Monday, October 1, 2012

User-Centered Design: Part 1 – New Software Development

The majority of our consumer market today expects software to be a service along with cloud access to data on any mobile device platform.  As software provider’s, we must extend our user-centered design approach to include mobile device views out the gate.  Most credible resources on interactive graphic design will use software providers LinkedIn, Google and Facebook as examples of great mobile user experiences.  I agree, but would these web leaders have made the same design decisions had they started out with a device-centric approach?

The first time I launched LinkedIn for iPad I was pleased to see most of my content, however,  I still had to navigate swipe by swipe and tap by tap just to figure out what was available and how to get to it.  As of today, it is my observation that no one really has enough experience to claim the throne for best UI/UX mobile design and the consumer market is still learning  how to properly use their mobile gadgets.  In this posting, I want to approach user-centered design from anew software development effort and help set the standards for interactive design.
Before we go over some design standards, let us clearly define the target audience that should benefit from our guidelines.  Lets start with millennial end-users and assume our guidelines will emerge along with the market feedback.   Millennial end-users are not just the product end-users, they are the potential buyers as well.  In the context of our current topic, these users can be profiled with the following attributes:
  • More tech savy then any other generation
  • On average, each person owns two mobile devices
  • Less motivated to learn new standards
  • Over stimulated with less patience for processing time
  • Expect and demand mobility access to all electronic data
The majority of applications and respective apps used day to day by our target end-users are performing as great as they look, whatever does not is simply not accepted by them.  Is it any wonder that mobility has been around for a decade but is just recently being adopted for business use?  This means that before you worry about how pretty your app looks, spend time ensuring performance is fast and reliable.  Facebook just released a new software update for iPad that I have to admit is super fast and responsive, in which people are commenting is because they wrote it using the iOS native language.  Fortunately here at Seven Tablets, we are able to devote much development time solely to optimizing our cross-platform code to mimic naive performance.
1. Adopt a device-centric approach to prototyping for all three major electronic views including web, tablet and cellular devices.  Most designers I have worked with are successful when starting out with the tablet view following the iOS user interface guidelines.  Make sure the design team has the exact tablet device and the workflow is storyboarded and ‘dramatized’.  Literally act out the scenes at the estimated time of day you expect the app to be used most frequently.  A great number of UI prototyping apps are available on the market for a very good reason.  Designing the mobile views requires a different set of gestures and capabilities between interaction between the real world and system.  Handle the prototype on the device by tapping with large thumbs and position the device in both portrait and landscape modes. How does it feel?  Does the prototype UX make sense for the user standing up and tapping with their index finger?  Does the user need to have internet connection at the time you expect they need to?  Are the chosen gestures adopted by the device OS to take advantage of  preconditioned hand eye coordination?
2. Condition your team’s mindset using an agile product development approach and focus each product update on the feature set that brings the most business value.   The core feature set needs to be defined early in the design process and released early before business as a chance to make major changes to the plan.  Clearly identify one target end user, storyboarding the most common workflow and choose only actions used 90-100% of the time should give thedesign team a fighting chance at getting it right the first time around. But don’t make the perfect design a science project, get it out to market as soon as possible reminding everyone that the greatest designer on the team is the customer.   In your core feature set, copy and paste the following user story into your backlog: As a business owner, I need an immediate and fast way for users to send product feedback so we may deliver a product that customers love.
3. Per each graphic view, clearly identify the target end-users and figure out which features must be included per view by user type.  Do not assume the same core feature set applies to all views or all users for that matter.  Focus on each screen tracing through the flow of data and clearly identify what roles should be able to complete that flow.  You may be able to reduce scope by not providing accessibility to user roles that do not need it.   Identifying and focusing on the critical path in your feature set also lends for a clean and purposeful screen so you have real estate to add more functionality later when the market demands it.  On most occasions, the front end design for mobile can take twice as long to develop as it does for the web so it is critical to prioritize mobile views.
Stay tuned for part 2, which includes designing in modular stand alone parts using an object-oriented thought process.

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