Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Four questions every software user interface designer and usability professional should be thinking about

Important questions to ask yourself ...

"1) What is the best way for user interface design and usability to integrate with software engineering processes, specifically Agile processes?

Design and engineering must work well together if we want design cemented in the overall software development process. Many perceive design as being oriented towards a waterfall approach, costly, and a “nice to have, but not necessary”. We must change these perceptions by repeatedly producing better results through close work with software engineers. Agile processes, whether strictly or loosely followed are the most promising framework for design and engineering to come together and pave the way for future software products and superior user experiences.

And since there are often fewer design resources than engineering resources, it is easy to develop a design-engineering bottleneck. The best way I have found to avoid/remedy this is to develop design artifacts (standards, templates, and best practices) for common scenarios so that many situations requiring design input can be solved without designers. It’s not as simple as developing the artifacts and giving engineers a link to them; it is up to the designers to educate engineering when and why the artifacts should be used.
2) How can we better quantify the value of design and usability (ROI)?

There are several books on the subject and countless online resources, and yet most designers stumble when asked this question. If we can’t speak the language of executives, i.e. “dollars”, then we will remain “less important”. And we need more than examples of value delivered from a particular case study: we need standardized quantifiable metrics that pass the executive litmus test. If we have these already, then we all need to learn how to track and measure them and how to start communicating our value with them. In addition to asking “how can we measure the value we deliver?” we also need to ask “how can we deliver the most value?”
3) Where does design and usability belong within an organization?

In some software organizations user interface design resides in the engineering or development department. In others it sits in marketing along with product management. In some it is actually its own department in parallel to development and marketing. While organizational structures do vary from company to company, design seems to be all over the place with even less of a standard structure. Regardless of detailed top-level structure, I would strongly argue that design be parallel to engineering and product management, otherwise design becomes less strategic and mostly tactical, and that is very dangerous.
4) What’s next for software user interfaces? (CLI comeback? Gestures?)

If you are a designer, you should always be on the lookout for new and better ways to improve user experiences. I read online blogs, journals, the results of user interface studies, and attend conferences searching for the stepping stones that lead to the next creative and innovative solution. I’m particularly interested in new software interaction paradigms - designs that leverage the power and uniqueness of our digital medium rather than rely solely on mental models of physical objects mapped to the digital world. For example, is clicking a button the best solution for the physical and digital world? Maybe…"    (Continued via Dexo Design. Russell Wilson)    [Usability Resources]

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