Friday, 11 November 2011

Where to start improving usability?

  "Where do I start?" Is an important question for an organization wanting to use the cluster of Human Centred Design (HCD) / Service Design / User Experience (UX). The answer is to 'start from where you are'.
The usability champion can find out what sort of a challenge she faces very quickly using the Principles of HCD. How is the organization doing as regards:
  • A clear and explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
  • The involvement of users throughout design and development.
  • Iteration.
  • Designing for the user experience.
  • User centred evaluation.
  • Multi- disciplinary skills and perspectives.
However, this does not tell her where to start making changes at an organizational level. There are basically three options for improving usability at an organizational level.

Option 1 - evidence of outcomes

If the organization has services or products in the market, then get some evidence of real use 'on the ground'. The form of evidence depends on the audience. Wasted money and effort (in design or support) will appeal to the suits. Video works for designers. Top tip; be tactful. I showed video of users in despair trying to use a new, expensive, hi-tech product - to the complete surprise of the design team. I could have been more tactful in my presentation. It was cr1p that needed to be dropped immediately, but if you want to continue working with the team, there are ways of saying it...

Option 2 - Link design and customer development

If you are at the stage of 'the great leap forward'. Then you are effectively in a lean start-up (even if you are in a government department). Steve Blank has some great material on customer development. Use customer development to drive the business viewpoint and HCD to drive the design viewpoint. The two ought to work together perfectly.

Option 3 - Process Improvement

If things aren't really that bad (and this needs a big dose of personal honesty, because it is usually the case that things are that bad), then build on what works with Process Improvement using the Usability Maturity Model (ISO TR 18529:2000 Human-centred lifecycle process descriptions).  Improvement activities can be prioritized into an achievable plan based on business priorities.

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