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articles » Usability and Intuitive Design - Improving the User Experience

Usability and Intuitive Design - Improving the User Experience

By Don Demrow, 2007-08-12

Great design is essential to a superlative website, portal, or application. By applying principles of usability, accessibility, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and good branding in conjunction with aesthetic excellence, it is possible to improve profitability.

The importance of good user interface design for websites, and improving the user experience is the most important goal the UI (User Interface) designer faces.

A good online experience will have a positive impact on your company's bottom line. When the focus of an interface is to facilitate a pleasant online experience for the user, (often referred to as an "actor" in User Interface, or UI design) and allow the user to accomplish the goal they had in mind, we greatly improve the chances of retaining a user, who is very likely a customer - possibly, a PAYING customer.

This is one very simple secret to good design - a well-designed, truly usable interface - one that compels the user to act in accordance with the wishes of the designer, in an intuitive manner, in a way that seems natural to the user. The well designed website, portal, or application will SUGGEST to the user what to do next in accomplishing their goal. This is known as "Affordance."

A good example of affordance is this: If a faucet handle is designed in a manner that obviously fits the hand, and by its design suggests that TURNING it, the water will flow out of it, this is affordance. Further, if it is made intuitive by its design which DIRECTION to turn it to make the water flow, that is an even better example of affordance in action.

These days, customer service is virtually a thing of the past. Whether that is because it is no longer seen by companies as important, or because it has simply been forgotten, like good manners, the fact remains: rare indeed are companies that offer customer service anymore and they do not empower their employees that interface with customers anymore. This is one very important reason why usability and good interface design is so important.

Look at the formula below:

customer service + ergonomics = usability

We can see that usability can be thought of as a modern day implementation of the principles of customer service (care given to the user experience), combined with applied ergonomics (good interface design).

Good UI design facilitates a good user experience, and communication of your message Good User Interface (UI) design is a balance of organization, technology, art, and usability. Effective application of the Web Design System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) provides the organization. The art and technology pieces of the puzzle are determined by the needs of the client, but the usability component is determined by a team that consists of:
  • - - A usability-enlightened designer and developer (may be the same person)
  • - - The person, or persons that are requesting the interface or application, herein referred to as the initiators
  • - - A group of test users, ideally 5 or 6 people.
The designer/developer, if experienced in usability and principles of good UI design, will be able to provide guidance to the initiators. The initiators are usually persons in a business analyst role, or in an executive role. The experienced designer/developer or project team leader will begin the process of gathering requirements from the initiators, and has now begun the System Development Life Cycle.

It is incumbent upon the designer/developer to be proficient enough to translate the requirements into wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. This begins with the iterative DESIGN phase the "sub-cycle" of design review revision. This is the first phase of what I refer to in my article on the Web Development SDLC as "pigtail" progression a circular iteration superimposed on a linear progression. (See http://archive.devwebpro.com/2007/0406.html)

It is important to note that the group of test users needs to be brought into the process right at the beginning of the SDLC, and during the design phase, it is crucial that the test group be involved. (Although an in-depth look into performance testing is beyond the scope of this article, I plan to write a future article on this topic soon.)

After the initiators approve a final design, we are able to enter the development, prototype test/approval, and launch phases.

Again, the "pigtail" progression of iteration applies here AND, again, the test users are needed in these phases, although their involvement is not as critical as in earlier stages of the SDLC. If the design and development is advancing as it should be, the amount of input necessary to be offered by the usability test group should be diminishing in fact, the need for test team input should be inversely proportionate to the development timeline. In other words, if the SDLC has done what it should, and if all the participants in the process have fulfilled their roles, you will wind up with an aesthetically pleasing, intuitive, well-designed application that will be a pleasure to use.

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in UI and web design, usability, development of websites, corporate intranet portals, database driven applications, content management systems (and other online applications), search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for corporate entities, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit /501c3 organizations.


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