For many design projects I build early design into interactive prototypes and test usability with real end-users.

At this stage, I want to find as many problems as possible.

Design for web applications is often a noisy arena of strong and varied opinions and questionable "research findings".

Your project: Heavy weight or Agile processes for user-interface design?

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Design Activities

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OVERVIEW :User ResearchUser Interface DesignUsability Testing 905-868-8145

As a User-Centered Design specialist and Human Factors psychologist, my perspective is that of your users looking into technology, not technology looking out to the user.

Some User Interface Design deliverables.

 

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.


Projects 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applications for employees who have been doing their jobs for years using a variety of old, cumbersome applications and outdated business processes.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 and effectiveness.

    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.


I 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 testing.

  • I maintain your project's focus on usability while respecting your project's other critical priorities of deadlines, budget, marketing, and technical concerns.


Personal tenets of designing user-interfaces for the business applications that I
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 This link opens another browser window.

As a User-Centered Design specialist, I maintain a relentless focus on your application's end-users throughout the design process.

 


1. Kick-off 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 charter This link opens another browser window.

  • 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 specialists, etc.).

  • 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.

2. Scope Project / Application


Early activities that get your user-interface design project off to a good start.

  • Review your current application to understand essential features, complexity of the supported task domain (including integration to other systems), usability issues, accessibility/Section 508 This link opens another browser window requirements, and considerations of introducing a new application to the current user-base.

  • (Internet application) Assess existing information assets to consider implications for Information Architecture This link opens another browser window. 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 plan.

  • Set measurable usability / user-performance and user-experience goals.

3. 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 products.

    • 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 and user-assistance requirements for the application personas and task domain. Certain UI design models such as an Inductive UI This link opens another browser window or Wizards This link opens another browser window may be appropriate. Integrated help systems, online demos and tutorials, printable documentation and even real-time online support can all be considered.

    A large amount can be accomplished by the application's visual design (layout, grouping, affordances This link opens another browser window 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 This link opens another browser window (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.

4. 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) usage-scenarios 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 paper prototypes This link opens another browser window or with simple click-through wireframes created in PowerPoint or Visio.

  • 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 feedback.

  • 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 design concept.

  • 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.

5. 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 standards.

 

Depending on your project, design deliverables may include:

  • Use cases This link opens another browser window - Descriptions of the sequence of steps involved when users ("actors") interact with 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.

6. 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 arise.

  • Conduct reviews of UI components as they enter unit test and integration test to identify issues.

  • 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.


 

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

 

 

 

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I use the right design tools at the right time for your project:

- Pencil & Paper
- PowerPoint
- Visio
- Dreamweaver
- Axure RP

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