Thursday, May 27, 2010

Designing Complex Applications

From 16 to 18 may I was in London for the training 'Designing Complex Applications'. This training is part of the Usability Week by the Norman Nielsen group.

For those interested; more information on the training:

I would like to share my two most important insights from this training.

1. Do More User Centered Design

Hippo's development process is very much technology-oriented and requirements are mostly based on internal vision only. The level of UCD should be higher. There are two key elements in this:

  • Design research (usefulness). Truly getting to know and understand our users; what is the value of our software to them, what is important to them on a deep level addressing feelings and concerns.
  • Usability testing (usability): once useful functionality has been determined and designed, we should test whether it is usable (before developing it). Note: designed means 'draft design' here; testing with paper prototypes, mockups, partial clickables etc. There are some good methods to do 'guerilla' usability testing (=fast and low cost).
Get out of the building! Do design research to make design decisions data-driven. Without it, we're just guessing. This is all about aligning the users mental model and the designers (and hopefully developer's) conceptual model to create a consistent 'system image'.

This will result in better adoption, higher customer satisfaction, higher ROI, etc (although it is difficult to put some hard numbers on this).

My goals:

  • Set up methods for design research / usability testing which fit within the Agile process: set up user group, stakeholder interviews, domain investigation
  • Deliver design artifacts: personas, use cases, mental models, sketches, wireframes, prototypes
2. Make Design Artifacts Tangible

Design is not a 'black art'; transforming data from the design research into 'bits and clicks' can be broken down into distinct tools and steps that anyone can learn and use to improve. I want to make these design artifacts more tangible (to Hippo developers, management and user group) by having it centrally available on our Confluence-wiki. This will help:

  • Communicate designs and open up design discussions internally
  • Do remote usability testing
  • Align stakeholders and end-users concerns/goals, preventing people filling in the gaps with their own different assumptions.
  • Secure design knowledge
  • Shorten design process (by means of reusing patterns from a central library)
My goals:

  • Create a 'UI-place' on Confluence and start filling it in. Note that this will be an ongoing thing (so-called 'living specifications').
  • Try-out Balsamiq, which is a wireframing/prototyping tool which integrates with Confluence.
Furthermore the training provided a lot of patterns and examples - specifically for complex (web)applications used by domain experts - which are useful to me as source of inspiration / to be in the library.

Hope this gives you some idea of what I've been up to in London and like to hear your opinion on this.