Thursday, January 24, 2008

Understanding workflow or understanding goals

For any designer, understanding a product's workflow is a critical part of the design process. Many times a project is ramped up so far that a designer only has time to re-create a workflow, just apply a new skin. The problem is that just understanding the current workflow may not solve usability issues. Evaluating the "as is" workflow for a redesign project doesn't provide the depth of knowledge that a designer needs to know to make the right design decisions. Users may not know the full context of the workflow or outside elements that may impact the workflow. Product Managers may focus on the feature set of the workflow.

Rather then focusing on the workflow, we should understand the goals of the user. When the goals are understood, you can think outside the current processes and perhaps come up with something that wasn’t considered before (or wasn’t possible because of system constraints).

Understanding the users' goals may not be as simple as it sounds. They can often describe their current processes and procedures, but may not know why each part of the process is important, or who it’s important to. Knowing the right people to talk to is the biggest challenge for a designer. If you are working on a product, perhaps the Product Manager could align the proper resources or customer service staff could provide a pool of contacts.

Once you understand what the goals are, you can see how the existing processes and procedures fit into making that happen, and possibly come up with better workflows.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Need quick quantitative information? Family and friends come to the rescue.

Problem: All I have is a product specification and the wireframe of user work flows due in two weeks. I need some quantitative data to start making usability decisions.

Solution: Indirect user interviews with family and friends.

Most people expect you to spend the holidays with family and friends. The joke was on them when I whipped out my laptop and sent them an email questionnaire requesting their help. When you don't have the luxury of doing formal user interviews nor the time to research, you use what you've got and my family and friend network came through.

It wasn't just the results of the interviews that were interesting but the fact that I was able to get such a diverse group willing to participate in a very short time frame. The beauty of using friends and family is that you already know their demographic / ethnographic information, so you don't need to waste a lot of valuable time asking for that information - you can get right to the meat of the questions.

One might think that you can't get much diversity in interviewing family and friends, but if you are creative and, let's face it... lucky, your "network" is made up of an international audience. In my case, I am very fortunate to have friends over seas and their input is extremely valuable in my case, since I am testing mobile media software.

I reached out to less then 10 people, but those people in my "network" comprised of users of all ages, sexes, vocation, ethnicity, and skill levels. The results of my indirect user interviews was insightful and all of their inputs got implemented into the resulting wireframes. Oh, and by the way, the wireframes got done on schedule.

This is not to say that highly structured usability interviews and research are no longer needed, I am just saying when you are in a very tight pinch, use what you've got.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Blog Promoting ala Technorati

Just an act of shameless promotion.
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Gorilla Usability

UserSync is a place for anyone interested in real world usability practices. We are in the trenches, it's always crunch time, we may not have the luxury of implementing a full-on usability campaign. For those usability professionals whose services are "folded into the mix" at the seventh hour... you know who you are.

Also, this blog is for anyone who is a usability evangelist, those who are passionate about creating usable products and websites. These evangelists are the ones who have to work with product managers, executives and cross-disciplinary teams including visual designers and developers... you know who you are.

I will share with you my experiences in software and web usability challenges and outline discoveries and experiments along the way that will help bring to light the solutions we need to practice usability in the real world of business.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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