User centered design
The User Centered Design (UCD) team helps Elsevier create easy-to-use products that meet our customer's business needs. We place the highest emphasis on the user in all our work. Please send us an E-Mail with any questions. We work with product development teams to:
- Understand our customers
- Design user interfaces (UIs) for our products (the actual 'screen' users see and work with)
- Evaluate our own designs as well as other product interfaces
Understanding the user is the first step. We use tools such as user profiles, scenarios, storyboards, competitor interface analysis, and field studies to gather knowledge about the users of a product.
User profiles describe segments of the user population in detail. Examples for a publishing application might include profiles such as editor, contributor, and reviewer.
Scenarios describe tasks and work related needs that are relevant to the product. For a reviewer, a scenario might include opening, editing, and commenting inline on a draft of an article. The scenario would include the goal of performing those tasks as well as returning the document to the author for corrections and updates.
Storyboards are initial design concepts that depict the user’s interaction with the product. For the reviewing scenario, a storyboard could show each step in the workflow along with rough sketches for each screen that would be encountered. Different paths from screen to screen would be included as the workflow is developed and needs are discovered.
Competitor Interface Analysis examines competitor products to determine how well their user interfaces fit the user’s goals and tasks. It also serves as an exploration of competing designs and techniques. Often there is a ‘standard’ method of performing a task (think cut/copy/paste) and performing such an analysis can show the commonality of this sort of method.
Field studies provide an in depth view of a user group, including its work environment, work process, current tools, and current difficulties. These studies are the ideal method for learning about users and help to discover pain points that exist in current products, and also reveal ideas for new products. By watching actual users in their day to day environment, performing real tasks, UCD team members are able to step outside their own experiences and preconceptions to understand what is really needed for an exceptional design.
Once the UCD team has a solid understanding of the user, design of the user interface begins. UI architecture, visual design, and HTML prototyping are all used in refining the design.
UI architecture describes the basic structure and navigation of the user interface. This includes activities such as wire frame diagrams, information architecture models, page maps, and rough HTML mockups. These are iterated through to give successively more detailed representations of the UI.
Visual design creates the detailed appearance by describing the colors, graphics, typography, and screen layout of the user interface. Multiple visual design alternatives are often developed before a final one is chosen and built into a prototype. Highly detailed Photoshop mockups are often created in this step.
HTML prototyping creates a standalone website/application that mimics the look and feel of the actual product, although with limited functionality. Testing is often performed with actual users to validate the design choices at this stage. After testing, the prototype is updated to reflect the final design and interaction. The final UI Prototype is used, along with a UI Specification, to communicate with engineering and guide the actual product creation.
The UI specification is the official, formal description of the UI design. Software engineers use this document in conjunction with the final UI Prototype to determine what to build. The specification is often accompanied by a UI Style Guide, a less formal "look and feel" document that describes the user interaction with common UI components. The UI Style Guide helps to ensure that the design consistency can be maintained throughout future releases.
Constant evaluation in light of new industry practices, changing user expectations, and new features from competitors helps to provide an honest assessment of a UI.
UI Evaluations are used to obtain user feedback and reaction to the UI of the product. Many different methods can be used to collect user feedback such as online questionnaires, web log data analysis, focus groups, and individual usability sessions. Watching the user use the product in real-time during a usability session provides the best information and is always the preferred choice when possible.
A Heuristic review involves 2-4 usability experts identifying any potential usability problems. Usability Inspections are useful as a quick initial step in evaluating the usability of a product; however, they result in less information than an evaluation with real users.
Web accessibility checklists can be used to identify possible accessibility issues for people with disabilities such as limited vision, motor difficulties (arthritis, for example, which can make using a mouse difficult), and learning disabilities. Avoiding and correcting such accessibility issues can improve the product for all users, not just disabled ones.