Most of us intuitively know what a good user experience is when it comes to using software. We have all used applications that are a pleasure to use because they are easy to use and compelling without really working at it.
I bet most of us have also used applications that are painfully frustrating or just don’t seem to do what we want them to do, at least not easily.
The holy grail in designing for a good user experience is to consistently produce products that allow users to get things done effectively, meet their needs exactly, are elegant and simple to use and even add some pleasant surprises when they go beyond expectations.
Sounds simple? Well it isn’t - designing a good user experience takes hard work from many people and requires a merging of effort from multiple disciplines. A large part of providing a good user experience involves user interaction design. Although there are a lot of buzz words around user experience, user centered design, or interaction design, the basic processes are very similar and when applied can result in consistently rewarding and compelling products.
At CounterPath, we use a hybrid of industry accepted interaction design processes for our products. For example, for our flagship softphone product, Bria, the main methodology we use is Goal Directed Interaction Design (Alan Cooper) with elements borrowed from Interface Design (Hackos and Redish), Contextual Design ( Holtzblatt et al.) and Usability and User Centered Design (Nielson, Rubin and Constantine). When things get tight, Jakob Nielson’s Guerrilla HCI tactics are invaluable. One of our main goals in using these processes is to provide compelling and satisfying products that are easy to learn and use, and effective in getting things done.
Interaction design processes can be generally broken down into 3 main parts: research, design, and usability testing.
- Conduct a domain analysis to understand the context, people and environment
- Identify key personas, goals and tasks
- Identify scenarios and use cases
- Prioritize goal oriented requirements
- Establish usability criteria
- Explore conceptual models for overall model and approach
- Produce wire frame mock-ups based on story boards, explore alternatives
- Produce detailed design specifications with a focus on user requirements
- Review and iterate design with team
- In-house usability testing throughout design process and implementation
- Heuristic evaluation to meet standard guidelines (Apple HIG, Windows User Experience)
- External usability testing, usability surveys, forums
- QA testing against user interaction specification
Crafting a good user experience takes time, but follow-up with users proves time and again that it is worthwhile. For example, in Bria 3.0 we redesigned the user interface using the processes outlined above to simplify tasks, address different user groups and improve overall task flow. Results from a survey of 500 users of the beta for this product showed that over 90 percent of users ranked it as easy to use and 60 percent of users named usability as the number one thing they liked most about the product. This is especially surprising since the beta software was free and not completely bug free.
Although all of us know what a great user experience is when we actually experience it, designing for it requires a commitment to user interaction design principles and learning from our end users.
What products or applications do you feel give you a great user experience, and why?