TURF vs. Turf

TURF is an acronym for Task, User, Representation, and Function, which are the four basic components of usability. On the other hand, turf (lower case) is an actual product. Let us explain…

(1) turf (lower case) is a suite of software tools, an all-in-one “usability toolkit.”

It can help create, organize, analyze, and ultimately improve usability.

How does turf work and what does it do?

turf tools can collect rich data on users interacting with an EHR, including audio, video, screen capture and keystroke events. These video and audio records of user interactions with the EHR are invaluable feedback for developers. Other tools let you add your notes and annotations directly on this media, using ready-to-use, detailed evaluation templates. After analyzing this data, you can generate reports that are in the agency-required formats, so they can be submitted as is.

(2) TURF (upper case) is a framework for usability, grounded in solid theory.

The ideas behind TURF were developed from decades of research in cognitive science. To explain, let’s go back to the acronym and take it one letter – and concept – at a time.

  • Task – In evaluation, it’s important to make a detailed analysis of each step in using an EHR, both the physical and the mental tasks. For one thing, a task analysis is critical for figuring out which screen representation is best for each task.
  • User – This is where it all starts in TURF, understanding the human being who interacts with the software and the machine.
  • Representation – Bottom line, this means the EHR’s user interface. Developers expend so much effort representing the work domain on a computer screen, and users spend so much time interacting with this representation of their working world, that we consider this the essence of usability. Representation is “where the rubber meets the road”.
  • Function – Analyzing the functions in the work domain, the basic structure of the work that the user and the system will perform together, is critical in improving usability of the system. Functions are key to the EHR’s usefulness.

TURF can help explain what cognitive scientists call the “representation effect”, that is, how and why two different EHR’s can represent the same work domain so very differently. More to the point, TURF can point the way to the best representation for the task, the user and the function – the essence of usability.

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