Most people think something like, “I’m a user and I know what I like. I can create a usable design.” Sadly, all evidence shows that it doesn’t work that way. The User Centered lifecycle includes methods that allow for breakthrough creative — that is inspirational and usable.
At Catalyst UX, we have developed a 16-point Unified UX methodology, refined over more than 600 initiatives, and backed by a tailored user-centered design life cycle that ensures user validation throughout the entire process: discover, define, design and develop. This guide covers the User Centered Research Methods we apply during this process (see chart below).
User centered methods and the Catalyst UX process
User Centered Methods in the Discovery Phase
Every project starts with discovery. Without a true understanding of what your customer needs, how they work and what alternatives they have, it is impossible to develop breakthrough creative. During the Discover Phase, we apply the following user centered methodologies to uncover the basis of what all design is built upon.
Competitive Usability Assessment
Competitive Usability lets you understand your competitors’ strengths and vulnerabilities, as well as see how others solve similar design problems. Competitive evaluations are often a good initial research activity for a project. At Catalyst UX this is often conducted in our first phase. We complete the same tasks on your application and on your competitors' applications. This helps us discover task flow vulnerabilities and opportunities.
During Contextual Inquiry, we observe users at their sites, as they complete tasks with existing product(s). This allows us to gain a deep understanding of personas, challenges, and task flow. This knowledge is necessary to create breakthrough design.
Persona & Core Experience Validation
You already have a sense of your users and tasks. Conducting a Persona and Core Experience Validation allows you to confirm what you know. Plus, you'll get a richer understanding of users and how they relate to your product. You’ll want to map each persona to a core experience to understand where you might improve the user’s path to value. This can allow you to either reimagine the user experience completely, understand what areas of your product need help, or even validate where you should spend your time.
Task Modeling and Optimization
The simplest, most effective way of getting to the bottom of what users want to accomplish is to conduct a Task Model. At Catalyst UX, we create a schematic of the user task steps for an existing or planned product. When one looks at the task steps, they start to see how they can make the user’s task more efficient. Completing this process allows us to design the product around the task, rather than the other way around. Another variant is User Journey Mapping.
User Centered Methods in the Define Phase
Validation with users
The second phase of the Catalyst UX Unified Approach is the “Define Phase”. During this time, we define functionality and establish guiding unified UX Design Principles. As we work through this phase, we check our assumptions and designs with real users. We also validate the Design Concept with users.
User Centered Methods in the Design Phase
During the Design Phase, we generate design concepts, finalize look and feel, apply the design to the core experience, and complete the Unified UX Design Cycle. During this phase, we typically apply two usability methods.
As a team, we follow task steps looking for usability issues. Obvious issues can be discovered and resolved before the Formative Usability Test. These inspections are less expensive than usability tests and help identify different issues. Variants are: Heuristic Review and Expert Review (usability experts review the UI and compare it against accepted usability principles).
Formative Usability Test
In a Formative Usability Test, representative users complete tasks with an early representation of the UI. In this test, we see where users have trouble and record the issues so they can be fixed. We recommend testing early to allow for design pivots and large changes. This test also helps resolve team design debates — making the user the final arbiter. This is the moment of truth! It’s better to find issues early in design, rather than after product release.
User Centered Methods in the Develop Phase
Summative Usability Test
As with a Formative Usability Test, we observe representative users as they complete tasks with the UI. In this case, however, the system is largely coded. The objective of this test is to catch any minor issues before the product goes out the door.
For medical products, this test is called a User Acceptance Test, and this test provides documentation for the FDA.
Other User Centered Methods
User Advisory Group
At the center of the Catalyst Unified UX Approach is a User Advisory Group. This is a team of the client's subject matter experts who can provide input and review throughout the user-centered process. Input includes: information about users and tasks, knowledge of the existing application, and review of new designs.
Get the Help You Need
As you can see there are many usability methods and steps to apply in User Centered Design. But in the end these will help you create breakthrough design. If you need assistance or need to augment your team during this process, contact us. We have Human Factors Engineers and Social Scientists that can work alongside your team.