engineering and technology

IT Developers Should Not Reinvent the Wheel

Ilja Šmorgun
Ilja Šmorgun

As part of his newly-defended PhD Thesis, Ilja Šmorgun from the Tallinn University School of Digital Technologies created a collection of design patterns that documents the know-how in cross-device application design. This will simplify the creation of applications for multiple devices i.e. Distributed User Interfaces (DUIs) by systematically presenting the existing design knowledge.

“Creating new DUI apps often comes down to reinventing the wheel: the developers start from scratch, because earlier experience and skills have not been documented,” says Šmorgun. His research is valuable in this field, as it gives developers a new platform to kick-start the design process. The design pattern library will help find the best way to create an app and keep developing it.

“Design patterns introduce working solutions from earlier projects in situations where developers run into design problems,” Šmorgun explained and added that even though there have been attempts to design DUI applications earlier, few have tried to document and structure existing design experience in a way that designers could access it in a simple and understandable manner. The current design pattern collection has been created based on online surveys, ethnographic studies, and existing literature.

While in most cases application development is focused on the interaction between one user and one device, the ability to use an app on multiple devices at once is ever more vital. “Working on a single device will not help to address the integration of multiple devices to support smooth user experiences,” the author admits. He adds that DUIs, the study of application design on multiple devices, is part of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field of study.

The Classroom as an Example

Šmorgun observed the use of devices in classrooms as part of his study. “We visited schools that actively use devices in the learning process. It was important for us to understand how they combine different devices and how the expectations of designers and end users may differ,” he explained and added that oftentimes designers tend to find new and interesting solutions, but do not consider the users’ behaviour patterns, knowledge and understanding that the applications they design must adhere to.

This is where the researchers learned a valuable lesson. “If we want to create a new application for schools or anyone else, we cannot throw all earlier experience into the bin and start from square one. New apps do not replace old ones, but should integrate with what designers have created earlier and what people have become used to,” he said. A good example of this would be the e-Schoolbag, an e-textbook platform that runs on many devices and houses content created by publishing houses, teachers, and students.

There are many examples of successful DUI apps that have been used for years. However, the know-how acquired during the design process has not been documented. Šmorgun is optimistic about the future: “We have tested this pattern collection on experts to get feedback. It has given us the confidence that we are on the right path and should continue collecting valuable feedback to expand our library.”

The PhD thesis titled “Pattern Library for Supporting the Design of Distributed User Interfaces” is accessible at the Tallinn University Academic Library e-repository ETERA.

Text by Tallinn University

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