Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Design Research Part 2: Refining User Interfaces

Translating user feedback to user experience ...

"New technology is the driving force behind many innovative medical products. But often, the opportunities created by technology also require increasingly sophisticated user interfaces (UIs). This challenges the design team to create the most usable product possible. This is the second of a two-part article that explains how a creative process driven by design research is critical to product usability. This approach can apply to ergonomic challenges, such as establishing the best handpiece for a new surgical tool. However, this article focuses on graphical UI challenges. The first article, published in the May issue of MD&DI, described how to conduct the initial part of the design research and how to use what is learned as a stimulus to create a number of ideas. The next step is to take these ideas back into the field and turn the feedback into the final UI specification. It is also necessary to consider FDA requirements for research and documentation for good human factors design.

Taking Concepts Back to Users

The lessons that can be learned from taking the preliminary ideas back out in the field are somewhat unpredictable. However, learning about the unpredictability is the point.

Product developers who are immersed in the intricacies of their new product ideas like to think they have a good gut feeling of what users will prefer. Users, of course, often see it differently and have a way of surprising designers. It’s much better to discover these differences early, with inexpensively produced mock-ups, storyboards, and interactive demos, than to take ill-conceived ideas all the way through to commercialization.

Mike Higgins, PhD, senior director of program management at Pelikan Technologies (Palo Alto, CA), recently managed a project to create a UI for a handheld patient-monitoring device that uses his company’s novel blood sampling and measurement techniques. “We employed user research to make design decisions that are based on data rather than on opinion,” he says. “User research allowed us to measure the fit between design alternatives.” And what he learned in the field brought some surprises. “Our chief design goal was simplicity. The surprising finding of our user research is that what we thought was a simple user flow was not always the case.” He believes that if the company had not conducted user studies, the device would have been safe—but usability problems would not have been discovered until the device was in the marketplace.

There are strategies to structure the feedback-gathering exercise so that it elicits some of the more subtle responses. Let’s say some kind of patient monitor is being developed. Its main function is displaying instantaneously the value of vital signs. New technology has created an opportunity to add value to the way the information is presented. For instance, trending, event logging, or sophisticated signal processing could all be used to present data that could improve patient care to healthcare professionals. Before they actually see the concepts, users may say that trending is of low interest. But when users see what the trending looks like on a mock-up and realize that new ways have been created to analyze the data, they may change their priorities. They may be able to revise how they would interact with the product if it had this feature. Of course, the research may also show that features that seemed like good ideas to a development team do not appeal to users."    (Continued via MDDI)    [Usability Resources]

Testing UI In Environmental Context- Usability, User Interface Design

Testing UI In Environmental Context

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