Basics of UX Design and Usability (Part 1)

As a Business Analyst, I have experienced in receiving feedback from end users such as “I feel uncomfortable to use that software but I don’t know why”, “The application is weird and it’s difficult to get familiar with it” or “I have to behave many steps to get my tasks done”. Maybe these are subjective opinions when comparing the current application with applications which they had used before; however, these comments reflect that the current software had problems in UX design and usability. It inspires me to publish serial posts about UX design and usability and hopefully these posts can provide primary knowledge to those who are interested in this topic. From my perspective, UX design and usability is important element in software industry and I also found that it is really useful for those who follow business analyst/ business consultant career to learn and understand this field that certainly positively contributes to their work accomplishments.

These posts following micro-learning platform are compiled from various sources ranging from print and online reference sources to personal work experience. Especially, this series is primarily based on a book named UX DESIGN and USABILITY MENTOR BOOK With Best Practice Business Analysis and User Interface Design Tips and Techniques written by Emrah Yayici.

Source: Google Image

Define UX Design Roles and Responsibilities

What is UI, Usability and UX?

UIuser interface – is simply understood as everything designed for users to interact with an information device like a computer system or a machine, etc.; for instance, it may include display screen, keyboard, mouse, help messages, illustrations, etc. UI design focuses to bring visually aesthetic values to users.

Usability refers to a quality attribute contributing to ease of use of user interfaces; and Nielsen (2012) states that usability is evaluated by these 5 quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Admittedly, UX standing for user experience is a broad concept; so Norman and Nielsen generally define UX as “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products”. While UX design is actually a process which aims to enhance ease of use, pleasure, satisfaction and even loyalty of users obtained through the interaction between users and products/ services, etc.

Even though the line between UX and usability is usually ambiguous, they should be distinguished. Usability is about task-based interactions, the ability to do something easily and intuitively and minimizing steps as well as removing roadblocks; while UX tries to make the task meaningful and valuable and create emotional connection to the task. In other words, UX cares about what users feel while usability cares about what and how users do. Therefore, it can be apparently seen that usability and UI are two of many components influencing the overall UX.

Roles and responsibilities of UX Design

Yayici (2014) mentions that a UX team often consists these following roles:

  • User researchers who conduct research by applying various techniques such as ethnographic research, persona definition and mental modeling to draw insight about user profiles and needs.
  • Interaction designers obtain requirements and user profiles as well as follow UX design and usability principles to create prototypes of user interfaces.
  • Information architects apply techniques like mind-mapping and card-sorting to define content categories and navigation structure of user interfaces.
  • Usability testers are responsible for find out product usability problems by conducting heuristic evaluations as well as user observations.

Prototypes and user interface annotation documents are then sent to visual designers to create visually aesthetic user interfaces. Ultimately, outputs of those visual designers are passed to developers to code.

These roles form an ideal UX team; however, due to limited budget and resource, most of organizations combine all those roles into one single guy who called UX designer, even due to lack of awareness on the importance of UX and usability, many companies role of the UX designer is also played by business analysts – that’s why I mentioned above that business analysts should gain knowledge and skills on this field.

UX Design and Usability Principles

Simple is difficult

The perfect user interfaces are simplistic and intuitive for users to easily find what they are looking for and complete their tasks with minimum effort and mistakes. But it is not that easy to create perfect designs that require much time and effort. The secret of simplicity should be explained by the quotation of Antoine de Saint Exupery “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. However, simplicity does not mean there are only few things to be showed. The unnecessary parts should be removed to make the interface simpler, unless those parts affect any product functionality. It is a dilemma and an Einstein’s quote should be remembered “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

Easy to use vs. Easy to learn

Ideally, user interfaces should be designed simple enough to use without spending time and effort to learn. However, it is impossible mission for some products such as task intensive enterprise software used to manage internal operations. In spite of all the efforts, it is unable to simplify interfaces of enterprise softwares to achieve “easy to use”, therefore, in this case “easy to learn” should be reached. Consistency in interface designs, contextual help menus and user manuals can guide users to learn, use and then complete their tasks.

Focus problem

Usability tests with eye-tracking technique reveals that it is difficult for humans to focus on more than one object at the same time. Hence, priority of content and design objects should be setup and only highest priority items should be displayed instead of showing all things on user interfaces at the same time.

Consistency

Here, it does not mean that interface designs in different functions of a software should be consistent but also that consistency should be applied in all channels. In other words, once users successfully complete tasks at one channel, they expect to complete other tasks at other channels in the same way. A specific example is that menu structures, navigation flows and call-to-actions should be consistent in these channels – mobile application, web page and kiosk – so that customers are easily to book, buy and check-in their flights.

Bias problem

Both researches and my own experience show that users usually prefer the old ones that they are familiar with; “The previous one was better” is a common comment. Thus, if not really necessary, interface designs should not be changed too frequently; and the new ones should inherit the main design patterns of the old ones, which will not make users totally surprised.

User vs. Designer mental model

My experience always remind me that “Don’t assume”, so should UX designers. Do not assume that users know everything that we know and also do not expect they think the same way we do. For example, most recent mobile applications have a popular feature called “Send to Cloud” enabling online saving files to remote servers. However, researches express that some users, especially novice users do not understand the meaning of that “Cloud” and consequently they are confused and hesitate to use this function. Hence, interfaces should always speak the language of users and not of the designers or others.

Pictures vs. Text

As an English idiom “A picture is worth a thousand words” and it is applicable in UX design. Using pictures on interface design is a effective communication method to deliver intended message and improve recognition. Pictures make ideas easier for users to understand and remember than text. Pictures should be kept simple and users should not interpret extra meanings others than the picture’s meanings. However, in some cases, a title or brief description should be also used together to explain what the picture represents.

Gestalt principles

People have a tendency to group items based on the items’ proximity, symmetry and similarity with another one. Hence, to achieve intuitive designs, gestalt principles should be applied for appropriate grouping and placement of design objects on user interfaces. Otherwise people make the wrong grouping of interface components and this error condition misleads them during interaction time.

Context

In UX design, context refers to the surrounding factors that create impact to the behavior and expectations of users. For example, while a live video chat feature is a good customer service solution for Internet banking users, it is a bad idea for ATM users due to the negative reactions of impatient customers waiting in the queue.

Cognitive load

Many studies reveal that people fail to accomplish tasks in case there cognitive load reaches to a certain limit. This usually happens when their memory and perception level is forced. Thereby, in order to improve usability, the cognitive load of users should be minimized by using reminders, automatic computations and fill-in and other effort-minimizers.

Need for quick help

Solutions should be provided as quick as possible at the moment it is really needed. So instead of generic and loaded help documents, from UX design perspective, help should be provided in a contextual manner and address the specific problem when users need it.

(to be continued)

(*) micro-learning: “Micro-learning is a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small, very specific bursts. The learners are in control of what and when they’re learning” (from https://elearningindustry.com)

Reference

http://blog.careerfoundry.com/ui-design/the-difference-between-ux-and-ui-design-a-laymans-guide/

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience/

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/

Yayici, E. (2014) UX design and usability mentor book: With best practice business analysis and user interface design tips and techniques. United States: Emrah Yayici.

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