UCD (User-Centered Design)

forUSE: usage-centered design (recovered)

Some articles about Usage-Centered Design by Constantine & Lockwood, recovered from their former forUSE website.

The usage-centered design approach to UX design (as defined by Constantine & Lockwood) has been always a reference to me. Their articles describe practical well-defined techniques which I think can (and should) be included in development processes, and my humble opinion is that it deserves more attention than it gets.

Usage-centered design itself has been viewed as providing already established and effective methods for putting activity-centered design into practice and for overcoming some of the stated shortcomings of human-centered design (Norman, 2006).

Actually, I used their descriptions of techniques for Personas, User Roles and (Abstract) Use Cases as the basis for their implementation into UCDmanager. One of the main reasons for this choice is that they set the basis for a design methodology which includes different interrelated techniques, instead of the toolbox of heterogeneous independent methods we usually have.

Sadly, it seems that their forUSE website is no longer active (although it still can be accessed through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine). That’s why I’m recovering here some of their articles. (more…)

An approach to an integrated software-releases workflow

Many organizations have their own process to develop and release software, but… how can they include testing and usability techniques in their workflows? Here’s a first approach.

Some time ago I wrote about the similarities and relationships between testing and UX/usability techniques. But there’s another question: how do we integrate them in the software development process? Here’s an approach:

An approach to an integrated software-releases workflow

(more…)

‘We are not good at designing’ (or why users are black swans)

This is one of the conclusions of the author of “The Black Swan” that may be also applied to the design of interfaces.

Listen Nassim Taleb in this interview (minute 4) claiming that humans are bad designers:

In his most popular book, “The Black Swan” (nothing to do with the movie), Taleb explains that many disciplines allegedly scientific like sociology, meteorology, politics and especially economics, are so complex and are so hugely affected by single events impossible to foresee (“black swans”), that making valid predictions is useless in most cases. Worse still, we are unaware of how bad we are making predictions.

Obviously, Taleb is not talking specifically about interface design, but it’s inevitable to come to the same conclusion because it’s also true that we are not good at designing interfaces. That’s why every approach to User-Centered Design is iterative: we know we are not going to find a suitable solution at first, so we keep trying and refining until we reach a valid design (because “we are good at discovering things”).

And what are our black swans? Users: it’s impossible to foresee how users are going to react in front of an interface (anyone who has performed or watched a usability user test has realized).

(more…)

UX thoughts visiting a NASA exhibition

A user-centered design vision of a visit to a NASA exhibition.

Last week I was visiting a NASA exhibition in Madrid. As a usability/UX specialist, I was prepared to see complex interfaces and panels full of buttons; and they were there. But two other things related to UX were called to my attention.

First, prototypes. One of the items at the exhibition was a sequence of prototypes of the lunar module that landed on the moon during the Apollo missions.

Second, checklists. Several old-fashioned paper checklists used during space missions were shown.

 Checklist used during a NASA space mission

I don’t know whether checklists are generally considered as a usability or user-centered design technique; anyway, I think they should. For more considerations about that technique, read the surprising and interesting book The Checklist Manifesto.

So two conclusions came to my mind:

  • When we talk about usability methods, it may seem that they are some kind of magic trick or very advanced technique; but most of them are simple and based upon common sense. And they have been performed during many years.
  • Since those kind of techniques have been performed during many years, and (most of) the missions were successful… hey, they somehow work!

‘UX interpretations’ as a UCD technique

UX Interpretations could be a useful technique to translate common poorly-specified requirements into a more UX friendly format.

User Centered Design techniques during the requirements phase (source: UsabilityNet)Some User-Centered Design techniques are supposed to be conducted during the requirements phase of the software development life-cycle, but in most real-world projects the usability/UX team cannot perform them, usually for reasons like these:

  • Requirements are defined by another team (business analysts) and the UX team is not involved in this phase; they usually don’t take part until the design phase.
  • The UX team is involved when the project is almost finished (and the interface problems are already pretty severe).

Yes, we know that the UX team should participate since the early stages of the development, but… what can we do when we are faced to given requirements, which are usually incomplete, long lists of technical features, and which have nothing to do with UCD techniques like use cases or user stories?

UX Interpretations

Last June, Greg Lauger explained in his article ‘Matching Requirements with User Experience‘ on Johnny Holland Magazine some techniques used in that kind of situations, and I think that the ‘UX Interpretation‘ approach (he calls it a “collaborative clarification”) is a great idea and could be used as a UCD technique on its own.

(more…)

Ship-boarding usability

Applying usability techniques during a development process that is already underway and little known may be really hard. Below I suggest a few techniques so as to “board the boat” in an effective way.

Disponible también en español

Board the ship (detail)

Jakob Nielsen defined guerrilla HCI as a collection of usability techniques that may be performed along development projects in an informal and fast way, requiring few resources, getting acceptable results and avoiding the intimidation barrier of using that kind of techniques.

One advantage of guerrilla HCI is that it can be performed without great involvement of the development team, and consequently, it is useful in traditional website development.

According to their own nature, websites must be self-explanatory and their interface must follow existing standards in order to make possible that anyone can use it without advanced skills neither previous training.

For example, guerrilla HCI could be perfectly applied in the evaluation of an e-commerce website or one belonging to a university since, in principle, they don’t require special knowledge.

Nevertheless, there are cases where it’s not that simple… (more…)

Is there such thing as User Centered Design?

User Centered Design (UCD) is a topic becoming more popular day by day, it’s more a set of good intentions than a well-defined process applicable to any development project.

Este artículo está también disponible en español.

 

User Centered Design (UCD) seems to be growing in popularity, and it’s not strange. Who could be against the user being the center of the design process? But looking beyond this popularity it turns out that there is not a consensus about what UCD is.

Formal definitions like in Wikipedia or ISO 13407:1999 describe it vaguely using terms as “design philosophies”, “models”, “general guidelines”, “recommendations”, … All those are positive instructions, but they aren’t really useful when you face a real project developing a real interface.

UCD process according to ISO 13407User Centered Design is something as generic as this figure, according to ISO 13407.

What do we actually have?

Actually UCD refers almost always to a set of techniques that may be applied along all the life-cycle of a software application; the only thing those techniques have in common is that users are their main roles (at least theoretically). The number of techniques included may vary from six (like in this Webcredible article) to several tens (like in this interactive table at UsabilityNet). Those techniques may be as different between them as focus groups, user testing and interface prototyping.

Oddly some UCD techniques don’t include real users in their carrying out: for example, heuristic evaluations of usability.

(more…)