We are all story tellers. With each word searched or photo liked, we whisper a story that only the most attentive can hear.

I am a listener aided by qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Tao Wang

User Researcher

HCI, Usability, Accessibility

My Story

I am deeply interested in the dynamic between people and technologies: how our behaviors inform the design of technologies and how technologies change our everyday behaviors. The Human Computer Interaction (HCI) class that I took during my undergraduate study initiated this passion. I learned more about the field when conducting the research required by the BSc(Hons) degree, where I picked an HCI topic. However, the real breakthrough came when I volunteered with the local Special Olympic community. I witnessed the challenges that people with special needs and their caretakers face and the joy that they express, often upon some minor things. I started to think more profoundly about the relationship between technologies and their users. This growing curiosity led me to pursue a Ph.D. through the Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine in 2011.

Since then, I have contributed to more than ten HCI projects, including five projects that I led from start to finish. My reading and hands-on experiences allowed me to gain an in-depth understanding of various research methods including their strengths and shortcomings. Along the way, I have also developed my own identity as a researcher. Information technologies have social impact, especially for people who are disadvantaged by their abilities or social context. I wish to use my skills to develop information technologies that can improve the quality of life for these individuals, and maybe the seemingly small improvements can ripple and unlock the full potential of their lives.

In the past a few years, my main focus was on my dissertation research, which comprised three projects/phases. In this research, I looked at an often neglected problem that blind users encounter: the communication, awkward at times, with sighted users in regard to interacting web pages. I used both qualitative methods and quantitative methods to investigate the root of the issues and assess a potential design solution. Through this research, I have gained interesting insights and produced various design suggestions at each phase. I successfully defended my dissertation on May 16th, 2018.

Currently, I am in the job market. So please get in touch if you have good suggestions. I do not know what life will take me next. But I do know that I want to dedicate my career to research and work on good topics that can impact people's lives. I can’t imagine anything else more satisfying than that!

Skills

Research

My experience provided me an in-depth understanding of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including the strengths and shortcomings of each method.

Interview
Survey/Questionnaire
Lab experiment
Log Analysis
Content Analysis
Ethnography
Contextual Inquiry
Cognitive Walkthrough
Observation
Diary Study

Usability

I am also familiar with various methods used for usability testing and UI/UX designs. I have applied them in my own research and guided senior students in project or design classes to use them. An incomplete list includes the following:

In-Lab/Remote Usability Testing
Persona
Heuristic Evalution
Cognitive Walkthrough
Low/High Fidelity Prototyping
Competitor Analysis
Journey Map

Data Analysis

One important aspect of doing research is applying rigorous data analysis methods to distinguish signals from noises. I have experiences processing both qualitative data and quantitative data. Below are a few methods that I have used:

Open Coding
Axial Coding
Selective Coding
Grounded Theory
Affinity Diagram
Descriptive Statistics
Inferential Statistics
Categorical Data Analysis
Regression
Data Visualization

Programming

I have a background as a software engineer before becoming a researcher. In graduate school, I have developed web-based and Android-based prototypes for my own research and projects that I contributed to. Some highlights of my technical skills include:

HTML/CSS
JavaScript
JQuery
Java
C#
SQL
R
ASP.NET
MVC.NET
Android
Agile
Lean UX

Research

Selected Projects from My Recent Work

Understanding the Communication Barriers tetween Sighted and Blind Web Users

Problem

No man is an island. Communication with others is essential when performing many tasks. However, prior research has reported that blind web users experienced difficulties when discussing web pages with sighted web users. One plausible explanation is that blind users use screen readers to access web pages, which convey content via synthesized speech. This is dramatically different from how sighted users perceive web pages. This leads to communication barriers when describing web pages. In this research, my goal was to clarify what the specific issues were. Such an understanding is necessary as it informs what a design solution should address.

Method

I conducted a content analysis study. The idea was to collect written instructions for simple web-based tasks and analyze what wording and patterns were problematic for screen reader users. I distributed online surveys on Amazon Mechanical Turk and collected 50+ unique responses.

Findings

I found two consistent, problematic patterns among other minor patterns from the data. First, spatial terms, such as “top left,” “center,” were prevalent when sighted users described web elements. Since screen readers do not convey layout, blind users would not be able to make sense of these terms. Second, sighted users tend to use inconsistent terms to describe web elements. For example, they might describe the same top menu using “links,” “tabs,” or “text.” Since screen readers always use the technical web element names, blind users could get confused when receiving instructions featuring such terms.

Spatial Audio with Web Audio API

Problem

Web Audio API is a W3C work-in-progress specification that is supported by all major browsers. Using Web Audio API, a web developer can easily edit one or more audio sources during runtime and create sophisticated audio effect. I was particularly interested in its spatialization features as spatial audio has the potential to convey layout to web users with visual impairments. However, there is no known evaluation of the effectiveness of Web Audio API’s spatialization features. In addition, moving audio can provide more design options and a more animated experience. But compared to other design spaces, we know little about how to design good moving audio, e.g., do different movements lead to different recognition rates? Do spatial properties, such as distance, speed, play a role in recognition accuracy?

Method

To answer both questions, I designed and implemented two lab experiments: one focused on stationary spatial audio and the other focused on moving audio. I recruited 18 participants. Each session took about two hours and the participant completed recognition tasks of audio stimulus with various spatial properties. At the end, I collected more than 4000 data points. Using ANOVA and non-parametric methods, I compared and identified regions that contribute to better or worse recognition rates. I also built multi-level general models to evaluate the role that different spatial properties play.

Findings

Based on the analysis, I produced a few main spatial audio design guidelines, as well as a summary of observed patterns. The main findings include the recognition rates of stationary audio spatialized in the horizontal space for different resolutions, the recognition rates of various movement types and the impact of a moving audio’s length or direction, the ranges of less sensitive area in the audio space, and a recognition bias that users exhibited.

You can find a poster summarizing the findings here.

Using Spatial Audio Feedback to Convey Web Page Layouts to Blind Screen Reader Users

Problem

My early research has found that sighted people tend to use spatial terms when describing web pages, but spatial terms are problematic for blind screen reader users to comprehend. One potential solution is to convey layout information via spatial audio feedback. Currently, screen readers have not utilized spatial audio much and user attitudes about such designs are unknown. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct formative research before any major development.

Method

I developed a proof-of-concept screen reader prototype that supports basic screen reader features and additional spatial audio features. Then I conducted user studies with 20 blind or legally blind participants. Each one-on-one session took about two hours. The user study includes usability testing, surveys, and interviews. The focus was on whether or not users could interpret relative spatial terms or perceive the overall web page layout using the prototype, and their direct feedback on the design concept.

Findings

Quantitative data collected from the usability testing and surveys shows that spatial audio features enabled participants to accomplish tasks that are hard or impossible to complete with regular screen readers. However, I also found that a user’s familiarity with screen readers had a strong impact to their experience with spatial audio features. For users who are new to screen readers, they had a hard time processing the additional spatial audio feedback. For experienced screen reader users, they responded positively to the spatial audio features in general, but a few were reluctant to incorporate new techniques into their existing interaction routines. From the interview, I also learned usability issues with my current design and various scenarios where spatial audio feedback could make positive impacts. These findings allowed me to compile a list of recommendations on how future developments should be focused.

You can find a case study of this project here.

Employment

Graduate Student Researcher

University of California, Irvine
September 2011 - June 2018

Led 5 projects from start to finish; responsible for all activities in a research project cycle.

  • Identified research topics and prioritized research questions
  • Surveyed existing literature published in conferences and journals
  • Applied for funding
  • Planned research protocols and acquired approvals from Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  • Developed research prototypes
  • Created user recruitment materials
  • Recruited users from campus and local disability communities
  • Authored research papers and technical reports to communicate research findings
  • Presented posters at international conferences (ASSETS, UIST) and local outlets

Collaborated with teams of 3-5 researchers from across multidisciplinary departments in 4 projects: planned research agendas, developed research prototypes, such as:

  • Web- and Android- based systems to help diabetic patients manage personal health data
  • Web-based colorectal cancer risk assessment tool targeting population aged 50+

Teaching Assistant

University of California, Irvine
September 2011 - June 2018

Served as Teaching Assistant for 18 classes

  • Assisted professors in creating overall class structures
  • Managed teaching activities in fast-paced schedules
  • Designed compelling teaching materials (slides, activities) to promote effective learning
  • Created assignments and quizzes to evaluate learning objectives
  • Delivered lectures and discussions for classes ranging from 40 to 100+ students
  • Managed student project teams (4-7 students per team, 10+ teams a time): setting goals, tracking progress, identifying collaboration issues, resolving conflicts
  • Facilitated other teaching/supporting staff from across campus for class activities

Assistive Technology Trainer

May 2013 - July 2017

  • Provided technology trainings to students with visual impairments in group and one-on-one
  • Gained expertise in assistive technologies
  • Developed new training material

Research Intern

June 2014 - September 2014

  • Ran in-person interviews (10+ users) to develop original research topic
  • Developed proof-of-concept prototype and web-based user study data collection instruments
  • Evaluated the prototype via online surveys distributed on Amazon Mechanical Turk (300 responses)
  • Performed inferential statistical analysis to measure user interaction and produce design insights
  • Wrote two research papers (one first author, one second author) to present findings

Research Assistant

June 2012 - September 2012

  • Conducted user interviews to gather requirements
  • Developed prototypes for research activities
  • Presented research progress in public events

Software Consultant

March 2008 - July 2011

  • Developed web applications
  • Managed database, e.g., scripting, performance tuning, maintenance
  • Assisted account managers with estimates
  • Gathered requirements from clients onsite and offsite

Software Consultant

Hyro, Auckland, New Zealand
March 2007 - February 2008

  • Developed web applications
  • Maintained database servers
  • Assisted project proposals and planning

Software Developer

September 2005 - March 2007

  • Developed software
  • Maintained database

Education

Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science

University of California, Irvine
September 2011 - June 2018

Dissertation Title: Exploring the Potential of Using Spatial Audio to Improve Web Accessibility for Screen Reader Users

BSc(Hons) in Computer Science

The University of Auckland, New Zealand
2008 - 2009

Dissertation Supervisor: Associate Professor Beryl Plimmer
Dissertation Title: SmartList: Computing with Handwritten Input

BSc in Computer Science

The University of Auckland, New Zealand
2002 - 2005