User-Centered Design (UCD) 6 Methods

If your company is not thinking about the end user, you are likely to be left behind in the race for the most popular (read: usable) product in your industry.

Here are 6 methods used in UCD from an article on webcredible by Tim Fidgeon.

User-centered design (UCD) is a project approach that puts the intended users of a site at the centre of its design and development. It does this by talking directly to the user at key points in the project to make sure the site will deliver upon their requirements.

The stages are carried out in an iterative fashion, with the cycle being repeated until the project’s usability objectives have been attained. This makes it critical that the participants in these methods accurately reflect the profile of your actual users.

ISO 13407 outlines four essential activities in a user-centered design project:

* Requirements gathering – Understanding and specifying the context of use
* Requirements specification – Specifying the user and organisational requirements
* Design – Producing designs and prototypes
* Evaluation – Carrying out user-based assessment of the site

The following is a typical top-level characterization of the most popular user-centered design methods:

Method Cost Output Sample size When to use
Focus groups Low Non-statistical Low Requirements gathering
Usability testing High Statistical & non-statistical Low Design & evaluation
Card Sorting High Statistical High Design
Participatory design Low Non-statistical Low Design
Questionnaires Low Statistical High Requirements gathering & evaluation
Interviews High Non-statistical Low Requirements gathering & evaluation

Focus groups

What are they?

A focus group20 involves encouraging an invited group of intended/actual users of a site (i.e. participants) to share their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas on a certain subject.

Organising focus groups within an organisation can also be very useful in getting buy-in to a project from within that company.

When to use

Focus groups are most often used as an input to design. They generally produce non-statistical data and are a good means of getting information about a domain (e.g. what peoples’ tasks involve).

Issues

It’s necessary to have an experienced moderator and analyst for a focus group to be effective.

Usability testing

What is it?

Usability testing21 sessions evaluate a site by collecting data from people as they use it. A person is invited to attend a session in which they’ll be asked to perform a series of tasks while a moderator takes note of any difficulties they encounter.

Users can be asked to follow the think-aloud protocol which asks them to verbalise what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

You can also time users to see how long it takes them to complete tasks, which is a good measure of efficiency (although you should bear in mind that using the ‘think aloud’ protocol will slow users down considerably).

Two specialists’ time is normally required per session – one to moderate, one to note problems.

When to use

Usability testing can be used as an input to design or at the end of a project. It represents an excellent way finding out what the most likely usability problems with a site are likely to be.

Usability testing can be used generate non-statistical or statistical data.

Issues

Usability testing requires some form of design to be available to test – even if it’s only on paper. Testing works best if it focuses either on gathering non-statistical feedback on a design through ‘talk aloud’ or statistical measures.

Card sorting

What is it?

Card sorting22 is a method for suggesting intuitive structures/categories. A participant is presented with an unsorted pack of index cards. Each card has a statement written on it that relates to a page of the site.

The participant is asked to sort these cards into groups and then to name these groups. The results of multiple individual sorts are then combined and analysed statistically.

When to use

Card sorting is usually used as an input to design. It’s an excellent way of suggesting good categories for a site’s content and deriving its information architecture.

Card sorting can be used generate statistical data.

Issues

Providing participants with a trial run on some easy cards (e.g. sports, animals, etc.) can reassure about what they are expected to do and result in a more productive session.

Participatory design

What is it?

Participatory design does not just ask users opinions on design issues, but actively involves them in the design and decision-making processes.

When to use

Participatory design is usually used within a mini-project to generate prototypes that feed into an overall project’s design process.

An example would be a participatory design workshop in which developers, designers and users work together to design an initial prototype. This initial prototype would then feed into a more traditional design process.

Projects which only utilise participatory design are very rare.

Issues

Participatory design sessions can be very fluid and require an experienced moderator with thorough knowledge of the domain to guide them.

Questionnaires

What are they?

Questionnaires are a means of asking users for their responses to a pre-defined set of questions and are a good way of generating statistical data.

When to use

Questionnaires are usually employed when a design team:

* Can only gain remote access to users of a site
* Is seeking a larger sample size than can be realistically achieved through direct contact

It is for this reason that questionnaires are usually administered through post or electronic means.

Issues

Questionnaires allow statistical analysis of results, which can increase a study’s credibility through its scientific appearance. This makes it all the more important that the questionnaire is well-designed and asks non-biased questions.

Interviews

What are they?

An interview usually involves one interviewer speaking to one participant at a time.

The advantages of an interview are that a participant’s unique point of view can be explored in detail. It is also the case that any misunderstandings between the interviewer and the participant are likely to be quickly identified and addressed.

The output of an interview is almost exclusively non-statistical – it’s critical that reports of interviews are carefully analysed by experienced practitioners.

When to use

Interviews are usually employed early in the design process in order to gain a more detailed understanding of a domain/area of activity or specific requirements.

Issues

Interviewing places a high premium on the experience and skill of the interviewer and analyst.

Conclusion

This has been an introduction to the major user-centered design methods. It’s vital to remember that although each can be extremely valuable, using them in the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time is critical.

Exactly which method to use, and when and how to use it will differ from project to project.

In addition to putting these methods into practice, companies can take these 3 steps to increase user centered processes.

Human Factors International (HFI) has an upcoming free webinar to discuss how companies can get certified as a User Centered Organization based on their maturity model. They have also released a white paper on how to certify your usability practice and your designs.CPU-CUD_Conversation

User Experience Magazine Vol 9 Issue 1 had some great articles about user centered maturity models which outlined several ways companies are measuring the integration of usability into their design and development processes.

Three Steps to Foster User Centered Design

One of the most valuable things I offer to my clients is teaching them about user centered design. My hope is that even after I am no longer working with them, that they will be able to utilize the methods and philosophies I have shared with them.

While no major enterprise cultural change is easy, I like the simplicity of simple steps.

Here are some great suggestions as well as further reading references from an article on Net Tuts by Andrew Maier.

As responsible designers we must educate clients on the importance – both the validity as well as the viability – of the user-centered design process, one that gives due consideration to the needs of potential users. With the three steps that follow, we’ll go over techniques that you can use to get your team thinking about what’s really important with regards to the design of their websites you’ll help them create.

Shattering False Idols

Anyone who’s worked as a web designer or developer for a sizable length of time has had a client say “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a website; can you help me build it?” While their enthusiasm is wonderful, this question is typically loaded with preconceptions (read: misconceptions). The process for creating a website is never as straightforward as even we would hope it to be.

It is with these projects that we must be most careful—the ones where clients seem to know exactly what they want. They probably have a particular layout in mind, perhaps some specific functionality that should be included. But more often than not, these images of perfection give little-to-no consideration for the users that will actually visit and use the final work product. What can we do with such steadfast clients?

Step One: Introduce Design Thinking

As with any collaborative endeavor, it is particularly important to ensure that all members of the team are fighting for the same goal. The earlier this is done, the better.

In effect, we want to move clients away from subjective goals (“I want it to look cleaner.”), towards measurable, objective ones (“I want it so clean that sales increase by 20%.”). By asking a few straightforward questions, you’ll find the design that client’s require isn’t littered with nearly as many obstacles.

To start the ball rolling, have your client jot down five things he wants his website to do for him (don’t be surprised when not-a-one of them has to do with end users). Next, inform clients how their goals will affect your design and development process.

Consider, too, forming an experience strategy.

An experience strategy is a clear set of experiential goals used to add cohesion to design and development endeavors. It should answer some fundamental questions, such as: What’s our eventual experience goal? Should user’s love our site? Should they feel that we’re really really good at something in particular? How should they feel about feature [x]?

Lastly, get a development strategy put in place. In formulating such a strategy, the questions you’ll address include:

What research and development methodologies work best for this project? What deliverables are best for any given stage of this project?

Although these questions are simple, they’re extremely important.

Suggested Reading

Step Two: Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones

Before hopping into sketching interfaces and pushing pixels, we must first ask the ever-important question: what do users need?

So, how do we answer such a question? Well, with design research. That’s how.

But you, the experience designer, already know this. The important part is getting the client and/or organization with which you’re working to understand why design research is so important, especially considering that they probably have some pretty bad design habits in place already.

Remember: without user research, design is meaningless. Make sure your client knows this, too.

Back in the old days, websites were born from functional specs—cold, heartless documents outlining every functional aspect of the website. Needless to say, this took users out of the development equation.

Utilize prototyping methods (such as sketching or storyboarding) and employ user-testing to show your client what kind of feedback they can expect from their new website. Once you tell him he’ll be saving both time and money by building his website with the results from your research findings, he won’t ever miss his functional spec.

Remember: without user research, design is meaningless. Make sure your client knows this, too. Providing even rudimentary research findings can help everyone on the team make informed decisions as we move our design process forward.

Suggested Reading

Step Three: Share the Wealth

Experience design is both a visual and physical process, so it clearly benefits from collaboration. As a designer, you likely have lots of research, wireframes, personas, and other deliverables filed away for the projects on which you’re working. Take them out and share them with your colleagues.

Foster a fertile environment for design growth.

Listen to their feedback and provide your own. Foster a fertile environment for design growth. Storyboarding is a great tool, introduced at Adaptive Path, for this kind of collaboration. Once previous design deliverables have been shared and passed about, team members collectively pitch design solutions to advance towards the aforementioned end goal. The final storyboard is yet another fantastic tool to prompt further conversation later on in the process.

Regardless of the specific techniques or deliverables that you employ, collaboratively working on and sharing user-centered design deliverables helps facilitate a shared design understanding amongst your entire team.

Suggested Reading

Moving Forward

In this article, we’ve explored three simple steps that you can follow to blaze the user-centered trail at your organization. Don’t take them the wrong way: these steps do not constitute some kind of magical collection of UX incantations; instead, they are merely illustrative of the way forward.

By drawing your project team’s attention towards the following aspects of design and development, your organization is much more likely to think about its challenges in holistic, user-driven fashion. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

International UPA 2010 Conference: Research Themes and Trends

UPA International Conference 2010

I was not able to attend this year’s conference, but was involved in its planning and was excited to see the presentations that occurred.

I just read a review of Research Themes and Trends by Michael Hawley posted on UX Magazine.

He split the sessions he was able to attend into categories:

Optimizing and Extending Existing Research Methods presentations included optimizing testing to occur in a week or less, which I find reminiscent of Steve Krug’s recent book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. Another described methods to combine web analytics with usability testing to create richer data sets through quantitative and qualitative data.

The Importance of Storytelling There was a presentation on InfoPal, a way for subjects to share their thoughts ‘diaries’ through multimodal processes using not only a written diary, but also recordings, pictures, drawings, voice memos etc to provide more information to researchers as well as improve the participants’ ability to share their thoughts in more places and in more ways. A discussion around how to use stories from users to help stakeholders understand more clearly what their product needs to provide.

Eyetracking Continues to Evolve and discussion has moved beyond whether or not it is a useful tool and now focuses on what results are most useful to usability professionals and how best to analyze those results.

Research Beyond Usability There were several meetings that discussed the continuing desire by designers and researchers to provide delightful, easy interfaces and create products that take the psychology of happiness into account.

Maturing the Profession Possibly the most important aspect of what we do at the UPA conferences is work towards helping to promote our goals and profession. We are striving to make our research more scientific while not losing the ‘art’ of usability research and the study presented (where different teams found very different results) brought the results of opinions in usability research into stark focus. Mentoring of not only junior associates but colleagues in our workplaces was also presented.

The next UPA conference:

UPA 2011 International ConferenceAtlanta, Georgia

The 2011 conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Georgia from June 20-24th.

Patterns, Patterns, Everywhere!

This year marks the 3rd time in as many years that I have been involved in…and frustrated by, the process of defining, designing, testing, refining and providing patterns for use in an organization.

The task is not the most glamorous, but is essential in providing consistent and (hopefully) usable features, designs and interactions for an application or website.

I will not bore my readers with the trials & tribulations of iteration after iteration of changes, feature creep, special circumstances, alterations and exceptions that always come with these.

What I think is more useful are public examples of good design pattern libraries. The key is to make them clear, available, well defined.

Any discussions and decisions that are made by the teams are transparent and open to continual improvement. If the consumers of these patterns are not clear why a decision is made and in what situations they should use them in…They won’t use them correctly or not at all.

Here are some that I think work well:

http://ui-patterns.com/
http://www.welie.com/patterns/
http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns/
http://www.usability.gov/

The Psychologist’s View of UX Design

I have certainly heard of the elephant story (in many versions) before. What I hadn’t heard was how to take some basic knowledge about social psychology and apply it in these particular ways about UX design.

I would caution readers that social psychology is the study of many, while quite often, usability is about the individual. I think the value here is in taking usability findings of the individuals and extrapolating the inferences through the lens of social psychology theories.

The article was originally posted by Susan Weinschenk on UX Magazine

You may have heard this story about an elephant:

A king brings six men into a dark building. They cannot see anything. The king says to them, “I have bought this animal from the wild lands to the East. It is called an elephant.” “What is an elephant?” the men ask. The king says, “Feel the elephant and describe it to me.” The man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar, the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope, the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch, the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan, the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall, and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. “You are all correct”, says the king, “You are each feeling just a part of the elephant.”

The story of the elephant reminds me of the different view of design that people of different backgrounds, education, and experience have. A visual designer approaches UX design from one point of view, the interaction designer from another, and the programmer from yet another. It can be helpful to understand and even experience the part of the elephant that others are experiencing.

I’m a psychologist by training and education. So the part of the elephant I experience applies what we know about people and how we apply that to UX design. I take research and knowledge about the brain, the visual system, memory, and motivation and extrapolate UX design principles from that.

This article is a snapshot of the psychologist’s view of the elephant.

1. People Don’t Want to Work or Think More Than They Have To

  • People will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.
  • It is better to show people a little bit of information and let them choose if they want more details. The fancy term for this is progressive disclosure, which I wrote a blog post about recently.
  • Instead of just describing things, show people an example.
  • Pay attention to the affordance of objects on the screen, page, or device you are designing. If something is clickable make sure it looks like it is clickable.
  • Only provide the features that people really need. Don’t rely on your opinion of what you think they need; do user research to actually find out. Giving people more than they need just clutters up the experience.
  • Provide defaults. Defaults let people do less work to get the job done.

2. People Have Limitations

  • People can only look at so much information or read so much text on a screen without losing interest. Only provide the information that’s needed at the moment (see progressive disclosure above).
  • Make the information easy to scan.
  • Use headers and short blocks of info or text.
  • People can’t multi-task. The research is very clear on this, so don’t expect them to.
  • People prefer short line lengths, but they read better with longer ones! It’s a conundrum, so decide whether preference or performance is more important in your case, but know that people are going to ask for things that actually aren’t best for them.

3. People Make Mistakes

  • Assume people will make mistakes. Anticipate what they will be and try to prevent them.
  • If the results of an error are severe then use a confirmation before acting on the user’s action.
  • Make it easy to “undo.”
  • Preventing errors from occurring is always better than helping people correct them once they occur. The best error message is no message at all.
  • If a task is error-prone, break it up into smaller chunks.
  • If the user makes and error and you can correct it, then do so and show what you did.
  • Whoever is designing the UX makes errors too, so make sure that there is time and energy for iteration, user feedback, and testing.

4. Human Memory Is Complicated

  • People reconstruct memories, which means they are always changing. You can trust what users say as the truth only a little bit. It is better to observe them in action than to take their word for it.
  • Memory is fragile. It degrades quickly and is subject to lots of errors. Don’t make people remember things from one task to another or one page to another.
  • People can only remember about 3-4 items at a time. The “7 plus or minus 2” rule is an urban legend. Research shows the real number is 3-4.

5. People are Social

  • People will always try to use technology to be social. This has been true for thousands of years.
  • People look to others for guidance on what they should do, especially if they are uncertain. This is called social validation. This is why, for example, ratings and reviews are so powerful on websites.
  • If people do something together at the same time (synchronous behavior) it bonds them together—there are actually chemical reactions in the brain. Laughter also bonds people.
  • If you do a favor for me then I will feel indebted to give you a favor back (reciprocity). Research shows that if you want people to fill out a form, give them something they want and then ask for them to fill out the form, not vice versa.
  • When you watch someone do something, the same parts in your brain light up as though you were doing it yourself (called mirror neurons). We are programmed with our biology to imitate. If you want people to do something then show someone else doing it.
  • You can only have strong ties to 150 people. Strong ties are defined as ties that with people you are in close physical proximity to. But weak ties can be in the thousands and are very influential (à la Facebook).

6. Attention

  • I am beginning to think that the whole idea of attention is a key to designing an engaging UI. I’ll write more in future articles about that. Grabbing and holding onto attention, and not distracting someone when they are paying attention to something, are key concerns.
  • People are programmed to pay attention to anything that is different or novel. If you make something different it will stand out.
  • Having said that, people can actually miss changes in their visual field. This is called change blindness. There are some quite humorous videos of people who start talking to someone on the street (who has stopped them and asked for directions) and then don’t notice when the person actually changes!
  • You can use the senses to grab attention. Bright colors, large fonts, beeps, and tones will capture attention.
  • People are easily distracted. If you don’t want them to be distracted, don’t flash things on the page or start videos playing. If, however, you do want to grab their attention, do those things.

7. People Crave Information

  • Dopamine is a chemical that makes people seek… food, sex, information. Learning is dopaminergic—we can’t help but want more information.
  • People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. Having more choices makes people feel in control. Feeling in control makes people feel they will survive better.
  • People need feedback. The computer doesn’t need to tell the human that it is loading the file. The human needs to know what is going on.

8. Unconscious Processing

  • Most mental processing occurs unconsciously.
  • If you can get people to commit to a small action (sign up for a free membership), then it is much more likely that they will later commit to a larger action (e.g., upgrade to a premium account).
  • The old brain makes or at least has input into most of our decisions. The old brain cares about survival and propagation: food, sex, and danger. That is why these three messages can grab our attention.
  • The emotional brain is affected by pictures, especially pictures of people, as well as by stories. The emotional brain has a huge impact on our decisions.
  • People’s behavior is greatly affected by factors that they aren’t even aware of. The words “retired”, “Florida,” and “tired” can make even young people walk down the hall slower (called framing).
  • Both the old brain and the emotional brain act without our conscious knowledge. We will always ascribe a rational, conscious-brain reason to our decision, but it’s never the whole reason why we take an action, and often the rational reason isn’t even part of the reason.

9. People Create Mental Models

  • People always have a mental model in place about a certain object or task (paying my bills, reading a book, using a remote control).
  • The mental model that people have about a particular task may make it easy or hard to use an interface that you have designed.
  • In order to create a positive UX, you can either match the conceptual model of your product or website to the users’ mental model, or you can figure out how to “teach” the users to have a different mental model.
  • Metaphors help users “get” a conceptual model. For example, “This is just like reading a book.”
  • The most important reason to do user research is to get information about users’ mental models.

10. Visual System

  • If pages are cluttered people can’t find information. Use grouping to help focus where the eye should look.
  • Things that are close together are believed to “go” together.
  • Make fonts large enough. Use fonts that are not too decorative so they are easy to read.
  • Research shows that people use peripheral vision to get the “gist” of what they are looking at. Eye tracking studies are interesting, but just because someone is looking at something straight on doesn’t mean they are paying attention to it.
  • The hardest colors to look at together are red and blue. Try to avoid red text on a blue background or vice versa.
  • People can recognize objects on a screen best when they are slightly angled and have the perspective of being slightly above (canonical perspective).
  • Color can be used to show whether things go together. Be sure to use another way to show the same info since some people are colorblind.