The elements of user centered design


Introduction to the UCD process

At Whitespace, we follow a user-centered design (UCD) process as defined under ISO 9241-210. This means an active involvement of the stakeholders and the end users throughout the project lifecycle, as well as an iterative design and development phase that includes user testing.

Our UCD approach is rarely practiced in a linear fashion. As UX practitioners, we must remain flexible and agile in order to adjust to different client environments. For example, depending on the nature of the project, we may engage in user testing not only during the concept and development phases, but also upfront during the research and analysis phase.

The work we do generally fits into the following categories:

Strategy and analysis

We run a number of "design thinking" workshops with business owners, IT managers, and key users in order to synthesize the organizational context into a unified project vision that puts all stakeholders on the same page.

  • First we listen, making sure that the business objectives, competitive landscape, technical scope, and resource constraints are well understood.
  • Often we review existing material and take a look at competitors or best-in-class examples. We may also conduct a usability assessment of your current product, highlighting areas for improvement and providing recommendations.
  • Whenever possible, we observe users in action, taking note of differences between what users say and what they actually do.
  • Lastly we help you define the project vision. A compelling vision makes it easier to rally senior management, partners, and team members in support of your project. Elements of the vision may include a high-level prototype, personas and user journeys, content strategy, or even a functional specification.

Concept and design

We work with your core project team to define the structure, layout, flow, and look-and-feel of the solution. The resulting “blueprint” is tested with users and serves as a model for the business owners, designers, and developers as the project takes shape.

  • The different user scenarios already developed during the analysis phase are now detailed into task flows. For content heavy sites, content and actions are grouped in categories and sorted by importance and frequency … so called card sorting.
  • Next follow the sitemap and wireframes – these are the project blueprints. Often delivered in form of a clickable prototype, the wireframes should be tested with end users to ensure that the planned application matches their needs.
  • The final step is the design. We see design not as an end in itself but as a way to solve problems. Consistent, appealing and clear graphic design helps to reinforce your brand, present information in a meaningful way, and enhance the user experience by producing smart iconography and illustrations. We deliver design templates, patterns, and a style guide to serve as models for the development phase.
  • In agile development environments many of these steps are repeated on a per sprint basis, necessitating an embedded UX approach.

Development and testing

We collaborate with your internal teams and external technology partners to see the project through to completion.

  • The development phase is generally done in sprints using the Agile Scrum methodology. This ensures that progress is visible – avoiding what is known as the “tunnel effect” – and that reviews and testing can take place during development.
  • How do you know you’re building a usable and desirable application? The answer is to test it with real users, and the trick is to do this early and continuously. We offer an agile testing approach that delivers frequent user feedback. Our experience shows that small-scale “agile” user testing throughout the project lifecycle is generally more efficient than full-scale (and costly) laboratory testing at less frequent intervals.
  • A final testing phase at the end of the project will allow for minor adjustments and fine-tuning as well as performance optimization.