I read this wonderful little tale written by Dr. Davis Travis called: The Fable of the User-Centered Designer. It's a really quick read, so I was able to summarize the points quite succinctly. In a nutshell, here are the Three Secrets to User-Centered Design:
1. Early and continual focus on users and their tasks.
- Identify the users of our systems and what they want to do with it. Create user profiles/personas and ensure the design team understands who they are designing for. No assumptions should be made; all knowledge utilized here derive from observations and research findings.
- Conduct regular in-person site visits with customers to understand what motivates them (their goals), and the environment in which they use the product.
- Develop red routes: critical tasks that people need to carry out as smoothly and quickly as possible. Developing red routes ensure less important functions don't clutter the interface.
2. Empirical measurement of user behaviour.
- Conduct usability testing. Ask customers to carry out critical tasks on the application and to think aloud while doing so. Take on the role of 'apprentice' and ensure they understand we are here to watch how they navigate and experience the application, not to test them.
- Measure usability effectiveness (how many people manage to complete red route successfully), efficiency (how long did it take for them to complete the task), and satisfaction (how do they feel about the design).
3. Iterative Design.
- In the iterative design mindset, we want to put off writing code for as long as possible. Not that we're avoiding it, but rather, that we understand fixing or re-writing code to requirements is far more costly and time consuming than doing it right the first time around.
- In iterative design, paper prototyping is an invaluable method to quickly sketch lots of designs, and test them. Design, test, re-design, and re-test. That is the iterative method. The best elements of each design are found, tested, and then applied; the goal being: refining the design to get it just right.
- The goal of paper prototyping is to ensure we get the correct Information Architecture, so people can navigate the site and understand the terminology.
- Electronic prototyping then helps us ensure we get the correct visual design of the application or website.
- In an ideal world, we can conduct user testing for every iteration; however, in reality, try to involve users whenever important design decisions are going to be made.