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(RE)Search then… Design

Posted by Adrian Dulgheru on September 23, 2016 in categoryStrategycategoryUser ExperiencecategorySoftware Quality

"The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”

- Steve Jobs

We all know that, when building a house, a solid foundation is what makes a home durable and resistant to earthquakes and other calamities.

Although the foundation is the most important part of the entire construction, it is often overlooked while we are admiring the interior small details like exotic parquet floors, decorative tiles or the LED ceiling lights.

Similar to building a house, the competitive research, interaction analysis heuristics and user research and testing represent the foundation when designing an application. Building a product that is not based on this data will most likely create a monotone experience for users or make it simply unusable in some cases.

RESEARCH | OBSERVE & REPORT | PROTOTYPE | TEST ...then DESIGN.

Some of the important areas to explore, when redesigning or building a new app or Website, are: Data Research, Observing & Reporting the findings, Building a workable prototype and User Testing.

1. RESEARCH

User research attempts to answer questions like “who will use this system?” and “how will this concept work for our target audience?” etc. A simple research report structure would consist of:

a. ANALYTICS DATA

If you are redesigning a website, the research can start with Google Analytics data, like demographics, which reveals the average user age and location, but it can also show an interaction heat map. The heat map shows the users interaction with the Website and which are the most visited areas. This is very valuable information that provides great insight on how users are utilizing the current system.

b. COMPETITIVE RESEARCH

Analyzing your business competitors will provide a great insight on how you are ranking among other companies with a similar profile. The competitor analysis document will assess the strengths and weaknesses of your current and potential competitors. This analysis provides both an offensive and defensive strategic context to identify opportunities and threats.

c. USER INTERVIEWS

Interviews are a great way to develop a design plan without asking users or the client to say what they really want. Setting up some guidelines and starting a discussion with the target audience will be a good start on discovering valuable information.

d. QUESTIONNAIRES

In case you have the opportunity and available time, why not give questionnaires a shot? A questionnaire will contain, besides the simple questions like “Who are you?", "What are you doing?", and "Where are you going?”, a set of more directed questions specific to the interface interaction and areas of interest like, “How do you get from point A to point B in the system?", "Do you use a mobile device to access the app or a desktop computer?" and "How often do you use the app?”. 

2. OBSERVE & REPORT

Observe & Report is all about finding the flaws of the current system and proposing improvements in the heuristic analysis document. The heuristic report is an important part of the redesign process of any website or app and contains information on the system interaction issues, error prevention, content readability, consistency standards and proposes new ways to speed up user’s workflows. Heuristics basically tells you what went wrong in the past so you will not repeat the same mistakes when developing a new system.

3. PROTOTYPE

Building a working prototype of your idea for your client and target audience to explore is the best way to present the user workflows throughout the system. Having the wireframe screens combined in a working prototype will give users the opportunity to test it and for the client to review and approve the overall interactions before moving to the visual design phase.

4. TEST

An important part of the UX research involves users testing concepts and exploring the general system structure. The user testing process consists of asking the target audience users to complete a set of tasks using the prototype of your Website or app in order to find out its usability level. Testing process will find any interaction obstacles and ways to improve it even further. Any questions and assumptions that might arise should involve and be tackled by the designer whom created the interface. For example, “Is this an easy to follow process for the users?", "Is the navigation intuitive enough?” etc.

Going through the above process before starting the design phase will save time, while from an architectural perspective, will create a solid user experience centered on users data and not on guess and intuition.

CONCLUSION

A great user experience is built on good research and on user insights and understanding of their expectations. Similar to a contractor that builds a house on a concrete foundation, the designers that don’t have the research data to build on the application will fail in crafting a solid and inspiring user experience.

Sources:

Heuristic Analysis
http://www.useit.com/papers/heuristic/heuristic_list.html

Observing User Research
http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2012/08/observing-user-research.php

Competitive Research
http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/05/conducting-competitive-research.html