4 easy steps to make your design more user friendly

blog[17 May 2012]
We've simplify some of the interaction design process/thinking into 4 steps, which is more appropriate for designers to review their design it terms of usability and user-friendliness.

As a part-time visiting lecturer, I’ve been constantly talked to design students about the importance of interaction design (IxD), and how to apply it in their design projects. At schools we have a subject where students are required to use an interaction design workflow – drafting personas, flow charts, user testing, etc. – to redesign an existing application. However, most of the students will throw that away after the subject, and they come into the industry as a junior designer.

While most will think the problem lies on the students themselves, what I see is the detachment of the interaction design routine with the design industry, generally, but not limited to, visual design. This makes the application of IxD more difficult.

Usually IxD are carried out in labs, where time is sufficient for an iterative design process to begin, this is unpractical in the industry where we have tight timeline. As a result, I simplify some of the interaction design process/thinking into 4 steps, which is more appropriate for designers to review their design it terms of usability and user-friendliness. It is easy to apply and most importantly – you have more to defense for when your client request for a change, of course it is another long story.
I’ve created the inforgraphic on the left to summarize the steps as well.

1. It is a matter of common sense.
It is as simple as that, but designers often forget about it. Designers are right-brain people and aesthetic always come first when they design something. In this sense they often make the design look ‘unreasonable’, in terms of flow or information hierarchy. 1 simple question to ask is ‘Does it looks reasonable to me?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, change the question to ‘Does it looks reasonable to my target audience?’ This is important because sometimes your common sense do not equal to your target audience’s common sense – think about how different you and your mum manipulate a website, for example. A little bit of role-playing technique may help but to me it is not necessary, once you ask the question it is not hard to get the answer.
Some interaction laws, such as Fitt’s law, in its boarder definition, are also more like a common sense.

2. Judge by relevancy, or context.
OK so the design looks reasonable now, the next step is to judge it by context. Most students do not understand the word ‘context’, or they often mix it up with ‘content’. A better way to think of it is ‘In what situation, or circumstances, will my user use the product/website/service?’ Once you define the situation you have a ground to organize the information, or to apply SLIP method – Sort, Label, Integrate and Prioritize, stated in John Maeda’s book ‘Law of Simplicity’.
For example, in cases of web design, most of the users come with something already – this maybe their problem, information they have, or their goals. I really do not need to ask them ‘What can I help you?’ because it is already assumed. So we can direct them to the solution straight away, ‘Just follow me.’

3. Reduce, simplify, keep on simplify.
Think about how you can simplify your design, whatever on information, flow, form, etc. Simple is always the best, especially in today’s world where we are overwhelmed by information. For example, websites that is simple and to the point saves your users’ time. A product that is simple in form or less parts is involved in assembly is easier for manufacturing, and usually more sustainable.
Talking about online service, sometimes designers think that providing multiple ways or route to a service means better interaction. However, depending on the context, sometimes it cannot help but just adding complexity to the system. Remember, multiple ways is not always better than 1 single way. I would prefer a service that has multiple entry points that can lead you to a single way.

4. Adding feedback, in an unobtrusive way
Feedbacks are good for users to understand what’s going on, but you don’t want your users to be overwhelmed by it. A most recent case study is the alert box in the new iOS4, where they put the alert or notifications on the top of the screen instead of an alert box that you have to touch ‘OK’ to let it disappear. Designers can ask themselves, ‘Are the feedbacks doing their jobs well?’ and most of the case you will notice the amount of feedbacks can reduce to an extent of ‘just enough’.

In fact these 4 steps is not only about Interaction design, it is some basic questions that need to be asked if you want your product or website to be really usable and user-friendly. Designers should keep this in mind until it becomes part of their practice.

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