If I told you that there was a methodology that would help you design solutions – services, programs, processes, websites – that people would use, and enjoy using, would you believe me? If such a thing existed, wouldn’t everyone use it?
Well, guess what? The successful ones already do – Apple, IBM, the Province of BC, and now joining the ranks, the Government of Canada – use this process to design usable (and useful) information and services. It’s called User-Centred Design, UCD for short.
Based on ISO Standard 9241-210 Human-centred design for interactive systems, UCD is making its way from IT departments into many other parts of organizations around the globe. We often talk about doing more with less, but with this process, we can do less with less, with confidence that we’re doing the right things.
So, what is UCD? Not surprisingly, it’s about involving users throughout your design process to create something that meets the needs of those who will use it.
It’s characterized by these principles:
• understanding users, their tasks and the context in which they will use the product or service;
• involving users early and often throughout the design process;
• refining the design based on evaluation from users;
• the process is iterative and addresses the entire experience of the user; and
• the team of people are from diverse specializations.
Although you may not have heard of this process before, surely you can see the results of it all around you. Consider your smartphone, your organization’s Intranet site, your route to work. Which of these was designed intentionally with you in mind? Which is easy to use? Intuitive? Enjoyable?
Although these qualities are subjective, it is possible to quantify the extent to which something is easy to use. Specifically, we measure efficiency (time it takes to accomplish user’s task), effectiveness (success/failure) and the user’s satisfaction with the product. Usability professionals do this is by observing intended users as they try to accomplish their tasks.
The earlier and more frequently this is done throughout the process – with sketches or diagrams, wireframes, prototypes, or working examples – the more it is cost effective. Research reported by the Usability Professionals Association quantifies the cost of change at $1 during the initial design stage, $100 during development and $1000 once the system is operational.
Due to the high cost of changing something that’s already in place, many systems never change. The impact to the bottom line is thousands, even tens or hundreds of thousands, of dollars in lost productivity, training and errors. For companies, this can mean bankruptcy. For governments, it can mean the loss of trust and confidence in their ability to manage.
That’s a quick synopsis of how and why User-Centred Design can be applied to designing solutions. What about deciding what to design in the first place? Design thinking can also be applied to defining the problem. But that’s a topic for another day.
As the Lead, Web Usability for the Government of Canada, Laura Wesley is grateful to be a part of a growing movement of professionals using Results-based Management (RBM) and User-Centred Design (UCD) principles to help develop a results-based culture in the Federal Public Service. She blogs at http://usability4government.wordpress.com and tweets under the moniker @resultsjunkie