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Book Contents

Ch. 5
Designing and Evaluating DSS User Interfaces

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ROMC Design Approach

Sprague and Carlson (1982) presented an approach for designing DSS and especially the user interface called ROMC. Their approach has four user-oriented entities: 1) Representations for conveying information to the user, 2) Operations for manipulating data displayed as representations, 3) aids for a user's memory (Memory aids), and 4) aids for helping users control the DSS (Control aids).

This section describes the four components of Sprague and Carlson's approach and provides examples of each component. ROMC was intended as a process-independent approach for identifying the necessary capabilities of a DSS. It can also serve as a framework for creating screen designs and for building the user interface of a DSS. Considering the four components can improve screen design and layout.


Decision-making activities take place in the context of a conceptualization or representation of the information used in the activity. The representation used in a Decision Support System may be a chart, a map, a table, a text document, a picture, a few numbers, or an equation. The conceptualization is a concrete representation that helps a decision-maker communicate about the decision situation with another person.

Representations provide a context in which users can interpret DSS outputs and select DSS operations. Representations also can be used to supply parameters for DSS operations. For example, a point selected on a graph or a map can be linked to a data value, a document or a database query. Also, prioritizing a list of employees may be the primary input for a personnel scheduling DSS. Managers and DSS analysts need to evaluate and choose appropriate representations.


Operations are specific tasks that a decision-maker can perform with a DSS. For example, a DSS may have operators to gather data, generate a report, retrieve alternatives, rate alternatives, add alternatives, etc. Note that an operation may be used in more than one activity and that there is usually no prespecified ordering of operations. Analysts need to decide how operations will be controlled from the user interface. Will menus be used? Icons? What names will be used for operations?

Memory Aids

Several types of memory aids should be provided in a DSS user interface to support the use of representations and operations. A symbolic link to a data warehouse is a memory aid for decision-makers. Triggers or rules remind a decision-maker that certain operations may need to be performed. A user profile or data filters may make operation of the DSS easier. User established links or command sequences could make the DSS easier for that user to manipulate.

A trigger may invoke an operation automatically or remind the DSS user to invoke the operation. A profile can store initial defaults for using the DSS. Users logs of actions taken and operations invoked are also memory aids, especially if the user can backup and undo actions of replay actions. DSS analysts need to identify needs for memory aids and decide how reminders will be displayed. The help system is an important memory aid that must be designed as part of the user interface. A mouse over label for an icon is also a memory aid.

Control Aids

DSS control aids are intended to help decision-makers use representations, operations and memory aids. Control aids help decision-makers direct the use of the DSS. One type of control aid focuses on the standard conventions for user-system interaction, which are enforced across representations and operations. This type of control aid uniformly displays menus or defines guidelines for icons design and behavior. Some operations are more system oriented than decision process oriented and these operations are also control aids. Edit, Undo, Delete, and Save operations are generic control operations and hence they are also control aids for the DSS. The tools used to create the user interface constrain the control aids. User interface design guidelines should also standardize the "look and feel" of the user interface.

last changed August 21, 2006

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