User-centered design: Strict user orientation is the way to the goal

Even in the environment of web applications, the requirements must be carefully researched together with the customer(User-centered design). Only if this succeeds can the project be successfully completed to the satisfaction of the customer. There are a number of innovative, agile and dynamic methods. If the toolbox is well filled, even more complex projects can be mastered. The time is ripe for a practice-oriented review.

Requirements Analysis is the English term for Requirements Engineering, which more broadly describes the goals and tasks of this key step at the beginning of every IT project. For some time now, the days have passed when all customer wishes could be summarized in the form of rigid and dry formulated requirements and specifications. However, even today these documents have some justification, especially in the contractual area or when it comes to the formal handling of a project. In terms of content, today’s topic is anything but boring. Modern, agile and design-driven approaches help developers, designers and professionals to more easily communicate and develop a better product.

A whole hodge-podge of terms, such as prototyping, design thinking, user-centered design, personas, etc. are haunting the experts. In fact, much of it can be used profitably. We sorted these tools and evaluated their suitability for use. A compilation of the most important topics and our experiences you read in this two-part series of articles. Part 1 introduces important methods, some of them in more detail, others only at a glance. Ideally, then the circle closes for you, and in the concrete practice project can be drawn from a good source of knowledge to the wishes of the customer to get on the track. In the second part we then show the application in practice on a project from practice. Join us on a journey to the user!

User-centered design

One wishes to operate a program as intuitive, as pleasant and as uncomplicated as possible. How do you achieve this goal? The buzzword is “User-centered Design”. The term is here program, the user should be the center of all activities of the development process. That may be obvious, and one wonders if this is not always the case, but the question is more than justified. All project participants are busy with the special tasks entrusted to them and thus well filled. Some examples:

  1. Developers: They work on the code, have to cope with the framework and the development environments, while meeting the often tight deadlines for delivering the next feature. As soon as a gap appears, the bugfix of the last version has to be finished, and then the day is already over.
  2. Designer: You have to design the user interface, taking into account what is technically feasible and at the same time ensuring consistency. You need to set color codes, follow styles and guidelines, create a customer presentation, and get the next concept ready.
  3. Project management: In addition to resource planning, these employees are also assigned a variety of administrative tasks. One colleague fails, another gets “loaned” to an urgent project, and the costing needs to be re-examined.

Modern agile development approaches such as Scrum have taken this fact into account. Specially defined roles, such as those of the product owner, want to give the customer a permanent voice in the project (box: “The tasks of the product owner”). But that will not be enough. Only when all project employees understand the importance of user orientation and master a certain range of methods can comprehensive customer projects be successfully completed. Let’s go back to user-centered design. The underlying consideration is that early and ongoing involvement of users throughout the development process should result in the design, content, and design of the end product, such as the web application, being heavily influenced by user needs, expectations, and understanding.

The tasks and responsibilities of the product owner

  • Maintaining the product backlog
  • Representation of the client’s professional side and thus all stakeholders
  • Prioritize the product backlog items to maximize the business value of the product and enable early releases of core functionality to achieve a rapid return on investment
  • Participate in the Daily Scrums to get information
  • Is ready for questions from the team

In summary: The Product Owner is responsible for ensuring that the right requirements are in the Product Backlog and processed in a reasonable order.

User-centered design is a holistic approach to designing interactive systems. The idea has existed since the 1980s and has since been used in a wide variety of fields. On the one hand, it is clear that sales and monetization are the focus, on the other hand, the products or services are only successful if the users are really satisfied with it. The rule is: First, the end users are exactly identified and then you have to put yourself in their situation. The important thing is to empathize emotionally with the needs and the characters of the users. From an economic point of view, user-centered design has proven to be economical. When used successfully, it results in shorter development times and lower development, maintenance and service costs.

User research is the initial phase. In this phase, the target groups are identified and the possible usage scenarios analyzed. Depending on the result, the further measures are determined. The goal of user research is to get to know and understand the real users, their requirements and the context of use. The findings will be incorporated later in the second phase in the rough concept and first prototype. The goal: the development of a user-friendly information architecture and ensuring the conformity of the concept with the ideas of future users. It is important that the concept reflects the view of the users and not of the company (client). In other words, the management may commission the IT project, but ultimately the employees in the relevant departments will work with it and deal with it every day.

Good support is provided by user-oriented methods, eg. Eg card sorting. UX Testing and Usability Evaluation are pending. Concepts, designs and prototypes have to be tested on the later users or through them. The feedback can then be incorporated directly into the concept. It is recommended to start testing in time. The last step is the fine concept and visual design. The final concept is then presented, for example, as a wireframe or interactive prototype.

In the following sections, we will focus on selected aspects of this user-centered design roadmap. Let’s start by exploring user needs.

User research under the microscope

In order to involve the actual users in the development process, a variety of usability methods are used. Below we describe a selection of these approaches.

Card Sorting: This method is used to better understand the “language of users”. The main purpose is to create a comprehensible navigation structure: The navigation should be user-friendly and contain only the terms that are understood by the target group. Users will be able to use maps to develop a meaningful and meaningful structure from their point of view. This method is helpful not only in the conception phase, but also in the further development or revision of an app, application or web application.

Benchmarking tests: A benchmark determines how the product performs compared to the competition. The benchmarking test compares the usability of several products based on different criteria. Thus, improvement options and a potential optimization potential can be revealed.

Personas: One wants to get to know the user in the best possible way, analyze his behavior and understand his motives. In doing so, one must not only keep an eye on the immediate aspects of the relevant software, one must forcefully penetrate the person. A minimum of personal characteristics for characterization and role or position in the company are necessarily to be explored. A persona thus describes an individual grouping of real persons from the target group of the client. The potential users are assigned to the previously created pattern characters using this technique. They give a face to the often unknown user in the development process right from the start, giving the development team clear ideas of what makes them stand out. The creation of personas is very concrete, ie the user is assigned a name, an age, an appearance and usually also wishes, abilities, opinions and hobbies. A picture, for example a cartoon, better a real photo, possibly a picture from a magazine visualizes the personas. Personas make it easier for those involved to put themselves into the perspective of the users during development, ie, for example, “What would Julia say?” Or “What tasks does Martin want to do?”. The goal is to work out the needs of the target group with regard to the software and to translate these insights into concrete requirements.

A concrete example: When developing a web application that maps the workflow of the business post for a medium-sized company, it is helpful to look at the future users of the application. This could be Ms. Meier, a trained office communication clerk whose main concern is to keep an eye on corporate processes. Ms. Meier works as a secretary for the managing director. This description highlights the requirements that workload reliance software must meet to manage business transactions. It has to move in the problem domain of the future user. The user interface must reflect the company’s well-known organizational structures, the workflow is deliberately easy to keep, too many options lead to confusion (with the user Ms. Meier).

Focus Group : This is a moderated group discussion with actual or potential users. This method is well suited for collecting requirements or collecting user feedback in different project phases. The effort is limited. The result is a detailed report with extensive information.

Eye tracking: This eye tracking method allows you to find out what and how much the user is aware of certain aspects and what is left out. The best results were achieved by combining them with the classic usability tests: While users work on realistic tasks, eye movements can be followed and decision and perception processes can be traced.

Web analysis: The evaluation of the data on the visitors and their behavior on a web page, combined with other methods, opens the starting points for a usability optimization.

Sensitivity to the target group analysis

It is not easy to empathize with other people’s thinking. People are often less rational and not always logically comprehensible. Market research institutes deal regularly with target groups and their needs. Interesting is the concept developed by the Sinus Institute of the so-called sinus milieus , which is often taken as the basis for the target group analysis. The Sinus milieus show the division of society in Germany into individual groups on the basis of criteria such as social class and value orientation. The society is thus subdivided into so-called milieus:

  • Conservative Established
  • traditional
  • Liberal intellectuals
  • Social-Ecological
  • Middle class
  • precarious
  • Performer
  • Adaptive Pragmatic
  • hedonists
  • expeditive

It was thus a division into “groups of like-minded” made. Every year the model is adapted to the sociocultural changes. An interesting development can be observed: While the proportion of traditional milieus has been declining for years, we are seeing continuous growth in the modern segment.

These findings from general market research can be transferred to the design of digital products, such as web applications. How experienced is the user? How often does he use the application? Is he ready to experiment? How has the problem been solved so far? Was there a good and established solution in the offline world that you can possibly transfer to a digital version?

Tell stories

“Instead of documenting, you should tell a story!” Is the motto of an agile approach. User stories are central building blocks. They have prevailed within the agile requirements definition. Often called User Stories as a successor to well-known use cases. Use cases were too extensive for agile development and could not easily be divided into iterations. The reason: In an application case, all possible scenarios that a user can accomplish for the goal achievement are summarized. User stories are based on an informal conversation. The collected information is written on an index card or a notice board. The stories are not specified in detail. An often used form of user stories is as follows:

“As user type I would like to perform the following action to achieve this goal“. For example: “I would like to sign up as a new customer, but do not go through a long registration process to order the product.” The following questions should be answered by a user story:

  • For whom is the requirement important?
  • What should be possible?
  • What is the benefit of the requirement?

User stories are created from the perspective of the users and emphasize the technical requirements, but do not prescribe a solution. While they are nonspecific and vague, they are very important to the development process because they bridge the gap between the developer and the user. One should briefly and concisely describe the user stories on the index cards and thus encourage the participants to discuss. The goal: sharpening and understanding of the problem. To stay with the example: It is already clear that a registration of the new customer in the system is necessary. But there are a lot of unanswered questions. B .:

  • What information do I need in any case?
  • How intensively do I check the data?
  • Can this complicate the sign up process?
  • Do I accept the registration via so-called social media providers, ie do I rely on the correctness of the data?
  • How do I convey to the user that the data is necessary and handled with care?

simple login / registration mask may be designed quickly in the design. In the productive web application, this usually requires a deeper discussion. At an online shop, users want to pay as quickly as possible and handle the paperwork. Here one is well advised to use the typical payment services as an identity provider. Implementing a portal for insurance where users can see news and contract data requires other security measures. But is such a big effort as in Internet banking justified? The answer is, “It depends – we need to discuss it.”

To concretize these specific requirements you can work with user stories. The index card often contains notes such as date, author, scope, priority etc.

Conclusion and outlook

We have now introduced some methods and tools of modern requirements analysis. The focus is on a strict user orientation. Let’s not forget that only when we work carefully in the design and design phase can the final product be a success. The later discovered in the development cycle possible wrong decisions, the more complex and expensive their elimination.

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