An end user rarely takes into account the diversity of the User Experience Design process when they reap its benefits. To be proficient in UX Design is to be proficient in a dozen other disciplines – namely user research, interaction design, information architecture, and visual design, among others.
It is precisely for this reason that, while all UX designers ought to have an adequate understanding of UX design in its entirety, they often specialize in a particular part of the process.
User Experience Research and Information Architecture specialists are fundamentally linked by the importance of organizing data in a way that is easily accessible by users.
The Researcher’s Role
UX Research describes the practice of determining and understanding user needs, motivations, and behaviors through a wide range of feedback methodologies. UX Research serves to make the IA process, indeed the entire UX process, more tailored to the specific usability requirements of the target audience.
There are numerous methods for conducting User Research. Some of these are as follows:
Interviews are a goldmine for researchers, but those who explore with the intention of finding something usually do. It is the explorers job to be on the lookout for the unexpected. In any UX manual, chances are one will encounter a great deal of literature on the importance of planning. While planning is the critical aspect before an interview, seldom do the researchers plan for the unplannable, or at the very least accommodate for it.
First Click Testing
In order to craft a highly usable navigation overlay, First Click Testing ought to be performed on either a wireframe, prototype, or functional website. First Click Testing gives the researcher insight into the effectiveness of the linking structure of your application or website. Participants who click down the wrong path on the first click are not likely to complete their task successfully, with a success rate of approximately 46%.
Heuristic Evaluation/Expert Review
Heuristic Evaluations bring usability experts onto a project for the purpose of reviewing and evaluating the project’s interface in terms of its closeness to accepted industry standards of usability.
Some of the factors that can be addressed by a Heuristic Analysis are:
- The visibility of system status
- The ability of a user to maintain control and freedom
- The consistency of a project with accepted standards
- Recognition vs Recollection
- The use of aesthetics and minimalism
- Ease of access to help and documentation
- Ease of diagnosis of, and recovery from, errors
- The efficiency of the system in place
The capacity in which a build, design, project, or partnership can be compliant is reliant on those in the industry that set the standards. Incorporating these principles, most notably documented by Nielsen, can greatly mitigate any issues in compliance.
System Usability Scale (SUS)
Through the use of the SUS, UX Researchers are able to determine a baseline measurement for the general usability of the project in question. Users fill out a 10 item questionnaire, based on which the SUS provides a number from 1 to 100 which may be used by a UX Researcher to interpret a normalized, tentative percentile of “usability.”
Conducting research prior to task analysis is where the sun really shines. A client comes with an idea and the research has to mold it into tools and materials for the build. Task analysis post research ought to be quick and retrospective. It is not a time for implementing new tasks or functions.
Execution: The link between Research and Information Architecture
Information Architects fill a crucial role in the UX process, and are responsible for the flow of information in a particular system, such as an app or website. IA builds on the information accumulated during the UX Research phase, by using it to optimize the findability and usability of a data structure.
Information Architecture is typically discussed in terms that describe the three layers that separate users from the data present in a given system.
- Information as metadata
- Information structure or organization
- Findability of information
Insofar as UX Design is concerned with the ability of a system to facilitate and simplify the engagement of a user, Information Architecture serves to aid in the maximization of the “findability” of information. Thus, the three fundamental aspects of IA are typically addressed in a manner which aids in the process of sculpting information across a system.
In order to present the information on an application or website in a way that is findable, it must be structured and organized at a low level, such as through the use of descriptive metadata. This is an Information Architects’ bread and butter, so to speak.
Consider adding focus to the UX Research phase
UX Designers who really want their User Experience to shine through the crowd of merely adequate applications and websites, ought to ensure that there is sufficient focus on UX Research. Determining the precise needs and expectations of a user, and producing a resultant Information Architecture that fully addresses these needs and expectations is one of the fundamental goals of UX Design.
In order to do so, consider implementing some of the techniques outlined in this article, and do some extensive research of your own into the fundamentals of User Research.
(Lead image source: Samuel Mann)