How to Develop a User Interface That Your Real Users Will Love

By Phillips, Donald | Computers in Libraries, September 2012 | Go to article overview

How to Develop a User Interface That Your Real Users Will Love


Phillips, Donald, Computers in Libraries


As we all know, a "user interface" is the part of an interactive system that bridges the user and the underlying functionality of the system. But we sometimes forget that the best interfaces will provide a platform to optimize the users' interactions so that they support and extend the users' activities in effective, useful, and usable ways.

To look at it another way, users and systems are bound in an infinite loop of questions and answers. Ineffective interactions will occur if an interface does not fully enable the users' questions to be posed, whereas the best interfaces are known to not only be able to support all the questions asked by users but also recommend interactions that extend the user's activity in ways that make his or her journey through the system more effective and satisfying.

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What's in an Interface?

An effective and enjoyable user interface emerges from an understanding of who your system's customers are; their tasks, expectations, capabilities, limitations, preferences, and the overall context of their system use.

Products should be informed through iterative cycles of user research, designed with an emphasis on user goals and experience, and evaluated in terms of usability and affective influence.

To achieve this involves knowing the following:

* Who the various potential users are

* How and where they will use the product

* What they can and will do with it

* What they can't or won't do with it

* Why

In a world where competitive edge is the recipe to longevity, it is amazing how many businesses are unable to clearly articulate the answers to these questions.

If you cannot define your customers in these terms, your business model could potentially be missing out on the opportunities to expand, define new features, and learn the tasks and the workarounds your users are doing that you would never have thought of. To gain this knowledge, your design and development process should facilitate the involvement of customers in design activities from the outset and, where feasible, have them as active participants.

Nothing Average About It

If you have read this and said the dreaded phrase, "Our average user will do x" or "Our average user is y," then you are not treating your customers with the respect they deserve. And unfortunately, like most strained relationships, after so many unpleasant experiences, your customers will move on to pastures new.

There is no such thing as an average user.

We are all unique individuals with our own set of skills, experiences, limitations, disabilities, cultural interpretations, internet literacy, time and financial constraints, and input and output devices to interact with. How is it then possible to distill these diverse attributes into a single user x? Clearly the proposition that satisfying the needs of this uniquely average human being will solve our design dilemmas once and for all is flawed.

In my humble opinion, the word "average" should never be used when delivering customer insights, as it quite simply serves no purpose except to confuse the situation and dilute the resolution. The data ninjas out there will tell you that aggregated data can never provide real insights to inform strategy and design. Data needs to be segmented, and without this, you will only succeed in masking your failings and losing the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in your industry or success in serving the needs of your library's users.

If you are designing a product or service based on the average user approach, you will almost certainly be alienating current and potential users. Conversely, you cannot design a system or product for everyone. It's just not possible. The approach that will yield the greatest reward is persona-based design.

Personifying Your Users as the Characters They Really Are

Using personas in the design of systems and products is not a new phenomenon. …

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