A graduation project for an online resource for exploring and selecting methods for user-centered design.
Product development practice is extremely hectic and messy. To create usable products, product innovation professionals follow a user-centered design (UCD) approach, which often happens by using one of the many methods that allow user involvement of expert activity in the product development process. Practitioners need to be able to quickly find the appropriate method, assess its qualities, and learn how to apply it. Unfortunately, there are an overwhelming 200+ methods to choose from, which are spread over a wide variety of sources, such as on-line collections. These collections, however, are often incomplete, differ strongly in the type and the detail of the information they provide about a method (sometimes not allowing for practitioners to apply them), and – most importantly – provide no or very little guidance for selecting the appropriate method for user-centered design. They often ‘freeze’ after they have been implemented, thus only giving an overview of the methods at the time when the collection was created and then becoming more and more outdated. The categorization or selection procedures these collections do offer are not in line with the preferences of the user group (product developers), which has limited their uptake in industry. To provide both practitioners and students with access to these methods, an online method collection have been created together with the Design for Usability research project: the UCD Method Exploration tool.
The goals of this graduation project were to:
- Develop and evaluate a method exploration and selection procedure that fits product development practice
- Create and evaluate a user interface that supports this procedure
- Provide recommendations for implementing the design
Product innovation and design practitioners who want to identify which methods to use in a project and are eager to learn new methods:
- Usability/user experience specialists
- Interaction/product designers
- Product/project managers
- Students in the field of UCD and HCI
- Academic researchers (more to provide input than obtain information)
Development of the Tool
The design for the UCD Method Exploration Tool was created through a practitioner-centered design approach.
- Based on literature on as well as on exploratory interviews with practitioners a design brief was created and product requirements were identified;
- Based on these requirements five very differing concepts (including the selection procedure + user interface) were created, which were then evaluated with practitioners;
- The chosen selection procedure was further refined and evaluated by 20 practitioners and researchers during a workshop at a conference;
- Based on that feedback the selection procedure was again refined and two detailed interface designs were created, which were once more evaluated, this time with practitioners, researchers and students;
- Based on the feedback, a final iteration was made in the development of both the selection procedure and the interface design. This final recommended design is candidate for further development.
The process of selecting the right method for user-centered design is highly complex, because of the amount of methods to choose from, many criteria that can be used for selection, and – added to that – the often extreme constraints in terms of resources (time, staff, budget) that product development practitioners face. The UCD Method Exploration Tool simplifies this, because it brings provides practitioners access to a body of knowledge that was previously hard to access and get an overview of, and secondly, it does this in a way that fits their way of working and their preferences.
The selection procedure is primarily based on a set of criteria that is categorized in a sequence that matches the practitioner’s knowledge about the project. As he (almost) always knows what he is working on and what he wants to achieve, he can enter his product type and research goal first. The common next step is to apply the limiting factors and available resources (such as timespan and staff) to the remaining methods in order to decrease the set of methods even more. As a last step, additional criteria can be entered (such as desired study location and participant details).
Final desings of the UCD Method Exploration Tool show that it has high potential in becoming an online resource for exploring and selecting methods for user-centered product innovation. It allows practitioners and students to explore and select methods required for conducting a user-centered design approach, which includes 1) analyzing users and their contexts, 2) creating user-centered designs, and 3) evaluating these designs.
The innovativeness of the UCD Method Exploration Tool does not lie in the content, in the method descriptions. The selection procedure underlying the UCD Method Exploration Tool and the description of the methods it contains was developed in close cooperation with practitioners and takes into account their way of working and preferences. This will increase the chances of UCD methods – many of which are developed and studied in academics – actually disseminating to industry. The combination of the selection procedure and UI that were created seem very promising as an online platform for method exploration and selection, which provides a good fit with practitioners’ needs. If the selection tool would be available online it could be a very valuable resource for both user-centered design practice as well as students. In all target audiences a very clear need was identified for such a resource.
By using an existing software platform (Microsoft Silverlight PivotViewer), an online prototype was developed that allowed for user tests of the proposed selection procedure (see http://bit.ly/DfUexplore2). Note that the designed UI design is much more mature than the prototype and has been tested using paper prototyping. Because the information in this prototype has not been validated, we recommend not to use the tool for professional purposes at this moment.
With this graduation project being finished, we decided to further develop the tool because of the enthusiasm our target audience and its practial potential for creating usable products. The goal is to make the UCD Method Exploration Tool an open access online resource, supported by a community of user-centered design professionals who contribute and review contributions. In addition to the design of the tool, we aim to innovate how it is supported. We think it is important that such tool receives the backing from people and organizations in the field, which is why we intend to support the tool with a community of contributors and editors (to keep it up to date and ensure quality) and a foundation (to ensure continuity). Here is a small roadmap of the upcoming steps that we want to take before going live.
- Optimize design of:
- User interface
- Information on methods
- Find partners*
- Select implementation platform (HTML5 versus PivotViewer)
- Add information for 40-50 methods
- Run user test with early implementation
- Go live (planning open beta early 2012)