This case study examines the key design features and methodology required to develop a website that best reflects the culture of an Indigenous Australian community. The study also considers general issues related to the representation and capture of Indigenous knowledge. The Wollotuka project is grounded in previous contextual design work. The aim was to investigate two main questions: what key design features should be incorporated into a website to meet the requirements of an Aboriginal community and what culturally acceptable process can be used to capture these requirements? The Wollotuka project adopted an iterative prototyping approach that built on previous knowledge concerning Indigenous design elements. The user-centred design process engaged closely with 12 members of the local Aboriginal & Islander community throughout the process. The ethnographic process included a focus group discussion and one-on-one interviews. The final design incorporated a virtual tour of the building and the grounds. Within the tour are situated other key features such as storytelling, video, Aboriginal art, humour, music and dance, messages from community members, a facility for feedback and some simple interactive games. A number of helpful guidelines related to Aboriginal culture and design features were identified in the project. The project also identified important guidelines regarding a culturally acceptable design process for an Indigenous community. Overall, the community-based design process used in the Wollotuka project met with approval from all members of the group. Interviews with the project participants highlighted the importance of this close community involvement in the design process.

The Wollotuka project was motivated by the desire to design a more culturally acceptable website for The Wollotuka Institute. The Wollotuka Institute is an Indigenous study centre. It is part of the University of Newcastle, a large regional university about 170 kilometres North of Sydney, located in the traditional lands of the Pambalong people, who are part of the Awabakal nation. Wollotuka supports a broad range of Indigenous Australian programs incorporating administrative, academic and research activities. It also provides support and development services for Indigenous staff and students.

The University of Newcastle is a national leader in Indigenous education, with over 500 Indigenous Australian students studying across its five faculties, making these students, administrative and academic staff, direct users of the website. The estimated number of potential users is above 517,000, which was the Indigenous population of Australia in 2006. The projected population in 2021 is between 713,300 and 721,100 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009).

Wollotuka is housed in a specially designed learning space, the Birabahn building (Figure 1.1), which incorporates the motifs of the Eagle-hawk, the primary totem of the Awabakal nation. The architectural space was developed to incorporate aspects of Indigenous Australian practices and culture, to present the staff, students and the community with a warm familiar environment (UON 2008). In a similar way, the Wollotuka project set out to study the design of an electronic space that incorporates the values of the local community and hence, to provide them with a warm and familiar online environment.

Figure 1.1: The Birabahn Building Houses The Wollotuka Institute.


(Source: Johnston 2011)

Although Wollotuka already has an existing website (Figure 1.2), it was designed to fit a more traditional, Western, Eurocentric, corporate framework as prescribed by the University. The University of Newcastle Web Services designed the look and feel of the website to reflect the University 'brand', which is determined by the Marketing and Public Relations department.

Figure 1.2: The Western-Style Homepage Of The Wollotuka Institute.

wollotuka homepage

(Source: UON 2008)

Figure 1.3: The University of Newcastle 'brand' guidelines.


(Source: UON 2012)

While the branding and design is appropriate for accomplishing the goals of the Marketing and Public Relations department, when consulting with the local Indigenous Australian community during the focus group discussion, on the CMS system, participants said that the 'constrained' design guidelines were considered 'totally inappropriate' for the Wollotuka website because it conveyed an environment where 'you are not allowed to go outside the boxes'. Another focus group participant expressed his opinion this way:

'Its inclusive cultures. I mean, it's like women in management. If we want to attract women into management and we want to turn them into 'blokes', then we have wasted it. If the university wants Indigenous people to be part of the university then the university itself needs to change to be inclusive'.

Study Participant

Figure 1.4: Typical page on the University website showing CMS editable areas. Area 1 allows the sub-menu structure to be edited, Area 2 is the main content area, where the primary content is inserted and Area 3 is for supplementary content to support the main content area (UON 2008b).


(Source: UON 2008b)

This type of contextual design mismatch should not be surprising as all computer programs are human creations and as such must bear the imprints of the cultural nuances of those who create them (Chen 2007). Unfortunately, in the design of the original Wollotuka website, no discussion regarding cultural appropriateness was made with the Indigenous Australian community.

1.2 The Design Process

The prototype design process proposed here contains three main phases (Figure 1.4). The initial phase is intended to gain an understanding of both broad and specific design issues, to collect the initial expectations of the end-user community. This stage includes a literature review and a focus group discussion.

The second, iterative phase is where the main design work takes place. At least two iterations are completed during this phase, isolating the 'key design features' for prototyping. In each case, a high fidelity prototype incorporating the key design features is developed for use as a prop in one-on-one interviews with the participants. The feedback from these interviews informs further design work.

The final phase is to evaluate the resultant key design features and the overall process.

Figure 1.4: An Overview of the Design Process.


The process closely involves the end-user community (Figure 1.5). Such an approach that includes focus groups and interviews, as well as prototypes to gather feedback using structured interviews, has been recommended for identifying the 'meanings' of a representation within 'contexts' (Bourges-Waldegg & Scrivener 1996).

Figure 1.5: Community Involvements in the Design Process.


It is also important to note that the effective transition of the prototype to the website design/development team typically involves the communication of rationale, requirements, intent and details of the prototype.

1.3 Focus Group

The main intention of the focus group is to capture significant contextual design requirements to form the basis of the initial prototype design. The focus group also allows the first close involvement of end-users in the project, aligning the process with user-centred design.

The most effective focus-group process (Figure 1.6) we have found for interface development adopts an ethnographic research methodology. This is a focus group designed to provide knowledge about audiences, leveraging on the combined existing intelligence possessed by the end-users. This method has been effectively used in commercial contexts for the evaluation and development of websites for museums, libraries, government, small business and corporate organisations (Coppice Communication 2012).

Figure 1.6: The Focus Group Process.

focus group

(Adapted from: Insite Mapping 2009)

The process takes approximately two hours and includes the following activities:

    1. Introduction to the focus group (scoping).
    2. First storytelling (training).
    3. Stories about the space.
    4. Stories about communication.
    5. Stories about the existing website.
    6. Direct design ideas.
    7. Conclusion of the focus group.
Introduction (Scoping)

Participants are made aware that the focus group is about sharing knowledge they have acquired through experiences, as part of a project that aims to understand how to design a website in a way that is more meaningful for their particular context.

First Stories (Training)

Participants are asked not to focus on websites at this stage but rather to think of a personal story about the context. For example, if the prototype website is for a chocolate shop that wants to sell its chocolate online, the focus of this stage is on the general online and offline processes of 'buying chocolate,' not on websites that sell chocolate. The stories should involve the way the end-user engages with chocolate and in the purchase of chocolate. Participants are instructed to think of each story as a brief event, like a 30-second movie; they are given a few minutes to think about their stories and briefly write them down. Then, the facilitator asks volunteers to share their stories. Ideally, each story should answer three main questions: Where did it happen? What happened? How did it happen? This stage is intended as a training round with the facilitator interacting with the group to highlight these features (Where? What? How?). A white-board can be used to assist with this activity.

Stories about the Space

Participants are then directed to share stories dealing with the place or space of the context. Using the chocolate shop example, this would involve stories about the physical place or space inside a chocolate shop or a place where chocolate is sold. At this stage, participants work in pairs, one person listening as the other tells their story. The listener helps the storyteller to clarify the main points of the story by asking pertinent questions (Where? What? How?). When the first person finishes their story, they swap roles and repeat the exercise.

After the pair work is completed, the group comes back together. The facilitator asks volunteers to share their stories. Again, key elements of the stories are emphasised using the white-board (Where? What? How?). Often one story generates further discussion about the event. During this activity, further key elements of stories are introduced. When did it happen? Who was involved? Why did it happen?

Stories about Communication

Participants are then directed to focus on stories dealing with communication, some kind of interaction that happened in relation to context. Using the chocolate shop example, a communication story would involve relating a story about interactions with a retailer who sells chocolate. Along with original key elements (Where? What? How?), participants are asked to clarify other relevant elements of each story (When? Who? Why?).

Participants break into pairs and work as before, discussing and writing down stories. At the end of this storytelling session, the group again comes together to share their stories. The facilitator again helps to clarify key elements of each story (Where? What? How? When? Who? Why?). Once again, the stories often generate further discussion and stories related to the event.

Stories about the Existing Website

The storytelling process is again repeated. This time the participants are asked to share stories that relate directly to an existing website or websites within the context, especially stories involving people's interactions with the website. Using the chocolate example, participants are asked to relate a story about interacting with an existing website that sells chocolate. They are reminded that the six key elements (Where? What? How? When? Who? Why?) should be identified for each story. This session begins with pair work, again followed by a group discussion with the facilitator.

Direct Design Ideas

As a group, the participants are then asked for any general ideas about how a new website should look. They are also asked to share thoughts about what they like or do not like in other similar websites. Ideas are captured on a white-board.

Conclusion of Focus Group

Finally, participants are thanked for their help and encouraged to make contact if they would like to contribute further to the discussions or share other relevant thoughts.

1.3.1 Analysis of Outcomes

When analysing the focus group, care should be taken to ensure that all the pertinent ideas and even subtle suggestions and implications contained in participants' responses are considered. For example, this includes the group members' emotional overtones when certain issues were discussed. A criticism of this analysis is that it relies on the researcher's subjective assessment; however, this is also the presumed strength of an ethnographic approach, as the researcher is best situated to make these assessments.

The researcher analyses the video recording and transcript for emerging themes. The transcript contents themselves are often rich, revealing many areas of agreement between participants. QSR NVivo qualitative software (QSR 2011) can be used to help analyse the transcript. This software allows the data to be coded into categories relatively quickly. Again, the researcher is still responsible for the patterns, themes and meanings to be extracted from the data (Patton 2002).

Grounded theory techniques are particularly appropriate for analysing the data because the data itself directs the course of the investigation. This process involves 'discovering' general principles or key components assumed to underlie the phenomenon.

Themes emerging from the focus group (Table 1.1) are often supported by previous studies; however, some emerging themes are not, such as item 1.1.2 'A fun place to study'. This is why focus group discussions are an effective tool for experimental design. The results of the focus group are not intended to represent a broad range of websites, but only those within the given context.

Table 1.1: Emerging Focus Group Themes Supported by Literature Review.

Item Design Principle Theme Support from the Literature
1.1.1 Local Landscape Auld 2007; Lewis 1976; Turk & Trees 1998; Fleer 1989
1.1.2 A Fun Place To Study New finding
1.1.3 Community Involvement Fleer 1989; Turk & Trees 1998; Clemens 2002; Tuhiwia-Smith 1999; Butchman 2000
1.1.4 Indigenous Australian Artwork Williams 2002; Fleer 1989; Munn 1973
1.1.5 Navigation Williams 2002
1.1.6 Multimedia Clemens 2001; Pumpa & Wyeld 2006; Clemens 2002
1.1.7 Role Models Johnston 2001; Trudgen 1983
1.1.8 Kinship Fleer 1989; Gibb 2006
1.1.9 Language Remedio 1996; Gibb 2006; Pumpa & Wyeld 2006; Somerville et at. 2010
1.1.10 Humor Kleinert & Neale 2006; Pumpa, Wyeld & Adkins 2006
1.1.11 Music, Dance and Ceremony Pumpa, Wyeld & Adkins 2006; Fischer 1995
1.1.12 Not Using Templates New finding

1.3.2 Limitations of the Focus Group

Focus group discussions such as this are known to be susceptible to facilitator bias (ERT, 2008). Best results are obtained using an experienced facilitator, to ensure that a few individuals do not dominate discussion.

Focus groups have also been criticised for producing output that is not projectable (PBWorks, 2012). Conducting a single focus group means there is no correlation of multiple focus group results. Multiple groups are considered unnecessary at this exploratory stage as the design methodology also includes one-on-one interviews. During these interviews, participants are encouraged to identify issues relating to design interpretations drawn from the focus group.

The main intention of the focus group is to capture significant contextual design requirements that form the basis of the initial prototype design. However, the focus group is not the sole means of obtaining this information. Requirements from the focus group are cross-referenced with those elicited from previous literature. The data collected from the focus group must also be considered in conjunction with the one-on-one interviews and iterative prototyping facets of the design method. These three sources combine to provide the underpinnings of the prototype design.

Reasonable validity requires the researcher to first familiarise themselves with the data. Transcribing the video recording involves watching the video and reading the transcripts in their entirety several times. This places the researcher in a position to view the data with a strong appreciation of the end-users' perspective and to become immersed in the details before breaking them into emerging themes. The aim is to identify key prototype design principles. There is no further need to break the themes down into sub-themes. These themes will underpin the further design work described in the next section.

1.4 Iteration One

Here we discuss the design of the first prototype. The design elements are informed from findings of the project's first phase. While the literature review provides possible design directions, analysis of focus group data always yields a wealth of design ideas. Table 1.2 shows how each these design elements relate to findings from the focus group (Table 1.1) and literature review (See Appendix 1: Table 2.1 & Table 2.2). The first prototype design is intended to be the first iteration of the iterative design process.

While low-fidelity prototypes, often only paper-based, are generally used in early stages of the development process (Arnowitz, Arent & Berger 2007), we suggest a high-fidelity, interactive prototype. This allows broad assessment of interaction, and provides a reasonably high level of visual interaction with various forms of multimedia so that the intention of each design element is clear to the participants. We stress that the prototype does not aim to provide all the website's final functionality or to develop a completed polished design; it is simply to assess the choice of key design features for contextual appropriateness.

Table 1.2: References to Design Ideas from the Focus Group and Literature Review.

Key Design Ideas Literature Review Reference from Tables 2.1 &2.2 Focus Group Reference from Table 1.1
Simple Structure And Navigation 2.2.22 1.1.5
Location Map 2.2.4 1.1.6
Virtual Tour 2.2.1; 2.2.2 1.1.1
Multimedia (video and sound) 2.2.8; 2.2.10; 2.2.15; 2.2.18 1.1.7
Interactive Games   1.1.2
Community Links 2.2.7 1.1.3
Feedback Mechanism 2.1.6; 2.2.19  
Informal Language And Humor 2.1.11; 2.2.12; 2.2.13; 2.2.23 1.1.10, 1.1.11
Traditional Art,Imagery And Ceremony 2.2.3; 2.2.5; 2.2.6; 2.2.9; 2.2.11; 2.2.21 1.1.4, 1.1.8, 1.1.9, 1.1.12
Indigenous Wiki 2.2.14  

To design the initial prototype, consultation should take place between designers and project stakeholders, to determine what possible design features are needed to address the contextual requirements. This is a creative exercise best carried out in informal discussion. For the Wollotuka project, it took about two weeks for one person to develop a one-page HTML, CSS and JavaScript prototype, rich in multimedia and custom hand-drawn graphics. Consultation with Indigenous Australian community leaders revealed that paper prototyping or wireframes would not have been effective for user testing; the end-users needed to see the working multimedia examples.

In terms of navigation and layout, the literature revealed that specific orientations and page placement vary by culture (Barber & Badre 1998). The way holistically versus analytically minded people scan a web page is different, so the ordering and arrangement of information needed to be considered (Dong & Lee 2008). The focus group had suggested a very simple style of navigation with minimal depth. Therefore, the first prototype was contained on a single page. The website used a basic layout with a simple menu at the top (Figure 1.7). All other content was obtained by scrolling down the single page.

In terms of cultural design, the importance of adapting language to local styles is well reported (Callahan 2005; Amara & Portaneri 1996). In particular, Indigenous Australian students often prefer simple, 'straight to the point' and easy to read English (Gibb 2006). Thus, it was decided to keep the language very informal and simple (Figure 1.7) and thus appeal to the broadest group.

Figure 1.7: Simple Menu Using a Handwritten font, Aboriginal Dot Art and Straightforward Informal Language with Humorous Overtones.

into to wolly

Note: Since the creation of the first prototype, 'The Wollotuka Institute' has changed its name from 'The Wollotuka School of Indigenous Studies'.

Because the identity of Wollotuka and the ease with which someone could find the building were considered crucial in the success of the institution, the prototype also included a satellite image map (Figure 1.8). This location map showed the school and allowed for navigation by utilising GoogleTM mapping services. Although such maps are commonly featured in web designs, we note that the 'land' has been identified as the most fundamental aspect in Indigenous culture and so spatial aspects like location are especially significant (Turk & Trees 1998).

Figure 1.8: Satellite Map Showing Geographical Location.


(Source: GoogleTM et al. 2011)

A virtual tour of the building and the surroundings (Figure 1.9) was included. Like the location map, this design feature is informed by the knowledge that geographical features form the foundation of Indigenous thinking (Auld 2007). Indeed, the location or 'land' has been identified as the most fundamental aspect in Indigenous Australian culture (Turk & Trees 1998). This requirement had also been reflected in the findings from the focus group.

Figure 1.9: Virtual Tour of the Birabahn Building.

virtual tour

The 360 degree images were taken at seven locations within and around the Birabahn building. Clicking on the hotspots within the virtual tour enabled the movement from one location to another. Navigation within each location required clicking on the virtual tour and dragging the mouse in the desired direction. Additional graphical arrows were added for navigational ease.

The participants of the focus group were unanimous in wanting interactive images, 'video, things happening, things moving,' and not just images. This concurs with other guidelines for cultural localisation that recommend providing multimedia rich environments rather than text-based ones (Fischer 1995; Buchtmann 2000). A number of videos were, therefore, included that were set in the school building with the staff at the school introducing themselves (Figure 1.10).

Figure 1.10: Video Showing Staff Introducing Themselves.


To provide further multimedia content and to satisfy the request to portray the school as a fun place to study, two interactive games that incorporated local wildlife and local Indigenous art were included (Figure 1.11). There is a strong sense of relationship and community in the shared humour of Indigenous Australian people (Kleinert & Neale, 2006) and the focus group identified that a sense of fun and humour was an important message to communicate.

Figure 1.11: Games Using Local Indigenous Art and Humorous Overtones.


Both games were developed using Flash and Actionscript 3.0 and were based on code developed by Rosenberg (Rosenzweig 2011). The first game was a traditional memory matching game, were users had to turn over cards and find matching symbols. When cards were matched, they were then removed. Correct matches scored points and points were lost for incorrect matches. The back of the cards incorporated traditional Aboriginal artwork and the images on the front of the cards showed local wildlife such as frogs, snakes, kangaroos and koalas. The second game was an action game based on 'Asteroids' (Atari 1979). Although in this case the game involved driving a utility vehicle through the desert and shooting kangaroos, a traditional hazard of outback drivers. The game was designed to be tongue in cheek and intended to be humorous in nature.

Because Indigenous Australian community, family life and children always come before individual pursuits (Gibb 2006), it was also important to include images showing community groups. Indeed community and kinship had been cultural themes found in our focus group as well.

Many of the design elements served to highlight community and kinship, by using appropriately selected imagery. With permission, photos of Wollotuka community members were reproduced using existing resources from The Wollotuka Institute. To further highlight this sense of community, hypertext links to community relevant information were also provided (Figure 1.12). These community links including a range of Indigenous role models, a theme that had also emerged from the focus groups.

Figure 1.12: Community Links to Other Local Indigenous Australian Organisations.


Consultation with an Indigenous community has also been recognised as a continuous two-way process (AIATSIS 2000). A feedback system (Figure 1.13) was included to encourage the sharing of ideas among the extended website community. This design element also extended the notion of community participation in the project, allowing in time, for broader cross sections of the wider community to be involved in the creation of the website.

Figure 1.13: Anonymous Feedback System.


The focus group identified the need to see Aboriginal art on the website so it would be immediately identifiable as an Indigenous site. The literature also provided awareness for such things as, how the use of color in web design can affect the user's expectations and overall satisfaction (Barber & Badre 1998). To address these issues, custom dot images (Figure 1.7), a casual handwritten font and earthy colours (Figure 1.7) that related to traditional Indigenous culture were used. Local images of the people and the physical location were also used, as this has been suggested as a key technique in the localisation of sites (Williams 2002).

The final design element incorporated in the prototype was a wiki. This was intended to support knowledge capture and sharing. It was thought that a wiki would easily fit in with the way Indigenous Australian knowledge is created and shared. Like knowledge on a wiki, Indigenous knowledge is not static (AIATSIS 2000), but rather morphs with the community as it is created (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006). Typically respected teachers or elders are used to impart and govern knowledge in the community (Trudgen 1983), so selected elders could serve as overseers of the wiki.

1.5 Evaluation Interviews (1)

While focus groups are very effective in gathering contextual design ideas, one-on-one interviews are essential for understanding individual perspectives. Regardless of the time-consuming nature of this approach, there does not appear to be any substitute for one-on-one time spent in front of a computer screen, gathering users' thoughts on the interface as it evolves. Furthermore, one-on-one interviews with end-users give them the chance to understand the design problems and generate possible solutions, resulting in a 'community design' solution.

On completion of the prototype, one-on-one interviews are used to collect feedback on the design assumptions, and further refine the key design features. Once again, these sessions are intended to closely involve the end-user in the design process. This evaluation is intended as a formative way to evaluate the design, using the prototype as a prop to further discuss the contextual design principles end-users would like to see incorporated in the website. The end-user's involvement is expected to help confirm some design choices and also provide a spectrum of different design options for further development.

Interviews can be conducted with the same participants from the focus group discussion, so they are already familiar with the project. Occasionally, the focus group participants are not available for one-on-one interviews, so new participants can be recruited. Interviews are carried out with participants in a similar environment, using the same set of conditions. Interviewers are given similar introductions and encouragement and the interviews are videotaped and transcribed later. The major opinions and suggestions are then consolidated and analysed for implementation and consolidated feedback derived from the interviews is summarised and documented.

Interviewees are generally required to be in front of a computer screen with a browser displaying the working prototype. Interviews are generally conducted using the participant's own computing device within the given context and last up to two hours each.

Only a few tips are necessary to facilitate an effective interview session. In conducting interviews, it is important to be as open and frank as possible, because a prototype's success depends largely on the impression it creates in the mind of a viewer. Participants are told that they are free to browse the prototype any way they like and that nobody will interfere or show them how to use it. However, they are free to ask questions if they would like help understanding any part of the user interface they found confusing. In short, the interviewees are expected to figure things out on their own, as if they were surfing the Internet without anyone's help.

After about 10 minutes of browsing, the participants are interviewed in a semi-structured fashion. They are asked some guided questions about key design features such as videos, graphics, language, colour scheme, icons, etc. They are also asked to openly comment on their general impression and how the site could be made more contextually appropriate.

The general design of the first prototype was well received. A number of suggestions were made about additional content, including images, video, community links and general information. The prototype incorporated ten key design features and some intermediate conclusions about each if these design features were reached.


Participants considered the one page navigation to be easy and simple. One suggestion was made to provide a more logical ordering with staff videos at the bottom of the page and introductory information and/or welcoming videos at the top.

Satellite Maps

The location map received positive response from all participants. Practical improvements included clearly identifying key features such as the location of bus stops and local banks.

Virtual Tour

The virtual tour received most commendation. Participants particularly appreciated the way it took a person all around the building and gave a feel for the place. Suggestions for improvement it included a more user-friendly navigation system, more videos and voice-overs explaining the cultural significance of objects and places and the addition of more 'people videos' to the virtual tour.


Participants agreed that videos are essential for communicating with Aboriginal people online. Many suggestions were made for improved video content, this included such subjects as showing potential students exactly what happens at university, a video of students talking about the level of student support at Wollotuka and a video of the resident community elder welcoming people to the community.


Participants spent time playing the interactive games during the interview session. Although not all participants enjoyed themselves, they were considered appropriate for potential students as they may encourage young Aboriginal people to go to the university in future. One practical suggestion on improving the games was to provide instructions that are more detailed.

Community Links

The community links received a mixed reaction. The concept was considered necessary but deciding on appropriate links requires further consultation with the community. Suggestions for improvement included providing maps for each of the service locations and a process for strictly monitoring linked-to sites for inappropriate content

Feedback Form

The feedback mechanism did not receive a lot of recognition by participants, however one participant appreciation the anonymity shown, since many Indigenous Australian people do not want to be identified. No suggestions on improvements were offered.

Language Tone

The language used in the prototype received mixed feedback. One considered it too loose for an academic context but others showed appreciation because it was simple. Improvements included aiming for a version of English that was straight forward, simple and conversational.

Traditional art, Imagery and Ceremony

Traditional art, imagery and ceremony were appreciated by all participants, especially the colours, handwritten font and hand-made Aboriginal dot images. Practical suggestions for improvement included improving the contrast of images, adding more Aboriginal art, explaining each of the community graphics in detail, adding pictures of local animals and having a better gender balance of images on the site.


The responses to the Indigenous Wiki were skeptical. Participants liked the concept but generally concluded that academics are too busy to spend sufficient time to ensure that the information provided is accurate.

1.6 Iteration Two

This section describes the re-development of the prototype. The steps followed in this second iteration are similar to those followed in the first, the key difference being the data used to make design decisions. In the first iteration, the key design features are informed from the literature review and focus-group discussion. For this second iteration, the design features are a refinement of the first prototype. These refinements are directly based on feedback from the one-on-one interviews with end-users.

The iterative process allows participants to express their design preferences and dislikes on multiple occasions. This allows long-term preferences to emerge, establishing definite design preferences for each participant. Where multiple participants consistently agree or disagree on design choices, it is possible to make design decisions for the succeeding iteration. This process not only satisfies the project's design requirements, it also provides participants with tangible evidence that their ideas are being incorporated into successive iterations.

Involving individuals and incorporating community ideas into the prototype builds contextual approval. The participants are asked explicitly during interviews if they have noticed any contextually inappropriate incident in the focus group or interview activities. From a design perspective, understanding inappropriateness is just as important as understanding appropriateness. However, participants may be reluctant to point out anything inappropriate.

While these activities are time-consuming, prototyping and interviewing work well together. In general, it is difficult to judge how many phases of this iterative process are required to reach a final design solution. Project time constraints play a role in this decision and technology can also have an impact on the timing of each iteration. Some key design features can take considerable time to implement, even when they are prototype quality.

To commence the second iteration of the iterative design phase, consultation should again take place between designers and project stakeholders. Each of the prototyped design features should be discussed in light of end-user feedback from the first-iteration interviews. Data from these interviews will confirm or reject earlier design decisions. Often, existing prototype elements become redundant at this stage and existing content, such as video and image content may be removed. As the intention of this phase is not to produce a fully functional website, many of these content suggestions are simply recorded. The focus of the prototype should be on the main design features.

Often, one or two design features receive consistent and enthusiastic feedback from the first round of one-on-one interviews. These features can be highlighted in the second iteration. Design directions are flexible at this stage but if no clear design direction can be established, two or three alternative interfaces can be produced for confirmation in the next round of interviews.

Participants in the first round of evaluation interviews responded in an overwhelmingly positive way to the virtual tour, and this provided enough evidence to support a major redesign. It was decided to encapsulate as many of the other key design features as possible inside the virtual tour itself. The intention was that the virtual tour would now become the website interface. Users would navigate about the physical building and surroundings and interact more directly with objects in the tour. This design direction satisfied a number of important Indigenous Australian cultural requirements that had been reported in the literature and reaffirmed in both the focus group and one-on-one interviews. These requirements are summarised in Table 1.3.

Table 1.3: Cultural Principles Satisfied by using the Virtual Tour Interface.

Design Principle Reference
Natural knowledge processes Take advantage of people's knowledge of the world around them by using metaphors to convey concepts and features of your application. (Apple Computer Inc. 1992, p.4).
Landscape The geographical land is the foundation of Indigenous thinking (Auld 2007).
Country If the culture sees its knowledge's as embedded in the land, recreate the land in order to provide a more appropriate cultural storehouse and place to tell their own stories, landscapes are not the parcels and lots of the Western view, the country is like a living breathing entity (Indigenous Communities Project 2006, p. 95).
Spatial aspects Spatial aspects like location are especially significant (Turk & Trees 1998).
Effective for non-tribal Aboriginal people Even among non-tribal Aboriginals there exists a deep emotional relationship with the bush country (Lewis 1976, p. 254).
Multimedia Provide multimedia rich environments rather than texts based ones and incorporate a range of audio and visual techniques to encourage usage. (Fischer 1995; Buchtmann 2000).
Navigate by images Navigation by images is preferred over navigation linked to words (Williams 2002).
Focus group The focus group participants made significant references to the local landscape.
One-on-one interviews The focus group participants made significant references to the local landscape. Participants of the one-one interviews particularly appreciated the way the virtual tour took a person all around the building and gave them a feel for the place.

As with prototype one, a simple navigation system was developed for the virtual tour (Figure 1.14) using handmade icons in traditional aboriginal colours. It was anticipated that participants would have some initial difficulty moving throughout the building using their mouse to drag across the screen. To reduce any confusion a splash screen message automatically displayed itself for 10 seconds on first entrance, providing instructions on how to navigate around the tour. Graphical buttons with handwritten text provided simple instruction about moving from section to section in the tour.

Figure 1.14: Virtual Tour Navigation by Map, Buttons and Text Images.


The location map of prototype one was well received. While the suggested integration of bus stop and local bank were not incorporated, it was technically possible to include a Google map. However, due to the technical restrictions within the virtual tour, the map was integrated as a slide-out option. See Figure 1.14 and 1.15. Visitors were required to click on the 'click for map' button to access the map.

Figure 1.15: Slide-out Location Map.

satalite nav

(Source: GoogleTM et al. 2011)

As previously discussed, the virtual tour itself became the interface of prototype two (Figure 1.16; 1.17). Where possible, suggested improvement made by interview participants were integrated into the virtual tour. This included a more user-friendly navigation system, additional videos and voice-overs explaining the cultural significance of objects and places at the Wollotuka Institute. More people were also included into the virtual tour with the use of videos and images.

Figure 1.16: The Virtual Tour Outside The Birabahn Building.

tour outside

Figure 1.16: The Virtual Tour Inside The Birabahn Building.

tour inside

A didgeridoo sound file was added, playing for approximately 20 seconds upon first visiting the site. Demonstration sound files were also added to tell the story of the 'Kangaroo that Lives inside Nobbys' and an Awabakal story about 'When the Moon Cried and Formed Belmont Lagoon'.

Participants in the interviews wanted to see videos; they regarded them as essential for communicating with Indigenous Australian people online. The content of the videos were not the focus at this stage, the focus was on whether placing videos within the virtual tour was technical possible and if so, were they reliable and usable. Once it was discovered that videos worked fine within the virtual tour environment, mock-ups of videos were created, including one of the local resident elder introducing the Pambalong clan of the Awabakal nation (Figure 1.18). Many suggestions were made during the focus group and one-on-one interviews concerning video content.

Figure 1.18: Video Embedded into the Virtual Tour.


The second iteration also included a more extensive use of custom-made Aboriginal art. All text was replaced with graphics, videos and sound files. Some culturally significant design features identified in the interviews were also added. These included: both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the logo, images of Aboriginal art (Figure 1.19), pictures of local wildlife (Figure 1.20), and the Wollotuka totem of the Eagle-hawk (Figure 1.21).

Figure 1.19: Aboriginal Art Displayed within the Virtual Tour.

aboriginal art

Figure 1.20: Imagery of Local Animals.


Figure 1.21: Images of Flags and Traditional Eaglehawk Floor Mural.


1.7 Evaluation Interviews (2)

After developing the second iteration of the prototype, it is used as a prop for interviewing the participants. The one-on-one evaluation interviews for the second iteration follow a procedure similar to that in the first iteration. Again, a one- to two-hour meeting is set with participants, who begin by browsing and navigating the prototype before being interviewed. One difference in this series of interviews is the addition of more structure to direct more feedback towards the key design features, rather than towards content, for example. Open questions about the contextual appropriateness of the design process are also included in an effort to yield insight into the process itself.

Again, participants who were initially involved in the focus group discussion and the first round of one-on-one interviews are often not available for the second round of interviews. However, some participants who were available for the focus group but not the first round of interviews may be available for the second round. Any shortage of numbers should result in recruiting new participants.

If there are no resource constraints on the project, the results from iteration two provide design direction for iteration three. However, at the end of iteration two, most of the major prototype design features have been identified and further discoveries involve mostly minor design changes. Two iterations are usually sufficient to isolate most key design features to be included in the final prototype. It is not the intention of iteration two to develop the final deployed version of the website. At the conclusion of iteration two, the prototype should be ready for hand-off. This is where the prototype will be developed into the final website design.

The Virtual Tour

All participants were enthusiastic about the virtual tour concept. They agreed that the landscape metaphor was fun and different, reflecting the Birabahn environment. In the opinion of participants, this website represented Aboriginal knowledge more fully. This was due to:

    1. The colors and the interactivity.
    2. The tour provided a virtual 'walkabout'.
    3. The use of storytelling in videos and sound files.

Participants made suggestions that applied to the flow of the virtual tour, one suggestion was to conform it more to the flow of the offline tour, with the start of the tour focusing on the floor of the common room, highlighting the mural of the Birabahn eagle. Other suggestions include adding every part of the building and surrounding bushland to the virtual tour and in particular allowing visitors to meet people in each of the staff offices.


Some participants had no issues with the navigation while others had a lot of difficulty, often failing to realise that the navigation arrows were for navigation. However, all the participants became familiar with the navigation after only a brief explanation. Suggestions included adding popup instructions over the navigation buttons and clearer instructions about how to drag the mouse across the screen.

Satellite Maps

The location map received little recognition from participants who were more interested in exploring different areas of the virtual tour. This may be because all participants were already familiar with the location of the building.

Video and Sound

All participants appreciated the videos, prompting many practical suggestions for the further development of video content and a general request to provide more video content. Participants were enthusiastic about the prospects of further development in this direction, particularly videos targeting the assistance of Indigenous Australian students. In general, participants pointed out that more social aspect needed be included into the virtual tour to make it more community orientated. The inclusion of more community-orientated video content appeared to be the solution to this requirement.

The story telling audios were appreciated, as was the general 'storytelling' approach of providing information. One participant found the didgeridoo music annoying after hearing it once and actually turned it off.

Other Issues

A further suggestion was to include more photos of people and the ability to click on a photo or a painting to get the actual story behind it. This highlighted the significance of Aboriginal paintings within the tour. Minor issues included adding a homepage link to the site from the Wollotuka logo and incorporating more written text for printing and reading later. We were also given some reminders to include the games from prototype one, the local community links and the staff introductory videos in the final design. The use of handwritten and Aboriginal art style, navigation buttons received no comments.

Participants wanted to see the website online but were disappointed that an Indigenous Australian land metaphor would probably not be permitted to replace the current corporate design prescribed by the university.

The Design Process

With respect to the design process, the participants provided no unfavourable comments. As one participant affirmed, this was unlikely to be a result of politeness, as any culturally inappropriate behaviour or content would have been singled out quickly. It was confirmed, that involving individual community members and incorporating community ideas into the site could achieve community approval. It was also felt that this is critical in the success of such design projects involved Indigenous Australian groups. It was confirmed that the user-centred, prototyping approach used in this project is at least one design process that allows for this critical type of community interaction.

The importance of our ethnographic approach was also highlighted at this stage. For example, one participant warned that things change very quickly in an Indigenous Australian community. Hence, care should be taken to ensure that one always works in an appropriate and sensitive manner. To do this requires a close understanding of the cultural sensitivities of the group. Indeed any designer or researcher must follow the protocols for the target community by the letter and this requires a solid knowledge of that community and their politics. If this is not ensured, no amount of effort on outcomes will provide the required credibility of the community. This is not simply governed by racial differences as even an Indigenous Australian person cannot simply show up in an Indigenous Australian community and expect to be accepted. Rather each person must spend time with the people, listen to the people and deliver something back to the community.

1.8 Project Evaluation and Hand-off

Hand-off includes the effective transition of the prototype to the final stages of website design. It includes the communication of rationale, requirements, intent and details of the design to appropriate stakeholders. The prototype should provide clear design direction for the user interface and back-end website developers.

Due to the exploratory nature of prototypes, evaluation requires a balanced approach. We suggest approaching this stage of the process using two evaluation methods. First, major stakeholders, designers and developers carry out a heuristic/inspection evaluation that involves each member examining the interface to analyse it and make recommendations. Second, end-users evaluate the website. However, the data gathered from the end-user evaluation interviews are sufficient so there is no need for further interviews for prototype evaluation purposes.

Data gathered from the heuristic/inspections, evaluation interviews with end-users and the focus group transcript are collated into a report. Well written documentation about the positive impact on end-users can ensure acceptance and minimise resistance. The results should identify problems and prioritised end-user requirements. The documents and report are presented to the development team during hand-off.

In terms of possible pitfalls in prototype design, there are particular dangers in adopting a 'design team' perspective and trying to make the end-users' context match the existing preferences of the design team, major stakeholders or client.

If hand-off is done well, the prototype and documentation will highlight an idea as a proposed reality. When investors, prospective clients, current clients or stakeholders are involved, the prototype can make the difference between educated guesses and informed choices (Arnowitz, Arent & Berger 2007).

1.9 Conclusion

In summary, the Wollotuka project attempted to understand the process of incorporating the context of an Indigenous Australian community into the design of a website. It is a demonstration of how the process works in a context that is generally unfamiliar to website designers.

The design adopted an extended ethnographic process that focused on community involvement. The process employs focus groups, one-on-one contextual interviews and iterative prototyping to help identify important contextual requirements for the group. This community-based process was found to be a good match for the expectations of the Indigenous Australian group.

The process provided a guide; however, each activity will need to be appropriately and sensitively adapted for each context. Approaching new contexts requires caution: The politics and culture of each context are often unique and can change very quickly, requiring a sensitive knowledge of protocol to established lines of communication with senior contextual members (NHMRC 2003). The protocols for each context need to be followed to the letter, and the importance of a thorough understanding of the target context cannot be overemphasised.

The study produced a new and quite different website design for the Wollotuka Institute. The Wollotuka community confirmed that this new website incorporated the essential cultural elements that represented their identity. To compare, Figure 1.22 shows the Western style Wollotuka website (left) compared with the virtual tour prototype developed from Indigenous Australian contextual feedback (right).

Figure 1.22: Comparison of Western version and Indigenous Australian version of a Website


The process discussed inquires into 'what to make' rather than into 'how to improve'. The exploratory process tests possibilities expressed through ideas, with no clear directions of final outcome. It generates new understandings of how people interact with websites.

Appendix 1: Summary of Indigenous Design Principles Identified in the Literature

The following table highlights how searching existing literature on the end-user can reveal usage and contextual information that supports further design decisions. Even before one speaks with an Indigenous Australian end-user, the search reveals a certain complexity in understanding Indigenous Australian perspectives, and cultural and legal issues. Further, it yields reasons to explore new ways of representing culture from a non-Western perspective and potential problems with using a Western development method. The main issues as they relate to design within an Indigenous Australian context have been summarised in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1: Issues in the Design Process for an Indigenous Australian Community.

Item Design Principle
2.1.1 Stories about research and particularly researchers (the human carriers of research) were intertwined with stories about all other forms of colonisation and injustice (Tuhiwia-Smith 1999).
2.1.2 The need for community involvement in the design process, resulting in traditional norms being maintained (elders passing on the knowledge), cultural sensitivity, and appropriate content and emphasis (Fleer 1989).
2.1.3 The design process needs to be seen as a social process, as well as a technical one as these best match Indigenous Australian cultural expectations (Turk & Trees 1998).
2.1.4 Indigenous Australian knowledge exists as a self-contained knowledge tradition, radically separate ontologically and epistemologically from Eurocentric knowledge traditions (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006, p. 810).
2.1.5 Consultation with Indigenous artists and representatives from the country to ensure that the program has been designed correctly (Pumpa, Wyeld 2006, p. 240).
2.1.6 Plan for change and provide the scope of redesigning as the needs of the target groups change (Clemens 2002).
2.1.7 Final results need to be disseminated back to the people in culturally appropriate ways and in a language that can be understood (Tuhiwia-Smith 1999).
2.1.8 Discrimination could be claimed if '... a flexible delivery method does not cater for a particular disability or cultural difference' (Mcfarlane & Fuller 2001 p. 92).
2.1.9 Avoid the mistaken notion that Indigenous culture is monolithic (Dyson 2002).
2.1.10 The usage of Indigenous Australian knowledge without permission '... is treated as theft and recognized to be highly subversive of the traditional gerontocratic social structure' (Butchman 2000, p. 63).
2.1.11 Storytelling is an integral part of Indigenous Australian culture (Somerville et a. 2010).

Table 2.2 is a summary of the design principles identified in the literature during the research stage. These principles highlight content and design ideas that can be used to localise a webpage for an Indigenous Australian audience. These principles are not sufficient to develop the final user interface but they are useful to inform design decisions. These principles will be used in conjunction with focus group feedback, 1-on-1 interviews and iterative prototyping to formulate final design decisions.

Table 2.2: Design Principles for an Aboriginal Community.

Item Design Principle
2.2.1 The geographical land is the foundation of Indigenous thinking. Indigenous Australian people have a strong respect for the land, as well as for their culture and language (Auld 2007).
2.2.2 Even among non-tribal Indigenous Australians there exists a deep emotional relationship with the bush country (Lewis 1976, p. 254).
2.2.3 Familiar images of concrete things, that are understood and loved, constitute the key communication device and form a text in themselves. The use of local pictures and images of people is essential (Williams 2002).
2.2.4 Spatial aspects like location are especially significant (Turk & Trees 1998).
2.2.5 Inclusion of cultural values and beliefs where appropriate (e.g., importance of the extended family, less emphasis on the assumption of a nuclear family) (Fleer 1989).
2.2.6 Include familiar content (e.g., Australian animals) and familiar life experiences (e.g., hunting, family) (Fleer 1989).
2.2.7 In an Indigenous Australian community, family life and children always come before individual pursuits (Gibb 2006).
2.2.8 Indigenous Australian peoples approach to communication is an advantage when entering an online environment. Indigenous peoples show a particular interest in authentic expression and representation, as well as moving with apparent ease into visual and aural areas of expertise (Clemens 2001).
2.2.9 Singing and dancing are often used to teach in the traditional Indigenous Australian teaching situations (Fischer 1995).
2.2.10 Use of stories, songs and images are used to pass on the message (Remedio 1996).
2.2.11 In Indigenous Australian knowledge traditions, language, ceremony, singing, dancing and other representational forms can influence events and cause real world events to happen. Objects and phenomena can be 'sung' or 'talked' into and out of existence. (Pumpa, Wyeld & Adkins 2006, p. 811).
2.2.12 Indigenous Australian students prefer simple, 'straight to the point' and easy to read English (Gibb 2006).
2.2.13 There may be the use of icons that provide an alternative form of language (Munn 1973).
2.2.14 The user should be able to 'perform knowledge, which is to actively participate in knowledge construction, rather than merely accessing and manipulating what is provided' (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006, p. 240).
2.2.15 Provide multimedia rich environments rather than texts based ones and incorporate a range of audio and visual techniques to encourage usage. (Fischer 1995; Buchtmann 2000).
2.2.16 There is a preference for real-time communication (Clemens 2002).
2.2.17 There are areas where the full significance of Indigenous knowledge or awareness cannot be represented (Pumpa & Wyeld 2006).
2.2.18 Students '... needed to have an interpersonal relationship with the instructor and the other learners; when this was missing, they were reluctant to participate' (Johnston 2001, p. 81).
2.2.19 Plan for change and provide the scope of redesigning as the needs of the target groups change (Clemens 2001).
2.2.20 Internet technology enhances communication with Indigenous communities (Clemens 2001).
2.2.21 Respected teachers or elders are typically used to impart knowledge (Trudgen 1983).
2.2.22 Navigation by images is preferred over navigation linked to words (Williams 2002).

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