January 26, 2007 The Importance of the Design Process

Emi Yano
Web Analyst, HCD Team

I think there are a great many Web masters out there in companies who want to build websites with usability in mind. Yet, even if they have some idea about wanting to focus on usability, in many cases this doesn't actually end up working out the way they had hoped, making usability a word that constantly plagues them.

So how can we take usability into consideration?

The word usability may sound complex, but in reality, we often subconsciously go through the process of testing usability in our normal, everyday lives. Here, I'd like to give a few examples of how we do this.

Choosing a present for a friend

So, what are you going to choose to give your friend for his birthday or to give your hosts if you are invited to someone's home?

There are probably various options; for example if you are good at making sweets, maybe you would take some home-made sweets, or maybe you might take something that has been popular recently. No matter what you choose to take in the end, however, you will think about what you can give your friend that will make them happy, won't you?

Choosing from experience and getting new feedback

First of all, we think about what kind of person the friend we are going to give a present to is, their personality type, what they like, and what sort of lifestyle they have. Then, bit by bit, we narrow down the range of choices by thinking about things that they would probably like or things that look like they would suit that person. We also naturally think about the latest trends and what's going on around us when we think about what our friend wants and what other people might give them. So, even if it might seem as though we randomly choose presents without really thinking about it, we actually use various types of data to try and select a timely present that is just right for our friend. And why do we do this? Because, ultimately, we want to make our friend happy.

So then, how does your friend react to the present you have thought long and hard over? If we find out, for example, that our friend really loved it because it was their favorite color, that maybe it was a little too big for them, or they actually got the same thing from someone else as well, then this is new data that we keep on file in our minds. We then use this feedback from our friend the next time we have to buy something for them, so that we are more likely to be able to choose something more suitable in the future.

Replacing "the friend" with "users" in this scenario

So, let's backtrack a little. If we think about creating websites from a usability perspective, then we are talking about a user-centered design process. This user-centered design process will involve you designing a website from the user's point of view, and is therefore an extremely effective process for creating a usability-focused website. The standard steps involved in the user-centered design process are described below.

Steps in the Standard User-Centered Design Process

So now, let's look at the example of buying a gift for a friend again and see how it fits into this process.

  • User surveys: What sort of person is your friend? What is their lifestyle like?
  • Analysis of user requirements: What does your friend want?
  • Prototype: The present you have chosen this time.
  • Assessment of usability: Feedback on how your friend liked the present.

From this we see that this process is really no different from the process we go through all the time as part of our daily lives. So if we now replace our friend in this scenario with the user, we can easily see how this process applies to website construction.

  • User surveys: What sort of people are the website users? How do they use the website?
  • Analysis of user requirements: What sorts of information and functions do website users want?
  • Prototype: Creation of a design prototype.
  • Assessment of usability: How do website users rate the website?

So evidently there are some similarities between the process of designing your company website and buying a present for a friend.

Based on the similarities between these two scenarios, you can readily see the importance of a design process that involves user surveys, the analysis of user requirements, and usability assessments in the form of feedback from users.

Getting feedback from users on the website

User tests can be used to provide feedback from users on the website. User tests involve the subjects being asked to perform a task, and then conducting tests while they perform that task. A characteristic feature of the user-centered design process is that through the repeated process of the results of usability assessments obtained through user tests, etc. being provided as feedback to upstream levels of the design process, the website is gradually perfected through a process of ongoing evaluation and improvement.

Mitsue-Links has today released the Eye Tracking Analysis Service to provide a means of administering these kinds of user tests. Eye tracking is a method that involves the use of specialized eye tracking tools that monitor the movement of the user's eyeball to detect the subject's eye movement and line of vision. We are using an eye tracker developed by Swedish company Tobii. This device is not like the conventional types of eye camera used that are fitted to the body, but rather, this contact-less eye tracker is built into a liquid crystal display, and is the optimal tool for conducting Web usability surveys using monitors.

Using this method, you can visually ascertain information that you just cannot uncover through interview-based user tests, like what users actually look at, what order they look at things in, and what they focus on. Mitsue-Links recommends using this service as one of the ways in which you can evaluate your website.

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