The greatest threat to user experience is the disconnection between designers and the end users.
My experience has taught me that user experience is applied to the positive, neutral and negative emotions felt whilst interacting with user interfaces, products, objects or services. I have always focused on the intricacies of maximising the pleasurable, satisfying, motivating, efficient, and productive aspects of using a user interface.
Design Principles I Follow
The more visible the functions are, the more likely users will be able to know what to do next. The relationship of how and where UI components and elements are laid out on a page may determine how easy it is for the user to complete a task. When functionality is out of sight, it makes it more difficult to find and know how to use.
Example: Bad - Hiding fields under " + Advanced Settings" when we should expose these fields.
Restricting the number and kinds of user interaction that can take place at a given moment. A common example is to deactivate certain menu or form fields by reducing their opacity, restricting the user to only actions permissible at that state of the activity. This helps the user from selecting the incorrect options and reduce the chances of making a mistake. Graphical representations such as report visuals may constrain a person's interpretation of a problem or information space.
Example: Good - not exposing all the fields that users can not select
The attribute of an object that allows people to know how to use it. A button invites a user to 'click' but an icon may not necessary be obvious that it is clickable or how to interact with it. With screen-based interfaces, affordances are perceived and have become a learned convention.
Sending back information about what action has been performed and what has been accomplished, allowing the person to continue with the activity - these may be audio, tactile, verbal, visual or a combination of these. Deciding which combination of these are appropriate for different kinds of activities and inter-activities is key.
Example: Good - showing growl message, providing guidance on how to move forward
Similar tasks should involve using the same elements when designing interfaces. A consistent interface is easier to learn and user. An inconsistent interface creates an arbitrary experience, requiring users to remember and making users more prone to mistakes. Users will identify with a single mode of operation that is applicable to all objects.
Feedback Sessions Are Key
At any step of the process, a user feedback session can radically change the direction of a project. Users are the voice of truth when you present them with what you have approximated to be the correct user flow. Internal users are great but a group of genuine external customers who use the product day in day out are the ideal candidates for feedback.
I've held many sessions across my career and while each session can be different, I tend to stick to a structured format while allowing the user to deviate off the path if it seems natural. Often a user will uncover a direction in the workflow that is entirely unexpected.
1. User Feedback Sessions - Idea Generation
Working on a design team, I have a great deal of close expertise at my fingertips but I like to welcome departmental leads to input in the idea generation stage. There's a reason they're at the company - they're good. Input from multiple areas of the business opens our eyes to issues we otherwise would not see. Demand for features or services that are outside the core roadmap can also be addressed.
2. User Feedback Sessions - Pain Points
Group workshops where I focus on current pain points, in particular raise interesting areas for development. Users are often very good at listing the negative of a product because they use it day to day.
Amusingly, in one internal session where the group was asked to list 'Jargon' one post-it note at the end was spotted that said 'Profit'... oh dear :)
3. User Feedback Sessions - Early Pre-Alpha Workflow Review
One fantastic way of making the user focus on purely the workflow rather than the interaction and the beauty of the interface is to print every element and sit with them while they go through the process of achieving the end goal of progressing through a workflow.
This brings up lots of questions as they work and I like to encourage them to speak their thoughts aloud while they make their decisions.
Structure and Planning
I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the best researchers and project planners that the industry has produced.
Working closely with this type of industry expert has had the effect that I insist on mapping out each step of the user experience.
A successful project is the product of many hands. I always like to welcome input at all stages and just the notion of sense checking each stage is important.
One can become blind to something that they frequently view and it is certainly relevant to design.
Through experience, I have learnt to not push too far forward and get too attached with a design before presenting it to users.
Being disciplined and keeping designs low-fidelity saves a lot of time later. It also avoids users being blinded by a pretty design, while ignoring the functionality.
Structuring a Project from Kick-off to Design Commencement
Encouraging and structuring the absolute beginning of my projects means that when it comes to design there are few surprises. The planning should start well before a high fidelity mockup is produced and I like to follow this structure to encourage a project manager (PM) to be fully integrated into the process from the start.
- Kick off meeting with Stakeholders to discuss the business requirements and project goals
- PM and UI Lead brainstorm on different ideas for users to preview a set of videos
- PM presents their early design ideas during the UI planning meeting to get feedback on technical feasibility
- PM regroups with designer(s) to focus on the design problem and sketch out simple concept for designer to prototype
- Designer works on a very lo-fidelity proof of concept
- PM writes up questions for validating proof of concept with users
- PM schedules users for user testing I and secures room for user testing
- PM and designer sync up on designs and questions to finalise prototype for testing
- PM and designer conduct user testing and record audio from their session
- Designer transcribes audio to identify user insights and area which need further design thinking and discussion
- PM and designer run a design session to discuss user researching findings and unresolved design decisions
- Designer works on prototypes for user testing II, PM to write questions, schedules and recruits users for testing
- PM/Design to write up and discuss findings
- PM to present findings during UI planning meeting
- PM to finalise product requirements, upload designs and attends poker planning to triage ticket into a sprint
- Designer creates high fidelity mockup for development
Checking In With Project Managers/Owners
Being aware of changes and progress throughout the project is crucial. I like to follow these steps to check in frequently with the PMs.
- What have you been working on this project this week? What decisions did we make last week?
- Has any of the requirements changed? Are they documented anywhere?
- I see you added this in the requirements, is it going to impact the design?
- Anything I need to know that might impact my designs?
My Ultimate Checklist for a User Experience
Finally, I like to ask myself questions throughout my design process. These cover the core areas of product design. It's very easy to let one or two of these slide as a project evolves and more people get involved. It's important to stop and check off that the product is still heading in the right direction and the end result will be something that user is happy to engage with on a day to day basis.
Can the user perform a desired task, resulting in an expected outcome accurate to their initial expectations? Does the experience perform the tasks the user requires?
Can the user perform tasks within an expected timescale? Does the user feel the task complexity has been reduced by the workflow rather than increased when compared to another means of completing the same task? This could include a prior workflow that the user currently uses.
Is the interface and experience attractive to the user? Does the new component or feature match and blend seamlessly with the surrounding platform or service?
Easy to learn?
Is the experience intuitive, can the user perform their desired task without prior training or excessive problem solving? Can the user derive an understanding of how the system works to further influence their path through the workflow?
Does the workflow allow for the user to accidentally make a misstep? How long does it take the user to recover and how is the user alerted to the issue?