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User-Centred Product Creation in Interactive Electronic Publishing

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Electronic information products are progressively evolving along a number of dimensions:

Delivery channel

Initially delivered on CD-ROM only, most electronic products today appear also (sometime exclusively) on the WWW. In addition, products are progressively becoming available not only on PCs, but also on a variety of different (internet connected) devices, ranging from static equipments such as the Web TV to mobile equipments such as PDAs to WAP phones.


The kind of functionality offered to the user. First generation electronic products were essentially read-only hypermedia (i.e., navigable) applications. Interactive products today support not only navigation and browsing, but also, via web, complex workflows of activities, sophisticated services, and complex business transactions, involving possibly sophisticated data processing and intensive data modifications.

These novelties make modern application design a complex task that requires the integration of methods and techniques developed in different "worlds". Classical hypermedia approaches work relatively well for "traditional" applications, i.e., read-only hypermedia. These models provide conceptual primitives and notations that designers can use to specify information and navigation structures at the high level, abstracting from implementation and architectural details.


The first example of hypermedia design method is HDM, proposed in the early nineties. It was the first attempt of defining a systematic approach to hypermedia user centered design, as opposed to system centered design methods which existed at that time and were focused on low level, implementation oriented features of hypermedia systems. HDM distinguishes among three different design dimensions:

  • Information design
  • Navigation design
  • Publishing design (visual design)

In addition, HDM views the information, navigation, and presentation structures as stratified in two main layers: the access layer and the hyperbase layer.

A proliferation of hypermedia design methods ("web design" models) appeared, refining and enriching HDM concepts and notation. The most relevant examples are OOHDM, WSDM, UHDM, RMMM, WebML, to mention only the most known.


OOHDM adopts abstractions and notations from Object Oriented Design to model the HDM design concepts, and extends the modelling power of HDM to a number of interface aspects.


RMM - the Relationship Management Model - is a method for the design and management of relationships among various information domains to produce structured hypermedia documents. RMM is based on Entity Relationship Model (ER), extended to describe not only information objects and their relationships, but also navigational properties.


WSDM elaborates the concept of a user-centred approach to web design. This process starts with a user classification to identify the different kinds of users and a user class description that specifies the information requirements and characteristics shared by users of the same user class.


WebML allows designer to describe the properties of a web application in terms of a set of different application models, each one addressing one specific aspect or property of the final application.WebML supports an internal XML syntax, which can be fed into software generators for automatically producing the implementation of a Web site.


UHDM is a methodology for hypermedia design that uses a UML profile (i.e., customized version of a set of UML primitives). UML is extended to model the navigation and the presentation according to the UML extension mechanisms. These mechanisms are based on the definition of stereotypes and the use of OCL.


In software engineering the state of the art provides a number of design methods for "traditional" operation-oriented applications, that do not exploit the intrinsically navigational nature of the web. The most popular method is the Unified Modelling Language UML, which provides a unified object-oriented modelling framework to describe the information structures and the operational behaviour of a software system (of any kind). UML, as all other software engineering design methods, does not consider user navigation explicitly: Navigation structures and navigation mechanisms are not first order citizens, but are regarded as any other type of "object" and "operation" of the system.

Conallen's method

Recently, the issue of modelling hypermedia and operational features has been acknowledged by the web engineering community as relevant for design. An attempt to address both kind of features in a UML framework is Conallen's work.

Operational Extensions to Hypermedia Models

A number of "pure" hypermedia models are being extended in order to include operation design. The latest version of OOHDM, which uses standard "objects" to describe nodes, includes operations as attachments to navigable hypermedia elements. WebML introduces the concept of "operational unit" to allow designers to include visual elements on the pages associated to insert-delete-update operations. The latest version of WSDM introduces "functional modelling" as an explicit task within conceptual modelling (complementary to information and navigation modelling). It decomposes complex operational activities into elementary operations, modelled in terms of some basic operational primitives. W2000 introduces new design concepts to model the semantic of complex operations and transactions, and adopts UML to model both hypermedia design concepts borrowed from HDM and new modelling concepts for describing sophisticated operation behaviour, integrated with navigational behaviour, and their mutual effects.