This indian usability/ux blog attempts to bridge the gap between user requirements research & user interface design. Muthu is based in Bangalore, India & works in the xDesign team, Sun Microsystems Bangalore.
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Friday, February 27, 2004

Gyan : User Interface Design Basics

Goals, Tasks & Context of Use :

While tasks are means with which, an user achieves his goals, the interface design must be primarily centered around on the user's goals.
The basic need for an novice user would be " learnability" or "ease of use". For an advanced user, "productivity" or " short cuts" would be his primary concern.

User friendly interfaces must recognise the context of use and offer different options for different users
Eg : Lets take a B2C e-commerce portal.
The shopping cart page must cater to the needs of the 'first time shopper' and also the 'returning user'.
The goal of a 'returning user' would be to quickly close the transaction. The interface must also provide a " express check out" button to facilitate the same. The user will get bored and his time will be wasted, if he is again and again asked to key-in shipping address, billing address and choose his payment option.

The one of the goals of the 'first time shopper' would be ... lets say .... "safety of credit card information"
The interface must display information guaranteeing safety & security.

User centered interfaces will make the users feel excited, confident, intelligent, successful and productive.
It will not make them feel dumb & bored. It will prevent them from making mistakes.

Product Development & Design Process :
Historically, softwares /interfaces were designed my programmers who visualised them as a set of functions & features. Suited management blokes walked in and supplied info about market fluctuations, competition etc., and they wanted more no. of features. Then came the quality control and usability testing folks. "Look and feel" came into the picture to make enrich the interfaces.

Design Process : Ideally, the design blokes must take the brief directly from the mngt blokes, gather user requirements from the users , brainstrom and get a sign off on the prototype and only then, the development blokes should start their work. Usability analyst/ designers need to do a User Acceptance test and then makes changes and finally launch the product.

"Measure twice & cut once"
For every $1 spent on making changes at the conceptual level, $10 gets spent on making changes at the design level and $100 on making these changes at the development level. While iterative testing/changes really happen, there shoudn't be any drastic change required, at the development level.

Such a design process which is centered around the user requirements, avoids a lot of back and forth movement between the different stages. This will speed up the product development process, save cost, ensure that key features are not pushed to "Phase II" for the sake of meeting deadlines. Incidentally, you know what "Phase II" means right?... ;)

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