How To Incorporate Usability Into Your Project Flow

By Maryann Bowen and Pat Gómez Martz

With World Usability Day fast approaching, this seems like a good time to recap our good friend and usability expert David Mitropoulos-Rundus’ presentation, How to Make User Experience a Priority, from the June 2015 User Experience Conference in Ann Arbor. Dave recommends including user experience and usability considerations in each phase of every project. He recommends defining your terms; defining usability requirements; designing to personas, scenarios, and environments; and iterative user testing.

Define your terms.

Briefly, user experience is about designing products to fit people. As a technical communicator, your product will be either text or visualizations, or a combination of both.

Define and design to usability requirements.

In order to design products to fit users, define and set usability requirements that are measurable and non-negotiable—and they need to be as important as reliability and as any particular product feature. Usability requirements will arise as you ask the question, “Who are our users?” As you consider these people and the usability requirements, define:

  • personas as representative users of your product
  • scenarios to which personas will be responding
  • environments in which personas will be responding

These personas, scenarios, and their environments correlate closely to the writers’ audience, purpose, and rhetorical situation. As a writer, you will have valuable insights into these, even if you have no direct contact with users.

Plan for and conduct usability testing.

Budget and schedule usability testing from the beginning to make sure that the project is going to work for the users you envisioned. Match the personas, scenarios, and environments as well as you can. Start small; if multiple or critical issues are found in testing the first four users, stop and fix the problems. Re-test before continuing with the next group.

At every testing step, analyze the data and compare the results to the initial requirements. Redesign features that fail testing or analysis.

What does this have to do with tech writers?

You stand in for the user when you test drive a piece of equipment, software, or a database, and can develop some valuable insights into what a user may experience, and into the situations and environments that would compel that person to try that piece of equipment, software, or database.

If you do any training or technical support for a product, you have direct contact with real users and can add details and nuances to personas, scenarios, and environments that other people cannot.

November 12 is World Usability Day

Learn more about usability at WUD 2015 at the MSU Union in East Lansing, Thursday, November 12. The theme is Innovation; the program and registration link are posted.