Title page for ETD etd-06202012-140121

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Fortson, Samuel King
URN etd-06202012-140121
Title Usability Engineering Applied to an Electromagnetic Modeling Tool
Degree Master of Science
Department Geosciences
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Weiss, Chester J. Committee Chair
King, Scott D. Committee Member
Winchester, Woodrow W. III Committee Member
  • Usability Engineering
  • Graphical User Interface
  • Geophysics
  • Magnetotellurics
Date of Defense 2012-06-08
Availability unrestricted
There are very few software packages for model-building and visualization in electromagnetic geophysics, particularly when compared to other geophysical disciplines, such as seismology. The purpose of this thesis is to design, develop, and test a geophysical model-building interface that allows users to parameterize the 2D magnetotellurics problem. Through the evaluation of this interface, feedback was collected from a usability specialist and a group of geophysics graduate students to study the steps users take to work through the 2D forward-modeling problem, and to analyze usability errors encountered while working with the interface to gain a better understanding of how to build a more effective interface. Similar work has been conducted on interface design in other fields, such as medicine and consumer websites.

Usability Engineering is the application of a systematic set of methods to the design and development of software with the goal of making the software more learnable, easy to use, and accessible. Two different Usability Engineering techniques – Heuristic Evaluation and Thinking Aloud Protocol – were involved in the evaluation of the interface designed in this study (FEM2DGUI). Heuristic Evaluation is a usability inspection method that employs a usability specialist to detect errors based on a known set of guidelines and personal experience. Thinking Aloud Protocol is a usability evaluation method where potential end-users are observed as they verbalize their every step as they work through specific scenarios with an interface. These Usability Engineering methods were combined in a effort to understand how the first prototype of FEM2DGUI could be refined to make it more usable and to understand how end-users work through the forward-modeling problem.

The Usability Engineering methods employed in this project uncovered multiple usability errors that were corrected through a refinement of the interface. Discovery of these errors helped with refining the system to become more robust and usable, which is believed to aid users in more efficient model-building. Because geophysical model-building is inherently a difficult task, it is possible that other model-building graphical user interfaces could benefit from the application of Usability Engineering methods, such as those presented in this research. 

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