one hypothesis we made calculate
the average of all the answer
s
that regard to one hypothesis and one level of
the Likert scala.
For example, there
were

four questions with regard to hypothesis 2, and for each of the question we calculated the
average of the number of participants who
responded

“Strongly agree”. For example, if
for question 1, 35% responded with “strongly agree”, for question 2, 50% and for
question 3 and 4 respectively 44% and 39 %, than the average is
(35+50+44+39)/4=42%.

We made this calculation for each hypothesis and the
re
sults of
the survey show that for each of the hypothesis more than 75 % of all participants
responded with either strongly agree or one level below in the Likert scala. This shows
that most of the participants agree with our hypothesis.

6 Conclusion

In thi
s paper we
analysed

the advantages of including end users to the development of
mobile applications through the use of prototypes. To reach to first results we did at the
beginning a literature review. Since there is not many literature that analyses direc
tly this
topic we split the literature review in four topics that are: Sketching as visualization tool
in design; User involvement in problem definition (participatory design); Particularities
of designing mobile applications and Relationship between requi
rements elicitation and
prototyping and then tried to combines the results through building hypotheses. We
created four hypotheses and conducted an online survey in order to verify them.

As a result of this we can say that the use of prototypes serves as a tool to visualize,
document and further develop ideas. Furthermore, prototypes encourage the
communication about the software being developed not only between the developers but
also wit
h the end users. Our survey shows that involving the users in the software
development is considered to bear many advantages and helps in developing software
that better
fulfils

the users’ requirements and their needs. However, the participants
agreed tha
t it is difficult to find the right way to involve the users in the software
development process. The further results of our survey confirms that the development of
mobile applications involve other usability issues as the development of PC software so
tha
t it is important to involve the end users in the development stage of mobile
applications in order to understand the way he acts and interacts while using the mobile
applications, also to
analyse

his
behaviour

in action. The participants of our survey al
so
agreed that prototyping can be used as a tool to involve the end users in the development
of mobile applications. The involvement of the end users in the development of mobile
applications helps in developing more usable and acceptable mobile applicatio
ns that
better
fulfil

the user requirements.

In our study we
showed

that prototyping
could

be used as a tool in the developing
process of mobile applications, so we proved on a theoretical basis that the use of
prototyping brings benefits.

However the majo
rity of the responders of our questionnaire
were students.

In future studies
a questionnaire for people with more experience in the
development of the mobile applications can be carried out. Another point that can be
done is to set the focus on the questio
nnaire and try to prove the hypotheses that we built
as a result of the outcomes of our literature review, by building a scientifically valid
questionnaire and then validating the data statistically.

As a result of our study we could confirm our perceptio
n that prototyping not only a tool
for communicating and demonstrating early versions of an application to a customer.
Prototyping is a tool to interpret an application’s meaning, identify further patters and
further evolving an idea. Prototypes are a tool

that helps software developers to structure
their thoughts and makes them explicit.

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