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Feature: 'Optimize Your Pipeline Through Usability'

In a new Gamasutra feature, Sega and LucasArts veteran and Robotic Arm Software founder Dan Goodman talks about usability tuning for custom tools -- and how effi
In a new Gamasutra feature, Sega and LucasArts veteran and Robotic Arm Software founder Dan Goodman talks about usability tuning for custom tools -- and how efficient techniques can streamline the entire pipeline. After offering an in-depth, illustrated explanation on how to map the pipeline and identify bottlenecks, Goodman introduces the System Usability Scale to help developers understand where improving tools can clear obstacles: You can use some of the simpler techniques before investing in the more difficult ones. This will give you a really good idea where to concentrate your efforts. The System Usability Scale (SUS) was developed at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to measure usability. It is probably one of the simplest methods to implement because it is survey-based. Participants are asked to rate ten statements from the below figure, on a scale from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". Each response maps to a value from 0 to 4, where even-numbered items have the score values reversed. An overall score ranging from 0-100 is derived from the individual values by adding them together and multiplying by 2.5. Abstracting data is also useful, Goodman explains: Data abstraction begins to take place in these tools, albeit on a small scale. Anytime a text box is replaced by a drop down list of enumerated values, the internal representation of the data (a number) is being replaced with something better understood by the user. Color pickers, graphs, calendars, progress bars, and just about any graphical representation of data imaginable all serve this purpose. Still, the individual bits of data do not represent a cohesive whole. To achieve that, we must absorb the individual data points into a larger, more conceptual picture through a kind of abstraction. We hide the actual data behind a facade that represents the objects that the data describes. Consider a 3D model. The actual data is a list of vertex positions, weighting, UV mapping coordinates, RGBA values, and so on. Editing each of these values directly would offer extreme precision, but would take much longer than using a modeling program to generate the same type of data with much better results. The modeling program hides the complexity of the data by showing what the data represents instead of the data itself, giving the user the ability to edit the model data in a way that makes a lot more sense. You can now read the full feature on tool usability and pipeline efficiency at Gamasutra (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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