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B. Salzbrunn, M. Tesar, K. Stöckelmayr, R. Pucher

University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien (AUSTRIA)
At the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien all students of the course Computer Science have to pass various lessons in the area of User Centered Design. Using low cost tools for early prototypes is especially difficult to teach, because most students consider any method which does not involve complex programming skills as inferior. We see the main advantage of this teaching process in advancing our students to think creative and detached from the actual programming of their product. So, they will generate intuitive interfaces for users without thinking about the technical realisation of their solutions at first. However, usability tests of software products should take place as soon possible during the development process to reduce the high costs of later change requests. The easier and the more realistic a prototype test takes place, the better user requirements and needs can be implemented. Another major goal is reducing costs of revisions of the graphical user interfaces at a later point of product development. Therefore a lot of researchers nowadays deal with the topic of early software prototyping especially for usability reasons.

This paper gives an overview of our currently used prototyping solutions, including commercial and non-commercial office software solutions like Microsoft Office, Apple iWork or OpenOffice. There are a lot of other tools on the market, some of which are very cost efficient and easy to use for functional prototype purposes such as iMockups for iPad, Microsoft Small Basic and Microsoft Expression Blend (based on Microsoft Silverlight). The content and functionality of one specific prototype has been designed with all these prototyping solutions. The results vary from very basic approaches like sketchbooks to rather sophisticated software products in form of a fully featured prototype. An ensuing usability analysis of these prototypes shows which solutions are more adequate for this kind of prototype functionality and summarizes development cost and effort.

During the development process of a prototype at an early stage it remains that a simultaneously iterative evaluation with users, belonging to the previously identified target group, will be very helpful to reach users’ needs and to reduce product developing costs.

The structure of the lessons used in our curriculum “Computer Science” will be explained in detail.