The Research – Practice Gap

“There is an immense gap between research and practice. I’m tempted to paraphrase Kipling and say “Oh, research is research, and practice is practice, and never the twain shall meet,” but I will resist. The gap between these two communities is real and frustrating. Sometimes the gap is deliberate. Some researchers proudly state that they are unconcerned with the dirty, messy, unsavory details of commercialization while also complaining that practitioners ignore them. And some practitioners deride the research results as coming from a pristine ivy tower, interesting perhaps, but irrelevant for anything practical. Sometimes the gap is accidental, caused by a misunderstanding by both sides of the requirements and goals of the other. I have heard researchers who would like their ideas to impact practice complain that when their ideas do get used, the practitioners do it wrong, leaving out (or messing up) the most critical aspects. Practitioners, in turn, complain that the research results, even if relevant, are not in any form that can readily be translated into practice.” – Don Norman

This articleon the research – practice gap is really interesting and very applicable to the area of interaction design in games. It definitely applies to those companies that have invested in User Research groups. Essentially it outlines a problem with the fundamental way of designing anything, and concludes that most design decisions are motivated by myths and practice rather than by core established scientific principles. Essentially they are going about it the wrong way.

I don’t want to give too much away because Dr. Norman says it best in thearticleso do read it!

However, with regards to its applicability to games, having the lead interaction designer’s job be something of translating user research, and other gameplay problems that need to be solved would be ideal in developing a robust interactive product. At this time, user interface in games is an after thought that usually results in lots of issues and many game mechanics that never truly deliver the full experience just because no one knows how to use them. Most devs seem to focus too much on look and feel as opposed to actual interaction issues.

In my own experience, I have come across individual devs that design user controls with no real planning aside from “this feels good to me” or “this feels good to them” referring usually to a very small subset of press or QA who are not necessarily true representations of the general population, or the audience that the game is being marketed.

The solution then would see the user interface team structured like so: Lead Interaction Designer, Interaction Designers, and Artists. The Lead Interaction Designer’s job, along with the designers on the team, would be to translate information from gameplay design, multiplayer design, level design, and user research to synthesize ways in which this information could be effectively put into practice. Essentially identifying a problem and designing a solution, the artists would then work with the lead to make sure that the research – practice gap is addressed and filled with the solution that was developed. This process should occur repeatedly, and tested by a representative population in order to determine validity and applicability, the process should also be documented so that future problems of a similar nature could be addressed with some established basis.

Of course I still need more time to think about this, but these are my initial thoughts on the subject.

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