Title: Usability issues and design principles for visual programming languages
Author: Chattratichart, Jarinee
Awarding Body: Brunel University
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2003
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EThOS Persistent ID: uk.bl.ethos.555019 
Supervisor: Kuljis, J. : Paul, R. J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Abstract:
Despite two decades of empirical studies focusing on programmers and the problems with programming, usability of textual programming languages is still hard to achieve. Its younger relation, visual programming languages (VPLs) also share the same problem of poor usability. This research explores and investigates the usability issues relating to VPLs in order to suggest a set of design principles that emphasise usability. The approach adopted focuses on issues arising from the interaction and communication between the human (programmers), the computer (user interface), and the program. Being exploratory in nature, this PhD reviews the literature as a starting point for stimulating and developing research questions and hypotheses that experimental studies were conducted to investigate. However, the literature alone cannot provide a fully comprehensive list of possible usability problems in VPLs so that design principles can be confidently recommended. A commercial VPL was, therefore, holistically evaluated and a comprehensive list of usability problems was obtained from the research. Six empirical studies employing both quantitative and qualitative methodology were undertaken as dictated by the nature of the research. Five of these were controlled experiments and one was qualitative-naturalistic. The experiments studied the effect of a programming paradigm and of representation of program flow on novices' performances. The results indicated superiority of control-flow programs in relation to data-flow programs; a control-flow preference among novices; and in addition that directional representation does not affect performance while traversal direction does - due to cognitive demands imposed upon programmers. Results of the qualitative study included a list of 145 usability problems and these were further categorised into ten problem areas. These findings were integrated with other analytical work based upon the review of the literature in a structured fashion to form a checklist and a set of design principles for VPLs that are empirically grounded and evaluated against existing research in the literature. Furthermore, an extended framework for Cognitive Dimensions of Notations is also discussed and proposed as an evaluation method for diagrammatic VPLs on the basis of the qualitative study. The above consists of the major findings and deliverables of this research. Nevertheless, there are several other findings identified on the basis of the substantial amount of data obtained in the series of experiments carried out, which have made a novel contribution to knowledge in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Psychology of Programming, and Visual Programming Languages.
Keywords: Visual programming languages (VPLs) : Human-computer interaction (HCI) : Psychology of programming : Paradigm : Perceptual coding
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