In 1997 and 1998 a consortium of European companies and universities, supported by the European Commission, undertook a major exercise to explore the meaning of quality in the context of multimedia and website development, with attention to both the content and functionality. The author was the project manager and technical director of this research project, "MultiSpace".
Technical quality. Each of the different digital assets used in websites and multimedia has distinct characteristics that asset developers believe to represent "quality", such as listed in Table 3 below. While the importance of some technical quality features have loose relationship to system quality, others can be critical. For example, colour accuracy is safety-critical for some medical and defence systems.
The MultiSpace project reviewed system quality features, and especially those of the draft ISO/IEC 9126.1 and .2 ("Software product evaluation - Quality characteristics and guidelines for their use"). The project found that the ISO/IEC 9126 characteristics and sub-characteristics can be interpreted for multimedia and website content in a similar way as multimedia and website functionality. Indeed, the two are sometime inseparable (such as in usability).
However there were some significant technical problems. The first was that the usability sub-characteristic of "attractiveness" was inadequate at describing the richness of the experience of using multimedia and the Internet. The second was that the entire topic of usability concerns only reducing pain of using the human-system interface, and there is minimal attention to the joys. An effective description of website/multimedia quality would also be effective at describing the quality of the component media: books, films, training, games, advertising, etc.
Quality in use. Software systems are developed for a use (or set of uses) resulting from clearly defined needs. Although some multimedia and websites are utilitarian, many are also designed to please personal needs. Especially in the context of websites, these personal needs comes from a highly diverse audience and are difficult to model.
We have found it useful to make a distinction between the system constraints needed for achieving the primary purpose, and the system benefits that create the experience.
System benefits. System benefits involve giving people more than they expected, in a satisfying way. Some vendors of commercial software packages achieve this by adding a wide range of new functions, some of which may be useful. Apart from resulting in bloatware and increased maintenance costs, this focuses only on utilitarian purpose. In contrast, traditional media combine quality with a heavy emphasis on rewards that create increase the quality of the experience. Specifically, they offer a variety of novelty features, supplementary learning, inter-personal participation and emotional satisfaction (or stimulation). Table 4 below lists sub-characteristics that describe these effects.
Adrian Cowderoy is Managing Director of the Multimedia House of Quality Limited, a company which he established to promote quality-improvement methods for the production of websites and multimedia.
Mr Cowderoy was the General chair of ESCOM-SCOPE-99 and ESCOM-ENCRESS-98 conferences, and was Program chair for ESCOM 96 and 97 (The European Software Control and Metrics conference promotes leading-edge developments in industry and research, worldwide û see www.escom.co.uk). He is the METRICS-ESCOM Coordinator for IEEE METRICS 2001 and was on the Program committee of Metrics 98 and 99, European Quality Week 99 and COCOMO/SCM 96-99. In 1998 he was acting Conference Chair of the Electronics and Visual Arts conference in Gifu, Japan. He is a registered expert to the European Commission DGXIII.
He has provided consultancy and industrial training courses on quality management, risk management, and cost estimation to the aerospace and medical industries in the UK, Germany and Italy since 1995. He also lectures at Middlesex University (www.mdx.ac.uk) on e-commerce project management and managing Internet start-up's, and at City University, London (www.city.ac.uk), on project management for systems development.
Mr Cowderoy was project manager and technical director of MultiSpace, a 14-month million-dollar initiative sponsored by the European Commission in which 12 European organizations explored the potential to apply quality-improvement methods to multimedia and website development projects. (See www.mmhq.co.uk/multispace and www.cordis.lu/esprit.)
He was a Research fellow at City University from 1990-1998, and a Research Associate at Imperial College from 1986-1989. He was also a quality consultant and software developer at International Computers Limited, UK, from 1980-1985, where he worked on operating and networking systems for mainframes and distributed systems.
His academic qualifications include an MSc in Management Science from Imperial College, University of London in 1986, and is a member of the Association of MBA's. He received a BSc in Physics with Engineering from Queen Mary College, University of London, in 1979.
Mr. Cowderoy has published and presented extensively on multimedia quality and software cost estimation. He was joint editor of Project Control for 2000 and Beyond (Elsevier, 1998), Project Control for Software Quality (Elsevier, 1999), and Project Control: The Human Factor (Elsevier, 2000).