Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Design for the Edges: Managing Edge Cases

The start of a series of articles about designing those little things that users may do ...

"When designing product experiences, most designers focus exclusively on the core interactions that uniquely define a product. But infrequent edge cases can contribute significantly to the overall user experience and ultimately user loyalty for a product. Yet accounting for these edge cases often rests in the hands of developers not designers.

Jed Wood recently encountered this situation in a big way (see below) which prompted me to tap a panel of designers versed in edge case management for their best practices and thoughts on designing for the edges. What I got back was a wealth of insights and perspectives that I’ll share on Functioning Form in a series of articles.

Jed Wood
Before I tackled the design of a multimedia management system for automobiles, all of the projects I worked on were applications not complete systems. I was presented with a level of complexity that I wasn’t accustomed to handling. Not only did each screen need to account for unexpected user behavior, it also had to account for events coming from other parts of the system.

Our design team went to great lengths to cover as many edge cases as they could imagine, but the developers still bombarded us with questions like: “What should we display if the user ejects a disc while they’re backing-up but they’re also on a phone call, and then we lose GPS signal strength?” The number of possible combinations of events and interactions seemed endless.

Having focused on rapid prototyping for most of my career, my temptation was to aggressively apply the Pareto principle; focus on the core interactions and leave the edge cases to chance, or let the developers decide what to do. But this was a system that was going to be used time and again so the accumulation of edge cases had the potential to really impact overall user experience. Also we wanted to make a product that was well thought out. Those are the products I love to use."    (Continued via Functioning Form)    [Usability Resources]

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