The User-centred design process (UCD) is a project approach that puts the user of a site at the center of its design and development. This guarantees that the site will be easy to use and focuses the designer on providing a better experience for real customer needs. There are 4 stages that include many different tools and techniques to help you along the way.
With every business solving a problem at its core, the main idea of UCD is to achieve a greater understanding of the problem by including the customer in the design process early and empowering you with various research techniques. Using this information you can propose a solution that is simple to use, understand and have the security that any problems with the design are fixed along the way through constant testing.
This is an iterative process meaning that once the process is completed a new cycle can begin using the new data to kick start the process again.
The first phase of the UCD is the Research & Analysis section, this is where we try to really understand who we are designing for. I would argue that this is the most important piece of the whole design process because there are various activities here that can really help you during the rest of the project.
Creating Personas can bring to life your users and help you understand their tasks better. You can really include some detailed descriptions here using any data that you have gathered on your customers. I really like the website YouGov profiles at today.yougov.com/profileslite here you can type in any brand, person or thing and the system compiles a profile from their stored data on over 150,000 accounts to give you a great description of your user. It’s worth a try as the free data is really good.
Asking users questions through surveys can gather some useful information. It’s really useful when customers just tell your expectations. Survey Monkey is my go-to tool for surveys as they have a great feature where you can select certain demographics and the system will send out your survey and get results for your desired number of participants. This comes at a fee but is well worth it if you work in a company and don’t have any current customers to send the survey to.
Another important task during the research phase is to perform interviews with colleagues and stakeholders on the project. This really makes sure that you are meeting all the business requirements and everyone really feels like they are part of the design process from the beginning. I found this a great thing to do at the start of the project to integrate myself into the team and make everyone else feel valued.
Once we have a deeper insight into the problems our users are facing we can get going on the ideation phase of the project. This is where we can really have some fun and get creative. But before we actually start sketching page designs it’s really important that we take a look holistically at the entire journey that the customer will go on when using our product or service. Most of the time we are designing within a system and it’s essential to have an understanding of how everything fits together. When we understand the machine we can then design the individual parts with greater precision.
Stories have defined our world, they have been with us since early human history and can convey a message that touches our soul. To tell our user’s story we are going to use a process called customer journey mapping. This is a technique where we illustrate the entire process we are designing for. How you illustrate this is up to you, it could be simple text or it could be a wonderful color illustration. I found that the bigger the better. When I was working in a global company we had a large industrial printer and I had the customer journey map printed off about 10 feet long and stuck up on the wall of the office. This really is a great way to get the whole team involved, just watch the printing bill!
Probably the most important asset of a truly great website is findability. You create brilliant content and you want your users to find it, unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Honestly getting a solid navigation structure and information architecture is the best return for your investment you can get on a website. A great description I heard of Information architecture is the art and science of organizing and labeling websites.
One technique I’m going to briefly mention here is called a tree test. You can find a great version of this tool online over at optimalworkshop.com/treejack. I’ve used this at several large companies and this technique has made the biggest impact that I have seen on websites. The reason is that it suddenly unleashes all of your brilliant content.
In essence, a tree test is an examination of the structure of your website. You set a number of questions and participants to try to find where they think the answer would be in your navigation structure. The brilliant thing about this tool is that you can test your most important pages and if they do not perform well the tool tells you where users think the page should be. This is unbelievably important because it’s simple to change where the page is in the structure and suddenly your page is now discoverable.
If you are starting from scratch then a card sort is the way to go for organizing a website. In a card sorting workshop, participants are asked to organize physical cards with page names on them into groups and give them category labels. If you do this with a couple of users you will start to see patterns emerge. A general consensus will form and the structure will become apparent. This can then be tested with more users in a tree test. Your job as a designer is to be a facilitator, gather users’ expectations and deliver on what they expect. The importance of this cannot be overstated!