I design user-friendly user-interfaces for all
sorts of desktop, technical, and Internet applications. But my real
passion and expertise is designing usable user-interfaces
for serious business applications. Those are applications whose
users -- first and foremost -- just want to get their work done in
spite of their busy days and the complex business processes they must
deal with. For them, it's about usability, pure and simple.
that I usually work on:
- Business applications for employees
who have been doing their jobs for years using a variety of old,
cumbersome applications and outdated business processes. I am called
into a project when the business is upgrading a system's technical
infrastructure and the opportunity to define a more effective solution
for the business is now. The technology enables access to
enterprise-wide data, and business processes
can be re-engineered to provide enormous increases in efficiency
But these improved processes will deliver on their promise only
if they are supported by a new application that provides ready and
intuitive access to essential business data. The application must
make it easy for its various end-users to accomplish all the tasks
that they need to get done.
- Business applications for your customers
or business partners. I am engaged on projects in which a company
is providing its customers with more, or improved, self-service
options on the Internet, and the opportunity is there for your new
service to either delight or annoy.
- Internet applications for public visitors.
The typical challenge is that while marketing can deliver visitors
to your site out of curiosity and some promise of value, once they
arrive your site needs to deliver that value,
establish a valued relationship with
them, and convert them into loyal customers.
- I am not:
a web "visionary", a user-interface developer (programmer),
a content developer, a visual designer, a marketing / branding specialist,
or a quality-assurance specialist. But certainly, I work closely
with of these professionals during a usability-oriented team.
provide the experience you need to design your business application
I have 20 years of professional
experience designing user interfaces in a variety
of Information Technology development teams. I know
when a project is in peril of a design-by-committee
user-interface. I can keep a relentless focus on the real
needs of both your business and your application's end-users.
I know how to deliver successful interactive
design in real development projects
by coupling my strong user-interface design skills with a complete
complement of user-research
methods and usability
I maintain your project's focus on usability
while respecting your project's other critical
priorities of deadlines, budget, marketing, and technical
tenets of designing user-interfaces for the business applications
usually work on:
- Your business application's strongest competitor
is the habits that your user-base has established to accomplish
their tasks. They have evolved to deal with a legacy
paper process augmented by a variety
of proprietary systems that have evolved independently, and coupled
with a vendor solution or two. They may be exceptionally
inefficient and clumsy, but they are procedures that users
have done enough that they can accomplish them without much thinking.
Your new application may be displacing "clumsy but familiar",
but it must deliver on its promise of ease and efficiency.
- Emerging interaction-design capabilities, offered by the likes
of Rich Internet Applications (RIA)/Ajax
provide great opportunities to significantly enhance the
usability and user-experience of serious business applications.
But only as long your users' capabilities
and needs are what drive interaction design, not the desire
to adopt the latest technical feats. The primary goal of the business
user is not to be entertained or excited by technology: "Wow,
this is useful AND easy!" is the goal.
- Through the course of your project, your
design team becomes intimately knowledgeable of the application's
underlying data and information technology, and the team purposely
crafts every detail of the user-interface for the application they
create. But at the end, much of what ends-up being painfully
obvious to your project team is rarely obvious to the real end-users
who need to live with your application in their own real worlds.
It's as if the design team has created several puzzles and knows
all the answers, but each user needs to figure out the solution
to each personalized puzzle on their own.
The user-interface designer needs
to stay humble: question your design
decisions and test designs properly, early, and often.
User-interface design activities I perform for your project
I perform the following user-interface
design activities in typical design and development projects
that I work on.
I optimize the set of activities to suit what best serves your
own project requirements, from a long spiral
SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) project with a
large investment in user
research, or an Agile
development process .
As a User-Centered Design specialist,
I maintain a relentless focus on your application's end-users
throughout the design process.
and Initial Scoping
My clients vary considerably on how familiar they are in engaging
usability and user-centered design professionals and processes
in their projects. But the fact that I am involved
means that the project sponsor is anticipating the payoff.
Often, stakeholders and the project
team needs to be convinced of that potential payoff starting
from "Day 1".
- Participate in defining your project
- Understand roles and responsibilities
of each business stakeholder (strategy, product owner, business
unit owners, marketing, sales, support, etc.) and each member of
your project team (project manager, technology architect, business
analysts, database developers, application developers, user-interface
developers, visual designers, support specialists, training, documentation
- Briefings by executive sponsors and project
stakeholders regarding business goals,
success indicators, product strategy and roadmap, opportunities
and challenges, organizational support, and priorities for the project.
Identify "unaligned agendas" that may exist among the
sponsors and business areas.
Scope Project / Application
Early activities that get your user-interface design project
off to a good start.
your current application to understand essential
features, complexity of the supported task domain
(including integration to other systems), usability issues, accessibility/Section
requirements, and considerations of introducing a new application
to the current user-base.
- (Internet application) Assess existing information assets to consider
implications for Information
The type and amount of the content provided strongly influences
the navigation design that will best serve its end-users.
- Understand business processes and
regulatory requirements that must
be supported by the application. Much of the workflow that exists
to support these requirements may be streamlined or eliminated by
automation made possible by technology.
- Review existing business requirements
for the project.
- Understand your application's technical
architecture and environment.
- Assess other business
channels and user-roles that are associated
with the application but may be outside the scope of the project.
- Examine existing style guide and
other applications that your application's end-users interact with
to understand boundaries and possibilities for design concepts.
- Assess existing user-research
findings and review product support-logs, and analyst- or trade-press
reviews. Identify gaps between existing
and necessary knowledge about users and their tasks and determine
appropriate action to take in order to proceed to design phase:
plan further research as necessary.
- Integrate necessary research, design, and
usability evaluation activities and milestones into the project
- Set measurable usability
/ user-performance and user-experience goals.
Develop early design concepts
In the early stages of design, I consider a wide range of
possibilities and consider opportunities presented by new
developments in user-interface design.
- Identify relevant user-interface
design standards (e.g., Windows XP or
Vista), internal style-guide, and relevant design-patterns
(best solutions to common design challenges).
- From business analysis and user-research,
identify primary and secondary personas
and key usage-scenarios
to provide continual focus for initial high-level design.
- Review best-of-class competitive
- Identify high-level
interaction style(s), even in other
application domains, that will best serve business-requirements,
user-characteristics (i.e., personas), usability, and user-experience.
- Consider learnability
requirements for the application personas and task domain. Certain
UI design models such as an Inductive
may be appropriate. Integrated help systems, online demos and tutorials,
printable documentation and even real-time online support can all
A large amount can be accomplished by the
application's visual design (layout, grouping, affordances
of controls and icons), labels for controls and fields, and navigation
structure / taxonomy.
- Portray design concepts by pencil & paper,
Visio or PowerPoint wireframe
mock-ups of screens that depict primary steps of key usage scenarios
undertaken by your application's primary personas.
The steps that are involved are represented in interaction
flow diagrams and storyboards.
- Collaborate in visioning/brainstorming
or scaled-down JAD
(Joint Application Development) sessions with project team members
and business stakeholders (or suitable delegates) to extend and refine the
concepts. This may also include design
walkthroughs with target end-users.
- Select promising design concepts for further
validation and refinement.
Interactive prototypes - Review / test design: iterate to improve
This is the time for stakeholders, including target end-users,
to begin to feel
early design efforts by test-driving
partially functional interactive prototypes through the steps
of key usage scenarios.
These prototypes are invaluable to your project as busy
stakeholders can, in just a few
clicks, both quickly and accurately assess whether the application
does what they need it to -- before costly development
code is written.
- Continue with a set of key (important, frequent)
to build the prototype. The scenarios will exercise the fundamental
concepts of the early design, as these will be the building-blocks
for the various screens and functions of the entire application.
- Apply user-interface
standards and effective design
patterns, usability guidelines, and
general usability principles and heuristics
to design user-interface components: screen/page-layouts, interactive
controls, task-flow among various screens.
- Assess early design concepts with low-fidelity
or with simple click-through wireframes created in PowerPoint or
- Gather feedback on the design's support for
tasks from project stakeholders (business, technology, subject matter
experts), and from design
walkthroughs and usability
testing with end-users.
- Redesign prototype to address findings from
- Gather feedback on revised design from stakeholder
walkthroughs and more usability testing. Iterate design to address
identified issues and retest until the project's quality gate for
initial design is met, or the project schedule requires.
- Consult with your product's brand managers
and visual designers to anticipate most effective treatment of the
- Build a mid-
or high-fidelity prototype that supports
a broader set of key user-scenarios and represents the interactive
user-experience more faithfully.
Some Web 2.0 interaction styles
are a challenge to build but not all need to be fully represented.
There are clever approaches for simulating certain interaction styles,
and software modeling / visualization applications can be used where
necessary. Most often the prototype code is meant to throw away but certain projects may enable prototypes using an early development-code base.
- Gather feedback (review, walkthrough, test)
on mid / high-fidelity prototypes and iterate until quality targets
are met, or the project schedule requires.
Design the full application
At this stage the prototype has tested well and foundation for the application's user-interface design has been laid. Now is the time to complete the blueprint (design specification) of the user-interface
for the complete application.
In aggressive Internet projects it's not uncommon for the user-interface specifications to consist
of a site map and wireframe screen layouts heavily annotated
with interaction behaviors. In some projects, the final prototype
may act as the primary design specification, or it may early
user-interface code for the application itself. Other projects
may require a comprehensive design documentation to corporate
Depending on your project,
design deliverables may include:
- Descriptions of the sequence of steps involved when users ("actors")
the system / application to achieve a particular goal.
- Interaction flow diagrams
- Depicts interactivity between different application components.
- Storyboards - An end-to-end graphical
depiction of steps in the user- application interaction while the
user completes important or typical tasks. The storyboard
may include "off-line" activities, such as "telephone
call initiates activity".
- Annotated wireframes
- Depicts screen layouts of the application, with annotations that
describe the functions of interactive controls.
- Detailed design specification
- Describes behavior in detail for every user-interface control
of every component of the application.
- Information Architecture
- Maps correspondence between information assets and user
interface layout and structure.
- Style Guide
- A reference that describes visual design guidelines (layout, colors)
and interactive design conventions that should be used to extend
the application or be used to build associated applications.
Support development and testing
Far too many projects eliminate the UI designer the moment
the "user-interface design spec" line-item has been
Approved in the project plan. And at the end of development,
many applications show usability
problems due to deviations from
the design spec.
These problems can arise because the UI
isn't to coded to spec for various reasons: unanticipated
technical issues, a spec that doesn't anticipate 100% of the
coding decisions, a squeeze on development time, or a spec
that just isn't followed.
Keeping the designer
periodically involved in the project can identify and address
serious problems before they are committed to the release.
- Provide on-call consultation for development
team to ensure that coding proceeds down the right path if questions
- Conduct reviews
of UI components as they enter unit test and integration test to
- Assist with developing QA test scripts.
- Assist in enabling usability testing by a third-party, or conduct
usability testing myself. Deal with design solutions
for usability issues that may arise.