User centered design has been receiving increasing attention in recent years. Various methods and tools are being used within organizations to improve the understanding of user and task requirements to support the process of design and evaluation iteration . Identifying the most important and most used user centered design methods was the goal of the study “The State of User Centered Design Practice.”
In this study, the authors surveyed over 100 experienced practitioners of UCD. Each practitioner has at least three years of experience and considers UCD to be their primary job function. The following table displays the survey results with respect to 13 tools or methodoligies used by these UCD specialists in terms of importance and how frequently they employ the methods. Each method was rated by those surveyed on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 represents highest importance and 5 signifies least importance. An additional category captures job activities that the authors were not able to categorize:
The following links, collected from various resources, provide more information about the individual UCD practices .
Field Studies: The Best Tool to Discover User Needs (by User Interface Engineering)
The most valuable asset of a successful design team is the information they have about their users. When teams have the right information, the job of designing a powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use interface becomes tremendously easier. When they don’t, every little design decision becomes a struggle. Field studies get the team immersed in the environment of their users and allow them to observe critical details for which there is no other way of discovering.
Requirements Analysis – Characteristics of Good Requirements (PDF by The University of Queensland)
Requirements analysis is a tool that can be used to ensure that designers capture all the whole-of-life needs of the product or system from the perspectives of all the stakeholders – the acquirer, the operator, the user, the maintainer and those who refurbish or dispose of the it at the end of it life. At the end of the process, the designers are left with a document listing the system requirements for a product design. From this document they can base much of their subsequent work.
Iterative User Interface Design (by Jacob Nielsen)
Redesigning user interfaces on the basis of user testing can substantially improve usability. In four case studies, the median improvement in overall usability was 165% from the first to the last iteration, and the median improvement per iteration was 38%. Iterating through at least three versions of the interface is recommended, since some usability measures often decrease in some versions if the usability engineering process has focused on improving other parameters.
Usability Evaluation (by Jean Scholtz, National Institute of Standards and Technology)
User-centered evaluations are accomplished by identifying representative users, representative tasks, and developing a procedure for capturing the problems that users have in trying to apply a particular software product in accomplishing these tasks. During the design/testing/development cycle of software development, two types of user evaluations are carried out.
Task analysis methods (by UsabilityNet.org)
Task analysis analyses what a user is required to do in terms of actions and/or cognitive processes to achieve a task. A detailed task analysis can be conducted to understand the current system and the information flows within it. These information flows are important to the maintenance of the existing system and must be incorporated or substituted in any new system. Task analysis makes it possible to design and allocate tasks appropriately within the new system. The functions to be included within the system and the user interface can then be accurately specified.
Using Focus Groups for Evaluation (by The University of Arizona)
Focus groups were originally called “focused interviews” or “group depth interviews”. The technique was developed after World War II to evaluate audience response to radio programs (Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). Since then social scientists and program evaluators have found focus groups to be useful in understanding how or why people hold certain beliefs about a topic or program of interest.
A focus group could be defined as a group of interacting individuals having some common interest or characteristics, brought together by a moderator, who uses the group and its interaction as a way to gain information about a specific or focused issue.
Heuristic Evaluation (by Usability Body of Knowledge)
A usability evaluation method in which one or more reviewers, preferably experts, compare a software, documentation, or hardware product to a list of design principles (commonly referred to as heuristics) and list where the product does not follow those principles.
Interviews (by UsabilityNet.org)
The interview is a method for discovering facts and opinions held by potential users of the system being designed. It is usually done by one interviewer speaking to one informant at a time. Reports of interviews have to be carefully analyzed and targeted to ensure they make their impact. Otherwise the effort is wasted.
Using Prototypes (by SAP Design Guild)
Prototypes can help to evaluate design alternatives at any stage of the development process. Here three approaches are introduced: storyboards, paper prototyping, and HTML prototyping. A listing of pros and cons is given for the prototyping approaches in order to facilitate the decision of which is best for your requirements.
User survey for design (by UsabilityNet.org)
User surveys are a means of finding out how the software or web site is likely to be used by a specific set of users, and who these users are likely to be. The answers user surveys provide must be relevant to the issues that are important to the design team. User surveys are traditionally carried out by post, but increasingly, the Internet is used for this purpose.
Usability Expert Reviews: Beyond Heuristic Evaluation (by UserFocus)
With a usability expert review, an evaluator uses a product or web site and assesses its usability against a set of principles or best practice guidelines. Expert reviews are popular because they are much quicker and cheaper to carry out than a usability test.
Perform Card Sorting (by Usability.gov)
Card sorting is a way to involve users in grouping information for a Web site. Participants in a card sorting session are asked to organize the content from your Web site in a way that makes sense to them. Participants review items from your Web site and then group these items into categories. Participants may even help you label these groups.
Participatory Design (by Information & Design)
Participatory design enables designers and developers to learn user needs and preferences early in the design process through a facilitated group workshop. The results are early design ideas that reflect user requirements.