Creating a Usability Ontology
Developing a sharable, reusable ontology of usability and user-centered design
terms and relationships is an idea whose time has come. There is an increasing need
to organize resources consistently in this discipline, as well as
the need to support cross-reference between concepts. Our workshop at the
Usability Professionals' Association conference begins this work.
Increasingly, we see categorization and metadata appearing in
all aspects of user experience, because it helps users find relevant information
and understand the context of the tasks they are performing. Categorization is
appearing in places such as:
- Search engines -- Not only is Google moving toward more complex and
personalized versions (based on categorization), but there are increasingly
useful search engine competitors such as Yahoo, Clusty, Ask.com, Kartoo, etc.
Their goal is to get a user closer to what they want to see more quickly.
- Portals -- the "My [provider name here]" services all classify
their service offerings, news/sports feeds, etc. by standardized categorization.
- Social sites -- del.icio.us and flickr may be the best known, but
they are not the only sites that offer users the ability to create and use
meaningful terminology and classification.
- e-Commerce -- most shopping sites now have faceted browsing, based
on product categories and features, as a standard element of the shopping
Benefits of a usability ontology
The usability ontology that we create must be robust enough to
cover the broad territory of our professional field, and simple enough to be
useful. It must contain language that is recognized by practitioners, and
ideally by people from related disciplines.
This workshop will benefit UPA, its members, and workshop
How UPA will benefit: UPA needs a good ontology that covers
the breadth of topics in the field of usability, user experience, and
user-centered design, to help people search effectively across their growing
library of conference proceedings, articles, research papers, and reference
materials/sites. It makes sense to establish one primary source for this
vocabulary to enhance the quality of description and support integrating
How UPA members will benefit: All members and readers of
the UPA publications will benefit through improved ease of finding related
materials. Many individual members, both practitioners and academics, may also
benefit from the ability to borrow and reuse a standard usability ontology. For
example, at the Usability BoK Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting during the
UPA 2006 conference, many attendees talked about work they had already done or
planned to do in their own organizations to compile and distribute usability
How workshop participants will benefit: Workshop
participants who are involved in any of UPAís publications, the Body of
Knowledge project, or who are creating repositories of usability information for
other projects or clients, will benefit through helping to create an ontology
that meets their needs. In addition, participants will gain direct experience
collaborating to build an ontology or controlled vocabulary, which is
increasingly in demand in many organizations.
Previous usability terminology work
There are several good starting points -- existing usability
terminology -- that workshop participants can draw on for creating a usability
- The Usability BoK project has defined a preliminary categorization
of topics for use in collecting information, as well as a preliminary set of
- The UPA conference has a categorization of topics for use in the
description of submissions and in the review process.
- The new Journal of Usability Studies (JUS) has keywords that could
be drawn from its published articles.
- ISO 18529 (doc) and ISO 13427 contain terminology for high-level
activities in a human-centered design process.
- UsabilityNet provides a categorization of some usability methods
based on where they occur in the software development lifecycle.
- The ACM digital library keywords are associated with each article.
For example, usability-related articles are tagged with keywords such as
"business strategy, concept design, ethnography/ethnographic studies, experience
design, human-centered design, information architecture, interaction design,
marketing/market research, process improvement, product design, usability
research, user experience, user interface, user research."
- Usable Web topics list has a hierarchy of topics tied to the publications reference list.
- The STC Usability SIG has an index of topics in
- The IxDA web site has a categorization scheme focused on the types
of resources in its library, although unfortunately not focused on the content
of those resources.
- Scott Henninger of the University of Nebraska is currently
developing an ontology for usability design patterns (an article describing this
ontology is part of the proceedings for the Semantic Web User Interaction
workshop at ISWC in November 2006.
While there are many useful, and even somewhat authoritative,
terminology sets for the usability subject domain, we have not been able to find
much evidence of previous, comprehensive, published efforts to create a
usability ontology. This is particularly true in the semantic web space, where
many earlier ontologies are now becoming available. For example:
- SWOOGLE, a search engine for finding RDF ontologies in the semantic web, does not produce
meaningful results for existing RDF/OWL ontologies when using terms such as
"usability" and "HCI" -- and very few useful data sets containing "interface."
- The Ontoworld wiki has the term "usability" as a classification
for articles, but does not appear to have any lower level of classification
detail for that subject area.
Del.icio.us, which takes the "folksonomy" approach to collecting
keywords for tagging content, has a handful of keywords related to usability.
Again, these keywords are only at a high level (e.g. "usability" and
"accessibility"), suggesting that the grassroots approach alone will not
generate a vocabulary at the level of detail that would be needed in order to be
useful to our professional community.
We have found some very initial descriptions relating to
possible ontology development for the SWEBOK (Software Engineering Body of
Knowledge) at Lehigh University,
but have not yet located further progress on that work.
The workshop organizers plan to draw on published works about
creating ontologies in order to help participants with this activity.
This workshop will launch a completely new effort, drawing
upon best practices for ontology creation, to establish a usability ontology
based on starting points such as the ones listed above.
PARTICIPANT SELECTION CRITERIA
We are looking for a group of experienced practitioners with
broad knowledge of the field. It is important that participants also have an
open mind and willingness to challenge assumptions that may be embedded in
The requirements for submission are somewhat different than for
other workshops, as we are not asking for a full "position paper." Instead,
every participant will need to provide a contribution of a proposed or existing
set of terminology for the group to work with. We then need a minimum of
background information to better understand each participantís usability
The outline for the participant submission would be:
Background and experience. Participants will be asked to describe
their educational background, work experience and particular interests in the
field of usability/user experience/HCI.
Goals. Participants will be asked to briefly describe why they
want to participate in the creation of a usability ontology and what they hope
to get out of the workshop. This can include description of a particular need
that could be addressed through the creation of a usability ontology.
Any specific experience with creating or using vocabulary sets or
ontologies. Participants will be asked to describe any activities that they
have participated in which are related to the creation or use of ontologies in
any subject domain. (Lack of experience in this area is not a barrier,
but we would like to encourage participants who do have this experience.)
Input to usability ontology. Participants will be asked to
collect and submit (or reference) raw materials for use as starting points in
the creation of a usability ontology. Information on rights of use for these
materials (i.e. are they public or proprietary?) should be provided as well.
These contributions may include:
- Vocabulary lists
- Categorization schemes
View the sample position paper for an example of the types of information you can contribute.
Deadline for position papers: May 1, 2007.
(Papers submitted after this date may be accepted at the discretion of the facilitators.)
PRE-WORKSHOP PARTICIPANT ACTIVITIES
Before the workshop, participants will be asked to:
- Review a short reading list on ontology development and controlled
- Review the submitted papers/vocabulary lists from the other workshop
PRE-WORKSHOP FACILITATOR ACTIVITIES
Before the workshop, the facilitators will:
- Prepare a short reading list on ontology development and controlled
- Review the inputs submitted by the participants.
- Prepare a list of sources of vocabulary (based on what is provided by
attendees, along with additional research by the workshop facilitators) as a
handout for the workshop.
- Use the input to create cards or sticky notes for categorization
activities during the workshop.
Timeline / Duration
Topic or Event
Introductions of participants and facilitators
Facilitator discussion of ontology and approach to the day
Needs assessment (in small groups if enough participants)
Participants briefly describe their contributions
Strawman usability ontology (breakout session)
Strawman usability ontology (breakout session)
Review of strawman usability ontology
Discussion of next steps and ongoing activities
Workshop activities description
1. Introductions of participants and facilitators
All participants and facilitators will introduce themselves
briefly at the beginning of the workshop.
2. Facilitator discussion of ontology and approach to the day
The facilitators will provide a brief introduction to the
concept of an ontology, and discuss relationships between concepts such as
keywords, controlled vocabulary, taxonomy, folksonomy, and ontology.
The facilitators will also give a preview of the approaches that
will be used during the day to organize, extend, and refine the raw materials in
order to create our first strawman ontology.
3. Needs assessment
This 45-minute brainstorming session will clarify the need for a
usability ontology from the perspective of different groups that would use it.
For example, how would the conference use it? How would practitioners use it?
How would universities use it? This quick user needs analysis may be done by
dividing the participants into small groups based on their area of interest,
asking the small groups to brainstorm about their needs and then report back to
the full group.
4. Participants briefly describe their contributions
This 30-minute (max) session will provide an opportunity for
each participant to introduce the raw materials that they contributed as
starting points for the workshop. This description can include what it is, where
it came from, the purpose for which it was developed, and anything the group
should know about its use.
5. Strawman usability ontology (breakout session)
In this breakout session, small groups will take a first pass at
organizing terminology into a rough framework for a strawman usability ontology.
This session will be highly interactive and will have the flavor of an affinity
6. Strawman usability ontology (breakout session)
After lunch, the participants will be reassigned to different
small groups to continue work on the strawman usability ontology. Switching the
groups will provide an opportunity for the participants to mingle and talk with
different teams, stimulating new ideas.
7. Review of strawman usability ontology
We will spend 30 minutes reviewing and discussing the progress
made on the strawman usability ontology. The facilitators will list questions
and issues that surfaced during the breakout sessions that will need further
8. Discussion of next steps and ongoing activities
The last hour of the day will be spent organizing ongoing
activities to continue building and refining the ontology. As a full group, we
will discuss methods for collecting further contributions through future working
sessions and online collaboration. Issues to be discussed will include:
Should this workshop serve as the opener for a series of workshops
on developing a usability ontology? If so, what procedures, protocol,
approaches, venues, should be considered for subsequent workshops?
What type of online collaboration space would be needed to support
- How can people suggest terms for the ontology?
- What collaborative tools could we use?
- How will it be managed?
- How will it be reported?
- Will visualization help?
How will we encourage members of our community to participate and
collaborate in such an effort?
How will disagreement be handled?
How can we facilitate translation of this ontology into multiple languages?
To continue momentum, we can:
- Create a draft agenda for ongoing work.
- Create an online venue for continued collaboration to refine the
ontology -- this could be done within the construct of the BoK draft wiki
environment, or possibly as a separate collaborative environment.
To encourage use, evaluation, and comment on the ontology, we
- Publish guidelines for use (for example, how to create html meta
tags in usability-oriented web pages, how to access and embed RDF, how to
incorporate this terminology in existing online folksonomy environments like
del.icio.us or Amazon).
- Meet with UPA publications/project leaders to discuss how they
might effectively begin to pilot the use of the ontology.