Friday, June 13, 2008

Making research actionable: an introduction to design criteria

Developing design criteria ...

"What happens when people want a company’s product, but are frustrated by the process of trying to get it? Obviously it should be reworked — but doing so can be easier said than done. When we’re asked to redesign a process, we often start by exploring the problem space with in-context research, which generates a large amount of data. That data tends to point teams in the direction of a number of possible solutions. But how should the team decide which direction is the right one? In such cases, I’ve found that Design Criteria — a set of rules a design team can follow — can be a key tool so when a design team creates or reworks a service or product, everything it does supports the user.

Rooted in Research

How do we draw up Design Criteria, and how can they help our clients? Let’s look at the case of a small company I’ve been working with. The company knew that users had difficulty dealing with its website, wanted to help them, and could explain some of the problems they were experiencing. It also knew that because its business is complex, one key problem couldn’t be solved: users need to devote a fair amount of time to setting up an account. But it didn’t think this problem explained its failure to turn so many prospects into customers.

We suspected that in dealing with account setup, people were having problems that hadn’t been revealed by the company’s site metrics or usability tests. So we launched an extensive in-context research study, mental model, and persona development exercise. We found that users rarely knew what to expect from the process, which constantly surprised them, particular with requests for new information. Often, they had to stop work to get this info. Users also consistently underestimated how long the process would take. Even two to three hours into setup, many said the whole process should take “about an hour.” A number either quit before they’d finished, or grew increasingly frustrated, sticking with it only because they felt they had no choice.

The client can’t do much to solve certain problems inherent in the setup process. Users have to retrieve information from their personal files and badly designed government web sites, and make decisions based on confusing tax laws. And users vary widely in their ability to deal with these obstacles, as well as with the site itself. We had to minimize the effect of all these factors, to make setup easier and quicker for everyone.

Enter Design Criteria

Project goals, success metrics, brand and mission statements, and universal design principles are all useful in their own way. But in improving specific experiences, Design Criteria can play the critical role, because they’re research-based, and tailored to each project."    (Continued via adaptive path)    [Usability Resources]


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