Explore the Possiblities of Design
The Microexcel CSD preferred methodology for the creation of an effective user interface design leverages some of the best practices of “Iterative Design” and, more formally, “User-centered Design”. Using what we term as a “Rapid Prototyping Approach”, designers can model usability, efficiency, desirability and solution completeness to achieve a highly optimized user experience.
Included in the methodology is the use of a “Phased Approach”, applying and reapplying “Iterative” and “User-centered” principles, in a rapid prototyping environment to refine the design continuously. With the use of effective measures through direct user interaction with prototypes, a working design results, along with a working development plan, that ultimately will drive the creation of the working application.
Iterative Design of user interfaces involves a continuous testing and refinement process based on user evaluation methods. In this methodology, the designer creates various prototype interfaces for a set of functionality and then tests each with real users, typically across functional user roles. After completing and testing the interface, designers take note of any problems experienced by several test users have using it. Applying further refinements that address these problems, designers create a new iteration to verify the results. Incrementally, designers again conduct the tests to ensure that the changes actually resolve all design, process, and functional issues.
As the design changes with iterations, the design team documents the refinements and the resulting best practice solutions for trends and tendencies. An iterative design methodology does not involve blindly replacing interface elements with alternative design ideas. If one has to choose between two or more interface alternatives, the team uses comparative testing to measure which alternative is the most usable (See Measuring User Experience.)
Each iteration focuses on the measurement of best-fit solutions rather than finding specific usability problems. Iterative design aims specifically at refinements based on lessons learned from previous iterations.
User-Centered Design (UCD) is a design philosophy and process that evaluates the needs and limitations of role-based users during successive iterations (See Iterative Design) of the design process. User-centered design is as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyze and foresee how users are likely to use a product. It is also necessary to test the validity of the assumptions considering user behavior in real world tests with actual users (See Rapid Prototyping). Such testing is necessary, as it is often very difficult for product designers to understand intuitively what a first-time user will experience and compare the learning curve of each role-based user.
The primary difference from other product design philosophies is that user-centered design tries to optimize the product around how each user can, wants, or needs to use the product, rather than forcing the users to change their behavior to accommodate the product. The only way to identify effectively these demands is to understand the requirements of each role-based user.
The methodology seeks to answer the following questions:
- Who are the users of the application?
- What are the users’ tasks and goals?
- What are the users’ experience levels with applications, and applications like it?
- What functions do the users need from the applications?
- What are the users’ expectations; how do they think the application should work?
Rapid Prototyping Approach
Rapid Prototyping is the process of quickly creating or refining a sample working interface thereby allowing a sampling of skilled users to interact with the application on a task-based level prior to developing a production interface. Working prototypes go a step further than wireframes or conceptual or visual interfaces, in that they attempt to measure the working feel and efficiency of the interface.
When attempting to perform rapid prototyping, a close working partnership between designer and developer is necessary to achieve not only a sound design, but also a clear underlying architecture for successful development in future stages. This means that prototyping is a closely tied collaborative effort that ultimately leads to a functional specification. This goes a long way to ensuring future success of the complete product lifecycle.
Development of rapid prototypes uses working interface tools such as scripting, interface widgets, and html to create a comparable experience with the ultimate finished design. While many designers attempt to use only visual tools and technology, prototyping requires developers with real code behind their efforts.
Measuring User Experience
Microexcel CSD measures user experience by assessing the usability and utility of the experience. “Usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process. “Utility” refers to how effectively the user was able to complete a required task based upon their expectations and underlying process requirements.
- Ability to Learn (Intuitiveness)
How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
- User Errors
How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
- Ability to Remember (Memorable)
When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
- User Satisfaction
How pleasant is the design to use?
Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
The measurement of utility is equally as critical as determining usability. It matters little that something is appealing if the user cannot accomplish the desired outcome. It’s also no good if the system can hypothetically do what you want, but you can’t make it happen because the user interface is too difficult. To measure a design’s utility, we employ the same user research methods that improve usability.
Phased Approach to Effective Design
Using an iterative approach, that is consistently refining the results of the rapid prototyping efforts, a design emerges that addresses the specific needs of all users. Because most applications require unique processes, features, and visibility for each class of users (roles), the effective design keeps all user testing and metrics running in parallel to meet demands with a coherent and synergistic user experience. This means that the resulting interface, components, tools and metaphors are consistent across all aspects of the user experience.
We define usability using five quality components:
Define All User Roles
Define Requirements Based Upon User Roles
Establish Performance Targets
Create Prototype Interface Framework
Model Baseline Requirements/Features in Prototype
Implement Full Featured Prototype Interface
Bring Role-Based Users together to evaluate Baseline Interface
Capture Feedback, Assess Changes to Baseline
Report to Management Team the deficiencies in current version
Quality Check Interface & Repair Defects
Repeat Phase Three Until Deficiencies are minimal vs. impact to run another iteration
Deliver Design/Application Specification
Build Development Specification for Production Interface
Deliver Design Document and Development Specification to Management Team