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User-Centered Design

When you stay focused on your users throughout the design process, you have the best chance of delivering a product that meets their needs. After you determine who your target audience is and what, precisely, your app helps them do, it works well to use that knowledge as a tool to shape every design decision.

Know Your Audience

It’s useful to create scenarios that each describe a typical day of a person who might use your app. Think about the different environments, tools, and constraints that these people deal with. If possible, visit actual workplaces and study how people perform the tasks that you want your product to help them do.

Throughout the design process, find people who fit your target audience to test your prototypes. Listen to their feedback and try to address their concerns. Develop your product with people and their capabilities—not computers and their capabilities—in mind.

Recognize that, as an app developer or interface designer, you have a greater wealth of knowledge and a more intricate understanding of your app than your customers are likely to have. Although you should use that knowledge to choose the best default settings or decide the best presentation of information, remember that you are not designing the program for yourself. It is not your needs or your usage patterns that you are designing for, but those of your (potential) customers.

Analyze User Tasks

After you define your audience, define and analyze the tasks that your users might perform. Discover the mental or conceptual model people associate with the task your product will help them perform. A mental model paints a picture of a task and defines expectations about the components of the task, the organization of those components, and the overall workflow.

To help you discover the mental models people associate with your product’s tasks, look at how they perform similar tasks without a computer. What terminology do they use? What concepts, objects, and gestures do your users associate with this task? Design your product to reflect these things, but don’t insist on replicating each step a user might take when performing the task without a computer. Take advantage of the inherent strengths of the computing environment to make the whole process easier or more streamlined.

Build Prototypes

Use the information about tasks and their component steps to create an initial design, and then create a prototype of your design. Prototyping is a good way to test aspects of your design and verify how well they will work for your users. You can use a variety of techniques to construct prototypes, not all of which involve writing code. For example, you can create storyboards that visually show the appearance of your product as users go through the steps of a specific task. You can also use prototyping software to simulate some features of your product or demonstrate how it will operate.

Do User Testing

Once you have a prototype, let some target users try it out and observe their reactions to it. Watch and listen carefully to these users, and try to videotape their reactions as they work through specific tasks you’ve defined for your prototype. User observations can help you determine how well your design works or where there are problems. If product designers and engineers are available, encourage them to watch the tests, but prevent them from interacting with the users so that they do not influence the test results.

During user testing, be sure to limit the scope of your tests to key areas of your product. Focus on the tasks you identified during your task analysis. Your instructions to the participants should be clear and complete but should not explain how to do things you’re trying to test.

Use the information recorded from your user tests to analyze your design, and use that information to revise your prototype. When you have a second prototype, conduct a second set of user observations to test the workability of your design changes. You can repeat this process as often as you like until you feel confident that you’ve addressed the needs of your target audience and created a delightful, usable product.

Focus on Solutions, Not Features

When people use your app, they do so with a goal in mind; people rarely use an app for the sole purpose of exploring its features. To ensure that your app enables people to achieve their goal in the most efficient, easiest way possible, make every feature tightly integrated with the solution you provide.

Avoid feature cascade. It can be very tempting to add features that aren’t wholly relevant to the main focus of your app, but doing so can lead to a bloated interface that is slow, complex, and difficult to use. Always ask yourself if a proposed feature directly supports the user’s goal, and if it doesn’t, leave it out.

Follow the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule states that roughly 80% of users use only a handful of an app’s features, while only about 20% of users might use most or all of the features. Thinking of your user audience in this way encourages you to emphasize the features that enable the main task and helps you identify the features that power users are more likely to appreciate.