Usually I recommend 2 rounds of wireframes (more rounds are ok during proposals).
If you still cannot move on after 3 rounds of wireframes this is typically a good indicator that your project has some sort of underlying problem that you should detect and address right now.
Typical Problem Areas
From my observation problems can arise in many different forms. The simple identification of such is half the rent to address them (and I will leave the resolution up to you here).
No real user need
Every project should have been initiated by a user need. Many times that isn't the case and that is when it becomes difficult to defend a design to new requests, just because pretty much everything sounds like a great idea. So how can one
- measure the usefulness of the overall site?
- accept/deny new ideas or requirements?
- define the importance of requirements and their conceptual representation?
- design the visual hierarchy without clear or shifting priorities?
That's tough, it's like going fishing without campfire. Educated guesses are more important and also difficult than ever. Define a story that follows a vision that makes sense.
Too many cooks in the kitchen
Is there a sense that every time you step into a design meeting the wind has changed 180 degrees? Indicators for a deeper problem are when the team cannot settle on a wireframe because of
- conflicting opinions
- never-ending subjective feedback
- scope creep
- YADRN (yet another design review needed)
- executive seagull effect
- design by committee
Try to make the best out if by asking lots of questions, a little evangelizing, prioritizing feedback, and plenty of skilled design balance.
Poorly defined requirements
Every requirement should serve the purpose of the site, i.e. the user need(s) that drive the vision and right of existence of the endeavor. Maybe your requirements need refinement because they are
- too vague
- missing a definition of WHY they are needed
- defined by committee rather than thoughtful (and curated) selection
Mockups will help you identify missing requirements or surface items that don't make sense anymore in the big picture.
Undecided project manager
Decisions have to be made, priorities have to be set, deadlines need to be met, requirements satisfied. Somebody has to sail the ship and make decisions. You know the project has a managerial problem when design decisions cannot be taken because of
- new requirements popping up like mushrooms
- another 360 (as the wind blows)
- lack of authority given to the designer
Find somebody that can make executive decisions or make the decision for yourself (I know, nobody likes to piss off their PM, but pick your battles).
Issues with the client aren't uncommon, and not always is the client the problem, but certainly some clients can be more challenging than others. Find ways to finalize your designs and move on when
- requests about the HOW increase
- nitpicking increases
- conceptual designs are dissected to the dot on the i
- changing their mind on a daily basis
Go back to the roots, ask questions about WHAT and WHY you are doing this. Ask specifically what you can do to finalize any given slide, let them tell you and move on.
Missing domain knowledge
Not everybody can be a subject matter expert, but somebody has to and this somebody needs to be available to clarify and consult. You know you are missing a SME when the mockups
- tell an incomplete story
- can't hold up to critical questions
- an actual expert doesn't understand the mockups
Involve domain experts early, listen to their advise and take it seriously.
Last but not least, the problem could be the designer himself. Sometimes the designer didn't have the time to get his head around the complexity of the project, he or she is
- missing the holistic view of the system
- is missing crucial information to design well
- is facing impediments that weren't solved in time
- got hung up on a failed design and didn't want to start over
- fell in love with a design and can't let go
- is purely not capable of designing/communicating well
Have peer-reviews, offer a mental break, mentor the designer in his/her creative blockage or inability to get their head around the subject. Create a culture of failure where it is ok to accept a u-turn and throw away a design in favor of a potentially better one.
I would love to hear about your experiences and especially how you resolved any issues.
This is the first in a series of blogs describing User-centered Design Methods. My goal is to summarize my experience, insights and findings across multiple literature and compile them into easy and quick to digest pieces for you to consume. I want to encourage you to comment your own experiences and give me feedback on why your company applies certain methods differently or not at all or something else altogether.
I personally don't like the term Usability too much, it's an empty buzz word. It means SOMETHING to everybody but isn't scientific enough to be taken serious. It's often interpreted wrongly and purely misunderstood by most. It's kinda like Psychology, we know it is important to understand fundamental human behavior, their problems and remedies, but I wouldn't pay a dime to go to a Psychologist. But who knows, just as Psychology got its scientific relevance and acknowledgment - partly maybe through the 'invention' of the IQ - hopefully Usability rises up to similar levels (Jeff Sauro offers interesting metrics via SUM (Single Usability Metric).
That's why I like the term User-centered Design. It works wonders with Project Managers and the-like, probably because Design is such an important term in their daily work. And when asked about Usability testing I can conveniently point out that this is only one tool of many in my UCD toolbox. But the really important sales trick is to know which UCD method is best used at what time in the project management cycle.
The following chart compares the most common user-centered design methods, outlines their cost and shows when to use them:
Overview of user-centered design methods
|Method||Cost||Output||Sample Size||When to Use|
|Competitive Studies||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Requirements|
|Paper Prototyping||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Design|
|User Testing||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Design & Evaluation|
|Surveys||Low||Statistical||20+||Requirements & Evaluation|
|Interviews||High||Non-Statistical||3-5||Requirements & Evaluation|
|Server Traffic Log Analysis||Low||Statistical||n/a||Evaluation|
|Search Log Analysis||Low||Statistical||n/a||Evaluation|
Not long ago, after having completed a full project management cycle (requirements, design, implementation and evaluation) the PM proudly announced to perform a Focus Group with his stakeholders. Showing the ready application, he thought, would surely impress them and lead to valuable feedback for the next milestone. This impulse isn't uncommon but has to be fought before it becomes reality. Does he really want to produce MORE and EXPENSIVE requirements? Because that's the output of Focus Groups. Wouldn't he be better off running 2 iterations of User Testing to reveal usability issues or a Survey to receive input from outside the development environment?
- Competitive Studies
- Field Studies
- Heuristic Evaluation
- Paper Prototyping
- User Testing
- Server Traffic Log Analysis
- Search Log Analysis
- User Testing
- The Usability effort is NOT proportional to the size of the project. Bigger projects spend less percentage on UCD with same effort. Regardless, as a rule of thumb assign 10% of the projects budget for UCD.
- Faster iterations of prototype design require less testers
- Fidgeon, T.; User-centered design (UCD) - 6 methods; Nov. 2005; http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-usability/user-centered-design.shtml
- IBM; User-Centered Design Principles; https://www-01.ibm.com/software/ucd/
- Nielsen, J.; Field Studies Done Right: Fast and Observational; 01/20/2002; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20020120.html
- Nielsen, J.; How Big is the Difference Between Websites; 01/19/2004; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040119.html
- Usability in Practice: Three-Day Intensive Camp; Nielsen, J. et. al.; April 2006; Proceeding, Usability Week 2006