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It’s finally here: my final project submission, and my peer review!
My final project can be visited here. My peer review follows:
I presented my project to three peers, who, on the whole, found the project really interesting. These are the questions I asked them:
Did the web application…
… illustrate the uniqueness of railroad companies’ narratives?
… demonstrate the varying challenges that early railroads faced?
… make learning about railroad development more accessible and fun?
Did the following user interface components compliment or detract from your experience?
- the “next” and “previous” buttons.
- the interactive railroad lines.
- the information modules.
The first reviewer contrasted my application to a book, saying, while a book progresses in a single direction, my application was able to extend in many different directions at once. Consider the expression, “train of thought,” which implies that the human mind processes thoughts linearly. I am neither a neurologist nor a psychologist, but can reason, in the manner of a philosopher, that the human mind does not operate in this way. Rather, thoughts explode outwards in every direction upon receiving a stimulus, like ripples in water. My application is largely effective because it appeals to the non-linear thought process. It starts with a pebble, and then spreads outwards in every direction, pursuing the narratives of many railroads at once.
A less complimentary reviewer noted that my application, in fact, was not so different from books, because it required a lot of reading. The information modules associated with each railroad line contained relatively bland background information, and (this hurt) relied on novelty to engage users, rather than compelling arguments. In response, I resolved to eliminate as much text from the application as possible, because the whole point of the project was to convey a historical point using digital tools, not language.
To evaluate the user interface and experience (UI, UX), I made a point of not demonstrating the application, hoping to observe how they naturally interacted with it. From watching their behaviors, I was able to determine what elements of the interface were intuitive, and what elements felt confusing. It quickly became clear that the lengthy introduction that appears on the front page negatively impacted users’ experiences. Having to read so much tested their patience, and significantly increased the interval between loading the page and interacting with the dynamic map, which is, of course, the most important part of the application.
I also realized that by including directions, I was essentially admitting that the controls were not self-explanatory. My peers were not immediately aware that the project was essentially an interactive timeline, for if they had been, the concept of moving to the “next” or “previous” date would have been much more clear. Perhaps making the year a more central part of the display, rather than putting it off to the side, would help users identify the application as a timeline.
Finally, it was not entirely obvious that the railroad lines were clickable. A better visual indicator would solve this problem. For example, they could illuminate when users hover over them.
Ultimately, despite these critiques, my application was well received among users. Their grasp of the content seemed to suggest I had achieved my goal of undermining the “macroscopic, monolithic and opaque” history of railroads in the United States. However, an improved user interface would make their learning experience even more immersive, natural and fun.