User interface design support for the development of knowledge-based systems
The present scarcity of operational knowledge-based systems (KBS) has been attributed, in part, to an inadequate consideration shown to user interface design during development. From a human factors perspective the problem has stemmed from an overall lack of user-centred design principles. Consequently the integration of human factors principles and techniques is seen as a necessary and important precursor to ensuring the implementation of KBS which are useful to, and usable by, the end-users for whom they are intended. Focussing upon KBS work taking place within commercial and industrial environments, this research set out to assess both the extent to which human factors support was presently being utilised within development, and the future path for human factors integration. The assessment consisted of interviews conducted with a number of commercial and industrial organisations involved in KBS development; and a set of three detailed case studies of individual KBS projects. Two of the studies were carried out within a collaborative Alvey project, involving the Interdisciplinary Higher Degrees Scheme (IHD) at the University of Aston in Birmingham, BIS Applied Systems Ltd (BIS), and the British Steel Corporation. This project, which had provided the initial basis and funding for the research, was concerned with the application of KBS to the design of commercial data processing (DP) systems. The third study stemmed from involvement on a KBS project being carried out by the Technology Division of the Trustees Saving Bank Group plc. The preliminary research highlighted poor human factors integration. In particular, there was a lack of early consideration of end-user requirements definition and user-centred evaluation. Instead concentration was given to the construction of the knowledge base and prototype evaluation with the expert(s). In response to this identified problem, a set of methods was developed that was aimed at encouraging developers to consider user interface requirements early on in a project. These methods were then applied in the two further projects, and their uptake within the overall development process was monitored. Experience from the two studies demonstrated that early consideration of user interface requirements was both feasible, and instructive for guiding future development work. In particular, it was shown a user interface prototype could be used as a basis for capturing requirements at the functional (task) level, and at the interface dialogue level. Extrapolating from this experience, a KBS life-cycle model is proposed which incorporates user interface design (and within that, user evaluation) as a largely parallel, rather than subsequent, activity to knowledge base construction. Further to this, there is a discussion of several key elements which can be seen as inhibiting the integration of human factors within KBS development. These elements stem from characteristics of present KBS development practice; from constraints within the commercial and industrial development environments; and from the state of existing human factors support.