Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Let the Interface tell the story

One of the most dreaded things being a user of any software application is the training and learning process one has to go through. The company pays for your courses. But if you're an independent, you have to go out there to learn it yourself.

Being and interface designer isn't any different either, especially if you're looking to redesign any interface. From my experience and my opinion, if the documentation or training course has more than 25 pages, the application is probably too complex to learn quickly.

There are many times where I come across a current design ready for revamping, and the interface tells me very little, or rather a lot - too much in fact because at that point, I've already assessed it to being too complex to learn in 30 minutes or less.

Some factors that prevent quick learning:

1. The documentation is the tutorial. They are usually too long and too complex to understand;

2. The interface was designed poorly. This is usually a case of when usability is still in at its infant stage;

3. The application is not focussed. Usually is the case when a set of target users is too broad or inappropriate.

I could go on, but then like some long documentation, I'd lose your interest.

So to solve all this, why not let the interface tell the story? Have the development processes integrate such a way that enables pre-development work. This also includes focusing your target users and developing mental models - a translation between the human being and software system. So that once actually concepts are being developed, the end in mind is always letting the interface tell the user how they want to be operated upon.

Of course, a lot of past experiences would have to be harnessed. This is what we call "intuitive". (That could also be another debate.) At least in this case, documentation is lessened, the training is made easier and simpler to follow. It would definitely make life a lot easier.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Usability Practitioner's Code of Honor

Every person needs a Code of Honor - that is, rules that govern how a person operates whether in their daily life professionally or not. This is a great way to keep track of how you're operating under certain circumstances. It keeps your behavior "in-check" especially if you're looking to improve or reach some of the goals for the year or lifetime.

I have my Usability Practitioner's Code of Honor. It has also adapted some of the principles from the UPA website I feel need to be addressed or kept in mind as a third-party ruler, thus removing my own opinion about whether something should done in a different way or not.

Here it is in full:

Usability Practitioner’s Personal Code of Honor

• Be on Time – apologize when late;
• Act in the Best Interest of society, your client and employer;
• Be Honest and Kind with everyone;
• Act with Integrity – do what you say. If something cannot be met, arrange for alternative ways for completion;
• Be Responsible to my actions – take ownership;
• Ask for help when I don’t know – I am not suppose to know everything;
• Honor intellectual property rights including copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, contracts, and licenses;
• Respect the privacy of your colleagues and participants;
• Honor promises of confidentiality, and anonymity;
• Strive to increase your competence every day and empower those you work with;
• Encourage others around me – others will return the favor when it’s time;
• Take initiative – find a way, make a way, no obstacle thinking;
• Anchor and celebrate all wins – especially when we reach milestones.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Imparting the user experience knowledge

Where I'm working now, we've implemented the User Centered Design processes starting a couple of years ago. We're currently a two person team as I have replaced another whom had left just last year. In terms of where we are in UCD maturity, we're on the brink of consistently hitting Stages 4 and 5 especially with some new initiatives. The reality is, we're not at the point of having enough people in our usability team to really expand our activities, yet we also want to make enough of a difference to empower our working colleagues. So how do we do this?

A great way to impart knowledge of what we know and ways to implement the user experience design into current processes is to develop an Intranet. This way, anyone who is in need of our help has access to us, not only in our database of UE knowledge, but also through constant feedback mechanisms.

This is a great way to serve those around you who have little or no exposure to what the UCD/UED discipline really entails. The transition is always constant and always progressive, little by little - not one big gigantic step. People cannot handle that much change all at once.

The key is also to have a plan, a strategy with a timeline of where you want the corporation to be (at what stage) and when.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Influence of User Experience

Having six years of experience in the designing of User Experience is actually not saying too much. Is it really six years, or is it one year, six times over? Many professionals view themselves as having so many years of experience in their occupation, they forget to look at the true value they have put out into the corporation or community they are trying to influence.

So in fact, there are probably a lot of "fakers" out there, not knowing really why they're doing what they're doing because their vision has been lost. Then there are others who actually achieve, who really set realistic, attainable goals - goals that make them stretch to the next level. When this happens, there really is a greater level of expectation and the person truly attains a "year of experience". Of course, this goes without saying, there needs to be consistent action.

So when I look at myself in terms of what I have achieved in Usability or User Experience Design, I have a long way to go. The foundation is indeed set. I have enough talent and know-how to take myself to the next level. What I need to do is to keep in the learning mode in everything I do. This kind of approach is much overlooked.

I can tell you that in terms of designing for the best User Experience, the principles have never changed. The practices have gotten better with each year a new application tool is revamped, redeveloped or newly developed. Methods such as Task Analysis, Card Sorting etc. have all been "tried, tested and true" methods into developing a better understanding of the user and what they experience.

I think the best way a usability professional can do to serve their users, aside from all these fancy techniques, is to Listen to their users. We have two ears and one mouth. Let's use them in proportion! Taking some of the principles of Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and applying them to everyday activities can give you great returns. For instance, Carnegie says that people love talking about themselves. That's great! And it's all in-line with the usability profession. We listen to user's gripes and concerns, we jot them down, take as many qualitative notes as possible. We listen, listen, listen to no end. It's when there are no issues that really, we should question the quality of the feedback. It's not like we look for problems - we just want to serve those users and help solve user issues.

I think to that end, our influence as usability professionals, and the discipline within User Experience Design can affect more than what we deal with daily. Implementation is improved, support calls are reduced, and all the other basic ROI factors are amended. It's just business sense to empower as many people with this type of basic knowledge, as it takes any corporation farther with a greater competitive advantage.