Posted by: bbannan | October 23, 2008

User centered design

What techniques, ideas and brainstorms do you have about how to include a user-centered design perspective (e.g. like personas) in design?

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Responses

  1. Brown (p. 47) says that personas provide a “common language for talking about what users want”. They provide a focal point that helps designers keep their users in mind when designing their sites. Because they are based in research, they help to avoid bias in design.

    For example, I am part of a team that is planning the redesign of a website. An incident came up where another team member suggested adding a feature because she felt it was the kind of information she would want to see. From my own informal research (questions and comments from many current web users), I was aware of what typical users look for. This was different from the feature she suggested.

    I was not aware of personas as a design tool at the time, but if I had that information, I would’ve been able to point to the persona and say, “According to the research, this is what the majority of users need to see up front.”

  2. It is often very hard to think of solutions for good design and development when the audience is not homogenous. With that thought in mind, the idea of creating a representation of an audience that, in its parts, has varied characteristics, while at the same time exhibits certain similar elements, may make it much easier to begin thinking of directions to take in meeting the needs of the represented individuals.
    While that was a very convoluted and rambling sentence, it does illustrate a point. Audiences, that we as instructional designers, strive to find solutions for in obtaining, understanding, and making use of knowledge are often very hard to understand in their individually. By looking for common needs, traits, abilities within such a group and grouping them in one or more personas, it becomes easier to begin to see the unique values that we need to address in order to go beyond paying “face” value to them , both as a group with common requirements and as the individuals they are.
    Looking at the needs of our audience to this point, we are beginning to see characteristics that help identify segments and to better define their interaction with each other, as well as the beginnings of ways to solution that will not only benefit each but that will allow them to benefit each other.
    Using this format is not new; however, it is quite often successful as it allows the design team to begin focusing in on specific needs of the audience segments identified in the persona(s). An absolute benefit is the ability to scale the solution(s), to more correctly fie the needs of the defined groups rather than applying a “one size fits all” methodology. It is, however, important to remain aware, as Dan Brown indicated in his text, that the process is not centered on the idea of persona development; rather it is a lens, focusing our thoughts and energies, and allowing us to more easily test our methods to solution.

  3. In starting to work on the competitive analysis I found the personas already to be useful. In examining potential competitors’ different web-sites, learning environments, and features I found it hard not to be influenced by my own personal bias and what I think the user would want as opposed to what our research indicated. However, when I then looked at the sites from how Julie, Mary, Tom, and Irene (our personas) it made it much easier for me to focus in on how our users would use the site and what they would want to see. The personas really made the needs of the user come much more alive and real to me.
    I think the lesson I learned is that it will be very important to keep referring back to the personas throughout the design process to make sure the validated user needs stay fresh in the mind of the design team to help prevent any biases from creeping in which is very easy to do.

  4. While our team is honing in on a prospective design for TTAC online, I’m finding the competitive analysis – the many websites with similar objectives of our client’s – is more helpful in defining a user-centered design. The personas were helpful because we discovered what the end users would like. Our team discovered there are multiple personas with different values in terms of what they want.
    Our team wants to create a highly usable product for the end users. As Instructional Designers, we also do not want to get caught in the ‘super pleasing’ trap. The competitive analysis is a systemic way to compare other sites with our clients’ list of ‘need to have’ vs. ‘like to have’.
    At this point our team can prioritize those attributes that are doable by considering limitations we are aware of (the programming, etc…) and by examining what we can realistically create based on what we discover in the competitive analysis and comparing it to our client’s wish list.

  5. I found it helpful in brainstorming ideas out loud with my group members. I have been creating the “layout design look” of our product, and I found that the concept model really helped me to see where the pages needed to point to. Flowcharts also are very helpful for the developing side of projects because it can show where hyperlinks need to go to, how pages will be specifically linked, etc. Between the concept model and a flowchart these two practices allow the developer to initially see how the architecture of a product will be developed.

    Personas also helped me to get in the mind-frame of a particular user and see the product from a different perspective. In my side job, I have to do this often when developing back end CMS’s. I need to think of what the user would find intuitive and easily understood rather than me knowing how things work.

    Writeboards can be helpful too – a way of just writing ideas down without any boundaries. This can help get the ideas flowing and one idea may effect another persons thoughts to help come up with a superior product.

  6. One of the techniques that I’ve used to develop training with a user centered design approach is a workshop that gathers stakeholders, key decision makers and users together in one place. Since the majority of the training that I develop has a specific audience the client is typically able to incorporate a user into this workshop. During this design meeting we discuss objectives, topics, what’s important to the learner, how much time needs to be spent on the topic, exercise opportunities, etc. Its always interesting to me how different the perspectives are of the decision maker and the user. Each time I am reminded of how important it is to keep the end user involved in the development process. The most creative design is useless if it doesn’t fulfill the needs of the user.

  7. Just several points here. Brainstorming can be very productive, but the environment must be conducive. If group members are impatient, or disrupt the event by open criticism or rejecting ideas out of hand then the results will be degraded. I’ve observed over the years that often the most useful insights are from disinterested observers that make a casual comment that triggers something in one of the expert group member’s minds that leads to a very good way ahead. So, keep channels open, reject nothing, have fun with it and the results will improve.
    Second point is that the Persona emerges once I have spent enough time reading and getting my mind immersed in the research, surveys and from target audience conversations. You can’t help but see the key characteristics emerge clearly. It is reading and discussing from a variety of viewpoints, and while there will be differences it is usually the 10-20% around the periphery. The 80% will be quite reliable and persona quality. What is key for me is to not rush the research, take the time necessary to get the information into your head and much of what is important will become clear.
    Third point is that when working group requirements everybody needs to talk, share what is in their minds with the other team members. I have to hear the other perspectives. It is much too easy to take the group project and get less than the best product by not getting the best thinking from all the group members. Other perspectives help me get beyond my personal bias. When possible this includes recording information publicly on a whiteboard (as Scott points out) so that everyone can see and process the information.
    Final point is to learn how to argue effectively. We argue verbally, in writing, and in presentations. Argumentation at its best is without emotion and is characterized by a willingness to hear out other peoples viewpoints. It is a true gift to be able to hear out other viewpoints. We often become too attached to our own ideas and fail to recognize superior thinking in others. Unfortunately when feelings or emotion enter into argumentation the reasoning process often grinds to a halt as positions harden.
    And those are the several things that work well for me.

  8. Just several points here. Brainstorming can be very productive, but the environment must be conducive. If group members are impatient, or disrupt the event by open criticism or rejecting ideas out of hand then the results will be degraded. I’ve observed over the years that often the most useful insights are from disinterested observers that make a casual comment that triggers something in one of the expert group member’s minds that leads to a very good way ahead. So, keep channels open, reject nothing, have fun with it and the results will improve.
    Second point is that the Persona emerges once I have spent enough time reading and getting my mind immersed in the research, surveys and from target audience conversations. You can’t help but see the key characteristics emerge clearly. It is reading and discussing from a variety of viewpoints, and while there will be differences it is usually the 10-20% around the periphery. The 80% will be quite reliable and persona quality. What is key for me is to not rush the research, take the time necessary to get the information into your head and much of what is important will become clear.
    Third point is that when working group requirements everybody needs to talk, share what is in their minds with the other team members. I have to hear the other perspectives. It is much too easy to take the group project and get less than the best product by not getting the best thinking from all the group members. Other perspectives help me get beyond my personal bias. When possible this includes recording information publicly on a whiteboard (as Scott points out) so that everyone can see and process the information.
    Final point is to learn how to argue effectively. We argue verbally, in writing, and in presentations. Argumentation at its best is without emotion and is characterized by a willingness to hear out other peoples viewpoints. It is a true gift to be able to hear out other viewpoints. We often become too attached to our own ideas and fail to recognize superior thinking in others. Unfortunately when feelings or emotion enter into argumentation the reasoning process often grinds to a halt as positions harden.
    And those are the several things that work well for me.

  9. As humans we tend to see things from our own perspectives, what we call ethnocentricity. It is difficult to separate ourselves from our own preferred ways of viewing and interpreting the world around us. We are creatures of habit and if we’re not careful in thought and action tend to do things the same way time after time. The problem is that we’re designing learning interventions for audiences that often are different than ourselves. Likewise the learning audience is often different than the person(s) requesting the learning intervention, and the same considerations and cautions apply there as well. That is an exercise in persuasion in and of itself.

    Argumentation provides a useful way ahead in that it encourages consideration of other viewpoints and not allowing emotion or feelings to taint our reasoning. And so it is with persona development, having the discipline to build a composite audience view that is likely different than our personal view(s) on a topic, an issue, or learning situation.

    The difficulty is being able to create the persona based on an audience, and not imposing or overlaying our personal views, or feelings. This is where research comes in, not just a little, but audience research from many viewpoints. The result is an emergence of a set of core perspectives of an audience, what we call the persona. The concepts embodied in the persona take on great value when arrived at from research findings from others, coupled with personal or working group research, marrying up what is already known with what currently exists. As I read multiple articles and review research the persona emerges. While individual views don’t match perfectly clear core findings and trends manifest themselves.

    Having a well defined persona is only part of the process. The ability to hew to the persona, not to revert back to our personal comfortable ways or preferences is key. And this is the value of formative feedback as an interim and incremental set of checks to see if we’re remaining on target throughout the design process.

  10. I think its pretty obvious, but any design should be thoroughly tested by the user before it gets fully released. We can gather all the data we want with surveys and research, but there is always that possibility of us misinterpreting it during the prototype stage. It is also possible that the audience has inaccurately described their wants and preferences. For example, although people tend to say that they want interactivity and collaboration, in some instances they just want to get the information quickly. For these reasons it is important to let the audience test out our designs and offer any feedback. If we truly want to be user centered, we should let the user experience the product and offer their suggestions.

  11. One of the most exciting aspects of this field is the fact that technology changes quickly and enhancements and new features are constantly being developed. However, it essential to keep the needs of the target audience in mind when considering that the latest bells and whistles or they can produce distractions and noise in the end product.

    In our group project, we researched the needs and preferences of the target audience so that we had some criteria to help us evalulate the “latest and greatest” web 2.o features for websites. Some of the features such as tag clouds, were new to the target group reviewers, but once the tag cloud functionality was explained and demonstrated, end users thought it was a very useful feature. The bottom line is that end users are receptive to new features as long as they are relevant and useful for meeting their needs.

  12. Considering the full scope of an audience analysis at all times is somewhat impractical. Among the multitudes of data from age range to learning styles, it’s often difficult to characterize the needs of learners with eloquence. That is why personas are so useful. Personas put a human face on a multitude of needs and preferences. By considering what “Julie” would be willing to do, or have the ability to do, it made it much easier to focus on the demands of our particular audience and what solutions would work best for them. When making decisions about the design of our solution, our first question was “If we were Julie, Mary, or Tom (our personas), what would I look for first? What would I need? How would I find it?” We considered restrictions these users would have (such as busy schedules) and formulated our solutions to work within those limitations (such as creating bite-size lessons or shorter activities). Personas helped to keep our team from losing site of our audience. As Brown describes in his text, personas helped prevent assumptions from creeping into our design and while providing our team with a specific “common language” to discuss user needs.

  13. When developing websites or company intranet it is important to first determine your different types of users and user personas as early as possible in order to include them in the development process. By including the user throughout the development process early on you can assure that you are meeting the target needs of the audience. Sometimes surveying the target audience is not enough when developing a website/intranet or training for that matter for a target audience.

    When you include the user in the development process you are able tot test ideas against the audience prior to putting too much effort in the particular milestone. I have found that it is difficult to assume correctly the users needs without being a veteran user. By adding a user to your design team you broaden your approach and thought process when developing training, developing websites and Intranets. The process and the benefit of the user plays a positive impact in all those projects. If it works and is beneficial in the development world if would be beneficial in the training arena.

  14. Well, this might be a late post, the end of class, but now that it is over and we presented our prototypes, it is easier to comment about it.

    I think it helped to create a user centered prototype after we created our personas. The personas were representatives of the user. They gave us a real idea about what they needed, wanted, and was capable of. We had middle aged adults with very good computer skills and senior citizens with minimal computer skills. This lead us to create a prototype that was clean and simple in appearance and easy to navigate. The user can go as deep into the site as he or she wants. But, the end use of our website/prototype was not the only user, but so is the company we are designing it for. Now user-centered prototyping focuses on the end users and what they need, want and can do, but the customer, AGORA, has to maintain it. In their case simplicity is key to ability to maintain the ultimate end product, keep it current, and sustain the site. So we tried to keep both customers in mind.


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