Wednesday, November 28, 2007

12 steps to stellar software design

Improve usability during development ...

"Many organizations can't understand why their software doesn't perform as expected, or why users make unexpected errors. According to David Crow, usability adviser at Microsoft Canada, and Jay Goldman, president of Radiant Core in Toronto, waking up to the need for usability testing is akin to hitting rock bottom. At the Free Software and Open Source Symposium at Seneca College in Toronto last month, the two offered a 12-step program for getting back on track, along with some recommended reading.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem. "It is impossible to design good usability on your own," said Goldman. They advocate the use of personas -- fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. "Guerrilla" usability tactics such as informal customer interviews and teaming up with tech support staff might work too. "Know thy user," Crow said.

Resource: The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman

Step 2: Believe in a power greater than yourself. Crow showed slides of three different types of public benches and asked which design the audience preferred. Inevitably, the reaction was mixed. "You see this with application development all the time," he said. "You need to find out who these folks are that are using your stuff, and they may not end up being the people you started out with when you designed the product."

Step 3: Make a decision to recognize good design. Goldman invoked a Steve Jobs quote: "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." That's worth remembering, especially in light of the resurgence in Mac-based hardware sales, Crow pointed out.

Step 4: Make a searching and fearless inventory of your user experience shortcomings. Crow and Goldman invited the audience to help draw a stick figure, and they showed how even simple illustrations involve a lot of logic and questioning of basic assumptions. That's why they say comic book guides could be useful text for software development, too."    (Continued via Computer World)    [Usability Resources]

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