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Project report – Mealographer


Diet can have a great effect on health, but few people keep track of what they eat each day, let alone how much fat, protein, Calcium, or other nutrients. Although most food items have nutrition information printed on the packaging, few people can tell you whether or not the 10 grams of fat in their candy bar is acceptable, or whether it has put them over the edge.

In this project the author assumes that a big part of the reason people do not keep track of their diet is that there is no easy way to do so. The final product of this project is Mealographer, a simple interface that allows users to enter in the foods and meals they eat each day, set simple nutrition goals, and see reports of their progress. Mealographer was created by implementing a large number of improvements to the product of a previous investigation, WhatYouEat. A usability test was conducted to evaluate Mealographer and find specific usability problems.

Previous Work – The WhatYouEat Project

Mealographer inherits much of its functionality from a previous project, titled WhatYouEat, part of an individual investigation from fall, 2005. The original project had two goals: to create an application that allows users to track their dietary intake, and to make the application as easy to use as possible.

WhatYouEat allowed users to record their meals, set simple goals for different nutrients, and

track their diet through simple reports. Supporting functionality included a simple user sign up and login system, and systems allowing users to indicate favorite foods and “usuals” – foods eaten on a regular basis.

WhatYouEat was demonstrated informally to several groups and an informal usability test was run with four participants. Although this style of evaluation was not rigorous, users were asked to use the site and comment on any confusion or difficulties. Many users also commented on design and additional functionality. Usability issues included difficulty in:


  • Even with a large screen size and large font, it was hard for one subject to click on fields before entering text.
  • Field labels were used to enlarge the clickable area. It may be possible to have the cursor will default to the first field.


  • Two users were a little confused about the two-column layout of input forms.
  • A thin line was added to help make the grid more clear.


  • Three users forgot to set the meal date at least once. The submit button was easy to miss. One user hit enter to submit the search form and didn’t expect the entire meal to be submitted. There were problems using the back button.
  • The submit button was made more visible
  • The forms were be broken up so that the submit button for a particular field only submits that field.
  • Required fields could be made more clear with a symbol and some JavaScript.


  • Some labels were unclear or hard to read. In particular, dates presented in yyyy-mm-dd format and names of nutrients.
  • The labels should be changed to reflect user expectations.


  • Many users had a hard time determining how much they had eaten, or understanding how much food each measurement amount actually represented. Few of them knew what an ounce or gram of a given food looked like, or how much of non-fluid items made up a cup.
  • Some graphic representation of food amounts should be available in the system, as well as a conversion application. See Future Plans for more information on the approach to this problem.

Missing items

  • Users more than once looked for food items that did not appear to be in the database at all. This included brand-name items or items from specific restaurants. This is a limitation for the USDA database.
  • There is no simple or quick solution to this problem. See Future Plans for more information on the approach to this problem.

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A user-centered redesign of the Kent State SLIS site

Note: This was originally created for an information architecture class – the project was to redesign the Kent State School of Library Science web site. You can also see a usability study of the site.

Executive Summary

The current Kent State University School of Library Science (SLIS) does not meet the needs of the department. This project outlines a plan and strategy for designing a new site. The new site will better communicate the department’s image and core attributes to the outside world and better meet the needs of users. This report covers the entire process, from research and project goals, through the development of a new design and how to measure success. Major recommendations include the use of a simple content management system (CMS), a new navigation structure and graphic design, and a few new content elements such as news, video, and podcasts.


This report will cover the overall strategy for the redesign of the Kent State University SLIS web site, including the site’s audiences, the vision for the site, and analysis of the content and maintenance. Finally, recommendation are made for the content, information architecture, and design of the new site. The ultimate goal of this project is to create a coherent analysis and plan for the SLIS department to execute. The result will be a site that better projects the image of the department, better serves the users, and, if possible, makes the staff’s job a little bit easier.

Site content has been updated, but the organization and design of the site has been the same since 2000. The web has changed a great deal in the last 5 years, and the Kent SLIS site look and feel is not exactly cutting edge. The faculty and staff have voiced a desire to update the site, and there is anecdotal evidence that at least some students find the site lacking. Any new design must better address the needs of the site’s audiences and should better project the image of the department to the outside world. Also, the process used to update the current site is slow and unwieldy. The new site will solve three main problems: poor ease of use, an image that does not fit the department, and difficulty updating the site and communicating with users.

The process followed in creating this report has included requirements-gathering meetings with SLIS faculty and staff, content analysis of the current site, analysis of server logs, brainstorming sessions with Information Architecture Knowledge Management (IAKM) students, analysis of similar sites, academic usability research, the creation of persona, card sorting exercises, wireframing, prototyping and other techniques. The report will recommend additional steps such as formal usability testing be taken as well.

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Notes: Bias in computer systems

Friedman, B., & Nissanbaum, H.  (1996). Bias in computer systems.  ACM Transactions on Information Systems, 14(3), 330-347.


In this article Friedman and Nissenbaum look at bias in software systems. Although the word bias can cover a number of related concepts, the definition used here is something that systematically and unfairly discriminates toward one party or against another. The authors see three main classes of bias in computer systems: Preexisting bias, when an external bias is incorporated into a computer system, either through individuals who have a hand in designing the system or via the society the software was created in; Technical bias, where technical considerations bring about bias (from limitations, loss of context in algorithms, random number generation, or formalization of human constructs); and Emergent bias, where bias emerges after design when real users interact with the system (for example, when new information is available but not in the design, or when systems are extended to new user groups). A number of illustrative examples are given, and the authors look at a number of specific software systems and point out existing or potential biases. One of the systems is the The National Resident Match Program (NRMP), used to match med school graduates to hospitals. In this system, if a student’s first choice of hospital and hospital’s first choice of student do not match, the students’ second choices are run against the hospitals’ first choices. Overall, the result favors the hospitals. Two steps are proposed to rectify bias – diagnosis and active minimization of bias.

This is an extremely interesting subject, and and I doubt most users and programmers are any more aware of it now than they were in 1996. One more recent article, ( which sought to turn literary criticism toward video games by pointing out cultural biases, also mentions the lack of study in this area. With so many people spending so much of their day interacting with software, why do these kinds of articles seem so few and far between? On the other hand, the particular examples chosen are illustrative but not very current. All three of the systems were large-scale, mainframe-type software that users interacted with in a very small sense. Would the risk of bias be even greater for a system which is largely a user interface?

One clear implication is shown in the diagnosis stage of removing bias—to find technical and emergent bias, designers are told to imagine the systems as they will actually be used and as additional user groups adopt them, respectively. So the charge is one-third ‘know thyself’ and two-thirds ‘know the users.’ The very notion of looking for bias is probably foreign to many user interface designers (in fact, few of the programmers I’ve met are even aware that accessibility guidelines exist for blind, deaf, and other users). The authors’ proposal that professional groups offer support to those designers who detect bias and wish to fight it is a nice thought but doubtful. Few programming or UI organizations can exert any kind of pressure or drum up much bad publicity, or if they can, I haven’t heard of it (which I suppose means they can’t).