Minding Your Users

The practice of creating engaging, efficient user experiences is called user-centered design. The concept of user-centered design is very simple: Take the user into account every step of the way as you develop your product. The implications of this simple concept, however, are surprisingly complex.

Everything the user experiences should be the result of a conscious decision on your part. Realistically, you might have to make a compromise here and there because of the time or expense involved in creating a better solution. But a user-centered design process ensures that those compromises don’t happen by accident. By thinking about the user experience, breaking it down into its component elements, and looking at it from several perspectives, you can ensure that you know all the ramifications of your decisions.

The biggest reason user experience should matter to you is that it matters to your users. If you don’t provide them with a positive experience, they won’t use your product. And without users, all you’ve got is a dusty Web server (or warehouse full of products) somewhere, idly waiting to fulfill a request that will never come. For the users who do come, you must set out to provide them with an experience that is cohesive, intuitive, and maybe even pleasurable—an experience in which everything works the way it should. No matter how the rest of their day has gone.

Defining the Strategy

The most common reason for the failure of a Web site is not technology. It’s not user experience either. Web sites most often fail because - before the first line of code was written, the first pixel was pushed, or the first server was installed - nobody bothered to answer two very basic questions:

  • What do we want to get out of this product?

  • What do our users want to get out of it?

By answering the first question, we describe the product objectives coming from inside the organization. The second question addresses user needs, objectives imposed on the product from outside. Together, product objectives and user needs form the strategy plane, the foundation for every decision in our process as we design the user experience. Yet, amazingly, many user experience projects do not begin with a clear, explicit understanding of the underlying strategy.

The key word here is explicit. The more clearly we can articulate exactly what we want, and exactly what others want from us, the more precisely we can adjust our choices to meet these goals.

If it involves providing users with the ability to do things, it’s interface design. The interface is the means by which users actually come into contact with the functionality defined in the specifications and structured in the interaction design.

If it involves providing users with the ability to go places, it’s navigation design. The information architecture applied a structure to the content requirements we developed; the navigation design is the lens through which the user can see that structure, and is the means by which the user can move through it.

If it involves communicating ideas to the user, it’s information design. This is the broadest of the three elements on this plane, potentially incorporating or drawing upon aspects of almost everything we’ve seen so far on both the functionality side and the information side. Information design crosses the boundary between task-oriented functionality and information-oriented systems because neither interface design nor navigation design can be fully successful without good information design to support them.

There are two main reasons to bother to define requirements.

Reason #1: So You Know What You’re Building

Reason #2: So You Know What You’re Not Building

These are notes I made after reading this book. See more book notes