User-Centered Design
processes ensure that your application stays focussed on the needs and capabilities of the people who will actually use it.

 

905-868-8145

 

An excellent overview of usability and usability engineering processes:

"Usability Basics for Software Developers"

A calculation I did on a project to show the
cost of not addressing an identified usability problem.

You already know that your application needs to be "useful and easy-to-use".

The challenge is how to get your application "where it needs to be" given the realities of available time, budget, and human resources.

"How do Usability, User Centered Design, and User-Experience relate to my
project?"

"Usability"

Today, business sponsors and end-users alike know that usability -- aka ease-of-use and user-friendliness -- can be the defining element of a successful website or desktop application. But producing a usable application is not easy.

The problem is that technical complexities and constraints, intricacies of business processes and regulatory requirements that must be supported, uncertainties regarding the application's target users and their optimal workflow(s), lack of usability focus and expertise on the project team, and the realities of the project's timeline and budget, all conspire to produce an application that does not serve its users as well as it should.

Here are the principal roles that make usability "happen" in projects today. I have significant experience in the roles marked with a :

  • Executive sponsors recognize the value of usability to the success of their application and allocate necessary resource and expertise to support the effort.

  • Project Managers ensure that the project plan accommodates necessary usability engineering / user-centered design activities, including user-research, prototyping, and usability testing.
  • Business Analysts ensure that essential business- and user-requriements are properly identified and prioritized, and use-cases are written to address key usability attributes identified for the particular application.


  • User Research Specialists use a variety of methods to gather essential high-quality data about users and their tasks that will inform application requirements and interactive design. Real, relevant information provides a far better foundation for producing a usable application than conflicting anecdotes and opinions of the project team.


  • User-Interface (UI) Designers (AKA interaction designers, interactive architects, user-experience architects) consider usability as the driving force of application design. Their ability to design a usable application is a combination of intuitive ability, their knowledge of and empathy for the application's target end-users and their tasks, and their knowledge of and ability to apply usability principles and effective interactive design solutions in a coherent application design.


  • Usability Analysts ("Usability Engineers") conduct reviews and user-testing to identify usability problems in existing applications and throughout the application design and development lifecycle. The problems are diagnosed and possible solutions identified.


  • Information Architects provide organizational structure and effective labeling (i.e., taxonomies) for large collections of information so that relevant information can be easily found by users through the application's user-interface (A Primer on Information Architecture This link opens another browser window).

  • Creative Directors consider marketing objectives and create an appropriate visual and interactive brand for your application. Their responsibility is more about look and feel than the step-by-step mechanics of usability.

  • Graphic Designers create information layout and interactive controls in a way that makes the meaning and purpose of the application pages obvious to the user.

  • Content Developers and Editors write or repurpose text and other content to suit a web audience. For examples see Jakob Nielsen's collection of links This link opens another browser window, and Sun Microsystems' summary of web style This link opens another browser window.

  • Solution Architects and Developers appreciate that usability is as important to an application's success. They make the effort to consider the "more usable way" to develop a solution.


The general
"usability" role on the project team -- the person(s) with primary responsibility for ensuring a usable application -- is hopefully a properly trained usability analyst, business analyst, UI designer, or Information Architect. This individual will invariably use some of the proven methods of usability engineering This link opens another browser window and User-Centered Design This link opens another browser window. Personally, I believe that the term User-Centered Design (UCD) professional is the most appropriate label for this role.

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"User-Centered Design" (UCD)

UCD is a design methodology This link opens another browser window based on a continual, hands-on focus on the real people who will use your application. The User-Centered Design professional conducts appropriate research with real users to truly understand their needs, abilities, processes, and environments to inform useful and usable application design.

This research provides the foundation for your application's design. Ongoing design is constantly focussed on this knowledge. Feedback on design is gathered from your application's actual end-users throughout the project by testing early prototypes; user's problems are identified and diagnosed, and the design issue addressed before it becomes committed to development. Feedback from testing is also a remarkable way of understanding more about the user's work context and their requirements.

UCD activities are integrated into your project plan from the outset, and these activities begin well before coding resources are committed.

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"User-Experience"

Unlike traditional business applications that enjoy a captive user-base, the Internet is a battleground of competition where your site's visitors choose whether to engage or abandon your site. A positive experience is needed to capture and then maintain their interest so they can realize the value your site provides, and become happy visitors and loyal customers.

Usability is an important part, but not the only part, of a positive user experience. Effective design of the complete experience will not only quickly affirm that your site is easy to understand and use, but also that:

  • your site provides value that is worth pursuing
  • your business can be trusted
  • it understands each visitor, and why they are visiting the site
  • if required for your brand, they will actually enjoy the experience

Your visitors will be more than happy to help your achieve to your business goals when your interaction-design, graphic design, content, marketing strategy and channel strategy are orchestrated to create these feelings.

User-Centered Design methods can focus on optimizing this side of the user-experience, which is the more emotional / "right-brained" side, as opposed to the more mechanical, logical "left-brained" nature of pure goal-driven usability.

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"How important is usability for my application?"

There are many sources of business-cases and interesting stories that tout the value / ROI of usability This link opens another browser window of business applications and e-Commerce sites. Most examples are relics of an age when the lonely usability evangelist needed to plead their case to business and technology owners. Many are anecdotes of mythical proportion (Seven Myths of Usability ROI This link opens another browser window).

But there really isn't much analysis required to know that usability is important...

  • Your software / web application increases productivity and reduces errors

    Less training. Your employees or customers spend less time learning how to use your application and disrupting coworkers for help, calling the help-desk or call-center, or spending time and money in training. They become productive more quickly. Documentation costs are reduced because comprehensive product manuals are not necessary.

    More productive. Users can accomplish their tasks more quickly, with fewer or more obvious steps, leaving less opportunity for costly errors. Fewer staff are required to accomplish the same amount of work. Users are less frustrated and stressed (isn't that what technology always promised us?) Product liability for system-induced errors can be avoided.

  • Your e-Commerce site drives business results

    Visitors to your site can quickly recognize the value they seek and can then easily accomplish what they came there for: they have no reason to go to another site to achieve this. They trust your online business, and even enjoy their visit, and will be sure to visit your first the next time they have a need.

  • Your brand image is strong... and positive

    In 2009 (and forever more...), the trade press routinely trumpets the success or failure of the user-friendliness of technical products and Internet sites. This news spreads quickly and with great credence in community-based on-line reviews and the usefulness and usability of your application is firmly established, for better or worse.

  • The risk to the overall success of your project is better managed

    By employing effective usability methods in your project, the information that is needed to ensure a usable design is available to your team when it is needed, before uninformed decisions lay the foundation of what will grow into an unusable application that is expensive to fix later.

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"You say you are a user researcher, a usability analyst and a user-interface
designer: So which is it?"

I have performed all of those roles as an industry professional for more than 20 years in dozens of Information Technology projects. A better description of all that I do is User-Centered Design professional.

If you want to know more, here's how I got there.

  • User Researcher - In 1981 I was awarded my Master's degree in Experimental Psychology based on research to understand a relationship between human attention, perception, and cognition (References on Google Scholar This link opens another browser window). The next 8 years completing my Ph.D. involved designing, conducting, and publishing reports for contracted Human Factors research in aerial search-and-rescue procedures, aviation instrumentation, and air-traffic control errors (References on Google This link opens another browser window and Google Scholar This link opens another browser window).

  • Usability Analyst - When I finished my Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology (1990) I became a Software Engineer / Usability Analyst at the IBM Toronto Software Laboratory This link opens another browser window doing traditional usability engineering work (design reviews, lab testing) in big development teams for IBM enterprise-level database technology and application development environments.

  • User Researcher, UI Designer - In the early 90's our usability team at IBM pioneered User-Centered Design processes This link opens another browser window corporate wide. As a User-Centered Design specialist, I became more involved in hands-on interface design, but was especially focussed on defining and improving user research, requirements gathering, and usability testing methods in large development projects. In 1995 I began evaluating IBM's first experimental Internet applications and pioneered Internet and remote technologies to extend usability evaluation and user-research into the workplace.

  • Usability Analyst, User Researcher - I left IBM after 8 years to enter the center of the Internet frenzy, where I led the Usability Research and Analysis discipline at Bowne Internet Solutions / Immersant This link opens another browser window, a large international web-development company. At Immersant I worked with several Internet-project teams to ensure usable design and effective user-experience, primarily for large Fortune 500 / Global 1000 companies but also some small start-ups.

  • UI Designer, User Researcher, Usability Analyst - In 2001 Immersant became a casualty of the bursting Internet bubble. But it was clear to me that all big companies would be opening up legacy mainframe applications and archaic paper-based processes to Internet-based applications. Also, the requirement for those applications to actually be usable would no longer be a hard-sell. Every one of those projects would benefit greatly from an experienced usability / user-centered design professional.


In 2001 I established Don Hameluck Usability Consulting Inc. to provide my knowledge and experience directly to clients' project teams.

The majority of my work is designing user-interfaces for business applications, but as a User-Centered Design specialist, that means that I am heavily involved in user-research, and usability analysis, and business analysis as well.

I readily admit that I am NOT a web visionary, a user-interface developer (programmer), a content developer, a visual designer, a marketing / branding specialist, a customer-relationship management expert, or a quality-assurance specialist. These are all the professionals that I closely work with on a typical project team.

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"It's easy to find people who say they know usability. Why should you be my
choice?"

    • I am a Ph.D.-educated professional who has worked in dozens of user-interface usability / design projects over the past 20 years (see my clients and resume and the section above).

      Through my education and experience I know how to identify and apply the usability engineering and User-Centered Design methods that will be most effective for your own project. I know the textbook approaches, and I especially know how to deliver in real development projects.

    • Through my 8 years working on database and application development technology at IBM, I have considerable experience in the programming and infrastructure side of Information Technology projects. I appreciate the challenges and opportunities of application design at levels far deeper than just screen-design, and I can relate to your technical architects and programmers.

    • I thrive when designing complex mission-critical enterprise-applications. I'm happy to leave flashy entertainment-oriented websites to other experience-design specialists.

    • Regardless of whatever buzzwords are appropriate, the Internet is moving towards delivering fully-featured applications, with many user-interface interaction styles more reminiscent of classic desktop applications of the 90's than early web properties.

      I learned the foundations of GUI (graphical user interface) design while working on IBM's very first client-server / GUI products in the early 1990's. While I have a long background in web design (since 1995), my background in application design goes well beyond most web-designers.

    • I understand software engineering processes. I have integrated usability engineering and user-centered design methods into ISO-9001 procedures, the IBM Software Development Process, and Rational Unified Process (RUP).

      But I also know that the driving force of a project is results, not just "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" of mandated corporate development processes. I have delivered results in dozens of development projects for many clients, ranging from huge process-driven corporations to small agile tech start-ups.

    • I am exceptionally experienced in multiple, key roles that contribute to a usable application: user researcher (including requirements analyst), usability analyst, and user-interface designer.

    • I've learned how to relate usability concerns to the diverse perspectives of your executive sponsors, product stakeholders and decision-makers (both "the business" and technology), and project team members.

    • I understand that usability is not the only measure of a successful project. Release dates, budget, marketing plans, corporate policies, and technical complexities need to be considered and prioritized alongside pure ease-of-use concerns. My role is to identify business and project priorities that cannot be compromised, and find opportunities to maximize usability within those priorities.

    • I understand that respectful working relationships with project team members are just as important as following good processes for getting the job done. I am not the "usability police."
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Additional Research
credentials

____________

Professor (contract faculty, York University) of courses in Statistical Analysis and Advanced Research Design for 17 years.

Editorial Board member for the Elsevier Science journal Interacting with Computers for 15 years.

Last update: June 2012
© 2002-2012 Don Hameluck Usability Consulting Inc.