Moving from Vision to Design: User-Centered Methods for New Product Definition

Seminar by Dorothy M. Danforth for the IEEE Computer Society Leading Professional Seminar Series. – 30 minutes

It’s a common scenario: A company is planning a new product or significant redesign. There have been various discussions about how the product should have a “great user experience” and “focus on the user.” But, there are also conflicting ideas on what a great experience might entail, along with competing priorities for what the product absolutely must do to be successful in the marketplace. ​

Where to begin? How do you break through the confusion and move towards a clarified product vision? Whether a large established corporation or lean start-up, organizations struggle with progressing from early ideation into clear requirements and a tangible design phase. This webinar will explore ways to leverage user experience design methods in the very early stages of the product life cycle.

This session covers the following:

  • An overview of practical user research and design planning methods useful for early stage products and redesigns
  • Strategies for leveraging these methods to refine a product’s vision and ensure features are tied to user goals
  • Examples of how keeping a focused eye on user needs can help resolve conflicting priorities and promote product team alignment

UX Evolution Mindset & Methods

For the Delaware Valley Human Factors & Ergonomics Society – Nov. 2014

User Experience Design (UX) is a hot term in software these days, but as a relatively new and evolving field there has been confusion as to what this discipline entails and how it relates to other design practices. In this talk, Dorothy will provide an overview of current user experience design and research best practices, touch on how these methods have evolved in recent years, and discuss what many practitioners believe to be core philosophies behind “User Experience Design” as an approach to software design. In addition, Dorothy will walk through a software product lifecycle using case study examples to illustrate how common UX methods can be leveraged to improve a product. The presentation will be followed by an open discussion about where User Experience Design methods parallel or counter other human factors and ergonomics practices.

Takeaways – Participants will walk away with a clear understanding of User Experience Design as a practice, an overview of current methods, and insight into how these practices might relate to broader human factors and ergonomics approaches.

Blog Post

How to Prototype for User Testing

“If I have a thousand ideas and only one
turns out to be good, I am satisfied.”
– Alfred Bernhard Nobel

UXD prototyping is a robust topic and difficult to adequately cover in this type of overview guide. Therefore, I do so with the caveat that I am only providing the tip of the iceberg to get you started, with some references to where you can learn more.

Prototyping is not a research method, it is a research tool. An important thing to understand about UXD prototypes is that the term “prototype” itself can mean something slightly different to the UXD community than to the software development community at large. For example, one of the more common engineering usages of the term refers to an operational prototype, sometimes called a proof of concept. This is a fully or partially functional version of an application. UXD prototypes are, however, not usually operational. Most often they are simulations focused on how a user might interact with a system. In the case of the “paper prototype”, for example, there is no functionality whatsoever, just paper print-outs of software screens.

There are many different names for types of prototypes in software engineering, most of which describe the same (or very similar) concepts. Here are some of the most common terms:

  • Operational – Refers to a fully or partially functional prototype that may or may not be further developed into a production system. User testing prototypes can be operational, such as during late stage validation testing, though a program beta is more commonly used at this stage.
  • Evolutionary –As the name implies, an evolutionary prototype is developed iteratively with the idea that it will eventually become a production system. User testing prototypes are not “evolutionary” in the strictest sense if they do not become production systems. However, they can be iterative and evolve through different design and testing cycles.
  • Exploratory– Refers to a simulation that is intended to clarify requirements, user goals, interaction models, and/or alternate design concepts. An exploratory prototype is usually a “throw-away” prototype which means it will not be developed into a final system. User testing prototypes would usually be considered exploratory.

Semantics aside, prototypes are probably the single most powerful tool for the researcher to understand user behavior in the context of the product being developed. Some commonly used prototypes in user testing are;

  • Wireframes – A wireframe is a static structural description of an interface without graphic design elements. Usually created in black, white and grey, a wireframe outlines where the content and functionality is on a screen. Annotated wireframes are wireframes with additional notes that further describe the screens’ content or interactivity.
  • Design Mockups – Similar to wireframes, a design mockup is a static representation of an interface screen. However, design mockups are full color descriptions that include the intended graphical look and feel of the design.
  • HTML Mockups –Used in web site design, HTML mockups refer to interface screens that are created in the Hypertext Markup Language and so can be viewed in a browser. Most often, HTML mockups simulate basic functionality such as navigation and workflows. HTML mockups are usually developed with wireframes or a simplified version of the intended look and feel.
  • Paper Prototype – A paper prototype is literally a paper print-out of the designed interface screen. A paper prototype could be of wireframes or design mockups. In addition, it could be one page to get feedback on a single screen, or a series of screens intended to represent a user task or workflow.
  • PDF Prototype – A PDF Prototype consists of a series of designed interface screens converted into the Adobe Acrobat (.pdf ) file type. Like HTML prototypes, PDF prototypes can simulate basic functionality such as navigation and workflows. However, they take less time to create than HTML prototypes and can be created by someone without web development skills.
  • Flash Prototype – A prototype developed using Adobe’s Flash technology. Flash prototypes are usually highly interactive, simulating not only buttons and workflows, but the system’s interaction design as well. In addition to being a quick prototype development method, Flash prototypes can be run via the web or as a desktop application making it very portable tool.

Why Use Prototyping

  • It saves money by allowing you to test and correct design flaws before a system is developed.
  • It allows for more freedom to explore risky, envelope-pushing ideas without the cost and complexity of developing it.
  • Since prototypes are simulations of actual functionality they theoretically bug-free. Test results are less likely to be altered or impeded by implementation issues.

When is a Prototype Most Useful?

  • When you are trying to articulate a new design or concept
  • When you want to test things in isolation (i.e. graphic design separate from information layout separate from interaction design)
  • To gather user feedback when requirements are still in a state of flux and/or can’t be resolved
  • To evaluate multiple approaches to the same user task or goal to see which users prefer

Limitations of Prototyping

  • A prototype will never be as accurate as testing on a live system; there is always some deviation between the real world and the simulation.
  • Depending on where you are in the iterative research process, there is a point of diminishing returns where the amount of effort to create the prototype is better put into building a beta.

Creating a UXD Prototype

Because the actual prototype creation process is highly specific to what you are creating and what tools you are using (paper napkins, layout tool, whiteboard, etc) I’ve included a few considerations for defining a prototype instead of detailing the mechanics of creating one.

  1. Consider your Testing Goals. – Are you looking to understand how users perform a specific set of tasks? Do you need to watch users interact as naturally as possible with the system? Or are you trying to get users’ responses to various experimental ideas and concepts? The answers to these questions will help you make some key decisions about the structure of your prototype.
  2. Decide on Degree of Fidelity. What level of fidelity will the prototype achieve? Here, the term fidelity refers to the degree to which a prototype accurately reproduces the intended final system. A low fidelity prototype might be a PowerPoint deck of wireframes. A high fidelity prototype could be an interactive simulation with active buttons and representative content.A good rule of thumb is to develop the lowest fidelity prototype possible to achieve the goals of your study. This ensures a lack of commitment to the ideas presented and allows more time and money for the recommended iterative process. If a significant amount of time is taken to create an initial prototype with all the bell and whistles, designers are less willing to see when the concept is not working, less likely to change their designs. In addition, the amount of time that goes into building one high fidelity prototype would have been better used building multiple lower fidelity versions that allowed for more testing in-between each revision.
  3. Scripted Tasks or Natural Exploration? – Another consideration when defining your testing prototype is what content and functionality should be included. Will a preset walkthrough of key screens be sufficient, or do the goals of your study require that users are able to find their own way around the system? On average, I tend to think that enough insight can be gleaned from a series of walkthrough tests and other research methods to warrant using these, leaving the open-ended user-directed tests to be conducted on a product beta or via A/B testing[1] on a live system. With a sufficiently complex system you can quickly hit a point of diminishing returns regarding the amount of effort it takes to simulate functionality vs. actually building it.

Additional Resources

  • Microsoft Visio (office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio) – The “old school” standby for wireframes and workflows.
  • Adobe InDesign (www.adobe.com/products/indesign) – Arguably the industry standard tool. Layout tool with key functionality conducive to prototype development.
  • Balsamiq – (www.balsamiq.com) – Good low-cost alternative when you only need the basics.
  • Further Reading – Rettig, Marc. “Prototyping for Tiny Fingers.” Communications of the ACM. Vol. 37, No.4. April, 1994.


[1] A/B Split Testing refers to a testing method where in a live system an alternate, experimental design is shown to a percentage of users while the baseline control design is shown to the rest. Analysis comes from observing any notable differences in user behavior between the experimental design and the control.

Foundations For A Great User Experience

User Experience professionals are commonly called upon to fix a problematic design or help drive product enhancements. There is a wealth of research methods to help assess the success of an existing interface. But what about the early phases of a new product or concept? Do these same methods still apply? How can you best tailor your approach to gather useful input when your product and/or company are still in the formative stages?

For this presentation, Dorothy M. Danforth will discuss various low overhead, high-impact research methods available to Web Designers and UX professionals when creating new products, scenarios for when and how to use these methods, as well as general insights on how to get the most out of early stage R&D processes. Some illustrative examples and ideas from past product-concept research efforts will be provided.

Blog Post

User Experience Design Myths

This article attempts to dispel some common myths you may have heard about adopting user research or a user-centered design approach.

We Don’t Need UXD Because…

  • Our users are early adopters, or are our employees…
  • We are just trying to create a technical proof of concept…
  • We work iteratively in an Agile development environment…

Whatever the reason, consider this, there is no demographic that likes a poorly designed product. UXD foundations are arguably the most direct and efficient means to a well designed product. They can be adapted to any type of application or product lifecycle stage. Therefore, while your product may not need a complex UXD process or a specialized UXD team, the basics of user-centric design are always appropriate and will unilaterally result in a better product when appropriately applied.

UXD is Too Expensive

UXD methods can easily be modified to fit your budget. Each research method in this guide can be adapted to be implemented inexpensively and with very meager resources. In fact, an appropriately defined research plan should reduce costs by getting you much closer to what your end users want with far fewer problems post release. Maintenance costs related to unmet or unforeseen user needs can be as high as 80% of the overall development lifecycle costs. (Pressman, 1992) There is good reason why UXD is a growing field within software design; it shows a strong ROI.[1]

UXD Slows Down the Development Cycle

UXD can reduce and simplify the product development process. A common misconception about user-centric design is that it adds to, and slows down the development cycle. And yes, UXD can be incorporated in such a way that it needlessly adds time to the process. However, it does not have to. In fact, as early as 1991, a study found that usability engineering demonstrated reductions in the product development cycle by 33 to 50%. (Bosert, 1991) A well integrated, process-appropriate UXD effort will not only produce a more successful product, but will reduce development time and costs.

UXD is mostly useful for Consumer Products

Some form of UXD is useful for any system a user can interact with. Can users easily find what they need? Are common tasks simplified and not an unnecessary drudgery? Are the labels clear and do they use commonly accepted terms? All these UX related questions are as relevant to a consumer-focused e-commerce site as they would be to a billing operations system. UX Methods can be adapted and applied to information/marketing interfaces as well as transactional applications. The main difference is the goal, i.e. successful UXD on a consumer product usually drives more sales; while success in an operations system usually takes the form of higher adoption rates and increased productivity.

UXD Only Affects the Presentation Layer

UXD is more than skin deep. Don’t get me wrong, with a background in the arts; I see the value in making things look good, and most people respond to a pleasing visual design. But thinking of UXD as a presentation layer process will substantively limit its ability to improve your product. A good example of how UXD has an impact on functionality is in the case of faceted categorization for parametric searches[1]. User Research can not only help you determine how these fields should be laid-out, but how to categorize the data, what to name categories, and what kind of search groupings users want.

User Research will help us Define the Right User Experience

Well, you can try. But it is important to understand that there is no single “correct” user experience for a product. The process of interpreting the results of User Research and deciding how the resultant insights should be translated into final designs is probably best considered an art informed by science. It’s quite possible (and common) to have two totally different, yet viable, directions that both address the same user goals and requirements. (In these cases, additional criteria can be used to determine what direction to take i.e. budget, time, brand alignment, other features etc.) Despite its inherent lack of absolutes, User Research can, however, give you the best educated-guess possible regarding your users behavior, addressing upwards of 80% of issues before taking a product to market.

User Research is Market Research

User research is not market research. While there is a strong brand/marketing component to user experience design, the research methods are distinct with different methodologies, considerations and results. Unlike market research, UX research is less concerned with what features are available, or what the marketing messages are, as it is with how successful a specific design is in articulating its features and how usable and accessible the product is for the end user.

Market research is business-centric; it uses the analysis of data in an attempt to move people to action. While user research is (you guessed it) user-centric, its goal is to analyze user behaviors and preference to better design for them. Often, these two are means to the same end. Sometimes however, there is a conflict. An e-commerce website could have a promotional pop up screen that most users find annoying, despite the fact that it generates a good deal of revenue. The UXD practitioner should be free to advocate for the users’ goals, and the marketer for the business’ goals. Any resulting compromises should be considered in the broader context of the company’s brand.

User Research is only useful During Requirements Gathering

While very useful during requirements gathering, there are real benefits of incorporating this research throughout the software development lifecycle. Validation is a big part of user research. What in the design phase sounded like a good idea and tested well, might not work as well in its final implementation. There are a number of inevitable changes and revisions that occur during development. It’s important to retest and validate your release after all the pieces of the puzzle have been put together. This can be achieved with participant-based user testing or by providing structured feedback mechanisms in a beta or limited pilot program.

Here are some sample User Research methods for each phase of the software development lifecycle:

  • High-Level Requirements

o    Ethnographic Studies

o    Concept Prototypes & Testing

o    Surveys with a Broad Focus

o    Competitive Reviews

  • Detailed Requirements

o    Validation Tests for Screen and Workflows

o    Tactical Surveys

o    Graphic Design Reviews

  • Development & QA Testing

o    Validate Changes and Workarounds

  • Release/Deployment

o    Feedback Forms

o    User-centric Beta or Pilot Testing

  • Maintenance

o    A/B Split Testing

The Politics of the Artichoke: Selling your ideas in an organization, one stakeholder at a time

PHILADELPHIA, May 3, 2010 – Software Strategist, Dorothy M. Danforth will give a presentation May 5 at 1 p.m. on “The Politics of the Artichoke: Selling Your Ideas in a Large Organization, One Stakeholder at a Time” at J. Boye Philadelphia 2010, the premiere Northeast conference for online professionals both inside and outside the firewall, March 4-6.

“The politics of the artichoke (or ”la politica del carciofo”) is an Italian expression referring to a savvy strategy that deals with your opponents one at a time,” Danforth said. “In this case study, I’ll discuss how—as a consultant to Comcast working with a small internal team—our group was able to successfully give our interactive design ideas a broad, far-reaching life of their own.”

Success lies in a group’s ability to evangelize a plan, socialize it throughout an organization, evolve the plan, and allow others to take the ownership needed to see it to fruition, said Danforth. “As we look at this case study, we’ll go over the details of how we made that happen, step by step.”

Danforth will also be hosting a discussion on “Delivering on Your Brand’s Promise through User Experience Design”. The roundtable will focus on how to develop on-brand user experiences across multiple platforms and how UXD as a practice can promote better brand alignment through its methodologies.

The conference is organized by J. Boye, an international, independent networking and knowledge-sharing firm with more than 250 member organizations. For more information about the conference, go to http://www.jboye.com/conferences/Philadelphia2010.

About Danforth Media
Danforth Media is a Philadelphia-based software design consultancy specializing in User Experience Design (UXD) for desktop, Web, mobile, and set top devices. Services include user-centered research and design strategy. Dorothy M. Danforth, the company’s founder and principal, has fifteen years experience with software usability design and research working with Fortune 500 and emerging technology companies. For more information, go to www.danforthmedia.com

Easy-to-Read Guide Turns User Experience Research into Practical Tool for Any Business New Book Gives Comprehensive Overview, How-To Tips

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

Dorothy M. Danforth
Danforth Media
215-439-8173
dorothy@danforthmedia.com

Easy-to-Read Guide Turns User Experience Research into Practical Tool for Any Business
New Book Gives Comprehensive Overview, How-To Tips

PHILADELPHIA, PA, Dec. 17, 2009 – For software professionals who want to dip their toe in user experience research, Dorothy M. Danforth has produced a comprehensive, yet highly readable guide that relies on real-world examples from Fortune 500 companies to highlight key concepts and outline practical applications.

Written in plain English, User Experience Research: Stories from the Field uses examples, anecdotes, resources, and practical templates from completed and on-going research efforts to provide an easy-to-understand overview of the field and its usefulness in software design.

“Professionals can read this on a plane or in a day or so and come away with not only a foundational understanding of the methods, but also ideas, tips and tricks to help them start using these techniques in their own organizations,” said Danforth.

The easy-to-read guide provides a framework for using multiple types of insight-generating research that will reveal a more holistic and realistic view of how users will likely respond to a system. It includes an overview of the most common user experience research methods. Each overview is supplemented with context for when and how to use each method, and what insights that method might offer.

Software developers, graphic designers, information architects, product managers, and other information-technology professionals who produce, design, or develop software can purchase the eBook, published by the IEEE Computer Society, at http://www.computer.org/portal/web/readynotes.

So far, the guide has garnered good reviews. One independent reviewer called the guide, “A very interesting read with well-presented positions.” Another wrote that, “There’s a lot of good content in there, and I really like that [it summarizes] each technique with strengths, weaknesses, and further references.”

About Danforth Media

Danforth Media is a Philadelphia based software design consultancy specializing in User Experience Design (UXD) for desktop, Web, mobile, kiosk, and set top devices. Services include user centric research, interface design, prototyping, and software vendor analysis. Dorothy M. Danforth, founder and principal consultant for Danforth Media, has fourteen years’ experience in software design and usability research for Fortune 500 and emerging technology companies. An experienced speaker and UX evangelist, Dorothy has authored an eBook on user research methods through the IEEE Computer Society. In addition to research methods, the guide offers a number of vital tips and tricks for fostering UX best practices within an organization. For more information, go to www.danforthmedia.com.

International User Experience Conference Draws 316, Showcases 47 Speakers

Philadelphia, PA (PRWEB) November 25, 2009

More than 300 programmers, information architects and designers from around the globe met in Moscow to discuss emerging trends and best practices in User Experience Design, an approach that gives the needs, wants, and limitations of end users top priority at each stage of the design process.

“It was interesting to see the complementary approaches taken by different designers around the world,” said Dorothy M. Danforth, a keynote speaker at the conference. “The Russian presentations tended to focus on hard data points, while U.S. designers look a bit more at accounting for intangibles.”

Danforth spoke at the conference on the foundational elements of user focused research strategies for new products and ventures. She outlined various low-cost, high-impact methods available to Web designers and UX professionals when creating new products, scenarios for when and how to use these methods, as well as insights on how to get the most out of early state R&D processes.

Other speakers included Bill Buxton, Microsoft; Dmitry Satin, UsabilityLab, Russia; Silvia Zimmermann, UPA International; Andrew Sebrant, Yandex; Theo Mandel, Consultant, Thyra Rauch, IBM; and Alexander Oboznov, Russian Academy of Science Institute of Psychology.

Moscow hosted UPA Europe, the 3rd annual User Experience Russia on Oct. 26-28. With a theme of “User experience design: the journey from discovery to advocacy”, the conference drew 316 attendees to the main conference sessions and 44 participants in specialty workshops that were transmitted as webinars.

“The conference pulled in top names from around the world to assess the current state of User Experience Design and talk about the future possibilities of focusing on the user,” said Danforth. “While still a growing field, over the past ten years or so user-centered design has emerged as the predominant approach to software design. With a user-focused approach, we are able to maximize ease-of-use when we roll out new products, reducing transition time and increasing productivity.”

About Danforth Media
Danforth Media is a Philadelphia-based software design consultancy specializing in User Experience Design (UXD) for desktop, Web, mobile, kiosk, and set top devices. Services include user centric research, interface design, prototyping, and software vendor analysis. Dorothy M. Danforth is founder and principal consultant for Danforth Media. An experienced speaker and UX evangelist, Dorothy is currently authoring an eBook on user research methods through the IEEE Computer Society. In addition to research methods, the guide will offer a number of vital tips and tricks for fostering UX best practices within an organization. For more information, go to http://www.danforthmedia.com/about.

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PhillyCHI March Meeting – Dorothy Danforth

WHEN: Thursday, March 26, 2009, 6:00-8:00 PM
* Meet & Greet from 6:00 – 6:30 PM *

WHERE: Tyler School of Art, Room B089
Temple University
2001 N. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

RSVP: Please let us know you are coming at phillychi@gmail.com.

ABOUT THE PRESENTATION

Dorothy M. Danforth will discuss various low overhead, high-impact research methods available to Web Designers and UX professionals when creating new products, scenarios for when and how to use these methods, as well as general insights on how to get the most out of early stage R&D processes. Some illustrative examples and ideas from past product-concept research efforts will be provided. Talking points to include:
• considerations when developing a UX focused research plan for a new product or concept
• how brand and corporate culture can impact and possibly drive interface decisions
• how the research process can identify organizational knowledge gaps (and vice versa)
• integrating UX research within the creative (visual design) and engineering processes

The presentation is open to anyone with interest, but could be particularly helpful for…
• Web & Graphic designers who find themselves in the “accidental” UX consultant role
• Product managers who would like some ideas on how to better integrate UX research into their product development lifecycles
• Early and mid-level career UXD professionals

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Dorothy M. Danforth is founder and principal consultant for Danforth Media. http://danforthmedia.com

ABOUT OUR SPONSORS

Graphic and Interactive Design Program at Tyler School of Art
http://www.temple.edu/tyler/gaid.html

Aquent http://www.aquent.com

PhillyCHI http://phillychi.acm.org/.