The Usability Laboratory

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What We Do

Interaction, Information & Content Design

 

We recognise that interface design is often a complex and involved process. But by drawing upon a variety of user-centred principles and usability engineering design processes the effort can be focused, which can help optimise the  design process.

Early design efforts should be informed by a number of elements:

Understanding the Needs of Users

  • User Profiling

  • Contextual Factors

  • Roles & Relationships

  • Goal and Task Analysis

  • Personas

Knowing What Works & What Doesn't

Competing Products

Knowing the user requirements enables us to evaluate competing products with more certainty of what the user is trying to achieve.  By testing the competing products we learn what elements are usable and which are not.  We also gain a rough idea of the design elements that exist and of what is technically possible.

Additional Research

Conceptual designs should not be limited to re-providing what competitors offer through their products.  Additional research enables us to learn what other features could also be included or technical capabilities that could be used.

Using a Quick and Dirty Design Process

Our final goal in the design process is to produce one design.  But a final design solution is rarely found after one design effort. Because of this, the design processes should be quick and dirty.  It must also be iterative.  We will not waste hours trying to make designs perfect before they are tested with the target audience.  We use four steps in our process:

1. Consider requirements specification

2. Design

3. Evaluate without users and modify design where necessary

4. Test with users.

 

Then modify based on results from the test and information from the specification, etc.

Beginning with the Abstract Design Stage

A typical abstract design stage begins with devising multiple designs and aims at achieving one final abstract design that can be used in the detailed design phases.  In the early stages of design we find it helpful to abstract away from detailed design solutions and focus on the intended structure, organisation, and workflow. We use the abstract design stage to "flesh out" multiple design concepts to the point where they can be evaluated objectively. 

We use a number of techniques and technologies through out this process.

"Bang for the Buck!"

Brainstorming various models is a useful approach.  We take into account findings from the user requirements analysis, competitive evaluations and additional research to help derive the concepts.

Scenarios/Stories

The scenarios/stories detailed for persona development can be re-used to demonstrate how the conceptual designs(s) will satisfy users, environmental and organisational requirements.

Competitive Review

Where more than one conceptual model has been developed, it is valuable to gain the users' insights into what the model means to them and how they think it will help them meet their goals.  We do this by walking through the scenarios/stories with the users.

Paper Mockups (Paper-Based Prototypes)

Low-fidelity designs are often best presented as paper mockups (also known as paper-based prototypes). Paper mockups rely on simple tools such as paper, scissors, and yellow "post-it" notes. Paper mockups help bypass the time and effort required to create a working, coded user interface and instead emphasises the real issue - the interface and whether the users are able to achieve their goals.

Large Interactive Display Surface (LIDS)

The Usability Laboratory also utilise large interactive display surfaces (LIDS) which are back-projected large screens controlled by a computer.  The screen interaction is operated by a keyboard, mouse, pen or user's fingers or hand.  The LIDS is useful when exploring design ideas with a group of users.  The screen is large and easy to view from all angles.  All people involved are encouraged to explain and sketch elements themselves.  It is a great brainstorming tool - things can be added or removed, and cut, copied and pasted effectively.  We can also easily record all interaction with a scan converter.  

Quick Working Prototypes

Where a concept is relatively unique and difficult to describe and understand without a working model used as an example, the Usability Laboratory develops quick working prototypes of specific elements to help with the low-fidelity design stage.

Moving on to the Detailed Design Stage

Typically, only one abstract design is brought forward from the abstract design process to the detailed design process.  In the detailed design process we build on this model bringing more specific interaction and content design features.

During this stage, we may choose to extend the paper-based mockups we have developed or work with our clients to produce a working prototype.

 

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