Friday, January 18, 2013

Usability in action

I wanted to share an example of how usability methods are applied in projects. At the University of Minnesota, we are working to upgrade the core PeopleSoft system which manages (among other things) our student records. Per yesterday's project update, the new "portal" is using student perspectives to inform the design.

I've written before about scenarios in usability testing. Usually when creating an information project, you would start by describing the people who are likely to use your product, and what they need to get out of your product. These are called user personas and are very helpful in generating a common understanding with everyone on the project about the users and their goals. To make the personas more concrete, you should include photos of people who look like the users you describe. (Stock photos are fine as long as they are casual, and always make sure you have permission to use the photo.) Photos put a human touch on the personas.

The next step after personas is to describe actions that your users would take to accomplish their goals. These are called user scenarios. Scenarios can be very detailed, or they can be left a high level - but they always describe how your users do their work. There's nothing like being with your users when they try to accomplish a task, so you can watch them first-hand, but a good "second best" is to capture that behavior in a user scenario.

This user-focused design helps the project to build an information product that will be helpful to the user. And it is just what the upgrade project is doing. From the article:

Usability consultants were approached with a question: what will students want from a single, unified student portal? There are any number of options, features, or ways to present all the information available to students. So, the usability consultants team got together and researched techniques to assess user satisfaction, and prioritize the options the team had in mind.

I'm glad to see usability methods being applied in this project!

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