A model for user experience

A model of user centred design

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The model is based on the one in my book, E-Commerce Usability. The main benefits of the model are:

  • It is based on the user centred design model in the International Standard, ISO 13407 (soon to become ISO 9241-210: Human Centred Design Process for Interactive Systems).
  • This approach to user centred design does not require any particular development methodology: you can apply it to projects that use Agile development techniques as well as projects that use Prince2.
  • Despite being a simple diagram, it covers all of the activities carried out by user experience professionals.

The model has four main steps.

Analyse the opportunity

This step provides the business context for the product. You begin by identifying the stakeholders for your new product development. This includes all those people who have an interest in the success or failure of the product, such as management, technical support and regulatory bodies in the industry. Next you identify your user experience vision for the product: your view of what using the product will be like 5 years or so in the future. This provides a design target that you can use to ensure you are progressing towards your design goals. The final part of this step is to segment the market for the product so you can identify what Geoffrey Moore calls 'a beachhead segment' that will become the focus of your design solution.

Common user experience activities during this step include:

  • Stakeholder analysis.
  • Competitor analysis.
  • Surveys.
  • Focus groups.

Build the context of use

In this step, you aim to build a rich description of customers, the environment in which they use the product and the critical tasks they want to carry out with it. You begin by building user profiles: a set of personas that describe the goals and behaviours of the product's key user groups. Next, you create environment profiles: descriptions of the social, technical and physical environment within which the product will be used. Finally, you identify red routes: a list of the critical tasks that users need to easily carry out with the product for it to be a success.

Common user experience activities during this step include:

  • Contextual inquiry.
  • User interviews.
  • Task analysis.
  • User diaries.
  • Critical incident analysis.

Create the user experience

This step is an iterative process. You start the process by developing key performance indicators for the product: quantitative measures, based on key customer and business requirements, that the management team use to determine if the product is ready to launch. You then move on to develop the information architecture: the high-level, conceptual model of the product, showing how all of the product's functions and features will hang together. Next, you lay out the screens (the detailed design), starting with paper sketches and then moving onto wireframes and interactive prototypes. The final part of this step is to evaluate usability by asking potential customers to carry out realistic tasks.

Common user experience activities during this step include:

  • Setting usability metrics.
  • Card sorting.
  • Paper and electronic prototyping.
  • Wireframing.
  • Usability testing and expert reviews.

Track real world usage and continuously improve the product

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning. In this step you find out how your product was actually used in practice and use these insights to drive the next release of the product or to design a future product.

Common user experience activities during this step include:

  • Site visits.
  • Remote evaluation.
  • Usage logs.
  • Analysis of support calls.

Try it for size

We've found that senior managers love this concise description of user experience activities. Next time you're called upon to explain what it is, exactly, that you do, try using this as a framework. You might also be interested in reading our free eBook on this topic: The Fable of the User Centered Designer.

About the author

David Travis

Dr. David Travis (@userfocus on Twitter) holds a BSc and a PhD in Psychology and he is a Chartered Psychologist. He has worked in the fields of human factors, usability and user experience since 1989 and has published two books on usability. David helps both large firms and start ups connect with their customers and bring business ideas to market. If you like his articles, you'll love his online user experience training course.


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