HCI Learning Diary – 04 – User-Centred Design Research Methods

This forth post in the series of good HCI design, shall examine the role of research methods in user-centred design, and how they can be used to inform user requirements through the interaction design phase.

Research methods derived from the user-centred design methodology, plays a pivotal role in influencing and shaping the design of interactive products. Data gathered through various streams of techniques enables designers to make well informed decisions that ultimately set to deliver what user’s demand, and is done so to a high standard through rigorous end-user testing.

Between 2011 and 2012, I undertook a final year web project as part of my undergraduate degree. The project objective was to design and develop an e-learning website that aimed to encourage an older generation of citizens to learn how to use popular online websites. As part of the design strategy, I adopted a user-centred design approach, to ensure that I produced a solution that was well tailored to their interests and needs (from an accessibility perspective).

It was an interesting project and one that I learnt many lessons from; the most principal being the role of research methods in this context.

Early-on into the project, I began without adopting a user-centred design approach, collating data from audio-captured interviews that had been transcribed into Word documents. The process was extensive, and I soon realised I wasn’t adopting the right approach that would have been most effective, despite collecting some credible data. It also wasted a lot of time, which didn’t really reap any benefits; or make a contribution to the project at the end.

I started my approach afresh, researching opportunities to engage with my target group. I soon found a local group of retired people who were keen to receive IT tuition. I took this opportunity as a valuable opportunity to issue them with worthwhile, effective IT tuition and one where I could put into practice the principals of user-centred design.

I started the user-centred design process with questionnaires. The first round of questionnaires were structured questions (albeit could have been designed better), since I learnt through observation what to ask them. These questionnaires acted as a basis of what content to include. With hindsight, I should have begun asking them some unstructured questions to get less biased results. One reason I didn’t want to do this, was attributed to a fear of inconsistent answers, and a wide range of data that wasn’t specific.

I next began designing the wireframe of the website on A4 paper, to get a ‘feel’ of the scale of the website, and how suitable the layout would be, accessibility-wise. I followed on from this by producing a rapid prototype of the website application, and created structured questionnaires that critiqued the content and design of the website features that were implemented. I adopted this approach to get them to feel part of the development process, but realised it was not without its flaws. There were certain aspects of my approach that were good, but it was flawed with regards to not enabling the users to critique the wireframes of the design through questionnaires. This would have improved the website’s design usability-wise, and without any political bias.

I produced three questionnaires for testing, and on finishing the project, felt that my approach was flawed with respect to the user-centred design methodology. There was however good adherences to the core principal of user-centred design, through collating effective data, but could have been more rigorous to achieve more accurate and satisfying results.

Closing words

User-centred design is a fundamental stage of interaction design (and also Software Engineering) that aims to accurately reflect the requirements of users’. It is a process that can be time consuming; but when executed well, is one that performs an integral role in producing satisfying experiences both internally for developers, and also externally for stakeholders. It is a powerful approach that complements the Scrum Agile methodology framework well.

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