Many Web designers
create attractive sites, but a site is great because it offers the right set of features and functions to satisfy
customers and meet a company's business goals. Only a thorough understanding of end user needs, business goals, and software requirements can give you the right mix of elements for your site. This requires upfront analysis and integration of information across several disciplines.
End User Key to Usability
Our customers often come to us with functional requirements, database specifications, and other technical documents about the system they want to build. Occasionally, our clients have detailed marketing plans and business data. Rarely do our clients have customer research or information on end users. Our clients almost never have integrated information that coordinates information from three disciplines.
End user data is critical to building usable Web sites. (For proof, see Why
your site needs usability). Unfortunately, it is usually this element that clients lack. While Design Interactive knows what works on Web sites in general, your site and your business are unique. If you don't have user data, it is critical that you get this information before you start your site.
User analysis normally involves some combination of use case analysis, usability audits, end-user task analysis, focus groups, user surveys, customer service interviews, and prototype development and evaluation with actual users. (For details, see Services) The type of analysis we do depends on your budget, the development timeline, the type of site you're developing, and whether you're refining an existing site or building a new site from scratch.
Use Cases Integrate User Data into Systems Requirements
For most projects we conduct research and analysis of end user needs, which we document in formal use cases using Rational Software's unified development process (RUP). Use cases are a systematic means of revealing system requirements while integrating end-user needs and business goals.
Use case analysis often reveals unanticipated systems requirements. It is important to catch these requirements early in the development process. Unlike many software analysis firms, we deviate slightly from Rational's suggested approach and integrate early screen design and end-user prototyping with analysis of the system. Since the interface is the system to the user, it plays a major role in capturing the system from the user's viewpoint. We believe that screen design is not a separate task from analysis of the general features of the system, but must be part of the use case development process from the start.
Our use cases serve both end users and developers. They capture both our understanding of end-user needs and our design vision for the interaction between the user and system. Because we develop "visual" use cases, we can more easily communicate end user needs and coordinate our design vision with system developers.
Integrating Analysis into Design
Once we have end-user data, usually captured in use cases, we begin design work and programming and production. Unlike many design firms, we use formal use cases plus marketing data, business models, and general usability research to develop interactive strategies and page designs. Because we know technologies such as HTML, PHP, CGI, Flash,
Post-Launch Usability Evaluation
Our involvment with your site does not stop when the site launches. We conduct post-launch usability evaluation with end users and coordinate revisions to the Web site based on our findings. Depending on the project, we provide training to client firms on how to maintain the site, coordinate the development of help and customer support systems, and serve as consultants for general usability and technical advice.