Informed Consent and the Six Step Model

Data privacy is a real concern and often, our data isn’t secure. Giant corporations like Facebook and Equifax are in the news for breaching the privacy of millions. Social security numbers, home addresses but also page likes, and page views are hacked, sold or leaked. As more of our lives are spent on the internet, it’s important to consider what is consensual and what is crossing the line in digital design and research. By implementing the model of informed consent, explained further below, Researchers can remove potential for misinformation, vulnerabilities and manipulation. Designers and Researchers may not personally oversee the security of user data but practicing consentual data collection from the start is an important component to ethical best practices in usability research.

There are many platforms that can access user’s interactions with a website as these platforms provide user tracking tools like heatmaps, click collection, and frequency of page visits to name a few. Popular examples of platforms used to collect and track user data are Google analytics, Usertesting.com, Octo.ai, Kuku Analytics and FullStory. More unexpectedly are some sites ability to track a user’s interstitials. Interstitials are most commonly recognized as those (often frustrating) pop-ups that appear when in the midst of completing another action and waiting for your intended content to load but they can also be a fun animation that plays while a page is loading or a helpful signifier.

 

Ex.1: Click tracker

 

Ex. 2: Typing tracker

 

Fun animations and pop-ups aside, interstitials essentially describe the abstract amount of time users take between interactions.  Designer, Quinn Yeast, describes observing interstitials as peering into a user’s “mental space,” and therefore, can easily cross a boundary. Yeast uses the example of an online customer service chat to portray interstitials. He describes how what is typed into the text box prior to sending could be visible to the representative and that is, in a way, a breach of privacy. It’s impossible to say if everyone would feel similarly should their interstitials be tracked but it is important to make sure this approach is weighed in relation to other approaches. And, if researchers opt to employ this kind of tracking, inform their users appropriately of what is under the microscope. Different types of research carry with them different nuances and it’s important to consider the implications of each of them before conducting a study.

These considerations go hand in hand with informed consent. Informed consent is when a person grants permission after being fully informed of, and knowledgeable of, the possible consequences and outcomes associated with the action they are taking part in. Researchers and Usability Experts obtain informed consent by providing the study participant(s) with a Consent Form. Unlike legal waivers which benefit the entity that creates them, consent forms benefit the participant and are meant to protect their well-being.

Establishing best practices for online interaction research, Researchers, Friedman, Feltman and Millet created the six-step model of informed consent in 2000, listed below. (2)

  • Disclosure – What information will be collected, who will collect it, how long it will be stored, what purpose it serves and in what ways the participant’s identity will be protected.
  • Comprehension – This asks if the participant fully understands what has been disclosed. Comprehension is difficult to prove but two popular approaches are: restating in what has just been disclosed using other words and applying what has been disclosed to hypothetical situations for clarity, e.g.: Will the participant’s past selections/purchases/comments be visible to future system users.
  • Voluntariness – implies that participation was not manipulated or coerced and the participant can withdraw participation at any time.
  • Competence – recognizes whether the participant has the capacity to perform certain functions. Whether it’s emotional, mental or physical, it’s important to gauge if the test audience or individual is appropriate for certain tasks and permissions. For example: children 12 years old and under require written parental/guardian consent forms per the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Action (COPPA) should a site want to collect their data. (2)
  • Agreement – Asks if the ability to consent or decline is clearly visible and whether it is ongoing or not.
  • Minimal Distraction – Asks if requesting consent is presented without distracting too much from the task or study at hand. This step is also difficult to gauge as the act of obtaining consent is essentially a distraction in itself but mandatory nonetheless.

Ex.3 – Thorough Consent Form

Researchers can reference this six step model to practice sound and thorough methods when obtaining consent. Certain methods, like interstitial tracking described earlier, are more complex and have the potential to expose participants to unexpected vulnerabilities. Building trust with users begins before the research does. Maintaining transparency and diligent consent practices yields ethical and valid research results.

 

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Design Critique: Appy Couple Mobile App (IOS)

Appy Couple is a wedding organization and notification app for hosts and their guests. It allows for live updates and has interactive features like a guest book, photo sharing, travel options and planning, guest lists & rsvp as well as event scheduling. Wedding invites have evolved from snail mail to E-vites and entire digital platforms like Zola, Appy Couple or The Knot’s Wedding Planner. This is beneficial from a cost savings standpoint. It also consolidates the necessary information in one place for all parties involved which removes stress and reduces the potential for overwhelming communications/questions leading up to a big event. Potential negatives of this evolution, as with most traditions turning digital, are the loss of sentimentality found in tangible aspects of an invite- like heavy stock paper with hand pressed lettering or any tangible decorative frills for a special occasion (the introduction of Kindle is an example of this division).

Overall, when exploring Appy Couple app specifically as a guest, the experience is a positive one. It provides a one stop shop for all necessary event information which is engaging and convenient. However, there are some discoverability issues that create hiccups in the user experience. Some actions are counter-intuitive and could be resolved with strong signifiers and appropriate mapping. Below are a few positive and negative examples.

Fig. 1 – Push Notification Pop-Up

The first example is Fig. 1 depicting a repetitive pop-up constraint to permit notifications. When installing the app, the user is asked to set their permissions. When opening up the app thereafter, in this instance, the user didn’t want notifications but the app is interrupting the flow and using strong language (“need”) to imply its importance. A more considerate approach to this constraint could be a pop up limitation, appearing once and then not again, accepting user’s decision.

Fig. 2 – Homepage

Fig. 3 Navigation Menu

 

Once the notification request is accepted or denied, the homepage, Figure 2, loads and depicts the name of the couple at the top and the wedding date at the bottom. The background and the text is editable for the host and is specific to their tastes. At the bottom of the welcome screen is a partial signifier, hamburger menu with two instead of three dashes. Clearly labeling this portion “Menu” could make it more accessible. The conceptual model is confusing as the next step, once arriving to the homepage, isn’t immediately clear with those two dashes. Another option is removing the step to click-in and making Fig. 3 the initial home screen and adding the couple’s name to the top for personalization.

Fig. 4 & Fig. 5 – Key People section

A positive experience is the system image shown in Fig. 4 and Fig. 5. To view the key people, the user scrolls down, and to know how far or how much is left to view, there are four dots at the top of the screen locating their place in the album. It also provides the option to select a dot and be taken to that specific section. It’s an example of positive discoverability and understanding.


Fig. 6 & Fig. 7 – Stories section

The Stories section in Fig. 6 and Fig. 7 depicts a wedding couple story in the form of a digital scrap book. It’s personable and sweet, however, direction on how to utilize a key feature- “tap images for more or pull screen up to open navigation” is placed at the bottom of the page once the user has finished scrolling. The user would then have to repeat the action to explore the page and click into the photos the way it was intended. Placing this signifier at the top of the page or formatting the images in such a way that they afford clicking would avoid this redundancy.

Also, the direction to pull screen up to open navigation is one the user would have had to already figure out to access the Stories page. More productive placement for this direction would be the homepage or the menu alternative explained previously for Figure 1 & 2. Finally, there are three vertical dots at the bottom of Figure 7 that mimic the hamburger menu or a back to top of page arrow button, but it isn’t actually actionable. Subconsciously, this incites a visceral response to press this section when the intention may have been to denote the end of the page. Removing this little feature could alleviate future misinterpretations.

Appy Couple is handy tool that provides guests with the information they need for stress-free event preparation especially where travel is involved. These observations are a handful of small edits that could positively address the app overall.