Screen shot 2012-04-24 at 5.14.56 PM Design

Different Ways To Approach User Centred Design

User testing. Everyone knows it, everyone does it, or at least knows he should be doing it when creating user interfaces. Over time many different kinds of user testing, such as classic in-lab user testing, remote, or automated user testing, have evolved. They are all based on the same idea: user centred design. And they all have their advantages and their disadvantages. Let’s look into different approaches to user centred design and how the saying ‘many a little makes a mickle’ applies to automated remote user testing.

How it all started

If we look back in time just a little, let’s say about 30 years, the first home computer with GUI (graphical user interface) was introduced. Since then, technology has developed quite quickly and with a constant increase in functionality, people started to shift their focus from the quantity of features to their quality. Today, functionality still plays a secondary role and most companies advertise the feeling, joy, and lifestyle that come with their product, rather than the more central aspect of functionality.

As an example, I looked up a campaign by Nike which appeals to people’s feelings, not to their opinion on the quality of their shoes. Their slogan: Make yourself. Now this is not exactly an example of a user interface but I believe it illustrates my point nevertheless. And surely Nike invested quite some resources to research their target group and make sure to reach them. For user interfaces or digital products the basic idea is pretty much the same. User centred design means to focus on the future users, identify them, characterize them and ask them what they want.

Figure 2 - Campaign by Nike: Make Yourself

Initial approach to UCD

Classic in-lab usability testing was the first attempt to include real users in the creation of new products. Real users get invited to interact with a product while being observed by a usability expert. The main idea of this approach is to receive feedback and find out where users struggle when interacting with the product before the product is released.

Advantages: In-lab usability testing enables researchers to observe users while interacting with a product. If necessary, questions can be asked and at the end of the session, all ambiguities should be resolved. In a detailed report, all detected usability issues of the product are listed, which offers a concrete list of things to improve.

Disadvantages: In-lab usability testing is usually done quite late in the production process, if not, as a sort final confirmation at the very end of it. if user testing is used as validation of an end product, it becomes very difficult to implement changes without re/designing the whole product. Besides the organizational effort that is linked to this kind of research, user testing at a very late stage of the design process means time delays for the production and high costs for implementing changes. Furthermore, the tests require the presence of at least one usability expert, and there are several outside factors that might influence the test results such as the artificial environment of the laboratory, or socially desirable answers.

A more modern approach to UCD

A newer and more reasonable approach to UCD includes a so called iterative design process. The design of a product becomes a cyclic process of repetitive user testing which is all based on a thorough analysis of the end users including their abilities and limitations. A first prototype is designed based on the original user analysis. This prototype is tested by a handful of real users. Results are directly implemented and a new prototype with higher fidelity is created. This process is continued until no further insights are given by users.

Advantages: This approach promises the time and cost-saving implementation of changes. By the time the product is finished, one can be sure that it comes close to users’ expectations, abilities and limitations.

Disadvantages: While the concept is reasonable and efficient, involved costs and time efforts are still considerable. Also in order to iterate as many times as necessary in as little time as possible, good project management is required. For example, if prototypes are not finished in time or participants don’t show up, deadlines will push back and there will be unpleasant time delays.

Usabilla – UCD of the future

Looking back at how it all started, how developers considered UCD for the first time, and how it is now accepted as the basis for the design of a new product, I think we can be very pleased. We have understood what it is all about and that we need to design for our users in order to stay competitive. However, there still is room for improvement: Depending on the road we take, we can get there faster, with less hassle, and even by saving money.

With Usabilla many a little makes a mickle. Stick to the idea of UCD, analyze your users carefully before getting started and test repetitively. But not only at defined stages with pretty prototypes, not within-person users tests and not for loads of money. Test little things, and collect feedback remotely and automated. Implement this feedback and in the meanwhile test something else. For example you are creating a website and you are working on the design of your main menu. Create different versions and test them without worrying about other elements on your site. Then start with something else while waiting for the results.

Advantages: With Usabilla you can easily collect feedback on your design without loosing any precious time. Also costs can be minimized through instant implementation of your results and the simple and remote way of testing. You don’t need a detailed planning because you don’t depend on deadlines or appointments with test participants. You can test spontaneously and according to the natural flow of your design.

Disadvantages: With Usabilla, you can get valuable insights in your users attitude and behavior, however, you need to know what you want to test. Compared with other tests that you can run on a more general base, Usabilla requires you to define concrete elements to test.

In sum…

Due to the increasing amount of functionality and the close competition between different brands, usability and the user experience of products becomes more and more important. UCD has been found to form the foundation for this new approach. There are different ways to go about it, but the newest and also a very efficient one is through repetitive user testing with automated remote usability tools such as Usabilla.
Collect feedback, evaluate different design versions, and measure performance are all important aspects to ensure good usability, meet your users’ preferences, and ensure a high user experiences. All these aspects are important to increase your conversion rate. With Usabilla you test little things at a time, improve them and therefore gradually improve your design. Try it out yourself and subscribe for a Free Trial today!

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