HomePractices Page 5 - The Art Of Software Development (part 2): Designing For Simplicity
All Used Up - Practices
In the first part of this article, you got a crash course inrequirements analysis. Now that you've figured out what your customerneeds, it's time to design it - easily the most challenging and creativephase of the project cycle. Find out more, inside.
The software design document may also be accompanied with a userinterface design document, which outlines the key features of theapplication user interface. This document usually contains informationon the target users for the application, together with a list ofusability goals and how they may be addressed.
Typically, a user interface design document contains the followingsections, each of which is designed to address different components ofthe usability experience:
Introduction: No prizes for guessing what goes here - a descriptionof the application background and goals.
User profile: This section includes a clear description of the userprofile for this application. It must include as much detail as possibleon the characteristics of the users who will be using the applicationincluding their level of familiarity with the Web-based model, andaccessibility requirements for disabled users.
User problems: This section lists the most common problems users ofthe application currently face, as a prelude to ensuring that the finalinterface successfully addresses these problems. It may also list themost common tasks users will be using the application for.
Interface priorities: This section lists the priorities andobjectives for the user interface, classifying each as essential ornon-essential. This priority list is very important when it comes tomaking tough choices between different interfaces, and also helps tofocus the interface designer's efforts.
Interface constraints: In case there are specific constraints to bekept in mind while designing the interface - for example, ensuring thevisibility of a corporate logo or specific branding colours - theseconstraints should be listed here.
Sample screens: In case you've already got some options designed, youcan add them here to give your customer a preview of what the finishedproduct will look like, or to allow him or her to pick from the choicesavailable.
Given the interactive nature of today's Web applications, a document byitself is often insufficient to communicate all the details of the userinterface. Therefore, it's also usually a good idea to build a userinterface prototype wherever possible, so that your customer can playwith it and identify usability problems up front, before any actualimplementation begins.
This prototype is usually a simple HTML mock-up, consisting of a seriesof screens that demonstrate the main sections of the application and theclick-through paths between them. By vetting this prototype against theuser problems and priorities noted in the interface design document, youcan identify problems in your user interface at an early stage, and giveyour so-far theoretical application a more concrete feel.