About User Centered Design

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Advantages of User Centered Design (UCD)

User centered design (UCD) contributes to successful creation of products, applications, and websites. UCD can pen channels for effective cross-departmental communication and teamwork—UCD methods require members from all departments and domains within an organization to act as stakeholders, share insights and ideas, understand new points of view, and respect strengths and constraints of other team members.   UCD can also:

  • Ensure better definition of requirements—Engagement with users from initial concept through release prevents designers and developers from overlooking or misinterpreting critical requirements.
  • Reduce development costs—Development efforts miss the mark when real user needs have not been identified, interviewed, and observed. Learning what users need and how they work speeds design decision-making, prevents false starts, and minimizes costly redesigns.
  • Contain support costs—Intuitive applications, with accessible documentation, that meet users’ needs reduce the number, length, and severity of customer support calls.
  • Improve user satisfaction—Users achieving their goals have a positive experience they seek to repeat and share.
  • Provide a competitive advantage— User satisfaction, a prime component of brand recognition and loyalty, encourages customers to try new products with the same brand.

UCD and the Phases of Design

The development cycle for any product, application, or website consists of several distinct phases. Each phase has corresponding user research practices that inform the design and UCD activities that generate the design. TecEd views these design phases as:

Concept Phase: Explore opportunities and unmet user needs

  • Current processes and shortcomings of those processes
  • Overt and unstated user goals and objectives
  • Opinions about competitive products and services

Requirements Phase: Identify a comprehensive list of requirements

  • Workflows comprising key tasks, daily tasks, rarely performed but necessary tasks
  • Task contexts, constraints, safety issues, required knowledge and skills, and attitudes towards tasks
  • “Nice-to-have” features and functions
  • User environments (physical, organizational, social, and so forth)

Initial Design Phase: Sketch and test design ideas that capture identified user requirements and business goals

  • Information structures and product views
  • Task flows
  • Features to support task completion (such as navigation elements)
  • Labels
  • Outputs or results
  • User assistance

Design Refinement Phase: Finalize and test the design to ensure it will meet or exceed acceptance criteria when measured according to agreed-on metrics.

  • User acceptance of key product elements and functions
  • Task success or failure

Post-Release Phase: Identify features and usability issues to be addressed in the next version

  • Real-time product use statistics
  • New or unpredicted patterns of product use
  • Improvements or enhancements for future releases
  • Needs or desires for new or related products

Each phase of user centered design may comprise different activities depending on the application, website, or product under consideration. TecEd tailors its design process to your needs, choosing those activities that best deliver the results you need within your budget. The design activities are listed in the UCD Design Activities table below. The associated user research activities are listed in the UCD and User Research table also below.

Table 1: UCD Design Activities: The Design Phases in which to Apply Specific UCD Activities

UCD ActivityUCD DeliverableConceptRequirementsInitial DesignDesign RefinementPost-Release
Requirements GatheringRequirements DocumentXXX
Participatory Design WorkshopsXXX
User ModelingPersonasXXX
StoryboardXXX
Information ArchitectureTask AnalysisXXX
UX Content ModelXXXX
Interaction DesignLow Fidelity Static WireframesXXXX
Medium Fidelity Static WireframesXX
High Fidelity Static WireframesX
Visual DesignVisual DesignsX

Table 2: UCD and User Research: When to Apply Specific User Research Practices

Research MethodConceptRequirementsInitial DesignDesign RefinementPost – Release
Focus Groups
Expert Evaluation
Exploratory (Formative) Usability Testing
Validation (Summative) Usability Testing
Field Research
Task Analysis
Data Mining (e.g., call center logs)