Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Joseph L. Gabbard
Title:A Taxonomy of Usability Characteristics in Virtual Environments
Degree:Master of Science
Department:Computer Science and Applications
Committee Chair: Dr. Deborah Hix
Committee Members:Dr. H. Rex Hartson
Dr. Sallie M. Henry
Keywords:Virtual Reality, Virtual Environments, Usability, User Interface Process Improvement
Date of defense:December 3, 1997
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


Despite intense and wide-spread research in both virtual environments (VEs) and usability, the exciting new technology of VEs has not yet been closely coupled with the important characteristic of usability --- a necessary coupling if VEs are to reach their full potential. Although numerous methods exist for usability evaluation of interactive computer applications, these methods have well-known limitations, especially for evaluating VEs. Thus, there is a great need to develop usability evaluation methods and criteria specifically for VEs. Our goal is to increase awareness of the need for usability engineering of VEs and to lay a scientific foundation for developing high-impact methods for usability engineering of VEs.

The first step in our multi-year research plan has been accomplished, yielding a comprehensive multi-dimensional taxonomy of usability characteristics specifically for VEs. This taxonomy was developed by collecting and synthesizing information from literature, conferences, World Wide Web (WWW) searches, investigative research visits to top VE facilities, and interviews of VE researchers and developers.

The taxonomy consists of four main areas of usability issues: Users and User Tasks in VEs, The Virtual Model, VE User Interface Input Mechanisms, and VE User Interface Presentation Components. Each of these issues is progressively disclosed and presented at various levels of detail, including specific usability suggestions and context-driven discussion that include a number of references. The taxonomy is a thorough classification, enumeration, and discussion of usability issues in VEs that can be used by VE researchers and developers for usability assessment or simply design.

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